Writer: Mike Stein
In recent years, Holocaust deniers have turned to “scientific” arguments to “prove” that the Nazi regime could not have used gas chambers to carry out an extermination program against Jews and Gypsies. The “Leuchter and Rudolf reports” purported to demonstrate that there was not enough cyanide residue in the Auschwitz gas chambers to be consistent with mass gassing. Friedrich Paul Berg, in his paper “The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth Within a Myth,” claims to show that it would be improbable at best and nearly impossible at worst to use diesel engine exhaust to kill people in the manner and time described by eyewitnesses to the gas chambers at Belzec and Treblinka. Both papers cite experiments, laboratory analyses, chemical compositions, etc. just like any other objective scientific paper – or so the authors would like us to believe.
The danger of this new denier approach is that few people have the technical background to analyze the papers and understand their fundamental flaws. Too many people glance at the arguments, see “science,” and immediately their eyes glaze over. They figure that since it’s “scientific,” there must be something to it. Thus Holocaust denial gains scientific credibility.
Unfortunately, there’s a difference between denier “science” and true science. The fundamental principle of true science is this: any theory must take into account any relevant observable facts. That is, the theory must fit the facts; a true scientist never denies facts simply because they don’t fit the theory. The way an honest scientist works is to make observations first, and only then come up with a theory which explains what is seen. If at any time the facts contradict the theory, the theory is discarded as false. A new one must be formed.
The Holocaust deniers reverse this process. First they decide what they want the “facts” to be, contrary to all eyewitness testimony and documentary and physical evidence. They come up with theories to “prove” that the “true” facts must be the way they want them to be. Therefore all documents are forgeries or mean something other than what they clearly seem to mean, and eyewitnesses to events which contradict their theory must be lying, mistaken, crazy, or victims of some form of coercion which caused themto give false testimony.
There are other ways in which honest science can be distinguished from quackery. Real scientists are cautious. They look at possible alternative explanations. They look for possible sources of error. They explain any limitations or problems they know about. They shy away from making assumptions, and if they do have to make them, they explain and justify them openly. All conclusions are based on facts plus properly established theories, not speculation and unproven assumptions.
When one examines denier “science,” one finds that every one of these rules are violated. Fred Leuchter simply assumed that it would have taken just as much cyanide to kill people as it took to kill lice. That’s false; lice take much more cyanide to kill and they need to be exposed to it for a lot longer. He also seems to have assumed that gassings took place much more often than they really did, apparently taking the abnormal conditions at the peak of the Hungarian deportations as being typical of the entire time at Birkenau.
Leuchter also assumed that since the delousing chambers have blue stains (apparently from cyanide compounds such as prussian blue), the gas chambers would have had the same staining. In fact, the formation of prussian blue from exposure to cyanide is not well understood. The rate of its formation, if it is formed at all, may vary considerably under different circumstances.
Friedrich Berg argued that it is very difficult to make diesel engines generate enough carbon monoxide to kill within half an hour or so, as reported by the witnesses at Treblinka. Actually, he is right – the primary cause of death was probably asphyxiation (i.e., simple lack of oxygen). However, Berg violated all the rules. First, he failed to deal with explicit eyewitness testimony that the victims suffocated to death. Second, he didn’t look very closely at other ways in which diesel exhaust could kill people under the circumstances reported at Treblinka. He completely glossed over the question of whether the combined effects of low oxygen, high carbon dioxide, moderate carbon monoxide, high levels of oxides of nitrogen, and overcrowding in a very small chamber can kill even though perhaps each individual effect could not.
There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that someone using aerodynamic theory once “proved” that bumblebees cannot fly. However, the bumblebees, unimpressed by this triumph of science, refused to walk from flower to flower and continued flying just as before.
The Holocaust deniers’ “scientists” are in the same position: they attempt to prove that facts are not facts. In the most real sense, the “science” employed in the service of Holocaust denial is, in truth, the denial of every principle of the scientific method – indeed, the denial of science itself.