Saturday, December 24, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Introduction (1)

Introduction

From the earliest days of their movement, Holocaust deniers have largely centred their arguments on the Auschwitz death camp. Surveying the literature which makes up so-called Holocaust Revisionism[1], the obsession with Auschwitz is undoubtedly one of its defining features. Since the early 1990s, with the advent of the modern world-wide web, Holocaust deniers have taken to the internet to try and argue their case. Until recently, the ensuing online debates between advocates of Holocaust denial and their critics have likewise focused on Auschwitz. In 2005, there was even a formal debate on Auschwitz between several prominent Revisionists and their critics, hosted at the Real Open Debate on the Holocaust forum.[2]
Around the same time, however, a noticeable shift in Revisionist discourse began to make itself felt. After arguing for so long over Auschwitz, and losing those arguments in open court during the Irving vs Lipstadt libel trial of 2000, deniers began to turn their attention to the so-called Aktion Reinhard camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Although these camps had been discussed in passing in many older Revisionist works, it was not until the mid-2000s that they became a veritable fixation for Holocaust deniers. In 2005, sometime National Alliance activist Greg Gerdes created a website to promote a fictitious 'National Association of Forensic Criminologists and Historians' offering a reward for "proof" of the existence of mass graves at the three Reinhard camps - what constituted "proof", needless to say, was entirely up to Gerdes to dictate. The following year, perhaps inspired by the success of the 9/11 conspiracy video 'Loose Change', another American Revisionist, 'denierbud' (aka ‘Mike Smith’ from California), released the first substantive attempt at a Revisionist You Tube documentary, the 30-part ‘One Third of the Holocaust’ video. Anti-deniers noticed that their opponents were losing interest in Auschwitz and becoming more obsessed with Treblinka.
Part of the reason for this shift lay in the publication of new Revisionist works on Treblinka and Belzec by veteran denier authors Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf. Mattogno, an Italian writer, had been active on the Revisionist scene since the mid-1980s, but remained a relatively obscure figure until his works were more extensively translated from Italian to English from the early 2000s as part of the 'Holocaust Handbooks' series edited by Germar Rudolf. Graf, a Swiss German, had made a name for himself on the denier scene from the early 1990s by virtue of being one of the first Swiss deniers to be prosecuted under anti-racist legislation passed in 1995 by referendum. Unusually for Revisionists, both authors had also visited archives together, and began to research a series of co-authored and single-authored books on different Nazi camps from the mid-1990s onwards. With the demise of so many other veteran Revisionist authors and the suspension of the Journal of Historical Review in 2002, Mattogno and Graf have been the 'serious' face of Holocaust denial this century.
The motivation for the following work initially arose out of prior efforts to establish a formal debate between Revisionists and non-Revisionists on the subject of the Aktion Reinhard camps, in a reprise of the 2005 RODOH debate on Auschwitz. In 2006, several of the authors of the present work had been involved in refuting the 'One Third of the Holocaust' video at the Holocaust Controversies blog, a refutation that had gone unanswered from the Revisionist side.[3] A formal debate seemed like the fairest way to test denier arguments about the Reinhard camps, and to give the Revisionist side the chance to respond to a considerable number of criticisms that had accumulated of the denier case against the Reinhard camps. It also seemed like the best way to draw a line under what had become a seemingly interminable argument across a number of internet forums, and have it out in the open.

