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Lessons From the Holocaust

by William Norman Grigg 

Sixty years ago this November, Frank Pelteson and his family fled Germany, literally days before the government-organized pogrom known as Kristallnacht - the "Night of Broken Glass." "My brother and I were raised Jewish in early Nazi-era Germany, but our parents were very protective and sheltered us from a lot of what was going on," Pelteson, a retired engineer in Las Vegas, recounted to The New American. "From time to time our family would be the target of hostility, and `Jews Prohibited' signs are a common childhood memory, but we left before it got really bad." When Kristallnacht erupted on November 9, 1938, the Peltesons were en route to the United States.

Partly as a result of his personal experiences, Pelteson acquired a principled skepticism regarding the "benevolent" nature of state power, and a visceral hostility toward totalitarianism of all varieties; thus it is not surprising that he joined the John Birch Society in 1974. As a member of the Birch Society, Pelteson became aware of the work of Jewish gulag survivor Avraham Shifrin, whose 1983 U.S. speaking tour was sponsored by the Birch Society.

Deeply affected by Shifrin's description of the gulag's horrors, and of the Soviet Union's institutionalized anti-Semitism, Pelteson was prompted to write a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Given that the Center, which was named for the noted "Nazi Hunter," describes its mandate as that of combating anti-Semitism and keeping alive the memory of the Jews who suffered in concentration camps, Pelteson assumed that its leaders would be interested in Shifrin's information.

"Apparently, there wasn't much interest at the Center in the issue of Jews who were suffering under Soviet socialism at the time, as opposed to those who had suffered decades before under Hitler's brand of socialism," Pelteson recalled. The reply Pelteson received from then-Director Dr. Gerald Margolis made perfunctory mention of "the depth and quality of [Pelteson's] feelings on the matter of the Soviet gulag system and ... forced labor programs." But Margolis offered no substantive acknowledgement of the magnitude of Soviet atrocities, or of a commitment on the part of the Center to work on behalf of the gulag's victims.

When Shifrin passed away earlier this year, Pelteson made another overture to the Wiesenthal Center. In a June 5th letter, Pelteson took note of Shifrin's passing and once again inquired about the Center's indifference regarding the late gulag survivor's work. Referring to Shifrin's documented exposé of the system of more than 2,000 labor camps, extermination camps, and psychological prisons in the Soviet Union, Pelteson wrote: "What [Shifrin] portrayed is a horror approximately 100 times as great as the horrible Jewish Konzentrationslager [concentration camps]. What he portrayed was the existence of such camps long after the Jewish [camps] were disbanded. Why are these crimes against humanity, many times bigger than the `pilot projects' of Hitler, not being given any publicity?"

"I never heard a syllable from the Center in reply to my letter," Pelteson remarked to The New American. "The Wiesenthal Center and similar organizations never miss an opportunity to remind people of the horrible things that were done by the Nazis more than a half-century ago, and they are among the most energetic proponents of prosecuting surviving Nazis for their crimes. Yet they took little interest in the gulag when it was operating at peak efficiency in the mid-1980s, and they aren't particularly concerned about the fact that the Soviet criminals responsible for terrible crimes against Soviet Jews and millions of other innocent people haven't been punished, and that many of them enjoy wealth, power, influence, and prestige in Russia today."

The myopia demonstrated by the Wiesenthal Center is by no means restricted to that institution. Indeed, an entire intellectual industry is devoted to promoting the idea that the evil represented by Germany's National Socialist (Nazi) regime was unique to Hitler's murderous regime, rather than a particularly lurid example of the deadly evil of totalitarian socialism. Shelves in libraries and bookstores groan beneath the burden of books on the German National Socialist regime, the Holocaust, and Adolf Hitler's life and career, with new titles published each month. Every April, Holocaust commemorations take place across the U.S., and "Holocaust education" programs (such as the "Facing History and Ourselves" program, which is based in Brookline, Massachusetts and has regional centers in New York, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Chicago) have become common in the nation's public schools. In nearly all such observances and discussions, Nazi Germany is identified as a cautionary example regarding the murderous potential of race hatred, religious bigotry, and mass conformity - which are admittedly valuable lessons.

However, ritualized "remembrance" of the Holocaust almost inevitably misses the most crucial point by focusing exclusively on private attitudes, rather than the role of the socialist state, in crimes against humanity. The crimes committed by Hitler and his squalid co-conspirators were committed through a totalitarian collectivist state. Despicable though Hitler's racial and religious hatreds were, they could not have resulted in wholesale mass murder without the cooperation of government. It was the seizure of the German state by the National Socialist German Workers Party - a left-wing, revolutionary movement that incubated in the gutters of Bohemia before infecting Germany - and the consolidation of centralized power that made possible the mass murder of Jews and other innocent victims. Furthermore, it was the collaboration of Hitler's left-wing National Socialist government with Stalin's left-wing Soviet government that precipitated World War II and brought inconceivable suffering to tens of millions - including the Germans themselves.

