Confessions of a Holocaust
Yes, I am a Holocaust denier.
No, not that kind of Holocaust denier, like David Irving or Fred Leuchter. These are the self-styled experts, called Holocaust deniers by Deborah Lipstadt and her fellows, who call themselves revisionists (I prefer to call them denialists, an adaptation of the French négationniste) and who systematically claim, to name only a few key points of their doctrine, that the Nazis final solution of the Jewish question was meant to be the removal of the Jews from Europe, not their extermination; that no gas chambers existed at Auschwitz or anywhere else; that, on the whole, the Jews who died did so from starvation (not deliberate) and disease; and that the number of six million is a gross exaggeration.
Deborah Lipstadt, the author of Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993), famously won, in May 2000, a libel suit brought against her by David Irving (who is a competent historian seemingly blinded by anti-Semitism) precisely for calling him a Holocaust denier. Fred Leuchter, the star of Errol Morriss documentary Mr. Death (1999), is a self-proclaimed execution-equipment engineer and the author of the Leuchter Report, in which he claimed to prove scientifically that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. In the film, Irving asserts that it was the Leuchter Report that brought him to his revisionist (i.e. denialist) views.
No, I am not a denialist: far be it from me to question the facts of what European Jews suffered during World War II. How could I? I was there.
For, yes, I am a Holocaust survivor.
What I question (and thats why I have put quotes around Holocaust survivor) is the appropriateness of labeling the experience that I survived (six years of imprisonment in ghettos, labor camps and concentration camps as a child during World War II) an experience that was, to me, simply a part of the War as part of something that, for me, did not exist until it was invented in the late 1950s and never seemed anything but a pretentious literary metaphor for what was supposedly a unique experience of Jewish suffering.
When, as a nine-year-old, I spent a month in Buchenwald, it never occurred to me that those of my fellow-inmates who were Gypsies(1), Soviet prisoners of war, or Danish policemen arrested for helping the Jews escape, were undergoing experiences that were different from mine. We were all experiencing the War, a many-fronted war, one of whose fronts happened to be the war ultimately one of extermination that the German state waged against the Jewish people. Ever since, for over half a century, I have not been able to accept the singling out of this one front, horrible as it may have been, as a unique epoch-making event that requires its own grandiose name, its own capitalized dictionary entry, its own academic discipline called Holocaust studies. It is in this sense that I count myself as a Holocaust denier.
Now, when it comes to assessing the totality of the European Jewish experience of World War II as opposed to an individual experience a survivors opinion should weigh no more nor less than anyone elses. How many Jews died in the War? I remember learning in school, in a postwar displaced persons (DP) camp, that the number of Jews in the world was reduced from 17-18 million to 11-12 million ergo, six million victims. I also learned that the Jewish population of my native city, Łódź, had been 200,000 (alongside 100,000 ethnic Germans and 300,000 ethnic Poles), with some 20,000 survivors. Projecting these numbers to Poland as a whole (a similar survival ratio seemed to hold for Piotrków, where I spent most of the war) would lead to some two million killed (by whatever means) in Poland alone, and so the conventional figure did not seem implausible. Nor did it seem out of line with losses in my own family: my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather (their spouses had died before); four (out of five) uncles, four (out of five) aunts, and six (out of six) first cousins.
But the recent, officially accepted revision of the number of Auschwitz victims from four million to a million or so has made me wonder. One of the precursors of denialism, Paul Rassinier, who died in 1967, asked: Were Jews murdered? and answered: Yes, but not as many as one thinks. Were there any gas chambers? Yes, but not as many as one thinks.
What do I think? When in doubt, I often turn to Shakespeare, and the following bit of dialogue from Othello (Act I, Scene 3) comes to mind:
Duke. There is no composition in these news
About the final solution, I accept the theory that removal (to Madagascar or, later, Russia) was the original goal; but, as of now, I am not prepared to doubt that at some point in the war, perhaps 1943, the goal shifted, if only as a matter of practical expediency. For those who believe in ethnic cleansing, the leap from resettlement to massacre is not as great as some of us may think; and if the Nazis were, perhaps, no more evil than the Interahamwe of Uganda, the Bosnian Serb paramilitaries led by Karadžić and Mladić, or the anti-independence militias of East Timor, there is no reason to suppose that they were less so.
But my own denial has nothing to do with factual belief or disbelief. It has been a personal process. During my youth, I refused to countenance the notion that, as a survivor of the War, I was ineluctably marked by it, condemned to be different from the rest of humanity, and destined to suffer from that difference. I did not want to be different. I made a point of acquiring a native-like accent in every language I learned so that I would not have to account for my background, which I volunteered only when absolutely necessary. I did not apply for reparations from Germany (a decision that, at a more practical-minded older age, I sometimes regret). I did not join any survivors association.
