The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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					Los Angeles Times
					Friday, January 7, 2000

A revisionist is accusing a prominent critic of the movement of
libel. Scholars and survivors say the evidence is irrefutable, but
those who question extent of horrors say they pay a price.

By KIM MURPHY, Times Staff Writer

A young German chemist named Germar Rudolf took crumbling bits of
plaster from the walls of Auschwitz in 1993 and sent them to a lab for
analysis. There were plenty of traces of cyanide gas in the delousing
chambers where Nazi camp commanders had had blankets and clothing
fumigated. There was up to a thousand times less in the rooms
described as human gas chambers.

Rudolf, a doctoral candidate at Stuttgart University, concluded that
large numbers of Jews may have died of typhoid, starvation and murder
at Europe's most famous World War II death camp, but none of them died
in a gas chamber.

When a report on his findings--commissioned by a former Third Reich
general--got out, Rudolf lost his job at the respected Max Planck
Institute and his doctoral degree was put on hold. He was sentenced to
14 months in prison under a 1985 German law making it a crime to
incite racial hatred, his landlord kicked him out, he fled into exile
and his wife filed for divorce.

There are many who say Rudolf got exactly what he deserved. But to the
increasingly vocal movement of Holocaust deniers and revisionists,
Rudolf stands as a crucial figure because of what he represents: a
highly trained chemist who purports--despite a wide variety of
scientific evidence to the contrary--to have physical proof that the
gas chambers at Auschwitz did not exist.

Over the last decade, supporters of such theories have scrutinized
hundreds of thousands of pages of Third Reich documents and diaries
made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have
analyzed gas chamber construction. They have pinpointed contradictions
and hard-to-believe details in stories told by camp survivors and,
amid nearly universal scorn from the academic establishment, won
testimonials for some of their work from academics at respected
institutions, such as Northwestern University and the University of

The revisionists, whose theories will be at the center of a
high-profile libel trial scheduled to begin Tuesday in London, are not
operating in a vacuum. A 1993 poll by the Roper Organization found
that 22% of Americans thought it possible that the Holocaust never

The theorists contend that far fewer than 6 million Jews died in
Europe during World War II--and that most of those who died did so
through starvation, disease and ad hoc executions carried out by
lower-level Nazi officers.

That scenario has been almost universally dismissed as a flawed
misreading of history, cooked up out of deep-seated
anti-Semitism. Indeed, at least two dozen people have been prosecuted
in Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Poland and Canada since 1990 under
various laws prohibiting racial hatred and the defaming of the memory
of those who died in Nazi death camps for even questioning what has
become one of the defining horrors of the modern age.

Now one of the leading deniers of the Holocaust, British historian
David Irving, is striking back, suing the most prominent critic of the
movement, Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, for libel. The
trial is likely to feature many of the world's premier WWII historians
weighing in on the mechanics, logistics, chain of command and
blueprints for the extermination of millions of European Jews.

In her book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and
Memory," Lipstadt accuses Irving of skewing documents and
misrepresenting data. The book quotes analysts who describe his work
as "closer to theology or mythology than to history." As a British
citizen, Irving can take advantage of British libel law, which places
much of the burden on Lipstadt to prove her book did not libel the
historian. Irving says his lawsuit will prove Lipstadt's book is part
of an international Jewish campaign to discredit him.

Irving, author of biographies of Adolf Hitler and his propaganda
chief, Joseph Goebbels, has argued that Hitler has never been found to
have ordered a massive extermination of the Jews and, in fact, tried
to stop some of the killings. He has described Auschwitz as "a very
brutal slave labor camp, where probably 100,000 Jews died." And not
unlike U.S. Reform Party presidential candidate Patrick J.  Buchanan,
he asserts the world would have been better served if Winston
Churchill had accepted Hitler's peace overtures in 1940 and allowed
Hitler to fight it out with Josef Stalin in Russia.