Balint Vazsonyi, a Hungarian-born master concert pianist, understands from personal experience the fundamental kinship between the Soviet and Nazi varieties of collectivism. In his recent book America's Thirty Years War, Vazsonyi recalls:

My first encounter with socialism occurred at the age of eight. In 1944, on a Sunday before dawn, the armed forces of the Third Reich occupied Hungary. The Third Reich was ruled by the National Socialist German Workers' Party; thus "my first socialism" happened to be national socialism. Within days, the Nazis interned or executed the leadership of all other political organizations.... By 1948, the Communist Party had assumed police authority over all economic activity, and began to classify people's political attitudes. Communist operatives worked out of the same building occupied not long before by the Gestapo and wore the same shining leather jackets as the Nazis.

"Reading Marx," Vazsonyi points out, "it seemed that socialism could be used as a pretext for just about anything" - from confiscation of property to the wholesale liquidation of uncooperative subjects. Furthermore, "Since Marx listed more than a half dozen different kinds of socialism back in 1848, it also seemed that socialism was whatever a person said it was." Nearly any formula of grievances and utopian aspirations could be used to justify the seizure of total power and the collectivization of society. "Marx's outstanding pupils, Vladimir Illych Lenin and Adolf Hitler, chose from the Master's repertoire according to their personal preference, while remaining mindful of local conditions," Vazsonyi continues. "Lenin chose class, Hitler chose race. Both were crude, and both killed millions in the process" of creating their respective socialist utopias.

Nazi academic Karel Englis observed that "German socialism does not differ from Marxism in its critique of capitalism nor in its concept of the class struggle." The Party's 1918 platform explained, "The German National Socialist Workers Party ... fights against all reactionary trends, against ecclesiastical, aristocratic, and capitalist privileges and every alien influence, but above all against the overpowering influence of the Jewish-commercial mentality in all domains of public life...."

In reminiscence offered in 1941, while he was at the height of his power, Hitler recalled that as his movement gained momentum in 1922, "the Reds we had beaten up became our best supporters.... Wasn't my party at the time ... composed of 90 percent of left-wing elements? I needed men who could fight."

Walter Schellenberg, who was head of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitauptamt, or "Supreme National Security Board") in Nazi Germany, recalls that "it was Stalin's policy to support German Nationalism in the hope of turning Germany against the Western bourgeoisie, and accordingly he directed the German Communist Party to regard not the National Socialist Party of Hitler but the social democrats as their chief enemy." In his memoir Hitler's Secret Service, Schellenberg points out that Hitler reciprocated Stalin's favor by helping to defuse an attempted coup against the Soviet dictator in 1937 - a time when Hitler was publicly denouncing "Judeobolshevism." Schellenberg recalls that in 1937 the SS became aware that Soviet Marshall Tukhachevsky "was plotting with the German General Staff to overthrow the Stalin regime." Had that plot come to fruition, "a blow could [have been] struck at the leadership of the Red Army from which it would not recover for many years." Seeking to secure the Eastern Front in anticipation of an attack on the West, Hitler ignored the advice of his own General Staff "and intervened in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union on Stalin's side," selling the relevant information to the GPU (the precursor to the KGB) for three million rubles.

Drawing on restricted Soviet archives, Viktor Suvorov, a former Soviet military intelligence officer, has documented that "even before the Nazis came to power, the Soviet leaders had given Hitler the unofficial name of `Icebreaker for the Revolution.' The name is both apt and fitting. The communists understood that Europe would be vulnerable only in the event of war and that the Icebreaker for the Revolution could make it vulnerable." With the assistance of the Soviets, who helped rebuild Germany's military might in the 1920s through the Rapallo treaty and who carefully cultivated the Nazi brand of socialism in Germany, "Adolf Hitler cleared the way for world communism by his actions. With his Blitzkrieg wars, Hitler crushed the Western democracies, scattering and dispersing his forces from Norway to Libya. This suited Stalin admirably."

In light of this, it is not surprising that in moments of private candor Hitler acknowledged his kinship with the same Bolshevism he excoriated in public. Historian Robert G. Waite points out that "Hitler's high opinion of communist spirit and tactics is manifest throughout Mein Kampf. True to his word, after he seized power, he saw to it that thousands of Communists were enrolled in the NSDAP [Nazi Party]. They were particularly effective in the Gestapo and the SA [Brownshirts], where they formed perhaps a third of the total membership. Indeed, there were so many of them that they were given a special name. They were known popularly as the `Beefsteak Nazi' - Brown on the outside, Red on the inside...." Following World War II, Waite continues, "The Communists ... returned Der Führer's compliment and followed his example," extending membership in the Communist-Controlled Social Unity Party of East Germany to "hundreds of former Nazis...."

