Posted Saturday, January 13, 2001

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New York, February, 2001

[Photos added by this website; you are urged to buy the magazine for the full article with illustrations]



By John Sack

[continued from Part 1]

But lo! Someone did. Not someone from the Auschwitz Museum, but Charles "Chuck" Provan, a letterhead printer in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and another scheduled speaker here in California. A man of childlike enthusiasms, a roly-poly, redbearded, merry man, a man with a brandy-glass-shaped face, he'd been an earnest denier until he had an epiphany in December 1990. Provan was home in Monongahela, reading from The Confessions of Kurt Gerstein, an SS man who confessed he was at the concentration camp in Belzec, Poland, and who said, "I see everything! The mothers, their babies at the breast, the little naked children, the men and women, naked. They enter into the death chamber, pushed by the leather whips of the SS. Pack well, that is what [the] captain ordered. Seven to eight hundred persons on twenty-five square meters. More than half are children...."

For forty-five years, the Confessions had been the laughingstock of the Holocaust deniers. What? Seven to eight hundred people on twenty-five square meters? Thirty people on one square meter, three people on one square foot? "Impossible," "Incredible," "Nonsensical," wrote the jeering deniers. "it is feasible if one uses a scrap press, but in that case gassing would be superfluous." Even mainstream historians fudged the Confessions' figures, writing at best inaccurately and at worst unscrupulously of 170 to 180 people or of a hundred square meters. For forty-five years, no one had troubled himself to see if seven to eight hundred people could fit on twenty-five square meters until Provan, in Monongahela, read these words in the Confessions: "More than half are children." Well, if I've got one thing, thought Provan, it's children, and he put down the book and took his five children and one big baby doll into an upstairs bedroom. "What are you doing?" asked Mrs. Provan.

"An experiment: How many kids can fit in a gas chamber."

"You shouldn't use the kids like that. It's sorta gruesome."

"Aw, it won't hurt them," said Provan in his down-home voice, and he had the kids strip to their underwear. He packed them into a corner, then with two dressers corralled them into a square of sixteen by sixteen inches. Then, setting them free, he used an electronic calculator to calculate to his astonishment that he could fit 891 children into the gas chamber at Belzec. Tears came to Provan's eyes, for he saw the Confessions differently now. Its author, he saw, wouldn't say something so impossible, incredible, nonsensical, something no one would believe for a half century, if he himself hadn't witnessed it. Gerstein, the SS man, had seen Jews die at Belzec ("One hears them weeping, sobbing"), and the Holocaust had indeed happened.

Charles ProvanProvan did two more experiments even as Mrs. Provan, a sort of Cesare Cremonini-the colleague of Galileo's who wouldn't look into Galileo's telescope-told him, "You shouldn't." In one, he used five kids, three mannequins, and one doll, and in the other, five kids, three adults-a printer, a minister, and an Italian woman who said, "You're nuts, but I'll do it-all with their clothes on, and the doll, and he calculated that seven hundred fathers, mothers, children, and babies would fit in the chamber at Belzec. And last March, he used the same scientific method on the "No holes? No Holocaust!" hypothesis, going with some of his children (he had nine by now) to one collapsed chamber at Auschwitz. The witnesses there had said the holes were alongside the central columns, and Provan used a forty-dollar metric measuring tape to find where the columns had been and found-well, whaddya know?-those celebrated holes. No longer were they twenty-five by twenty-five centimeters, as the witnesses had said. Now, with the roof blown up, they were larger, and Provan photographed them, came home to Monongahela, wrote up a monograph, printed it at his print shop, and printed a cover that, in gold letters, with the exclamation point demoted to a question mark, said, NO HOLES? NO HOLOCAUST? He then flew to Orange County and appeared at the palm-filled hotel on Saturday afternoon.

Not even washingup, he sat with childlike delight on a flowery lobby love seat by the Kentia palm, handing his two dozen spiralbound copies to the illuminati of Holocaust denial. if he expected encomiums, he misunderstood human nature, which clings to established beliefs as though to a life preserver without which we'd sink to the jet-black depths of the Mindanao Trough. "You have a bent toward evil," the chief denier from Australia, a man of German ancestry, told Provan. "You slander the German people. You believe in the Holocaust." "But Charles, if I may call you Charles, bring me the pudding," said the chief denier alive, a Frenchman who coined the "No holes? No Holocaust!" motto. "Bring me the holes of twenty-five by twenty-five centimeters." "Oh, I can't," said Proven.

"Where do you see a square of twenty-five by twenty-five?"

"Oh, not anymore. But this hole is big enough to have held it.,, "But you don't have a square of twenty-five centimeters."

"I admit that."

"This cannot convince me," the Frenchman said.

