A Challenge from the USHMM:
Theodore J. O’Keefe
A Revisionist Response
No other historical event enjoys the massive, separate commemoration on the national Mall in Washington that is accorded to the Holocaust, the catastrophe suffered by the European Jews during the Second World War. The authorities who created the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have sought to exploit to the full, and beyond, this privileged location for what is largely a non-American tragedy. As Seymour Siegel, formerly executive director of the council that designed the Museum, stated, for the Holocaust story to be told "at the most prestigious spot for a museum in the western world, perhaps in the whole world, puts on a scientific and unshakable basis the truth of our story and the accuracy of events" (quoted in Edward Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum [New York: Viking, 1995], p. 63).
The decision to enshrine a State-sponsored, orthodox version of a much-debated historical episode has been accompanied by express hostility to dissent from that version of the Holocaust story. From the outset, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has been conceived as a challenge to Holocaust revisionists. The creators and curators of the Museum, above all its permanent exhibition, have repeatedly invoked their intent, indeed their duty, not merely to counter the revisionists’ arguments, but to eliminate any errors of fact that might play into the revisionists’ hands through meticulous care in presenting and documenting every exhibit.
In 1979, fourteen years before the Museum was opened, one member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Commission declared that "the proposed memorial center presenting authentic material will effectively counteract...endeavors to falsify history" (Linenthal, pp. 110-111).
Jeshajahu Weinberg, the USHMM’s first director (1989-1995), has described the USHMM’s collection thus: "The Museum’s 26,000 authentic Holocaust-related artifacts constitute a powerful argument against Holocaust denial and are important potential raw material for research of Holocaust history" (Jeshajahu Weinberg and Rina Elieli, The Holocaust Museum in Washington [New York: Rizzoli International, 1995], p. 187).
The cumulative impact of the entire collection was not the only consideration. Weinberg writes: "The search [for exhibits] was informed by the decision that the exhibition should include only authentic material. The major reason for this decision lay in the recent upsurge in the activities of Holocaust deniers. Using authentic artifacts and photographs, the Museum itself would constitute historical evidence of the Holocaust" (Weinberg and Elieli, p. 57).
Professor Edward Linenthal of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, whose book Preserving Memory is the outstanding scholarly study of the creation of the USHMM, reports that there was special concern for photographic exhibits: "There was acute sensitivity regarding the historical accuracy of photographs to be used in the exhibition, particularly since one of the oft-cited justifications for the museum’s existence was to refute the claims of the Holocaust deniers" (Linenthal, p. 171).
In their zeal to combat the revisionists, U.S. Holocaust Museum authorities were moved not only to exclude exhibits that might be exploited due to their inauthenticity by revisionists, but also to urge the inclusion of exhibits to directly combat revisionism. Thus Michael Berenbaum, the Museum’s former project director, who played a key role in shaping the permanent exhibition, urged that one exhibit—a photo of the late West German chancellor Willi Brandt in Warsaw—be added because, he said, "It would be useful against Holocaust deniers" (Linenthal, p. 252).
To end with perhaps the most sweeping claim for the USHMM’s supposed vigilance against the revisionists, we may cite former USHMM director Walter Reich, who wrote in a newspaper article in 1997: "In all of its activities, the Holocaust Museum is fiercely devoted to historical authenticity. It takes immense pains to guard against errors or misrepresentations. This is a responsibility of all museums; it’s ours all the more so because Holocaust deniers, driven by antisemitic animus, are ready to pounce on any errors or distortions" (Washington Post, August 31, 1997).
While revisionists may take pride in playing what, according to former director Weinberg and other Museum officials, was a leading role in keeping the USHMM exhibits honest, the USHMM’s permanent exhibit nevertheless distorts historical truth, displays false documents, and offers no convincing evidence that the Germans gassed one, let alone millions, of Jews.
American Holocaust revisionists and the people who run the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have something surprising in common. They happen to think each other’s ideas are important. That’s why revisionists have devoted careful study to the Museum’s Holocaust exhibition, and it’s why (surprisingly!) the council and staff of the U.S. Holocaust Museum have paid close attention to the revisionist challenge.
The men and women who planned and directed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have been outspoken on the Museum’s need to counter Holocaust revisionism. It’s not just that USHMM officials have repeatedly stated that the version of the Holocaust on exhibit at the Museum is accurate; they have vowed that the USHMM’s permanent exhibition on the Holocaust will shut up the revisionists, once and for all.
The Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust has challenged the accuracy of the Museum’s exhibits, directly to Museum officials and in open letters that have been published on campuses nationwide. Museum authorities have not replied to CODOH’s inquiries regarding the Museum’s exhibit of a replica of a door to an alleged homicidal gas chamber at the Majdanek concentration camp. The Museum has also failed to respond to CODOH’s discovery that a key figure in the planning of its Holocaust exhibition gave murderously false testimony about Auschwitz at a postwar trial.
Nor is it only errors of omission that the men and women who run America’s Holocaust museum must answer for. The "educational" purpose of the USHMM, in fact its indoctrination of Americans with only one side of the increasingly contested history of the Jewish "Holocaust," has been joined by a "re-educational" function. At least twice editors of university newspapers have been pressured to tour the Museum’s permanent exhibition after they chose to accept CODOH advertisements questioning aspects of the Holocaust story.
Those student editors—from Georgetown in 1993, and from Indiana University-South Bend in 1998—had no way of knowing that some of the exhibits they were saw, and were led to believe were "proof" of the orthodox Holocaust story, were in fact historical fakes. These hoaxes are neither minor nor unimportant. They include a grotesquely fake quotation and a non-existent order attributed to Hitler; a false and misleading characterization of a "confession" by Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess; an ordinary airtight door exhibited as evidence of mass homicide; and a mass killing to rival today’s "ethnic cleansings": these and other falsehoods on prominent display at the Museum strike at the heart of the USHMM’s claim that it documents the truth of the standard Holocaust story, and that it proves that revisionist theory has nothing worthwhile to add to the discussion.
When the student editors—none of whom had doubted the orthodox version of the Holocaust—were making their obligatory tour through the Museum’s permanent exhibition, they lacked the information necessary to challenge the authenticity of what they were shown. Not least, of course, because the USHMM neither cultivates nor encourages a critical spirit among visitors—or anyone else.
Nevertheless, directors and curators from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have challenged, indeed have defied one group—American revisionists—to find legitimate fault with the Museum’s exhibited version of the Holocaust. This article documents their challenge—and our response.
Hitler Extermination Orders—Imaginary and Forged
The USHMM’s permanent exhibition claims to document a German, more specifically a Nazi, program to exterminate European Jewry. One strong implication of the exhibition is, not surprisingly, that Adolf Hitler was the prime mover in this program, and that he ordered the annihilation of the Jews. There is a problem here, however. While documents exist substantiating Hitler orders for the euthanasia program, and proving that Hitler ordered Soviet commissars to be shot, no order from Hitler—or from anyone—to exterminate the Jews of Germany, or of Europe, during the Third Reich has ever been found.
Yet a placard in the permanent exhibition, titled "The ‘Final Solution,’" states: "After considering alternate plans for dealing with the Jews, Hitler and the Nazi leadership turned to a policy of genocide; the ‘Final Solution.’ The exact date of the decision, which originated with Hitler, may never be known." In other words, the exhibition’s designers first assume a fact not in evidence (the Hitler "decision," or order, which they cannot produce); then, in order to "use" the non-existent order anyway to advance their argument, they attempt to shift the issue to what date the "decision" was taken. They must feel that no one would dare point out this kind of duplicity.
Just a few feet away, the visitor is confronted with a bluff certitude. In letters that cover several square feet of prominent wall space, dwarfing the text of the placards, these words are attributed to Adolf Hitler:
I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space [Lebensraum] which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? (Adolf Hitler, August 22, 1939, According to Reports Received by the Associated Press Bureau Chief in Berlin, Louis Lochner)
There is little doubt that American journalist Louis Lochner did receive a copy of the above remarks the Museum attributes to Hitler. But careful historians, with good cause, regard this Hitler "quote," presented as if genuine by the USHMM, as a crude distortion of Hitler’s words by German officers opposed to him. After all, other versions of Hitler’s August 22, 1939, words to his military commanders say nothing about an order to annihilate Polish civilians.
Nor do they report that the 240-pound Hermann Goering leapt on a table top and danced wildly to celebrate those alleged words of the Fuehrer, a part of this vulgar forgery given to Lochner that the Museum chose not to quote. Nor—as one does not learn moreover from the Museum’s scanty and misleading caption—did journalist Lochner rush to broadcast Hitler’s monstrous plans to the world. Instead, he delivered the "reports" (as the Museum calls this forged version of Hitler’s speech) to an official of the British Embassy in Berlin—as his contacts in the German resistance had asked him to do.
