Heretics, Sacralization, and Fear in the Heart of the Journalist
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What follows is an exchange (not) between Albert Richardson of the British website What Really Happened? (http://tinyurl.com/oc9g8un) and Will Storr, a highly praised British journalist who is interested in “heretics,” though not so much it appears as he was before being addressed by Mr. Richardson. In the event, Storr represents journalists as a class, weak and fearful throughout the English-speaking world.
Dear Will Storr: I picked up your book The Heretics in the library without previously knowing anything about it. It has proved to be a fascinating read, especially the chapter on the workings of the brain and the fallibilities of perception and of memory, though of course most of the book relates directly to them too. This connects closely with my own interests in recent years; my library list includes Gilovich’s How We Know What Isn’t So, Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth about Dis-Dishonesty, and Macknik & Martinez-Conde’s Sleights of Mind. There are frequent references in these works to Kahneman and Tversky, and much of what you wrote was already familiar to me. What I have brought away from these readings is awareness of the aforementioned fallacies of perception and memory, and of the power of confirmation bias, which I see constantly in others and, of course, less frequently in myself. I have also read quite a lot about Elizabeth Loftus and false memory, as well as watching one of her TED talks.
I found myself wondering whether you were actually going to tackle the only real heresy of our time, the one for which people’s careers are destroyed, they are sent to prison for periods of years or flee into exile to avoid this, or they are victims of brutal violence, arson and even murder. It was therefore with mixed feelings that I reached your chapter on David Irving: satisfaction that you had elected to take this particular bull by the horns but disappointment that you had chosen an easy target, disappointment that was reinforced on seeing that you here abandoned your willingness to look at the “heretical” view with the even-handedness you had displayed in other chapters.
Irving is an easy target. He is the only “Holocaust Denier” most people have ever heard of (though he is not really a “denier” any more), he is a racist, he has been thoroughly vilified in the media, and he has the reputation of being difficult to get on with at the personal level, although he used to have a rather engaging personality in his public speaking. I noticed, though, that you subjected him to guilt by association in insisting on some of the more unpleasant utterances of those who went on his tour. (I wonder how selective you were.) Along with this, you also subjected “Holocaust Denial” to guilt by association both with Irving and with these racist remarks. It should be clear to anyone that the truth or otherwise of assertions about historical facts is unaffected by the political and social views of any individual making or rejecting such assertions today.
Will Storr is the author of three critically acclaimed books, including his The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science. He is acclaimed by the British and American press.
His website lists reviews of his latest books as follows:
Salon: A searching, extraordinarily thoughtful account of what it means to believe anything.
Michael Shermer in The Wall Street Journal: A subtle brilliance.
The Daily Telegraph: Funny, serious, richly vivid.
The Independent: Investigative journalism of the highest order.
The Sunday Telegraph: A humane and generous book.
The Guardian: Confounds expectations.
Esquire: Incontrovertibly brilliant.
Daily Express: Utterly engrossing.
BBC Radio Oxford: Astounding.
Will Storr represents the best of journalism in the English language. At the same time he is unwilling to entangle himself in any discussion about the Holocaust that is heretical. Is it because he is a Jew? I don’t think so. Let me say it again. It’s not “them.” It’s us.
People who make the kind of extreme racist remarks you cite are a tiny minority in society today, though such views were the norm in earlier generations, something that we should bear in mind when passing judgment on individuals from those earlier times; Churchill, for example, widely revered as a hero today, was an appalling overt racist by my standards or yours. Clubs in Hong Kong had “No dogs or Chinese” signs. Segregation flourished in the American South, and Blacks could not vote. It was to last another 20 years after the war. Even the US Army was segregated.
“Holocaust Deniers” are also a small minority, but a very large part of the racist set will belong to this second set. Result: a significant proportion of “Holocaust Deniers” will be prejudiced racists. This tells us nothing about the validity of Holocaust Revisionist (the proper term) arguments. Some of the Revisionist historians incline toward conservative social views, for example on homosexuality or mixed marriage, but the most important current writers such as Carlo Mattogno, Germar Rudolf, Jürgen Graf or Thomas Kues either do not hold such opinions or have not spoken on these topics.
