Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust, by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, New York, Columbia University Press, 1992, 205 pp., $27.50.
Regarding the alleged mass murder of European Jewry during WWII, two schools of thought have emerged. “Exterminationists” believe the German government carried out a policy of systematic extermination, referred to as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Most victims were allegedly murdered in “gas chambers” in six extermination camps located in Poland and by “mobile killing units” on the Eastern front. The total number of Jews believed to be killed was approximately six million.
“Revisionists” contend the Nazi government never planned to exterminate Jewry, the “Final Solution” being no more or no less than their expulsion from Europe. During the course of WWII Jews were forcibly uprooted from German-controlled areas and sent to ghettos and camps in Poland, then later to the Soviet-occupied territories. This school asserts “gas chambers” never existed and were the creations of Allied and Zionist war propaganda.
Holocaust skeptics do not deny that Germany and its allies committed atrocities against Jews. A large number were shot by the German army during their anti-guerilla warfare campaign on the Eastern front. Others were slain during atrocities committed in Nazi-controlled areas. Although not deliberately murdered, many Jews died of disease and malnutrition brought on by war-time conditions. Revisionists contend the number of Jewish deaths from all causes was between 200,000 and 1 million.
According to the dust jacket of the book, renowned French-Jewish historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet
“forcefully confronts the arguments of ‘revisionists’ such as Robert Faurisson, Arthur Butz, and Paul Rassinier. In language shot through with rage and sorrow, Vidal-Naquet offers a detailed refutation of revisionist ideology, laying bare the mechanisms of lies and manipulations on which it is maintained.”
Holocaust revisionism, Vidal-Naquet contends, is an “ideology” in the Marxist sense of the term: a corpus of ideas, by and large false, promoted because it serves some ulterior political purpose and satisfies aberrant psychological needs. As we shall see, this same charge can be leveled at Vidal-Naquet and the Exterminationist school.
In France’s most respected newspaper, Le Monde (Feb.21, 1979), 34 historians issued a manifesto (co-written by Vidal-Naquet) in support of Exterminationism. The concluding paragraph asserts that mass gassings of Jews did take place and that no one can deny their existence without committing an outrage on the truth. The manifesto also includes these words:
“The question of how such a mass murder was possible should not be raised. It was technically possible because it occurred. This is the necessary starting point for all historical investigations of the subject. It has fallen to us to recall that point with due simplicity: there is not nor can there be a debate over the existence of the gas chambers.” (p. xiv)
If this reasoning is accepted, any evidence which in fact contradicts or refutes the gas chamber theory will either have to be totally ignored or changed and tailored to make it agree with the theory. Instead of testing Exterminationist claims against the empirical evidence, the historian will have to fashion the empirical evidence according to Exterminationist claims! Logicians would label such egregious logic as the “fallacy of apriorism.”
Karl Popper, a philosopher of science, proposed that a statement (a theory, a conjecture) has the status of belonging to the empirical sciences if, and only if, it is potentially falsifiable. The Le Monde declaration assumes that the gas chamber story constitutes “a higher truth” and should therefore exercise authority in evaluating and arranging the discoveries of science and history. Not being falsifiable, it is not scientific. It is to be dogmatically accepted not empirically tested.
In contrast to the pseudo-scholarly approach of the French Exterminationists, the Revisionist position is based upon scientific empiricism. Prof. Harry Elmer Barnes defined Revisionism as “bringing history into accord with the facts.” That is, all historical viewpoints must be congruent with the empirical evidence. Revisionist claims must be tested against and tailored to fit scientific and (authentic and genuine) documentary evidence.
