Debating the Undebatable: The Weber-Shermer Clash
Exchanging Views on the Holocaust
For several years now, Jewish organizations have said that to debate those who dispute the Six Million story gives legitimacy to a view that is beyond the bounds of decent public discourse, and provides a forum for "hate." Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust, insists that there is not and cannot be a debate on the Holocaust. In a few countries, including France and Germany, those who express dissident views on this issue are treated as criminals.
Actually, there have already been a few scattered Holocaust debates. For several hours in April 1979, French professor Robert Faurisson defended his revisionist views against challenge by several "exterminationist" historians on Italian-language Swiss television. That same year the Italian history journal Storia Illustrata opened its pages to both Faurisson and anti-revisionist scholars to present their conflicting arguments. (See R. Faurisson, "The Gas Chambers: Truth or Lie?," Winter 1981 Journal, pp. 319-373.)
Although nothing on this scale has so far been possible in the United States, on Saturday afternoon, July 22, 1995, a strong beam of light pierced the prevailing blackout when two scholars squared off in a debate at a hotel in Costa Mesa, California. Michael Shermer, history of science associate professor at Occidental College, and editor-publisher of Skeptic magazine, matched wits for two hours with Mark Weber, Director of the Institute for Historical Review, and editor of its Journal of Historical Review. Greg Raven, Journal associate editor, served as MC for the event, which was sponsored by the Institute for Historical Review, and introduced the two participants. Each speaker delivered a 30-minute opening presentation, followed by a 20-minute rebuttal. A question and answer period concluded the event. (A videotape of this debate is available from the IHR Store.)
Changing Holocaust Story
In his opening presentation, Weber explained precisely what revisionists say, and do not say, about the Holocaust issue. He stressed that the Holocaust story has changed drastically over the years. What we are told today is quite different than the story given at the great Nuremberg trial of 1945-46. Weber continued:
Many extermination claims that were once widely accepted have been quietly dropped in recent years. For example, the great Nuremberg Trial of 1945-1946 supposedly proved that the Germans systematically killed people in gas chambers at Dachau, Buchenwald and other concentration camps in Germany proper. That part of the extermination story proved so untenable that it was abandoned more than twenty years ago.
As Weber pointed out, no serious historian now supports the once supposedly proven stories of "extermination camps" in the territory of the old German Reich. Even Simon Wiesenthal, the well-known "Nazi hunter," acknowledged in 1975 and again in 1993 that, "there were no extermination camps on German soil."
These days, said Weber, prominent Holocaust historians maintain that large numbers of Jews were gassed at just six camps in what is now Poland: Auschwitz (including Birkenau), Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec. However, Weber said, the so-called "evidence" presented for gassings at these six camps is not qualitatively different than the now-discredited so-called "evidence" for alleged gassings at the camps in Germany.
At the great Nuremberg trial, Weber pointed out, the Allies charged that the Germans had murdered one and a half million people in the Majdanek camp alone. In the decades that followed, this charge was widely repeated. Today no one believes it.
Weber and Shermer each devoted considerable attention to the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz, and especially Auschwitz-Birkenau, the cornerstone of the Holocaust story. At the Nuremberg Tribunal, and for decades afterwards, it was universally alleged that the Germans killed four million prisoners at Auschwitz alone. In recent years, Weber pointed out, this figure has been drastically revised downwards. For example, prominent French Holocaust historian Jean-Claude Pressac has recently estimated that 775,000 persons, of whom 630,000 were Jews, perished at Auschwitz. While even such lower figures are incorrect, said Weber, they show how the Auschwitz story has changed drastically over the years.
Blame for the wildly exaggerated four million figure is today pinned in the Poles or the Soviets. "What is routinely suppressed," said Weber, is the fact that the four million Auschwitz figure was not only promoted by the Soviets, but officially endorsed by the United States and Britain, notably at the Nuremberg Tribunal, and was widely and uncritically repeated in the American media and major reference works.
One document that is constantly cited as key evidence for the Holocaust extermination story, said Weber, is the postwar "confession" of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss. In his statement of April 5, 1946, which was submitted by the US prosecution at the main Nuremberg trial, Höss supposedly "confessed" to killing two and half million people at Auschwitz between 1940 and December 1943. (He claimed that another half million succumbed to starvation and disease during this period.)
