By Richard A. Widmann
In a style reminiscent of the most vile Nazi rhetoric, Deborah Lipstadt writes in the preface to her
Denying the Holocaust,
"In the 1930s Nazi rats spread a virulent form of antisemitism that resulted in the destruction of millions. Today the bacillus carried by these rats threatens to 'kill' those who already died at the hands of the Nazis for a second time by destroying the world's memory of them."1Most people today comprehend that such dehumanizing language is a potential danger. When we compare human beings to rodents in such virulent terms, so the argument goes, the next step may be violation of that group's civil and human rights and perhaps even their extermination.
The irony appears to be lost on those including Lipstadt who seek to defend the ideology of one group over another. While we have been taught that denial of human rights based on race, sex, creed, or ethnicity is the ultimate in evil, many seem to have forgotten the safeties established in the Bill of Rights to protect free speech and otherwise unpopular opinions or thoughts. While the world would be, and often is, outraged today by the mistreatment of some individual or nation for little more than their physical or ancestral differences from some other person or group, few are similarly concerned when the issue involves intellectual differences.
Today, around the world individuals are physically assaulted, arrested, incarcerated and fined along with other forms of persecution for questioning or subscribing to alternative views of the Second World War in general and the Holocaust in particular. The general public is besieged with information on such dissidents and have come to know them as "deniers." The origin of this inaccurate and offensive term is generally attributed to Lipstadt and her book, Denying the Holocaust.
For Lipstadt, Holocaust deniers are "antisemites who have... managed, under the guise of scholarship, to camouflage their hateful ideology."2 She writes,
“The attempt to deny the Holocaust enlists a basic strategy of distortion. Truth is mixed with absolute lies, confusing readers who are unfamiliar with the tactics of the deniers. Half-truths and story segments, which conveniently avoid critical information, leave the listener with a distorted impression of what really happened.”3
Thus it becomes apparent that, for Lipstadt, "deniers" are not those who express doubts about some element of the Holocaust story but those who actually believe the orthodox story in all its gruesome details. The "deniers" purposefully distort materials and even "lie" in order to support their ideology. At various times Lipstadt defines that ideology in varying terms but the net result is always the same, "they are fascists and antisemites with a specific ideological and political agenda."4
Lipstadt is bold but very simplistic in her thinking. Her only explanation for the phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism is to explain it away through her term "denial." Several revisionists have already pointed out the fallacies of Lipstadt's claims.5
Revisionists are bound by no political or national ideology. Revisionists do not adhere to any one political party and are not of one ethnic or racial background. Examples of the varied backgrounds of revisionists have been described elsewhere and are well known to all familiar with the literature.
Although there is great danger in believing that we know the unstated intentions and motives of others, let us apply the "Lipstadt method" to Lipstadt's work itself. Revisionists understand that distortions and deceptions in regard to historical events are wrong-headed and dangerous for societies no matter what ideology such methods support. Harry Barnes pointed out many years ago that Revisionism "implies an honest search for historical truth and the discrediting of misleading myths that are a barrier to peace and goodwill among nations."6 If historical falsehoods and myths are established to support one ideology over another, historical truth becomes subservient to ideological power. History becomes plastic molded by those who are currently supported by the ideological majority.
Revisionists agree with Lipstadt that that truth should never be mixed with lies. Any strategy that distorts the record to support an ideology is wrong. Where revisionists would differ from Lipstadt is that we would not stop at condemning such distortions which support Fascism, National Socialism or anti-Semitism. We would be equally concerned with distortion of the historical record to uphold Communism, Zionism, Capitalism or even Democracy. For revisionists, myths are myths. If there is one thing that revisionists will agree on, it is that "truth" no matter how damaging to any ideology is the ultimate objective.
Lipstadt's book is not a history book in the normal sense of the word. It is really a work of historiography. She has written a historiography of revisionism. A close analysis of her book however reveals that the method used to counteract the revisionists is the very method that she condemns in the hands of the "deniers." To paraphrase Lipstadt, she attempts to deny the Holocaust revisionists by enlisting a basic strategy of distortion.
Lipstadt's task was far easier than that charged of the revisionists. Revisionists have tackled prominent figures and well known and easy to find texts on the Holocaust story. Lipstadt assaults little known works and pamphlets, many of which are out of print and simply unavailable for sales through normal distribution channels. General readers of Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust have little ability to check her citations and evaluate her methods.
If distortion of the facts in support of an ideology, even a personal one, is as evil as Lipstadt seems to think, it is time that the world more closely review the quality of her work.
The Errors and Falsifications
Lipstadt's book abounds in errors and or falsifications. What follows is in no way an exhaustive list of such problems, but rather a representative sample. It is important to also recognize that the concentration of the critique below is literary in nature. Other issues relating to what revisionists have said or done are not addressed. Their omission in the analysis below in no way suggests their veracity.
