The Holocaust As Sacred CowL. A. ROLLINS
Everybody knows about the Holocaust. In barest essentials, the Nazi State, on Adolf Hitler's orders, planned and attempted to kill all European Jews, and succeeded in killing six million of them, mainly in gas chambers in such death camps as Auschwitz and Treblinka. Everybody knows this.
A few years ago, I got into a discussion with the brother of a friend of mine. He had recently returned from Israel, where he had been living for a few years. (He is not Jewish, but had gone to Israel with his Israeli-Jewish wife.) Eventually we ended up debating the merits of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, in the course of that debate, he brought up the six million Jews who, so the familiar story goes, were killed by the Nazis. Since a few years before this I had become a skeptic regarding the Holocaust in general and the six million Jewish victims in particular, I asked him if he was sure that the Nazis had killed six million Jews. He then told me of a visit he had made to Yad Vashem, the state of Israel's official memorial to the "martyrs and heroes" of the Holocaust. He told me that he had seen the names of the victims of the Nazis. I asked if he had counted the names. Of course, he had not, but he informed me that he didn't need to count the names to know that there were six million of them.
This fellow's remarkable ability to determine the number of names at Yad Vashem without counting becomes even more remarkable if one knows that, in fact, Yad Vashem has thus far managed to collect only about three million names of supposed Jewish victims of the Nazis. According to Los Angeles Times staff writer Dial Torgerson in a 25 October 1980 story from Jerusalem: "In the somber Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, are the names of nearly 3 million Jews who died in the Nazi death camps of the 1930s and '40s." Yet, despite this, my friend's brother somehow "knew" that he had seen six million names of Jewish victims at Yad Vashem! This fellow's will-to-believe in the Six Million murdered Jews was so strong that he imagined a non-fact (the six million names at Yad Vashem) to give support to his belief. Such are the absurdities of which a true believer is capable.
But this is by no means a unique case of dogmatism. For many people, the six million figure is not a fact, although they call it that; rather it is an article of faith, believed in not because of compelling evidence in its support, but because of compelling psychological reasons. For such people, the six million figure is a Sacred Truth, not to be doubted and, if necessary, to be defended with dogmatism, mysticism, illogic, fantasy or even downright lies. (Such pious frauds, or holy lies, have a venerable pedigree, going back to the early Christians who attributed their writings to other persons better known and more revered than themselves, to the pre-Christian Jewish writers who forged pro4ewish versions of the Sybilline Oracles, and to even earlier true believers.)
In April of 1982, controversy swirled about a Los Angeles teacher, George Ashley, who had reportedly told a class of Jewish students that the number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust had been greatly exaggerated, that, perhaps, one million had died, rather than the familiar six million. Among the responses to the news reports of Ashley's heresy was a letter published in the Los Angeles Times signed by one Joseph Rosenfeld, which proclaimed: "All reputable scholars have accepted the 6 million figure-a figure reached painfully and painstakingly by pouring over countless lists of concentration camp victims, family histories, body counts, and every conceivable heartbreaking method available to social scientists and historians."
But Rosenfeld's story of how the six million figure was arrived at is pure fantasy. In fact, as early as 1943, two years before the end of the Holocaust, the narrator of Ben Hecht's propaganda play We Will Never Die, was already claiming that two million Jews had been killed and that four million more would die by the end of the war. Thus, the six million figure was never more than a very rough estimate of Jewish deaths. How could it have been anything more, given that, as Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel wrote in their 1967 book, The Incomparable Crime, "No figures have been published giving the numbers of Jews left alive in the Soviet Union; the estimate differ widely, and lie between 1.6 and 2.6 million." Of course, the number of Jews killed in the Soviet Union is a correlative of the number of Jews left alive. The more Jews that were killed, the fewer that would have been left alive. The less that were killed, the more that would have been left alive. If the estimates of the numbers of Jews left alive in the Soviet Union differ by as much as one million, then, by implication, the estimates of the numbers of Jews killed in the Soviet Union must also differ by as much as one million. And so I repeat: Rosenfeld's story of how the six million figure was "painfully and painstakingly" arrived at is pure fantasy. It is akin to, though not nearly as entertaining as, Alice's adventures in wonderland.