The first person to question the story today known as the Holocaust was Paul Rassinier, a French Socialist who was sent to Buchenwald and Dora for his Resistance activities. He barely survived and returned an invalid; the conditions he describes were horrific. However, after the war he observed former prisoners, mainly Communists, making accusations that he did not recognize, and he made it his business to interview everyone he could find who claimed to have seen a gas chamber. It turned out in every case that they had not seen a gas chamber and had simply been repeating hearsay.
If you had genuinely wanted to look at the “heresy” of “Holocaust Denial” you could have spoken to serious scholars who have spent a lifetime researching the topic. Interesting though your experiences with Irving and his followers were, I, for one, would have liked to see you engage with serious, moderate Revisionists such as Bradley Smith, David Cole, Germar Rudolf, Carlo Mattogno, Samuel Crowell, Jürgen Graf or Thomas Kues. Far from being “enemies of science,” it is they who have pushed for properly controlled forensic investigations and the guardians of orthodoxy who resist them.
It might be difficult with Mattogno, as he is Italian and does not speak English (surprisingly in that one of his strengths is his fluent knowledge of both German and Polish and he communicates with Bradley Smith in Spanish). Also, Rudolf, a former doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute who was expelled because of his work on the Holocaust, may hesitate to speak openly, as the United States, where he now lives, previously deported him to Germany where he served a 3-year prison sentence for writing a scientific analysis of the chemistry of Auschwitz, which updated and remedied the weaknesses in Fred Leuchter’s report. Cole is an American Jew who in the early Nineties exposed the Auschwitz gas chamber as a post-war “reconstruction” by the Soviets and presented the Revisionist position in mainstream TV programs. He received death threats from the Jewish Defense League (a criminal organization in the United States today, whose leaders were later jailed and died in jail) that forced him to sign a bogus recantation and to change his name and go underground until his cover was blown last year by an angry ex-girlfriend. However, with him there are issues I have raised in the footnote.
Bradley Smith is a likeable and articulate man who has campaigned for decades for open debate on the Holocaust in American Universities. He is tolerant and in no way racist: as a bookseller in Hollywood he had many Jewish friends, he was previously married to a Jewish woman and his present wife is Mexican. I’d suggest the best people to talk to would be Bradley himself, Jürgen Graf, Thomas Kues, Samuel Crowell or an associate of Bradley’s, David Merlin. Bradley would be able to put you in touch with the others ([email protected]).
You might also talk to the British Jewish Revisionist Paul Eisen.
You will have gathered by now that I have some sympathy with the Revisionist viewpoint. It doesn’t come from any predisposition to racist or authoritarian views. I usually vote Liberal Democrat or Green and read the Guardian. In the Political Compass I am firmly in the bottom-left, liberal corner. Every time I take the test I try hard, when in doubt, to choose the more right-wing answer, but I remain stubbornly in that corner.[…]
Until about 1990 I was an unquestioning believer in the reality of the Holocaust allegations. I accepted the conventional view that Holocaust Deniers were bovver-booted Combat 18 followers who denied the self-evident because of their worship for Hitler and their hatred of Jews. At the same time, however, I did take a relativist view of the Second World War: that it was total war in which any pretensions to morality went out of the window and all sides did whatever was deemed necessary, whether it was murdering people in gas chambers, vaporizing cities and their inhabitants with incendiary or atom bombs or inciting troops to kill and rape (Soviet-Jewish propaganda officer Ilya Ehrenburg). The pretense that we were “the good guys” is also belied by later Western behaviour in Kenya, Algeria, Palestine, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, etc. Just a few decades earlier Americans and Australians had largely wiped out their indigenous populations. It seemed to me that Hitler’s mistake was doing to light-skinned people what we only did to brown- or black-skinned people.
I thought that the Holocaust Denial laws in some countries had been passed in the immediate aftermath of the war, and were part of the attempt to suppress any pro-Nazi revival. It was only more recently that I learned that they have mostly been passed in the last 25 years: in France, Switzerland and Germany around 1990, in Hungary as recently as 2011 and Russia 2014.