In an attempt to discredit Revisionism, Vidal-Naquet offers the reader a distorted version of Revisionist methodology:
“The principles of revisionist method can in fact be summarized as follows: 1. Any direct testimony contributed by Jew is either a lie or fantasy. 2. Any testimony or document prior to [the end of WWII] is a forgery or is not acknowledged or is treated as a ‘rumor’….” (p. 21)
In 1945 “official history” asserted that gas chambers had functioned at Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Numerous eyewitnesses claimed they saw these “death chambers” in operation, and official reports were offered as “proofs.” In 1960 this judgment was revised. It was admitted there were no gas chambers at Dachau or Buchenwald. This reduced to nothing the numerous “testimonies” and other alleged proofs of gassings at these camps.
In various passages, Vidal-Naquet briefly discusses eyewitnesses who claimed they “saw gas chambers” where there were none (p. 181, n44). He cites the false testimony “of a Protestant theologian, Charles Hauter, who was deported to Buchenwald, never saw any gas chambers, and who went on to rave about them.” (p. 14)
Owing to the large number of false claimants to mass gassings, the value of all such testimony is questionable. In an accurate statement of Dr. Faurisson’s Revisionist argument, the book’s translator asks:
“[S]ince numerous eyewitness reports had already been discredited, on what basis could anyone accept any such testimony?” (p. xii)
When an eyewitness can be shown to be an habitual liar, legal logic dictates that his testimony cannot be used as proof of his claims. By logical extension, if a group of eyewitnesses for a questionable claim contain a large number of liars and false witnesses, then neither an individual testimony nor the whole collection can be used as proof of the claim.
When eyewitness testimony is conflicting and unreliable, one must resort to physical, scientific, and documentary evidence in order to distinguish truth from lies. More specifically, to prove the existence of gas chambers, the Exterminationists need one or more of the following: an autopsy report demonstrating death by gassing; a film or photograph of a mass gassing; forensic evidence which proves the use of gas for criminal purposes; an official, wartime engineering diagram of a homicidal gas chamber; an actual gas chamber which science can prove was used to commit mass murder; and finally, a wartime Nazi document which specifically orders the mass gassing of Jews. All of the above is precisely what is missing from the Holocaust literature.
Contrary to what Vidal-Naquet believes, Revisionist scholars have never maintained that “any direct testimony contributed by a Jew is either a lie or fantasy.” What they do say is that all testimony (contributed by Jews and non-Jews) which claims gas chambers existed is false, because it can be invalidated by material evidence.
In the appendix (pp. 59-74) of Assassins of Memory there is an attempt to disprove Dr. Faurisson’s persuasive technical arguments. The author, a chemical engineer, submits as “proof” of gas chambers the famous War Refugee Board Report, authored by two Jews who escaped from Auschwitz.
In the Report, “eyewitnesses” claim that about 2,000 victims were gassed at one time in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers (approximately 9.52 victims per square meter), and swear it took only three minutes for the Zyklon B to disperse throughout the room and kill the victims. Immediately following the “mass deaths,” the chambers were ventilated and all the bodies quickly removed simultaneously (pp. 62-63).
If these claims fly in the face of known scientific and technical facts, they must be rejected as false.
Zyklon B, packaged as granules or disks, consists of two components: lethal HCN (hydrogen cyanide) and the chemically inert component which “carries” it. Technical data shows that the speed with which HCN evaporates out of the inert carrier is not instantaneous. Although the HCN does immediately begin to leave the porous carrier as soon as a can of Zyklon is opened, that does not mean it empties all at once. On the contrary, under normal conditions and at normal room temperature, it still takes about half an hour for most of the cyanide to leave.
Any gas or fumigation chamber which employs Zyklon B must have special devices to boil off the HCN from the inert carrier and circulate it throughout the chamber. To expel the HCN from the inert carrier, heated air must be forced over the Zyklon B. This heated air-HCN mixture is then mechanically circulated throughout the chamber. This whole process, defined as the “circulation phase,” lasts at least an hour. Both Revisionists and Exterminationists agree no special devices in the Auschwitz gas chambers were available for boiling the HCN off from its inert carrier, nor for circulating the air-HCN mixture.
