I realize things have been dormant around here, but there's a lot going on behind the curtain.
First off, The Nine-Banded Books site redesign is underway. It'll be a few weeks before soup is up, but the guy I signed with is really good and seems to have some enthusiasm for the project, which can't hurt. I'll let you know when it's pretty. In the meantime, 9BB titles can be ordered through Amazon.
I have a review of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke over at Richard Widmann's new online journal, Inconvenient History. It's too impressionistic for the forum, but then I warned Richard that I wasn't much of an academic writer. I am a longtime fan of Baker's writing, though, and I think HS is an important book that has gotten a terrible rap.
Also, my little essay for BeJeezuz is now online.
As to the H-Bomb thing, it's coming along. I'm taking it much too seriously, really. I suppose I'm fortunate in the sense that most of the people who comment here (and who have contacted me privately) are neither deniers nor revisionists but intellectually curious skeptics whose feedback has helped me rethink my approach in some respects. I know how statements like this invite suspicion, but I really don't have much patience with anti-Semitism or with conspiracy theories. By focusing on Samuel Crowell's work, I hope to disentangle some knots of understandable confusion that lead reasonable people to misunderstand what Holocaust revisionism is ultimately about. Crowell is important because he advances a parsimonious counter-narrative based on social psychology and careful literary investigation. He isn't duped by just-so tales of conspiracy. He expresses no animus for Jews. He sees through the 9/11 Truth malarkey. And he understands the role that censorship has played in this story from the start. I have been in touch with him and the relevant substance of our correspondence will inform what comes.
18 thoughts on “A Few Things…”
Did you make up that MacYoung stuff? Because I laughed at the bio.
Haven’t read Human Smoke yet, but plan on doing so. Have you read Buchanan’s book on WW2? He really goes full bore on Churchill. For my own part I’ve been defending some undefendable cases of pacifism recently but only as the most plausible way to minimize violence. I can endorse war (including the killing of innocents) if there’s good enough reason to believe it would result in fewer total deaths.
The MacYoung quote is verbatim. The book is hilarious and I really don’t think it’s exactly a joke; it certainly wasn’t marketed that way. When I read it now, and I can’t help but hear Danny McBride’s pressured “book on tape” voice from “Eastbound & Down.”
I haven’t read the Buchanan book, but I mean to. I know that he spoke well of Human Smoke in a column. The Churchill stuff — it’s just beyond damning. One of the strengths of Human Smoke, as I try to emphasize, is the way Baker just lays this stuff out there in volumes. The hagiographers are recoiling from the obvious.
The pacifism thing was interesting to think about, in part because I had never considered that it could be a kind of taboo. But it is. I remember after 9/11 I got into a heated discussion with a friend when I took the position that there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with “appeasement” as an act of state. My point was that it depended on the consequences, but that point was lost in the rancor.
In interviews, Nicholson Baker has been careful to qualify his personal position on pacifism, but I think it’s good that his book allows this other possibility to be heard, and considered.
I have a question about pacifism. Does being a pacifist mean that you object to violence ever being employed against a fellow human being anywhere, at any time, for any reason? I can understand nearly always opposing war, since even the justest of wars commonly lands one in morally compromising situations, and most, if not all wars, aren’t just to begin with, either in the reason given for waging them or in the conduct with which they are waged.
But it seems that never being willing to use violence, even when innocent people are clearly being victimized and you have it in your power to stop their attackers, seems insane, and morally stunted in itself.
Eliezer Yudkowsky has argued that it would have been better if our response to 9/11 would have been to do nothing at all:
Nowicki, Dave Kopel from the Volokh Conspiracy has written some papers on the varieties of pacifism (all of which he is critical) that you might be interested in. A number can be found here:
I should have mentioned this earlier, but Jeff Riggenbach has a book on revisionist history and for the past week or so has had several posts at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Lew Rockwell’s page. I don’t know if he has anything to say about the holocaust, which is fine by me.
