…by Jonas E. Alexis
Michael Shermer, quoting Carl Sagan’s essay “The Burden of Skepticism,” writes at the beginning of Why People Believe Weird Things:
“If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.)
“But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.
“On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.”
So far, so good. Yet when it comes to questioning the claims that have been made by the Holocaust establishment, Shermer attacks those who use their skeptical skills, particularly the very people he called “Holocaust deniers.”
Shermer still believes that the Jewish soap story was probably done on a small scale, even though the claim has been completely abandoned by Jewish historians themselves.
It is safe to say that Michael Shermer only applies skepticism when it does not challenge his ideological substratum. He seems to be skeptical about UFO and what he calls “other confusions of our time,” but Shermer is not skeptical about the soap story, even though he provides not a single substantial evidence for it.
Shermer and Grobman write, “There is some evidence that at a site near the camp at Stutthof (about twenty-miles east of Gdansk [Danzig]) the Nazis may have manufactured soap from human remains.” The evidence?
Listen very carefully: “Cakes are on display at the museum there and witnesses have testified that soap was made at Stutthof from the fat of dead persons. At the war crime Sigmund Mazur, laboratory assistant at the Danzig Atomic Institute, testified that the institute conducted experiments in producing soap from human bodies.”
If Cakes are on display, therefore it must be true. And if Sigmund Mazur testified, there must be some truth to the story.
Shermer and his co-author certainly ought to talk to Yehuda Bauer and other leading Jewish historians on this issue. This is probably the only way that will help them kick their soap-story addiction. As David Irving puts it, “Why the Nazis should have wanted to rub their faces in the boiled-down detritus of their sworn enemies remains an imponderable mystery.”
Irving, on the other hand, pursues the skeptical enquiry to its historical limit.
For example, when Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer was published, it was Irving who sat down with the author and asked him key questions deep questions. Irving quickly discovered that the “memoirs” were heavily influenced by outside forces. Irving writes:
“Albert Speer’s memoir Inside the Third Reich made him a personal fortune after the West Berlin firm of Propyläen published the book in 1969. The volume earned him wide respect for his disavowal of Hitler. Some critics were however puzzled that the American edition differed substantially from the German original Erinnerungen and the British edition. I learned the truth from the horse’s mouth, being one of the first writers to interview Speer after his release from Spandau prison in 1966.
“The former Reichsminister spent an afternoon reading out loud to me from his draft memoirs. The book subsequently published was very different, having been written, he explained, by my own in-house editor at the Ullstein publishing house (Annette Engel née Etienne), by their chief editor Wolf-Jobst Siedler, and by historian Joachim Fest, editor of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Miss Etienne confirmed this.
“When I challenged Speer in private at a Frankfurt publishing dinner in October 1979 to publish his original memoirs, he replied rather wistfully that he wished he could: ‘That would be impossible. That manuscript was quite out of keeping with the modern nuances. Even the captions to the chapters would have caused difficulties.’
“A courageous Berlin author, Matthias Schmidt, later published a book exposing the Speer legend and the ‘memoirs’; but it is the latter volume which the lazy gentlemen of my profession have in their libraries, not Schmidt’s…
“It was symptomatic of Speer’s truthfulness to history that while he was in Spandau he paid for the entire wartime diaries of his office (Dienststelle) to be retyped, omitting the more unfortunate passages, and donated these faked documents to the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz.
“My comparison of the 1943 volume, housed in the original in British Cabinet Office archives, with the Bundesarchiv copy made this plain, and Matthias Schmidt also reveals the forgery.”
After more than twenty years of digging in the archives, asking important questions, talking to people who knew Hitler personally, and even reading the diaries of those close to Hitler, Irving admits that Hitler is still a puzzle.
Yet Irving persuasively argues that contemporary history is not going to solve that puzzle if it keeps positing extraordinary claims without documentation and evidence, based solely on what contemporary historians wished had happened or what political correctness will accept.
Whatever Irving may believe in private, one has to judge his books on the basis of historical accuracy, consistency, and honesty. His methodology is far more historically rigorous and intellectually satisfying than quoting an opinion without robust evidence; this methodology was even acknowledged by historians such as Dennis E. Showalter when Hitler’s War was first published in 1977.
If Irving’s critics want to take him seriously, they have to debunk him through counterevidence from what Irving claims to know best—documented accounts from primary sources. If they cannot do that, then Irving will continue to justify his claim that conformist historians—or “traditional enemy of the truth”—are not interested in finding out what Nazi Germany was all about.
For example, to debunk Irving’s claim that the archives suggest Hitler did not know about this alleged “Final Solution,” Michael Shermer summons Raul Hilberg to say that Irving was completely wrong. Were Hilberg and Shermer able to prove this point from the archives? No.