I admit that I was luckier than most survivors. I have always been aware of my good luck, and of others (older than me) whose fortune was far harsher than mine. Both of my parents survived, and I had no siblings. I have no tattoo (though I sometimes perversely envied those who had them). I was never beaten or starved. After the War I went on with school at the normal grade level. And when I recently visited the Buchenwald memorial site, the foremost thought in my mind unrepentant cinephile that I am was to find the location of the barrack where I saw my first movie; never mind that my first screen image was of a smiling Hitler on horseback, introducing a newsreel. The search for the site of the barrack where I actually lived took second place.
My youthful concerns were internal in part because that is the nature of youth, but in part also because, in my memory at least, the Holocaust as a subject of worldwide interest did not emerge until the sixties, with the Eichmann trial as beacon. I dont recall being aware of Elie Wiesel and his cohort until, perhaps, the late 60s.
I first encountered the word Holocaust in the title of a book published in 1965: Holocaust and Rebirth, Bergen-Belsen, 1945-1965(2). The book is of some personal interest to me, since I spent the last months of the War, after Buchenwald, in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and several years after the War as a resident of the DP camp there; my name and youthful pictures can be found in the book.
In order to find out whether my youthful self-absorption might have clouded my memory, I performed a little computer-aided experiment. I checked the list of titles that the library of the University of California at Berkeley lists under the subject heading of Holocaust, Jewish (1939-45). Of the 344 items, thirteen carry publication dates before 1960 (from 1943 to 1958, to be exact), and another four from 1961 to 1964; in other words, about a book a year. But the lustrum 1965-69 brings 34 entries, with the H-word first appearing in the title of the aforementioned Bergen-Belsen book. And the rhythm is maintained in subsequent decades: 63 entries for 1970-79, 129 for 1980-89, 101 for 1990 to 1998.
I am a scientist, and I know better than to take such number-crunching (which in this postmodern age all too often passes for research) too seriously. And my misgivings are indeed borne out when I actually look at the titles. Cataloguing by subject is subject (no pun intended well, maybe it is) to the vagaries of sometimes careless, sometimes ignorant librarianship, and the Holocaust, Jewish (1939-45) list is no exception. Certain multiple entries represent (as well they should) different editions or translations of the same work, but in some cases the original editions (which are in the librarys collections) are not included, and these omissions include some important historical works that appeared in the early fifties. For example, Léon Poliakovs Le bréviaire de la haine, published in 1951 with a preface by François Mauriac, is represented in the list only by the English translation of 1957, titled Harvest of Hate and with additional prefaces by Lord Russell and Reinhold Niebuhr (I mention the prefaces in order to indicate that the subject was already attracting the attention of prominent non-Jews). For Gerald Reitlingers The Final Solution, published both in England and in the U.S. in 1953, only the second edition of 1968 and the German translation of 1957 are listed. And some works that one would consider essential are missing altogether: classics such as Primo Levis If This Is a Man (1947; English translation 1959) and Truce (1963; English translation 1965), Elie Wiesels Night trilogy (195861), and Hannah Arendts Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963); and the highly controversial (and highly publicized) recent works by Christopher Browning and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.
Nevertheless, I dont believe that these details significantly affect the overall impression produced by the numbers, which is that the rate of publication of books on the fate of European Jews in World War II increased dramatically after 1965. For 1967 alone there are eight titles, including Justice in Jerusalem the account of the Eichmann trial by the prosecutor Gideon Hausner and the first few of the many memorial books published about various communities mostly shtetls in Eastern Europe. Then there are nine in 1968, and thirteen in 1969.
I decided to take a closer look at the earliest group of titles, those carrying publication dates before 1950 (the year that I came to America from Germany). There are nine of them, and the first eight are all in Yiddish or Hebrew that is, meant for intra-Jewish use. The first two are short works in Yiddish, published in New York: the 79-page The Jewish Tragedy in Europe (second edition, 1943) and a 31-page booklet on post-war problems of the Jewish people (1945). Another Yiddish book published in New York is a collection of essays on women in the ghettos (1946). Meanwhile two books appeared in Israel in 1945: A Walk on the Dniester, by Emma Levin, and the first volume of a compilation of memorial books (sifrei zikaron), histories of the major Jewish communities that were destroyed by the wicked and the impure [aritsim u-temeim] in the last world war. And then three more Yiddish books in 1948, published in New York, Montreal and Munich, respectively, and also dealing with specific aspects of the experience, in particular first-hand documents (poems, diaries and the like) both from survivors and from victims.
The lone entry for 1949 is a French collection of materials from the Nuremberg trial, concerning the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe; a similar collection regarding Western Europe, in particular France, came out in 1947 but is not in the listing.
It seems to me, then, that the introspective, private view of the war experience in the first five or so years following it was not mine alone. To the extent that there was a collective view, it was more local focused on individual communities than global. Only when the grisly arithmetic was done did the statistical enormity of the six million emerge, and that took some time to sink in; we survivors were distracted by the process of mending our disrupted lives.
