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Misleading, Inaccurate, Distorted, and Uninformed Reporting

Helping the disabled find their ground in the job market


by Michael Berenbaum

January 13, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Kim Murphy's article "Danger in Denying the Holocaust" could be dismissed as amateurish at best were it not the Jan. 7 Column One story of the Los Angeles Times. Because of where it appeared, some of the issues it raised must be addressed. She doesn't present the stakes in the Irving vs. Lipstadt libel case and she falls into the traps set by the deniers, hook, line and sinker.

Murphy confuses legitimate historical discourse with Holocaust denial.

She writes: "Some revisions in Holocaust history have been generally accepted. Stories that Jewish remains were manufactured into soap and lampshades have been dismissed as myth."

Professor Yehua Bauer and I, among others, did not find evidence that remains of the dead were manufactured into soap. And when we could not, we published our findings. Each bar of soap given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was tested to see if it contained human remains. Since it didn't, we said so. We are the servants of the truth.

No one I know spoke of the manufacturing of Jewish remains into lampshades. We did speak of the use of skin as lampshades and for that there is ample evidence. Murphy mistakenly lumped soap and lampshades together.

She writes: "Death at Auschwitz, once estimated, based on testimony of Nazi commanders, at up to 3 million have now been scaled back to about 1.1 million."

The question of the numbers killed at Auschwitz has been revised downward by responsible historians. In "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp" (1994), Franticzek Piper, chief historian of Auschwitz, presented these new findings based on years of archival research that in the post-Communist era he was free to publish. Based on his findings the number killed at Auschwitz is between 1.1 million - 1.3 million people, 90 percent of them Jews.

As Murphy should have known and should have told her readers, the major revision of figures is not with regard to Jewish dead but with regard to Polish dead at Auschwitz. The number of Polish dead has gone down from the 2 million figure of the Communist era to 83,000. Even according to the most recent research, the number of Jewish dead remains basically the same.

Piper did serious, responsible historical work. He began with the number of prisoners who were deported to Auschwitz, counting them transport by transport. From this number he subtracted the numbers deported from Auschwitz to other camps, counting them too transport by transport. He also subtracted the numbers recorded as dead at Auschwitz, for whom death certificates were issued, that is prisoners who survived the initial selection, and were registered in the camps. He also subtracted those who were forcibly evacuated from Auschwitz on the "death marches" in January 1945, and the number of inmates who remained behind until the Russians liberated the camp on January 27, 1945.

Irving was not always a Holocaust-denier. If he is to be believed, his change of mind regarding gassing Auschwitz came as he read the Leuchter Report, which was compiled by a man without even basic competence in the field, who fraudulently misrepresented his scientific background, and measured Zyklon B residue in gas chambers decades after the events took place.

Murphy seems to give credence to the deniers claim that since historians disagree as to the number of Jewish dead, their claim that there was no systematic program of state sponsored murder, no gas chambers and no gassing is worthy of equal attention.

The parameters of legitimate historical debate are quite clear. There is a general agreement as to the number of Jews killed in the killing centers of which there were six: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. Killing at Auschwitz was with Zyklon B, Chelmno used mobile gas vans, the other camps primarily used Carbon Monoxide in their stationary gas chamber. There are significant records as to the number of Jews who were murdered and died at other concentration camps.

There is also general agreement as to the number of Jews who died of disease, malnutrition, despair and shooting in the ghettos.

The basic disagreement focuses on the number of Jews murdered by the mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen in the territory the Germans conquered from the Soviet Union. Even here, there is agreement on the numbers of dead reported in the Einsatzgruppen reports. But arriving at a precise number will be difficult for historians for a rather simple reason.

The Soviet Union did not take a census in 1949. There is a 20 year gap between the 1939 and 1959 census and thus a demographer must take account of the normal death rate over two decades, post-war immigration rates, civilians killed in the war, those killed in the Stalinist purges and those murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators as part of the Holocaust. Serious historians and serious demographers must reveal their assumptions and tell us how they weigh the evidence. Raul Hilberg is explicit as to his conservative methodological considerations. He is a responsible historian, brilliant, persistent, original and uncompromising. His work was written more than 40 years ago and revised 15 years ago. German historian Wolfgang Benz is equally explicit in his methodological assumptions and the detailed evidence he marshals to support his conclusion that there were 6.1 million Jews killed by the Germans. The debate is anything but new.