Shermer could have proved Irving wrong by going through the archives since Irving, throughout Hitler’s War, gives the exact location of his sources, but Shermer took the easy route by talking to like-minded people like Hilberg.
Shermer could have done better: he could have asked Hilberg to cite archival documents proving his conclusion. Shermer did not go that far. Hilberg said it, and Shermer, the skeptic, believed him. (This same question was posed to Hilberg in court but he was unable to prove his point. More on that later in a future article.)
Historians, when they want to be honest and consistent, cannot dismiss Irving too quickly. Even Richard J. Evans knows this. As previously suggested, before the Irving-Lipstadt trial, Evans wrote that Irving
“knows an enormous amount about Hitler and his entourage and his immediate circle in the second world war and their conduct of military affairs, and over the years he’s dug up through contacts and through sheer energy and diligence enormous amounts of new documentation of varying interest and importance, but some of it is undeniably important.”
So if some of Irving’s documents are “undeniably important,” how is it that everything he ever published is now “worthless”? I contacted Evans and pointed this obvious contradiction to him, but he stood by the latter position.
It is safe to say that Evans is motivated by an ideology when it comes to examining serious issues about Nazi Germany. Evans, Christopher Browning, among other historians, were paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to testify in court that Irving is a fraud.
It is stunning to read that on a theoretical level, on many occasions Evans abides by the historical method. He writes,
“In teaching undergraduates and graduate students alike, university historians’ primary aim is to get them to adopt a critical and questioning attitude to the books and articles they read, including their own.”
“Historical writing as well as teaching makes a point of conveying the provisional and uncertain nature of interpretation and the need to test it constantly against the source materials used as evidence in its favor.” Evans also implies that primary sources are important.
Why shouldn’t that method be applied to key aspects of Nazi Germany? Evans is right in line with historical inquiry by saying that “the past does impose its reality through the sources in a basic way. At the most elementary level, one cannot simply read into documents words that are not there.”
Evans moves on to say (and this is very important): “It is highly dangerous to make objectivity in this sense dependent on the existence of the scholarly community. There was, after all, a scholarly community in Germany in the 1920s which remained in existence, largely unaltered in personnel and ideology, under Hitler’s Third Reich.”
Whether he likes it or not, Evans is on the same page with Irving here. Irving for years has been saying that the historical community needs to stop quoting itself to back up its extraordinary claims; instead, it needs to start digging into the archives for reliable sources.
In writing Hitler’s War, Irving did what professional historians should have done: he dug into military records and archives; gained the confidence of Hitler’s close associates; read original manuscripts and memoirs; read the memoirs of Hitler’s manservants such as Karl Wilhelm Krause; read the handwritten memoirs of Himmler’s intelligence chief, Walter Schellenberg; and read unpublished diaries and private letters of dozens of people around Hitler.
Irving even learned German in order to decode those documents. Irving has done his homework. After years of research, Irving saw that many claims made about Nazi Germany are either propaganda or completely false.
What was astonishing to Irving was that many historians who wrote lengthy biographies of Hitler do not even check the archives to see what they actually reveal. Joachim Fest is a classic example. The National Archives in Washington “houses by far the largest collection of records relating to recent European history,” but Fest admitted that he has never been there.
Let me say in passing that Evans’ In Defense of History is a good read and needs to be recognized as such. Yet he does not want to apply what he writes to real history, because political expediency does not allow the archives to speak for themselves.
In that sense, many historians become popular because they abandon what historiographical research requires. As Irving puts it, “A historian has no duty to be popular. It is difficult sometimes to be true to the historical record and popular at the same time.” This is right in line with what the Greek rhetorician and satirist Lucian said about history. It is pertinent to cite him one more time,
“Well, my historian should be like that: fearless, incorruptible, frank, a friend of free speech and the truth, determined, as the comic poet puts it, to call figs figs and a tub a tub, indulging neither hatred nor friendship, sparing nobody, not showing pity or shame or diffidence, an unbiased judge, kindly to everyone up to the point of not allowing one side more than it deserves, a stranger without a stake in his writings, independent, serving no king, not taking into account what any man will think, but simply saying what happened.”
Some historians choose the easy route, while Irving refuses to do so. This has cost him a great deal, even prison time, and he has been denied entrance to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and South Africa.
Groups have pressured libraries to take Irving’s books off the shelves, and some students in Europe have been penalized in academic papers for citing Irving’s works.
In other words, since historical inquiry, discussion, and research do not help the Holocaust establishment in Europe, the best method is to get rid of those books and put their author in prison.