Rosenfeld's assertion that all reputable historians have accepted the six million figure smacks of a tautology. If he defines "reputable historians" to mean "historians who have accepted the six million figure," then what he says is, by definition, true, but also trivial because there is no reason why anyone else should accept such an obviously loaded definition. On the other hand, if he does not define his terms in a loaded manner, then he has the problem of explaining how French-Jewish historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, in an essay devoted primarily to critizing revisionism regarding the Holocaust, could say that "nothing must be considered sacred. The figure of the six million Jews exterminated, which originated at Nuremberg [not true, as I've already pointed out] has nothing sacred or definitive about it, and many historians arrived at a somewhat lower figure."
Among the historians who have arrived at lower figures are two prominent Jewish Holocaust historians (Holocaustorians), Raul Hilberg and Gerald Reitlinger, both firm believers in Nazi genocide and the gas chambers. Hilberg estimated that about 5.1 million European Jews died during World War II, while Reitlinger estimated between 4.2 and 4.6 million dead. An appendix to Nora Levin's The Holocaust (pages 715-718) gives the estimates of Hilberg and Reitlinger as well as the more conventional estimates of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine (5,721,500) and of Jacob Lestchinsky (5,957,000). As Levin explains:
One wonders if Rosenfeld would dismiss Hilberg and Reitlinger as disreputable. If so, then it would only be fair to dismiss Rosenfeld as an incorrigible dogmatist.
In any case, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, "the avenging angel of the Holocaust," has his own fantasy about the six million figure. In the wake of a brief but favorable commentary by British author Colin Wilson on a booklet titled Did Six Million Really Die?, Wiesenthal wrote a letter, published in the April 1975 issue of books and bookmen. According to Wiesenthal: "Scientific researchers and historians in various countries reached the conclusion, based on German documents, that the figure of exterminated Jews was between five million eight hundred thousand and six million two hundred thousand. They agreed to a round figure of six million."
I think I've already given enough information about the widely divergent estimates of Jewish deaths to show that this is just another fairy story. The only question is: does Wiesenthal himself actually believe it?
Another letter published in the Los Angeles Times concerning the aforementioned Ashley affair was signed by one Robert Glasser, self-identified as "the Anti-Defamation League's staff person handling the case of George Ashley ... " Glasser insisted that "the question regarding this instructor is not ... one of academic freedom. It is simply a fact that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and any attempt to teach otherwise is akin to teaching that 1 plus 1 equals 3." But, as I've already demonstrated, the six million figure is not a fact; it is, at best, an estimate, an estimate disputed even by some prominent Jewish Holocaustorians. If Glasser is not simply a tale-spinner, his assertion can best be explained as a result of ignorance and dogmatism, which so frequently go hand-in-hand. As Montaigne said, "Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know."
In any case, Robert Glasser is not the only ADLer in L.A. given to making dogmatic assertions about the six million figure. The Los Angeles Times of 3 May, 1981 quoted ADL attorney David Lehrer's comment on the claim that the Holocaust is a myth: "It's a historical fact and we're not going to debate it. Are there any reputable historians who deny that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust?"
Yes, Mr. Lehrer, there are "reputable" historians, i.e., Jewish Holocaustorians, who deny that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. But, in any case, if the Holocaust is a historical fact, rather than an article of faith, why is Lehrer unwilling to debate it? Is it not because, as Learned Hand said, "All discussion, all debate, all dissidence tends to question, and in consequence to upset existing convictions"? Apparently, Lehrer cannot tolerate the thought that existing convictions about the Holocaust might be upset by open discussion and debate, and so he simply refuses to debate.
My point that the six million figure is sacred to many people is explicitly confirmed by the oath sworn by attendees of the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in June of 1981: "We vow we shall never let the sacred memory of our perished 6 million be scorned or erased." But the belief in the six million figure is only one of the tenets comprising what might be called the Holocaust Creed. And, though some may not regard the six million figure as sacred, they may nevertheless consider other tenets of the Holocaust Creed to be sacred and unquestionable.