But if far fewer than two million died at Auschwitz, as is now officially conceded in Israel and Poland, the Höss "confession" is implicitly fraudulent. In fact, said Weber, we now know that this "confession," as well as Höss' Nuremberg trial testimony, are not only demonstrably false on crucial points, but were obtained by torture. (See: Rupert Butler, Legions of Death [England: 1983], pp. 235ff.; R. Faurisson, "How the British Obtained the Confessions of Rudolf Höss," Winter 1986-87 Journal, pp. 389-403.)
In spite of the drastic downward revisions in the once supposedly authoritative death tolls for Auschwitz and Majdanek, said Weber, no non-Revisionist historian has yet had the courage to draw the "rather obvious conclusion that the legendary six million figure cannot possibly be correct." For the time being, anyway, it is still treated with reverence.
Weber cited detailed aerial photographs of Auschwitz taken by Allied reconnaissance aircraft on several random days in 1944, during the height of the alleged extermination period there. These photographs, which were first made public in 1979, "show no trace of piles of corpses, smoking crematory chimneys or masses of Jews awaiting death," all of which have been alleged, and which would have been visible if Auschwitz had indeed been the infamous extermination center it is said to have been.
Weber spoke about the various expert reports and on-site forensic examinations that have been made of the alleged extermination gas chambers, especially at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He spoke first about Fred Leuchter and his February 1988 on-site investigation at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek. In sworn testimony in the 1988 Toronto trial of Ernst Zündel, and in a technical report, Leuchter described every aspect of his investigations. Presenting photos of the facilities, plans, charts and scientific data, he explained his startling conclusion that the "gas chamber" story is absurd and physically impossible. It is worth noting that at the time Leuchter was widely acknowledged as America's foremost execution hardware specialist. (See the Winter 1992-93 Journal, pp. 421-428, 485-492.)
Enlargement of an Allied aerial reconnaissance photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau, taken on August 25, 1944. It shows no trace of piles of corpses, smoking crematory chimneys or masses of Jews awaiting death. A large blow-up of this photograph was displayed at the Weber-Shermer debate.
Leuchter's findings have been authoritatively corroborated by a major Polish research center, Weber continued. They prompted the Auschwitz State Museum, an agency of the Polish government, to commission the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow to conduct a similar forensic investigation. In a confidential report dated September 24, 1990, the Krakow Institute confirmed that its own findings very closely match those of the American gas chamber specialist. (See the Summer 1991 Journal, pp. 207-216.)
Dr. William Lindsey, an American research chemist employed for 33 years by the Dupont Corporation, likewise personally inspected the so-called gas chambers, said Weber. In a 1985 court case Lindsey testified under oath that the Auschwitz gassing story is physically impossible. Based on his careful examination of the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, and on his years of experience, he declared: "I have come to the conclusion that no one was willfully or purposefully killed with Zyklon B [hydrogen cyanide] in this manner. I consider it absolutely impossible."
Similarly, said Weber, a leading Austrian engineer, Walter Lüftl, declared in March 1992 that the stories of mass extermination of Jews in gas chambers at Auschwitz and Mauthausen are "technically impossible." Lüftl, a court-recognized engineer, heads a large engineering firm in Vienna. At the time his report was made public, he was president of the Austrian Engineers Chamber, a four thousand member professional association. (See the Winter 1992-93 Journal, pp. 391-420.)
German chemist Germar Rudolf similarly published a detailed report on the supposed gas chambers of Auschwitz, including Birkenau. His 1993 report, Weber said, is based on an on-site investigation, chemical analysis of samples, and meticulous research. Rudolf, a certified chemist and doctoral candidate, worked at the renowned Max Planck Institut research center in Stuttgart. "For chemical-physical reasons," Rudolf concluded, "the claimed mass gassings with hydrocyanic acid in the alleged 'gas chambers' in Auschwitz did not take place ... The supposed facilities for mass killing in Auschwitz and Birkenau were not suitable for this purpose."