After my superficial library search, I began to do some serious reading. I found, to begin with, that an acknowledged Holocaust scholar (I have resisted the temptation to put this designation in quotes) such as Alvin H. Rosenfield recognizes that
I wonder, though, if Rosenfield, who is a professor of English, limits himself to usage in English, since Shoah means precisely catastrophe or disaster in Hebrew. But how many of us spoke English in the immediate postwar years? He goes on to pinpoint the early 1950s as the time when Holocaust, or The Holocaust, gained currency, with a prominent role in popularizing the term attributed to Elie Wiesel. I am afraid that here Professor Rosenfield, who has edited a book titled Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel, confuses popular with literary usage.
And so, when the Holocaust phenomenon more or less suddenly emerged upon the worlds consciousness, I already had a career and a family. As a man of the sixties I was interested in good parenting, which meant reading not only Spock but Bruno Bettelheim and others. It was at a lecture by Bettelheim that I heard the great man who had been briefly (pre-War) held in a concentration camp before, as it now appears, bribing his way out express his objection to the term Holocaust.
I was not a follower of Bettelheim. I didnt like his censure of child-kissing, or his condemnation of childrens literature newer than the fairy tales that he grew up with. But I found myself in resonance with his Holocaust criticism. He pointed out the oxymoronic nature of the term Holocaust survivor: even if one doesnt know the Greek meaning of holocaust, the holo- element brings to mind the totality of the implied event in this case, the destruction of the Jewish people of Europe and to have survived one is a contradiction in terms.
James E. Young(4), another Holocaust scholar who is an English professor, and specifically an interpreter of Holocaust narrative, found the earliest use of the word Holocaust to have occurred before the war, in A. A. Brills introduction to The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, which Brill translated and edited in 1938. But Brill wrote of the Nazi holocaust [that] has suddenly encircled Vienna; it seems clear that he meant something like a firestorm of conquest, not a project of extermination, nor anything specifically aimed at the Jews.
The use of the word to designate the fate of the Jews during the War seems to have begun in the British press of the period; but it was in the context of a warning, in terms of a potential or threatened holocaust.
I found another critic of the H-word in the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (more about him later):
Finkielkraut, who is of Polish-Jewish extraction and lost many close relatives, speaks scornfully of the Holocaust effect (leffet Holocauste), meaning the effect of the fictionalized American television serial Holocaust, which he summarizes as the reduction of history to a tearjerker.
Whether as a result of Finkielkrauts influence or of that of Claude Lanzmanns monumental documentary Shoah, it is this Hebrew word, rather than holocauste, that has taken hold in France, though the eminent sociologist Edgar Morin(6) sees its use as a means of designating an absolute singularity, while genocide is applicable to other peoples and Holocaust [can] be said in all languages. Similarly, Young(7) points out that unlike the English term holocaust, the terms shoah and churban(8) figure these events in uniquely Jewish ways. But the similarity between the two observations is superficial: while Morin, as we shall see later, severely castigates the uniqueness doctrine, Young affirms it. He goes on to say:
Except in French (and, of course, Hebrew), however, Holocaust (or its cognate)(9) has become the standard term. In German, in fact, Finkielkrauts Holocaust effect has been so powerful that the word was adopted with its English spelling unchanged; the normative German spelling Holokaust was not used until October 2000, when the ZDF public television network began to air a documentary series under that title. According to the German historian Eberhard Jaeckel, who advised the series producers, this spelling is in itself a symbolic act of appropriating our own history.(10)
Nonetheless, the theological subtext indicated by Finkielkraut continues to trouble some people, perhaps because the German word for victim, Opfer, also means sacrifice, and consequently Hitler and his minions may be seen as a kind of ritual priesthood. This vexing paradox was called to my attention by the education director of the Buchenwald site, an East German whose only foreign language is Russian (in which zhertva has a similar double meaning), so that it was a revelation for him to be told that the use of victim in English and its cognates in Romance carries no sacrificial implication.
On the other hand, a similar ambiguity is present in the Hebrew qorban and its Yiddish derivative korbn, seemingly without troubling their users. But then we Jews have a long history of venerating massacre victims as martyrs or even saints (qedoshim).
It seems, then, that even though genocide was coined precisely in order to describe the mass killings of World War II, it is the more metaphoric and less technical-sounding Holocaust that has acquired, in English and other languages, a Jewish-specific meaning. And while some writers have used it, for example, to describe the altogether analogous fate of Armenians in Turkey during World War I, this use is no longer current, as witness the use of the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust in the title of a recent comparative study by the Armenian-American scholar V. N. Dadrian.(11)
The French engagé intellectual Roger Garaudy, a recent addition to the denialist ranks (more about him later, too), rejects genocide as well, because to him a genocide cannot have any survivors.(12) But that is like saying that someone who tries to murder two people but succeeds in killing only one is not a murderer. The term makes perfectly good sense if it is applied to the process, not just the result.