Brownshirt leader (and homosexual pederast) Ernst Roehm once boasted that he could transform the "reddest Communist" into a faithful National Socialist within a month. Shortly after World War II, former American Communist Party leader Benjamin Gitlow noted that the Soviets had enjoyed similar success in transmuting Nazis into devout communists. Gitlow warned that "selected German students, many of them former Nazis, officers in Hitler's armies and officials of his party, have been educated and trained by the thousands in the communist schools in Russia and sent back to Germany" - some of them assigned to serve in East Germany's Stasi secret police, others to carry out terrorism and subversion.

But beyond providing foot soldiers, cannon fodder, secret police, and terror specialists to the Communist Bloc, Hitler's National Socialist state performed an even more valuable service for the cause of world socialism. According to Suvorov, the hideous crimes committed by the Nazis "placed in Stalin's hands the moral right to declare himself the liberator of Europe at any time he chose - while changing the concentration camps from brown to red." "By waging war both on the Jews of Europe and on the Soviet Union, he made it possible for countless writers, musicians, and artists to become communists by convincing themselves that they were simply anti-Nazi," writes Balint Vazsonyi. "And the frantic determination with which Soviet troops pursued Germany's armies all the way to Berlin persuaded Jews that Russia under communism was their friend and ally after all. Forgotten were the Russian pogroms, forgotten was Stalin's own rabid anti-Semitism, forgotten was the Hitler-Stalin pact. Troubled, moreover, by the thought of living in safety and comfort while their European relatives perished, Jews in America became easy targets for expertly focused Soviet propaganda."

Of course, the malevolent effects of that propaganda have not been confined to Jews in America and elsewhere. By making socialism of the Nazi variety the measure of all evil, the cognate evil of Marxism-Leninism - which resulted in far more death, destruction, subversion, and horror than Hitler's 12-year Reich - was thrust into the background. Millions of people of good will were seduced into believing that racism and anti-Semitism, rather than the concentration of government power, were responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich, and that those crimes were uniquely horrible.

The propaganda described by Vazsonyi has had another malignant effect: It has abetted the belief on the part of some people that the atrocities known collectively as the "Holocaust" are inventions of wartime propaganda, and that the evil of National Socialism has been immensely exaggerated. The Establishment clique that ran the FDR regime lied to the public about many important matters during the World War - the "surprise" attack at Pearl Harbor being one particularly significant example, the myth of Josef Stalin's benignity being another. "When war is declared," ruefully declared Senator Hiram Johnson during the debate over U.S. entry into World War I, "truth is the first casualty."

Conservative writer Joseph Sobran points out that another source of skepticism regarding traditional accounts of the Holocaust is the determination of the self-appointed custodians of "respectable" opinion to suppress contrary views. "Some countries, including France, Germany, Canada, and of course Israel, have actually made it a criminal offense to express doubt of the standard version," writes Sobran, noting that usually "when we are really sure of a historical fact, we don't force others to assent to it. We trust the truth to take care of itself. Most of us don't doubt that Napoleon invaded Russia, but we don't lose sleep over anyone who denies it. In fact we might start wondering about whether it really happened" if efforts are made to criminalize the eccentric view in question. "Our curiosity would be piqued by the very fact that someone in power felt so threatened by doubt as to outlaw debate."

Just as every attempt at prohibition inspires a bootlegger, so a state-imposed orthodoxy provokes the opposition of "heretics." Efforts to criminalize "Holocaust denial," and high-profile prosecutions of the activists accused of promoting that point of view, have probably done more to encourage than to discourage skepticism about the standard version. For some, the materials of self-described Holocaust "revisionists" now enjoy the cachet of "forbidden knowledge."

Sobran insists that "there are people who are neither fanatic nor stupid nor insane nor mean-spirited who argue that it was never Hitler's purpose or policy to exterminate the Jews." One such individual is Jewish historian Arno Mayer, whose 1988 book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? contends that the "Final Solution" was the product of improvisation by Hitler's regime, rather than a premeditated plan to exterminate European Jewry.

It is important to separate those with honest historical questions from those who offer disingenuous objections as a means of concealing invidious motives, and to that end it is useful to apply the following questions as a standard: Does the skeptic acknowledge the collectivist, anti-Jewish nature of the National Socialist regime, and that the regime was guilty of crimes against millions of individual Jews?

