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False history, gas chambers, blue smoke, and cracked mirrors.

History just isn't as reliable as we want it to be. I'm amazed at how many otherwise rational people still believe that the United States invaded Vietnam with the most benevolent of intentions--and that if the liberal news media hadn't been so damn critical, we might've won. Lizzie Borden was acctually acquitted of murdering her parents, mainly because she was zonked out on laudanum while they were being chopped into cutlets. The famous story of how Thomas Huxley screwed Archbishop Wilberforce into the ground during an early debate over evolution is, apparently, a fiction. Nor was the eight, hour workday won by technological advances it was won through a three-year war between the Western Confederation of Miners and the state of Colorado around 1904.

Rare is the Japanese student who is taught of the Rape of Nanking, the wartime medical "experiments" undertaken in Manchuria, or the Bataan Death March. Estimates of deaths in the Ukraine under Stalin's regime have ranged from two million to 20 million people. The Kennedy assassination has bequeathed us a kudzu field of wildly varying theories, and, more recently, one of the jurors in the first Rodney King trial asserted that King was completely in control of his own beating; this was an event that was videotaped, mind you. Whatever the historical truth may be in any number of possible examples, people continue to display an amazing capacity for avoiding, revising, or not really worrying about it very much.

The Holocaust, you might imagine, is one event that's impossible to dispute. Every year brings new books examining the Nazi horror. There are thousands of survivors still alive--their memories still vivid--throughout the United States. There have been numerous movies (including the forthcoming epic by Steven Spielberg, Schindler's List), television shows, documentaries, and even whole museums devoted to this one inhuman period of our history. Most serious examinations of human institutions and the human condition must take the Holocaust into account: there's Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors, which examines the corruption of science by evil; Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which examines "the banality of evil" (why such a seemingly normal, mid-level bureaucrat like Adolf Eichmann could administer mass murder); and Stanley Milgram's self-explanatory "Obedience to Authority" experiments. And yet, according to a recent Roper poll, one-third of the citizens of the United States now think that the Holocaust might be a fiction.

The Roper poll was released on the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw uprising. Twenty-two percent of American adults responding to the survey and 20 percent of our high-school students think it's possible that the Holocaust didn't happen. Another 12 percent said that they didn't know whether it was possible or impossible. There were no figures for people who are certain that it is a fiction, but nearly one-third of the country isn't certain.

It gets worse. Half of the students (and 38 percent of the adults) couldn't identify Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau as concentration camps, and 65 percent of the adults and 71 percent of the kids failed to recognize six million as the number of Jews killed in the camps. That's the number I'd always thought was most commonly associated with the Holocaust; the full total, including Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, dissidents, and other targeted groups, is closer to 11 million.

The Holocaust is one event where we work at keeping the memory strong in our souls. Most of us are outraged at the very suggestion that the Holocaust might be a fiction, simply because of the enormity of the event, and the sheer amount of evidence that it really did happen. So, assuming that the Roper poll was truly representative (its sample size was slightly less than 1,500 respondents and had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percent), what could possibly explain it?

With nearly any subject we learn about in school, we retain only the broad outlines. Most people conceive of evolution in schematic: Charles Darwin, that ape-into-man poster on the classroom wall, trilobites, and maybe a little cell biology if they paid attention. That's one reason why creationists can be so convincing; with a few well-chosen questions, many people who don't know the details tend to go "Gee, I never thought of that" when presented with even an implausible objection. Relatively few of us understand the Holocaust in intimate, working detail. Most people know of Hitler, camps, gas, maybe the number six million, and the vague understanding that the United States put a stop to it. It's not hard to imagine such a person; lots of them graduate high school every year.

Now imagine someone walking up to this person and saying, "That Holocaust stuff is just silly, unscientific nonsense. Have you ever wondered how the Nazis could possibly gas so many people to death? Especially when the gas they used was only an insecticide?" This is the basic approach used by the Holocaust revisionists.