'Steam Chambers' and 'Jewish Soap'
A casting of this "gas chamber" door from the Majdanek camp in Poland is on display at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. French Holocaust researcher Jean-Claude Pressac has conceded that this "gas chamber" is a fraud. (See the Sept.-Oct. 1993 "Journal," p. 39.)
At one time, Weber pointed out, it was seriously claimed that the Germans exterminated Jews with electricity and steam, and that they manufactured soap from Jewish corpses. At Nuremberg, he went on, the United States charged that the Germans killed Jews at Treblinka, not in gas chambers, as is now claimed, but by steaming them to death in so-called "steam chambers." These bizarre stories have also been quietly abandoned in recent years. (See "Treblinka," Summer 1992 Journal, pp. 133-158.)
In April 1990, Israeli historians conceded that the Germans did not manufacture bars of soap from the bodies of murdered Jews -- contrary to what had been alleged for years in countless periodicals and supposedly authoritative history texts. If this story is not true, one might reasonably ask, how then did it ever get started? Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer had a ready answer. He charged that the Nazis invented it. In fact, said Weber, this particular fable was first widely circulated in 1942 by the World Jewish Congress, and especially by its president, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise.
The Holocaust extermination story is superficially plausible, said Weber. Everyone has seen the horrific photos of dead and dying inmates taken at Bergen-Belsen, Nordhausen and other concentration camps when they were liberated by British and American forces in the final weeks of the war in Europe. These people were unfortunate victims, said Weber, not of an extermination program, but of disease and malnutrition brought on by the complete collapse of Germany in the final months of the war. In fact, he said, if there had been an extermination program, the Jews found by Allied forces at the end of the war would have long since been killed.
Perhaps the best known "Holocaust victim" has been Anne Frank, whose name is known around the world for her famous diary. Her fate, said Weber, is typical of many Jews who lost their lives in German camps during the war. The 15-year-old girl and her father, Otto Frank, were deported from the Netherlands to Auschwitz in September 1944. Several weeks later, in the face of the advancing Soviet army, Anne was evacuated along with many other Jews to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where she died of typhus in March 1945.
Her father came down with typhus in Auschwitz and was sent to the camp hospital to recover. He was one of thousands of sick and feeble Jews who were left behind when the Germans abandoned the camp in January 1945, shortly before it was overrun by the Soviets. He died in Switzerland in 1980. If the German policy had been to kill Anne Frank, neither she, nor her father and sister (along with many other Jews), would not have "survived" Auschwitz. "As tragic as it was," said Weber, "their fate
cannot be reconciled with the extermination story."
Himmler's Order to the Camps
At the end of the Second World War, Weber said, the Allies confiscated a tremendous quantity of German documents dealing with Germany's wartime Jewish policy, which was sometimes referred to as the "final solution." "But not a single German document has ever been found that orders or even refers to an extermination program," he emphasized. "To the contrary, the documents clearly show that the German 'final solution' policy was one of emigration and deportation, not extermination."
Moreover, said Weber, there "is no documentary evidence that Adolf Hitler ever gave an order to exterminate the Jews, or that he knew of any extermination program." Instead, Weber continued, "the record shows that the German leader wanted the Jews to leave Europe, by emigration if possible and by deportation if necessary."
Contrary to the popular propaganda image, the wartime German authorities were concerned about the high death rate in the concentration camps due to disease, and took measures to prevent deaths among the inmates. In this regard, Weber quoted from a directive dated December 28, 1942, from the head of the SS camp administration office to all the German concentration camps, including Auschwitz. It sharply criticized the high death rate of inmates due to disease, and ordered that "camp physicians must use all means at their disposal to significantly reduce the death rate in the various camps." Furthermore, it ordered: "The camp doctors must supervise more often than in the past the nutrition of the prisoners and, in cooperation with the administration, submit improvement recommendations to the camp commandants ..." Finally, the directive stressed, "The Reichsführer SS [Himmler] has ordered that the death rate absolutely must be reduced."
Holocaust historians rely heavily on so-called "survivor testimony," to support the extermination story. But such "evidence," Weber said, is notoriously unreliable. He cited an article by Jewish historian Samuel Gringauz, himself a "survivor" (Jewish Social Studies, Jan. 1950). "Most of the memoirs and reports" of "survivors," Gringauz pointed out, "are full of preposterous verbosity, graphomanic exaggeration, dramatic effects, overestimated self-inflation, dilettante philosophizing, would-be lyricism, unchecked rumors, bias, partisan attacks and apologies."