The angriest denier was David Irving, the British historian who'd said in London that a photograph of a hole would drive such a metaphorical hole in his case that he couldn't defend it. Irving, who isn't allowed at Auschwitz and may have been jealous of an amateur's access, sat at the open-air downstairs restaurant in front of a Caesar salad. on spotting Provan, he turned black, and his words came like chisel chips. "I'm hopping mad," Irving said. "If I were an SS man and somebody said, 'Knock some holes in that ceiling, will you? We're going to start putting cyanide in,' I'd make those holes in the middle of some empty area. I wouldn't put them-bang, bang, bang, bang-next to the load-bearing pillars. what were the load-bearing pillars for? Just cosmetic purposes?" Provan, twenty years younger, stood like a boy called down to the principal's office, looking abashed, and Irving continued, "The Germans spend God knows how many hundreds of thousands of pounds building this? And then they allow some jerk with a sledgehammer to punch holes

DAVID IRVING The trial in London a year ago was called the trial of the century by newspapers in Jerusalem. The plaintiff was David Irving, a renowned World War II historian and the best-selling author of thirty books, including Hitler's War. The defendant was Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University, who wrote in Denying the Holocaust that Irving had knowingly distorted history in pursuit of a revisionist agenda. Irving was suing her for libel, but to the Jerusalem papers, something much more momentous was at issue: Did the Holocaust happen or didn't it?

Irving lost. Not only that, but the judge called him a racist and an anti-Semite. Interestingly, Irving is one of the least extreme Holocaust deniers, a phrase he says he finds odious. He believes that at concentration camps like Chelmno, the Germans did indeed have gas chambers where they murdered thousands of Jews. He also believes that at Auschwitz the Germans had experimental chambers and that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust was four million at most, maybe less.

A Brit who normally lives in London, Irving is now in Key West, Florida, finishing volume two of Churchill's War.

next to the loadbearing pillars? I'm having lunch," said Irving abruptly, and he attacked his salad without a whit of his ardent convictions voided by Provan's photographs. Of course, the deniers would say it's Provan and I whose convictions weren't voided by Irving, and it may be a hundred years before we know whose views prevail. "We have won," an SS man told Primo Levi at Auschwitz. "There may be suspicions, but there will be no certainties, because we'll destroy the evidence together with you."

Provan, the only speaker (other than me) who believed that the Holocaust happened, spoke in the ballroom later on. He spoke about a Jewish coroner at Auschwitz and not about his "No holes? No Holocaust?" monograph or his one other epoch-making discovery. In the cyanide chambers at Auschwitz, there are no cyanide stains, and the deniers, though they've never worn a T-shirt saying NO CYANIDE? NOBODY DIED! call this another proof that what we call cyanide chambers were, in fact, innocuous morgues. But according to Provan, the chambers have no stains because the Germans painted their walls.

Sixteen other speakers spoke on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, for this was a holiday weekend, and I counted six who'd run afoul of the law because of their disbelief in the Holocaust and the death apparatus at Auschwitz. To profess this in anyone's earshot is illegal not just in Germany but in Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and Israel, where denying the Holocaust can get you five years while denying God can get you just one. one speaker, David Irving, had been fined $18,000 for saying aloud in Germany that one of the cyanide chambers at Auschwitz is a replica built by the Poles after the war. A replica it truly is, but truth in these matters is no defense in Germany. Another speaker, a Frenchman, had been fined in France, and another speaker, a German, had been sentenced to fourteen months in Germany but, his landlord evicting him, his wife deserting him, had fled to England. Another speaker, an Australian, had come from seven months in a German jail for writing in Australia (alas, on the Internet, which Germans in Germany can read) that there were no cyanide chambers at Auschwitz. In his defense, he'd called an expert witness, but the man couldn't testify or he'd be jailed, too, the victim of the selfsame law. The fifth speaker was a Swiss, a man whom I'd once roomed with (I'd met many deniers previously) and fed the kangaroos with in South Australia. He'll go to jail for three months in Switzerland for questioning the Auschwitz cyanide chambers.

In the United States, thank God, we have the First Amendment. But even in that shuttered ballroom in California, the sixth speaker couldn't say all he wanted to-couldn't, for example, say the Germans didn't kill the Jews deliberately. A few hours earlier, he and I had debated this at a waffle breakfast, debated it in audible voices with no qualms of being arrested, indicted, or imprisoned by federal marshals. "But what about Eichmann?" I'd asked him. "He wrote that Hitler ordered the physical destruction of the Jews. He wrote about Vergasungslager, gassing camps."

"John. The man was in Israeli captivity."

"Well, what about during the war? Hans Frank, the governor general of Poland, said to exterminate all the Jews, without exception."