In their collective imaginations, Holocaust revisionists are truthseekers--clear-visioned researchers who dared to question official dogma and now are persecuted as heretics. The rest of the civilized world, in their view, has swallowed "the hoax of the century." The moral outrage they elicit--demonstrations, invective, lawsuits, and much more--merely stiffens their resolve; they see themselves as the ultimate skeptics, confronting the ultimate falsity. Their literature characterizes their leaders as "courageous defenders of historical truth" against the political correctness of the "Holohoax."

There are more than a few problems with this. The camps still exist, for one thing. Millions of documents are available detailing the procedures of mass extermination, right down to purchase requisitions for Zyklon-B. There are films of bodies being dumped and buried in mass graves. Former camp personnel

have confessed to being part of a program of mass extermination. All of this, these revisionists would have us believe, was quickly manufactured within a few months after World War II. (Many of them openly wonder where those six million Jews really are hiding out. Argentina, perhaps?)

Anti-Semitism is a unique prejudice. Rather than claiming that Jews are interior, anti-Semites are more likely to say that Jews are smarter than Gentiles, only more corrupt and more devious. Few other bigots concern themselves with international, generations-old conspiracies devised by their alleged enemies. (For example, one never hears of a cabal of Africans secretly running the world.) The fuel of anti-Semitism is the image of a sinister, alien underground, with unfair influence, baroque motivations, and almost superhuman abilities. It's high-octane fuel, and the Holohoaxers spend lots of time stating that this "ultimate falsity" is really a massive Zionist public-relations effort to enlist support for the state of Israel.

Amazingly, the Holohoax hypothesis was first put forward by a survivor of Dora and Buchenwald. Paul Rassinier, a former member of the French National Assembly, had fought in the anti-fascist resistance during the war, was arrested, and spent 19 months in the camps. After the war, however, he began developing delusions about Jews and, eventually, argued that the thousands of deaths he witnessed were caused by the communists among the inmates. In his book The Drama of the European Jews, Rassinier maintained that no more than 1.5 million Jews died in the camps.

Rassinier found an unexpected area of influence among some formerly progressive isolationists of World War I. Historian Harry Elmer Barnes once penned strong indictments of America's entry into the war, and he enjoyed a brief vogue as an influential newspaper columnist in the postwar period. (Barnes was also one of the original signers of Humanist Manifesto I.) Yet, Barnes and his disciples carried their suspicions of the Great War into the 1930s. They refused to believe the reports about Hitler's Germany and eventually supported such isolationist (and frequently anti-Semitic) movements as America First. Barnes and his followers lost much of their support once the facts regarding Hitler became unavoidable; isolated and ignored, they later turned to a more extreme and "shocking" hypothesis.

In 1964, when the aged Barnes heard of Rassinier's claims, he became immediately convinced that here was the proof he needed to vindicate himself. Hitler wasn't such a bad guy, Barnes maintained, and Germany, the nation of Wagner and Goethe, really hadn't descended into savagery and primitivism; it was all a hoax concocted by the International Zionist Conspiracy.

Holocaust revisionism is currently experiencing something of a resurgence in the United States. The Institute for Historical Review, based in Torrance, California, enjoys the support of wealthy anti-Semite Willis Carto, the financial force behind the Liberty Lobby and any number of like-minded hate groups. The blandness of the institute's name fooled even the Organization of American Historians, which sold its mailing list to the IHR before realizing what the group was all about. (It's a trick a number of extremist groups have adopted; Lyndon LaRouche, for example, publishes an expensive info sheet called the Executive Intelligence Review.) A new generation of Holohoaxers has now taken over after the demise of Rassinier and Barnes.

The biggest name among the Holohoaxers these days is Fred Leuchter, billed by the Journal of Historical Review as "the foremost American expert on gassing and gas chamber technology." Leuchter first came to public attention during the various trials of Ernst Zundel, who was being prosecuted by the Canadian government for publishing a pamphlet entitled Did Six Million Really Die? (I should mention that the "false news" law under which Zundel was prosecuted was later struck down by the Canadian Supreme Court as unsconstitutional.) During the 1988 Zundel trial, Leuchter was brought in as an expert witness for Zundel's defense.