In addition, Weber continued, more than ten thousand of the twenty thousand so-called "testimonies" of Jewish "survivors" on file at the Yad Vashem Holocaust center in Israel are also unreliable, according to a front page article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper of August 17th, 1986. The report quotes Shmuel Krakowski, the archives director of the Israeli government's Holocaust memorial center, who declared that "over half of the 20,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors on record at Yad Vashem are 'unreliable'."
As a fairly typical example of "eyewitness" gas chamber evidence, Weber quoted from the sworn statement of Regina Bialek, a former Auschwitz prisoner who supposedly survived a "gassing." (See her statement on page 32). Calling this first-person account "absurd" and "ludicrous," Weber pointed out that her description of a "gassing" is one that no serious historian today would credit.
Weber took several minutes to deal with claims presented in one of the most widely distributed pieces of Holocaust propaganda. He held up a copy of The Record: The Holocaust in History, a publication of the Zionist Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith that purports to be a reliable account of how Europe's Jews were treated between 1933 and 1945.
According to The Record, said Weber, no less two million Jews were killed at Treblinka alone. But it does not claim that the victims were shot or gassed, which is the generally accepted story these days, but maintains instead that they were steamed to death -- a story no reputable historian now accepts. Another item, Weber continued, tells readers about mass killings at the Belzec camp. Citing an "eyewitness account," The Record reports that Jews were put to death there, not by gassing, but by electrocuting them in a special hydraulic electrocution device. This is yet another discredited propaganda fable.
This ADL publication also includes a photograph of a door with a sinister skull and crossbones emblem, and the words in German: "Caution! Gas! Mortal Danger! Do Not Open!" Underneath this photo a caption tells readers: "Door of a gas chamber, typical of ones through which millions of Jews passed to their deaths." In fact, said Weber, this photograph actually shows the door of a non-homidical gas chamber at Dachau used to kill lice in clothing. It was never used to kill people. At Auschwitz, the ADL Record goes on to report, "more than four million persons were systematically slaughtered." As Weber had already mentioned, this is another once authoritatively accepted claim that has been consigned to the trash heap of history.
"Even after more than forty years," said Weber, "the vast Holocaust campaign shows no sign of diminishing, but instead seems to grow more intense with each passing year." He continued: "This relentless media campaign, which Jewish-American historian Alfred Lilienthal appropriately calls 'Holocaustomania,' portrays the fate of the Jews during the Second World War as the central event of history."
Non-Jewish victims just do not merit the same concern, said Weber. "For example, there are no American memorials, 'study centers,' or annual observances for the victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, even though it is well established that Stalin's victims vastly outnumber Hitler's ... The Holocaust has become both a flourishing business and even a kind of new religion for many Jews."
While we are endlessly told that the Germans murdered six million European Jews during the Second World War, said Weber, the public is kept largely ignorant of the conflict's non-Jewish victims. Weber continued:
If you ask an average, reasonably educated American: "How many European Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II?," the almost automatic answer is, of course, six million. But if you ask that same person: How many Americans lost their lives in the Second World War, or, for that matter, how many British, or Chinese, or Germans, died, the response is usually an admission of ignorance.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Weber noted, some 20 million Chinese civilian perished in World War II, while according to the Chinese government, 35 million Chinese lost their lives as a result of Japanese aggression. "How many Americans know or care about these Asian victims of the Second World War?," Weber asked.
Shermer's 'Convergence of Evidence'
As Michael Shermer came to the podium the audience greeted him with a round of applause. The Holocaust is obviously a very emotional issue, he told the gathering, "if not the most emotional event in modern history." All the same, he went on, as a "civil libertarian" he entirely agrees that the principle of free speech should also protect dissident views about the Holocaust. As it happens, he had just returned from Europe, where he inspected the sites of the wartime German concentration camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Mauthausen and Dachau.
