A Challenge from the USHMM

A Revisionist Response, Part 2: The Museum's Evidence for Gas Chambers
Published: 2000-01-01

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The core of the Holocaust story is the assertion that the Nazis massacred millions of Jews in gas chambers, then disposed of their bodies in crematoria. While no one disputes the existence of concentration camps or that the bodies of dead inmates were cremated, revisionists do dispute the claim that the Germans installed or operated homicidal gas chambers in the concentration camps.

To begin with: soon after the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened, its director of archives, Brewster Chamberlin, boasted to the Washington Post: "We have the blueprints, the drawings, the change orders for all of the buildings including the crematoria and the gas chambers. This is the material that will finally shut up the [Holocaust] deniers."(WP, April 17, 1994)

Yet the Museum's permanent exhibition displays no such blueprints, drawings, or "change orders"-or any other direct evidence for the existence of Nazi gas chambers. To be sure, the Museum does display a casting of what former USHMM official Michael Berenbaum has described as a "door to a gas chamber in the Majdanek death camp," and a plastic model by a sculptor that depicts a mass gassing in an Auschwitz crematorium. Neither of these exhibits, however, by the admission of the USHMM's first director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, satisfies even the Museum's own stated "principle of authenticity," much less the principles of those of us who are willing to think independently

Just as the U.S. Holocaust Museum is allegedly the property of all Americans, without regard to ethnicity, religious, or ideological belief, so is the right to the truth about the Jewish Holocaust story – and the obligation to speak out for it. The Museum still has time to rectify its exhibits -or, failing that, to refute the criticism advanced here. Otherwise, the permanent exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum risks becoming, itself, a powerful exhibit giving the lie to the standard version of the Holocaust story.

Former USHMM official Michael Berenbaum has described a "door to a gas chamber in the Majdanek death camp," and a plastic model by a sculptor that depicts a mass gassing in an Auschwitz crematorium. Neither of these exhibits, however, by the admission of the USHMM's first director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, satisfies even the Museum's own stated "principle of authenticity," much less the principles of those of us who are willing to think independently. According to Weinberg, "The team [which designed the permanent exhibition] deviated from the principle of authenticity in very few cases." These included "the door to a gas chamber in the Majdanek death camp" and "a scale model of one of the Auschwitz gas chambers. This model and the few fiberglass replicas were the only exceptions to the rule of including only authentic artifacts." (Weinberg & Elieli, p. 57)

That the Museum's two exhibits that depict gas chambers are only "representations" of gas chambers or parts of gas chambers, and not the real thing, is no accident. The fact that the Museum displays neither the promised Auschwitz gas chamber blueprints or any other contemporary German document substantiating the gas chambers is no accident, either.

The Museum's "door to a gas chamber in the Majdanek death camp" proves to be a fiberglass casting of an airtight door equipped with a peephole and locking latches that, as exhibited, is easily visible only from the front, since it is shielded by Plexiglas. While an airtight door with a peephole may satisfy some as evidence of mass murder, in fact the door was widely sold throughout Germany, both before and during the war, for purposes which included air defense (to protect against bomb blast, smoke, and gas) and fumigation with poisonous gases. The placard that accompanies this exhibit notes: "Gas chambers had an airtight metal door, which was bolted shut once the victims were inside." Okay. But the Museum visitor who takes the trouble to peer through the Plexiglas to make out the back of the door will see that it has internal latches, which allow for those inside the room to open the door themselves, from the inside. Why are there internal latches on the inside of a gas chamber door where tens of thousands of people are going to be exterminated?

The placard which describes the "gas chamber door" on exhibit at the Museum fails to note that the only purpose the Majdanek door served that can be shown with certainty was to seal a chamber in order to delouse clothes and other personal effects with insecticide. Nor is it only revisionist scholars who have come to this conclusion. Jean-Claude Pressac, a Frenchman hired by the Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld to rebut revisionist research, has been permitted unparalleled access to the archives of Auschwitz and Majdanek. Although he differs with revisionists on many points, he has written of the alleged homicidal gas chamber door the USHMM has on exhibit:

"The problem, for there is one, is that the gas chamber presented has all the characteristics of a DELOUSING operation. I am not saying that it was never used to kill people, for that is still possible, but the traces of Prussian blue are an absolutely certain indication of use for delousing purposes. I am sorry to say, and I am not the only one in the West, that the Maidanek homicidal and/or delousing chambers are still waiting for a true historian, which is mildly upsetting in view of the fact that the camp fell into the hands of the Russians intact in 1944."

