Jewish Testimonies in the Postwar Era

Published: 1996-06-06

Postwar testimonies of Jews range from the fantastic to the plausible. As for the fantastic, it would be hard to better the famous Elie Wiesel, who claimed that at Babi-Yar in the Ukraine "for months after the killings (of Jews) the ground continued to spurt geysers of blood."[1]

However the testimonies of lesser known Jews are of at least equal interest. An historiographically important item is found in the Jerusalem Post, 1986.[2] The Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem hold thousands of such testimonies. Its director at the time, Shmuel Krakowski, admitted that "over half" of the testimonies are "unreliable" because the "survivors" relied on their imaginations and were never in the places they claimed, or relied on stories they heard rather than on things they witnessed. This episode has some further details that are worth considering.

Early in 1977, there was an uproar over my Hoax of the Twentieth Century that was nationally publicized. Leo Laufer, a Dallas man, read a column about the book by Bob Greene (now with the Chicago Tribune) and wrote a letter to the editor.[3] He said he spent two years as an inmate at Auschwitz, and repeated the long discredited yarn that the Germans made soap out of Jews, and claimed that he was still in possession of samples of this soap. Let us overlook temporarily this discrediting feature, as it is irrelevant to the immediate point, which is that he also made a claim that would normally be impossible to discredit. He said he "lost (his) entire family of two brothers, three sisters, (his) father and mother, and aunts and uncles." Such a claim can carry some weight in public controversy, because there is a general presumption that nobody would lie about close family members being killed.

However that was not the end of the matter. In 1994 Laufer wrote another letter.[4] There he described himself as "a Holocaust survivor who lost the entire family – father, mother, three brothers, four sisters and not counting hundreds of family members." His story gained two dead siblings in the interim. Thus there is no reason to believe him.

There is another category of testimony, expressing beliefs that relatives were killed, that may be quite innocent of an intention to deceive. The press reported a reunion of the large and far-flung Steinberg family in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving 1978. Some attendees were astonished "because they didn't think they had any family" and had not "thought any relative made it through Hitler's scourge."[5] One woman was crying for joy and said "I can't believe so many people survived the holocaust. There is so much life here – another generation. It's beautiful."[6] Not all versions of this AP story reported the astonishment of attendees on learning they had so many relatives.[7]

A similar family reunion took place in 1987 in Glencoe and Winnetka, Illinois, organized by Harry Mintz.[8] Lucia Muller "thought her sister and an aunt were the only other members of her family to survive the Holocaust. This weekend, she saw differently: About 130 cousins". There can be no doubt that, prior to the Steinberg and Mintz reunions, many of the family members involved would have expressed sincere but mistaken beliefs about relatives having been killed in the "Holocaust".

Finally, there are no doubt many Jews who are correct in a belief that some relative did not survive. Many died from the epidemics in the camps and ghettos, from general wartime privations, and as a consequence of anti-Jewish atrocities.

In summary, postwar declarations of Jews range from fantastic concoction and venal or malicious lying, through sincere expression based on lack or misinterpretation of information, to simple truth. Unfortunately it can be very difficult for a normally situated person to tell the differences.


Notes

Last modification: 6 June 1996.

[1]
The Jews of Silence, p. 37 in the 1966 Vallentine, Mitchell edition, London.
[2]
17 August 1986 in the regular daily edition, pp. 1, 4.
[3]
Dallas Times-Herald, 10 Feb. 1977, p. B3. This newspaper is now defunct.
[4]
Dallas Morning News, 20 April 1994, p. 18A.
[5]
San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Nov. 1978, p 6.
[6]
State-Times of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 24 Nov. 1978, p. 8A.
[7]
e.g. Los Angeles Times, 24 Nov. 1978, pp 1, 30.
[8]
Chicago Tribune, 29 June 1987, sec. 2, p. 3.



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Author(s): Arthur R. Butz
Title: Jewish Testimonies in the Postwar Era
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Published: 1996-06-06
First posted on CODOH: June 4, 1996, 7 p.m.
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