Confronting Deniers' Arguments Head-On 

Lipstadt was among the first in the American Jewish community to
abandon the long-standing practice of ignoring the Holocaust deniers,
choosing instead to confront their arguments head-on. Her book accuses
Irving of misreading documents and distorting facts.

Historians she quotes have said Irving ignores the fact that the Nazis
deliberately avoided a paper trail and that it is quite plausible that
Hitler would never personally have affixed his signature to the Final

She cites accusations by prominent British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper
that Irving "seizes on a small and dubious particle of 'evidence' "
and allegedly uses it "to dismiss far more substantial evidence that
may not support his thesis."

"There are more people in the United States who believe that Elvis
Presley is alive than who believe the Holocaust didn't happen. As an
American, that's a demi-consolation," Lipstadt said in an
interview. "But I see it as a clear and future danger. The future
danger is when there are no people left who can say in the
first-person singular, 'This is what happened to me,' it's going to be
much easier to deny it."

For Irving, who is regarded in some mainstream quarters as one of the
premier documentarians of the Third Reich, it is an issue of
professional vindication. It is no accident, he says, that he has been
banned from even entering Canada, Italy, Germany and Austria because
of Holocaust denial laws in those countries. "They regard me as
dangerous, and the word 'dangerous' puzzles me," he said. "I don't go
around punching people in the face. . . . 'Dangerous' can only mean
dangerous to their interests, either in the long term or the short

"In the end, it isn't really a question of whether it's 6 million or
only 1 million" Jews who died. "I think the figures have been
inflated, and the significance of the inflation is that the Jewish
community is trying to make out that their suffering is unique in its
grandeur and the methods applied to achieve it. And it wasn't. It was
just one of the many barbarisms committed under the cloak of war."

Some revisions in Holocaust history have been generally
accepted. Stories that Jewish remains were manufactured into soap and
lampshades have been dismissed as myth. There were, most historians
now agree, no human gasings at Dachau. Deaths at Auschwitz, once
estimated, based on the testimony of Nazi commanders, at up to 3
million have been scaled back to about 1.1 million. Even the widely
accepted figure of 6 million Jewish dead all over Europe has been
questioned in recent years by some of the world's most prominent
Holocaust scholars.

Raul Hilberg and Robert Jan van Pelt, two of the leading authorities,
now believe the figure is probably closer to 5.1 million.

Still, scholars say, the evidence of a massive extermination campaign
that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews is so exhaustive that
it is irrefutable.

It includes detailed stories from camp survivors, confessions and
memoirs from Nazi commandants (including Auschwitz commander Rudolf
Hoess), testimony of Jewish prisoners who removed bodies from the gas
chambers, blueprints uncovered from newly opened archives in Moscow
that document construction of the gas chambers, records from the
contractors who built the gas chambers and orders for large quantities
of hydrogen cyanide gas, far more than would have been needed for
fumigation, according to Van Pelt and others.

There is the sheer number of Jews who arrived at the camps and never
left, far more than could have fallen victim to disease or starvation,
most historians believe.

Since when, Lipstadt wants to know, does anyone in the name of
academic inquiry have the right to claim there is "another side" to
the Holocaust debate?  And why is there even a debate?

To this, Rudolf, who could be called as a witness at the trial, says
that no issue of history should be exempt from reexamination--even if
it pains the victims.

In convicting him, Rudolf says, the court took no notice of prominent
German military historian Joachim Hoffman, who credited the quality of
Rudolf's research and said that to suppress it would "work a powerful
hindrance to legitimate striving for scientific understanding." The
court apparently was moved, however, by a preface by the former Third
Reich general who had commissioned Rudolf to do the research, Otto
Ernst Remer, who in 1992 himself was sentenced to prison for
incitement to racial hatred.

Could a report commissioned by a man like Remer--who once joked while
sniffing a cigarette lighter that he was mimicking "a Jew nostalgic
for Auschwitz"--ever be a justifiable contribution to scientific

More to the point, says Irving, should there be political limits on
academic inquiry?