There’s a spectrum. For most groups, including the Quakers, pacifism has typically been expressed as a general opposition to state-sponsored warfare and violence. In my view, this is the drift of George Fox’s repeated reference to “outward wars and strife,” “outward weapons,” etc., in his famous letter to Charles II. I think that most pacifists have gathered around a similar concept – an opposition to aggression by kings and tyrants and democrats and republicans and powerbrokers of whatever stripe. This seems to be the spirit of pacifism that runs through Baker’s study.
Then there is that more absolutist disposition, like you find in Gandhi’s embrace of satyagraha, which seems deeply Kantian in conceptualizing non-violence to include non-aggression as well as non-resistance whether the context is interpersonal, intertribal, international, intergalactic, or whatever. I suspect this is the stance that really ruffles people and that may strike you as morally stunted. The idea that the initiation of violence should be met with passivity runs counter to human nature and clashes with widely shared moral intuitions. I happen to share such intuitions, but this is part of the reason I think we should be careful about overconfidence. The fact that we find a view repugnant, doesn’t necessarily permit us to conclude that such a view is morally stunted or mistaken.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Gandhian. I keep a loaded gun at the nightstand, and I don’t think I would have any compunction about using it in self defense. I don’t think I would hesitate to kill an intruder who threatened my wife, or who threatened my cats for that matter. At the same time, I know that it is very difficult to argue for the “wrongness” of a position when that position presumes means and ends to be logically inseparable. If you rely on a consequentialist accounting, you’re simply speaking a different language. If you stick to deontology, you’re left to explain why defensive or retaliatory violence is somehow exceptional under a general imperative against violence, which can be more complicated than it feels. You may appeal to intuition, which can be wrong. You may appeal to nature, which is always problematic in ethics. Or maybe it comes down to biting the bullet. And whatever your tack, there is the possibility — my view, actually — that the problem isn’t even meaningful.
Anyway, it’s all explained very clearly in The Big Lebowski.
Albion’s Seed had some examples of militant Quakers:
Early on in their colony’s history there was a big dispute about how to respond to bandits, in which they eventually resolved to use force.
Walter Sobchak dabbled in pacifism. Not in Nam, of course.
All I remember from The Big Lebowski is that nihilism is exahusting.
exhausting, with an “a.”
I’m new to the blog. Could you describe to me what your views on the Holocaust are?
Hello there, Ben.
I think the Holocaust was a really bad thing, any way you slice it. It’s just that I’ve come to slice it a bit differently.
I will explain more in subsequent installments of my “H-Bomb” series, part one of which is linked at the right margin. There’s also some discussion in the comments appending my “Intellectual Slumming” post.
I took a look at the first post in your series.
I’m Jewish. I’m not offended by your interest/writing in this subject, although I would probably leave your site immediately (and frustratedly) if I were to have read this 5 year ago. I guess that reading about other taboos, like the Black-White IQ gap, has made it so that I’m not offended by any idea, so long as it’s not presented in a malicious manner. Over the past few years I think I’ve subconsciously come to agree with John Stuart Mill’s view, or the more conventional wisdom that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
However, while something controversial and significant like the Black-White IQ gap has engrossed many research hours on my part, the same cannot be said of things like Holocaust Denial, the 9/11 Truth Movement, and related theories. Why?
To begin with, as opposed to scientific/reasoned debates, that go hypothesis -> conclusion, these theories go conclusion -> hypothesis. For the most part, these conclusions are inseparable from their searing hatred towards Jews. You seem to have found one, Crowell, who is not an open anti-semite. But honestly, why would a non anti-semite be willing to post at the institute for historical review, any more than i’d be willing to write for a white supremacy organization just because I’m sympathetic to the hereditarian case on IQ? Their core conclusions never change, so it’s fruitless to argue with them. If you disprove one of their hypotheses, then even under the generous assumption that they accept this, they’ll have a new one the next day. Engaging in an all-out debate with these people would not only be an exercise in futility, it would also be painful to me to hear my ancestors and the suffering they’ve been through disparaged again and again.
