Retirement, 'Nuremberg' and Auschwitz 'Rambo'

Published: 1997-04-20

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Retiring, Not Quitting

Doug Collins, an award-winning journalist, has worked for several Canadian daily newspapers, and is the author of several books. He served with the British army during the Second World War, and then with the British control commission in postwar occupied Germany.

The three essays published here are reprinted from his columns in the North Shore News of September 3, 1997, August 10, 1997, and April 20, 1997.

Put out more flags. Collins is retiring. My last regular column will appear in two weeks' time. It will be said that I am throwing in the towel, that the heat has been too much for me. Not so. Heat keeps me ticking.

For the benefit of liars in the media, here are the facts. I "retired" from the North Shore News in 1989. Even got a gold watch, courtesy of supporters. But on being asked to return to the paper I did so. I owed it.

When I wrote my $200,000 column on "Hollywood Propaganda" in [March] 1994, however, I had no idea that such a harmless piece would make history. In that same year the censors and bigots of the Canadian Jewish Congress laid their complaint before the Human Rights Gestapo. Jewish groups brook no questioning of their orthodoxies.

I thought the whole thing over within a year. So I planned to leave by the end of 1995. As I wrote on December 31 of that year: "This column was to have been my swan song. I had planned to quit today and start writing The Diary of a Redneck. But the Bill 33 thing still bubbles. To leave now would be desertion in the face of the enemy."

Ever optimistic, I then thought that the Inquisition would be done with me in 1996. But the inquisitors love to keep people on the rack as long as possible, in the hope that they will plead for mercy. The process forces victims to spend fortunes on legal fees if they want a decent defence, and is a warning to others not to be too bold.

By October of 1996 it looked as though The Great Heresy Trial would not take place until I was 105. Would I live that long? So told the paper I would be leaving in March 1997, come what may. But lo, the beast in Victoria suddenly stirred. Galileo Collins would face his accusers in June, three years after committing his "offence." It would not have been proper to leave before the hearing so I hung on once more. I would not run out on the bravest publisher in the country.

My friends all knew I was planning to retire. Southam correspondent Ian Haysore also knew about it when he did a write-up on the case in May. I asked him not to reveal the secret and he didn't. Charles Maclean knew, too, but said nothing. Why the secrecy? Because if my intention had been known while the "trial" was pending it would have looked as if I were running away. I have stayed the course, no matter what you may read in the gutter press to the contrary.

Another thing: next week I will be 77. So the sneering little twit who wrote in Vancouver Magazine, falsely, that I went into the rights hearing with a smug smile on my 76-year-old face will have to add a year if he does another piece. My departure may disappoint some people. I gave them something to distort.

There will probably be another up-bubbling when Glen Clark's NDP court brings down its decision. I have little doubt what that will be, but am always willing to be surprised. I am leaving now, regardless, because the "wrongs" die is cast and I will now have to wait and see what the real courts do.

In the court of public opinion, meanwhile, it is my accusers who are seen as guilty. But that doesn't include the many freaks and mentally handicapped who write for The Vancouver Sun and Province. The man – and woman – in the street have certainly acquitted me. The mountains of letters show that. And it enrages my critics that the Defence Fund has reached $121,919. Nothing like it has been seen before.

Meanwhile, I still have two weeks in which to annoy the nice people who would like to see me hang by my heels from a hook, as would the Sun's Paula Brook, who is loyal to her tribe. I now intend to put out a book of columns, plus a book entitled Rights and Wrongs. Even if I have to publish them myself. I may be retiring, but am not quitting.

Nuremberg: King of Kangaroo Courts

There's been a lot of talk about kangaroo courts lately, but the biggest kangaroo court of all took place over 50 years ago in Nuremberg. That most of the accused Nazis were criminals there was no doubt. And in his new book, Nuremberg: The Last Battle, David Irving does not attempt to mitigate Nazi excesses.

But there is equally no doubt that it was a travesty for the victor to try the vanquished. It was like having the family of a murder victim acting as the jury. Irving doesn't use that analogy but that was what it amounted to.

When emotions rule heads, it takes time for the obvious to emerge. I was working in Germany when the trials were on, and it did not occur to me that justice could not be served that way. They had started the war, hadn't they?

But views change. Lord Shawcross recently admitted that mistakes were made. He was the British prosecutor, and has been quoted as saying it was wrong to charge Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel with a crime that had not been invented until then, namely, conspiracy to wage aggressive war. "Looking back," he said, "It was victors' justice."

Irving shows us the background to the trials, including what the prosecutors and judges were telling one another. In effect they were a team. His work will not please anyone who thinks our side had been without blemish. Francis Biddle, the American judge at the trial, stated privately that "the Germans had fought a much cleaner war at sea than we did."

He also said that Admiral Karl Dönitz was being tried "not for starting a war but for losing one."

The defense was not allowed to use evidence of Allied transgressions. Thus the Russians, especially, were protected. Yet they had murdered 15,000 Polish officers at Katyn. They claimed, of course, that it was the Germans who had committed the crime, and German officers in Russian hands were hanged for it. The other trial judges knew very well who was guilty, but said nothing publicly.