For example, Eugene Wetzler, a Jewish Marxist, has written an essay largely devoted to attacking Noam Chomsky, the libertarian socialist and MIT hnguist, because of his defense of the civil liberties of French Holocaust revisionist Robert Faurisson. Wetzler writes:
For Wetzler, to raise or lower the six million figure is acceptable, but to bring into question "the fact" of genocide is not. Thus, for Wetzler, "the fact" of genocide is a Sacred Truth, not to be doubted or questioned.
But I propose to question this Sacred Truth of genocide. Did the Nazi State attempt to kill all European Jews? Consider this passage from Goebbel's diary of 27 March 1942, which is sometimes cited as evidence of Goebbel's supposed knowledge of a program to exterminate all Jews:
Assuming the authenticity of the passage, and assuming that "liquidated" meant "killed," then Goebbels was projecting the killing of about 60 per cent of the Jews, with the others to be used for forced labor. While such an interpretation does give support to a charge of mass murder committed by certain Nazis, it does not support a charge of genocide, of total extermination.
Now consider the postwar confessions of Rudolph Höss, commandant of Auschwitz. Höss repeatedly said that in June of 1941 he received from Himmler an order for the total extermination of European Jewry. There are, however, a number of oddities in Höss' confessions, including his reference to an "extermination camp" named "Wolzek," which nobody else on Planet Earth ever heard of. Also, the confessions Höss made as a prisoner of the British and at Nuremberg differ in some respects from the confessions he later made as a prisoner of the Polish Communists. For example, in his later confessions he reduced his estimate of the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz from about 21/2 million to about 11/4 million. And he modified his story about the extermination order he said he received from Himmler. While he still claimed to have received such an order, he also claimed that Himmler had soon modified the order to exempt from extermination Jews capable of war work. As Höss put it:
Putting it more succinctly, Höss wrote that, "When the Reichsführer SS modified his original Extermination Order of 1941, by which all Jews without exception were to be destroyed, and ordered instead that those capable of work were to be separated from the rest and employed in the armaments industry, Auschwitz became a Jewish camp." (Op. cit., p122.)
Whatever one may think of Höss' confessions, it is a fact, acknowledged by nearly all Holocaustorians, that many Jews were used by the Nazis for forced labor. So, if there was an extermination program, it is hard to see how it could have been a program for total extermination, for genocide. Thus, Eugene Wetzler's unquestionable "fact" of genocide is questionable indeed.
Of course, dogmatism comes as easily to a Marxist intellectual like Wetzler as swimming does to a fish. But consider the way in which 34 French historians responded to the heresies of Holocaust revisionist Robert Faurisson. These historians signed a declaration, published in Le Monde on 21 February 1979, which concluded thusly:
But who, other than two-legged sheep, would take seriously such a dogmatic declaration? For all I know, there may have been gas chambers used for the mass murder of Jews in some of the Nazi camps. But I refuse to believe in such gas chambers merely because some gang of would-be intellectual dictators tries to lay down the law. As the late novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand once said, speaking through John Galt, the hero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, "Independence is the recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape it-that no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinchhitter can live your life-that the vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say-so as truth, his edicts as middle-man between your consciousness and your existence."
The insistence of 34 French historians that the mass murder of Jews in gas chambers was technically possible because "it took place" is reminiscent of the argument of Joseph Glanvill in Soducismus Triumphatus (1681): "Matters of fact well proved ought not to be denied, because we cannot conceive how they can be performed. Nor is it a reasonable method of inference, first to presume the thing impossible, and thence to conclude that the fact cannot be proved." What were the "matters of fact well proved" that Glanvill thought should not be denied? They were the well proved "facts" of existence of witches and witchcraft. It should be pointed out, however, that, unlike those who denied the existence of witches and witchcraft because, as Glanvill said, they "presumed" it to be impossible, Robert Faurisson does not simply presume the Nazi gas chambers to have been impossible. Rather, he presents arguments based on allegedly factual information about the properties of Zyklon B, the gas allegedly used for mass murder at Auschwitz. For example, in "The Gas Chambers of Auschwitz Appear to be Physically Inconceivable," (The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1981), Faurisson writes that, "This gas is inflammable and explosive; there must not be any naked flame in the vicinity and, most definitely, it is necessary not to smoke." He then cites the testimony of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss that immediately after opening the door of a gas chamber, following the gassing, prisoners would begin to remove the corpses, smoking and eating as they worked. Faurisson asks:
Assuming that Faurisson is right about the inflammability and explosiveness of Zyklon B, he has raised some pertinent (and impertinent) questions about the physical possibility of the notorious Nazi gas chambers, questions which deserve to be answered by those who maintain that those gas chambers really existed. But, rather than answer Faurisson's questions, 34 French historians dogmatically insist that the alleged mass murder with Zyklon B was possible because "it took place." Such dogmatism regarding the gas chambers is the intellectual equivalent of the dogmatism of Catholic historians who insist that it was possible for the sun to plunge toward the earth above Fatima because "it took place," as attested by thousands of eyewitnesses. As some People believe in the Holy Ghost, others believe in the Holocaust.
