Today’s Germans take responsibility, both moral and material, for the Holocaust. But some historical revisionists are questioning the horror of the death camps.
On January 24, 2005, the UN General Assembly convened a special session to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Speakers memorialized the six million Jews who died in the camps in what has become known as the “Holocaust.” The session began a week of tributes worldwide to mark the liberation of the camps. On January 27 a special memorial service was conducted in Auschwitz, Poland, the scene of a death camp where between 1 and 1.5 million prisoners—most of them Jews—died in gas chambers, from disease, or by starvation.
Speakers at the UN General Assembly in New York included Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986; Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom; and Russia’s commissioner for human rights, Vladimir Lukin, all of whom warned against a global rise in anti-Semitism and the growing strength of movements that denied the Holocaust.
Sir Brian Urquhart, a retired UN undersecretary general who had been among the soldiers who freed the prisoners held in the death camps in 1945, stated that the world must never forget the Holocaust and the terrible campaign of genocide. The special commemoration at the United Nations served, Urquhart said, “to recall what human beings driven by hatred or fear or some perverse ideology are, against all rational belief, still capable of doing to each other.”
The same week in January 2005 that the United Nations honored the millions of lives lost in the Nazi program of the extermination of Jews, the Holocaust historical revisionists were busy issuing the “facts” behind Auschwitz and the other death camps. Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, one of the leading voices in denying the Holocaust, is among those scholars who do not dispute the fact that large numbers of Jews were deported to such camps as Auschwitz and later died there, but he maintains that Auschwitz was not an extermination facility and that stories of mass killings in gas chambers are myths.
Among the assertions made by Weber and other revisionists are the following:
- At the postwar Nuremberg Tribunal, the figure of four million people exterminated at Auschwitz was invented by the Soviets. Gerald Reitlinger, prominent Holocaust historian, estimated that approximately 700,000 Jews perished at Auschwitz. Holocaust historian Jean-Claude Pressac sets the figure at about 800,000, of whom 630,000 were Jews. Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Center, together with the Auschwitz State Museum in Poland, estimate a total of one million victims, both Jews and non-Jews.
- The admittedly high number of documented deaths simply reflects the fact that Auschwitz-Birkenau was primarily a camp for Jews who were too sick or elderly to work. More Jews died at Auschwitz as a result of typhus and other diseases than were ever executed.
- Of the thousands of secret Nazi documents dealing with Auschwitz confiscated by the Allies, not one mentions any kind of program for extermination of the Jews.
- The stories of gas chambers at Auschwitz are based only on rumors and Allied propaganda. The alleged dreaded “showers” that were really gas chambers were, in fact, just showers.
- Official German camp regulations ordered that new arrivals receive thorough medical examinations. Once in the camp, when prisoners reported illness, they were examined by the camp physician and, if deemed necessary, taken immediately to a hospital for professional treatment. Among the camp physician’s other duties was the regular inspection of the kitchen and the quality of food. Extreme care was observed in work details to avoid accidents.
- There exist no Allied reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz in 1944, the height of the alleged extermination of the Jews, that depict piles of corpses, smoking crematoriums, or huddled masses of prisoners awaiting execution.
- Ivan Lagace, manager of a large crematory in Canada, testified that the allegation that 10,000 to 20,000 corpses were burned each day at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 was beyond the realm of possibility. In 1988 the foremost specialist on gas chambers in the United States, Fred A. Leuchter, carried out a thorough onsite examination of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek in Poland and concluded that the so-called gas chambers were not sealed well enough to kill any prisoners without also gassing the guards.
Edgar J. Steele is another Holocaust revisionist who thinks it is complete “rubbish” to claim that six million Jews were gassed and cremated. His explanation is that a Germany that was fighting a war on two fronts, “desperate for fuel and materiel of every sort,” would not have expended energy or bothered to “load millions of Jews on railroad cars and transport them hundreds, even thousands of miles to concentration camps built specifically to house them, where they would be fed, clothed, even tattooed so they could be inventoried, just to kill them.”
What about all the gruesome and unsettling pictorial evidence of the Nazi’s “final solution” to the Jewish problem?
The response of Steele and other Holocaust deniers or revisionists is that the pictures are mostly faked. “All those pictures of skinny people and bodies stacked like cordwood were actually of Czechs and Poles and Germans [who] died of Typhus, which was rampant in the camps,” Steele states. The prominent revisionist Theodore J. O’Keefe cites the findings of Dr. Charles Larson, one of America’s leading forensic pathologists, whom the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps assigned the grim task of performing autopsies at Dachau and twenty other concentration camps. In a 1980 newspaper interview Larson said that he could not confirm a case of poison gas in the more than one hundred corpses he examined. According to his analysis, the chief cause of death at Dachau, Belsen, and other camps was disease, specifically typhus.
In an article on the liberation of the death camps in the Journal of Historical Review, a revisionist publication, O’Keefe writes that Dr. Konrad Morgen, a legal investigator attached to the Reich Criminal Police, was given full authority by Heinrich Himmler, commander of Hitler’s SS and the Gestapo, to enter any concentration camp and investigate any charges of cruelty and corruption on the part of any camp personnel. According to O’Keefe, before any prisoners could receive corporal punishment, they must first be examined by the camp physician and certified to be in good health. The camp physician was also required to be present for the actual beating. O’Keefe states that because prisoners at the camps were used to advance Germany’s industrial production, the “good health and morale of the prisoners was critical.”
In Germany today there is very little official denial of the Holocaust, and accounts of Nazi war crimes are taught freely in German schools. On May 10, 2005, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe officially opened in Berlin. Consisting of 2,711 dark gray concrete steles in a cemetery-like field, the memorial is located in the heart of the city, near the Brandenburg Gate. “The memorial’s size and central location are widely seen here as testimony to the centrality and uniqueness of the Holocaust among the many crimes of the Nazis, as well as to the willingness of Germany to accept responsibility, both moral and material, for the Nazi’s crimes,” Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times.