A good example of the disingenuousness described above is found in the flyer 66 Questions and Answers on the Holocaust, by the Institute for Historical Review (IHR). In response to the question, "Why did the German government intern Jews in camps?" IHR replies: "It considered Jews a threat to national security. (Jews were overwhelmingly represented in communist subversion.) However, all suspected security risks - not just Jews - were in danger of internment." That this is a nuanced piece of dishonesty is illustrated by the following points:

  • Adolf Hitler's eagerness to enroll "former" communists in his movement, as noted above, and his willingness to enter into a pact with Stalin in order to dismember Poland, illustrate that the Nazi regime's "anti-communism" was purely tactical.
  • IHR states that non-Jewish security risks were imprisoned, but neglects to point out that German Jews who were neither communists nor subversives were included among the "security risks" simply because they were Jews. That is to say, they were regarded as enemies of the state on account of their "race" or religion, because the National Socialist state was anti-Jewish as a matter of formal policy, and accordingly stripped Jews of their citizenship and individual rights.
  • The Nazi definition of "Jew" relied not upon the professed convictions or active affiliation of individuals, but upon the regime's racial ideology.
  • From its earliest origins, the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) was formally anti-Jewish. On February 24, 1920, NSDAP propaganda officer Adolf Hitler convened a mass meeting in Munich. Point four of the NSDAP program publicized at that meeting specified that "none but members of the nation may be citizens. None but those of German blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation."

    As the Nazis slowly climbed into political prominence, Party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg unblushingly wrote that "anti-Semitism is the unifying element of the reconstruction of Germany" and insisted that "Germany will regard the Jewish question as solved only after the very last Jew has left the greater German living space.... Europe will have its Jewish question solved only after the very last Jew has left the continent."

    Lest it be mistakenly thought that the means contemplated by the National Socialists to achieve a judenrein Europe would be limited to expropriation, disenfranchisement, and exile, Dr. Robert Ley, Nazi Gauleiter for Cologne, offered the following clarification: "We swear we are not going to abandon the struggle until the last Jew in Europe has been exterminated and is actually dead. It is not enough to isolate the Jewish enemy of mankind - the Jew has got to be exterminated."

    "The Jewish question is a world question!" fulminated the May 7, 1942 edition of the German periodical Der Stuermer. "Not only is Germany not safe in the face of the Jews as long as one Jew lives in Europe, but also the Jewish question is hardly solved in Europe so long as Jews live in the rest of the world." The August 8, 1940 issue of Schwarze Korps, the official propaganda organ of the SS, preached the same line: "Just as the Jewish question will be solved for Germany only when the last Jew has been deported, so the rest of Europe should also realize that the German peace which awaits it must be a peace without Jews."

    The Führer himself was devastatingly explicit in his notorious Reichstag address of January 30, 1939: "If the international Jewish financiers within and without Europe succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the world and the victory of Jewry, but the obliteration of the Jewish race in Europe." It was after this address, significantly, that Hitler dispatched foreign minister Joaquim von Ribbentrop to consummate a non-aggression pact with his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov - a pact that led directly to the very war Hitler had predicted. Once again we see that while the National Socialist regime's institutional anti-Semitism was inviolable, its "anti-communism" was purely tactical.

    The National Socialist regime's definition of "Jew" was established in the "Nuremberg Laws" promulgated on September 15 and November 14, 1935. For purposes of public policy in Nazi Germany, a "Jew" was defined as: anyone with three Jewish grandparents, or anyone with two Jewish grandparents who had belonged to the Jewish community on September 15, 1935, or who converted after that date; anyone who was married to a Jew or Jewess as of September 15th, or who contracted such a marriage after that date; or anyone who was born as a result of a liaison between a Jew and non-Jewish German after September 15th.

    These definitions embodied what is perhaps the chief evil of collectivism: They assigned people to a state-determined collective for the purpose of political disenfranchisement and revocation of individual rights. Significantly, under the Nazi regime's definitions, many individuals who were practicing Christians, in addition to hundreds of thousands of innocent German Jews, were deprived of the protection of the law.

    Following the implementation of the Nuremberg decrees, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, the SS's Intelligence and Security Service) was appointed custodian of the disenfranchised German Jews. A directive entitled "Directions for Handling of the Jewish Question" ordered that "all rights of freedom for Jews are to be withdrawn" and offered the following guidelines for expropriation of those former German citizens who were now placed outside the protection of the law:

    The first main goal of the German measures must be strict segregation of Jewry from the rest of the population. In the execution of this, first of all, is the seizing of the Jewish populace by the introduction of a registration order and similar appropriate measures.... The entire Jewish property is to be seized and confiscated with the exception of that which is necessary for a bare existence. As far as the economical situation permits, the power of disposal of their property is to be taken from the Jews as soon as possible through orders and other measures given by the commissariat.... Any cultural activity will be completely forbidden to the Jew. This includes the outlawing of the Jewish press, the Jewish theaters, and schools.

