Sunday, May 10, 2020

On Heddesheimer's 'The First Holocaust'

If one thing becomes abundantly clear when one looks at the list of Holocaust Handbooks published by Castle Hill and CODOH, it is that they are overwhelmingly concerned with the Holocaust itself and, within that topic, the part of the Holocaust occurring within the concentration camp system. Where the handbooks are comparatively lighter is in any sense of the history of the Third Reich or of Jews – to say nothing of the intersection of the two in terms of Nazi Jewish policy – before the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. If Hilberg dedicated the first sixth of Destruction of the European Jews to the events leading up to Barbarossa, we might perhaps expect that seven of the 42 HH books similarly address topics from medieval and early modern European antisemitism through the invasion and occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany; instead, we have essentially two -- The First Holocaust by Don Heddesheimer and Jewish Emigration from the Third Reich by Ingrid Weckert -- or 4.8%.[1]

Regarding Heddesheimer himself, little is known. No publications other than The First Holocaust appear in Worldcat under his name. Before the release of the book’s first edition in 2003, a single article by Heddesheimer appeared in the January-February 2002 issue of the Journal of Historical Review[2]; he also apparently authored a letter published in The Barnes Review in 1999. He has evidently been on the “revisionist” scene for some time as a subscriber to Willis Carto’s far-right “journal” and a contributor to Holocaust denial publications.

Both the first and second editions of The First Holocaust feature a preface by Germar Rudolf. The main thing to point out about this preface is that, like most of his writing, it is either profoundly dishonest or immensely ignorant of history. An illustrative example emerges if we compare the prefaces between editions. In the initial preface, musing on rumors of violence committed against Jews in Eastern Europe in the early 1920s, Rudolf writes that the New York Times “reported that there were some hostilities toward Jews in the Ukraine, but that this was stamped out violently with the help of a Jewish army of allegedly 500,000 soldiers -- an army that could have been formed and operated only with the consent of the new Soviet authorities.”[3] He goes on to characterize the Red Terror perpetrated by this “Jewish Volunteer Army” and to note the sympathies of Zionist Jews with the USSR as a “Jewish dominated and controlled experiment of a Jewish led country free of anti-Judaism.”[4]

Totally missing from Rudolf’s commentary is that Russia was engaged in a brutal civil war, and while terror was used by both sides, the Jews in the traditional Pale of Settlement were subjected to some of the most horrendous incidents of mass violence, which dwarfed the earlier periods of pogroms in 1881-82 and 1904-06. Historians of the period estimate that 50,000 Jews were murdered in Ukraine alone, overwhelmingly by anti-Bolshevik forces (a small percentage were also committed by the Red Army). And while it is true that this anti-Jewish violence drove many Jews into the arms of the Red Army, the Zionists were not among them. With the exception of the left wing of the Zionist Workers Party Poalei Tsion, which fused with the Bolsheviks, all of the Zionist parties opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power.

In the most recent edition of the book, this material has been drastically revised. An entire page of new material has been inserted into the preface to now acknowledge that the civil war was going on but now also pointing a more direct finger at the “Jewish Volunteer Army,” before ending the section with precisely the same erroneous conclusion about Zionist support for the Soviet Union, still depicted as “a Jewish dominated and controlled experiment.”[5]

In addition, Rudolf sees fit in the preface to quote the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz as “proudly proclaim[ing]: The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.”[6] Calling up the actual article reveals that the text is a subheadline (called by journalists a “deck”), which itself is a paraphrase of something said by the subject of the interview in the article -- New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman. Notably, the article subsequently states, “Still, it's not all that simple, Friedman retracts. It's not some fantasy the neoconservatives invented. It's not that 25 people hijacked America. You don't take such a great nation into such a great adventure with Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard and another five or six influential columnists.”[7] Rudolf, of course, leaves all of that out.

