The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1994/07/29

                   Copyright 1993 Information Access Company; 
                Copyright American Humanist Association 1993    
                                  The Humanist 
                                   July, 1993 
SECTION: Vol. 53 ; No. 4 ; Pg. 31; ISSN: 0018-7399   
LENGTH: 2458 words   
HEADLINE: False history, gas chambers, blue smoke, and cracked
mirrors; claims that the Holocaust was a hoax; Column   
BYLINE: Siano, Brian   
BODY:     History just isn't as reliable as we want it to be. I'm
amazed at how many otherwise rational people still believe that the
United States invaded Vietnam with the most benevolent of
intentions--and that if the liberal news media hadn't been so damn
critical, we might've won. Lizzie Borden was acctually acquitted of
murdering her parents, mainly because she was zonked out on laudanum
while they were being chopped into cutlets. The famous story of how
Thomas Huxley screwed Archbishop Wilberforce into the ground during
an early debate over evolution is, apparently, a fiction. Nor was the
eight, hour workday won by technological advances it was won through
a three-year war between the Western Confederation of Miners and the
state of Colorado around 1904.     
    Rare is the Japanese student who is taught of the Rape of
Nanking, the wartime medical "experiments" undertaken in Manchuria,
or the Bataan Death March. Estimates of deaths in the Ukraine under
Stalin's regime have ranged from two million to 20 million people.
The Kennedy assassination has bequeathed us a kudzu field of wildly
varying theories, and, more recently, one of the jurors in the first
Rodney King trial asserted that King was completely in control of his
own beating; this was an event that was videotaped, mind you.
Whatever the historical truth may be in any number of possible
examples, people continue to display an amazing capacity for
avoiding, revising, or not really worrying about it very much.   
    The Holocaust, you might imagine, is one event that's impossible
to dispute. Every year brings new books examining the Nazi horror.
There are thousands of survivors still alive--their memories still
vivid--throughout the United States. There have been numerous movies
(including the forthcoming epic by Steven Spielberg, Schindler's
List), television shows, documentaries, and even whole museums
devoted to this one inhuman period of our history. Most serious
examinations of human institutions and the human condition must take
the Holocaust into account: there's Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi
Doctors, which examines the corruption of science by evil; Hannah
Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which examines "the banality of evil"
(why such a seemingly normal, mid-level bureaucrat like Adolf
Eichmann could administer mass murder); and Stanley Milgram's
self-explanatory "Obedience to Authority" experiments. And yet,
according to a recent Roper poll, one-third of the citizens of the
United States now think that the Holocaust might be a fiction.   
    The Roper poll was released on the fiftieth anniversary of the
Warsaw uprising. Twenty-two percent of American adults responding to
the survey and 20 percent of our high-school students think it's
possible that the Holocaust didn't happen. Another 12 percent said
that they didn't know whether it was possible or impossible. There
were no figures for people who are certain that it is a fiction, but
nearly one-third of the country isn't certain.   
    It gets worse. Half of the students (and 38 percent of the
adults) couldn't identify Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau as
concentration camps, and 65 percent of the adults and 71 percent of
the kids failed to recognize six million as the number of Jews killed
in the camps. That's the number I'd always thought was most commonly
associated with the Holocaust; the full total, including Gypsies,
communists, homosexuals, dissidents, and other targeted groups, is
closer to 11 million.   
    The Holocaust is one event where we work at keeping the memory
strong in our souls. Most of us are outraged at the very suggestion
that the Holocaust might be a fiction, simply because of the enormity
of the event, and the sheer amount of evidence that it really did
happen. So, assuming that the Roper poll was truly representative
(its sample size was slightly less than 1,500 respondents and had an
error margin of plus or minus 5 percent), what could possibly explain
    With nearly any subject we learn about in school, we retain only
the broad outlines. Most people conceive of evolution in schematic:
Charles Darwin, that ape-into-man poster on the classroom wall,
trilobites, and maybe a little cell biology if they paid attention.
That's one reason why creationists can be so convincing; with a few
well-chosen questions, many people who don't know the details tend to
go "Gee, I never thought of that" when presented with even an
implausible objection. Relatively few of us understand the Holocaust
in intimate, working detail. Most people know of Hitler, camps, gas,
maybe the number six million, and the vague understanding that the
United States put a stop to it. It's not hard to imagine such a
person; lots of them graduate high school every year.   
