Get Thee Behind Me, Revisionism
by George Brewer
Michael Berenbaum's Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, "The Growing Assault the Truth of Absolute Evil" represents a wild and irrational attack on Holocaust revisionism with little logic and lots of overblown maledictions. Then tenor of the article is clearly shown by its title, which appends to Deborah Lipstadt's notorious formulation not only "evil" but "absolute evil."
There are two problems with this kind of approach to what should be an ordinary historical debate. The first is that, if the nature of Holocaust evidence was as vast as Berenbaum claims, there would be no need to hide behind such exaggerated hyper-emotionalism. The second problem is that the thinking reader is bound to ask him or herself what the hysterical reaction might be masking, intentionally or unintentionally. After all, whatever happened in the concentration camps, it was all over fifty-five years ago.
And, indeed, if we look behind the "Get thee behind me, Satan" shrillness of Berenbaum's reaction, we find that instead of reason or logic we have been served up with a mess of inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims.
Item: Berenbaum argues that "deniers" reject the testimony of all Holocaust survivors, and then, in an apparently gratuitous act of self-promotion, references the testimony of 50,000 survivors whose testimony has recently been videotaped.
Fact: Anyone who studies this subject knows that the number of survivors or former Nazis who have offered descriptions of gassings are very few, perhaps no more than two or three dozen, and most of these in early postwar trials under communist auspices. In fact, most survivor testimony, which describes heartbreak, privation, disease, death, and survival, is quite believable, describing humiliating head-shavings, showerings, body searches, and even wide-spread rumors of gassings but no personal knowledge of them.
Item: Berenbaum claims that the variance in traditional death tolls -- between 5 and 6 million, opens the door for revisionist reductions to 1 million.
Fact: Standard variances run from 4 to 6 million, of which 3 to 5 million concern Russian and Polish Jews. Because the census data from postwar communist sources is highly suspect, many revisionists question the accuracy of the numbers for Russian and Polish Jews.
Item: Berenbaum claims that revisionists distort documents, citing a well-known telephone record discussed in David Irving's Hitler's War.
Fact: Irving's early misinterpretation of that document in 1977 has nothing to do with standard revisionism. In fact, revisionist documentary and material analysis is much more comprehensive, and so far, unchallenged. In this respect, Berenbaum should be asked to explain why he, when director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, installed an air raid shelter door as the door to a "gas chamber" and why the photograph of a "gas chamber" door at Majdanek was reversed in his book (The World Must Know, p. 138) so that it would not be evident to the reader that it could be opened from inside.
Item: Berenbaum makes a quick and uninformed dismissal of the work of Fred Leuchter, whose biography is central to Errol Morris' recent film, "Mr. Death."
Fact: Leuchter's basic concept, that the cyanide traces in the alleged gas chambers are non-existent or exist only in trace form, has never been discredited, but has been confirmed over and over again, even by interested Polish authorities. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for this counter-intuitive finding in terms of the traditional Holocaust narrative.
The truth is that Berenbaum's article reads like the rant of a small-time itinerant preacher and snake-oil salesman attempting to bully his faithful back into the fold. And that makes it sad reading. Sad, because Berenbaum, as an intelligent and talented rabbi, could have attempted to defend his beliefs in a manner which would not slip into attacks, misrepresentation, and simple intolerance. Yet such a tirade could have been expected. As the truth and the difficulties in the standard story begin to unravel, it is normal for some fringe believers to shore up their position with ever more dire and vociferous characterizations, threats, and general gnashing of teeth.
No amount of Holocaust revisionism, can, or should, deter the Jewish people from defining their history, or their suffering in World War Two, as they wish. On the other hand, no matter how intense the feelings on the subject, no one should be attacked or abused just because his or her interpretation of history differs from someone else's. No Jew should need to be reminded of this. Nor should any American: This is, after all, a free country.
Installed: 03/11/00, 09: 40 AM, EST