To his credit, Heddesheimer is not nearly as sloppy or dishonest as his publisher, although he does provide some of antisemitism’s “greatest hits” in his book. For instance, in his discussion of mass repression in the Soviet Union during the reign of Stalin, he writes at length about L.M. Kaganovich, the long-time Soviet-Jewish apparatchik who served two terms as first secretary of the Bolsheviks in Ukraine and later as minister for transportation and deputy premier. Kaganovich, Heddesheimer writes, “was the Soviet official most responsible for the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Some have even argued that Kaganovich was the real master at the Kremlin and Stalin a mere puppet.”[8] On this point, he cites Walter Laqueur’s Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. The problem is that, in the page cited from Laqueur’s book, he is discussing the rhetoric used by the late Soviet era Russian far right; in fact, the exact point cited by Heddesheimer is one that Laqueur writes “first appeared in the Nazi literature fifty years before Kozhinov and his friends [figures on the contemporary Russian far right].”[9] Notably, on the very same page, Laqueur notes that, despite rumors to the contrary, Stalin did not have a Jewish wife, but Heddesheimer nevertheless repeats the baseless claim that, after Stalin’s second wife’s suicide, “Kaganovich introduced Stalin to his younger sister Rosa who was a medical doctor at a clinic in Moscow and within a year Rosa Kaganovich became Stalin’s third and last wife.”[10] Most laughably, Heddesheimer’s source for much of this material is Stuart Kahan’s long debunked Wolf of the Kremlin.[11]

Finally we come to Heddesheimer’s argument itself, which he builds bit by bit. It can be briefly summarized as follows. Heddesheimer argues that American Jews began organizing in support of Eastern European Jews in the 1880s, with the pace picking up during World War I and continuing into the interwar period. It was during these periods that use of the word “holocaust” began, along with the repeated evocation of the image of millions of Jews subjected to harm and suffering. Enormous sums of money were raised for Eastern European Jewry, but corruption consumed a fair amount. The money that was not siphoned off by corrupt people ended up assisting in the twin goals of funding communism and supporting Zionism.

If this material sounds fairly far afield from the well-trod Internet meme of “the Jews” having originated their six million hoax twenty (or fifty or even a hundred) years before the actual Holocaust, that’s because it is. In so far as the book addresses the point of six million Jews being a repeated trope or the term “Holocaust” having been used in the past, it is often either simply wrong – e.g., Heddesheimer’s assertion that the word “Holocaust” is a “World War One word,”[12] although it actually appears in Wycliffe’s Bible (the first to be published in England, 125 years before the Reformation) – or actually concessions that there were in all likelihood six million Jews living in Eastern Europe at the time the news reports that he cites were written.

If we accept the latter point regarding the actual size of Eastern Europe’s Jewish population between the world wars, then the argument is essentially over. If the trope of “six million Jews” is repeated in American mass media during the period, then it is thoroughly understandable that it would be. We should bear in mind that Russia had in fact conducted a rather thorough census of its empire in 1897, and while this census did not include “Jewish” as an ethnic group, it did include the enumeration of populations by religion and language spoken at home. With Judaism included in the former category and Yiddish in the latter, the number of Jews living in Russian Empire (which included most of what would become the Republic of Poland and the Baltic States following World War I) was approximated at five million.[13] Notably, this census was conducted after the mass migration of Russian Jews to North and South America, South Africa, Australia, and Palestine following the wave of pogroms in 1881-82. Moreover, since no small number of Russian Jews already no longer spoke Yiddish at home (Leon Trotsky’s family, for instance, spoke Russian at home), and many Jews had abandoned the Jewish faith, the census figure likely underestimated the number of Jews living in Russia.[14]

However, we should consider whether mentions of “six million Jews” in Eastern Europe actually appeared at a higher rate as claimed by Heddesheimer. It turns out that they did not. Searching the databases for the New York Times for the entire period from January 1, 1857, to August 31, 1939, returned the data shown in the table below.