While several non-Revisionists volunteered for this event, and the Revisionist side was initially able to assemble a number of volunteers, the Revisionists were not in the end able to establish a debate team, and within weeks of the initial agreement had to declare themselves inquorate. Included among the invitees to join the Revisionist team were notable deniers such as Thomas Kues, Friedrich Berg, and ‘denierbud’, as well as lesser lights like Wilfried Heink, but the offer was not accepted by these negationist luminaries. Such a failure certainly puts the lie to the oft-heard demand by Revisionists that they want open debate on the Holocaust, a fact reinforced by the censorship tactics employed at the CODOH Revisionist forum.
Despite the failure of Revisionists to assemble a debate team, the non-Revisionists decided to go ahead with a response to deniers’ arguments regarding the Reinhard camps. At the same time, there also exists a gap in Holocaust literature for a new complete history of Aktion Reinhard; much has been researched in the two decades since Yitzhak Arad published his 1987 monograph on the camps. While this critique cannot claim to serve as that new history, it has synthesized a lot of recent scholarship regarding the camps while also making some new connections based on the evidence, some of which has not been discussed in the available literature before.
Moreover, refuting Revisionism was an opportunity for us to expand our historical work on the Holocaust into a larger text than the blog format allows, while synthesizing and developing some ideas already present in those articles. It was also a chance to enjoy the satisfaction of exposing shoddy and deceitful history. We feel that, despite the claims of some commentators that refuting Holocaust denial is a waste of effort, the opportunity to debunk the output of pseudoscholars is one that should be taken for its own sake. It does not mean that we regard deniers as equal debating partners on an intellectual or ethical level; instead, we proceed in the knowledge that deniers operate in ignorance and bad faith.
The most obvious targets for such a project were Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf’s Treblinka as well as Mattogno’s Bełżec. Some other denier works were included in our analysis and study as well, but it was decided that the primary focus of our efforts should remain on the foremost Revisionist researchers. It was also learned (through the private admission of one of the parties involved) that the lengthy article “Akte Sobibor” was to form the basis of a new work on the Sobibor camp by Mattogno, Graf, and Revisionist writer Thomas Kues (hereafter MGK).[4] That work appeared midway through the project, but we had been advised by Kues to disregard Akte Sobibor and instead save our efforts for the finished and extended study on the camp.[5]
The new work apparently gave members of MGK some added confidence. Since the appearance of Sobibór, after a year of silence in regards to the blog, Mattogno has posted a new response[6], while Kues for the first time openly responded to a few criticisms of his blogging and journalism for the Inconvenient History blog and journal.[7] For his part Graf, apparently in the name of “the authors of Sobibór[8], on two occasions in the past year has challenged the Holocaust Controversies blog crew to write a comprehensive and detailed critique of one of their works, suggesting Sobibór as a potential candidate on both occasions.[9] Unfortunately for Graf and his cohorts, the present writers did not bother to wait for his invitations, nor are we restricting ourselves to just one book. Instead, we took it upon ourselves to critique what we saw as the denier ‘trilogy’ on the Reinhard camps produced by MGK: Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór. Where relevant we have also included responses to articles, blog posts, or other publications they and other deniers wrote apart from the three core Reinhard books.
Reading extensively and studiously through MGK’s trilogy and other works was hardly the most pleasant of experiences as a reader. The first thing that became apparent was the unjustifiable number and length of quotations that were used. In Bełżec, for instance, the main text plus footnotes weighs in at a measly 46,636 words, while at least 18,494 of those words derived from block quotes. Thus 40% of Mattogno’s work was simply quotes, often produced without analysis or comment, or even an explanation on why such lengthy quotes were included.[10] Such an addiction to quotations continued in Sobibór, where the reader is often presented with quotes numbering many hundreds of words. Following the introduction to the work, the reader is immediately hit by an extensive quote from the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (hardly anything but a tertiary source) running some 2,196 words long.[11] As the main text and footnotes of Sobibór combine to roughly 150,000 words, the first quote already takes up nearly 1.5% of the entire work. The quote percentage of the main work continues to increase as you read on, with archaeologist Andrzej Kola quoted for a combined 3,328 words (2.2%), wartime demographer Eugene Kulischer quoted for 3,298 words (2.2%), Sobibor survivor and historian Jules Schelvis for 1445 words (1%), historian Christopher Browning for a combined 1,388 words (1%), historian Yitzhak Arad for 899 words (0.5%), historians Peter Witte and Stephen Tyas for 661 words (0.5%), archaeologist Yoram Haimi’s team’s Sobibor publication for 561 words (0.4%). All of those quotes contain other peoples’ research, and their extensive length potentially breaches ‘fair use’, thus violating copyright. Just in those sources alone we reach nearly one-tenth of MGK’s word count for their main text including footnotes. No mainstream publisher would ever accept the manuscripts for such books. The number of testimonies and documents quoted by MGK would no doubt substantially increase such a figure, lessening the amount of original work and interpretation that MGK actually produce. They also use an extensive amount of exclamation marks to emphasize their points, a feature usually completely absent from serious scholarship.
The large number of quotes aside, it is still hard to determine many of MGK’s actual arguments in their works. Their methodology is scattergun and piecemeal, something highlighted by the publication of one book per Reinhard camp, and largely negationist in approach. The overwhelming majority of the trilogy is dedicated to discussing what did not happen at the various Reinhard camps instead of what did. Such is of course the opposite of proper historiographical methods. Yet even in their negationist arguments one is hard pressed to work out a comprehensive and coherent history. Many witnesses are quoted, and then simply handwaved, ridiculed, or contradicted without any proper explanation about the sources’ reliability or general circumstances. Were the witnesses present at the camp but telling lies in their testimony? Were they not present at all? Were they given a script to repeat during interrogations? Is their whole testimony worthless? None of these crucial issues are ever discussed by MGK. They also fail to establish a proper convergence through the different forms of evidence, which leaves their limited attempt to present a positive history when advancing their ‘transit camp’ thesis largely based on their negationist efforts to read the evidence, and thus renders this thesis completely incoherent.
