Posts Tagged ‘Sobibor’

Conspiracy Book’s Debunking of Holocaust Denial

September 16, 2018

The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups: The 100 Most Disturbing Conspiracies of All Time, Jon E. Lewis (London: Constable & Robinson 2007).

As the book’s cover tells you, this is a popular treatment of 100 assorted conspiracies, ranging from the assassination of JFK, 9/11, the Da Vinci Code, the death of Princess Diana, the Men In Black of UFO lore, the belief that Roosevelt knew about the coming Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour?, the Illuminati, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and so on. It’s a selection of conspiracies and conspiracy theories that were current at the end of the 1990s and early part of the 21st centuries.

As you might expect of a popular work of this size, the individual chapters tend to be brief. Many are only about two or three pages long, and so this isn’t an in depth examination of them by any means. Most of these theories are absolutely spurious, and so get properly debunked. Most, but not all. Some conspiracies, like the Iran-Contral scandal and the Masonic lodge P2, which was deeply involved in Italian Fascism, the Mafia and had connections to the CIA.

Lewis writes in his introduction that his aim has been to understand and treat the conspiracy theories objectively, to find which are true, and which aren’t.

Hostility to conspiracy theory is as useless in understanding the world as an indiscriminate acceptance of it. The task, surely, is to disentangle the mad and bad conspiracies from those that illuminate the darkened, secret corners of power. To this end The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups takes a considered, objective scalpel to one hundred of the most compelling conspiracy theories of modern times. The theories are arranged alphabetically, assessed and interrogated. Where appropriate, the relevant documents are reproduced, and details of where to look to find out more are listed. Each conspiracy theory is assigned an “Alert Level” rating indicating its likely veracity. (p. 3).

One conspiracy theory that the book thoroughly debunks is Holocaust denial, discussed on pages 180-2. The first two paragraphs briefly state what it was, and how its existence is supported by a mountain of very trustworthy evidence.

The Holocaust is the name given to the extermination of some six million Jews and other “undesirables” by the Third Reich of Germany between 1933 and 1945. To industrialise the genocide process, the Nazis purpose-built a number of death camps such as Auschwitz, which gassed the Jews in batches; most victims, however, simply died of malnourishment in concentration camps. In occupied Eastern Europe, from where more than five million Jews were taken, special SS killing squads, Einsatzgruppen, sometimes shot Jews in situ.

A wide spread of sources confirms the nature and extent of the Holocaust: the thousandfold testimonies of camp survivors; film and photographs taken by Allied reporters as the camps were liberated in 1945; the confession by Auschwitz SS camp commandant Rudolf Hoss; the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann in 1960-2 and his sentencing to death for “crimes against humanity”. But all of this is dispute by a number of historians and politicians, who speculate that the Holocaust, if it happened at all, was on at most a minor scale. (p. 180).

It then goes on to discuss David Hoggan and his The Myth of the Six Million, one of the earliest and most influential books pushing the lie that the Holocaust never happened. Hoggan claimed in it that the Jews had falsely accused the Germans of genocide in order to gain reparations. This set the pattern for later works, claiming that the Jews had made it up either to gain money or international sympathy. It was the latter which led the United Nations to look kindly on the creation of Israel as a Jewish homeland. The book notes that from 1970s, the most prominent mouthpiece for Holocaust denial in the US has been the Institute for Holocaust Review, led by the neo-Nazi Willis Carto. Publications from the Institute and similar organisations in the US speculate that the gas chambers at Auschwitz weren’t there to kill Jews, but to kill the lice they carried. There are many versions of Holocaust denial. One of these is that there was indeed an extermination of the Jews during the Nazi occupation, but that this was small and not official Nazi policy. This was the view of the notorious David Irving, who claimed that the Nazis were too busy fighting the war to organize the mass extermination of the Jews, and that Hitler was unaware of it.

The chapter goes on to describe how Irving’s version of the Holocaust and Hitler’s involvement was challenged by Deborah Lipstadt in her 1993, Denying the Holocaust. This accused Irving of anti-Semitism and distorting evidence. Irving sued her and her British publisher, Penguin, for libel. Lipstadt and Penguin defended themselves by hiring the Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, who then went through Irving’s works. He found that Irving had deliberately used unreliable documentation. One such was the report made by Fred Leuchter, who designed gas chambers for the American prison service. Leuchter stated that he found no significant deposits of cynanide at Auschwitz. However, this was in 1988, nearly 40 years after the camp was used and Leuchter himself was not trained in forensics. Evans also found that Irving also expressed very anti-Semitic sentiments in his books, such as calling Jews ‘the scum of humanity’. The court found in Lipstadt’s favour, with the judge declaring Irving to be ‘an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semite and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism’.

