Saturday, January 25, 2020

Rebutting the "historical" appendix to David Cole's book "Republican Party Animal".

A post on David Stein/Cole's book Republican Party Animal, or rather on the historical appendix to it in which he explains his views on the Holocaust.

Short intro: Cole used to be a hardcore Holocaust denier in the early 1990s, shot a comical video about Auschwitz which became a hit among the deniers (the deceptions of this video are fully exposed here). He reinvented himself as a Republican event organizer in Hollywood and there was a moderately large scandal when his cover got blown up.

He tells about this event and many others in his "tell all" book. He moderated his historical views considerably, coming to the conclusion that extermination camps did exist. His shtick had always been being a Jewish denier. Now it's a drunken ex-denier who kinda saw the light, but is still an asshole towards both sides. He condemns total hardcore denial, but also claims that Auschwitz wasn't an extermination camp at least from 1943 on and the well-documented gas vans didn't exist.

In fact, Cole didn't find anything new or big about the Holocaust, he simply takes the extremely well-known documents like the Korherr report and interprets them with varying degrees of plausibility, while ignoring the documents that contradict his other positions. All banal, nothing notable. But for some reason some see his position as the "golden middle", or something. Nonsense. This deeply confused and superficial individual has nothing new or interesting to add to the Holocaust historiography.

In the appendix to his book Cole tries to lay out his views. Let's take a look at a couple of points.

He tries to formulate "the standard story" on the Wannsee conference:
The Standard Story: In January 1942, a top-secret meeting was convened in Wannsee, a Berlin suburb, for the purpose of drafting a plan for the “Final Solution.” It was decided that Europe’s Jews would be killed.
And fails: that the decision was taken during the conference, while long a popular layman misconception, is not a part of the "standard story". Ignorance or deception?

He then tries to respond to the "standard story" and oh boy, is his reply a bunch of hooey:
My Take: The standard story is incorrect. The Wannsee Conference’s top-secret “protocols” mention nothing of murder. The protocols are actually quite vague. They include a rundown of the number of Jews in Europe (approximately 11,000,000 according to the Nazis’ figures), and a discussion of what to do with “special classes” of Jews (Jews in mixed marriages, Jews in mixed marriages with children, and Jews over 65, all of whom would be to one degree or another exempted from the “final solution”).
But what was the “solution?” Well, the protocols are, as I said, vague. At one point, they state, “Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.”
So, able-bodied Jews basically being worked to death. Nothing is said about the non-able bodied.
Of the able-bodied Jews: “The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, bei freilassung, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival (see the experience of history).”
You’ll note that I kept two words in the original German. That’s because shifty translations are one way that bad historians fuck with you. Dishonest historians have, for decades, mistranslated “bei freilassung” as “if released.” In that context, the passage in the protocols could be summed up as “watch out for the surviving remnant if they are ever released.”
But actually, “bei freilassung” is best translated as “at release” or “when released” or “upon release.”
The Wannsee protocols clearly state that, at some point, the Jews will be released.
The protocols end with the representative from occupied Poland asking that immediate attention be given to the “problem” of the Jews in his sector.
The vagueness of the Wannsee protocols is neither proof of a genocide plan, nor proof of no plan. It just means that in January 1942 there was a lot still undecided.
Let's start from the end: he claims that the protocol states the remainder of the Jews would be set free by the Nazis. He bases it on the words "bei Freilassung" (for some reason he doesn't capitalize the German nouns; it's as if he's not very good at German...) which mean "at release". He seriously argues that the passage means that the remainder of the Jews after all the tribulations were to be released by the Nazis! One couldn't find a more hare-brained interpretation if one wanted to. Let's recap what the Wannsee protocol [original German | English translation] proposed:
  • All European Jews (with a very small exception) were to be transported to the Russian East. Even those not fit for labor. Those fit would be used for involuntary labor.
  • The slave labor would take place under strict separation of sexes (i.e. no more children).
  • The greater part (Großteil) of these Jewish slaves would die out "naturally"
  • The rest would have to be "treated accordingly", since "upon release"/"if released" they would constitute a "germcell" of the Jewish revival. 
The protocol then warns: "(See the experience of history)". Nowhere does the protocol state that the Jews would be released. Cole literally argues that the Nazis planned to let the most resistant Jews go free after committing a genocide against the rest (because what is described here is already a genocide) in order for them to usher in a new Jewish revival.