It is noteworthy that a Museum which boasts its ability to silence revisionist questions and doubts on the Holocaust is reduced to implying the existence of a Hitler order to annihilate the Jews through a sleight of hand. It is breathtaking, however, to find that the same Museum, just a short distance away, displays as if genuine the words of a Hitler order to slaughter Polish civilians, merely because of their ancestry and language.
When one considers—critically—the nearby exhibits, the Museum has presented what seem to have Hitler’s exact words as to his order to kill "men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language"—but only its assertion, without documentation, of such an order regarding the Jews. The USHMM authorities display very nearly the exact date that Hitler’s "Polish order" is supposed to have been uttered—while the date of Hitler’s alleged order to exterminate the Jews "may never be known."
If indeed Hitler’s "Polish order" is a fake concocted by German anti-Hitler circles, as most reputable scholars concede (there is no evidence Polish civilians were shot for their "derivation and language"), why does the USHMM, which boasts its fierce devotion to "historical authenticity," represent the false words attributed to Hitler as real?
Edward Linenthal, whose Preserving Memory includes much information on the creation of the Museum’s permanent exhibition, provides some answers on the specifics of the Museum’s reason for including the Hitler "quote" regarding the Armenians. Linenthal reveals that Michael Berenbaum, who now heads filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, was instrumental in the decision to put up this travesty of Hitler’s words. His motive, according to Linenthal, was to placate the Armenian community, which had wanted USHMM recognition of the massacres and expulsions they suffered at the hands of the Ottomans during the First World War. Linenthal notes that Martin Smith, who was at the time serving as director of the permanent exhibition, strongly supported Berenbaum, stating in 1990:
At a minimum, the Hitler quotation should be prominently displayed and addressed. Failure to do so would be craven pandering to the mandarins of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, for whom Turkish-Israeli relations are more important than dealing with the subject of genocide. (Linenthal, pp. 233-234)
It is interesting to note that for the mandarins of the Museum, then, the phony Hitler quote had more to do with the Armenians slaughtered by the Ottomans in the First World War than with the Poles in the Second. Doubtless, like the making of laws and of sausages, the process whereby the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibition was created doesn’t make for aesthetic viewing. But considering the political haggling that went into deciding to "prominently display"—if not exactly to "address"—the words falsely attributed to Hitler, the following assurances of former USHMM director Jeshajahu Weinberg, the USHMM’s former director, ring rather hollow:
In its endeavor to create an exhibition that would in itself serve as historical evidence, the planning team developed an almost fanatic commitment to historical truth. All textual explanations were vetted by renowned scholars, all exhibits carefully checked for authenticity. The slightest doubt about the accuracy of the caption of a photograph, or about the provenance of an artifact, led immediately to its disqualification. Any mistakes would have left the Museum open to critical attacks against its historical reliability. (Weinberg and Elieli, p. 153)
Well, yes, such mistakes—particularly when made out of political considerations—do leave "the Museum open to critical attacks against its historical reliability."
The opposite sides of the portal that leads to the core of the Holocaust exhibition offer interesting insight into how USHMM handles and interprets historical facts. On one side, one sees a casting of the sign on the gate to Auschwitz that bore the words "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "Work Sets You Free," accompanied by a placard that informs the visitor at some length and substantial detail of just how false those words were.
On the opposite side of the entryway, however, one sees (under glass) a sheet of paper with several lines in German that are described on a nearby placard in the following words:
Gassing Admitted by Commandant of Auschwitz
On May 14, 1946, Rudolf Hoess, the former commandant of Auschwitz, signed a declaration stating that during his tenure in office, 2 million Jews had been gassed at Auschwitz and another 500,000 killed in other ways. Hoess overestimated the number of Jews gassed by about 1 million.