However, Lucy Dawidowicz, one of the leading Jewish Holocaustorians, actually approves of the French historians' dogmatic declaration, which, she says, "could well serve as a guide to American historians." Dawidowicz would undoubtedly be pleased, therefore, to know that some American academics have reacted to Holocaust revisionism with the same degree of open-mindness as was displayed by the astronomers who refused to look through Galileo's telescope but nevertheless "knew" that he could not possibly have discovered any new heavenly bodies with it. One of the reactions to newspaper reports about Holocaust revisionist Arthur Butz and his book, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, was a letter to the New York Times by one Professor Wolfe of New York University. Wolfe said that Northwestern University, where Butz teaches electrical engineering and computer sciences, should bring him up on charges of "academic incompetence" and "moral turpitude" for having written a book whose title he gave as Fabrication of a Hoax. Wolfe had seen the New York Times story which reported this incorrect title, but he had not seen the book itself. Noam Chomsky has written that, "No rational person will condemn a book, however outlandish its conclusions may seem, without at least reading it carefully; in this case, checking the documentation offered, and so on." But Professor Wolfe is not a rational person, at least, not in relation to Holocaust revisionism.
Another true believer who was moved to comment on "the Faurisson affair" was a Michael Blankfort of Los Angeles, perhaps the same Michael Blankfort who was a playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, and who, in an interview given shortly before his death in July 1982, spoke of a visit he made to Israel in 1948 which resulted in "the onset of a devotion to Israel that is without parallel in my life." In a letter published in The Nation, Blankfort wrote, "Anyone who claims the Holocaust never happened is insane. Why shouldn't a university fire a crazy teacher who might harm his students with his criminal delusions?" Coincidentally, iconoclastic psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, in The Manufacture of Madness, mentioned a doctor of the Sorborme who wrote in 1609 that the witches' sabbat was an objective fact, disbelieved only by those of unsound mind. The parallel is obvious, and ominous.
Blankfort's dogmatic assertion that anyone who says the Holocaust never happened is insane, is an example of one of the most common ploys of Holocaust dogmatists, a fallacy Ayn Rand identified as "the Argument from Intimidation," which, as she explained,
In Blankfort's case, "the Argument from Intimidation" took the form: Only those who are insane can hold such an idea, i.e., the idea that the Holocaust never happened. But, as Rand said, "The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence."
Another true believer is my very own Congressman, Representative Henry A. Waxman. In a column published in The B'nai B'rith Messenger of Los Angeles, Waxman waxed abusive:
It appears that Waxman does not even know what he's talking about. The Institute for Historical Review has offered a reward of $50,000 to the first person to prove to its satisfaction, in accord with American legal standards, that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz, but no one has offered prizes "to anyone who can prove that a single Jew died in the concentration camps." In any case, Waxman's response to Holocaust revisionism is simply a variation of "the Argument from Intimidation": Only the perverse, the deranged or the utterly sick can engage in debunking the Holocaust. Another confession of intellectual impotence.