It also became painfully obvious that MGK are extremely repetitious in their works. Many of the same arguments or points were made across multiple writings in a variety of languages. This will become noticeable throughout the critique as multiple locations for MGK’s arguments are pinpointed in the footnotes.
Despite Graf’s challenges to us and despite the limited responses from Mattogno and Kues to previous criticisms, faced with the scale of critique, MGK might feel the sudden urge to think up excuses in order to avoid responding to us. Mattogno had earlier chastised Holocaust Controversies as being “held in no account by Holocaust historians” and its writers “have published nothing in printed form.”[12] Such an excuse came about after Mattogno had already responded to some of our blog posts, and so seems rather desperate.[13] Our blog has actually been cited several times by Emory University’s Holocaust Denial on Trial website[14], one of the primary online resources on Holocaust denial, as well as in the scholarly Holocaust collection put together by Pavel Polian and Alfred Kokh.[15] We need not boast about the emails and face to face remarks praising the blog we have received from academics; without naming all of the historians who have expressed their appreciation, we are quite certain that they outnumber whatever praise Mattogno himself has ever received from any academics.[16] Mattogno also claimed that none of the blog members ever visited an archive, a library, have seen an original document, or are aware of the documentary evidence of the camps. This is flat out false, as will be seen in the following pages. Finally, although Mattogno says that we “love to hide behind pseudonyms,” only one of the five present writers uses a pseudonym. Moreover, it is grossly ironic for Mattogno to moan about pseudonyms given the aliases used by Mattogno’s own co-author ‘Thomas Kues’, and his former editor Germar Rudolf.[17] The blog does not make a claim to greatness or importance as MGK sometimes do, but instead was established so as to provide a more popular (i.e. not academic) response to the activities of Holocaust deniers.[18] With regard to this primary aim, we consider our blog to be extremely successful.
If MGK were to employ such a dodge tactic to refuse a response, then they would obviously bear the brunt of their own sword, for none of the three have submitted anything for a peer-reviewed journal (no denier work is peer-reviewed as there simply are no peers for them), nor do any of them have university credentials. Thus, there is no justification that compels academics to automatically take them seriously. Indeed, this critique shows why Revisionist arguments are anything but.
There also was never a great need for the present writers to even bother with MGK’s arguments; nor do they consider MGK’s work to be so impressive as to demand a mainstream response. A simple survey of the general state of Revisionism is enough to reaffirm to scholars that negationist arguments are unworthy of academic consideration. The most recognized Holocaust denier, David Irving, recanted his earlier gas chamber denial several years ago[19], and has expressly stated his belief that the Reinhard camps were a site of mass murder.[20] The newer works by MGK do not even appear to be read by their fellow deniers, with their works very seldom referred to in discussion forums and in other Revisionist articles. Internet traffic counters also support the simple fact that only a very small number of people are actually reading MGK’s work.[21] If MGK’s own cheerleaders don’t even bother with their convoluted work, there is no reason why professional historians should. Indeed the real driving factor behind this critique remained our historical interest in the Holocaust, and the enjoyable experience we had of exposing shoddy and deceitful history.
Reading through the collective works and online comments by MGK, it becomes clear to the reader that the trio possess a high degree of resentment and contempt for those who tell a different history than the one they half-heartedly propose. In many instances Holocaust survivors have been blatantly described as liars[22] and stupid.[23] Those Germans who admitted to their participation in the gassings have also been described as traitors.[24] Such scornfulness is also evident against other researchers and historians of the Holocaust, as their honor is repeatedly questioned[25], as is sometimes even their morality.[26] The very authors of this critique have also been exposed to personal attacks from the trio, being called armchair critics, cowards, and sophists by Mattogno,[27] and liars, disinformers, slanderers and charlatans by Kues.[28] For our part we haven’t pulled punches in our analysis of MGK, as people who have voluntarily excluded themselves from peer review can’t expect the same civility that academics would give to peers. Rather than indulge in hollow name-calling as they do, however, we have in this analysis focused on exposing their fallacies and left the decision on appropriate epithets to our readers. We have also refrained from saying much about the apparent motives of MGK until the conclusion.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the present authors need to address some basic issues such as our general understanding of Aktion Reinhard, a serious review of the current literature on the subject, an explanation regarding the structure of the present critique, as well as personal acknowledgements from the authors. Readers should note two major stylistic differences between this critique and the works of MGK immediately: the structure of the work and the literature review. In their major works, MGK generally follow the odd path of historiography and wartime knowledge, technical matters related to exterminations within the camps, war crime trials, Nazi policy, and then conclude by arguing for the supposed ‘real’ purpose of the camps discussed.[29] More will be said about our structure later in this introduction. What follows, however, is a conventional academic literature review of the Aktion Reinhard camps. While Graf assumes that writing pot shots and snarky comments against memoirists and historians about the camps count as proper literature reviews, he is sadly mistaken.[30]