(J.C. Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, NY: 1989, p. 555, in reference to picture no. 30, p. 557).

The picture of the structure Pressac is discussing shows a door identical to a picture of the door at Majdanek cast for the USHMM, which appears on p. 138 of Michael Berenbaum's book The World Must Know (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1993).

Even more dubious than the Majdanek door casting, in terms of conforming to the USHMM's "principle of authenticity," is the Museum's display of a sculptor's depiction of an alleged gassing at Auschwitz. According to Weinberg.

"The team also commissioned the Polish sculptor Jan Stobierski to create a scale model of one of the Auschwitz gas chambers. Years before, he had created a similar model for display in the Auschwitz site museum." (Weinberg and Elieli, p. 57)

So, instead of the blueprints, the drawings, and the change orders for all of the buildings including the crematoria and the gas chambers" – the material that USHMM archives director Chamberlin promised would "shut up the deniers" – what the Museum actually exhibits is an artist's conception of a mass gassing.

The first reason for this recourse to art, rather than truth, is that the Auschwitz blueprints for the crematoria, which do exist, contain nothing whatever about a gas chamber. Indeed, after combing through the hundreds of documents relating to the design and construction of the Auschwitz crematoria, Pressac and his allies have been reduced to hypothesizing "gas chambers" on the alleged evidence of a few dozen "traces" – which, individually and collectively, point to nothing more sinister than routine civil defense or disinfection procedures.

The function of the "model" is not to demonstrate gassing procedures through reference to actual documents – it is to dramatize the mere accusation that such gassings took place by depicting the artistically imagined agony of Stobierski's hundreds of tiny nude figurines. These are what grip the viewer. The viewer will not wonder whether the hollow, wire mesh "columns" which in the "model" serve for the intromission of the Zyklon B granules actually appear that way on the blueprint. In fact, they do not. The blueprint shows the columns to be solid concrete members supporting the roof. If you go to Birkenau today, you will see this for yourself.

The visitor will not question the 6' x 8' make-shift flatbed "elevator" to carry the hundreds of corpses upstairs to the crematory ovens. The viewer will not know that the various "eyewitness" accounts of alleged Auschwitz gassings, supposedly relied on by Stobierski, often differ wildly. For instance, that of late USHM council member Hadassah Rosensaft, who swore in the Belsen trial of 1945 that the lethal gas was piped in through showerheads, not dropped in granules through holes in the roof-as shown in the sculpture (Trial of Joseph Kramer, p. 68).

Without the blueprints, without the sort of technical analysis of the "gas chambers" that had to await revisionist experts such as Fred Leuchter and Germar Rudolf, forty and fifty years after the war, Stobierski's model of a gassing is sheer artistic license, while its exhibition by the Museum is mere propaganda.

It may surprise you that the USHMM would exhibit an artist's model of the ruined crematorium II of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and a commercially manufactured air raid shelter door from Majdanek, as its strongest evidence for the existence of homicidal gas chambers. It doesn't surprise us. After all, there is an alleged gas chamber on display at the Auschwitz State Museum that has been exhibited to millions of visitors over half a century as the place where untold thousands of Jews and others were gassed. Why not use a casting from that place, or recreate it in its entirety?

Perhaps, we hope, because the USHMM authorities have (tacitly) at last subscribed to what revisionists like Professor Robert Faurisson and the American Jewish documentary filmmaker David Cole learned from the authorities of the Auschwitz State Museum years ago: that the facility shown to tourists as a homicidal gas chamber in its original state is, at best, a postwar "reconstruction", as even Robert Jan Van Pelt has been forced to admit.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's founders, designers, and directors have declared again and again their purpose to document the orthodox version of the Holocaust story in order to "shut up" revisionists. Yet they have not even "put up" the evidence they claim to have (the blueprints that show the gas chambers), let alone the evidence necessary to properly demonstrate that the Germans did, indeed, murder millions of human beings using poison gas.

Anti-German Riots?

Not far from the fake Hitler order for the slaughter of Polish civilians, many visitors to the USHMM, including President Clinton, have paused before a large tableau of photographs said to represent Poles and Jews murdered by the Germans. The placard that interprets this exhibit, "Terror in Poland," states: "Some of the worst atrocities carried out during the German invasion took place in Bydgoszcz, where German army troops killed 10,500 Poles in retaliation for anti-German riots that occurred there." Four of the nine photographs depict Poles from the town of Bydgoszcz.