But, the fact remains that knowledge should be gained on what happened to the Jews during World War II. Additionally, people who are skeptical of certain aspects of the Holocaust, like the gas chambers, or the number killed, should be allowed to voice their views without being effectively censored. Such a discourse needs to occur, but I don’t think it can properly occur when what goes under the banner of “reivisionism” is a loud, inconsistent, and relentless din which has already reached its conclusions on the basic of prejudice and hatred.
You are interested in this subject both because its extremely taboo, and because it gives you a chance to apply positivist thinking to a minefield. I admire that, and I don’t see an anti-semitic motivation behind any of it. If your approach was the prevalent one among deniers, I would have started researching their claims several years ago. So long as you keep this approach I would be willing to follow your posts on the subject and debate your findings with you.
Thank you for this most thoughtful commentary. You touch on a number of important issues, and I will do my best to respond in kind in the next couple of days. Just need a chunk of time.
Ok. I have some time now.
I’m going to respond to what I think are your key points in a series of comments. For the sake of economy, I will use the term “Holocaust” to refer to an intentional program of extermination carried out, to some significant extent, through the use of homicidal gas chambers. I believe the Holocaust is more complicated than this, but this usage will be convenient for present purposes. I will also use variants of the term “revisionist” to refer to the dissident position. I think this term is more justifiable that “denier” or “negationist,” and I will explain in course.
“To begin with, as opposed to scientific/reasoned debates, that go hypothesis -> conclusion, these theories go conclusion -> hypothesis.”
I encounter this claim frequently, and I will devote substantial discussion to what might be called the “post-hoc” or “creationist” problem in subsequent installments of my “H-Bomb” series. For now, let me try to outline some distinctions that I think are worth considering.
Since the 9/11 analogy seems to be a sticking point with a lot of people, let’s begin there. It’s useful because in that event we are faced with an unprecedented act of destruction that played out before millions of eyes in real time. Commercial jets were flown into these massive towers and the towers soon came down. Hijackers were identified and a plot was traced to a terrorist cell run by a wealthy Isamist radical with a paper trail, a criminal history, and a budget. When Bin Laden took credit for the attacks, he was not under state captivity. He spoke freely from an unknown redoubt. This is the standard account, and there is sound reason to believe that it is essentially accurate.
The day it happened, I knew that conspiracy theories wouldn’t be long in coming. The spectacle was too great not to stir at dormant chords of paranoia. To begin with, it was inevitable that the U.S. government would respond in some drastic manner, and this response would invite the usual “cui bono?” questions. A tale of intrigue and puzzling evidence would emerge, just as a similar current of spider-sensed speculation came after the OKC bombing. An audience would be waiting, because this is how conspiracy theories – the big ones – work. They begin with some generalized itch of latent anxiety or suspicion, usually something that fixes on the imagined secret machinations of a power-elite. A critique of the consensus view is then advanced and ostensible inconsistencies are magnified and imbued with ominous significance. Soon selectively focused skepticism is traded for true belief. Then true belief becomes a guarded story that may be retro-fitted to account for any countervailing evidence that is later brought to light. “Conclusion -> hypothesis,” like you said.
With the Holocaust, it is commonly thought that we are faced with a similar situation, where the evidence is so overwhelming as to defy rational skepticism, where only the conspiratorial imagination could contrive a basis for doubt, and then for morally suspect reasons. I think this view is understandable given the confidence with which the standard narrative has been repeated in textbooks and popular culture. But I also think that a closer look reveals important distinctions that complicate and subvert the core epistemological problem that you correctly identify.
As Crowell and others have documented, gassing rumors predate any official program of extermination now claimed by traditional historians. Such rumors go back to the 19th century and appear to have been bound up with a number of prevalent cultural anxieties, primarily concerning new technologies and emergency hygiene control measures involving disinfection. Against a backdrop of social disorientation, early fears of homicidal gassing thus took on an ominous cast. You can see this very clearly in Crowell’s lengthy excerpt from Mary Antin’s 1912 book, “The Promised Land,” which reads eerily like an Auschwitz gassing narrative. There you have a germ. One of many.