He sought to discredit Holocaust revisionists (and their arguments) by comparing them with anti-Darwinian "creationists." He rejected as specious Robert Faurisson's often-repeated demand for "one proof, just one proof" of a wartime German homicidal gas chamber. "He's not going to get 'one proof'," said Shermer, "because there isn't 'one proof' of a gas chamber." Faurisson's call is like the creationist demand for "just one fossil" proving evolution. "Evolution is not proved by one fossil," Shermer said.
"We are very confident of the sequence of historical events in evolution and in the Holocaust," he continued. "The Holocaust, as it is generally accepted, happened," said Shermer. Evidence for the extermination of six million Jews, many of them in gas chambers, is "constantly fine tuned and changed." "While there may be problems with bits and pieces of the story," said Shermer, "we have to look at the big picture." What proves "the Holocaust," he said, is a "convergence of evidence" or a "consilience of inductions."
"Did the Nazis intend to exterminate European Jews?," Shermer asked. He responded to his own query by saying that this question is too simple. "The Holocaust is not a single event that occurred at one time," he said, but rather a collection of events. Rather than an over-arching plan or program, the "Holocaust evolved over time."
Perhaps the most impressive evidence presented by Shermer to prove a German extermination policy were several wartime statements by high-ranking Third Reich officials. These included excerpts from the "service journal" of Hans Frank, governor of German-ruled Poland, passages from the diary of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and a portion of SS chief Heinrich Himmler's well-known October 1943 Posen speech. (Shermer had already published these in the June 1994 "pseudohistory" issue of his Skeptic magazine, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 44-54.)
In spite of what Weber had said earlier about it, Shermer also cited the postwar testimony of former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss as important evidence of a German extermination program. Shermer offered no response to the specific points made by Weber about this, except to say that Höss' testimony "has some funky things surrounding it," and that Höss' figures may be "way off." Shermer also compared Höss' postwar testimony with that of Perry Broad and camp physician Dr. Johann Paul Kremer. (On this, see: R. Faurisson "Confessions of SS Men who were at Auschwitz," Summer 1981 Journal, pp. 103-136.)
Holding up a copy of the 1994 anthology, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Shermer recommended this work and specifically endorsed the contribution there of Canadian architect Robert-Jan van Pelt. Quoting van Pelt, Shermer said that "Auschwitz has become a myth ... Few events can rival the mythic power of Auschwitz."
Auschwitz, said Shermer, was "never intended, he [Van Pelt] proves, to be an extermination camp." Rather, it "evolved" into a killing center. Holocaust historians such as Pressac and van Pelt now contend that the supposed "gas chambers" at Kremas II and III were originally planned and constructed as normal morgues (Leichenkeller). Only later, they assert, were these rooms transformed into killing facilities.
Weber stressed that while Shermer readily acknowledges that much of what we have been told about the Holocaust over the years is not true, and that many specific Holocaust claims are now demonstrably false, he entirely ignores the implications of this drastic revision of the historical record. Piles of once supposedly solid "evidence" are now acknowledged to be fraudulent, numerous "eyewitness" testimonies and "official" reports are now conceded to be worthless. But this is of more than academic significance. Many lives have been ruined because of such once supposedly "proven" Holocaust claims. Shermer ignored numerous specific points made by Weber, and was vague about precisely when and where Jews were supposedly gassed, even at Auschwitz.
Shermer's "convergence of evidence" thesis is fundamentally flawed, Weber went on, because it can readily be used to "prove" claims, such as gassings at Dachau, that are now universally regarded as untrue. Indeed, the evidence presented at Nuremberg for (mythical) gassings at Dachau, said Weber, is in some ways stronger than the evidence presented there for gassings at Auschwitz. To "prove" gassings at Dachau, Nuremberg prosecutors were at least able to point to the "gas chamber" itself, cite an official US congressional investigative report, and quote "eyewitness" testimony by former camp physician Dr. Franz Blaha.
The story of gassings at the Auschwitz I main camp has also changed, Weber pointed out. For years a room there was shown off to tourists as a homicidal "gas chamber" in its "original state." Now it is acknowledged to be a postwar "reconstruction." Claims of gassings there are played down ever more. Weber cited a recent issue of the French magazine L'Express, which reports that "everything" about this gas chamber "is false." (See: "Major French Magazine Acknowledges Auschwitz Gas Chamber Fraud," Jan.-Feb. 1995 Journal, pp. 23-24.)