To call what took place at Bydgoszcz (perhaps better known by its German name of "Bromberg") at the outset of the Second World War "anti-German riots" is to misstate the facts, again, so seriously that it calls into question the real intentions of the Museum. At Bydgoszcz, as in other places in western Poland where German minority populations came under attack in September 1939, numerous ethnic German civilians were brutally killed by Poles enraged by news of the German military advances. Many thousands of other Germans of Polish nationality were arrested and evacuated to concentration camps, either in cattle cars or on foot.

Professor Richard Blanke, an American academic historian who has made perhaps the most thorough investigation of the various accounts, Polish and German, of what befell the German minority in western Poland at the outset of the war, describes the fate of one group of German civilians from Bydgoszcz:

"What followed was a human tragedy of major proportions. One group from Bydgoszcz numbered about 4,000 people and was made to travel fifty-eight kilometers, without food or water, in the first day and night. As bad news arrived from the front, crowds gathered to take out their frustration and rage on the trekkers; guards described them as 'German rebels' and 'traitors' and did little to keep by-standers from clubbing and stoning the defenseless marchers. Those who failed to keep up were summarily shot; many died along the way, including forty-four in a single day from this particular group."

(Blanke, Orphans of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland, 1918-1939, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY: 1993, pp. 232-233.)

The American historian Alfred de Zayas cites the following report from Ulrich Schattenberg, a German military judge who from September 9th to 13th, 1939 investigated, in and around Bydgoszcz, what the USHMM informs President Clinton and other visitors were "anti-German riots":

"I even saw the partially burned corpses of murdered ethnic Germans. Many Germans had to watch the murder of their fathers, brothers, or children without being allowed to relieve their pain if they did not die immediately. While this was going on, they were even insulted and jeered at by the soldiers and the mob. In other cases, they were forced to witness the murder of their relatives before becoming themselves victims and beaten or shot to death."

(Quoted in de Zayas, Alfred, The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE: 1989, p. 130)

German authorities predictably sought to magnify the September 1939 murders of German civilians in western Poland for propaganda impact. Indeed, Adolf Hitler ordered that the death toll be reported as 58,000, a figure that contemporary historians such as Blanke and de Zayas regard as far too high. Nevertheless, scholars who have investigated the matter have estimated that at least two thousand and, more likely, five or six thousand German civilians were massacred. As Richard Blanke points out, this figure would exceed two percent of the German population of western Poland at the time.

To be sure, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is devoted virtually entirely to commemorating the sufferings of Jews at hands of the Nazis and their allies in World War II. And there is no doubt that the Museum has chosen to ignore the sufferings of the innocent in the Axis populations, including the more than a million civilian victims of Allied bombing attacks.

For all that, we have been assured that great care has been taken with assembling and describing the exhibition. To cite yet another assurance from ex-director Weinberg:

"To preclude definitively revisionist declarations by antisemitic pseudo scholars all visual details of the exhibitions, as well as all its textual explanations, were thoroughly scrutinized by leading Holocaust historians to ensure their factual accuracy." (Weinberg, The World Must Know, p. xv)

We know as well that policy makers for the Museum, including the guiding U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and influential private contributors, attach great importance to the idea that events of the European Jewish tragedy of the 1930s and '40s not be undercut through mischaracterization or mislabeling. Thus John Roth, hired in 1998 to direct the Museum's Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, was forced to resign before even assuming his duties when it was discovered that, years before, he had likened the harsh Israeli repression of the Palestinian intifada to German anti-Jewish measures (although not mass extermination).

Like many Museum officials, former director Jeshajahu Weinberg has characterized the USHMM as a universal voice against oppression:

"However, the Museum is also a powerful statement of protest against racism, an outcry against genocide, and a warning against the dangers of fascism. It is widely expected to serve as a voice of morality in matters pertinent, or sometimes only tangential, to its specific historical narrative. Thus in different ways the voice of the Museum was heard in public on such issues as the massacres in Rwanda, the "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia, anti-Semitism in Poland, the discrimination against Gypsies in Germany, the killing of Kurds in Iraq, and other current world events." (Weinberg and Elieli, p. 174)

But how does disguising the violence done to helpless German non-combatants as "riots" serve the cause of vigilance against today's attempts to rationalize or to minimize "ethnic cleansing" and the like?

Aside from its disservice to the Holocaust Museum's proclaimed fidelity to historical truth, the belittling of the slaughtered German civilians of 1939 suggests that a blind eye will be turned to the sufferings of today's politically inopportune victims, whether the Palestinians with whom John Roth empathized, or others for whom the Museum's voice is silent.