During the First World War, it was widely – and falsely – reported that 700,000 Serbians had been killed using gas asphyxiation. Essentially the same claim would come up later when the 1942 report of the Jewish Labor Bund would quickly transform into BBC and newspaper stories of 700,000 Jews being murdered in “Traveling Gas Chambers.” As with the false World War I reports, these early claims were not informed by any order of forensic or documentary evidence; they appear to have been derived from rumors. Yet they would be repeated as fact, perhaps in good faith, in official reports drafted by a Soviet Special Commission. Prior to the Bund Report, there were Thomas Mann’s BBC broadcasts claiming that poison gas was used to kill thousands in the Nazi euthanasia campaign. The euthanasia campaign was real, but Mann’s reports were based, again, on rumor and hearsay. People heard and people believed what they heard.
This may not seem terribly important, but it provides a plausible explanation – and a mechanism – showing how a dark undercurrent of social paranoia may graduate in status with only a little prodding. A cultural fixation on poison gas reflected a complex strain of fear and confusion that is common in times of conflict and uncertainty. Dissemination of rumored claims through popular news channels across Europe and later through official government reports gave such rumors an aura of authority. In the McMartin case, there was a form letter, with a questionnaire. Prosecutors ran with it. And the public took notes.
I wish only to suggest is that by the time you get to the Nuremberg trials, the idea that the Nazis had committed genocide using gas chambers was largely a fixed preconception. Essentially, it was a conclusion in search of evidence.
Now, if the evidence that came had proven overwhelming, that would be one thing. But the evidence for a genocidal gassing program was never overwhelming. It largely reduces to perhaps a few dozen recycled and invariably problematic confessions and testimonies tracing to a small number of perpetrators and survivors, which in turn are buttressed by a selective and ominous reading of contextually ambiguous documents. There have always been serious forensic and documentary problems with crucial elements of the standard Holocaust-genocide story. To begin with, there are no clear architectural plans or budget orders relating to the construction of gas chambers at any camp. Diesel-fueled gas chambers and gas vans would not have worked well, if at all, and the Germans were smart enough to have known this. Minute hydrocyanic traces from purported chamber remnants are not easily reconciled with claims of mass gassings, though they fit comfortably with the well-documented use of the Zyklon B brand for delousing and disinfection purposes. Assumed rates cremation pose serious physical problems, and the magnitude and method of killing claimed at places like Treblinka and Sobibor seems on the surface to be physically impossible, or at least inexplicable.
Such problems could be addressed through the rigors of disinterested scientific analysis. But this is one of many points where the role of taboo – and of legal sanctions – becomes salient. A thorough archeological survey of the Aktion Reinhard camps could settle a lot. Yet no one undertakes such a study, for the likely reason that the consequences of an open-ended inquiry can be very serious. I would argue that received opinion simply disallows the possibility that the story may come with deep flaws. The “Conclusion -> hypothesis” presumption holds, just not in the sense that you assume.
This, I suspect, is why Lucy Dawidowicz is left to explain how a vast crime was carried under cover of extraordinary secrecy, with an elaborate system of code words. This is why Raul Hilberg refers to a “gestalt,” why Michael Shermer refers to “convergence,” why Pressac was left with “criminal traces,” why Laqueur struggled to describe the system behind a “Terrible Secret,” and so on. Such phrases are revealing. They signal the description of a giant conspiracy, which is what the Holocaust story is. Revisionists have provided plausible explanations for those peepholes and gastight doors that we’ve come to hear so much about. Yet no one seems inclined to dig up the grounds of the Reinhard camps, and no one has unearthed a clear-cut order, or an unambiguous blueprint of a gas chamber. I don’t think you have to be a bad person to wonder why.
