The Journal of Historical Review

A Note From The Editor

by Keith Stimely

In 1979 a group of 34 French historians, reacting to the first discom­fitures caused by Professor Robert Faurisson’s investigations of the World War II “gas chambers” allegation, published a declaration in Le Monde which contained these sentences:

.... It is not necessary to ask how technically such mass murder was possible. It was possible, seeing that it took place. That is the required point of departure of every historical inquiry on this subject. This truth it behooves us to remember in simple terms: there is not and there cannot be a debate about the existence of the gas chambers.

Indeed it seems there cannot – if the story of the gas chambers is to remain accepted as a historical fact. The 34 French historians, one may well suppose, knew exactly what they were saying and why they had to say it, though theirs was an extraordinary step. In fact this is an understatement: coming from historians it was and is nothing less than mind-boggling. But then these historians faced a quite mind-boggling problem.

It remains a problem, graver for them now than over – since the debate about the gas chambers, far from ceasing at the stroke of 34 pens, has proceeded with vigor. A good part of it in America has been conducted in the pages of this journal. The detailed technical (“commands” from on high notwithstanding) investigations of the alleged gas chambers and gassing processes presented in past issues by Dr. Faurisson and by Dr. William Lindsey have done much to clarify the issue of the role of Zyklon B, the deadly hydrocyanic acid supposedly used by the Germans to murder millions in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Because of their work we (and 34 French historians in spite of themselves; they probably don’t actually put their hands over their eyes) now know much more about the chemical/physical properties of Zyklon B, the conditions necessary for its use, the precautions that must be taken by its users in any application, the purpose for which it was manu­factured and used, the various possibilities and impossibilities relating to its application, and so forth. Most importantly for broad-historical purposes, we know from all this how to approach and judge many and various claims about Zyklon B that have been made in connection with the “Holocaust” story, and that do constitute a very important part of that story.

But as Friedrich P. Berg reminds us in this issue’s feature article, “The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth Within A Myth,” the Zyklon B claims, important as they are, constitute only a part of the story: in fact, as they relate to the total numbers of alleged victims, about one-half the story. According to the legend as it has coalesced and been presented by its most careful and serious proponents, in the majority of the great killing centers other than Auschwitz, as well as in the various “mobile” killing installations, the victims were gassed to death not with cyanidic Zyklon B, but with carbon monoxidic Diesel fuel exhaust. Mr. Berg’s highly technical investigation here is the first such to be carried out on this question in any forum – and, for that matter, on any side in the “Holocaust” controversy. It is a breakthrough. The author’s intimate famili­arity, as a professional engineer and environmental consultant, with the chemical/physical properties of Diesel fuel exhaust and the range of its effects on human beings qualifies him well for u study which no his­torian of the “Holocaust” has undertaken in any depth but which will henceforth boar the most serious consideration by all such historians (of the serious variety).

It is in some ways an odd piece to appear in a historical journal. Basically a treatise on engineering and chemistry principles and a presentation of empirical data (with, however, the historical context and import made very clear at outset and end), one might expect – if it related to anything other than the “Holocaust” issue with its still-efficacious taboos – that it would appear first in a scientific journal. That is the way things usually happen when a non-historian specialist comes up with conclusions in his discipline which have a larger, histori­cal, bearing: his or her paper will appear in a specialist journal, from there the conclusions will be picked up by and filter down into the consciousness of historians, and will then further filter down, perhaps with refinements and caveats, to students, into books, and thus to the history-reading lay populace – the whole process being the working-out in practice of the truth that history, which is all-embracing, is thus also interdisciplinarian. In this case, however, such are the constraints involved in any critical discussion of the “Holocaust,” almost anywhere, that Mr. Berg’s research debuts in this historical journal, which does not suffer under those constraints, for the consideration at the outset of the widest possible audience. A usual step has thus been bypassed, to no harm at all and perhaps some benefit. If the lay historical reader finds parts of the article heavy going – Mr. Berg not having been content to present his conclusions without demonstrating in detail the scientific bases for them – nevertheless its presentation here, first, can only hasten in welcome fashion the injection of the issues it raises into the dialogue of the historians.

That dialogue will go on no matter what arbitrary limitations, either of subject or method, are proposed for it – even by members of the guild. Curiosity plain and simple, the fundamental motive behind all historical inquiry (and as such never, never to be disparaged) will see to that. Those who propose “no debate” on the gas chambers fight a losing battle even against themselves. They have, without too much thought, locked themselves in to the diesel exhaust story, as the Zyklon B story. They above all should be most interested in reading dissenting research which may help to tell them whether theirs was a wise move or not. Some will doubtless struggle to unlock themselves – and as Mr. Berg points out in the “Postscript” to his article, there are signs that this is already happening to a degree. Others will throw away the key and prepare for a last-ditch stand. It is most likely that those latter will, in dealing with Mr. Berg’s investigation and its implications for their position, use a tactic well-honed indeed in application against Robert Faurisson. This simple tactic, whose effectiveness should not be underrated, is to say that: the revisionists of the “Holocaust” are obscurantists, they focus on as many little, separate technical details as they can – so as to obscure the broader picture; they draw outrageous, unwarranted general conclusions from their specific investigations; they confuse intentionally with a mass of impressive but irrelevant data; they know they can’t topple the whole story head-on, and so they peck away here and there at matters which are not so important. “Debating” these people is to add an unwarranted legitimacy to their approach, which is fallacious and dangerous.

It is, as a matter of fact, entirely possible that a broad historical reality may suffer unwarranted distortion at the hands of a too-technical, too-detailed approach. The scientific method, though it can help historical inquiry, cannot be the historical method itself – at least in dealing with human history, which is often a record of irrationality, illogicality and quirkiness defying the precise analysis which the scien­tist likes to bring to bear. This point made, however, it remains for any explorers of the “Holocaust” to determine for themselves whether the revisionist focus on the details of the gas chambers and the gassing processes is not indeed quite warranted and quite relevant. Such a determination must rest on an acknowledgement that the “Holocaust” story is based on definite, specific, physical, material claims, and no matter the great metaphysical, metahistorical – even theological – adornments placed on it in the fashion so widespread today, this simple physical core remains. Thus, in fact, there can really be only one determination here; it has been made already by the upholders of the “Holocaust” story and this, it does not take a genius to figure out, is the very reason why some of them proclaim: “no debate.”

The American historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz has said approvingly of the declaration by the 34 French historians that it “could well serve as a guide to American historians.” But it must be wondered how many American historians will actually wish to subscribe to a statement which contains the words “It is not necessary to ask ...” What enor­mous implications: “It is not necessary to ask ...” These are incredible, even frightening, words, and historians who would subscribe to them clearly took a wrong turn somewhere in life and wound up in the wrong profession.

That profession will likely withstand such assaults against it from within – and continue to welcome and give due consideration to the contributions of others from without. Its own very simple, and very magnificent, guiding truth has, after all, ever been that it is “necessary to ask” – and to answer, no matter where the answers might lead.

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 4-6.

Published with permission, courtesy of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR).

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