The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Comment 01/29/2000

The curse of revisionism
James Dalrymple's Notebook

The Independent - London FINAL
(Copyright 2000 Newspaper Publishing PLC)

Pacing back and forth across the court, often bouncing slightly on his
heels, the historian David Irving looked like a man who could not wait to
unleash another devastating point in service of his theories concerning the
Holocaust. And when the witness he was cross- examining finally fell silent
for a moment, he practically lunged like a swordsman delivering a fatal=

"If there were no holes in the roof, there was no gas chamber," he barked,
looking around the courtroom as if waiting for signs of approval. "And the
whole story of 500,000 people being gassed in this one place rises and falls
on those holes, does it not?" The witness before him, Robert Van Pelt, a
Dutch historian who has spent years combing through the ruins of the
Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which was the subject under debate,
paused for a moment, considering his answer. "That roof has weathered badly
over 50 years," he said dismissively. "It is impossible to examine it..."

It wasn't a very strong answer, and Irving seemed satisfied that he had won
this round. During the previous hour, the two men had discussed some large,
black and white photographs of one of the Birkenau crematoriums which showed
what looked like small chimneys being placed in the roof of part of the
complex during its construction. These were Van Pelt's exhibits, aimed to
prove that holes had existed and that cyanide gas pellets could be dropped
into the underground chamber, where up to 2,000 Jewish prisoners had been
herded for slaughter.

But Irving, without a lawyer in sight and conducting his own case, seems to
be well prepared to challenge any expert thrown at him, no matter how
illustrious. He is one of the world's great discoverers of lost and
overlooked documents, one of the best diggers in the archival business.
Before him, on a 20ft-long table, he has piles of documents, photographs,
archival material and books. He even has a manual of German building
regulations, which he plans to put to good use. He had other photographs, he
said, showing the same roof and there was not a chimney in sight.

He also claimed that the roof, now collapsed, rotting and lying on the
ground, has been examined by "experts" who could find not a single hole.
Back and forth it went. Hour after hour. There were no holes, said Irving.
Indeed there were holes, contradicted the witness. The cut and thrust of
polite legal argument, just two learned historians examining the evidence
and drawing different conclusions. But still managing to behave like
gentlemen and experts.

I sat, packed in with about 50 others, in the rear of Room 73 in the London
Law Courts, listening to this and more. At the lunchtime interval, wandering
around the court building and trying to come to terms with what I was seeing
and hearing, I felt like a man in some kind of Kafkaesque dream. What was
going on here? Was this some kind of grotesque Monty Python episode?
Everybody seemed to be in such good spirits. As if they were taking part in
some kind of historical parlour game. Spot the gas chamber for 20 points.

Another day, another pile of large retainers for the lawyers and some good
copy for the hacks. Irving, once hailed as the brightest young historian of
the Second World War, is now claiming that he has been falsely discredited
and is thus unable to find a reputable publisher for his books and is
effectively ruined financially. He is suing Dr Deborah Lipstadt , also a
historian, and her publishers Penguin Books, for allegations within her book
Denying the Holocaust that Irving was a right-wing fanatic who had
"distorted, manipulated and falsified" history to show that there were no
gas chambers for humans in Auschwitz.

During the morning session, Irving repeatedly made the point that he was not
denying the existence of the Holocaust. He had never denied it. On the
contrary, he agreed fully at one point with Van Pelt's description of how
some 180,000 people had been murdered in gas vans further north at a place
called Chelmno.

However, when it came to the gigantic Auschwitz-Birkenau complex - the twin
concentration camps in the southern Polish swamps that lie at the very heart
of the Holocaust - he was not prepared, either as a man or a historian, to
accept myth and folklore in the face of provable evidence to the contrary.

For much of the time, Irving was not so much cross-examining his witness as
making one statement after another about a place that he believes to be
partly a fraud, at worst, and a Polish state-run tourist attraction, at
best. He attacked the accepted narrative of Auschwitz as the premier Nazi
killing ground, and the home of the gas chambers, without the slightest=

There were hospitals full of sick Jewish people still alive when the Red
Army arrived in 1945, weren't there? Why were they being fed and medically
treated, and why did so many survive when the Germans were killing them at
such a rate? Wasn't it a fact that the 12 tons of Zyklon- B gas, allegedly
used in the gas chambers, was simply an industrial delousing agent used in
the fight against the epidemics that repeatedly swept the camp, killing
thousands of slave workers? Why bother cleaning the clothes and beds of
people you intended to kill?