9/11 Truthers imagine a vast government conspiracy, but so do Holocaust historians. Conspiracy theories invite skepticism. I am saying that the Holocaust story is not different in this respect. There are good reasons to suspect that received accounts of gas chamber extermination may have been purchased in long-evolved rumor and fear and misinformation. That’s the way it is with conspiracy theories.
“For the most part, these conclusions are inseparable from their searing hatred towards Jews. You seem to have found one, Crowell, who is not an open anti-semite. But honestly, why would a non anti-semite be willing to post at the institute for historical review, any more than i’d be willing to write for a white supremacy organization just because I’m sympathetic to the hereditarian case on IQ? Their core conclusions never change, so it’s fruitless to argue with them. If you disprove one of their hypotheses, then even under the generous assumption that they accept this, they’ll have a new one the next day. Engaging in an all-out debate with these people would not only be an exercise in futility, it would also be painful to me to hear my ancestors and the suffering they’ve been through disparaged again and again.”
I’m not sure where to begin with this. I suppose I should note that Crowell is not the only dissident voice who is not an anti-Semite (open or closed). I don’t think an honest appraisal of Germar Rudolf’s work justifies the conclusion that he is motivated by animus, and I think Bradley Smith is a swell guy who cares deeply – certainly more so than I – for all of humanity. Rassinier has been branded an anti-Semite, but this appears to have been based on the usual Kevin-Bacon-styled associations and linkages rather than on anything he said or wrote. Before he was bullied into hiding by Irv Rubin and his thugs, David Cole – a Jewish Atheist – pursued a purely positivist account of various Holocaust claims. That he was dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” was as stupid as it was inevitable. I could cite other examples.
In “Lucifer’s Lexicon,” L.A. Rollins defines an anti-Semite as: a.) one who hates Jews, or b.) one who is hated by Jews. This glib satirical jab captures something too easily overlooked. To wit, that the charge of anti-Semitism is easily unpacked as a shorthand to dismiss those who take a different view of the Holocaust. If serious revisionists – regardless of their motives – make important factual points, it should come as no surprise that ill-motivated cranks would want to exploit those same points for their own ugly reasons. This may be an unfortunate situation, but to diffuse the ugliness, you need more of Mill’s “sunlight,” not less.
But less sunlight is the problem. I happen to share your annoyance over anti-Semitic currents that attach to revisionism. I have no use for any of it. Yet I think the reflex is too broad, and too easy. You simply can’t wrestle with this subject without getting your hands dirty. And again, censorship is a crucial part of the story. Has been from the beginning.
I suspect that Rudolf and Butz and Crowell and Faurisson and the others would much prefer to air their views in peer-reviewed journals where debate can proceed in the manner of testy scholarly discourse. It’s just that this has never been a realistic option. For many years, the only available forum for the dissident line was the IHR’s “Journal of Historical Review.” Tsk, tsk, if you prefer. But I don’t believe that the JHR was ever analogous to a white supremacist organ – certainly no more so than the Pioneer Fund, which has underwritten important work by those who advance the hereditarian hypothesis that you seem more inclined to defend.
For my money, a tainted forum is better than none at all. Frankly, I’m in favor of talking with anyone.
I would be interested in an example to support your assertion that “If you disprove one of their hypotheses, then even under the generous assumption that they accept this, they’ll have a new one the next day.” My feeling is that that knife cuts in several directions, but I’d be interested in an example before addressing it further.
“…the fact remains that knowledge should be gained on what happened to the Jews during World War II. Additionally, people who are skeptical of certain aspects of the Holocaust, like the gas chambers, or the number killed, should be allowed to voice their views without being effectively censored. Such a discourse needs to occur, but I don’t think it can properly occur when what goes under the banner of “reivisionism” is a loud, inconsistent, and relentless din which has already reached its conclusions on the basic of prejudice and hatred.”
I’m all for advancing good faith discourse, though I think the reality of revisionism is more nuanced and complicated than your caricature suggests. To the subtsantial extent that I agree with your goals, we could start by getting specific.
If you haven’t, I suggest you bite the bullet and read “Sherlock.”
