Holocaust Orthodoxy: The Road Paved with Moral Certainty

Published: 2000-03-01

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Probably the greatest letdown yet for the traditional Holocaust school of thought came during the second week of the Irving vs. Lipstadt libel trial, currently underway in London. While many prominent defenders of the usual story had predicted that Irving would be forced to concede that he was wrong, and that Holocaust Revisionism would be exposed as a "sham," nothing of the kind occurred.

In fact, when the world's leading authority on Auschwitz, Robert Jan van Pelt appeared, he was not able to prove the dubious proposition that about one million people had been gassed and cremated at that most notorious concentration camp. Instead, van Pelt was reduced to making the following bizarre claim:

"We may assert as moral certainty the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around one million people with the help of gas chambers, and where they incinerated their remains in crematoria ovens."

Of course, a "moral" certainty is not a normal certainty. Indeed, we are inclined to regard a "moral certainty" as a "less than certainty" that requires a little moral support. After all, the Law of Gravity is not a "moral certainty," it just is. Dr. Johnson refuted Bishop Berkeley's claim about the unreality of matter by kicking a stone. He did not do so by appealing to the stone's conscience. So the long-awaited proof that van Pelt offered to the court in London requires a little explanation, not least because his explanation, in our view, harbingers not moral certainty, but the certainty of future evil. To clarify why this is so, we have to put van Pelt's appeal to faith in context.

For the first fifteen years after World War Two, there was little heard about the Nazi camps, or mass gassings, or anything else. It was generally agreed that millions died in the camps, but there was no systematic discussion of the matter. All of this changed in the 1960's, first, with the publication of two books, William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Raul Hilberg's Destruction of the European Jews. These books had a certain amount of impact, because they repeated, albeit selectively, some of the more gruesome claims made at the Nuremberg Trials. Far more important than either of these books however was the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, and especially the propaganda associated with the Six-Day War in 1967.

For the first time, we began to get a differentiated picture of the German atrocities, and one which focused almost completely on the fate of the Jewish people: it was here that we began to get the "Holocaust" that we have come to know and love. It is important to note here that prior to the 1970s, historians rarely spoke in any detail about the Nazi atrocities, save to make a few comments about "millions" or possibly a passing reference to "gas ovens."

Since that time such comments, expanded with grisly detail and ideological content, have become almost ritualistic. This is the context in which modern Holocaust revisionism actually arose. Two of the original proponents, Robert Faurisson and Arthur R. Butz, simply took the received Holocaust claims and subjected them to standard historical analysis to see how well they stood up. The claims did not stand well; hence, the demonizing of revisionism began then. But the empirical analyses of Butz, and particularly Faurisson, set the stage for empirical, on-site archaeological and forensic analyses which, by the end of the 1980s, had cast severe doubts on the veracity of Holocaust claims pertaining to mass gassing at precisely the time when such claims began to dominate public discussion.

It was in order to salvage the traditional story that the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation published in 1989 a lengthy book by the Frenchman, Jean Claude Pressac, who attempted to prove the mass gassings simply on a documentary and physical basis. However, the problem with Pressac's study is that he was not able to prove the existence of gas chambers at all, he could only suggest it, based on a tortured reading of the remaining documents and on what he called "criminal traces" for the existence of gas chambers.

Judging by the content of his previous work, as well as his associations, it would probably be fair to characterize Robert Jan van Pelt as a protégé of Pressac. What he has tried to do in his writings as well as in his expert opinion is to prove that the mass gassings took place more or less as tradition has decreed and more or less on the basis of documents, rather than testimony. But van Pelt's expert report offers a big surprise. In the 330 pages of the report devoted to proving the mass gassing claim, 300 of these pages simply repeat some of the earliest propaganda claims. To be sure, van Pelt makes a few half-hearted gestures in arguing that these early stories "corroborate" each other, but in fact the arguments for "independent corroboration" are groundless. Then, when he turns to the documentary record, van Pelt, like his predecessors, can find no specific references to gassing, no blueprints or architectural drawings that point to the construction of gas chambers, no proof of architectural modifications or even the fitting of the holes and wire mesh columns, all of which are vital to the legendary interpretation. Instead, he offers only a few ambiguous documents and a "moral certainty."

And where does van Pelt find "moral certainty? He finds it in the writings of John Wilkins, whose Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion from 1675 is one of the classics of" natural religion," a philosophical and theological school that seeks to prove the existence of God, Providence, and thus adherence to the Scriptures on the basis of design in Nature, or, if you prefer, "criminal traces" of the existence of supernatural entities.

Let's be clear about what we are saying here, and about what van Pelt is saying here. Religious truth exists for any believer, and no one should have any qualms about that. But at the same time, we recognize that the truths of faith should be restricted to communities of believers; that's one of the reasons why the United States makes a distinction between Church and State.

It should also be added that many Jewish groups, and particularly the ADL, have been quite adamant in insisting on the strict separation of sectarian beliefs ("Church") from practically any public, political, or social manifestation ("State"). Van Pelt's "moral certainty" is not only self-consciously based on, but deliberately models, a highly sectarian belief system, which, since it cannot be proved outside of a moral context, can be either accepted or rejected by a rational mind. Therefore, if such a "moral certainty" is used, either for purposes of pleading justification for libel, or for purposes of institutionalizing it as a universal truth, it is violating the right of citizens to reject this truth.

It is even more pernicious than that. By definition, the flip side of a "moral certainty" is an "immoral doubt." What this means is that anyone who fails to accept the certainty being offered runs the risk of being ostracized and marginalized as "immoral" simply because they cannot or will not accept the truth of something which someone else believes. This opens the door for persecution, and further libel: after all, if someone is immoral, why should we care about them?

Despite the common assurances that "You can't legislate morality," the fact is that once something is defined in the social context as immoral, eventually it becomes criminal as well. There's no real mystery to this, in the sense that legislation is frequently just a way to memorialize our own prejudices. Hence, if we accept the equation of doubt with immorality in this particular case, we are well down the slippery slope that will lead to the eventual criminalization of anyone who is unlucky enough to entertain doubts about the Holocaust story, however the moral certainties of this story are retailed by the then reigning academic experts.

But this crime will be unlike other crimes. We can accept that societies will from time to time decide that certain actions must be deemed unlawful. Some of these laws may be problematic, or involve unacceptable interference in the private lives of individuals: prohibition of alcohol, drug use, prostitution, and abortion come to mind as examples. The rights and wrongs of these can be debated, but they all involve actions; not simply words, but deeds. But the foreseen violation of the "moral certainty" of Auschwitz will not involve any action that could conceivably be considered threatening. It would involve nothing more than the mental inability to accept as truth that which your betters insist is the truth. In other words, accepting the idea of the "moral certainty" of mass gassings at Auschwitz will eventually lead to a new species of violation—criminal acts that happen inside your head. George Orwell had a name for it: Thoughtcrime.

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Author(s): Ernest Sommers
Title: Holocaust Orthodoxy: The Road Paved with Moral Certainty
Sources: The Revisionist # 3, Mar. 2000, Codoh series
Published: 2000-03-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 4, 2000, 6 p.m.
Last revision:
Comments: Probably the greatest letdown yet for the traditional Holocaust school of thought came during the second week of the Irving vs. Lipstadt libel trial
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