Responding to Shermer's citation of wartime statements of Hans Frank, Weber pointed out that at the end of the war the former Governor General of Poland had turned over to the Allies his own detailed "service journal" (Diensttagebuch), confident that it would exonerate him. Moreover, Weber went on, Frank testified at Nuremberg that he did not know of any wartime German program or policy to exterminate Europe's Jews. (Testimony of April 18, 1946. IMT "blue series," vol. 12, pp. 17-19. See also: M. Weber, "The Nuremberg Trials and the Holocaust," Summer 1992 Journal, p. 195.)
Frank explained to the Tribunal that he had been very concerned over persistent reports that Jews were being exterminated. He said that on one occasion, when a report reached him about killings of Jews at Belzec, he went to the site the next day. He spoke with Jews who were working there, and was unable to find evidence of killings.
On another occasion, in February 1944, he raised this matter in a conversation with Hitler. "My Führer, rumors about the extermination of the Jews will not be silenced. They are heard everywhere ... Tell me, my Führer, is there anything to it?" As Frank related, Hitler replied: "You can very well imagine that there are executions going on -- of insurgents. Apart from that I do not know anything. Why don't you speak to Heinrich Himmler about it?" Himmler denied the extermination allegations, Frank said. (Incidentally, the statements by Frank, Goebbels and Himmler cited by Shermer were all dealt with in detail during the 1988 Zündel trial, particularly by prosecution witness Christopher Browning, defense attorney Doug Christie, and defense witnesses Faurisson, Irving and Weber. See: B. Kulaszka, ed., Did Six Million Really Die? [Toronto: 1992], esp. pp. 93, 113-116, 130, 131, 208, 302, 336, 343-344, 369, 396, 405-409, 417.)
Dachau "gas chamber" door. This official US Army photo was taken at Dachau on April 30, 1945, one day after the camp's liberation. It shows a GI standing in front of a door marked with a skull and crossbones. According to the official caption, "these chambers were used by the Nazi guards for killing prisoners of the infamous Dachau concentration camp." In fact, this is a small disinfection gas chamber used for delousing clothes, as part of the routine to curtail the spread of disease. This chamber was never used to kill people. For several decades, this photo has been widely reproduced to help keep alive the notorious Dachau "gas chamber" myth. A large blow-up of this photograph was on display at the Weber-Shermer debate.
While conceding that many specific Holocaust claims are now known to be demonstrably untrue, Shermer does not hold anyone responsible for these falsehoods. In his 1994 Skeptic essay, he manifests a double standard: while quick to point to real or imagined errors of fact or interpretation by revisionists, he passes over in silence the numerous demonstrable historical falsehoods promoted by such groups as the ADL. In his Skeptic essay Shermer casts aspersions on the allegedly sinister motives of revisionists, while treating anti-revisionists as high-minded scholars of good will. In short, he questions the motives only of critics of the Holocaust story.
Weber cited a recent letter by Michael Berenbaum, research director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. From Australia came this question: "Why don't you have homicidal gas chambers and/or some crematorium ovens on display in your large museum?" Berenbaum responded: "We do have crematoria ovens in the Museum. We could not bring over gas chambers because there was no original that was available for us to bring to the United States. Instead we made a model of the crematoria and labelled it a model." This is a remarkable statement, because until very recently, anyway, it was asserted that "original" homicidal gas chambers existed at Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Majdanek. (Berenbaum letter of April 21, 1995. Adelaide Institute newsletter, May 1995, pp. 5-6.)
Although claims of gassings at the Mauthausen camp have been played down in recent decades, it should not be forgotten that this was once authoritatively regarded as one of the most terrible German killing centers. As an example, Weber noted that, according to the 1957 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (vol. 10, p. 288), "close to two million people, mostly Jews, were exterminated between 1941 and 1945" in Mauthausen.