Leuchter is something of an engineering jack-of-all-trades, with no formal training in chemistry or toxicology. He did manage to parlay his engineering skills into a consultancy for a unique government-contract market: the design of execution equipment. Since then, Leuchter has claimed that "Jewish groups" are keeping him from practicing his livelihood of killing prisoners quickly and efficiently; in an October 1992 speech, he asked plaintively, "How many more inmates will be tortured, or lives lost, through the callous indifference of these Jewish groups?"

For the Zundel trial, Leuchter went to Auschwitz, secured samples from the ruins of the gas chambers (illegally), and came up with The Leuchter Report, in which he purports to prove that Zyklon-B could not have been used to kill hundreds of thousands of people at the camps--and, therefore, that Zundel is innocent of circulating "false news," because the Holocaust could never have happened.

How does Leuchter "prove" this astonishing fact? Well, chemistry was never my strong subject, but here goes. Zyklon-B was an insecticide developed by I. G. Farben and originally used by the Nazis in delousing. (It had also been used to execute prisoners in the United States since the 1920s.) When exposed, it releases hydrocyanic acid (or HCN, prussic acid) into the air. HCN is more effective on warm-blooded animals than on insects; while 72 hours of exposure to a concentration of 16,000 parts per million is required to kill insects in a delousing shed, only 15 to 20 minutes exposure at 300 parts per million is needed to kill a human being. (When asked about this disparity during the Zundel trial, Leuchter replied that "I haven't made computations for killing beetles.")

Rudolf Hoss, commandant of Auschwitz, is commonly cited as the man who decided to use Zyklon-B on humans. Experiments on Soviet POWs demonstrated to Hoss that it was a swifter and more certain method of extermination than carbon monoxide, phenol injections, or shooting. "During this first experience of gassing people, I did not fully realize what was happening, perhaps because I was too impressed by the whole procedure," Hoss later wrote. Most of the Zyklon-B was provided, in quantities of two tons a month, by Tesch and Stabenow of Hamburg; well as offers from the company to build ventilation equipment for the extermination chambers, turned up at the Nuremburg trials.

Leuchter dismisses the extensive documentation for the use of Zyklon-B to exterminate humans as irrelevant in the face of what he claims is a simple scientific fact. HCN also forms hydrocyanic compounds when it interacts with iron and concrete, including a distinctive shade known (ironically enough) as "Prussian blue" Leuchter compared the cyanide content of the samples taken from the ruins of the gas chambers with a sample taken from a delousing chamber; the result was that the gas-chamber samples yielded minute traces of cyanide, while the delousing chamber contained perhaps 100,000 to 150,000 times as much. This single disparity, Leuchter claims, disproves the "theory" of the Holocaust.

Leuchter's entire report rests on the validity of using samples from the delousing chamber as a "control" for the gas-chamber samples. The original Auschwitz gas chambers were dynamited by the SS as the Russians advanced on the camp, and their ruins have been exposed to nearly 50 years of rain, wind, dust, and sunshine. Their exposure to Zyklon-B was short, swift, and frequently ventilated; the delousing chamber, which wasn't blown up, was a closed room thickly suffused with Zyklon-B for up to 72 hours at a time. But when you're the "leading expert on gassing and gas-chamber technology," heroically fighting the International Zionist Conspiracy, these piddling technical details aren't of much concern.

Leuchter is just one of a network of Holohoaxers promoting what has to be the ugliest pseudoscience around; and in part two of this essay, we'll get to meet them and read their remarkable claims. These include arguing that Anne Frank's diary was a hoax, that Elie Weisel is a liar, that Hitler was simply a misunderstood watercolorist, and that Jews are such rotten people that, fiction or not, maybe a Holocaust wouldn't be such a bad idea. And if that's not enough to keep your attention for two months, we'll even propose a simple test that is virtually guaranteed to settle the Holohoaxer's rants once and for all. Stay tuned.

Brian Siano is a freelance writer and researcher in Philadelphia. He can be contacted via E-mail at
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Title Annotation:claims that the Holocaust was a hoax
Author:Siano, Brian
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Choosing sides in the cultural war.
Next Article:G-Wo/Man.

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