If Irving, Leuchter and Company are denialists, then those who, like Lipstadt, have made a career of combating them must be called anti-denialists, and one can, in principle speak of a cause and ideology of anti-denialism analogous to denialism. In fact, however, within the groups covered by these labels there are quite a few differences. That is, not all denialists are alike, nor are all anti-denialists. I have looked over writings from both groups, and have found that not all conform to the dominant ideology of their respective camps.
For example, not all anti-denialists adhere to the doctrine of the Holocaust (whether or not they call it that) as a unique, or uniquely Jewish, experience. But most of them do so. In opposition to this doctrine but without indulging in denialism a third camp has emerged; I will call its members anti-anti-denialists, and I have to count myself among them.
I will review the backgrounds and
writings of some members of all three camps, emphasizing
in the case of denialists and anti-denialists
those who are less well known in the English-speaking world
and whose postures deviate from the standard.
There is no doubt that at this time the best-known of the denialists are David Irving and Fred Leuchter, whom I have already discussed. They are part of an international network whose chief precursor is the aforementioned Paul Rassinier, a communist before the War (a part of which he spent as a prisoner at Buchenwald and Dora) and a socialist after it; but it was his pacifist leanings that have informed his writings(13). He wished above all to counteract the demonization of Germany an old French tradition by scaling down the magnitude of the Wars atrocities so that they were comparable to those of other wars, and even to those supposedly committed by the Allies in World War II. He undertook, for example, a demographic study (ironically titled The tragedy of European Jewry(14)) in which he purported, by dubious methods, to show that the number of Jewish dead could not have been close to the claimed six million (the tragedy, to him, is not that six million [Jews] were exterminated, as they claim, but only the fact that they have so claimed.). His catchword for Holocaust literature, and specifically survivors reports (other than his own), is Ulysses lie (Le mensonge dUlysse, the title of his best-known book), based on the supposed exaggerations that characterize the Odyssey. Rassinier is thus typical of a subspecies of denialist that can be called minimizer (recall the line quoted before).
Robert Faurisson was a literature professor at Lyon, specializing in the interpretation of hidden meanings in literary texts of the 19th century. After reading Rassinier, he began to doubt the very existence of the gas chambers and decided to apply his interpretive skills to the testimonies of both survivors and perpetrators of the Nazi genocide with the intent of discrediting them as evidence of the crimes. He seems to have been the first to suggest that an expert on American gas chambers should undertake the study of German ones, and he wrote an introduction to the Leuchter Report. In the 1980s he began to publish articles with such titles as The Mechanics of Gassing, The Problem of the Gas Chambers and The Gas Chambers: Truth or Lie? In 1990 he co-authored The Second Leuchter Report.
Faurissons apologia includes a curious preface by Noam Chomsky, who had previously headed the list of signers of a petition defending Faurisson. In the preface, Chomsky claims not to be familiar with Faurissons writings or their subject matter but to be interested only in defending his right to freedom of expression.
In 1991 Faurisson was prosecuted under the recently adopted loi Gayssot (named for the politician who introduced it), which penalizes the very questioning (contestation) of the crimes against humanity committed during World War II, as specified in the Nuremberg Trials. Faurisson was found guilty and fined, and his conviction was upheld by an appellate court. Before exhausting all of his appeals in France, Faurisson submitted a complaint to the Committee on Human Rights of the United Nations on the grounds that the law violated his right to freedom of expression.
To complete the French connection, I have to cite the curious case of the also aforementioned Roger Garaudy. The following notice appeared in the news media early in 1999:
With only the externals of Garaudys biography, it is easy to see him as a figure of fun. For example, Octavi Martí, the Paris correspondent of the Spanish daily El País, wrote as follows in the wake of his recent sentencing (January 19, 1999; my translation):
This rather typically sarcastic commentary deserves some comments of its own. Garaudy broke with the party over the invasion of Prague and was expelled following the publication of an article asserting that the USSR was not a socialist state. Dieu est mort is a book about Hegel. Garaudy was a Christian, as well as a devoted reader of the Hebrew prophets, even while a communist. And even as a Moslem, Garaudy was a severe critic of fundamentalism and of the Saudi regime, and The Founding Myths has nothing to do with any Islamic ideology.
Here are a couple of excerpts from this book (my translation):
As denialists go, then, Garaudy is a rather sympathetic one, not the least bit of an anti-Semite or a Nazi apologist.
In the United States, perhaps the most prominent academic denialist is Arthur Butz, author of the significantly titled The Hoax of the Twentieth Century(17). Butz, who is closely associated with the Institute for Historical Review (an international clearinghouse of denialist literature, based in Southern California) is, in fact, not a historian at all, but an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, specializing in digital signal processing, at Northwestern University. In 1996 a controversy arose around his use of his university-linked Web page for disseminating his denialist views, at the same time that Sheldon Epstein, an unpaid part-time instructor of engineering, was fired (or, rather, didn't have his temporary appointment renewed) after he assigned materials related to the Holocaust in class something that Butz never did.