Referring to the mentality behind the seemingly ceaseless Holocaust campaign, Weber cited a statement by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Zionist Anti-Defamation League. (ADL On the Frontline newsletter, Jan. 1994, p. 2.) "The Holocaust," Foxman declared,
is a singular event. It is not simply one example of genocide but a near successful attempt on the life of God's chosen children and thus, on God himself. It is an event that is the antithesis of Creation as recorded in the Bible; and like its direct opposite, which is relived weekly with the Sabbath and yearly with the Torah, it must be remembered from generation to generation.
While Shermer has described this Foxman statement merely as "an unfortunate choice of words" (Skeptic, June 1994, p. 33), it is actually "fortuitous," said Weber, because "it is refreshingly reveals the arrogant and bigoted mind-set of the ADL and, indeed, of much of the entire Holocaust campaign." He continued:
When such people say "Never Forget," they mean never: at no time, and until the end of time. Five years, twenty years, a hundred years from now, we will still be enduring a steady drumbeat of what is euphemistically called "Holocaust education" ... This mentality helps explain why the Holocaust plays the quasi-religious role it does in our society.
As evidence both of the mentality of our adversaries, and of the progress that has been made in recent years. Weber cited the public declaration issued in February 1979 by 34 French scholars. "The question of how technically such a mass murder was possible should not be raised," they stated. "It was technically possible because it occurred.... There is not nor can there be a debate over the existence of the gas chambers." Today, and largely in response to revisionist skepticism, individuals such van Pelt, Pressac and Shermer are earnestly investigating precisely this "question of how technically such a mass murder was possible."
When Shermer returned to the podium, he affirmed that it is "obviously" proper to ask such questions, adding that his own research shows that he rejects the 1979 French scholars' statement. During his recent visit to Europe, he asked numerous questions of officials at former camp sites in an effort to learn just how the "gas chambers" are supposed to have functioned.
During his visit to Mauthausen, Shermer said, officials there responded to his specific questions about the camp "gas chamber" with inadequate or contradictory explanations. He also conceded that there are problems with this facility. For one thing, the chamber's "doors don't lock." Shermer expressed the belief that homicidal gassings were conducted at Mauthausen "at most on a small scale and experimentally."
The Dachau "gas chamber" is a "non-issue," said Shermer, because no one now claims that anyone was ever gassed there. Surprisingly, though, he went on to give a few reasons why he thinks prisoners may indeed have been gassed there.
Bogus Majdanek Chamber
At the former Majdanek camp (near Lublin, Poland), Shermer said, he inspected a building that is shown off to tourists as a wartime killing facility, with a "big sign" identifying it as a homicidal gas chamber. This "reconstructed" chamber, he said, "makes no sense." Shermer said that he is "certain" that it was "not a homicidal gas chamber." He speculated that it might have been a non-homicidal delousing facility. (Such non-homicidal gas chambers, common in German camps, were installed to prevent deaths. They used Zyklon B, with poisonous hydrocyanic gas, to kill typhus-bearing lice in clothing.) Shermer ascribed the misrepresentation of this building to the "unprofessional" character of the staff there. "I suspect at Majdanek [that] if there were homicidal gassings, it was done on a small scale," he continued, albeit at other locations in the camp. He made no effort to defend the claim that one and half million people were killed at Majdanek.
Shermer also found problems with the "gas chambers" at Auschwitz. As he noted, it is frequently and authoritatively alleged that Zyklon B was dumped into Auschwitz-Birkenau "gas chambers" (at Kremas II and II) through ceiling-floor "wire mesh columns." However, Shermer said he was unable to find any on-site trace of these columns. "I am skeptical" of the wire mesh columns story, he said.
"For traditional Jewish historians," Shermer said, the gas chambers are important because they are "what makes the Holocaust unique over other Holocausts." In Shermer's view, "the Holocaust is only unique in the sense of being contingently unique, as all historical events are ... There's nothing unique about states killing masses of people -- it's been done for thousands of years."
Acknowledging that many specific Holocaust claims have been abandoned over the years, Shermer affirmed: "Clearly revision has been going on." Over the years, he said, the Holocaust "story has been refined hundreds of percentage points," and has been revised "umpteen times." "How is it that some people can get away, so to speak, with revising the Holocaust?," Shermer asked, while revisionists cannot? In our society, he said, it all "depends on who is doing the asking."