Irving, of course, cannot be placed behind bars in America because of our freedom of expression. But the best way to dismiss him is to denigrate his work. Aaron Breitbart of the Simon Wiesenthal Center declares that people like Irving “murder history.”
Foundations of the Holocaust Establishment
Michael Shermer argues that Holocaust historians base their arguments on key foundations: a convergence of evidence made by eyewitnesses, documents, photographs, and physical evidence. Totally flimsy.
There was a “convergence of evidence” showing that people were gassed at Belsen, Dachau, and other places; there was a “convergence of evidence” showing that the Nazis used Jewish fat to make soap. Alleged eyewitnesses were summoned, supposed documents were used, photographs were forged, and physical evidence was fabricated.
Those claims were made by a wide range of Jewish organizations, including Simon Wiesenthal. These stories, particularly the soap story, spread like wildfire in Poland, Slovakia, and even Germany. Walter Laqueur himself declares that the story was so popular that “by July 1942 rumours were rife all over Eastern Europe that Jews were killed in great numbers and ‘boiled into soap.’”
Yet it took Jewish historian Walter Laqueur years to declare that the soap story was demonstrably false. And Laqueur could never tell us how the story turned out to be false. He simply says that “It emerged after the war that the story was in fact untrue.”
We see the same methodology in Shermer and Grobman’s Denying History. They declare that “most historians do not believe [the soap story]. Deniers exploit this confusion, claiming it is a clear example of Holocaust myth-making, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and poor historiography.”
Shermer knows very well that “Holocaust deniers” are not the only ones to say that eyewitness testimony in this case is not enough to establish an extraordinary claim. As we saw in a previous article, it is also the position of many experts in the field.
Shermer could never tell us how most historians came to dismiss the soap story. Moreover, if the soap story is not a historical fact, could it be called a myth or a story that has no historical backup? We also have already seen the inconsistencies among alleged eyewitnesses.
No serious Holocaust historian believes that there is a “convergence of evidence” among eyewitnesses anymore. Yes, there is a convergence of contradictory evidence, as we saw in the case of Frank Walus.
Consider Paul Rassinier, a French anti-Nazi history and geography teacher who smuggled Jewish refugees into Switzerland. Rassinier was captured by the Nazis in 1943 and sent to Buchenwald. When the war was over, he was released and returned to France, where he was awarded the highest decoration from the French government.
Rassinier, however, was appalled at some of the claims being propagated. Although he hated the Nazi policies, he knew that there was no evidence showing that people were being gassed. He figured that he had to dispel many of the sweeping statements which were being made about the concentration camps.
Christopher Hitchens Defended David Irving
When David Irving was arrested in Austria, it was the late Christopher Hitchens stood up to defend him. Arresting Irving, Hitchens declares in the Wall Street Journal, is a “disgrace.” Hitchens pointed out that it is perfectly rational and legitimate to criticize religious belief and historical events, and one should not be placed in a cell for doing so.
Not only that, Hitchens wrote that Irving “is in fact not a ‘denier,’ but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress ‘denial’ faction. The pages on Goebbels, as in his books on Dresden, Churchill and Hitler, contain some highly important and damning findings from his work in the archives of the Third Reich.”
Perhaps Hitchens should have debated those issues with Shermer and Lipstadt.
Hitchens, writing in 2001 in the Los Angeles Times, declared that “the Holocaust has become a secular religion, with state support in the form of a national museum.”
It seems that saying things like these would invoke cries of anti-Semitism, but Hitchens moves on to say that his mother’s family was of German and Polish Jewish descent and his wife’s family produced an Auschwitz survivor. Foreseeing that this preface would ease his statements, Hitchens further declared, “I look forward to a time when I won’t feel any need to mention this.”
Hitchens continued, implying that it was “revisionists” who first made it clear that 1) there were no gas chambers at Belsen or Dachau or Buchenwald; 2) the Nazis did not turn Jews into soap; and 3) Rudolf Hoess’ “confession” “was extracted by force.”
If a person wants to remain a serious historian, he has to abide by these historical facts now recognized by a wide range of World War II historians. This, according to Hitchens, leads to the conclusion that much of the “eyewitness” testimony is propaganda. “Eyewitness” testimony was also responsible for propagating the idea that John Demjanjuk was at Treblinka, but an Israeli court found that claim untrue.
Moroever, Hitchens said, “much of the evidence presented and accepted at Nuremburg was spurious.” For example, during the trial, the Nazis were blamed by the Soviet and Allied judges for the massacre that happened at Katyn in Poland, but all reputable historians know by now that Stalin was responsible for this.
Yet because the United States was right in line with Stalin during World War II, the U.S. knew very well about the incident in Katyn, but hid the evidence until it was revealed in 2012 in documents stored at the National Archives.