"I think, by the end of this case, the word 'scholarship' will come to
stink," Irving predicts. "Scholars tend to award that accolade to each
other. And their scholarship usually consists of sitting in libraries
reading each others' books."

Irving prides himself on relying on primary sources for his
biographies: interviews or diaries of the principals, radio
transmission intercepts, memorandums. In the case of his book
"Hitler's War," Irving interviewed in detail most of the surviving
members of Hitler's staff and only used documents that would have
crossed Hitler's desk.

In the process, Irving said he did not come across a single document
or interview that indicated Hitler had ordered a campaign to
exterminate the Jews.

"Others who have come across with something have looser criteria than
I do, like the Nuremberg trials. . . . I won't accept that. Not
standing by itself," he said.

Irving's numerous critics say he fails to address the fact that the
extermination campaign was carried out in deliberate secrecy, without
written orders. SS chief Heinrich Himmler "explicitly forbade all
discussion of it, and if it had to be mentioned, it was always
disguised as 'resettlement' or 'transport to the east,' " Trevor-Roper
pointed out in a review of Irving's book.

St. Martin's Press abruptly dropped plans to publish Irving's
controversial biography of Goebbels in 1996 in the wake of a storm of
criticism from reviewers, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith
and even, according to some employees, telephone death threats against
the book's editor. Thomas McCormack, chairman of the publishing house,
said he read the book and found it "repellent [and] effectively
anti-Semitic." When the Doubleday Military Book Club backed out as
well, Irving self-published the book, calling the whole affair "the
most extraordinary treatment of a historian since what the Iranians
did to Salman Rushdie."

Yet Irving has his admirers as well. Christopher Hitchens, writing of
Irving's work in Vanity Fair, called him "not just a Fascist
historian, [but] . . . also a great historian of Fascism." Gordon
A. Craig, considered the dean of German historians, acknowledged that
Irving has been an "annoyance" but said: "The fact is that he knows
more about national socialism than most professional scholars in his
field." His book on Hitler, Craig said, "remains the best study we
have of the German side of the Second World War."

On the advice of her lawyers, Lipstadt won't discuss Irving or the
upcoming trial. But she did say there is a danger in allowing what she
calls Holocaust deniers to wear the mantle of legitimate
revisionists--those who look at accepted history and raise new and
often enlightening questions.

Political Agenda Cited by Lipstadt 

"There's a definite political agenda," she said. "This is not just
Looney Tunes history. These are people who want to make national
socialism respectable again.  And how do you make a thoroughly
discredited movement respectable?

"First of all, you deal with moral equivalencies. You say, 'Oh yes,
the Germans bombed London, but the Allies bombed Dresden. There were
Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, but the Americans had camps for the
Americans of Japanese descent.' But there's no moral equivalency for
them to bring up about the Holocaust. So instead, they are left
denying the Holocaust. And denying it in such a way that you almost
hear them saying, 'It didn't happen, but it should have.' "

Van Pelt, who is considered one of the world's leading authorities on
Auschwitz, prepared an 800-page report on the death camp for the
trial. "The whole idea of trying to prove the Holocaust is, for me, a
kind of ridiculous exercise. But in some ways, it forces historians to
show what they can do. I think the case has forced me . . . to look at
things I preferred not to look at in the past," he said.

Van Pelt now can tell you how the gas chambers operated, how the
capsules of Zyklon B were dropped in the ceiling vents, how the bodies
were hauled out, and how long it took human beings to die at what
concentrations of gas (about 35 minutes, in most cases).

Van Pelt's new report has not yet been made public, and Rudolf has not
responded to it. "I can deal with Himmler. I can deal with
Hoess. There's a certain kind of naive honesty in what they do,
however evil it is," Van Pelt said. "But the contortions and complete
fabrications of these deniers is obscene.

"What they do is take all kinds of very straightforward evidence and
basically turn it upside down. And it's an incredible effort to simply
sit there and take every sentence they write and compare it to the
record. . . . It doesn't help you to understand anything except the
contortions of their minds. And their minds are not very interesting."

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