Exterminationists claim the body heat of the victims alone would have evenly diffused the gas throughout the chamber within three minutes.
If, with the use of specially designed mechanical devices, it took at least an hour to evaporate the HCN from its inert carrier and circulate it throughout a delousing chamber, how could the same result be achieved in the Auschwitz gas chambers in less than three minutes solely by human body heat?
Gas chamber expert Fred Leuchter points out that to have proper gas circulation there must be at least 9 sq. ft. of open space around each victim. With 2,000 people crammed into such close quarters, the diffusion HCN within the chamber would have been exceedingly slow. Technical data on the circulation of HCN within a delousing chamber strongly suggests that those some distance away from the point of gas release would have been unaffected by the cyanide for hours. This makes the claim that everyone was killed within three minutes ludicrous.
To summarize: (a) HCN takes considerable time to evaporate from its inert carrier; (b) none of the 2,000 people crammed into the gas chambers would have been surrounded by the necessary 9 sq. ft. of open space for effective gas circulation. Thus, (a) and (b) conclusively disprove the claim that it took only three minutes for the gas to disperse throughout the room and kill all the victims.
After the death of the victims, the gas chamber would have been filled with cyanide gas (or the condensed liquid). Pockets of it would have been trapped in the jumble of bodies, especially in the hair, mucous membranes, and body cavities of the corpses. Much of the HCN would have condensed on the walls, floors and ceiling. Du Pont chemists say: “Hydrogen cyanide is a Class A poison…Poisoning can result from breathing HCN fumes; absorption of hydrogen cyanide vapor or liquid through the skin, particularly the eyes, mucous membranes, and feet…Because of the possibility of skin absorption of HCN fumes, air monitoring of HCN is required even when wearing an air mask.”
As a chemist for the German-owned Degesch company attests: “On account of the extreme toxicity of HCN, combined with its solubility in water, even traces of the gas can prove fatal.”
Those persons who supposedly entered the gas chamber to remove the corpses would have been killed by cyanide poisoning, either by inhalation if they weren’t wearing gas masks or by absorption through the skin if they were.
It is obvious that with the use of scientific data, the War Refugee Board Report’s “eyewitness description of a mass gassing” can be falsified.
Vidal-Naquet would like the reader to believe that Holocaust Revisionism is a ludicrous and unbelievable doctrine, an outgrowth of anti-Semitism and a desire to rehabilitate Nazism or to promote some other political ideology.
In the foreword, Princeton Professor Arno Mayer is approvingly quoted, his “argument” being commonly used as a “disproof” of Revisionism:
“The skeptics [Revisionists], who are outright negationists mock their Jewish victims with their one-sided sympathetic understanding of the executioners [the Nazis]. They are self-disguised anti-Semites and merchants of prejudice, and their morally reprehensible posture disqualifies them from membership in the republic of free letters.” (p. xvii)
Here we have an excellent example of an ad hominem fallacy. Mayer never objectively examined and disproved Revisionist claims. He simply argues they must be discounted because of the alleged evil motives and psychological characteristics of the Revisionists themselves. Yet the pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish sentiments which Revisionists allegedly harbor in no way disprove their claims that the Third Reich never planned to exterminate Jewry and the gas chambers never existed.
Furthermore, even if it could be proven that Revisionists harbor feelings of anti-Jewish anger, does it necessarily follow that this in itself is abnormal?
On October 7, 1985, Louis Farrakhan planned to hold a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. Prior to the rally certain Jewish groups planned a counterdemonstration. In order to prevent public disorder the Jewish mayor, Edward Koch, counseled against the counterdemonstration, but added that the anger and fury which Jews fell for Farrakhan is “justifiable.” According to prevailing mores, what Jews feel for Farrakhan is not “anti-black hatred,” but rather righteous indignation directed towards an individual who is perceived as a threat to their interests.