Degrelle adds: "The truth is that in 1945 typhus, dysentery, hunger and the numberless blastings of an unchecked airforce, hit foreign internees and the civilians of the Third Reich indiscriminately." 9
Lipstadt's ellipse excludes the important words, "But, sad to say" which alters the sentences meaning thusly: "But, sad to say, they have also in wartime subverted much of the public to frenzy of prejudice."12
In fact as Rassinier explored the realities of the Holocaust story, he mused, "[...]there probably were exterminations by gas, but not as many as has been claimed. The number, of course, does not in the least diminish the nature of the horror, but the fact that the practice might have been a measure that was decreed by a State order in the name of a political doctrine would singularly add to the horrible nature of it. Was that the case?" 14
This is not what Rassinier argues. Rassinier is discussing the change in policy of the administration of the concentration camps from one in which the SS administered the camps directly, to one in which the prisoners acted as intermediaries. He writes of the system and not the SS, "All of the old hands who have experienced both systems are unanimous in recognizing that the former was in principle the better and the more humane." 16
The comment comes from Jirczah, a fellow prisoner. Jirczah was a Czech lawyer who had been assistant to the Mayor of Prague. Rassinier recounts meeting Jirczah while in Buchenwald. It is Jirczah who says, "When the National Socialists came to power, they decided, in a gesture of compassion, to put all of their adversaries in a place where they could not hurt the new regime and where they could be protected from public anger." 18
Here Lipstadt was especially deceptive. Her summarization is followed in what is the typical quotation style (indent with smaller point size) that is used throughout the book. However what appears to be a very damning and anti-Semitic quote by Rassinier was actually not written by Rassinier at all, but rather by Lipstadt herself. Not only is the paragraph not a quote of Rassinier, Lipstadt does not even offer a citation where such ideas are to be found.
In fact Rassinier was discussing the "migration of European Jews between 1933 and 1945." He writes, "Because this movement has not been studied in any detail by any of the authors who we have been discussing, it is full of question marks and is suspectible [sic] to all kinds of manipulation." 21
Here Lipstadt has deceptively put these words into Hoggan's mouth. Hoggan is actually reporting on the opinion of Joseph Goebbels. He writes, "Hitler was persuaded by Goebbels, after the demonstrations, to levy a 1-billion Mark (250 million dollar) fine on the wealthy and moderately wealthy Jews of Germany. Goebbels had argued that otherwise the Jews would be able to pocket vast amounts of money from the German insurance companies because the assets damaged or destroyed on November 10, 1938, had been heavily insured." 23
In fact, Barnes is not discussing nor deflecting charges of German atrocities but is rather discussing William Shirer's
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Barnes writes, "...even the colossal Shirer slander was bought in great quantities in Germany and only sporadically attacked and exposed for what it really is; the failure to point out that the atrocities of the Allies were more brutal, painful, mortal and numerous than most extreme allegations made against Germans..." 25
Here too Lipstadt has taken Barnes out of context and makes the circular argument by italicizing the word "alleged" that even skepticism about any claims of German crimes is akin to 'explicit denial.' Barnes, ever the historiographer of revisionism was actually discussing the book The Other Side of the Coin by Alfred Lilienthal whom he calls a 'courageous Jewish publicist." Barnes tells his readers that Lilienthal has shown in his book that "this trial revealed and demonstrated an almost adolescent gullibility and excitability on the part of Americans relative to German wartime crimes, real or alleged, and the equally apparent passionate determination of every type of American communication agency to exploit the opportunity for financial profit by placing every shred of both fact and rubbish connected with them before American readers, hourly and daily, for months, if not years on end. 27
Here Lipstadt italicizes "unproved assumptions" in order to suggest that Barnes is saying that the crimes of Nazi Germany are "unproved." This is not at all what Barnes has actually written. Barnes actually wrote, "This revamped historical blackout, now become the historical 'smotherout' is based chiefly on the fundamental but unproved assumption that what Hitler and the National Socialists did in the years after Britain and the United States entered the war revealed that they were such vile, debased, brutal, and bloodthirsty gangsters that Great Britain had been under an overwhelmingly moral obligation to plan a war to exterminate them." 29
Lipstadt goes on to complain in a footnote that "the editor of the Journal of Historical Review was clearly distressed by the ambiguity of this statement, which could be interpreted to suggest that Barnes believed that there might have actually been "gas ovens" in Auschwitz." The JHR added a footnote to the above quotation which reads in part, "Of course Barnes is confused here by the difference between a 'gas chamber' and a 'gas oven.'" First one must be struck by the oddity that Lipstadt is using the Barnes passage to show that he was very close to "denying the existence of gas chambers" but also takes a jab at the JHR for being distressed that this passage suggest that Barnes believes in the "gas chambers" of Auschwitz. Either he does or he doesn't. Lipstadt also betrays her lack of understanding of the subject by criticizing the JHR footnote. Clearly Barnes was confused over the difference between 'gas chamber' and 'gas oven.' We see the term 'gas oven' used frequently in the contemporary reports. Even George Orwell makes reference to the 'gas ovens' of Auschwitz. One of the contemporary horror stories of Auschwitz was that people were burned alive in huge gas ovens. Of course there were no 'gas ovens' in Auschwitz. The debate is over 'gas chambers.' There were of course coke-fired Crematorium at Auschwitz. The design and function of a Crematorium is not the same as an 'oven.'