[1] The designation preferred by Holocaust deniers. We have used this label interchangeably with ‘denier’ and ‘negationist’ to refer to those who contest the historical veracity of the Holocaust.
[3] See the posts under ‘Debunking Denierbud videos and writings’ at:
[4] Carlo Mattogno, Jürgen Graf, Thomas Kues, Sobibór: Holocaust Propaganda and Reality, Washington: Barnes Review, 2010.
[5] Thomas Kues, e-mail message to authors, April 6, 2010.
[6] Carlo Mattogno, ‘Il comitato di soccorso Zimmerman: Glio Olo-Bloggers In(denigr)azione Nel Web,’ Studi di Carlo Mattogno, October 4, 2010, http://revisionismo.splinder.com/post/23402176/ilcomitato-di-soccorso-zimmerman; Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Mattogno freaks out,’ Holocaust Controversies, 7.10.10, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2010/10/mattogno-freaks-out.html.
[7] Thomas Kues, ‘Lies and obfuscations about Himmler’s Sobibor directive,’ Inconvenient History blog, 22.5.11, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2011/05/lies-and-obfuscations-about-himmlers-sobibor-directive/; Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Thomas Kues on 'Lies and obfuscations about Himmler’s Sobibor directive',’ Holocaust Controversies blog, 25.5.11, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/05/thomas-kues-on-lies-and-obfuscations.html; Thomas Kues, ‘On the terms Sonderlager and SS-Sonderkommando,’ Inconvenient History blog, 27.5.11, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2011/05/on-the-terms-sonderlager-and-ss-sonderkommando/; Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Thomas Kues’ takes on the Sonderlager paper dragon,’ Holocaust Controversies blog, 27.5.11, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/05/thomas-kues-takes-on-sonderlager-paper.html; Thomas Kues, ‘Sobibor-Muehlenkamp’s “best explanation”,’ Inconvenient History blog, 4.6.11, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2011/06/sobibor-muehlenkamps-best-explanation/; Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Thomas Kues tries to defuse the Benda report,’ Holocaust Controversies blog, 5.6.11, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/06/thomas-kues-tries-to-defuse-benda.html.
[8] Jürgen Graf, e-mail message to authors, 19.10.10.
[9] Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘A message from Jürgen Graf,’ Holocaust Controversies blog, 24.6.11, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/06/message-from-jurgen-graf_24.html.
[10] This figure would undoubtedly increase by removing the words included through footnotes.
[11] MGK, Sobibór, pp.15-20.
[12] Mattogno, ‘Il comitato di soccorso Zimmerman.’
[13] Cf. Carlo Mattogno, ‘Belzec or the Holocaust Controversy of Roberto Muehlenkamp,’ http://www.codoh.com/gcgv/gcgvhcrm.html.
[14] Emory University’s Holocaust Denial on Trial website has several Myth/Fact pages to refute specific denier arguments. The Holocaust Controversies blog is cited in the following issues: ‘80,000 People Cannot Be Buried In A Grave The Size of a Henhouse,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/graves4; ‘There Are No Mass Graves At Treblinka,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/graves1; ‘There are no Mass Graves in Belzec,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/graves2; ‘Mass Incineration: Not Enough Room To Crush The Bones,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/incineration10; ‘The incineration fires would have needed to (sic) much wood: Part 1 of 2,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/incinerate5; ‘The incineration fires would have needed to (sic) much wood: Part 2 of 2,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/incinerate6; ‘Where are the teeth that once belonged to that multitude of incineration victims,’ http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact/incinerate8.
[15] Pavel Polian and Alfred Kokh (eds), Otritsanie otritsaniia ili bitva pod Aushvitsem. Debaty o demografii i gepolitike Kholokhosta, Moscow: Tri kvadrata, 2008.