How primly this brief explanation for the commandant of Auschwitz’s extraordinary mistake reads, in contrast to the expansive, almost bombastic correction of the comparatively unimportant deception of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign. The Museum’s former director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, who played a very large role in designing the USHMM, reveals in The Holocaust Museum in Washington that there was much discussion over whether the Hoess affidavit should be displayed:
...members of the planning team questioned whether one could include in the exhibition the affidavit of Rudolph [sic] Hoess, in which he stated that during his tenure as commandant at Auschwitz two million inmates had been gassed and half a million more had perished in the camp in other ways. Today historians believe that the total number of inmates who perished in Auschwitz was a million and a half, or even less. Obviously, Hoess, who wrote the affidavit in a prison cell in Nuremberg, gave an estimate not based on statistical research. However, it was a historic fact that he wrote this admission of guilt of his own free will. The affidavit was written in the presence of a member of the American team at the Nuremberg war crimes trials who interrogated Hoess. Even so, some staff members were afraid someone might accuse the Museum of overstating the number of Auschwitz victims. Eventually, after heated debates, it was decided that the documents be included in the exhibition with a caption quoting the correct statistic. (Weinberg and Elieli, pp. 153-154)
Weinberg’s attempt to "explain" the Hoess affidavit and the Museum’s brief description of it misstates or omits several key facts. In the first place, Hoess was captured and interrogated by the British before the Americans questioned him. Hoess, and at least two of his British interrogators, have stated that Hoess was tortured to gain his "confession." Steven Paskuly, an orthodox Holocaust historian who edited an edition of Hoess’s later "confessions," writes in his introduction to Death Dealer: "Just after his capture in 1946, the British Security Police were able to extract a statement from Hoess by beating him and filling him with liquor." (Paskuly, Death Dealer, [Buffalo: Prometheus, 1992]).
Weinberg’s "historic fact that [Hoess] wrote this admission of guilt of his own free will" is thus a historical falsehood. A statement made by someone to his captors that repeats or corroborates an (admittedly) false statement (in this case, the several million Jewish dead of Auschwitz) made earlier, under duress, cannot be regarded as made "of his own free will." Second, Hoess’s wildly exaggerated death figures for Auschwitz did not originate in the former commandant’s "estimate not based on historical research" (Weinberg’s words above). In fact, Hoess’s numbers derive from the fantastic figure of four million dead for Auschwitz that a Soviet "war crimes" investigation commission issued on May 6, 1945, nearly a year before Hoess was captured (March 11, 1946).
Weinberg’s, and even more so the Museum’s, reticence as to the Stalinist origin of the false Auschwitz death figures is all the more telling when one considers that a prominent member of the council that created the Museum’s permanent exhibition gave sworn testimony to the false four million figure at a 1945 war crimes trial.
Hadassah Rosensaft, who served as an active member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial council from 1978 to 1994, was a key witness at the British Belsen Trial, at which various former Auschwitz personnel were tried, and eleven executed. Testifying under the name of Ada Bimko, the former Auschwitz inmate (and camp physician) described her visits to the crematoria and gave detailed information as to the workings of the gas chambers, as well as testimony that incriminated specific defendants. The British prosecutor, Major Backhouse, in his closing arguments described Bimko/Rosensaft as "one of the most reliable witnesses in this case." As a matter of fact, maybe she was.
Given the distaste with which Weinberg and other "scholarly" proponents of the canonical Holocaust story now view the fantastic number of four million dead at Auschwitz (despite its having been the official figure at the Auschwitz State Museum for over forty years after the war), it is interesting to read Rosensaft’s sworn, written words from 1945:
I have examined the records of the numbers cremated and I say that the records show that about 4,000,000 persons were cremated at the camp. I say that from my own observation I have no doubt that at least this number was exterminated." Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty-Four Others, ed. Raymond Phillips [London and Edinburch: Hodge & Co., 1949], p. 740)
The Soviets announced their false death figure for Auschwitz (four million) in May 1945. Rosensaft/Bimko’s testimony as to the same figure was accepted by the British military court at the Belsen trial four months afterward. Hoess "confessed" to a greatly exaggerated death toll for Auschwitz (after the third degree) in March 1946. How is it that Hoess bears responsibility, as former USHMM director Weinberg strongly implies, for this crude "mistake"? Are the USHMM’s omissions and distortions in captioning and interpreting Rudolf Hoess’ exhibited "affidavit" an example of what Weinberg calls the Museum’s "almost fanatic commitment to historical truth"?
One final question on Hoess, the Museum, and the Auschwitz numbers: As specialists know, Stalin’s investigators calculated their faulty number of four million dead not from records, but from estimating the through-put of the crematoria (which today even standard Holocaust scholars concede the Soviets grossly exaggerated). What, then, became of "the records of the numbers cremated" at Auschwitz—adding up to the same spurious four million that Dr. Rosensaft swore that she saw there? There are no such records now; there were no such records then; the doctor perjured herself at Belsen—and then went on to help design the USHMM’s permanent exhibition as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Council.