"He was only quoted as saying that, John."

"And what about Goebbels? He said a barbaric method was being employed against the Jews. And Himmler? He said the SS knew what a hundred, five hundred, one thousand corpses were like."

"John, I don't know. They might have said it," the sixth speaker told me. "But it isn't true that genocide was a German national policy." A few hours later, the speaker didn't dare repeat this up in the ballroom, for he's a Canadian citizen and his speech was carried live on the Internet in Canada, and if he said what he'd said over waffles, he'd have been prosecuted in Canada. Already he'd been tried twice as well as hit, beaten, bombed, engulfed by a $400,000 fire, and told, "We'll cut your testicles off "

The man's name is Ernst Zündel. He's round-faced and red-faced like in a Hals, he's eternally jolly, and he was born in Calmbach, Germany. if you saw the recent movie about the Holocaust deniers, Mr. Death, he's the man in the hard hat who says, "We Germans will not go down in history as genocidal maniacs. We. Will. Not." He has become a hero to anti-Semites and, like every denier, has been called anti-Semitic himself, but it's just as honest to say that the Jews who (along with God) oversee the Jewish community are in fact anti-Zündelic, anti-Countessic, anti-Irvingic, and, in one word, anti-denieric. The normal constraints of time, temperance, and truth do not obstruct some Jewish leaders from their nonstop vituperation of Holocaust deniers. "They're morally ugly. They're morally sick," said Elie Wiesel on PBS. They bombard us with disinformation, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, on the op-ed page of The New York Times. "Holocaust deniers," said Foxman, spreading disinformation himself, "would have [us] believe there were no concentration camps." Myself, I disagree with these Jewish leaders. Most deniers, most attendees in their slacks and shorts at the palm-filled hotel, were like Zündel: people who, as Germans, had chosen to comfort themselves with the wishful thinking that none of their countrymen in the 1940s were genocidal maniacs.

I can sympathize with the Germans, for I've seen a bit of this wishful thinking among some Jews. Seven years ago, I ruefully reported in my book An Eye for an Eye that thousands of Jews who'd survived the Holocaust had rounded up Germans and beat, whipped, tortured, and murdered them German men, women, children, and babies-in concentration camps run by Jews. This little holocaust was corroborated by 60 Minutes and The New York Times but not by Jewish leaders. They, pardon the expression, denied it, writing reviews whose titles were "The Big Lie" and "False Witness" and "Do Me a Favor-Don't Read This Book." If Jews feel pressed to deny what happened to sixty thousand Germans, then Jews might forgive the Germans, like Zündel, who choose to deny what happened to six million Jews.

Instead, Jewish leaders hound them. Astronomers don't spill rivers of ink denouncing the UFO fanatics, whose theories are much less malignant but whose legions are much more numerous than the dozen dozen deniers at that international conference, their first in six slow-moving years. But for various reasons (for reparations, for the survival of Israel, or for real apprehensions that it could happen again), Jewish leaders want the Holocaust to be front and center in America's consciousness. In this they've succeeded spectacularly. Americans who aren't senior citizens think it was partly to save the Jews that we declared war on Germany, though that was no factor at all. Americans who don't know if one hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, or one million of our own soldiers died (and surely don't know that fifty million people died in China) know exactly how many Jews died in World War 11. Once, said Michael Berenbaum, the former research director of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "the Holocaust was a side story of World War 11. Now one thinks of World War 11 as a background story [to] the Holocaust." Among many ways Jewish leaders accomplished this was to tap out an SOS, an all-points alarm, whenever in any dark corner they spotted a knavish denier.

They may have adopted this from Jakob Böhme, a German mystic of Shakespeare's time. Böhme once said, "Nothing becomes manifest without opposition, for if it has nothing to oppose it, it slowly moves away from itself and does not return." Lest the Holocaust become unmanifest, lest the Holocaust move away from itself, Jewish leaders constantly point to the opposition, the bogeyman, the bugaboo, the otherwise ineffectual squad of Holocaust deniers. But there's a double edge to Böhme's sword: By opposing, opposing, opposing them in print, on the radio, and on TV, Jewish leaders make the deniers manifest, too. The deniers survive because they are being persecuted. They survive to spread their doctrine to the true Jew haters of the world.