    Now imagine someone walking up to this person and saying, "That
Holocaust stuff is just silly, unscientific nonsense. Have you ever
wondered how the Nazis could possibly gas so many people to death?
Especially when the gas they used was only an insecticide?" This is
the basic approach used by the Holocaust revisionists.   
    In their collective imaginations, Holocaust revisionists are
truthseekers--clear-visioned researchers who dared to question
official dogma and now are persecuted as heretics. The rest of the
civilized world, in their view, has swallowed "the hoax of the
century." The moral outrage they elicit--demonstrations, invective,
lawsuits, and much more--merely stiffens their resolve; they see
themselves as the ultimate skeptics, confronting the ultimate
falsity. Their literature characterizes their leaders as "courageous
defenders of historical truth" against the political correctness of
the "Holohoax."   
    There are more than a few problems with this. The camps still
exist, for one thing. Millions of documents are available detailing
the procedures of mass extermination, right down to purchase
requisitions for Zyklon-B. There are films of bodies being dumped and
buried in mass graves. Former camp personnel have   
confessed to being part of a program of mass extermination. All of
this, these revisionists would have us believe, was quickly
manufactured within a few months after World War II. (Many of them
openly wonder where those six million Jews really are hiding out.
Argentina, perhaps?)   
    Anti-Semitism is a unique prejudice. Rather than claiming that
Jews are interior, anti-Semites are more likely to say that Jews are
smarter than Gentiles, only more corrupt and more devious. Few other
bigots concern themselves with international, generations-old
conspiracies devised by their alleged enemies. (For example, one
never hears of a cabal of Africans secretly running the world.) The
fuel of anti-Semitism is the image of a sinister, alien underground,
with unfair influence, baroque motivations, and almost superhuman
abilities. It's high-octane fuel, and the Holohoaxers spend lots of
time stating that this "ultimate falsity" is really a massive Zionist
public-relations effort to enlist support for the state of Israel.   
    Amazingly, the Holohoax hypothesis was first put forward by a
survivor of Dora and Buchenwald. Paul Rassinier, a former member of
the French National Assembly, had fought in the anti-fascist
resistance during the war, was arrested, and spent 19 months in the
camps. After the war, however, he began developing delusions about
Jews and, eventually, argued that the thousands of deaths he
witnessed were caused by the communists among the inmates. In his
book The Drama of the European Jews, Rassinier maintained that no
more than 1.5 million Jews died in the camps.   
    Rassinier found an unexpected area of influence among some
formerly progressive isolationists of World War I. Historian Harry
Elmer Barnes once penned strong indictments of America's entry into
the war, and he enjoyed a brief vogue as an influential newspaper
columnist in the postwar period. (Barnes was also one of the original
signers of Humanist Manifesto I.) Yet, Barnes and his disciples
carried their suspicions of the Great War into the 1930s. They
refused to believe the reports about Hitler's Germany and eventually
supported such isolationist (and frequently anti-Semitic) movements
as America First. Barnes and his followers lost much of their support
once the facts regarding Hitler became unavoidable; isolated and
ignored, they later turned to a more extreme and "shocking"
    In 1964, when the aged Barnes heard of Rassinier's claims, he
became immediately convinced that here was the proof he needed to
vindicate himself. Hitler wasn't such a bad guy, Barnes maintained,
and Germany, the nation of Wagner and Goethe, really hadn't descended
into savagery and primitivism; it was all a hoax concocted by the
International Zionist Conspiracy.   
    Holocaust revisionism is currently experiencing something of a
resurgence in the United States. The Institute for Historical Review,
based in Torrance, California, enjoys the support of wealthy
anti-Semite Willis Carto, the financial force behind the Liberty
Lobby and any number of like-minded hate groups. The blandness of the
institute's name fooled even the Organization of American Historians,
which sold its mailing list to the IHR before realizing what the
group was all about. (It's a trick a number of extremist groups have
adopted; Lyndon LaRouche, for example, publishes an expensive info
sheet called the Executive Intelligence Review.) A new generation of
Holohoaxers has now taken over after the demise of Rassinier and
    The biggest name among the Holohoaxers these days is Fred
Leuchter, billed by the Journal of Historical Review as "the foremost
American expert on gassing and gas chamber technology." Leuchter
first came to public attention during the various trials of Ernst
Zundel, who was being prosecuted by the Canadian government for
publishing a pamphlet entitled Did Six Million Really Die? (I should
mention that the "false news" law under which Zundel was prosecuted
was later struck down by the Canadian Supreme Court as
unsconstitutional.) During the 1988 Zundel trial, Leuchter was
brought in as an expert witness for Zundel's defense.   
