Atlantic Monthly, May, 2000
Holocaust on Trial
I HAVE read D. D. Guttenplan's article "The Holocaust on Trial" (February Atlantic) with great interest and admiration. However, one supreme irony leaps out at me, and it is this: in the United States pedophiles and porn addicts can use computer monitors in public libraries to access Internet pornography sites while sitting beside children and teenagers who are researching school projects. Their ability to do so is protected by precious First Amendment freedoms. Meanwhile, Holocaust experts and intellectuals like Deborah Lipstadt purposely avoid open debate with Holocaust deniers for fear of "legitimizing ... 'the other side'" of the argument. What's wrong with this picture?
Freedom of expression -- whether of speech, of the press, or of open intellectual debate on a university campus -- exists to protect what Guttenplan calls "the sanctity of facts" in our elusive pursuit of Truth. This freedom is meant not to protect pedophiles but to foster open dialogue between intelligent people on controversial issues that matter, and to protect us from propaganda -- whatever its source. Wherever the historical truth ties, and whatever Irving's personal motivations, Irving's lawsuit against Lipstadt is forcing an open intellectual confrontation that otherwise would not have occurred.
Ellen Autenzio, Spartanburg, S.C.
AT the very end of his articIe D. D. Guttenplan writes, "The sanctity of facts. It isn't in much. It may not be enough. But it is all we have." What a curious word "sanctity" is in relation to David Irving's calculated claim that the Holocaust is "an ill-fitting legend" and to his denial that any Jews were killed in gas chambers.
Guttenplan cites a source who is troubled that "only" 5.1 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, not six million. He points to another discrepancy: Dr. Mengele is often said to have been at Auschwitz at a time when in fact he was not.
Does it really matter whether it was Mengele alone or a series of physicians who carried out the heinous deeds? Are we worried about besmirching Mengele's name by attributing more suffering and deaths to him than those for which he was tually responsible?
In his doctoral thesis on T. S Eliot's, anti-Semitism. Anthony Julius (right) wrote, "Anti-Semites are not all the same. Some break Jewish bones, others wound Jewish sensibilities." It is the ones who wound sensibilities who enable the others to break bones.
No matter how scrupulous a historian Irving is reputed to be, he "habitually refers to Jewish groups as 'traditional enemies of the truth'" (sic. Actually "of free speech"). One can only hope that the outcome of the trial will prove that the real enemy of the truth is David Irving.
Emmy Rothchild, Deerfield, Ill.
D D. Guttenplan says, "Although the grisly tale of human beings rendered into soap figured in some of the earliest accounts of events inside Nazi-occupied Europe, it is now universally rejected by historians as a fabrication."
In the late 1940s I was a patient in a TB sanatorium that received as patients two young Polish men who had been repatriated from a slave-labor camp in Germany. Thaddeus and Roman Kucinski were very ill and eventually died. But for a short time they were ambulatory patients, and I got to know them and talk to them about their experiences.
One day after lunch, while we were casuaIly talking about the Nazi period, Thaddeus Kucinski took a smalI bar of course gray soap from the pocket of his robe. He heId it up for me to see, and on the side, in letters I will never forget, was the word Judenfett. He put it into my hand, and for a time I held it. I will never forget that moment, for in the final analysis, history is made up of such poignant human events. To deny or forget this is the real crime against humanity.
Veronica Szelepecz Lange, Williamsburg, Va.
D. D. Guttenplan's coverage reveals a disturbing sympathy for those who deny the systematic destruction of European Jewry by Hitler and his henchmen. David Irving, the English writer who denies the materiality of the Nazi focus on a Jewish "problem," is presented in an almost flattering light. Guttenplan is moved by Irving's pain and sorrow and finds it difficult to see traces of anti-Semitism in his work. This is amazing given that Irving believes in a "worldwide Jewish conspiracy" and sees Jewish groups as "traditional enemies of the truth." Guttenplan's portrayal of Deborah Lipstadt as a provincial Jewish scholar who lacks the bona fides to challenge Irving, primarily because she has confined her political engagements to Jewish causes, is equally striking.