Really. Cole argues that the Nazis wanted a Jewish revival in the end. Never suspected that the most "resistant" Jews would want to take a revenge for the genocide, for causing the death of the weakest (old people, sick, children etc. etc.). I mean, how can I expose Cole more than he has already exposed himself? He never explains what the part about treating this remainder "accordingly" means, nor does he explain the warning about the "experience of history". Since obviously the warning about the "experience of history" in the Nazi sense would be not to have a Jewish revival. According to Cole, the Nazis proposed an Endlösung without an end.

Nor does the grammar support him in the least. Translated as literally as possible the passage reads:
Der allfällig endlich verbleibende Restbestand wird, da es sich bei diesem zweifellos um den widerstandsfähigsten Teil handelt, entsprechend behandelt werden müssen, da dieser, eine natürliche Auslese darstellend, bei Freilassung als Keimzelle eines neuen jüdischen Aufbaues anzusprechen ist. (Siehe die Erfahrung der Geschichte.)
Der [the] allfällig [possibly] endlich [eventually] verbleibende [remaining] Restbestand [remnant population, remainder] wird [will], da [since] es [it] sich bei [with] diesem [it=them] zweifellos [undoubtedly] um [about=with] den widerstandsfähigsten [the most resistant] Teil [part] handelt [deals], entsprechend [accordingly] behandelt [treated] werden [will] müssen [have to], da [since] dieser [it=they], eine natürliche [a natural] Auslese [elite, selection] darstellend [representing], bei Freilassung [upon release] als [as] Keimzelle [germcell] eines neuen [of a new] jüdischen [Jewish] Aufbaues [reconstruction=revival] anzusprechen [to be viewed [as], to be spoken of [as]] ist [is]. (Siehe [see] die Erfahrung [the experience] der Geschichte [of history].)
The possibly eventually remaining remnant population will, since with them one undoubtedly deals with the most resistant part, have to be treated accordingly, since they, representing a natural elite, have to be viewed, upon release, as a germcell of a new Jewish revival. (See the experience of history.)
Anzusprechen, in the sense of anzusehen (to be viewed [as], Duden Online, ansprechen, meaning 5), refers to a possible, not necessarily to an actual future. One could as well have used the subjuctive mood here, but it's not necessary.

"Bei Freilassung" in the protocol text, when you read it in the original German, is obviously a conditional statement that does not necessarily indicate an actual reality. This sense is somewhat lost in English unless you translate it as an explicitly conditional construct, such as "if released" - which is a correct translation  properly conveying the sense of the sentence. The major German dictionary Duden clearly indicates this conditional sense as one of the meanings of the preposition "bei":
10. zur Angabe der Begleitumstände; mit konditionalem Nebensinn; wenn …, dann
10. for indication of the accompanying circumstances; with conditional subordinate meaning; if ..., then
Cole's claim about deceptive translations is incorrect (at best). So Cole has failed both at German and at basic common sense.

Now, it is clear that the end result - this "suitable treatment" of the most resistant Jews in the end - meant murder. So at that point no Jews remain. Cole notes: "Nothing is said about the non-able bodied."

Bingo, Sherlock! From the whole logic of the protocol - (almost) all Jews are deported to "the East", but only able-bodied would work until they die out or are killed directly - it also follows that the Jews unable to work no longer exist in the relatively short term, since they're not even discussed (and had the Nazis provided for their actual long-term existence, the topic had to be discussed, as it would constitute the main problem here).

And guess what? That's exactly what happened! Especially at Auschwitz, but when writing about the extermination camps Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor (which Cole accepts as such), Goebbels noted that 60% of Jews transferred there would have to be "liquidated" since they were ... unable to work.

Now, we are not saying that specifically during the Wannsee conference it was planned to immediately and directly kill almost all Jews unfit for work. Possibly the solutions under discussion consisted of a mix of direct murder and decimation, including starving groups of such Jews in camps/ghettos, which would still be short-term. The details were still being worked out. But what interests us is not so much the method but the end result. And it was short-term death for the Jews unable to work.

There you go. Cole asked the right question and the answer was staring right at him, but he was too busy being a "maverick" to see it. So yes, the Wannsee protocol was all about the wholesale murder of a people - partially direct, partially indirect one. While in January many details were still murky, the general genocidal principle was there.