My first doubts about the Holocaust were awakened by Norman Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein, as you probably know, is an American-Jewish University professor and son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto, Auschwitz and Majdanek who has not openly questioned the Holocaust but claims it has been hijacked by the predominantly American Jewish establishment, in order to whip up support for Israel and to extort money from Germany and the Swiss banks. I heard vaguely of David Irving but was not aware of his suit for libel against Deborah Lipstadt. When Irving was jailed in Austria I thought it was a travesty of justice and was pleased to see that this view was widely shared by some of his strongest opponents, including Deborah Lipstadt and Melanie Philips. At this point I thought that the Holocaust Denial laws in some countries had been passed in the immediate aftermath of the war, and were part of the attempt to suppress any pro-Nazi revival. It was only more recently that I learned that they have mostly been passed in the last 25 years: in France, Switzerland and Germany around 1990, in Hungary as recently as 2011 and Russia 2014.
I became curious as to what Irving’s arguments might be. When he came out of prison he was interviewed by John Humphrys on Today. Humphrys asked him “Do you deny that the Nazis killed six million Jews in the Holocaust?” Irving replied “I don’t accept a package. I reserve the right to open that package and look inside.” This seemed to me an incontrovertible argument. He went on to say that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz and that the main killing took place in remote areas to the North in the Aktion Reinhard camps.
Incidentally, he was right when he told you that the cylinders at Majdanek contained CO2 and not CO. It is marked on the cylinders themselves. (http://tinyurl.com/mlmxdft) The number of alleged gas chambers at Majdanek has gone down from 5 to 2. No proof is offered for any of them.
From that point, I was very much open-minded as to what had happened but tended to think that Irving’s position was very probable. It led me to look at his website. I later widened this search to look at “Holocaust Denier” sites in general, and my first shock was to find that the image spread by their opponents of total denial was false. They did not question the deportations or the camps or that many people died as a result. They even produced those horrific pictures from Belsen in 1945 in support of their position. These people had died not from murder by the Germans but from disease, starvation and exposure in the breakdown of infrastructure in the final months of the German collapse. The main killer had been typhus. I had never seen this in mass media sources, and yet it is true and accepted by all historians. Nevertheless, the BBC website still dishonestly cites Belsen as “proof of the Holocaust”. I also found that the Zyklon B, which I had assumed was specially manufactured for murderous use in gas chambers, was in fact a legitimate commercial product used in similar form throughout the world to destroy disease-carrying lice, in the days before the discovery of DDT. Gas chambers certainly existed, said the Revisionists, but to kill lice.
I continued to explore the Revisionist position. I was greatly put off by the anti-Jewish attitudes of some supporters and reacted negatively to use of the term “hoax”. On YouTube I found some quite revolting comments, but also some thoughtful ones critical of the Holocaust story. I read lots of books and watched hours of video. I found much of it plausible, but I still needed a motive and evidence of fraud. I finally found them in the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the actions of Allied Psychological Warfare teams charged with the production of propaganda to support the de-Nazification program and to justify the war.
Finally, a word about the relevance of the Holocaust to the main themes in your book. The orthodox story relies almost entirely on witness testimony. We know how faulty memory and perception are, and in particular how easy it is to plant false memories in people, either deliberately or simply because they think they know what is expected of them. Elizabeth Loftus intended to appear as an expert witness at the trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel to defend him against the witness accusations (wrong, as it turned out) that he had been a guard at Treblinka. She was persuaded by peer pressure from fellow Jews not to do so, with the result that Demjanjuk was found guilty and would have been hanged had he not been acquitted on appeal, but only after spending five years on Death Row. A measure of the power of peer pressure, but something which Demjanjuk’s supporters never forgave her for.
Thank you for taking the time and the trouble to read this far. Please take a few more minutes to look at http://whatreallyhappened.info. I wrote the home page, and also the page you come to if you click on the thinker.
