Roberts's column posted on May 3, entitled "Morality, Truth, Facts Have Exited From The Dying West," begins by addressing remarks made Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech to the Palestinian National Council on April 30 -- or more correctly addressing the response by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called Abbas's remarks Holocaust denial. To be clear, I don’t know what Abbas actually said, but if the reporting is correct, then his remarks were at the very least insensitive and overly general regarding the causes of European anti-Semitism and its relationship with Zionism. That Abbas has a history of overt Holocaust denial (having written a doctoral dissertation several decades ago that minimized the death toll) didn't help Abbas's case here. For what it's worth, he has since apologized.
Roberts first expresses agreement with Abbas's remark that European anti-Semitism was not Christian in origin but rather an outgrowth of Jewish control over money lending (again, a bit of an overgeneralization), but in the fourth paragraph, he really hits his stride:
What was the Holocaust? According to zionists, the Holocaust was National Socialist Germany’s elimination of 6 million Jews by first gassing them and then cremating the bodies. It is unclear how Germany managed this feat when all of its limited and dwindling resources were employed, unsuccessfully as it turns out, on the Russian front.The first problem, obviously, is that the definition he provides is not one limited to only "zionists" [sic]. More importantly, as noted in numerous blog posts here, no responsible historian claims that the Nazis gassed six million Jews. Fewer than three million deaths of Jews during the war can be attributed conclusively to gassing; at least an equal number were shot by Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union, were starved or died from disease in ghettos or non-death camps, or were murdered by Axis allies.
His third point is also a bit of a groaner, although if we could extend the benefit of the doubt to him regarding good faith, we might say it's a decent question. Enough ink has been spilled on the topic of the changing nature of Nazi Jewish policy during the Barbarossa campaign, so I won't reinvent that wheel here except to note that Roberts seems woefully under-read on this topic. Anyone with more than a miniseries-level knowledge of the Holocaust would consider the whole paragraph an exercise in either total ignorance of historical facts or evidence of bad faith.
Photos demonstrating the Holocaust include dead skeletal-like bodies. But these are not people gassed and cremated. These are deaths from typhus and starvation. The disintegrating German state had no food or medicines for Germans and often not for its own soldiers. Concentration camp inmates were on the bottom of the totem pole.True enough, the bodies in German camps found by American and British liberators were of Jews who died of disease and starvation. To his credit, Roberts does not try to claim that these dead Jews are not the responsibility of the German state. But that's a less interesting point than feeling the need to point this fact out at all. Where have I seen this before? Oh yes! That Roberts deploys an opening gambit of virtually every Holocaust denier I've encountered over the last 20 years is probably not a vote in his favor here.
The next few paragraphs is really where the rubber meets the road, so I want to drill down on these a bit. He begins, "We know very little about the Holocaust, because no one is allowed to study it."
Actually, we know a tremendous amount about the Holocaust and what we know about it we know because people have routinely been able to study it. This might seem axiomatic, but apparently it isn't, since it's another commonly used opening gambit used by deniers. More on this below.
Roberts continues, "Anyone in Europe who studies it and makes the slightest correction to the zionist narrative is arrested and imprisoned as a Holocaust denier."
Putting aside the point addressed above about a "zionist narrative," Roberts is simply wrong. Assuming by "zionist narrative," he means that European Jews were deliberately murdered in numbers of approximately six million by the Nazis, using methods including poison gas, then perhaps he isn't aware that this account is routinely modified on the basis of newly available evidence. Interestingly, one of the things that has happened is that the death toll estimated by historians has tended to go up, not down. Gerald Reitlinger (a European) estimated the number of deaths as falling in range of 4.3 million to 4.7 million in 1953; Raul Hilberg (another European, albeit eventually a naturalized American) estimated the number at 5.1 million in 1961. These numbers, by the way, were already at odds with numbers estimated by, e.g., the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry tasked with estimating this number. Reitlinger wasn't prosecuted for estimating a number fully 1.5 million smaller than the "official" estimate.
Roberts again: "There is no doubt that many Jews were killed, but there are different views about the various means employed and the extent to which the process was organized or haphazard. Before differences could be resolved and sorted out, the subject was put off limits."