Cole then claims that there was no overarching plan for the extermination of the European Jewry:
There never was a plan. There was never a decision about what to do with European Jewry as a whole. The Holocaust was a patchwork. Some things were “planned” but never carried out. Some things happened that weren’t planned. The “Final Solution” as murder was applied in certain places, to certain groups of Jews, while, at the same time, there was an understanding that a “final” Final Solution for all European Jews had not been decided on.
It is true that in the beginning there was more of a patchwork of different plans (for the Soviet Jews, for the Jews of Warthegau and so on). The Wannsee meeting was an attempt to begin to unify various policies, and in the end we know that the "general" plan for the "Final Solution" did work more or less uniformly (in the big picture), even if its roots were varied.

The decision-in-principle about the fate of the European Jews, call it a "plan" or not, taken by Hitler at some point in late 1941 and announced on 12.12.1941 in a small circle of the top Nazis, on the other hand, is clear. Cole's word games are just dull.

Albeit apparently denying (most of?) the Zyklon B gas chambers of Auschwitz, Cole at least acknowledges the CO gas chambers of the other camps. His "standard story" claim about them ("technological marvels [...] automated, assembly-line mass murder") is more of a layman's strawman than anything.

Let's proceed to Cole's hot take on Auschwitz:
The Standard Story: At the same time that the four extermination camps were operating in occupied Poland in 1942, Jews were also being gassed at Auschwitz, which was a combination labor and extermination camp. As Auschwitz had not been built to be an extermination camp, makeshift gas chambers were used in ’42—first, a semi-underground building at the Main Camp, and then a small building (called “the farmhouse” or “the cottage” or “the bunker”) outside the perimeter of Birkenau. 
My Take: Yes and no. Everyone agrees that the primary focus of Auschwitz was labor, but, did killings take place there in 1942 (at the same time as the mass killings in the extermination camps in Eastern Poland)? There’s certainly evidence for that, the most damning being the factually unassailable diary of camp doctor Johann Kremer in summer/fall 1942 (he describes brutal “special actions” against inmates and new arrivals). However, there is no evidence that any killings took place in the semi-underground building in the Main Camp (that’s the building that, until my work was publicized, was routinely shown off to tourists as the “gas chamber”).
So he claims that there is no evidence that some killings took part in the crematorium I of the main camp. Had he only limited his claim to documentary evidence, he would be correct, but unfortunately for him there is enough credible testimonial evidence for killings in that small makeshift gas chamber - and yes, testimonial evidence is also evidence. More specifically, the gassings in Krema I follow from the convergence of the following:
  • The sum of the testimonial evidence by the people prima facie in the know (such as the SS men), given not only in circumstances where coercion can be suspected (such as in Communist Poland - albeit we know for a fact that, for example, Höß made numerous key statements contradicting the Polish Communist narrative, and thus cannot be argued to have been coerced by them) but also where coercion was reasonably out of question (such as during the West-German investigations in the 1960s), including inadvertent self-incriminating statements (such as by Hans Stark). This is the key evidence.
  • The sum of the testimonial evidence by the people not prima facie in the know but who credibly alleged to have worked there. This evidence is strongly confirmatory. (For simplicity's sake I'm omitting bystanders here.)
  • The fact that the claims by the above mentioned groups and by many, many others about the Birkenau Krema gas chambers (to which we will return shortly) are proven documentarily, which strengthens the overall credibility of the testimonies in question and makes the "smaller" claim of the Krema I gassings a non-issue in terms of acceptance.
(Note that in this small gas chamber likely no more than 10,000 people were gassed, it played a relatively minor role in the mass gassings, except maybe in the symbolic sense.)

Cole asks whether the 1942 killings in Auschwitz, which he acknowledges, were authorized. He probably means, as a part of a central policy. Well, some were local initiatives, but the Jewish ones were indeed authorized, and we have documentary evidence of that.