    The SD directive also anticipated the inauguration of a "spontaneous" uprising against the Jewish population: "An eventual act by the civilian population against the Jews is not to be prevented as long as this is compatible with the maintenance of order and security in the rear of the fighting troops." That uprising, Kristallnacht, erupted after the murder of German diplomat Ernst von Rath by 17-year-old German Jewish refugee Herschel Grynszpan in Paris on November 7, 1938. On November 9th and 10th, Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues were wrecked, looted, and burned by mobs; scores of Jews were killed and injured, some of them shot as they fled from burning buildings. German Jews were also assessed, as a group, an indemnity of five billion marks "as punishment for their abominable crimes, et cetera," in Nazi Field Marshal Herman Goering's words.

    That this was a state-orchestrated atrocity, rather than an unsponsored mob action provoked by the assassination of a German diplomat, is documented by Julius Streicher's April 14, 1939 memorandum, in which the SS Gauleiter reported: "The anti-Jewish action of November 1938 did not arise spontaneously from the people.... Part of the party formation have been charged with the execution of the anti-Jewish action." In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the SS moved with dispatch to seize Jews and confine them in concentration camps as a form of "protective custody."

    These actions - and the forthright declarations of Hitler and his henchmen - clearly illustrate the murderous intent of the National Socialist regime. Furthermore, as Joseph Sobran has written, those intentions are revealed in small but crucial details in the regime's treatment of targeted individuals. "I used to go to a deli in New York, where a little old Jewish woman would make me sandwiches for lunch," recalls Sobran. "We never conversed; it was all smiles and thanks. But one day I noticed a tattoo on her wrist. I didn't ask her about it. It was her number. I had a good idea where she got it."

    Continues Sobran: "I've tried to imagine a man making his living tattooing numbers onto the wrists of men, women, and children as if he were branding cattle. His occupation seems to me to imply a lot about the system he works for and its attitude toward the people it takes the liberty of marking so indelibly. If its design isn't to wipe them out, what is it?"

    As Sobran observes, the moral case against the National Socialist regime does not depend upon a specific casualty count. The unambiguously evil deeds wrought by Hitler through his totalitarian socialist state have justly earned him a place among "murderers who used the power of the state to destroy somewhat excessive numbers of innocent people."

    Nonetheless, both Holocaust deniers and those who insist that the Nazi regime was uniquely evil place great emphasis on aggregate body counts. The IHR pamphlet 66 Questions and Answers on the Holocaust declares: "The widely repeated `six million' figure is an irresponsible exaggeration.... Competent estimates [of the Jewish death toll] range from about 300,000 to 500,000" - an estimate that would still mark Hitler's regime as an abhorrent enterprise in mass murder. Seeking further to minimize the crimes of National Socialism, IHR attributes the deaths of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe to "recurring typhus epidemics that ravaged war-torn Europe during the war, as well as ... starvation and lack of medical attention during the final months of the conflict, when virtually all road and rail transportation had been bombed out by the Allies."

    Without having the temerity to say so forthrightly, IHR intimates that Hitler's regime was protecting the imprisoned Jews, and that those who perished were victims of allied military policy. To the limited and debatable extent to which it may be true that Jews imprisoned by the Nazis perished as a result of Allied military policies, the Nazi regime is still morally culpable for its imprisonment of innocent Jews and other individuals throughout its dominion - and therefore for the untimely deaths of the vulnerable individuals who perished under the regime's "protective" custody.

    IHR's 66 Questions makes no mention of the proactive killing enterprise carried out by the SS's Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units, throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. A February 27, 1942 memorandum from Reinhard Heydrich, second in command of the SS, calmly reported that the effort "to purge East Land ... as completely as possible of Jews" was proceeding apace: "executions by shooting are carried out everywhere in such a manner as not to attract public attention. The public and even the remaining Jews are mostly of the opinion that the Jews have only been transferred to a different domicile. Estonia is already free of Jews. In Latvia the number of 29,500 Jews remaining in Riga was reduced to 2,500. Nine hundred sixty-two Jews still living in Dvinsk are urgently needed as workers. In Lithuania, the country and smaller towns have been completely purged of Jews."

    In his important book Democide, Professor R.J. Rummel writes, "Four of these squads operated, with one of them, Einsatzgruppe A, proudly boasting in its report of having killed 218,050 Jews." Einsatzgruppe C, which operated in Uman, near Kiev, Ukraine, "well illustrates how these squads worked," continues Rummel. "During September 1941 the Nazis posted an order demanding that all Jews of all ages appear at given places of registration on a given day for a `census.' Those not appearing would be `punished most severely.' The Nazis subsequently marched them all to the square in front of Uman's airport, where long ditches had been dug. Then, as if after long practice, the Nazis proceeded in workmanlike fashion to set the stage for a monstrous slaughter."