The chapter also makes it clear that Hitler knew very well what was going on. He knew its scope even if he didn’t know all the details about every train of victims going to Sobibor. He set the agenda for the Holocaust, as shown in his speeches. In 1939, for example, he declared

If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war, the result will be … the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. (p. 181.)

Fifteen other leading Nazis attended the Wannsee conference in 1942, which was held outside Berlin on how the extermination of the Jews could best be arranged. The meeting was minuted, and its protocols used to incriminate those present.

The chapter concludes

The Holocaust happened. Most reputable historians put the lower limit of Jews, gypsies, Romanies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled and the mentally ill exterminated by the Nazis at five million. The upper limit is as high as 11 million.

In 1979 the Institute for Historical Review offered a $50,000 reward to anybody who “could prove that the Nazis operated gas chambers to terminate Jews”. Mel Marmelstein, an Auschwitz survivor, forwarded to the IHR affidavits concerning the fate of his family in Auschwitz plus other documentation, and duly claimed his money. When the IHR failed to give him the $50,000 he sued. The court awarded him the $50,000 plus an extra $40,000 for distress. In other words, the leading outfit for Holocaust denial, giving it its best shot, could not convince a neutral jury of its case. (p. 182).

The book properly gives Holocaust denial an alert level of zero, as it is a completely false conspiracy theory.

It also has a short bibliography, which includes the following two books debunking Holocaust denial:

Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, 1993; and

Michael Shermer, Alex Grobman and Arthur Hertzberg, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, 2002.

Seumas Milne on the Dangers of Conservative Propaganda in the History of Communism

May 11, 2014

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One of the most provocative articles in Seumas Milne’s book The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century (London: Verso 2013) is the piece ‘Communism May Be Dead, But Clearly Not Dead Enough’. The book is a collection of Milne’s articles for the Guardian. In this piece, Milne comments on the demands by the Swedish Conservative MP, Goran Lindblad, that the EU launch an anti-Communist campaign to remind people of the horrors of the Communist regimes across Europe. Milne sees the campaign less as a genuine attack on Communism as Conservative propaganda to deter any radical questioning of European liberal capitalism by presenting the Communist tyrannies of eastern Europe as its outcome. He also notes the connection between colonialism and Nazism, showing that the genocidal policies the Nazis adopted towards the Jews were first used in Africa against its indigenous peoples. The Belgian rule in the Congo similarly resulted in the deaths of millions, while up to a million Algerians were killed by the French in their war for independence. Milne’s piece goes as follows:

Fifteen years after communism was officially pronounced dead, its spectre seems once again to be haunting Europe. Last month, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the ‘crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’, linking them with Nazism and complaining that Communist parties are still ‘legal and active in some countries’. Now Goran Lindblad, the conservative Swedish MP behind the resolution, wants to go further. Demands that European ministers launch a continent-wide anti-communist campaign – including school textbook revisions, official memorial days and museums – only narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Yesterday, declaring himself delighted at the first international condemnation of this ‘evil ideology’, Lindblad pledged to bring the wider plans back to the Council of Europe in the coming months.

He has chosen a good year for his ideological offensive: this is the fiftieth anniversary of Khrushchev’s denunciation of the cult of Stalin and the subsequent Hungarian uprising, which will doubtless be the cue for further excoriation of the communist record. The ground has been well laid by a determined rewriting of history since the collapse of the Soviet Union that has sought to portray twentieth-century communist leaders as monsters equal to or surpassing Hitler in their depravity – and communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of history’s bloodiest era. The latest contribution was last year’s bestselling biography of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, keenly endorsed by George Bush and dismissed by China specialists as ‘bad history’ and ‘misleading’.

