Unfortunately, nonsense is also produced on occasion (though less egregiously) by serious and respected historians. Two examples of such nonsense shall be addressed in this blog.
The first example is not so serious and related to military historiography rather than to the subject matter of Holocaust Controversies. I’m referring to the overblown estimates of German military fatalities in World War II by German military historian Rüdiger Overmans, in his book Deutsche Militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. An examination of Overmans’ figures regarding three theaters of operations – the Western Front in 1944/45, the Balkans, and Italy – has shown Overmans figures to be unrealistically high in light of the available records and the military historiography regarding these theaters. This applies especially to his claim on p. 265 that of 1,230,045 deaths in the "Final Battles" in Germany between January and May 1945 (contrary to what their last-digit precision might suggest, Overmans’ figures are not mentioned in any military records but are Overmans’ extrapolations from a statistical sample), two-thirds occurred in the Eastern Front and one-third occurred on the Western Front. The resulting figure for the Western Front, 410,015 deaths, is easily an exaggeration by a factor of four. The aforementioned 1,230,045 figure includes 697,319 missing, thereof about 180,000 in the West (p. 287) and the remaining ca. 517,000 in the East. Despite reckoning that many of those missing in the West may have died in French captivity or as mercenaries of the French Foreign Legion in Indochina, and that about 700,000 of the ca. 1.5 million missing in the East (which include the aforementioned 517,000) possibly died in Soviet captivity, Overman claims on several occasions (e.g. pp. 275, 279 and 283) that 1,230,045 German servicemen died between January and May 1945, pointing out that this means 300,000 deaths per month and 10,000 every day.
The second example is more serious and directly related to one of the topics of HC articles, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. It is to be found in Max Hastings’ Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, a book widely acclaimed by peers and critics (cover quotes: "One of the finest historians of the Second World War" (Michael Burleigh); "A grand achievement. Max Hastings is a brilliant military historian who enthralls the reader by combining mastery of high strategy and low tactics with poignant understanding of individual combat experiences. This is the last word on the last year of the greatest war in history." (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.); "Gripping … Hastings, already a supreme exponent of important arguments in military history to a general readership, finds a new dimension" (Hew Strachan, Sunday Times); "Filled with valuable insights and good judgment … In this grand overview Hastings has again made a magnificent contribution to our understanding of the period." (Antony Beevor, Sunday Telegraph).
The book is indeed a good read, transmits a fairly good idea of "what it was like" from the perspective of individual participants in the events narrated, and contains some "valuable insights" such as highlighting the much larger scale and intensity of the war on Eastern Front versus the Western Front. But when it comes to certain facts – namely numbers – it is not so commendable. The author, who in the introduction (page xii) prides himself on having done archival research and met 170 contemporary witnesses in Russia, Germany, Britain, the United States and Holland, and assures his readers (page xvii) that the statistics given in the text are "the best available", disgraces his book with the following blatantly false information on p. 439:
Two million Soviet prisoners, Poles, gypsies and other ‘anti-social elements’ were killed at Auschwitz alone, in addition to two million Jews.
There is no source reference for this claim, which is included in the book’s chapter 13 headed "Prisoners of the Reich" (pp. 438-480). I had to read the above several times before I believed that it had indeed been written by someone held to be a historian of note, in a book published in 2005, a full 15 years after Auschwitz historian Franciszek Piper made known to the international community his estimate of ca. 1,082,000 victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp (thereof 960,000 Jews, 860,000 unregistered and 100,000 registered inmates), which "has been endorsed by all serious, professional historians who have studied the complex history of Auschwitz in some detail, and by the Holocaust research institutes at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C." (Van Pelt).
Research by German historians Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly on deportations from Hungary, published in their 2002 book Das letzte Kapitel, calls for revising Piper’s figure downward by about 100,000, as pointed out in Sergey’s blog The number of Hungarian Jews gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz. Otherwise there have been no serious challenges to Piper’s assessment, especially no substantiated demonstration that it might be too low.
Hastings may be forgiven for not reading Holocaust Controversies blog. As he is not a historian of the Holocaust, he may also be forgiven for not being familiar with Gerlach and Aly’s Das letzte Kapitel. But the Van Pelt Report on Auschwitz-Birkenau was part of the evidence submitted at a widely publicized trial that took place in the UK five years before Hastings published his book, and in which Auschwitz-Birkenau was widely discussed. So the least thing that should be expected of a historian writing about Auschwitz-Birkenau in a chapter of a book is that he made himself familiar with the historiography of that camp presented at that trial. Hastings obviously didn’t bother to do that.
What is more, Hastings needed to do nothing more than consult an encyclopedia (say, the Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia), or the respective entry of the USHMM, to learn that the death toll of this concentration camp was about a quarter of the order of magnitude he claimed.
He obviously didn’t even bother to do that, instead postulating as "the best available" a blatantly exaggerated figure that was decried as such already by camp commandant Rudolf Höss in his notes written in Polish captivity. Needless to say, Hastings also forgot to read the English translation of Höss’ memoirs and notes (Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz).
But it gets even better (or worse, depending on the perspective). Where did Hastings get his split of the camp’s claimed 4 million death toll into 2 million non-Jews and 2 million Jews? Not from the Soviet War Crimes Report on Auschwitz, Document USSR-8, translated here by "Revisionist" Carlos Porter, which contains no such subdivision. Neither from the indictment at the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, which merely claims that "about 4,000,000 persons were exterminated in Auschwitz, among whom were citizens of Poland, the U.S.S.R., the United States of America, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, and other countries" (a claim that was not repeated in the IMT’s judgment). A subdivision of the Auschwitz death toll into an equal number of Jews and non-Jews is also not to be found in the records of the trial of Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss before the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland. Unless I missed something, the conclusion seems to be warranted that Hastings simply invented this split.
Such sloppy (or dishonest?) behavior on the part of Hastings is a serious matter, insofar as his book is widely read, and a number of readers far in excess of those who read the mendacious "Revisionist" screeds known as "Holocaust Handbooks" is thus misinformed about important historical facts. Less serious, but also unpleasant, is the fact that Hastings’ false numbers feed the "4 million" meme that is a mainstay of "Revisionist" argumentation.