    Citing the account of Erwin Bangle, a German regular army officer who was on the scene, Rummel recounts that the SS-led forces "murdered rows upon rows of Jews, and `the air resounded with the cries of the children and the tortured.' After nine hours it was over: On this day in this place a relatively small group of men ... murdered 24,000 Jews."

    Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii and the leading authority on "democide" - mass murder committed through the instrumentality of the state - concludes, "Such mobile killing squads eventually murdered around 1,050,000 Jews; about another 350,000 were probably killed by the Army, antipartisan units, higher SS and police, in ghettos, or while fleeing."

    Just as importantly, the Einsatzgruppen employed camouflaged "gas vans" which were used to asphyxiate victims. A May 16, 1942 memo from an SS officer named Becker to his supervisor in Berlin noted: "Gas vans in D group [were] camouflaged as cabin trailers, but [the] vehicles [were] well known to authorities and civilian population which calls them `Death Vans.' [Becker] ordered all men to keep as far away as possible during gassing. Unloading van has `atrocious spiritual and physical effect' on men and they should be ordered not to participate in such work."

    This memo documents that the Nazis made use of gas to kill Jews, and undertook to conceal this element of their killing program. The concealment was prompted, in part, by the reaction of the German public to the notorious "Operation T-4," in which mental patients, congenitally handicapped, and other "useless eaters" were exterminated in the late 1930s - many of them by asphyxiation. IHR's 66 Questions, alluding to the absence of a specific order from Hitler to exterminate European Jews, insists that no evidence exists "that Hitler ordered mass extermination of Jews...." But the regime's institutionalized murder of at least 172,000 non-Jewish Germans designated "useless eaters" was inaugurated without an official order from Hitler, and continued despite an official order disavowing and discontinuing the program - thereby creating a precedent in "deniability" for the "Final Solution."

    "The ... crime against German patients known as euthanasia ... [became] a model for far more extensive mass murders," writes German historian Gotz Aly. "The basis for Operation T-4 was neither an order nor a law, but an informal secret letter from Hitler `authorizing' the killing." As Father James Thornton has previously pointed out in these pages ("Defying the Death Ethic," May 26, 1997), "It is a profoundly revelatory fact that the wartime German government was forced to keep this horrible program [Operation T-4] a secret from the German public. Such were the sensibilities of the German people in those years that even a highly authoritarian regime - indeed a police state - dared not allow the public to become aware of what was happening."

    Father Thornton notes that public outrage over T-4 was provoked by Clemens August Count von Galen, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Munster, who "received confidential reports about what was happening" and who courageously "delivered a dramatic, stinging rebuke" to the regime and its killing program in a July 1941 pastoral letter. As a result, Hitler issued an order supposedly intended to halt the program, but it continued surreptitiously until February 1945, in accordance with the Führer's wishes.

    It was the still-potent influence of Christian culture in Germany that compelled Hitler to disavow the euthanasia program. As Julius Streicher complained in the March 19, 1942 issue of Der Stuermer, the influence of Christianity had impeded a "radical solution of the Jewish question in Europe." This accounts for the conspiratorial secrecy with which the regime carried out its attempted "Final Solution" of the "Jewish problem," and the fact that Hitler chose deniable means to pursue his liquidation campaign.

    In constructing a case for the proposition that Hitler's National Socialist regime carried out the premeditated murders of millions of European Jews, the essentials - motive, method, means, and opportunity - are all present. The motive resides in the regime's institutionalized anti-Semitism. The regime employed various methods to accomplish the slaughter, including the use of gassing, which had been pioneered in its T-4 euthanasia program. As German historian Aly observes, "The original commandants of [the extermination camps] Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka came from T-4 and were on its payroll." The means were provided by the SS, which controlled both the Einsatzgruppen and the concentration camp system. The opportunity came when Hitler, in his Soviet-cast role as "Icebreaker of the Revolution," inaugurated his war on Poland on September 1, 1939 - and then double-crossed his erstwhile collaborator by invading the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

    The specific casualty count of the National Socialist regime's victims will probably remain forever elusive. "It will always be a subject for regret that the victorious Allies did not put the question beyond dispute by appointing in 1945 a commission composed of impartial judges selected from neutral countries to investigate the facts," writes British historian A.J.P. Veale in his study Advance to Barbarism. R.J. Rummel offers a parallel observation: "I know of no systematic accounting of the total number that the Nazis killed in cold blood. No one knows or can give the precise democide figure. Probably even that for the Jewish Holocaust is wrong."