Hitchens said that Irving has a “sneaking sympathy for fascism,” but states that “his work on the bombing of Dresden, on the inner functioning of the Churchill government and on the mentality of the Nazi generals was invaluable. He changed sides on the issue of the Hitler diaries, but his intervention was crucial to their exposure as a pro-Nazi fabrication. His knowledge of the German language was the envy of his rivals.”
Although Hitchens believes that Irving’s work, like other historians, is not flawless, and faults Irving on many occasions, he concluded, “1st Amendment. This culture has assumed several great responsibilities. It sponsored the Nuremberg trials, with all their peaks and troughs of evidence. It has elevated the Holocaust into a universal moral example.” Princeton Jewish historian Arno J. Mayer said something similar.
I disagree with Hitchens on many issues, but he was more open-minded here than Shermer and Lipstadt.
My final View on Irving
I have said for years that Irving made a cardinal mistake when he sued Lipstadt, for there was no way he would have come out victorious, particularly when organized Jewry was pouring millions of dollars on the case. Even Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg donated thousands of dollars. (Jim W. Dean told me that Irving did admit that it was indeed a mistake to sue Lipstadt.)
Lipstadt admits that when Rabbi Herbert Friedman heard about the case, he pulled Lipstadt aside and said, “It’s time to get organized. Irving set his sights on you, but it’s the entire Jewish community and historical truth that he is aiming at.”
In a similar vein, Leslie Wexner, chairman and CEO of Limited Brands, declared, “This is not Deborah’s issue. It’s our issue.” Lipstadt declared that Wexner “then relayed a message to me that I was not to worry about funds…All this was done quietly and without any publicity or fanfare.”
In my opinion, Irving should have written a book disproving the major edifice of Lipstadt’s accusation and the Holocaust establishment. This would have been more intellectually rigorous and historically detrimental to Lipstadt than going to court.
This article was first published in the summer of 2013.
-  Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstitions, and Other Confusions of our Time (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002), no page number.
-  Ibid., 115.
-  Keep in mind that after the Soviets took over Germany, people were tortured almost to death in order to make false confession
-  For further details on this, see Mark Weber, “Jewish Soap,” http://www.whale.to/b/weber11.html.
-  David Irving, Nuremberg: The Last Battle (London: Focal Points, 1996), 132.
-  David Irving, Hitler’s War (London: Focal Point Publications, 2000), xv-xvi.
-  Ibid., xxxi.
-  Dennis E. Showalter, “Book Review—David Irving, Hitler’s War,” American Historical Review, Vol. 82, Nov. 5, December 1977: 1281.
-  Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of our Time (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2002), 217.
-  http://www.fpp.co.uk/Letters/trial/Evans_lied160104.html.
-  http://www.fpp.co.uk/Legal/Penguin/experts/payments.html.
-  Richard Evans, In Defense of History (New York: Norton, 1999), 93.
-  Ibid., 94; emphasis added.
-  Ibid., 94-95, 98, 99-100.
-  Ibid., 99.
-  Irving, Hitler’s War, xiv, xxi.
-  Ibid., xiv-xvii.
-  Ibid., xviii.
-  David Irving, Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden (London: Focal Point Publications, 2007), xi.
-  http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/06/02/what-is-history/.
-  Irving, Hitler’s War, viii.
-  “Australian Dr. Frederick Toben Arrested for ‘Holocaust Denial,’” European Union Times, April 18, 2009.
-  Quoted in Shermer, Denying History, 12.
-  Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler’s “Final Solution” (New York: Henry Holt, 1998), 145.
-  Ibid., 82.
-  Ibid.
-  Shermer and Grobman, Denying History, 115.
-  http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/05/19/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-holocaust-industry/.
-  Ibid.
-  See Paul Rassinier, The Holocaust Story and the Lies of Ulysses: A Study of the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Alleged Extermination of European Jewry (Newport Beach, CA: Noontide Press, 1977).
-  Christopher Hitchens, “Free Speech Uber Alles (Even for David Irving),” The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2006.
-  Ibid.
-  Christopher Hitchens, “The Strange Case of David Irving,” LA Times, May 20, 2001.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  John Hudson, “The Most Damning Evidence of a U.S. Coverup of Soviet War Crimes,” Atlantic, September 10, 2012; Jacob Heilbrunn, “The Katyn Massacre Cover-Up,” National Interest, September 12, 2012; “WWII Massacre: Memos Show US Cover-Up of Stalin’s Katyn Slaughter,” Russia Today, September 10, 2012.
-  Hitchens, “The Strange Case of David Irving,” LA Times.
-  Ibid.
-  Deborah E. Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (New York, HarperCollins, 2005), 37-38.
-  Ibid., 38.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.