Anti-denialist literature tends to add to
the ranks of denialists, unfairly in my view, the German
historians (known as relativizers), led by Hans
Nolte, whose quarrel was not with the reality or even the
magnitude of the genocide but with its claimed uniqueness,
and who were opposed in this by other German intellectuals
(mainly, as for example Jürgen Habermas, on the left)
in a conflict since known as the historians quarrel,
or Historikerstreit. The relativizers claim
was that the Nazis misdeeds, horrible as they were,
were not only quantitatively but qualitatively comparable to
those of Stalinist communism, whether in the USSR or
elsewhere (Maos China, Pol Pots Cambodia), and,
moreover, that the latter inspired the former. In the
intellectual climate of Europe in the 1980s, this position
cemented an association (spurious in my view) between
relativization and the right, and relativization was opposed
by anti-denialists as yet another form of denialism; I would
rather regard it as a precursor of anti-anti-denialism.
Especially since her victory in the London trial, Deborah E. Lipstadt is at present the best-known anti-denialist, at least in the English-speaking world. But before I discuss her position in detail I would like to call attention to some anti-denialist writers in Germany and France, beginning with another precursor.
In 1966 the following prediction appeared in a little book written in German by a heretofore unknown writer named Jean Améry, titled Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne (Beyond guilt and atonement) and published in Munich: But such murder of millions as this, carried out by a highly civilized people, with organizational dependability and almost scientific precision, will be lumped with the bloody expulsion of the Armenians by the Turks or with the shameful acts of violence by the colonial French: as regrettable, but in no way unique. Everything will be submerged in a general Century of Barbarism.(18)
Jean Améry, originally a half-Jewish Austrian named Hans Mayer, a Belgian Resistance fighter, a survivor of SS torture and of Auschwitz, was thus an anti-denialist, or at least an anti-relativizer, avant la lettre. For twenty years after the war (he was liberated, as I was, at Bergen-Belsen) he labored as a journalist in the German-language press of Switzerland, all the while living in Belgium, since he refused to enter or have any contact with Germany, while paradoxically (or perhaps not) he was unable to give up his native language as his medium of expression. While he regarded France as his cultural homeland, and Sartre in particular as his mentor, he did not consider his mastery of French prose adequate for a writing career.
It was a chance encounter with an open-minded German that changed his mind about working in Germany, and soon thereafter he became an important figure on the German intellectual scene, with books, lectures, radio talks and magazine essays touching on such subjects as being a Jew, aging, and suicide, which he was in favor of and which he in fact committed, in 1978, at age 66. A collection of his essays, translated into English, appeared in 1984 under the title Radical Humanism.(19)
Améry strikes me as, on the whole, a rather admirable figure, of great moral and intellectual honesty, a true existentialist who did not renounce his disbeliefs in the face of calamity, and who did not hesitate to lament Sartres failures while acknowledging his greatness(20). As to his being a Jew, he was not, to paraphrase Shakespeare, born Jewish (his mother was Catholic and opposed his marriage to his Jewish girlfriend), nor did he achieve Jewishness (he was, by his own admission, quite ignorant of Jewish lore, and his biblical knowledge was limited to Thomas Manns Joseph novels), but had Jewishness thrust upon him, first by the Nuremberg laws (during his Vienna student days) and later by a reading of Sartres Antisemite and Jew.
While not politically active, Améry regarded himself as firmly on the left, and went along with most of the European intellectual lefts positions until 1968; but he outspokenly opposed the lefts anti-Israel stance, and regarded support for Israel as the quintessence of being a Jew, though this support did not foreclose an uncompromising opposition to the government of Menahem Begin in relation to the Palestinians. By a sad coincidence, Amérys suicide happened just at the time of the Camp David meeting.
In general, Améry never hesitated to voice his opinion on Jewish questions, including severe criticism of Hannah Arendt (whom he called uncomprehending). In an essay on the Warsaw ghetto(21) he discusses its meaning as if he had been there, on the basis of his Auschwitz experience, emphasizing the ghetto inmates boundless solitude, which distinguished his condition from that of the colonized or someone else who sas somehow being oppressed as the crucial characteristic of the inmate.
But in fact Améry is quite mistaken and has indeed falsely interpreted his concentration camp experience. There is a crucial difference between concentration camp, where the solitude prevails, and ghetto, which is still a community, however oppressed. Ever the individualist and an advocate of suicide (he practiced what he preached), he retroactively advised an acceptance of death by ghetto inmates and rejected Bubers theory of life affirmation. Not having ever been a member of a Jewish community, except briefly and reluctantly after arriving almost penniless in Antwerp in 1939, when he not without shame was forced to accept the communitys charity, he simply did not understand the essence of Jewish survival throughout history: that in every calamity, some must live in order to carry on the flame, even if most die or abandon Judaism. He might have invoked Masada, had he had a smattering of Jewish history. But we know Masada as an aberration, however heroic; had all of Israel followed the Masada example or, more significantly, had Josephus not, most unheroically, gone over to the enemy there would be no memory of Masada, nor any Jews to remember it.