His allegations came in a great torrent of words. Van Pelt tried to give as
good as he got. For each question he gave a considered answer. He knows this
terrible place as no other human being knows it, and the previous day he had
produced an awesome phrase to sum up his years of investigative labour. "In
a map of human suffering," he said, "Auschwitz would be at the centre."

He was "absolutely certain" that at least one million people had died there
between 1942 and 1944. And he was "absolutely certain" that the gas chambers
were used to kill them.

But Irving gave him little leeway, and by late afternoon, with another
verbal flourish, he suddenly produced what might be the main witness for his
case. Not a human being - but something as mundane as the single lift- shaft
connecting the "alleged" gas chamber with the crematorium ovens above. He
called it the bottleneck. Or, as he put it, the bottleneck in the glass
timing jar. The bottleneck that would blow holes in the Auschwitz story.

Irving knows the value of a strong phrase and the silence in Court 73 seemed
to deepen as he said it. We all knew what was coming. Even the judge
murmured that he could see where this was leading. How could 500,000 bodies
- the number estimated to have died in that one crematorium - be transported
up a single lift-shaft, only about 9ft square. Irving demanded that Van Pelt
now do the arithmetic of nightmares. How much could the lift carry? 750
kilos, 1,500 kilos, 3,000 kilos? How many bodies would that be at, say 60
kilos a body? Were they in gurneys or were they just squeezed in, like
people squashed into a telephone box? How long to take each batch up to the
ovens? Ten minutes, or more, each batch? Twenty corpses at a time, or 25?

Van Pelt entered into the exercise reluctantly, and his answers were
unclear. It was not helpful to count the numbers of lift journeys, but
rather the time it took to burn each batch. In the end, no conclusion was
reached on this point. Nobody came up with a pat figure that would make such
a logistics exercise possible or impossible during the years the crematorium
was operational. But Irving repeated his phrase over and over again. The

And on the way home in the train that night, to my shame, I took out a
pocket calculator and began to do some sums. Ten minutes for each batch of
25, I tapped in. That makes 150 an hour. Which gives 3,600 for each 24-hour
period. Which gives 1,314,000 in a year. So that's fine. It could be done.
Thank God, the numbers add up.

When I realised what I was doing, I almost threw the little machine across
the compartment in rage. I remembered I had felt the same compulsive
curiosity when I saw the first "investigative" reports that said that the
Diary of Anne Frank may have been a fake. And I remembered the same relief I
felt when I did the necessary and simple research and found that every word
of this, perhaps the most famous book of the 20th century, was indeed true.

What is happening in Court 73 is more than just another libel action. And
David Irving is entitled to challenge those who he claims have defamed him.
But the case he has brought has meant something else. For the first time, in
a major British arena, we have been forced to enter the strange and
flourishing landscape that has come to be known as historical revisionism.
It is an area of study with only one subject. The Holocaust. And it is a
place where tiny flaws can be found - and magnified - in large structures,
where great truths can be tainted and wounded by small discrepancies, where
millions of dead people can be turned into a chimera. And where doubt can be
planted like seed in the wind, to grow and fester as the screams of history
grow fainter with the years.

A dark and dangerous place where even reasonable people start to do furtive
sums on pocket calculators.

Caption: David Irving arrives at the High Court where he is conducting his
own libel case against fellow historian Dr Deborah Lipstadt Haydn West

Sweden fights Holocaust ignorance
by hosting forum, sparking education

By Nina Solomin

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 30 (JTA) =97 One of the first international political=
of the new century dealt with ethics and values, rather than issues of war
and money.

That's what French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin pointed out as the most
significant legacy of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust,
which ended last Friday.

Previous Holocaust-related conferences have dealt with restitution of
Nazi-era assets, but this gathering of representatives from 46 countries
focused on education, remembrance and research. The forum ended in
declarations that nations must open their World War II-era archives, war
criminals must be prosecuted, Holocaust education must be promoted and
future attempts at genocide must be prevented.