My own speech was on Monday afternoon. It was about An Eye for an Eye, which the Germans among the deniers wanted to hear about so they could share their parents' guilt with the Jews, their parents' victims. No longer did I want to tell the deniers off, but I did want to edify them (and I did) that I and the Jews in An Eye for an Eye devoutly believe that the Holocaust happened. But also I wanted to say something therapeutic, to say something about hate. At the hotel, I'd seen none of it, certainly less than I'd seen when Jews were speaking of Germans. No one had ever said anything remotely like Elie Wiesel, "Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set aside a zone of hate-healthy, virile hate-for what persists in the Germans," and no one had said anything like Edgar Bronfman, the president of the World Jewish Congress. A shocked professor told Bronfman once, "You're teaching a whole generation to hate thousands of Germans," and Bronfman replied, "No, I'm teaching a whole generation to hate millions of Germans." Jew hatred like that German hatred, or like the German hatred I saw on every page of Hitler's Willing Executioners, I saw absolutely none of, but I saw that some people, all Germans, had had to struggle to suppress it.

"The tone of the Jewish establishment," said Zündel at another breakfast in the airy downstairs restaurant, "is so strident, offensive, grating, so denigrating of Germans, there's going to be-" He stopped short.

"We are so sick of the Holocaust!" a German woman with us took up. "Gentiles have it thrown in their faces morning, noon, and night without relief. Do the Jewish people know that?"

"They convict us, imprison us, make us into outcasts," said Zündel, who is now being prosecuted in Canada for, among other things, truthfully saying that Germans didn't make soap out of Jews. "Teachers lose their jobs. Professors lose their tenure, and I say this isn't good for the Jewish community."

"I see dissatisfaction," said the German woman, "that I shudder about. I think the Jewish community has to try to lessen it. This censorship! This terrorism!" In no way did her or Zündel's jaw get twisted like a twisted rubber band into the outward contours of hate, but the woman's quivered at the edges somewhat.

So at the lectern in the grand ballroom on Monday, I spoke about hate. "There are," I said, "eighty-five thousand books about the Holocaust. And none has an honest answer to How could the Germans do it? The people who gave us Beethoven, the Ninth Symphony, the ode to Joy, Alle Menschen werden Brüder, all men are brothers. How could the Germans perpetrate the Holocaust? This mystery, we've got to solve it, or we'll keep having genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Zaire. Well," I said, "what I report in An Eye for an Eye is Lola-the heroine, the commandant of a terrible prison in Gleiwitz, Germany-"Lola has solved it. The Jews have solved it. Because in their agony, their despair, their insanity, if you will, they felt they became like the Germans-the Nazis-themselves. And if I'd been there," I said, "I'd have become one, too, and now I understand why. A lot of Jews, understandably, were full of hate in 1945; they were volcanoes full of red-hot hate. They thought if they spit out the hate at the Germans, then they'd be rid of it.

"No," I continued. "It doesn't work that way. Let's say I'm in love with someone. I don't tell myself, Uh-oh, I've got inside of me two pounds of love, and if I love her and love her, then I'll use all of my love up-I'll be all out of love. No, I understand and we all understand that love is a paradoxical thing, that the more we send out, the more we've got. So why don't we understand that about hate? if we hate, and we act on that hate, then we hate even more later on. If we spit out a drop of hate, we stimulate the saliva glands and we produce a drop and a quarter of it. If we spit that out, we produce a drop and a half, then two drops, three, a teaspoon, tablespoon, a Mount Saint Helens. The more we send out, the more we've got, until we are perpetual-motion machines, sending out hate and hate until we've created a holocaust." I then said emphatically, "You don't have to be a German to become like that. You can be a Serb, a Hutu, a Jew-you can be an American. We were the ones in the Philippines. We were the ones in Vietnam. We were the ones in Washington, D. C., for ten thousand years the home of the Anacostia Indians. They had one of their campgrounds at what now is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"We all have it in us to become like Nazis," I said. "Hate, as Lola discovered, is a muscle, and if we want to be monsters, all we have to do is exercise it. To hate the Germans, to hate the Arabs, to hate the Jews. The longer we exercise it, the bigger it gets, as if every daywe curl forty pounds and, far from being worn out, in time we are curling fifty, sixty, we are the Mr. Universe of Hate, the Heinrich Himmler. We all can be hate-full people, hateful people. We can destroy the people we hate, maybe, but we surely destroy ourselves."

SackThe people who say the Holocaust didn't happen applauded. Loud and long they applauded, and a number of German deniers stood up. Some asked questions about Auschwitz, like why did I think that Germans meant for Jews to die? But one from Berlin, named Wolfgang, later confessed to me, "I believe that Auschwitz became unsanitary. The Jews were worked very hard, I grant you that. They died. And they had to be gotten rid of. And after they died, the SS put them into crematoriums. I won't deny that. And maybe to scare some, the SS told them, 'You're next, you're going to go up in smoke.' And maybe..."

The conference ended on Monday. No one was ever attacked by the Jewish Defense League. The deniers (revisionists, they call themselves) meet next in Cincinnati, and they have invited me to be the keynote speaker there. I've said yes.

John Sack

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