Among the German intellectuals of the anti-denialist persuasion who were influenced by Améry is Till Bastian, a physician by education and a social psychologist by orientation, who directs a research institute called Umwelt, Kultur und Frieden (environment, culture and peace) in the little Swabian town of Isny (Baden-Württenberg), and has written on medical misdeeds in Nazi Germany. He deals with the issue of denial in the little book Auschwitz und die „Auschwitz-Lüge: Massenmord und Geschichtsfälschung(22) [Auschwitz and the Auschwitz Lie: Mass Murder and the Falsification of History], but does not actually address it(23) until the last few of its barely eighty small-format pages. The bulk of the book is devoted to a meticulous account of, first, a general history of the final solution; next, a description of the system of concentration and extermination camps; and finally Auschwitz. With a thoroughness that can only be qualified as German (a doubly ironic qualification, since the German Bastian himself does not hesitate to refer to the German thoroughness of the extermination machine), he gives dates, names, and numbers, numbers, numbers.
Here is a typical page (46, my translation):
It is only when he is persuaded that the (presumably German) reader no longer harbors the slightest doubt over the reality of the monstrous events that he deftly disposes of the usual suspects Faurisson, Leuchter, Irving all of whom he (predictably) identifies with the radical right (no mention is made of the Faurisson-Chomsky connection).
The Historikerstreit is treated in a (long) endnote, with the conclusion that the relativizing position of Nolte is becoming more and more isolated in West Germany. It is here that Bastian quotes the above-cited prophecy by Améry.
In another long endnote relating to the singularity issue, Bastian quotes a previously published essay of his own:
In France, the leading anti-denialist is Pierre Vidal-Naquet, a historian (specializing in ancient Greece) who served in the French Resistance and whose mother perished in Auschwitz. The newspaper articles and essays(24) that he devoted to the Rassinier-inspired revisionism are among the most cogent and least objectionable of anti-denialist literature. From the outset, Vidal-Naquet includes the Gypsies, the mentally ill, and the Slavs as the Jews fellow-victims of the Nazi atrocities. He does, however, concentrate his attacks on the French political right.
Alain Finkielkraut, to whom I have already alluded in reference to the H-word, holds a position among the anti-denialists that is significant for another reason: he is almost alone in attributing denialism to leftist ideology, going back to the Dreyfus affair, where the French left (with the notable exceptions of Jaurès and Péguy) refused to come to Dreyfus help because of the conviction, articulated most forcefully by the German socialist leader Wilhelm Liebknecht, that the French bourgeoisie would not convict a fellow-bourgeois unless he was guilty.
In fact, the attribution of denialist ideology to the left is the essential thrust of Finkielkrauts analysis. He points out, for example, that in the 1930s the left would not fight fascism because that might be a distraction from the fight against capitalism, whether it be liberal or fascist. In the Marxist point of view as interpreted by Finkielkraut, World War II is seen as a struggle between competing capitalisms, and consequently the genocide is only an incidental factor. Anti-fascism is seen as a means of confounding the proletariat, and talk of genocide is a way of masking the suffering of the working class. From this, support for Faurissons denialist thesis follows naturally. What are the Jews guilty of? writes Finkielkraut. Of Auschwitz, that is, of an inconvenient, unclassifiable massacre that the [Marxist] prophets could not foresee and that remains an affront to revolutionary theory. Finkielkraut compares this denialist tendency to the French lefts smearing of Kravchenko, the post-war Soviet defector who was the first to expose Stalins gulag, and who in 1949 successfully sued for libel those who had called him a liar.
In a similar vein, Finkielkraut views Chomskys support of Faurisson as part and parcel of Chomskys leftist ideology, on a par with his downplaying of Pol Pots massacres in Cambodia (only 100,000 dead, including local peasant revenge), rather than mere support of freedom of expression for a fellow academic.
But, rather than focus on Faurisson, whose supporters use his supposed scholarship in attempt to equalize evil, Finkielkraut urges us to look at Rassinier, who becomes the apologist of the system that subjected him to torture, by refusing to grant it any originality. There is in Rassinier a fanaticism of thought that succeeds, in spite of the worst obstacles, to eliminate any difference between the Allies and the Nazis, between World War I and World War II, between the camps of the 20th century and the other forms of subjugation or enslavement created over the course of the ages. Indeed, Finkielkraut accuses Rassinier of self-contradiction. On the one hand, as Finkielkraut reads Rassinier, those camps are like any others: There can be no wars without concentration camps, with Oradours on both sides, without lieutenant colonels on both sides just as obedient and zealous as Eichmann.(25) The complex of Ulysses lie, which belongs to all people, therefore of all the camp prisoners. Mankind needs the marvelous in evil as in good, in the ugly as in the beautiful.(26)
On the other hand, those camps were unlike the others, but the fault was that of the kapos.