This is a distortion of Barnes' point. Lipstadt's "unfair verdict" has to do with "responsibility for the war and atrocities." The original quote is written in light of and with consideration to A.J.P. Taylor's work The Origins of the Second World War, a work which Lipstadt omits mention of in her volume. Barnes writes, "So long as the German government and people admit, certainly by direct implication, that they deserved everything which happened to them as a result of military defeat, there is little solid foundation for any effort to emancipate themselves from these burdens, unite Germany, and restore the country to its proper position of unity, power and respect among the nations of the world." 33
Lipstadt cites "Revisionism and Brainwashing" pages 2 and 25. Barnes does not make such a statement on these pages. She has retrofitted the term "smotherout" from a 1967 article back to this 1963 article and has created these words. The closest sentence on these pages is as follows, "The Bonn Government, on the other hand, appears, even to many friendly outsiders, almost to vie with its former enemies in opposing the search for truth about the responsibility for the second World War and in refusing to accept the facts already established by scholars who have no national, personal, or party axes to grind."35
Unfortunately, Lipstadt does not give any citation for the above. She is working and quoting widely from App's "A Straight Look at the Third Reich." We find in that essay the following: "The Jewish Propaganda Minister Ilya Ehrenburg kept broadcasting to the troops as they approached Germany: 'Kill. In Germany, nothing is guiltless. Neither the living nor the yet unborn. .. Crush forever in its den the fascist beast. Violently break the racial pride of the German woman. Ravish them as booty. Kill, you gallant Red soldiers!'
Lipstadt cites Austin App, "A Straight Look" p.48. She makes interesting cuts in the text. App actually writes, "This they did with the legend of the six million Jews "gassed," four million in Auschwitz and two million elsewhere. This is a 95% fabrication and swindle.' App therefore allows for 300,000 gassed or otherwise murdered. Today the four million number at Auschwitz has been reduced by approximately 75% by official counts.40
Lipstadt again has taken a bit of license to cast doubt on Arthur Butz's scholarship. In fact the "American diplomats" that Lipstadt mentions turn out to be U.S. representative Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Butz wrote, "When in November 1975, an overwhelming majority at the United Nations... endorsed a resolution declaring Zionism to be a form of racism... the U.S. representative, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an otherwise impressive intellect, was reduced in astonishingly short order to hysterical yapping about the six million." 42
Butz does call the "gas chambers" wartime propaganda fantasies, he writes, "The 'gas chambers' were wartime propaganda fantasies completely comparable to the garbage that was shoveled out by Lord Bryce and associates in World War I. 43 Although Lipstadt takes offense at the word "garbage" in relation to the atrocity tales of the First World War, interestingly she comments on such stories, "The American public, unaware that a hoax was being perpetrated, proved particularly susceptible to these stories." 44 It is odd that she should be so comfortable with the word "hoax" to use it herself.
Although Butz has written what Lipstadt has quoted he makes no reference to anything other than the media in the Western democracies. Butz does not specifically mention "mass media" and does not make any such "antisemitic" charges. 47
In fact Butz was making passing comment on the German media's treatment of the Allied propaganda claims. Butz writes, "Thus the German press treatment of the 'Greuelpropaganda' was on a higher level and, rather than concern itself with specific contents of the stories, it concerned itself with such questions as the nature of the political interests that were served by the propaganda and the extent and means of Jewish influence in the Allied press. (e.g. Das Reich for 20 December 1942.) 49 No where on the page cited by Lipstadt does Butz use the word "legitimate." Lipstadt specifically announces that due to the usage of the word "legitimate" that we have an indicator of Butz's "worldview." In fact Butz does nothing more than report what was being said at the time in the German press.
Lipstadt's own prejudices about revisionists do not allow her to believe that film maker, David Cole was, and is in fact, Jewish.
1. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York, 1994) (hereafter referred to as
Denying), p. xvii.
Installed: 07/27/98, 1: 00 AM, PST