[16] One of the authors has given papers on the history of Holocaust denial at academic conferences in late 2008, June 2009 and September 2010, attracting praise and encouragement from several historians whose work is cited in this critique. It may have escaped MGK’s attention that Holocaust denial is largely now seen as an object for research by political scientists; historians will in the future be most likely to research the history of Revisionism from the perspective of the post-1945 collective memory of Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust at best; or to situate the phenomenon into the context of extreme-right political movements and so-called ‘secodary antisemitism’ after 1945. No historian of our acquaintance takes the historical interpretations advanced by Holocaust revisionism seriously.
[17] For more on Rudolf, see Harry Mazal, ‘What’s in a nym?’ Holocaust History Project, http://www.holocaust-history.org/denial/nym.shtml.
[18] Nick Terry, ‘Intention and Explanation,’ Holocaust Controversies, March 23, 2006, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/03/intention-and-explanation.html.
[19] Irving still challenges gassings in some of the crematoria in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but does accept that hundreds of thousands perished in the bunkers.
[20] Marissa Brostoff, ‘Holocaust Deniers Rankled by Their Standard Bearer’s Revisions,’ The Jewish Daily Forward, 3.10.2007, http://www.forward.com/articles/11755/.
[21] The Holocaust Handbooks website, where all of the series’ works can be downloaded for free, including new works such as MGK’s Sobibór, was given a rank of 26,240,705 for internet traffic, according to the web information company Alexa in December 2011. This rank is dwarfed by the rankings of the denier websites CODOH (801,960) and VHO (331,727) as well as our own blog Holocaust Controversies (2,792,586). The website SiteAnalytics, operated by Compete,Inc., cannot even record the number of visitors to the Holocaust Handbooks website as the traffic is so low, suggesting far fewer than 1,000 visits a month, while our blog averages around 7,000 per month.
[22] M&G, Treblinka, pp.41, 175; MGK, Sobibór, pp.88, 175, 187, 188, 190, 399.
[23] M&G, Treblinka, p.136.
[24] MGK, Sobibór, p.188.
[25] MGK, Sobibór, pp.60, 167.
[26] Jürgen Graf, ‘Was geschah mit den nach Auschwitz deportierten, jedoch dort nicht registrierten Juden?’ Vierteljahreshefte für freie Gesichtsforschung, 2/2, 2000, pp.140-149. Graf describes historian Georges Wellers as “ein Mann von niedrigem moralischen Niveau.”
[27] Carlo Mattogno, ‘Il comitato di soccorso Zimmerman.’
[28] See Thomas Kues’ 25.6.10 comments in response to criticism from a non-HC member, available below one of his articles: Thomas Kues, ‘Chil Rajchmans Treblinka-vittnesmål – En kritisk granskning,’ Mohamed Omar Blog, 22.6.10, http://alazerius.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/thomas-kues-chil-rajchmans-treblinka-vittnesmal-–-en-kritisk-granskning/
[29] See M&G, Treblinka, as well as MGK, Sobibór, for said structures.
[30] M&G, Treblinka, pp.19-46; MGK, Sobibór, pp.15-61.

3 comments:

Joachim Neander said...

I would leave out the "copyright" argument (though it is in Anglo-American tradition a cherished notion) in connection with quotations. Copyright is a very double-edged sword, it hinders free flow of information and gives the authors very little back. If one wants to argue with a text or analyze it, one often has to quote it lengthily. IMO the argument you bring, quoted here: "Thus 40% of Mattogno’s work was simply quotes, often produced without analysis or comment, or even an explanation on why such lengthy quotes were included" is strong and sufficient.

Joachim Neander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joachim Neander said...

I would leave out the "copyright" argument (though it is in Anglo-American tradition a cherished notion) in connection with quotations. Copyright is a very double-edged sword, it hinders free flow of information and gives the authors very little back. If one wants to argue with a text or analyze it, one often has to quote it lengthily. IMO the argument you bring, quoted here: "Thus 40% of Mattogno’s work was simply quotes, often produced without analysis or comment, or even an explanation on why such lengthy quotes were included" is strong and sufficient.