Cole deceptively cherrypicks the Morgen testimony, making it seem to the unaware that the SS investigator Konrad Morgen implicitly denied gassings:
In ’43, Auschwitz Gestapo chief Grabner was arrested by the SS. SS judge Konrad Morgen claimed that the killings at Auschwitz were done by the officers at the camp to “make it easy on themselves.” But he points out that the murders were by bullets, not gas: “The officers in the KZ [Auschwitz] made it easy for themselves. When new inmates arrived and he had no room, they took out the last batch, put them up against the wall and shot them, and made room for the new batch.” (Interview with Konrad Morgen, Roosevelt Library, John Toland papers, box 53)
In fact, Morgen and his colleagues like Wiebeck extensively testified about the gassings in Auschwitz throughout the decades. Here is an excerpt from Morgen's 09.03.1964 testimony about his visit to one of the Auschwitz' underground gas chambers during his investigations in the camp:
Then on the wall there was a big arrow pointing into a corridor, and on it was written, succinctly, "To the shower rooms," and that was repeated in six or seven languages. So they were told: "You will undress and you will be showered and disinfected. And along this corridor there were various chambers without any furnishings, bare, naked, cement floors. The only thing that was conspicuous and at first inexplicable was that in the middle there was a latticed shaft that led up to the ceiling. At first I had no explanation for this, until I was told that through an opening in the roof, gas, in crystalline form, Zyklon B, was poured into these death chambers. Up to that moment the prisoner was therefore unsuspecting, and then of course it was too late. Opposite the gas chambers were the corpse elevators, and these now led to the first floor or, seen from the other side, to the ground floor. The actual crematorium was a huge hall, on one side of which the crematory ovens stood in a long row, with flattened floors, everything exuded an objective, neutral, technical, value-free atmosphere.
Indeed, it was during his investigations in Auschwitz when Morgen interrogated Rudolf Höß' inmate lover Eleonore Hodys and she mentioned the gassings. In 1944. 

Cole then mentions the "twitter denial"-level argument about the British Auschwitz decodes not mentioning gassings, fully addressed here, albeit he apparently uses it not to deny the murders but rather to confirm that they were not authorized (but the argument fails for the same reasons as explained at the link).

And then he proceeds, after having acknowledged 4 extermination camps, to deny that Auschwitz was one from 1943 on:
My position is that in 1943, after having lost the battle at Stalingrad, and with their situation on the Eastern Front looking dire, the Nazis ended exterminations of Jews in favor of using the remaining Jews for labor. Due to circumstances at the front, the “use them for labor” voices had prevailed over the “ethnic cleansing” voices. Auschwitz-Birkenau was revamped in order to become a functional, “modern” labor camp without the massive death toll from disease that Himmler had been bitching about since 1942.
Notice a logical mistake here. Labor did not necessarily contradict extermination. Especially as in Auschwitz it was Jews not fit for labor who were murdered.

Anyway, let's look at Cole's "evidence":
The four extermination camps were closed, Himmler and Goebbels began speaking of the Final Solution in the past tense, Hitler ordered the term never to be mentioned again, and Himmler received the statistical report he commissioned from SS master statistician Dr. Richard Korherr. Korherr referred to this as a “final extended report.” Final
Himmler had wanted the report at the beginning of 1943, and Korherr presented him with the “first provisional report” on March 23, asking for a few more months until July - to present the “final extended report.” Korherr’s figure of murdered Jews is 2,419,656 (1,786,356 killed in the extermination camps, and 633,300 on the Eastern Front). Korherr’s figure jibes with a coded message sent in January 1943 by Hermann Hoefle, a staff member of the SS and police leader in Lublin, to SS Lt. Col. Heim, deputy commander of the SS and SD in Krakow.
Himmler received the report and signed off on it, instructing Korherr to make one small change - remove the term “special treatment” (the euphemism for murder) next to the figure of dead Jews, for “camouflage purposes.”
Cole never provides a source for "Hitler order[ing] the term [Final Solution] never to be mentioned again", but he must be thinking of Bormann's 11.07.1943 letter, which reads:
Im Auftrage des Führers teile ich mit:
Bei der öffentlichen Behandlung der Judenfrage muss jede Erörterung einer künftigen Gesamtlösung unterbleiben.
Es kann jedoch davon gesprochen werden, dass die Juden geschlossen zu zweckentsprechendem Arbeitseinsatz herangezogen werden. 
On behalf of the Führer, I hereby announce:
During the public treatment of the Jewish question any discussion of a future total solution is to cease.
It is allowed to be said, that the Jews will be deployed in a united fashion for suitable work.
Needless to say, this doesn't help Cole in any way, since the focus of the letter is on the public look of the policy and not on its actual content.

In his 23.03.1943 letter Korherr does speak about a possible future "definitive" (endgültig), "enlarged" report, which however refers to 3 possible dates - 1 July, 1 Oct. or 31 Dec. 1943. It is clear that he means a "definitive" report up to one of those dates (to be chosen) containing statistics without contradictions (as opposed to the situation at the time of the writing) and so on, not about the "final report on the whole of the Final Solution" or some such thing. Cole's use of this phrasing is misleading and does not support his thesis.