Millions Early Per Year Late Per Year
1 35 0.53 12 0.64
2 38 0.58 17 0.91
3 35 0.53 15 0.80
4 31 0.47 7 0.37
5 11 0.17 15 0.80
6 20 0.30 10 0.53
7 15 0.23 7 0.37
8 14 0.21 9 0.48
9 5 0.083 0.16
10 25 0.38 16 0.85

In this table, “Early” refers to one database covering articles published between 1857 and 1922, and “Late” refers to a second database covering 1923 to August 31, 1939. The search was conducted such that both the numeral 6 and word “six” were investigated, as well as both “million” and “millions,” in keeping with usage over the past 175 years. The data clearly show that mention of six million Jews was generally less common than references to fewer Jews and generally more common than references to more Jews. The most commonly cited number of Jews in Eastern Europe was, in fact, two million.

In short, as noted by Andrew E. Mathis and Roberto Muehlenkamp in their debate with “Thomas Dalton” on Kevin Barrett’s “Truth Jihad” radio show in 2010, the whole trope of a “first Holocaust” amounts to an exercise in cherry picking. (Sergey Romanov has also responded to Heddesheimer's claims as repeated as Internet meme, expanding his newspaper searches beyond the Times and investigating uses of the term "holocaust.") Rather than a “dry run” for the later hoax perpetrated against the world by influential Jews to obtain funds for Jewish causes, the trope of six million Jews in newspaper reports before World War II was not even particularly common, especially given how often other figures were used. In the end, Heddesheimer’s book is less revelatory than it is warmed-over antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish media and monetary control.

[1] This consideration leaves aside the six “overview” volumes written and/or edited by “Dalton,” Kollerstrom, Butz, Graf, and Rudolf (2); removing these volumes from the total, we are left with 36 volumes, two of which treat topics before Barbarossa, for a slightly better proportion of 5.6%.
[2] Don Heddesheimer, “’Nothing Has Been Invented’: The War Journalism of Boris Polevoy,” Journal of Historical Review, 21, no. 1 (2002): 23-28.
[3] Germar Rudolf, “Preface,” The First Holocaust: Jewish Fund Raising Campaigns With Holocaust Claims During and After World War One, 1st ed. (Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2003), 13.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Rudolf, “Preface,” First Holocaust, 2nd ed., p. 26.
[6] Ibid, pp. 28-29.
[7] Quoted in Ari Shavit, “White Man’s Burden,” Ha’aretz, April 3, 2003,, accessed May 3, 2020.
[8] Heddesheimer, First Holocaust, 2nd ed., 96.
[9] Walter Laqueur, Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations (New York: Scribner, 1990), 251.
[10] Heddesheimer, First Holocaust, 2nd ed., 97.
[11] Paul Heineman’s review of the book Wolf of the Kremlin  in Slavic Review (vol. 48, no. 1, 1989) is particularly pointed, noting that “The errors, combined with the total absence of reference to prevailing western interpretations of major events, cause the reader to treat with great circumspection the 'new' information promised by the book's cover” (p. 113). At the time of its publication, the Kaganovich family itself responded with a firm denunciation and denial that Kahan was, as he claimed, a family member. Kaganovich had denounced  Kahan as an impostor years before the book came out; see his May 31, 1982, letter to Gromyko in L. Kaganovich, Pamyatnyye zapiski (Moscow: Vagrius, 2003), 644-645. As can be seen from his memoirs (op. cit.) and talks with Feliks Chuyev in Tak govoril Kaganovich: Ispoved' stalinskogo apostola (Moscow: Otechevstvo, 1992), he remained a fanatical Stalinist until his death in 1991, which is hardly compatible with an accusation that he murdered Stalin. For the true details of Stalin's family life, interested readers are encouraged to consult Oleg Khlevniuk's 2017 book Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator. A senior research fellow at GARF, Khlevniuk is among the most prominent contemporary Russian historians of the Stalin era.
[12] Heddesheimer, First Holocaust, 2nd ed., 51.
[13] Richard H. Rowland, “Geographical Patterns of the Jewish Population in the Pale of Settlement of Late Nineteenth Century Russia,” Jewish Social Studies, 48, no. 3/4 (1986): 207.
[14] Gennady Estraikh, “On the Acculturation of Jews in Late Imperial Russia,” La Rassegna Mensile di Israel, 62, no. 1/2 (1996): 217.

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