Finkielkraut is impatient with any attempt to reduce those he regards as denialists to mere seekers of a balanced view of history. An example of such an attempt was an article by Christian Colombani in Le Monde, according to which the pro-Faurisson academics believe that the Jewish people has no monopoly of suffering and that there is no exemplary torture the gas chambers that exceeds all the others in cruelty. They dont deny the extent of the Nazi crimes, but they find it excessive to regard them as the most heinous of all. For in that way, they say, the other war crimes, past and present, always appear less severe in comparison and more excusable.
In response to this interpretation, Finkielkraut thunders:
Jean-Gabriel (Gaby) Cohn-Bendit, the brother of Daniel (Danny the Red), is singled out for Finkielkrauts scorn because, while he accepts the reality of the genocide (he could hardly, as a child of survivors, do otherwise), he cannot bring himself to believe in the existence of gas chambers. And why? As Finkielkraut reads Cohn-Bendits reasoning, they had to be invented in order to make Hitler appear more evil than Stalin.
Having discussed some of the offbeat anti-denialists, I feel ready to deal with the work of Deborah E. Lipstadt. The focus of her work(28) is on Anglo-American denialism and, in common with most of her fellows, she associates it with the far right and neo-Nazi movements. While she devotes a number of pages to Rassinier, and identifies him as a former Communist and a Socialist who had been interned in the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Dora, she makes no links with the French left as a whole, and does not cite Finkielkrauts analysis of Rassinier; in fact, she doesnt cite Finkielkraut at all. I dont know if she reads French, but I doubt it, since she cites Rassinier only in translations, including some gratuitous [sic]s referring to minor solecisms in English that can only be the translators.(29)
Lipstadt is clearly preaching to the choir. In the chapter The Battle for the Campus, dealing with the controversies surrounding the publication (or its refusal) of denialist propaganda ads in campus newspapers:
As a non-member of the choir, I would ask: most disturbing to whom? And what is the cause of Holocaust denial?
Again: most frightening to whom?
In reference to the German relativizers Lipstadt writes as follows (Chapter 11):
Were the Russian and Ukrainian muzhiks
targeted by Stalin not a particular human group?
Not a racially defined human group perhaps, but to
assume that this distinction is crucial is precisely to buy
into a racist view of history such as was espoused by the
Nazis. Genocide is genocide, however the victim group
or, for that matter, the perpetrator group is
constituted. We know about the Armenians of
Turkey. In Rwanda we hear of the Tutsis and moderate
Hutus that is, the motivations of the murderous
Hutu regime may have been political in additional to ethnic.
But an international consensus is now emerging that the
actions of Pol Pot, Pinochet and their ilk just as fully
constituted genocide, though there may be no simple label in
which to enshroud their victims.
Deborah Lipstadt notwithstanding, the relativizers are not really denialists, but can be regarded as precursors of anti-anti-denialism from a rightist, or at least anti-Communist, perspective.
A more recent trend in anti-anti-denialism comes from what might be called a progressive view. One representative is the Native American historian Ward Churchill, who regards Deborah Lipstadt herself as a Holocaust denier and uses the subtitle of her book The growing assault on truth and memory to give a similar title (Assaults on truth and memory, Part II) to a chapter in his book A Little Matter of Genocide(30). The book deals primarily with the fate of indigenous Americans, but this chapter is a scathing attack on what Churchill calls the exclusivism of Lipstadt and others of her tribe of Jewish historians, such as Yehuda Bauer, Steven Katz, and Lucy Dawidowicz(31), whose works he qualifies as really only variations of Arthur Butzs The Hoax of the Twentieth Century written in reverse. Churchill accepts the full dimension of the horror of the Jewish genocide. His quarrel is with those who argue the uniqueness of Jewish victimization and who consequently downgrade and shunt into historical oblivion the suffering not only the victims of the many genocides occurring outside the framework of Nazism, but non-Jews targeted for elimination within the Holocaust itself, specifically Gypsies and Slavs. (As Ive said, this charge does not apply to Vidal-Naquet.)
A similar charge is leveled by the previously cited Edgar Morin (himself Jewish), not against specific historians but against what he sees as the ideology underlying modern Zionism of the support-Israel-at-all-costs variety. Morin writes(32):
The uniqueness claim is only one of three peculiar characteristics that Morin attributes to the effort to remember the martyrdom of the Jews during World War II, in what he calls the black hole of the Shoah. Another is its use in justifying the oppressive behavior of Israel:
And Morin goes on:
Of all the writers I have cited here, Morins position comes the closest to mine. If this makes me a Holocaust denier, so be it.