    In his definitive study, Death by Government, Rummel notes that after decades of dedicated research about the Nazi genocide, including access to Nazi archives and interviews with participants and former concentration camp inmates, "the difference between the lowest and highest of the best estimates of how many Jews were killed by the Nazis is still 41 percent." Working from what he regards to be the most reliable data, Rummel concludes: "Of 9,797,840 Jews in Nazi dominated Europe, Adolf Hitler and his henchmen massacred from 3,611,000 to 7,649,000 of them, most likely 5,291,000." Accounting for all of those annihilated by the National Socialist regime through "genocide, the murder of hostages, reprisal raids, forced labor, `euthanasia,' starvation, exposure, medical experiments, and terror bombing, and in the concentration and death camps," Rummel estimates that the body count of Nazism is between 15,003,000 and 31,595,000, "most likely 20,946,000...."

    Just as significant is the fact that, as noted by Suvorov, after World War II the Soviets simply turned the concentration camps "from brown to red." George Watson of Cambridge University's St. John's College reported in the July 1989 issue of Chronicles that "when the Soviet Union occupied East Germany in 1945, it kept two Nazi concentration camps in full use for nearly five years, till February 1950, and at their old task of death." Buchenwald, which was taken over by the Soviet NKVD (a precursor of the KGB) in 1945, was not an "extermination" camp, but did make use of a crematorium to dispose of inmates who perished from disease or overwork. Watson offers this significant observation: "It is a curious detail of the British parliamentary report of 1945 that the prisoner who had been in charge of cremating bodies in the [Buchenwald camp's] Nazi period was a thirty-year-old Berlin Communist called Kurt Faulhaber, who told them that no Jewish prisoner would have been allowed to hold a post as privileged as his. As Hitler once remarked, Communists were to be trusted, in the Nazi system, and allowed responsibilities."

    Given that the National Socialist concentration camp system was modeled on the Soviet gulag, and that the Nazi secret police apparatus was patterned after Feliks Dzherzensky's infamous Soviet Cheka, the murderous "privilege" granted to Faulhaber was entirely appropriate. It is also significant that one strand of the movement now called "Holocaust denial" began in a post-war alliance between ex-Nazis and a group of French Trotskyites led by the late Paul Rassiner. The Trotskyite line was that accounts of Nazi extermination camps were figments of "Stalinist propaganda." One purpose of the so-called "Holocaust denial" movement has been to maintain a dialectical relationship with the Establishment: By focusing on arcane technical details and disputes over body counts, some self-styled "revisionists" ensure that discussion of the National Socialist episode does not address basic questions about the role of the state and the lethality of totalitarian socialism.

    While there are people of good will who have honest questions about the Establishment's account of World War II, including the standard version of the atrocity known as the Holocaust, hard-core anti-Semites who seek to disguise themselves as principled skeptics encourage misguided people to believe that the "real enemy" is "The Jews," rather than those who would collectivize political power against individual rights.

    For decades, disciples of Marx and Lenin have dogmatically maintained that the unimaginably sanguinary record of communism in practice - the gulags and killing fields, the engineered starvation throughout Eastern Europe as well as Red China, the secret police, subversion, aggression, torture, and religious persecution - resulted from a "perversion" of communist theory. "True" communism, such people insist, would be a beautiful and glorious system devoid of such crimes.

    Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg displayed a similarly defiant audacity in his final statement to the Nuremberg Tribunal. "The practice of the German State Leadership in the war ... completely differed with my conviction," insisted Rosenberg. "Adolf Hitler, in an increasing measure, drew persons to himself who were not my comrades, but my opponents. I must say, with reference to their harmful activities, this is not the execution of National Socialism for which millions of believing men and women have fought. It was its shameful misuse; it was the degeneration which I deeply condemned."

    Mass murder and other hideous crimes against individual rights do not reflect the "degeneration" or "misuse" of socialism, but rather its essence. As is the case with socialism of the Marxist-Leninist variety, the essential lesson of German National Socialism is that collectivism kills, and that the lawless state - in whatever form - is the real enemy.

     

     


    Auschwitz-Birkenau: Slaughterhouses of the "Final Solution" 

    The work of the SS Einsatzgruppen killing squads, which murdered more than a million Jews, was a relatively inefficient means of pursuing the "Final Solution," notes R.J. Rummel in his study Democide. "For this the death camps, especially Auschwitz, became a particularly efficient conveyer belt for liquidating Jews." Upon arrival at Auschwitz, inmates underwent immediate triage based upon their fitness for work: "The doctor's thumb motioning to the right meant work and life, at least for a while, even for those destined for medical experiments; to the left meant death in hours." Those slated for liquidation were dispatched to the extermination annex called Auschwitz II, or Birkenau. An estimated one and one-half million Jews were slaughtered on what Rummel calls the "humans-to-ashes conveyer belt" at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    First Person Testimony
    Not surprisingly, the claims of many self-described "Holocaust revisionists" have focused on Auschwitz. Question 61 from the pamphlet, 66 Questions and Answers on the Holocaust, published by the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), insists that there is no proof "that gas chambers were used to kill people" at Auschwitz. In a court of law, it is difficult to find more convincing proof than a confession, and the confession of SS officer Josef Kramer - who was in charge of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau - is particularly compelling.