Millions of Germans had been cleared out of their ancient lands in East Prussia and Silesia, too – a massive example of "ethnic cleansing" similar to what we are now holding Serbs responsible for. And when Dachau concentration camp was liberated in 1945, soldiers of the American 157th Infantry Regiment shot 520 of the camp guards and allowed inmates to kill many others. No mention could be made of that. But mention could be made of the 53 RAF officers shot by the Gestapo after getting out of Stalag Luft III.

The book also gives the origin of the six million story, meaning the number of Jews allegedly killed in the concentration camps and elsewhere. It was first mentioned in June 1945 by the spokesman for a group of "powerful Jewish organizations" in New York, who at that time could have had little idea of the truth of such a claim. It was, states Irving, "somewhere between a hopeful estimate and an educated guess."

The American chief prosecutor, Justice Robert H. Jackson, said he had "no authenticated data" on such a figure.

Later, he did mention 5.7 million, but that was also a guess. Many figures trotted out during the trial have since been proven wildly wrong.

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, admittedly a nasty piece of work, was deprived of sleep for days, and whipped and clubbed into saying he had supervised the killing of 2.5 million people. The Jewish Field Security Sergeant (British) who arrested him was described how it took three days of torture to get Höss' first "confession." Before he was hanged, Höss said he would have made it five million if they had asked him.

Nuremberg is an important book. Even in England, however, I had to order it, and in Canada Irving's works are hard to obtain. You get one guess as to the reason. But ask your library to stock this one.

Australian Rambo Unmasked at Last

Everyone is entitled to do a bit of gloating. And it's gloat-time for Doug.

Last year I did a column on Donald Watt, an alleged Australian hero who claimed to have been a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, meaning he was a member of the special squad that stoked the crematoria there. Stoker was the title of his book, which was favorably reviewed in Australia and by Spectator magazine in London, whose reviewer thought it was the book of the year.

But I thought the story was highly unlikely. Not only about Auschwitz but also about Watt's escape stories and derring do. Given his claims, I wrote, it was a wonder he didn't win the war all by himself. "Rambo lives," I wrote.

My reasons for doubting Rambo's exploits were many. He had kept quiet about them for 40 years, not even telling his family, and his memory was jolted only when the Aussie government offered $10,000 to any of its armed forces who had landed up in concentration camps.

I know a bit about wartime Germany and escaping, and his story made little sense. None of his alleged adventures was documented, for instance. Names, dates and places were notably absent. And although he spoke not a word of German, he claimed to have traveled nearly 1,000 miles on one trip using a German identity. Mostly by train. In wartime Germany? Forget it. He also put himself up as an intrepid fellow whom the Gestapo thought worth torturing even though he was a nobody.

Fast forward to 1997 and the March 29 [1997] issue of The Weekend Australian, in which there was a whole page on Watt under the headline "Shadow of Doubt." And what do we read? That the Auschwitz part of his story has been disputed by leading Holocaust researchers in Israel, Germany, Poland and Australia. Gideon Greif of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem, stated that after reading Watt's account of Auschwitz he "could ascertain that the author was at no time a member of the Sonderkommando. Doubtful also is that under any circumstances he was a prisoner there."

Werner Renz, the librarian of the documentation department at the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt (another research group) agreed, stating that the many errors in the book show that Watt could not have been what he said he was.

Over to Franciszek Piper, director of research at the Auschwitz Museum: "There is not any source that would confirm that among the prisoners at Auschwitz there was a British citizen from Australia, particularly, that such a prisoner was a member of the Sonderkommando." "In the text of Watt's book," stated Piper further, "I noticed a string of information borrowed from literature, which is presented as experiences of the author." (Which I take to mean that it was filched from other books.) "On critical inspection," he concluded, "immediate doubts arise as to whether [the] author was really a witness of the events described."

It gets better. In my column I laughed in print about Watt's claim that he had also spent some time in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and seen its gas chambers. I knew at first hand that they did not exist. But Rambo claimed he saw Jews being taken to the gas chambers there and buried in mass graves dug by Russian POWs.

"The problem with his account," reported the newspaper, quoting Fritz Bauer and other institutions, "is that there were no gas chambers at Belsen." Asked about that, Watt at first denied he had ever written that there were any. Then he discovered he had done so. Sorry, he said in effect. "When I wrote the book after 50 years it was done from memory." He claimed he had got the one camp mixed up with the other. Which is not quite on.

The authorities who accepted Watt's story and paid him the $10,000 are sticking by their decision. But they would, wouldn't they. Watt is now refusing all interviews. But a film is being considered. Or was.

Why am I gloating? Because I was right and bigger leagues were wrong. And because after my Rambo column appeared, the usual Collins critics on the [Vancouver] North Shore leapt into the act to make fools of themselves.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Douglas Collins
Title: Retirement, 'Nuremberg' and Auschwitz 'Rambo'
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 17, no. 1 (January/February 1998), pp. 4-6; reprinted from the North Shore News, September 3, August 10, and April 20, 1997, respectively.
Published: 1997-04-20
First posted on CODOH: Jan. 7, 2013, 6 p.m.
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