Paradoxically, given that there is no communist government left in Europe outside Moldova, the attacks have if anything become more extreme as time has gone on. A clue as to why that might be can be found in the rambling report by Lindblad that led to the Council of Europe declaration. Blaming class struggle and public ownership, he explained that ‘different elements of communist ideology such as equality or social justice still seduce many’ and ‘a sort of nostalgia for communism is still alive’. Perhaps the real problem for Lindblad and his right-wing allies in eastern Europe is that communism is not dead enough – and they will only be content when they have driven a stake through its heart and buried it at the crossroads at midnight.

The fashionable attempt to equate communism and Nazism is in reality a moral and historical nonsense. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Sobibor or Treblinka, no death camps built to murder millions. And while Hitler launched the most devastating war in history at a cost of more than fifty million lives, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Lindblad and the Council of Europe adopt as fact the wildest estimates of those ‘killed by communist regimes’ (mostly in famines) from the fiercely contested Black Book of Communism, which also underplays the number of deaths attributable to Hitler. The real records of repression now available from the Soviet archives are horrendous enough (799,455 people were reported to have been executed between 1921 and 1953, and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million at its peak) without engaging in an ideologically fuelled inflation game.

But in any case, none of this explains why anyone might be nostalgic in former communist states, now enjoying the delights of capitalist restoration. The dominant account gives no sense of how communist regimes renewed themselves after 1956, or why Western leaders feared they might overtake the capitalist world well into the 1960s. For its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment, captured even by critical films and books of the post-Stalin era such as Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble and Anatoli Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat. Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the West, boosted the anti-colonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination.

It would be easier to take the Council of Europe’s condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonialism – which only finally came to an end in the 1970s. This was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin’s time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism. The terms Lebensraum and Konzentrationslager were both first used by the German colonial regime in South West Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.

Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early twentieth century; tens of millions perished in avoidable or regime-enforced famines in British-ruled Indian; up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history. Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe – nor over the impact of European intervention in the third world since decolonisation. Presumably, European lives count for more.

No major modern political tradition is without blood on its hands, but conflicts over history are more about the future than the past. Part of the current enthusiasm in official Western circles for dancing on the grave of communism is no doubt about relations with today’s Russia and China. But it also reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new capitalist order – and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering and bloodshed. With the new imperialism now being resisted in both the Muslim world and Latin America, growing international demands for social justice and escalating doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for political and social alternative will increase. The particular form of society developed by twentieth-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures. (pp. 89-90).

I’ve no problems equating the evils of Stalinist Communism with Nazi Germany. It didn’t launch a policy of deliberate extermination, but the millions it murder through forced labour, artificial famine and the deportation of whole nations to Siberia are terrible enough. About 30 million are believed to have been killed by Stalin, though victims’ groups have criticised this, and the true number may be much higher, about 45 million. Occasionally you hear the argument that Communism was worse than the Nazis, as they only murdered 11 1/2 – 12 million people in the concentration camps, of which the largest single group were six million Jews. This again may be an underestimate. I’ve seen on transatlantic Conservative blogs the argument that recent research suggests that 20 million Jews may have been murdered under the Third Reich, including those massacred by Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in occupied Eastern Europe. It also ignores the fact that if the Nazis had won, they planned on working to death the Slavonic peoples of the occupied territories, exterminating Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Belo-Russians, Czech and Slovaks.

The actual numbers of indigenous peoples killed during European colonialism is still very controversial because of the way it directly touches on the questions of anti-racism, pluralism, racial equality and national pride in European countries today. Salman Rushdie once said that the British really didn’t know about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. He’s right. Few Brits really understand British imperial history, its achievements and atrocities, because it so far away on other continents. Moreover, those involved managed to cover up and hide many – but not all by any means – atrocities. It has only been in the last year or two that the state documents on the Mao Mao rebellion have been declassified. And until the publication a few years ago of Victorian Holocausts, I doubt many people realised that the British imperial government at the end of the 19th century had engineered – or refused to act against – famines in India and across the Empire as part of a deliberate ideological campaign to create an international system of free trade. This all needs to be taken into account, as well as the horrors of the Communist regimes. But his point that Conservatives are demanding the particular memorialisation of the victims and horrors of the Communist regimes in order to prevent radical campaigns against the current Neoliberal capitalist order is also certainly true. Some of the groups that are most vociferous in their condemnation of the Communist regimes are Conservatives, for whom any attack on free market capitalism is tantamount to Communism. They have to be criticised and combatted in order for a juster economic and social order, which gives the poor more freedom, can be created.