One more variation of "the Argument from Intimidation" was employed by British writer Alan "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" Sillitoe in a letter published in books and bookmen, April 1975. Responding to Colin Wilson's aforementioned favorable comments on Did Six Million Really Die?, Sillitoe declared: "To disbelieve that an act of colossal and monstrous injustice has been committed is an act of injustice in itself." In other words: Only the unjust can disbelieve the Holocaust. Yet another confession of intellectual impotence. Some true believers, however, are not content merely to censure Holocaust heretics; they want to censor them as well. For example, Professor Franklin H. Littell of the religious studies department at Temple University, who is a member of the U.S. Council on the Holocaust, warned participants in a Jerusalem symposium on anti-Semitism that the damage being done by revisionists (what damage?) should be taken seriously. According to The Jerusalem Post International Edition, 19-25 October 1980, Littell announced, "You can't 'discuss' the truth of the Holocaust. That's distortion of free speech," and was applauded when he declared, "The U.S. shold emulate West Germany, which outlaws such public exercises. We now have to deal with a minimum of violence; later, we'll have to fight them in the streets." Thus, in true Orwellian fashion, Littell declares: Censorship is free speech. But, as Ayn Rand wrote in her book, For the New Intellectual:
Since Littell proposes precisely to substitute guns for rational persuasion, no discussion of the truth of the Holocaust is possible with him. So I have only one thing to say to Littell: just try and stop me from discussing the truth of the Holocaust! Wendell Phillips once said: "If there is anything in the universe that can't stand discussion, let it crack." And I say: If the Sacred Truth of the Holocaust can't stand discussion, let it crack.
Another confirmation of my point about the sacredness of the Holocaust for true believers can be found in what I call the canonization of the surviviors. With rare exceptions, such as Roman Polanski, Holocaust survivors are seen as Semitic saints. Instead of halos over their heads, though, concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms serve as the insignia of their sainthood. This canonization of survivors is reflected in their immunity from criticism, or even skepticism, by the minions of the mass media of communications. How often have you seen or read any mass-medium journalist doubting or disputing the word of a Holocaust survivor? Rarely, if ever, I'll wager.
Yet another manifestation of the sacredness of the Holocaust is revealed in the headline of a Los Angeles Times story about the increasing numbers of people visiting the site of the Dachau concentration camp. The headline: "Record Number Visit Shrine to Nazi Victims." Thus, Dachau is a shrine, one of many, to which the pious make pilgrimages. But, if, for so many people, the Holocaust is a sacred cow, a matter of blind faith, the question is: Why? I think that Jewish psychohistorian Howard F. Stein has given at least part of the answer in "The Holocaust and the Myth of the Past as History," (The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1980):
Jean-Louis Tristani, one of the contributors to the book Intolerable Intolerance, gives an analysis which I think complements that of Howard Stein:
Judaic scholar Jacob Neusner, in his book, Stranger at Home, treats the Holocaust as part of a myth of "Holocaust and redemption."
If we synthesize these three analyses, we get the following conclusions: (1) the Holocaust is a metaphor for the meaning of Jewish history, that is, that the world is in conspiracy to annihilate the Jews; (2) the Holocaust is part of a myth, comparable to earlier Jewish myths, encompassing the Holocaust, the Exodus and the Rebirth of the State of Israel; and (3) this myth explains to Jews why they must support the State of Israel.
Thus, it is not surprising to find Alfred Lilienthal reporting, in The Zionist Connection:
One Holocaust prayer can be found in Bernard Martin's Prayer in Judaism. It is "An elegy for the Six Million" by David Polish. (Polish, incidentally, makes use of numerous variations on the mythic theme that the fat of murdered Jews was used by the Nazis to make soap.)
As Howard Stein says, the Holocaust -- the alleged Nazi extermination of European Jewry -- is a metaphor for the meaning of Jewish history. The question is: is it anything more than a metaphor? In his book Heresies, Thomas Szasz says, "Most of the heresies in the book ... pertain to matters where language is used in two ways, literally and metaphorically: where the true believer speaks metaphorically but claims that he asserts literal truths; and where heresy may consist in no more than insisting that a metaphorical truth may be a literal falsehood." Szasz, however, believes that the metaphor of the Holocaust expresses a literal truth, so let me be the one to commit the heresy of insisting that the metaphorical truth of the Holocaust may be a literal falsehood.