    Kramer was first assigned to Auschwitz as an aide-de-camp to commandant Rudolf Hoess in 1940. After serving as commandant of another concentration camp, and being promoted to the position of Hauptsturmfuhrer, he returned in May 1944 and became, by his own account, "Commandant of Camp No. 2, Birkenau." Kramer was arrested by British military authorities and tried in Lunenberg. He initially insisted that the allegations of mass executions, gassings, and other atrocities were untrue. He later recanted his denial, explaining that he had given his sworn "word of honor that I should remain silent and should not tell anybody at all about the existence of the gas chambers."

    Kramer testified: "When I made my first statement [denying that gas chambers existed] I felt still bound by this word of honor which I had given. When I made the second statement in prison ... these persons to whom I felt bound in honor - Adolf Hitler and [SS leader] Reichfuhrer Himmler - were no longer alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound."

    Kramer explained that "at Auschwitz the Political Department was ... responsible for all the selections from incoming transports for the gas chamber. In the crematorium the SS and prisoners - Sonderkommando - were under the command of the Commandant of Auschwitz, Hoess.... The people who took part in supervising and who were responsible for the security were partly from Auschwitz No. 1, and partly from my own camp at Birkenau, but the selection of these people who had to supervise was done by [Hoess]. The actual selections of the internees were made only by doctors. Those who were selected for the gas chambers went to the different crematoria. Those who were found to be fit for work came into two different parts of my camp, because the idea was that in a few days they were to be re-transferred to different parts of Germany for work."

    Although Kramer testified that he had personally forced people into gas chambers, and listened outside as they asphyxiated, he claimed not to know whether the chambers were part of a project "to try and exterminate the Jewish race and all the intelligent people of Poland.... I asked myself, `Is it really right about these persons who go to the gas chambers, and whether that person who signed for the first time these orders will be able to answer for it?' I did not know what the purpose of the gas chamber was."

    Bogus Challenge
    The 66 Questions pamphlet also states that after IHR offered a reward of $50,000 to anyone who could prove that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz, "No proof was submitted as a claim on the reward, but the Institute was sued for $17 million by former Auschwitz inmate Mel Mermelstein, who claimed that the reward offer caused him to lose sleep and his business to suffer, and represented `injurious denial of established fact.'" Typical of IHR's work, this depiction of the Mermelstein affair is an alloy of strategic omission and blatant misrepresentation.

    In an April 16, 1981 letter to subscribers of IHR's Journal of Historical Review, IHR's director, an Irish expatriate named William David McCalden (who preferred the alias "Lewis Brandon") admitted that the $50,000 "reward" was "our No. 1 gimmick.... No one pretended that the reward was an academic exercise, but at least it could attract attention to our genuine academic exercises.... All we needed was some naïve zealot to walk into our trap." IHR's intention was to reap a publicity windfall by provoking a confrontation with "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal. After Wiesenthal accepted the challenge, McCalden exulted that IHR had attracted "the most eminently suitable mouse into our richly baited trap!"

    Unfortunately for IHR, Mermelstein also took the "reward" offer seriously, and had been the first to apply for it. (Wiesenthal eventually withdrew his application.) In response to the question, "Were you an eyewitness to the gassing operations?" Mermelstein filed an affidavit in which he testified of seeing his mother and two sisters being "driven into what I later discovered to be the gas chamber" at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    It was after IHR reneged on its "reward" - which, as McCalden admitted, had not been offered in good faith - that Mermelstein filed his $17 million suit alleging "injurious denial of established fact." "Should we lose this case," McCalden informed IHR supporters in 1981, the Institute "is finished. Make no mistake about that." In 1985, IHR paid Mermelstein a $90,000 settlement. While this didn't lead to the end of IHR, it did lead to a 1994 shake-up in which Institute founder Willis Carto (who is also founder and longtime publisher of the tabloid Spotlight) was ousted from control of the group.

    According to the May 15, 1994 Los Angeles Times, IHR official Thomas J. Marcellus complained in a court deposition that "Carto's launching and subsequent mishandling of the reward offer wound up costing a $90,000 settlement with Mermelstein and another $30,000 in attorney's fees and $20,000 in lost productivity, not to mention embarrassment and widespread alienation of supporters." Far from vindicating IHR's position, the Mermelstein case was quite nearly the organization's Waterloo.

    - W.N.G.



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