"The world community should be tremendously grateful to Swedish Prime
Minister Goran Persson," said Yehuda Bauer of the Yad Vashem Holocaust
Memorial in Jerusalem. "This is the first time in history that heads of
states and top politicians met to discuss educational issues. It has never
happened before."

But while Persson won high praise from conference participants, some of his
fellow Swedes believe he had political motives in organizing the conference.
They suspect Persson mainly wants exposure on the international political

Once looked upon with worldwide approval for its extensive welfare system,
the "Swedish model" has been on the retreat in recent years. The Holocaust
education project offers a new platform for Sweden to regain its status as a
great moral power in the world.

"Persson's action is opportune and well timed, and completely
uncontroversial," said Swedish historian Kim Salomon.

Others dismiss such arguments as cheap shots.

"Without obvious indicators that it's all tactics, one should actually
believe in him," said Swedish author and former Deputy Prime Minister Per

Other critics said Sweden has not yet come to terms with its own actions
during World War II. It is not a secret that Swedish neutrality carried a
high moral price.

A few examples: The Swedish government allowed German forces to pass through
the country on their way to occupied Norway. Not until the end of the war,
when it was clear the Allies would win, did Sweden actively start its
refugee aid.

Sweden was one of the countries that asked the Germans to put a "J" in the
passport of Jews to be able to sort out those refugees.

Before the conference, Persson declared that his government will promote and
support research on this era in Swedish history.

He also dedicated about $5 million to promote Jewish culture, identity and
history. The money will be used for a Jewish college in Stockholm.

Many speakers during the conference stressed the importance of learning from
the Holocaust to prevent other attempts at "ethnic cleansing," referring to
what happened in Rwanda, Kosovo and Bosnia in recent years.

"I am absolutely convinced that continued Holocaust education and awareness
will continue to raise our sensitivity and consciousness to mass slaughters
and genocide, and impel us to prevent them or try to stop them as early as
possible," said Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. deputy treasury secretary, who
represented the United States in the negotiations leading up to a $5.2
billion German compensation fund for Nazi-era slave and forced laborers.

Eizenstat also emphasized the importance of nations opening up their
Nazi-era archives to scrutiny.

"There is simply no excuse for any country or institution at this point not
fully declassifying their archives and their documentation," Eizenstat said.

Conference participants discussed not only the prosecution of aging Nazis
and their collaborators, but also those who deny the genocide ever occurred.
Irvin Cotler, an expert in human rights law, said Holocaust deniers should
be brought to justice.

"This is not a matter of free speech. They are engaged in an international
criminal conspiracy to cover up the biggest crime in history. They are
undermining the very values of free speech," Cotler said.

Neo-Nazi activity in Sweden, once considered a problem mainly for the Jewish
community, has gotten a lot of attention in the past 12 months.

Last spring theater director Lars Noren caused a huge debate when he used
convicted neo-Nazis as amateur actors in a play in which they were allowed
to express their racist ideology on stage. The story took an ironic but
tragic twist when the actors used their rehearsals outside a jail as an
opportunity to plan a robbery, which resulted in a police officer's death.

Also, there was a bomb attack on a journalist covering neo-Nazis in Sweden,
and a union member in Stockholm was shot to death after he had publicly
opposed the possible membership of a neo-Nazi.

Lack of knowledge among Swedes about the Holocaust was what Persson said had
spurred the Stockholm conference, along with his "Living History" project, a
national campaign to enlighten people about the Holocaust.

Persson had cited a survey that showed every third high school student in
Sweden wasn't sure whether the Holocaust had taken place. Soon afterward, a
booklet about the history of the Holocaust was distributed free to anyone
interested. Schools were provided with extensive educational material.

A short time later, however, it was revealed that the survey's numbers had
been misinterpreted and lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among
schoolchildren was not so widespread. But by then the project was already
under way.

It led to the creation of a nine-country Task Force for International
Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research that helps
train teachers to teach the Holocaust.

At the suggestion of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie
Wiesel, there will be an annual conference on "Conscience and Humanism" in

"I don't know what your role will be in Swedish history, but I know what it
will be in Jewish history," Wiesel told Persson in his opening remarks at
the conference. "It will be glorious."


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