The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Archive/File: camps/auschwitz nyt.111289
Last-Modified: 1994/12/30

     Archivist's note -

     Revisionists have frequently quoted one sentence, out of
     context, from the following article.  The sentence reads
     `Among Holocaust historians, Mr. Bauer said, the larger
     figures "have been dismissed for years, except that it
     hasn't reached the public and I think it's about time that
     it did."'  Revisionists have argued that Bauer is saying
     that the figure of (approximately) six million Jews killed
     by Nazis is inflated.  But the article does not say that at
     all.  What is being claimed is only that the figure commonly
     cited for the deaths at Auschwitz is inflated.  As a matter
     of fact, the figure of (approximately) six million Jewish
     deaths, in total, is confirmed in the third paragraph.

     -- Ken McVay
        Fascism and Holocaust Archives

New York Times (Nov. 12, 1989), section 4, page 5.

Auschwitz Revisionism:  An Israeli Scholar's Case
  by Peter Steinfels

At Auschwitz, it is inscribed in stone: four million people died
in the Nazi camps.  But Yehuda Bauer, one of the foremost
historians of the Holocaust and a sworn enemy of those who deny
its reality, says that the number of victims was less than half

     Why is Mr. Bauer, the Director of the Division of Holocaust
Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of
Contemporary Jewry, insisting that far fewer people, including
far fewer Jews, died at Auschwitz than is commonly reported?  "A
historian's first duty is to tell the truth," Mr. Bauer said.
And in this case the truth is horrible enough.  Exaggerating the
number of dead at Auschwitz, he said, "would only be grist for
the mills of the deniers of the Holocaust."

     "They can add, you know," he said.  The four million figure,
combined with the known deaths elsewhere, would result in a total
number of Holocaust victims well above the approximate figure of
six million that has long been established by different methods,
including a comparison of European Jewish population statistics
before and after the war, he said.

     Although differing estimates of the Auschwitz death toll
were reported during the furor this year about the location of a
Roman Catholic convent at the concentration camp site, the most
frequently cited figures list 2.5 million Jewish victims and 1.5
million others, most of them presumed to be Polish.  At the end
of September, Mr. Bauer published an article in The Jerusalem
Post calling those figures "patently false."

     Five years ago, he said, research by the French Jewish
historian Georges Wellers had established that approximately 1.6
million people were gassed, executed by other means, tortured to
death or were victims of starvation or disease at Auschwitz.
According to these findings, about 1.35 million were Jews.  There
were 83,000 Polish victims, 20,000 Gypsies and 12,000 Soviet
prisoners of war.  An additional 150,000 Poles were imprisoned at
Auschwitz, then shipped elsewhere where many, although not the
majority, died.

     Mr. Bauer, who is in the United States participating in
several scholarly conferences on the Holocaust, said that his
article had "created quite a rumpus in Israel."  He received
calls and letters asking, "Why is this Bauer going around saying
a million fewer Jews died at Auschwitz?"

     Why indeed do differences between any such grisly estimates
of deaths matter at all?  When answering that question, Mr. Bauer
speaks passionately about the role of the historian and the
temptation to create "myths" that are dangerous in the long run.

     In his attack on the familiar Auschwitz statistics, Mr.
Bauer has the agreement of a Hebrew University colleague, Yisrael
Gutman, who is the editor of a four-volume Encyclopedia of the
Holocaust, to be published next year.  Mr. Gutman led the Jewish
underground in the Auschwitz camps.

Political Purposes

     Among Holocaust historians, Mr. Bauer said, the larger
figures "have been dismissed for years, except that it hasn't
reached the public and I think it's about time that it did."  Mr.
Bauer contends that Polish Communists and nationalists alike
promoted the larger figures to serve a political purpose, casting
both Jewish and Polish losses in such huge numbers that the
distinction between the fates of the two groups was blurred.  Mr.
Bauer said he does not play down the Nazi assault on Poles.  He
calls it genocide, which he defines as the "destruction of a
national entity with selective mass murder" of those who
resisted.  "The flower of the Polish intelligentsia was murdered
in the camps, including Auschwitz," he said.  But for the Jews,
he said, the Nazis planned a fate even beyond the destruction of
a nation: "mass annihilation."  Genocide and holocaust "are
separate frightfulnesses," Mr. Bauer said, and if the world wants
to combat them, it has to keep in mind the distinction.  "You
don't treat cholera and cancer with the same medication, you
differentiate between deadly diseases."

     For some time, many Jewish organizations have avoided taking
a position on the Auschwitz figures.  Elan Steinberg, executive
director of the World Jewish Congress and a participant in the
Auschwitz convent controversy, agreed that the lower figures
"were generally accepted by reputable scholars".  Although the
inflated statistics blurred the reality of Auschwitz as "pre-
eminently a Jewish killing ground," he said, sheer repetition led
many Jews to accept the numbers.

     Mr. Bauer said, "It's the historian's task to examine
myths," and if necessary to explode them.  He illustrated his
point by noting "the perception of some Israeli politicians, that
all the Gentiles were against us" during the Holocaust, with the
exception only of those "righteous Gentiles" honored at Yad
Vashem, the Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.  "Nonsense,
just nonsense," Mr. Bauer said.  "The Jews in a number of
countries were saved by the local populations."

     Mr. Bauer said that it was a similar misuse of history "to
compare every post-Holocaust anti-Semite to the Nazis."  There
are Nazi elements in contemporary anti-Semitism, he said, but
frequently there are significant differences as well.  "Facile
analogies are things we have to warn against," he said.

     While insisting on precision about Holocaust death tolls,
Mr. Bauer has also warned against "immersing tears and suffering
in oceans of footnotes" and "coming up with a remote quasi-
scientific approach which would be as inhuman as that of those
who committed the crime or of those who stood by and watched it

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