When the Holocaust is denied

December 15, 1993|By Stephen Vicchio

There are thousands hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

6* -- Henry David Thoreau, "The Journals"

THERE IS in this country and in Britain, France, and even in Germany and Austria, a vocal and sometimes oddly effective collection of strange ideological bedfellows who believe there was no Holocaust.

These revisionists, as they prefer to be called, make a half-dozen so principal claims which include but are not limited to the following:

* There was no mass, intentional killing of Jews by the Nazis.

* Stories about millions of Jews being killed in portable carbon monoxide trucks and later with Zyklon B in various killing centers were a hoax.

* The "final solution" was actually a plan to expel Jews from Western Europe and return them to Eastern Europe, whence they came.

* The number of Jews and others killed in concentration camps numbered between 200,000 and 300,000. The figures for Auschwitz, the deniers say, are no more than 50,000.

* The genocide myth was invented by Allied authorities in concert with Zionists who wished to turn manufactured European guilt into pressure for establishing the post-war state of Israel.

In addition to these larger claims, there are many more specific ones that, in their own way, are just as pernicious: that the diary of Anne Frank was a fake; that the Nuremberg trials, like the Stalin show trials, were among the great kangaroo courts of all time; that survivors of Nazi death camps were mistaken about what they saw, heard and felt; and, still worse, that the survivors lied.

A November 1992 study published in the Italian L'espresso and reprinted in the New York Times suggests that 10 percent of Italians have serious doubts that the Holocaust occurred. Last spring a Roper poll published in the Boston Globe indicated that one of three Americans believes it is possible that the Holocaust never took place. In France, the leader of the extreme-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, said in a 1987 interview: "I do not say that the gas chambers didn't exist. I could not see them . . . But I think this is a minute detail of the Second World War." In 1986, representatives of the Institute for Historical Review, the euphonic name for the chief organization of American Holocaust deniers, testified before Congress and urged that their materials be included in the public school curriculum.

At first this may seem akin to inviting Flat Earth Society members or people who believe the moon landing was a hoax to appear at a congressional hearing on the space program budget. But, generally speaking, people believe the world is flat not because they hate other people, but rather from sheer silliness. Many of them have tongue planted firmly in cheek. There is not, however, fun-loving quirkiness in denying that the Holocaust occurred. These people are deadly serious, and that is what makes them so dangerous.

How are rational women and men of good will to respond to these deniers? Ought we to marshal the evidence against them? Ought we to assemble the billions of documents, the extraordinary paper trail stained with the blood of innocent children, in order to show these people they are indisputably wrong?

Ought we to show them the empty Zyklon B canisters, or the rooms at Auschwitz full of toothbrushes, eating utensils, clothes hangers and suitcases -- all tiny but integral reminders of nearly 6 million vanished lives?

Shall we show them the room containing 4,000 pounds of human hair? Shall we show them the report from chief chemist Jan Robel of the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Krakow, to whom 10 pounds of hair was sent in May 1945 for chemicals analysis -- a report that noted the presence of cyanide, the leading agent in Zyklon B, in every follicle tested?

Should we make them examine the blueprints for the Auschwitz showers that revealed that although every room contained 20 shower heads, there were no water lines leading into these buildings?

I must confess I do not know the answers to these questions. A direct response is a kind of tacit admission that there is an argument here. Yet ignoring the deniers may mislead some into believing that the revisionists' objections cannot be answered.

The deniers remind me of Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, who, in the face of overwhelming evidence of heinous crimes and unspeakable acts, continues to maintain that "this is the best of all possible worlds." (We must remember, of course, that Pangloss' name comes from the Greek "all tongue.")

Historians tell us the United States engaged in a war with Spain from April 25 to July 25, 1898. The Spanish-American War featured five major engagements, two by sea and three by land. The total number of combatants did not exceed 10,000. Far more on both sides died of disease than the 398 Spaniards and 217 Americans killed in combat. No known participants are living from either side, and by the standards of Nazi Germany, both sides were shoddy record keepers.

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