I’ll be writing about it at some length soon, and informed criticism is more than welcome.
“You are interested in this subject both because its extremely taboo, and because it gives you a chance to apply positivist thinking to a minefield. I admire that, and I don’t see an anti-semitic motivation behind any of it. If your approach was the prevalent one among deniers, I would have started researching their claims several years ago. So long as you keep this approach I would be willing to follow your posts on the subject and debate your findings with you.”
Thanks. Your comments are helpful. Please stick around. I’ll do my best.
Below are a couple of longish snips from Crowell’s essay, “Bomb Shelters in Birkenau” (2000), the full text of which is archived at:
Crowell is advancing an argument that many of JC Pressac’s “criminal traces” are efficiently explained as structural elements of air raid shelters that are documented in contemporaneous German civil defense literature. I don’t want to convince you that his thesis is correct. Indeed, it may be mistaken. However, I think these excerpts may provide you with a better sense of how positivist revisionist argumentation can proceed without resort to rancor or bad faith or trickery:
This is from the conclusion of the article:
“In conclusion, we feel that the bomb shelter thesis has been substantially proved. There is no doubt that German civil air defense literature is an important key to interpreting gastight fixtures at Auschwitz Birkenau. The essential identity of gastight doors, shutters, and ventilation pipes has been shown, whether for the Birkenau crematoria, or the base camp crematorium, or any of the many trench shelters. Finally, the civil air defense intent of these civil air defense fixtures in the Birkenau crematoria seems to be the only logical explanation, and the only one that can be even indirectly proved with the documents.
“Of course, we could still be wrong. Future researchers could easily test the record by comparing the files of the Central Sauna for the presence of gastight fixtures, or the other concentration camps, particularly their crematoria. Unable to do more, we await the work of these other researchers. We hope that their work is more comprehensive and does more justice to the subject than the efforts of the world’s greatest authorities on Auschwitz.
“It also should be said that the proof of the bomb shelter thesis does not necessarily disprove the claim that hundreds of thousands of people were gassed at Auschwitz. But that claim, which was never really based on documents, is not likely to be refuted with documents. Nor is it our intention to prove that “no one was ever gassed at Auschwitz”, although we do not believe that was the case. The issue here has been to accurately determine the nature of the Criminal Traces, and our conclusion is that the vast majority of them are still best explained in terms of German civil air defense, while the remainder are best explained in terms of disinfection.
“In choosing not to aggressively argue whether gassings took place, either here or elsewhere, we recognize that the belief in gassing is a strong one. It must be admitted also that in a sense such a belief serves as an explanation to those that survived and lost their families. The belief in gassing is also a kind of psychological index of what survivors experienced in the camps: to question the gassings appears to deny their state of mind at the time, as well as their losses. It follows that the belief in gassing is not something that can be dethroned by rational argument. We can approach the conclusion; but it is best for each to come to his own.”
“Holocaust revisionists have been cruelly treated in many western countries, where it has been made a crime to express revisionist views. In other countries, such as the United States and Britain, while the expression of revisionist views is not a crime, those that express such views become the target of persons bent on destroying them. Hence, revisionists have good reasons to be angry.
“Still, we would suggest that to deny the gas chambers in a cavalier or obtrusive way is not likely to be very persuasive, it simply stiffens the polarization already existing. The Jewish people had much to fear in the 20th Century: rightly or wrongly those fears doubtless influence the conduct and attitude of many Jews with regard to revisionism. But in the last analysis revisionism is not aspiring to the Good if it seeks merely to make its opponents fretful, or goad them into doing stupid things. To be sure, the manipulation of whatever happened in the camps, for political, ideological, or economic purposes, and frequently with a pronounced anti-German slant, is bound to rouse anger and lead to inappropriate remarks by revisionists. But it is not right to forget what the Jewish people did suffer, just because western historians have allowed the suffering of everyone else in World War Two to be forgotten. The remedy for historical or historiographical injustice is not to get even, but to be fair.