    Leuchter is something of an engineering jack-of-all-trades, with
no formal training in chemistry or toxicology. He did manage to
parlay his engineering skills into a consultancy for a unique
government-contract market: the design of execution equipment. Since
then, Leuchter has claimed that "Jewish groups" are keeping him from
practicing his livelihood of killing prisoners quickly and
efficiently; in an October 1992 speech, he asked plaintively, "How
many more inmates will be tortured, or lives lost, through the
callous indifference of these Jewish groups?"   
    For the Zundel trial, Leuchter went to Auschwitz, secured samples
from the ruins of the gas chambers (illegally), and came up with The
Leuchter Report, in which he purports to prove that Zyklon-B could
not have been used to kill hundreds of thousands of people at the
camps--and, therefore, that Zundel is innocent of circulating "false
news," because the Holocaust could never have happened.   
    How does Leuchter "prove" this astonishing fact? Well, chemistry
was never my strong subject, but here goes. Zyklon-B was an
insecticide developed by I. G. Farben and originally used by the
Nazis in delousing. (It had also been used to execute prisoners in
the United States since the 1920s.) When exposed, it releases
hydrocyanic acid (or HCN, prussic acid) into the air. HCN is more
effective on warm-blooded animals than on insects; while 72 hours of
exposure to a concentration of 16,000 parts per million is required
to kill insects in a delousing shed, only 15 to 20 minutes exposure
at 300 parts per million is needed to kill a human being. (When asked
about this disparity during the Zundel trial, Leuchter replied that
"I haven't made computations for killing beetles.")   
    Rudolf Hoss, commandant of Auschwitz, is commonly cited as the
man who decided to use Zyklon-B on humans. Experiments on Soviet POWs
demonstrated to Hoss that it was a swifter and more certain method of
extermination than carbon monoxide, phenol injections, or shooting.
"During this first experience of gassing people, I did not fully
realize what was happening, perhaps because I was too impressed by
the whole procedure," Hoss later wrote. Most of the Zyklon-B was
provided, in quantities of two tons a month, by Tesch and Stabenow of
Hamburg; well as offers from the company to build ventilation
equipment for the extermination chambers, turned up at the Nuremburg
    Leuchter dismisses the extensive documentation for the use of
Zyklon-B to exterminate humans as irrelevant in the face of what he
claims is a simple scientific fact. HCN also forms hydrocyanic
compounds when it interacts with iron and concrete, including a
distinctive shade known (ironically enough) as "Prussian blue"
Leuchter compared the cyanide content of the samples taken from the
ruins of the gas chambers with a sample taken from a delousing
chamber; the result was that the gas-chamber samples yielded minute
traces of cyanide, while the delousing chamber contained perhaps
100,000 to 150,000 times as much. This single disparity, Leuchter
claims, disproves the "theory" of the Holocaust.   
    Leuchter's entire report rests on the validity of using samples
from the delousing chamber as a "control" for the gas-chamber
samples. The original Auschwitz gas chambers were dynamited by the SS
as the Russians advanced on the camp, and their ruins have been
exposed to nearly 50 years of rain, wind, dust, and sunshine. Their
exposure to Zyklon-B was short, swift, and frequently ventilated; the
delousing chamber, which wasn't blown up, was a closed room thickly
suffused with Zyklon-B for up to 72 hours at a time. But when you're
the "leading expert on gassing and gas-chamber technology,"
heroically fighting the International Zionist Conspiracy, these
piddling technical details aren't of much concern.   
    Leuchter is just one of a network of Holohoaxers promoting what
has to be the ugliest pseudoscience around; and in part two of this
essay, we'll get to meet them and read their remarkable claims. These
include arguing that Anne Frank's diary was a hoax, that Elie Weisel
is a liar, that Hitler was simply a misunderstood watercolorist, and
that Jews are such rotten people that, fiction or not, maybe a
Holocaust wouldn't be such a bad idea. And if that's not enough to
keep your attention for two months, we'll even propose a simple test
that is virtually guaranteed to settle the Holohoaxer's rants once
and for all. Stay tuned.   
    Brian Siano is a freelance writer and researcher in Philadelphia.
He can be contacted via E-mail at   
IAC-NUMBER: IAC 14088662   
IAC-CLASS: Magazine   
LOAD-DATE-MDC: January 13, 1994    

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