Korherr's 23.03.1943 letter to Brandt [source].
After receiving the report, Himmler wrote to Kaltenbrunner:
The most important thing to me is, as before, that now as many Jews are being driven to the East, as only humanly possible. In the short monthly messages of the security police I only want to be informed of how many were deported monthly and what remains of the Jews at this point of time.
The "Final Solution" was thus proceeding full speed ahead.

Himmler's 09.04.1943 letter to Kaltenbrunner [source].
Cole fails to mention Korherr's remark in the short version implying that the previously given number of the Jews murdered in the Soviet occupied territories (633,000) is not complete:
Only some of the deaths of Soviet Russian Jews in the occupied eastern territories could be included, while those in the rest of European Russia and at the front are not included at all.
So Korherr's report is not complete and admits being such.

Cole then throws in another argument, which however doesn't make sense:
And here we have another blow to historians who claim that the four extermination camps were closed in order to make way for a “bigger and better” Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex. Who was going to be sent there? The Nazis never made a claim on the Romanian Jews, and they barely made a claim on the French Jews (the Nazis had mainly deported foreign Jews living in France, but not the massive population of French-citizen Jews). And Hungary? Hitler had acquiesced to his ally Admiral Horthy’s demand that Hungary’s Jews not be deported. So, in ’42 and ’43, who were they building this “extermination mega-complex” for?
The Nazi policy did lay claim on all European Jews, temporary delays were just that - temporary (as the actual events demonstrated), due to political and military circumstances at each particular time and place. Nevertheless, one only needs to look at the deportations to Auschwitz that took place in that time period. Polish, Dutch, German, Belgian, Greek Jews. Come on. Read a book. Moreover, Cole doesn't mention when it was that Hitler temporarily acquiesced to Horthy. It was in ... May 1943. By that time the buildings of the two crematoria with the underground gas chambers had already been completed, with the Krema II having been handed over on 31.03.1943 and some work still being done on the equipment of the Krema III. And of course Cole is silent on the Kremas IV and V with the documented above-ground gas chambers...

So where's the "blow" Cole is talking about? Maybe he was thinking of something else at the time...

Cole then denies that the underground rooms in the crematoria were gas chambers:
The Auschwitz renovations had been ordered in 1942 during the typhus outbreak mentioned earlier. The underground rooms, which are portrayed as “gas chambers,” were morgues - cold rooms for body storage. Auschwitz was getting a makeover to become more “hygienic.”
Except they are documented as gas chambers (Gaskeller - gas cellar, Vergasungskeller - gassing cellar) by the Germans themselves. And we also know they weren't some sort of delousing installations, temporary or permanent, because they were not on the list of such. (And the moldy "air-raid shelter" thesis that died during the Irving v. Lipstadt trial is even more absurd.)

Cole distorts the cremation process, claiming Jews had to be put one by one into muffles whereas the multiple cremations in one muffle are documented. Nor can he explain this document.

Cole carps on the Krema II and III morgues having been initially planned as morgues, but how is this relevant given that we know they were re-planned as gas chambers? Which replanning also explains the suboptimal ventilation design (further see here).

Cole then writes several largely incoherent pages about the deportations of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. He never mentions that the vast majority of them were unable to work: about 320,000 out of about 430,000 deportees. He thus deceptively ignores their fate.

No wonder, for the fate of the Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz immediately destroys his whole thesis. He cannot argue that the ca. 320,000 Jews unable to work were transferred "to the Russian East" - he rightly derides such explanation attempts in regard to Treblinka etc. as the "Unicornville" thesis. But he himself implicitly engages in the very same Unicornville thinking. For the fact is that these ca. 320,000 Jews unable to work were not transported out of Auschwitz at all. Nor did they stay in the camp. The conclusion is obvious.

In the middle of talking about the Hungarian Jews Cole suddenly remembers about the fate of Anne Frank (?!). Since Frank was 15 at the time, she was selected as a part of the potential labor pool, there is no mystery about this at all

Cole's appendix basically ends at this point (thankfully), but all he has demonstrated is the ignorance about the very basic facts of the Holocaust history and the inability to properly process basic texts, nothing more. Like the old joke goes: Cole's thesis is both true and original. Unfortunately the parts that are true aren't original; and the parts that are original aren't true.

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