|||It is not surprising that Leuchter’s study contained some flaws given that it was carried out both hurriedly and clandestinely behind the Iron Curtain, but if his findings were unsound it should be possible to demonstrate this by carrying out similar tests under controlled conditions. Caroline Sturdy Colls’s forensic investigations at Treblinka have, quite literally, barely scratched the surface, and any thorough investigation is stopped by the Polish Chief Rabbi, who, curiously, is an American.|
|||David Cole is brilliant and articulate, but his experiences seem to have driven him to alcohol. He is currently in conflict with most other Revisionists as he, like Irving, thinks that Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, the Aktion Reinhard camps, were indeed death camps. Also, he has in the last few days fallen out with Bradley Smith, his friend of 25 years, in a Facebook confrontation where he uses intemperate language. For these reasons I don’t recommend him anymore.|
|||Lipstadt is a thoroughly racist personality whose Jewishness is the dominating feature in her life and who virulently opposes mixed marriage. She isn’t a historian. She’s a professor of Jewish Religious Studies.|
|||I still do. I think it is over-simplistic and even has overtones of “joke”.|
At one point in The Heretics you raise the concept of “sacralisation,” how certain issues are raised above the level of opinion and treated with unquestioning religious reverence. Examples given were “markets” for the right and “climate change” for the left. They are raised to the level of dogma where questioning, far from being welcomed as part of the normal process of scientific examination, is treated as heresy: the critics are not responded to but vilified and their points ignored.
The one issue above all others subject to this sacralisation is, of course, beginning around 1980, the Holocaust. The capitalization is one indication of this. No questioning of any aspect or detail of the Authorized Version is tolerated. Although it is clear, for example, that the figure of six million is not based on demographic evidence (it appeared as early as 1944), it is a never-changing dogma, imposed by constant incantation, though it is not clear what it means. Is it total Jewish deaths in the War, does it refer to all Jewish deaths under German custody and control, or only to those deliberately killed in an alleged programme of extermination? People regularly refer to “six million killed in gas chambers,” but those in charge of the story have never alleged this. Historians Reitlinger and Hilberg only managed totals of just over 4 million and 5 million respectively, but the Six Million still remains the sacralised figure.
The Holocaust has its priests (Eli Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, etc.), its temples (USHMM and other memorial museums), its pilgrimage sites, its saints (the best-known is Anne Frank) and even holy relics (piles of hair and shoes). The dogma is propagated in the media, with no criticism allowed, and school lessons teach the creed with no pretense to objective historical method. You may feel that my observations are in bad taste, but that is, of course, a function of the sacralisation process.
A major feature of this sacralisation of “The Holocaust” is that it becomes a single global concept which must stand or fall as a whole. A false dichotomy is created, so any questioner is called a “Denier” with the implication that he rejects everything, which is false. While Revisionism, too, has its dogmatists and bigots, for the most part those who have doubts about the official version do not question that the Nazis persecuted the Jews, imprisoned and deported them in appalling conditions where many died. Most accept that a substantial number were killed on the Eastern front, though they generally question the basis of the numbers quoted, and seek to place this in the context of total war with reprisals on civilians by all parties: German, Soviet, Nationalist, and partisan, including Jewish partisans. They question the policy of extermination and the use of gas chambers, for which they say material evidence is lacking. They wish to examine all the evidence and to exercise sceptical doubt in its absence. The public authorities refuse this, whether it be the alleged gas chambers in Auschwitz, or the alleged burial sites at Treblinka.
Your own failure to reply may perhaps be evidence of this sacralisation. No questioning is allowed. We do not debate with “Heretics,” however reasonably they may present their points.
You comment several times in The Heretics that our opinions, including your own, are frequently formed by what we unconsciously wish to be true. You refer to your unwillingness to consider that life might exist elsewhere in the universe.
I ask you to consider, if only for a few minutes, the possibility that your dismissal of any questioning of the conventional account of German treatment of Jews in the Second World War is similar, that maybe some details of this conventional account are not proven with 100% certainty and that it is legitimate to open the topic to objective examination, just like any other, rather than to ruin careers and impose lengthy prison sentences for attempting to do this.
Almost without exception, people who now question the official account once believed it for the same subliminal reasons you would not accept the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It was only after overcoming much internal resistance that they accepted that some aspects (only some—no one questions anti-Semitic persecution and that there were many deaths) might be less well supported by the evidence than is generally believed. Consider that this is a factual historical issue unaffected by the opinions of some (only some) who were first led to question it by their personal prejudices.
I don’t expect you to enter into correspondence, but a polite acknowledgement would reassure me that you are not approaching this topic with a completely closed mind. Best regards,
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Heretics, Sacralization, and Fear in the Heart of the Journalist|
|Sources:||Smith's Report, No. 210, November 2014, pp. 1,2, 6-9|
|First posted on CODOH:||Nov. 11, 2014, 6 p.m.|