It is noteworthy how large the revisionist challenge has loomed in the minds of the organizers and directors of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. To believe their statements, at the very least; the existence of revisionism prodded the USHMM staff to a very high standard of historical authenticity and accuracy. In this version, revisionists would have functioned as did, until recently, the devil's advocate in the Roman Catholic Church, by way of marshaling all the evidence against a candidate for sainthood. Thus were the most stringent standards for canonization upheld. And thus, the Museum officials have told us, have revisionists played the important role of devil's advocate in encouraging the highest standards of historical accuracy for the Museum's permanent exhibition on the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, this essay has sought to demonstrate that the USHMM, far from confounding revisionist critics by demonstrating the truth of the canonical Holocaust story through exhibiting convincing evidence, in reality fudged, faked, forged, and otherwise falsified the truth. Accurate captions, authentic photographs, actual relics there are aplenty – but not where it concerns a Hitler order or a Nazi policy to annihilate the Jews; not where evidence of mass gassing is concerned; not where the facts about the commandant of Auschwitz's confession and the lie about its several million victims is concerned.

Were the Museum's planners afraid to confront the issue of the absence of a Fuehrer order – and the companion problem of the existence of an abundance of non-lethal orders, directives, and opinions from Hitler on solving the "Jewish question"?

Did they fear that by exhibiting a replica of one of the diesel engines supposed to have gassed hundreds of thousands of victims with carbon monoxide in Treblinka, they would have aroused skepticism among engineers aware of a diesel's unsuitability for generating carbon monoxide?

Did the USHMM worry that, by touching on the gas chambers alleged in other camps, such as Dachau, where establishment scholars of the extermination assure us now that nobody was gassed, they would arouse skepticism among everybody as to all the other camps?

By so scantily and falsely explaining a single "affidavit" by Rudolf Hoess, do Weinberg and his colleagues telegraph their terror at confronting the unraveling fabric of all of Hoess's confessions and "memoirs," for instance, his claim that he was ordered in 1941 to build the Birkenau gas chambers, of which none appears on the Birkenau blueprints the Museum boasts of having but won't exhibit?

Whatever the fears of the men and women who constructed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, revisionists and other Americans may assume that what is on exhibit there today represents the best the USHMM has to offer to silence, or as one of them put it, to "shut up" the revisionists. By now, you will excuse us, perhaps, for not shutting up. Certain European nations, such as Germany and France, have found it expedient to silence dissent on the orthodox Holocaust story by outlawing it. In the United States, the First Amendment to our Constitution has so far frustrated such measures. But concerted pressures, focused by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, have been largely successful in driving revisionism from the academy, from the publishing houses, from mass media.

The resultant absence of challenge, of question, of debate has resulted in a history of the Holocaust that is saddled with self-celebration and choked with rot in the academies, in the media, in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum itself. Had revisionist skepticism guided, for instance, the publishers who recently fell for Benjamin Wilkomirski's fictional Holocaust memoir, Fragments, it would not have seen print (the author was born and brought up as a Protestant in Switzerland at the time he claims to have been a Jewish child in Majdanek and Auschwitz). Had the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's permanent exhibition been informed by revisionist doubt, perhaps this essay need not have been written.

Just as the U.S. Holocaust Museum is allegedly the property of all Americans, without regard to ethnicity, religious, or ideological belief, so is the right to the truth about the Jewish Holocaust story – and the obligation to speak out for it. The Museum still has time to rectify its exhibits -or, failing that, to refute the criticism advanced here. Otherwise, the permanent exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum risks becoming, itself, a powerful exhibit giving the lie to the standard version of the Holocaust story.

No other historical event enjoys the massive, separate commemoration on the national Mall in Washington that is accorded to the Holocaust, the catastrophe suffered by the European Jews during the Second World War. The authorities who created the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have sought to exploit to the full, and beyond, this privileged location for what is largely a non-American tragedy. As Seymour Siegel, formerly executive director of the council that designed the Museum, stated, for the Holocaust story to be told "at the most prestigious spot for a museum in the western world, perhaps in the whole world, puts on a scientific and unshakable basis the truth of our story and the accuracy of events" (quoted in Edward Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum [New York: Viking, 1995], p. 63).

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Theodore J. O'Keefe
Title: A Challenge from the USHMM, A Revisionist Response, Part 2: The Museum's Evidence for Gas Chambers
Sources: The Revisionist # 2, Jan. 2000, Codoh series
Published: 2000-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 15, 2000, 7 p.m.
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