Can it be any different for white Gentiles? Revisionist anger directed towards certain Jewish groups is normal and justifiable. How could it be otherwise, when these Holocaust skeptics realize how certain groups of Jews shamelessly exploit the Holocaust legend to the detriment of Western society?
Vidal-Naquet would agree with fellow Exterminationist Gitta Sereny who charged that Revisionists “are by no means motivated by an ethical or intellectual preoccupation with historical truth, but rather by precise political aims for the future.” In numerous passages the French historian insinuates that “anti-Semitic” leftists and rightists utilize Holocaust skepticism to further their diverse political goals:
“Revisionism occurs at the intersection of various and occasionally contradictory ideologies: Nazi-Style anti-Semitism, extreme right-wing anti-communism, anti-Zionism, German nationalism, the various nationalisms of countries of eastern Europe, libertarian pacifism, ultra-left Marxism.” (p. 87)
In his “Theses on Revisionism” he avers:
“What is the political aim of this group [the Revisionists]… The central theme is perfectly clear: it is a matter of shattering the anti-fascist consensus resulting from the Second World War and sealed by the revelation of the Extermination of the Jews.” (p. 92)
To know that an individual espouses a particular political doctrine is not evidence of the falsity of his historical claims. Nazis can and have made true statements about their enemies. Likewise, even if the Exterminationists are solely motivated by the noble desire to find truth, this in itself does not guarantee their doctrines are true. In order to make these abstract points clear, consider the Katyn Forest massacre.
On April 13, 1943, Germany announced the finding of mass graves of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, and blamed the Soviets for the massacre. Undoubtedly the propagandists who made this declaration were motivated by a desire to further the goals of Nazism. At the time of the discovery Britain and the U.S. insisted the German attempt to fix responsibility for the crime on the Soviets was entirely false. As it turns out, the Nazis were correct. The Soviet Secret Police was the guilty party. The moral is, even if all Revisionists are militant fascists who are attempting to destroy Western democracies, their theories concerning the Holocaust could still be true.
Since the majority of Revisionists are not Nazis or fascists, Vidal-Naquet must be pronounced guilty of misconstruing their motives. According to contemporary mores, it is morally acceptable for Jewish Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to publicly proclaim:
“It would be unnatural for me not to make Jewish priorities my own: Israel, Soviet Jewry, and Jews in Arab lands.”
Once again, can it be any different for non-Jewish Revisionists of European descent, who have come to the conclusion that the Holocaust story (or religion) is doing severe damage to Western culture? What Exterminationists label as “an attempt to rehabilitate Nazism” is in many instances only a thoughtful concern for the welfare of Western people and a critical attitude towards those segments of society which promote Holocaust propaganda. Unfortunately, in these days any European-descended person who defends the legitimate interests of his people runs the risk of being branded a “Nazi extremist.”
Vidal-Naquet’s viewpoints are typical of what is found in Holocaust literature designed to rebut Revisionism. Exterminationist responses, characterized by a spirit of implacable dogmatism and hostility, are chock full of fallacies, distortions of fact and ad hominem attacks.
The logician Irving Copi has noted that a fallacy is an argument which is psychologically persuasive but logically incorrect. Because Vidal-Naquet’s fallacious critique of Revisionism is not based upon logic and scholarly methods, we are justified in scrutinizing his motives.
The political psychologist Harold D. Lasswell has suggested that “dogma is a defensive reaction against doubt in the mind of the theorist, but doubt of which he is unaware.” Many Exterminationists possess inner doubts about their orthodoxy and respond to the threat of exposure by becoming ever more strident and dogmatic. Their irrational “critiques” of Revisionism “justify” and “legitimatize” their bigoted dogmatism and allay doubts and anxieties about the truth of the Holocaust.
A Jewish ideologue like Vidal-Naquet can say: “Revisionists are just irrational Jew-haters who have a neurotic need to rehabilitate Nazism and deny the reality of the Holocaust. Revisionism itself is a nonsensical body of ideas, the equivalent of ‘Flat Earth Theory.’ As such, it should be rejected.”