Aside from these questionable charactetizations, two troubling points stand out. First, Guttenplan hitches Irving's case to respectable scholars whose views on Irving's arguments are not presented. This allows for Irving the revisionist to be placed in the company of Raul Hilberg (left) and Arno Mayer without their directly commenting on his work. Second, and perhaps more damning, is Guttenplan's avoidance of the legal anomalies that beset this case. In England a Tory libel law places the burden of proof on the person charged with making the libelous statements. What would easily pass under freedom-of-the-press laws in the United States is obstructed in England by a body of libel law that derives from a legal system that has historically chafed at criticism of the state and of state officers. This to has a deeply chilling effect on free speech and the expression of critical sentiment. Surely this angle of the case deserved serious attention, given that the central question at issue is the latitude available to scholars and critics to raise unpopular positions in the search for greater truth.
Jeffrey S. Kahana, Brandeis University Waltham, Mass.
D.D. Guttenplan speaks in his opening lines about Pastor Martin Niemöller's "unsparing account of his own complicity in the escalating brutality of life in Nazi Germany." Niemöller was a member of the Confessing Church in Germany, and he opposed Hitler publicly. For this he spent seven years in concentration camps, including Dachau. He always asked himself if he had done all that he could have. His famous lines were a challenge to Christians to speak up, because each person oppressed or imprisoned diminishes all of us.
We think Guttenplan does a disservice to Niemöller and to the other Christian leaders who fought against the Nazis when he depicts them as indifferent to or complicit with the Nazi regime. Niemöller survived his seven-year imprisonment, but many others, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paid for their courage with their Iives.
Jane Bailey, J. Martin Bailey, West Orange, N.J.
I read and greatly appreciated what D. D. Guitenplan had to say about my work, I would Iike, however, to correct the following details: Both my parents died in Auschwitz, not only my mother, as Guttenplan implies. The origin of his error is probably my dedication of Assassins of Memory to my mother. My father was killed as a Jew, but he was a patriot and a member of a resistance movement from 1940 onward. I considered his death to be the death of a soldier. My mother was simply a civilian victim of anti-Semitism.
P. Vidal-Naquet Paris, France
D.D. Guttenplan replies:
In what is admittedly a very long essay, some readers may have missed the following information (although it appears a number of times): Deborah Lipstadt is the defendant in this action. No careful reader could be in any doubt about my views regarding either the absurdity of British libel Iaws or the unfair burden they place on defendants. To argue, as Ellen Autenzio does, that Irving's lawsuit is "forcing an open intellectual confrontation" is to misread not only my words but the facts as well. The "intellectual confrontation" ended when Irving dragged Lipstadt into court. The would-be suppressor of free speech here is David Irving.
CarefuI readers wiII also know that, contra Emmy Rothschild, I never cited anyone "troubled that 'only' 5.1 million Jews were killed." As for Jeffrey Kahana, let me reiterate that it is the Anti-Defamation League that--shamefully, in my view--seeks to link Amo Mayer and other scholars with Holocaust denial, not I. Nor did I ever describe Deborah Lipstadt as "provincial" or as lacking the "bona fides" to challenge Irving. I do compare her, perhaps unfairly, with Pierre Vidal-Naquet and observe that her record of commitment to human rights falls far short of his--but then, that's true for most of us.
I'm afraid that Veronica Lange and I wiII simply have to disagree. I would argue that whereas memory may well be made up "of such poignant human events," history, although perhaps seeking to understand such events, is made up of something else: facts and interpretations. Whether her memory of "Jewish soap" is accurate is another matter.
Finally, though I am not a Christian, I have enormous admiration for those who, like Bonhoeffer, spoke up against the Nazis. If the Baileys have an argument, it is with Niemöller's self-flagellating rhetoric, not with me.
Boston, May, 2000