"The problem you're having as revisionists," he went on, "is that you've been labeled ... the assumption is that there's an ideology behind the questions you've been asking." Revisionist statements, no matter how factual and truthful, are simply dismissed. "You've been labeled," said Shermer of Holocaust revisionists, and a pejorative "label has stuck there."
"The Holocaust will be revised," Shermer stressed," by "van Pelt and others ... but they'll get away with it because they're not associated with any ideology, and that's the problem you're encountering. I'm not going to impute ideological motives to any particular person here. I'm just saying that that's the perception out there amongst non-revisionists, and that's the problem you're running into."
One member of audience -- an African-American journalist and television writer -- was bothered by the abrupt and facile way that Shermer had acknowledged that a "gas chamber" shown to tourists at Majdanek is a fraud. During the concluding question and answer session, he asked the Skeptic editor-publisher if he isn't offended by the fact that a "gas chamber" is deceitfully presented to tourists at Majdanek with a sign that is "so patently untrue." While Shermer was willing to call this sign "not appropriate" and to say that it constitutes a "danger," he did not seem particularly bothered by this fraud.
Shermer seemed similarly unconcerned over the ideological or religious agenda that obviously drives much of the Holocaust campaign -- a campaign that portrays all of non-Jewish humanity as collectively guilty for what is regarded as the most terrible crime in history. With the passage of time, said Weber, and as ever more historical evidence comes to light, the Holocaust story diminishes in magnitude. At the same time, he went on, the Holocaust campaign continues -- if anything, growing ever more intense with the passage of years.
In our society, the Holocaust story is treated with special reverence. It is simply not permissible to view the fate of Europe's Jews during the Second World War with the same critical, open-minded consideration with which we look at other chapters of history. Consequently, revisionist skeptics are not only dismissed but smeared and vilified, and, in some countries, treated as criminals.
'Politically Correct' Skepticism
Shermer's Skeptic magazine, Weber said, safely takes aim at phony UFO sightings, fraudulent health cures, Uri Geller spoon-bending tricks, witchcraft trials in centuries gone by, and so forth. In short, said Weber, it practices "PC skepticism." This kind of skepticism takes no particular courage. "The real challenge" for sincerely open-minded skeptics, said Weber, "is to challenge statements made by governments."
Weber addressed the argument by Shermer and van Pelt that the alleged "gas chambers" at Auschwitz-Birkenau crematory facilities II and III were originally designed and constructed as normal morgue cellars in 1942, and only later (in late 1942 or early 1943) modified or transformed into homicidal gassing facilities. Van Pelt believes that a decision to kill Auschwitz prisoners in gas chambers was made in the summer of 1941, while other "exterminationists" contend that this decision was made in early 1942.
In either case, this thesis makes not sense, said Weber. Why would the Germans design and construct Kremas II-V at Birkenau -- the cornerstone of the Holocaust extermination story -- as ordinary, non-homicidal crematory facilities in late 1942 and early 1943, that is, after the Germans had supposedly already inaugurated their extermination policy.
Furthermore, Weber said, the crematories at Auschwitz (and especially Auschwitz-Birkenau), with their limited cremation capacities, simply were not designed to dispose of the bodies of many hundreds of thousands of prisoners. In short, the Auschwitz crematories were not planned or built consistent with a plan or policy to exterminate prisoners in the camp. (See: A. Butz, "Some Thoughts on Pressac's Opus," May-June 1993 Journal, pp. 23-37.)
Finally, Weber responded to a question about the "bloodcurdling" remarks of high-ranking German officials quoted earlier by Shermer. While these statements do reflect a policy of brutal repression, Weber said, they do not refer to a policy to exterminate Europe's Jews. These remarks are either rhetorical exaggeration or are taken out of context.
Several of those who attended the Weber-Shermer exchange commented that it was not much of a debate because Shermer made so many concessions to the revisionists. In any case, this event was a big step forward for the cause of historical revisionism because it dramatically gave the lie to the often-repeated claim that "the Holocaust" is "undebatable," and showed that the revisionist view of the Holocaust story is one that cannot be dismissed out of hand.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Jan.-Feb. 1996 (Vol. 16, No. 1), pages 23-34.