Compare Mark Weber's writing from "The Holocaust: Let's Hear Both Sides": "They ["revisionists"] do not dispute the fact that large numbers of Jews were deported to concentration camps and ghettos, or that many Jews died or were killed during the Second World War."
Regarding the means employed, to be clear, there are not different views, at least among anyone who has taken the time to explore the issue. Regarding whether the process was organized or haphazard, thereby hangs a tale -- one told here and elsewhere repeatedly, despite Roberts's assurance that such a discussion is "off limits."
Two points bear mention here. The first is the intentionalist-functionalist debate, which I wrote about here. If it interests you, you can read about it further, but suffice it to say that it was perhaps the major point of dispute among historians for a couple of decades, and nobody went to prison.
The second point is the Historikerstreit, or "historians' fight" of the 1980s and 1990s, during which conservative German scholars openly questioned the extent to which the Holocaust might have been a natural reaction on the part of the Nazis to Bolshevist terror, which was believed by many people, not just Nazis, to be specifically Jewish in origin (owing to the Jewish backgrounds of many early Bolsheviks). None of these historians were punished either. Many of them wrote canonical works in the historiography of the Third Reich (e.g., Ernst Nolte) that remain important.
Not to put too fine a point on this issue, but I've spent the last two years researching fairly intensively the Holocaust in the Baltic States and eastern Poland. Trust me when I tell you that no small amount of the work in this area has examined the extent to which Jews living in these regions might have provoked the anger of the populations by embracing the Soviets when the Red Army occupied these regions between September 1939 and June 1941. This point is examined because it's an important one -- if one of the goals of history is to assure that, by understanding history, we can avoid it being repeated in its worst aspects, then understanding the motivations of the murderers of Europe's Jews is an important part of the process.
None of the historians who have examined this question -- difficult as it is to examine -- have been prosecuted, much less imprisoned. Where "historians" have been imprisoned is when they have publicly stated their conviction that the Holocaust was essentially a hoax -- that the number of victims have been irresponsibly inflated and especially that no gassings were committed. As wrongheaded and counterproductive as I might think these laws are, it's worth noting that these are the people who have been prosecuted -- not radical functionalists like Götz Aly, not conservative revisionists seeking to draw an equivalence between the Holocaust and Stalinist mass killing like Nolte, and not nationalist historians like Mark Paul, whose work seeks to contextualize the mass killing of Jews within the behavior of certain sectors of the Jewish population. Also worth noting is that the people who are prosecuted are often not prosecuted for denying the Holocaust per se but for inciting racial hatred -- which is a crime in more countries than it is not. Given that the Venn diagram for Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites is pretty much a perfect circle, this fact ought not surprise us.
Roberts writes the following next:
For example, suppose a scholar in Germany discovers a previously unknown document that proves that National Socialist Germany exterminated 3 million Jews. This discovery of proof of the Holocaust would be rewarded with the arrest and imprisonment of the scholar for reporting the document, because it conflicts with the official zionist declaration of 6 million. The document would be branded a falsification and discarded. The scholar’s career would be ruined.I hope the examples of Reitlinger and Hilberg above have disproved this point. But I do believe that, were a document found smeared with Hitler's DNA and reading, "Kill the Jews, use gas chambers, and stop when you hit six million," some people would find issue with its veracity. It's fair to question the motives of people willing to seize on the smallest bit of exculpatory evidence and ignore the mountain of evidence proving the Holocaust.
The last paragraph from Roberts worth addressing is this:
The Holocaust is not a subject that can be studied or investigated. It is an occurrence handed down by zionists that cannot be examined or modified and certainly not questioned. We must take it on faith alone. If a scholar does not, he is a Holocaust denier and, if European or captured in Europe, he is imprisoned.Well, by now, he's basically repeating himself, but a final point does emerge here in referring to "scholars" as the people being imprisoned for denying the Holocaust. With the exception of David Irving, whose early work on World War II could be considered genuinely valuable, if biased, none of the people prosecuted for doing so have been scholars -- not even close. The number of Holocaust deniers with advanced history degrees numbers zero -- the ones who did have them are either dead (Harry Elmer Barnes) or no longer deniers (Mark Weber), and they were always the minority. There's a reason for that fact.
The rest of Roberts's essay is par for his particular course, and I won't address it here. In the interest of fairness, I intend to draw Roberts's attention to this piece; should he respond, I'll note it here.