Murphy is right on one point: the evidence of a massive extermination campaign that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews is so exhaustive that it is irrefutable. Its sources are many: documents and photographs, testimony of the killers, the victims and the bystanders, train schedules, deportation lists, diagrams of the camps, physical remains, aerial surveillance. The Germans never denied their crime, some even boasted of it. The Holocaust is one of the most documented crimes in history. While every bit of evidence must be read critically, the magnitude of the evidence, its diversity and the history it reveals is undeniable.

Frankly, Murphy doesn't know very much and it shows.

In her opening paragraphs she depicts the deniers as scrutinizing hundreds of thousands of pages of Third Reich documents and diaries made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She later quotes Irving as saying that the history of his opponents "usually consists of sitting in libraries and reading each others books." She thus confirms Irving's contentions, without making even the most minimal effort to ascertain their truth.

Had Murphy read Holocaust denial literature and its intersecting footnotes carefully and seriously, she would have seen that deniers quote each other, they rely upon each other. Irving duped her and she duped her readers. Irving is almost alone among the deniers, in that he has read the documents. His misrepresentations are not based on ignorance but are deliberate.

Rather than delve into the subject, Murphy chose to accept the version of history put forth by the deniers. She movingly presents Germar Rudolph as a martyr to the truth. One wonders why she failed to call the Max Plank Institute to get its perspective on his work. He circulated his findings without permission on their stationery. Rudolph's work is built upon the already shaky foundation of the Leuchter Report. Competent chemists have refuted his work and the Max Planck Institute terminated him. It is highly unlikely that Rudolph would be called as a witness in Irving versus Lipstadt. First, he is not on the court-required pre-trial witness list. Second, he is a fugitive.

It is bad enough that Murphy and the Los Angeles Times have advanced the theories of Holocaust deniers. But she even managed to get peripheral issues wrong.

Murphy should have known and should have informed her readers who the academics at the respected institutions of Northwestern University and the University of Lyon (II) are who endorse the theories of Holocaust deniers -- and how respected they are by their home institutions.

Arthur Butz is a tenured professor of engineering -- not history at Northwestern University. He is an expert on digital signal processing with no formal training in history. The faculty and administration of Northwestern has disassociated itself and the University from his work, The Hoax of the Holocaust.

Robert Faurisson is a former professor of French Literature at the University of Lyon II. He was removed from the faculty for his bizarre views and twice convicted by French courts for inciting hatred and denying crimes against humanity.

Murphy is inaccurate. She knows not of what she writes.

She writes: "A 1993 poll by the Roper Organization found that 22 percent of the Americans thought it possible that the Holocaust never happened." She should have known and should have informed her readers that when challenged, the Roper Organization withdrew its findings as unscientific. Their polling question was ambiguous, phrased imprecisely. When the question was asked again by Roper without the ambiguity, the results were some 8 percent thought that Holocaust may not have happened, a disturbing yet clearly more marginal phenomenon.

For Murphy, the issue is the price that is paid for denying the Holocaust. One would hope that the scholarly community has standards of evidence and truth that do not allow falsifiers to advance their careers.

The issue is not free speech. Deborah Lipstadt did not challenge Irving's right to speak, just what he said. It was Irving who sued Lipstadt for libel under the more lax English law. He challenged her free speech.

As the trial judge has said, the issue will not be the historicity of the Holocaust - not whether the Holocaust happened -- but the question of what constitutes good history or even acceptable methods of interpreting history. The question is whether Irving has used his vast familiarity of the documents -- a familiarity none deny -- to falsify history by invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and mistranslation.

I have great confidence in Lipstadt's vindication.

O.K., the reporter got it wrong -- badly wrong. But where were her editors at the Los Angeles Times? Experienced editors should be able to tell when a reporter has been had. They should respect the readers' time and spare survivors the hurt, the newspaper the embarrassment.


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