Speaking about Satan

A note on Yehuda Bauer's foreword to Filip Müller's "Three Years in the Gas Chambers"
Published: 2008-07-07

Yehuda Bauer was born in Prague in 1926. In 1939, he and his family migrated to Palestine. After fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Bauer completed a degree in history, and in 1960 he received his doctorate. Bauer was a founding editor of Journal for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and also served on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust published by Yad Vashem in 1990. In 1998 he received the Israel Prize, and in 2001 he was elected a member of the Israeli Academy of Science. Bauer is regarded as one of the foremost living (exterminationist) Holocaust historians. He is the author of numerous books dealing with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, including Trends in Holocaust Research (1977), Jewish foreign policy during the Holocaust (1984), Is the Holocaust explicable? (1990), and Rethinking the Holocaust (2001). One might therefore (adopting the mindset of the general public) assume Bauer to be capable of making qualified, insightful and non-polemical comments on Holocaust-related issues.

In 1979, Bauer wrote a foreword to the first English language edition of “Sonderkommando” eyewitness Filip Müller’s book Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers (Stein and Day, New York): a dazzling, true to G-d tale about pits full of sizzling human fat, corpses incinerated at express speed, munchies in the gas chamber, greenish-blue Zyklon B “crystals”, buckets jumping about due to the contractions of cut-off human tissue, beautiful naked girls preventing the author from committing suicide (so that he may bear witness of the truth), and much more. This book was also exhaustively referenced to by Raul Hilberg in his 1985 revised edition of The Destruction of the European Jews (as noted by revisionist Jürgen Graf in his critique The Giant With Feet of Clay).

So what does Bauer write about Müller’s astounding book? To begin with, it is very apparent that Bauer regards it as a highly significant contribution to Holocaust literature. The book “is a unique document”, Bauer writes; “it is the testimony of the only man who saw the Jewish people die and lived to tell what he saw.” Müller is thus not simply one eyewitness out of many, but a superior kind of eyewitness who has produced a unique testimony on his alleged experiences; a fate-stricken scribe chronicling the destruction of his people. Indeed, his book is the “shattering, centrally important testimony of the sole survivor of the whole span of the murder operations of the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing centre, of the anus mundi.” Regarding the style of writing Bauer states that Müller “tells the story in simple, straightforward language”, as well as with “no embellishment, no deviation.” According to the Israeli historian, Eyewitness Auschwitz is “not a work of art” but “a testimony”. Thus if Bauer is to be trusted the book is not fiction of some sort, but a factual retelling of actually transpired events observed by the author. But what are we to make of passages such as this (pp. 46-47):

“After their execution the chosen bodies were laid on a table. The doctors proceeded to cut pieces of still warm flesh from thighs and calves and threw them into waiting receptacles. The muscles of those who had been shot were still working and contracting, making the bucket jump about.”

Or the absurd capacity ascribed to the coke-fired crematory ovens (p. 16):

“The powers that be had allocated twenty minutes for the cremation of three corpses [in one oven muffle]. It was Stark’s duty to see to it that this time was strictly adhered to.”

Or the following description of Müller’s failed attempt to commit suicide in the gas chamber (pp. 113-114):

“Suddenly a few girls, naked and in the full bloom of youth, came up to me. They stood in front of me without a word, gazing at me in deep thought and shaking their heads uncomprehendingly. At last one of them plucked up courage and spoke to me: ‘’We understand that you have chosen to die with us of your own free will, and we have come to tell you that we think your decision pointless: for it helps no one.’ She went on: ‘We must die, but you still have a chance to save your life. You have to return to the camp and tell everybody about our last hours,’ she commanded. […] I was surprised and strangely moved by her cool and calm detachment in the face of death, and also by her sweetness. Before I could make an answer to her spirited speech, the girls took hold of me and dragged me protesting to the door of the gas chamber. There they gave me a last push which made me land bang in the middle of the group of SS men.”

All of this transpiring in a supposedly jam packed gas chamber with armed guards standing around outside! Yet in spite of the numerous similar nonsensical, absurd and blatantly propagandistic statements found throughout the book, Bauer maintains that Müller is a superior witness:

“Müller is neither a historian nor a psychologist; he does not analyze or dissect. But what he tells is of tremendous importance to both.”

The book apparently transcends ordinary testimony, becoming something of a religious or metaphysical revelation:

“This is a vital testimony, and it will undoubtedly serve as an element in attempting to approach understanding the dread that was Auschwitz, although none of us that were not there can cross the threshold of knowledge.”

This clearly echoes Elie Wiesel’s papal proclamation that “The Holocaust is a holy mystery, the secret of which is limited to the circle of the priesthood of survivors” (Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, p. 211). Bauer for his part does not hesitate to identify Hitler’s Germany as darkness incarnated, and implicitly World War Two as a struggle against an Absolute Evil, in the deceptively human shape of the SataNazis:

“He saw a civilization being destroyed by devils in ordinary, human form. He not only saw the martyrs, he spoke to Satan. […] This unembellished telling is a terrible accusation against God and humanity.”

The implicit hero and symbol of Absolute Good in this great tale is of course “G-d’s chosen people”, the Six Million Shoah Martyrs. Such is the underlying “thinking” of world-renowned Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer. No wonder then that he can swallow any wild tale (provided it is kosher). This uncritical attitude is especially evident in Bauer’s remark on the Auschwitz victim figure:

“It is not known exactly how many people were murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers, but the estimates run around three and a half million.”

Raul Hilberg stated in his The Destruction of the European Jews (originally published in 1961) that 1,250,000 people, whereof 1 million Jews, perished at Auschwitz. In 1953 Gerald Reitlinger estimated the same number to between 800.000 and 900.000 (The Final Solution, p. 500). In 1951 French-Jewish historian Léon Poliakov appreciated the number of Auschwitz victims to 2 million, a figure later used also by his colleagues George Wellers (1973) and Lucy Davidowicz (The War Against the Jews, 1975). By 1983, Wellers had lowered his figure to 1.471.595. In 1982 Yehuda Bauer himself vaguely estimated the figure to between 2 and 4 million (A History of the Holocaust, p. 215), only to lower this to 1,600,000 in 1989 (The Jerusalem Post, September 22, 1989, p. 6). That in 1979 a leading authority in the field with no apparent ties to the Soviet Union spoke of between three and four million Auschwitz victims should tell us something about the intellectual integrity and mentality of Holocaust historians. But Bauer is no ordinary historian, he is addition something of a philosopher, criticizing our western civilization while providing a reliable solution to our problems:

“We must contend with Filip Müller's testimony, if we want our civilization to survive.”

What kind of civilization, we make ask ourselves, is it that rests on a fundament such as Three Years in the Gas Chambers? Is it the civilization of Aristotle, Voltaire and Nietzsche, or that of Freud, Marcuse, and Elie Wiesel?

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Author(s): Thomas Kues
Title: Speaking about Satan, A note on Yehuda Bauer's foreword to Filip Müller's "Three Years in the Gas Chambers"
Published: 2008-07-07
First posted on CODOH: July 5, 2008, 7 p.m.
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