Therefore, while we consider the gassing claim to be one of the most pervasive and ultimately tragic of historical delusions, it does not follow that the purpose of historical study should be to make broad negative statements. We would prefer that the purpose of historical study would be simply to increase our understanding, and understanding is not achieved by trying to prove something false. It is achieved by trying to prove something true. For our part, there is no need to say that there were no gas chambers. It is enough to say that there were bomb shelters in Birkenau.”
The following excerpt, from section 2.1 of the same article, is especially relevant to positivism. If you are interested, reproductions of the referenced documents are embedded in the original article linked above.
“The above traversal of five documents, or really, types of evidence, makes it clear that civil air defense measures were being implemented in occupied Poland beginning in 1942: to be exact, from August 6,1942. These measures were already advanced by late September of that year. The implementation of these measures extended to the remaining Jewish population of Poland in the city of Warsaw, as well as to the concentration camp in Lublin. These are all reasonable facts that emerge from the documents.
“The problem is that, concerning the claim of mass gassing, and in particular, the claim of mass gassing at Auschwitz, we do not have such documents. There is no high-level document ordering the gassing of people at Auschwitz. There is no mid-level document ordering, or even discussing the gassing of people at Auschwitz. The low-level documents including work orders, requests for materials, and so forth comprise the Criminal Traces. None of these contains any reference to gassing people. There are no contemporaneous eyewitness reports except a purported one, the Franke-Gricksch report, a clumsily typed copy of which did not emerge until thirty years after the war, and which has never been authenticated. The evidence supporting the claim for mass gassings at Auschwitz comes almost entirely from postwar accounts generated at judicial hearings, and, as we noted earlier, all judicial proceedings including and subsequent to the International Military Tribunal operated under the assumption that the gassings took place. It is for these reasons that people are skeptical of the gassing claim.
“The absence of any high or mid-level documents is usually explained by saying that the Nazis deliberately left none behind, in other words, there was a conspiracy not to create any documents. However, that claim itself comes from postwar accounts, and so this argument uses the least reliable kind of evidence to account for the absence of the most reliable kind of evidence. All conspiracy theories are similarly constructed.
“Furthermore, the gaps in the documentation, given the scope of the alleged events, are huge. It is frequently said nowadays that historical events are “proved” by a “convergence of evidence” in which a multiplicity of sources “converge” on a fact. But no competent historian works that way. If the historian begins with a high level document, he or she then looks for mid- and low-level confirmation: for documents to cover every step of the way. If, on the other hand, the search begins at the bottom with an eyewitness account or a vague reference, the existence of higher orders of evidence is inferred, and these are searched for until they are found. Part of the historian’s craft is knowing where to look to find the connecting documents.
“There are two reasons why the above method is the proper procedure for any historian. First, because history is not only a matter of what happened, but also how it happened. This attitude presupposes laying out a hierarchy of documents that will provide a plausible causal chain. Second, and consequently, the historian will instantly recognize the difference between a large quantity of evidence, and the qualitative distribution of that evidence in a hierarchy. If the historian begins with, say, half a dozen eyewitness accounts, he or she will not see any value in a half dozen more: what is needed at that point is the evidence from higher levels that will explain how what the eyewitnesses described took place. In fact, the very first thing a historian should do, when confronted with two eyewitness accounts that describe something similar, is to make sure that there is no point of contact between the accounts, or that the two accounts do not come from a third narrative. Holocaust historians are particularly weak in this area.
“The “convergence of evidence” model is borrowed from evolution, specifically, from evolutionary biology. For the historian, the absence of evidence for gassing in a continuous hierarchy is a serious problem; just as an evolutionary biologist would be dumbfounded if he or she found entire geological strata in which there was no evidence of life at all. That is the proper analogy for the magnitude of the problem faced here. It should be added that we have not constructed these levels of documents to suit our thesis: on the contrary, precisely because of a critical gap in our mid-level documentation, we will not be able to prove the bomb shelter thesis in its entirety.”