By this bombast he can avoid accepting truths about the Holocaust story which are much too painful for him to accept.
This review originally appeared in the October 1993 issue (pp. 5-7) of the now defunct Instauration under the name "Revisionisticus."
- Alex C. Michalos, Improving Your Reasoning (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp.43-44.
- The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967 ed., s.v. “Karl Raimund Popper,” by Anthony Quinton.
- Robert Lenski, The Holocaust on Trial: The Case of Ernst Zundel (Decatur, AL: Reporter Press, 1989), pp.199-200; Barbara Kulaszka, ed., Did Six Million Really Die?: Report of the Evidence in the Canadian ‘False News’ Trial of Ernst Zundel—1988 (Toronto: Samisdat Publishers, 1992), pp.285-286, 305, 190-253, 286-351, passim. For the actual “evidence” and “eyewitness testimonies,” see R. Faurisson, The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1990, pp.296-307.
- See the letter of Exterminationist expert M. Broszat, Die Ziet (U.S. ed.), Aug. 26, 1960, p. 14. The letter and a translation are reproduced in The Journal of Historical Review, May/June 1993, p.12.
- Irving Copi, Introduction to Logic, 5th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1978), p.91.
- Jean-Claude Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (New York: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1989), p.18.
- The data on Zyklon B and HCN is in Friedrich P. Berg’s, “The German Delousing Chambers,” The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1986, pp.73-94.
- Ibid., pp.78-79.
- Nowhere in his massive tome, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, does J.C. Pressac mention any such devices. Also, see Fred Leuchter, “An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek Poland” (Toronto: Samisdat Publishers, 1988), pp.19, 25-26.
- op. cit., pp. 25, 27.
- Frederich P. Berg, “The German Delousing Chambers,” op. cit., pp. 83-84.
- See Du Pont’s data sheet on Zyklon B, Fred Leuchter, op. cit., p.77.
- Degesch data sheet on Zyklon B, Fred Leuchter, op. cit., p.77.
- For a complete discussion with appropriate documentation, see Instauration, April 1992, pp. 30-31. Nowhere in the Holocaust literature does it say that the persons who allegedly removed the bodies from the chambers wore chemical suits for protection against skin absorption of HCN.
- Cleveland Jewish News, Sept. 27, 1985, p.19.
- New Statesmen, Nov. 2, 1979, p.670.
- J.K. Zawadny, Covering Up the Katyn Forest Massacre Tears at Democracy,” Chicago Tribune, April 27, 1990; Pat Buchanan, “Katyn Exposes Lie at Nuremberg," St. Louis Sun, April 18, 1990. For the complete story, see Religious News Service release of Jan. 22, 1975, reprinted in Christian News, April 30, 1990, p.6.
- “The fallacy of appealing to faulty motives is committed when it is argued that because someone’s motives for defending an issue are not proper, the issue itself is unacceptable.” Alex Michalos, op. cit., p.55.
- Laird Wilcox, an expert on political extremism, estimates that only 25% of Holocaust Revisionists are neo-Nazis. See Laird Wilcox, “The Spectre Haunting Holocaust Revisionism,” Revisionist Letters, Spring 1989, p.8. Online: http://www.codoh.com/revisionist/letters/rlspectre.html
- Cleveland Jewish News, Dec. 12, 1986, p.1.
- Irving Copi, Introduction to Logic, p. 87.
- Quoted in Christian News, March 19, 1990, p. 14.
- Laird Wilcox expressed similar views in Christian News, March 19, 1990, p. 14.
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Anent Holocaust Revisionism: Objective History or False Ideology?, A Review|
|Sources:||Instauration, October 1993, pp. 5-7)|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1995, 7 p.m.|
|Comments:||Review of: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, "Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust"|