October 25, 2000
© 2000 by Jacob Lubliner
1. I am aware that the term Gypsies (a corruption of Egyptians) is frowned on in some circles and that the politically correct form is Rom/Roma. In my defense I claim, first, that, as far as is known, it was the Gypsies themselves who told the Europeans that they had come from Egypt; second, that Rom/Roma, which means man/people, is itself racist, implying as it does that non-Rroma (or gadjo) are somehow non-people; and third, that only a fraction of the people known as Gypsies refer to themselves as Rom/Roma.
2. Sam E. Bloch (ed.), Holocaust and Rebirth, Bergen-Belsen 1945-1965, New York-Tel Aviv: Bergen-Belsen Memorial Press of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations.
3. Alvin H. Rosenfield, The Americanization of the Holocaust, in Thinking about the Holocaust: After Half a Century (ed. by Alvin H. Rosenfield), Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 121.
4. James E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988, p. 200.
5. Alain Finkielkraut, Lavenir dune négation, Paris: Seuil, 1982, fn. p. 82 (my translation). An English translation of this book appeared recently. I have not seen it, except for the title, but, given that the translator renders négation as negation rather than denial, I think Id rather not.
6. Edgar Morin, Israël-Palestine: le double regard, in: Libération, 11 September 1997 (my translation).
7. Young, op. cit., p. 87
8. Ħurban is Hebrew for destruction, and in the form khorbn is often used in Yiddish descriptions of the events.
9. E.g. Spanish Holocausto, Italian Olocausto, and so on. In Greek, interestingly enough, the standard word is not the classical Holokauston (the direct etymon of Holocaust), whose past-participle form literally means that which is totally burnt, but the specially coined Holokauthema (Olokávthima in Modern Greek), meaning total burning.
10. Carol J. Williams, Amid a Wave of Racist Violence, a Holocaust History Lesson, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2000.
11. Vahakn N. Dadrian, The Historical and Legal Connection Between the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust: From Impunity to Retributive Justice, The Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 23, 1998, pp. 503-559.
12. Roger Garaudy, Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne, Paris: Samizdat Roger Garaudy, 1996, p. (my translation).
13. Paul Rassinier, Le mensonge dUlysse: regard sur la littérature concentrationnaire, 6th ed., Paris: La Vieille Taupe, 1979 (1st ed. Bourg-en Bresse: Editions Bressanes, 1950); Le Véritable Procès Eichmann ou les Vainqueurs incorrigibles, Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1962.
14. Paul Rassinier, Le drame des Juifs européens, Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1964.
15. Garaudy, op. cit., p. 159.
16. Ibid., p. 184.
17. Arthur Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century,Richmond (England): Historical Review Press, 1975.
18. Jean Améry, At the Minds Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980, tr. by Sidney and Stella P. Rosenfeld of Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne. Bewältigungsversuche eines Überwältigten. Munich: Beck.
19. Jean Améry, Radical Humanism, Selected Essays, ed. & tr. by Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld, Bloomington: Indiana Univesity Press, 1984.
20. Satre: Greatness and Failure, in Améry, op. cit. (1984).
21. In the Waiting Room of Death: Reflections on the Warsaw Ghetto, in Améry, op. cit. (1984).
22. Till Bastian, Auschwitz und die Auschwitz-Lüge: Massenmord und Geschichtsfälschung. [Auschwitz and the Auschwitz lie: mass murder and falsification of history]. Munich: Beck,1994.
23. Auschwitz-Lüge serves, in Germany, as a catchword for denialism, taken from the title of a book published by a certain Thies Christophersen, who in 1944 was posted at Auschwitz as a plant-laboratory employee. A somewhat more delicate term is Auschwitz-Mythos (Auschwitz myth), coined by Wilhelm Stiglich.
24. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Assassins of Memory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, tr. by Jeffrey Mehlman of Les assassins de la mémoire, Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 1987. Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Limor Yagil, Holocaust Denial in France: Analysis of a Unique Phenomenon, Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Humanities, Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism, 1994.
25. Le Véritable Procès Eichmann.
26. Le mensonge dUlysse.
27. Referring to the French socialist leader Jules Guesde (1845-1922).
28. Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, New York: Free Press, 1993.
29. Another demonstration of Lipstadts seeming linguistic ignorance is her complaint about David Irvings pronunciation which she finds insulting of Elie Wiesels surname like weasel. Not only is Wiesel simply the German word for weasel, but Irving, an Englishman, may well be a stranger to the peculiarly American habit of shifting the stress in names that end in -el or -ell (even English ones such as Cottrell or Purcell) to the last syllable.
30. Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present, San Francisco: City Lights, 1997.
31. Yehuda Bauer, The Holocaust in Historical Perspective, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978; Lucy Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the Historians, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981; Steven T. Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
32. Edgar Morin,
Israël-Palestine: le double regard,
Libération, September 11,1997 (my