by Joachim Neander, PhD
Dear Mrs. Yeager, on January 24, 2010, you published, at the Revisionist blog Inconvenient History, a critical look on my analysis of Irene Weisberg Zisblatt’s memoir The Fifth Diamond, published here on the Holocaust Controversies blog on January 9, 2010. I feel your essay deserves a response, and I have chosen for it the form of an “open letter.”
Let me first thank you for having pointed to the fact that, according to research done by Auschwitz scholars, Camp Commandant Liebehenschel had the standing cells torn down, which his predecessor, Rudolf Höss, had ordered to install — a fact that slipped my notice. Though the material I am having at hand does not give a date, one can conclude that the demolition of the standing cells must have occurred between November 11, 1943, and May 15, 1944, in which period of time Liebehenschel was commandant. That means that they did no more exist when Mrs. Zisblatt arrived at Auschwitz. Her whole standing cell story, therefore, can safely be relegated to the realm of fantasy, together with the repeated ingestion of water mixed with bodily excretions, which I, by the way, mentioned only ironically, a point you obviously overlooked.
On the other hand you speak of “alleged” standing cells. You refer to a Wikipedia article that mentions Stehzelle only in connection with Maximilian Kolbe, a fact that makes you doubt whether Stehzellen did exist at all. Now Wikipedia is a good thing, but not The Gospel. Let me assure you that, in the Auschwitz archives, there is ample material about the standing cells, not only from survivors. For example, 275 reports and 110 orders for punishment, issued by the camp authorities, have come down to us. They are only a small fraction of the original set, but if I counted correctly, twenty-eight of the 275 reports speak of Stehzelle meted out as punishment. Among the unfortunate there were seven Reichsdeutsch citizens, all of them Jews. E.g. Egon Stiassny from Vienna, camp no. 98241, was sentenced to “five times Stehzelle and five times Strafarbeit (punitive labor)” on May 19, 1943.
You criticize that I did not confront the various versions Mrs. Zisblatt has told about her Holocaust experience (with the exceptions of her “near lampshade” and “near gassing” adventures), such as you did in your essay “A Special Jewel in the Genre of Holocaust Horror Stories,” published in five parts on Inconvenient History between January 6 and 18, 2010. Such a diachronic comparison certainly has its merits, but I decided to focus on an in-depth analysis of her book, which is a generally accessible document and, once published, cannot be altered any more. What is more, it can be assumed that its manuscript underwent a process of writing and re-writing before publication, and that the published book is the fruit of thorough reflection, free from the contingencies of an interview or a film scene shot live.
You further find fault with my analysis that I did not mention all errors, exaggerations, and implausibilities in Mrs. Zisblatt’s narration, calling it “smoothing over” or “an oversight” on my part. I admit frankly that I, for instance, could have mentioned that it is utterly implausible that a “fourteen-year old girl” with no more than an unfinished elementary school education speaks “seven languages” (but no English; The Fifth Diamond, pp. 92,89, and 107). But my essay was already long enough, and as I did not want to run the risk that the reader, bored by minor details, will stop reading before the end, I concentrated on those issues which I found to be crucial.
One of these is certainly the assigning of correct dates — or dates in general — to events. I mentioned in my analysis that it is quite common in survivor memoirs to be unable to do so and to make errors, but that this as such does not speak against the survivor. You firmly disagree: “Yes, it does,” and add, “just because it is common among dishonest survivors doesn’t excuse it” (emphasis mine). This remark shows that you are deeply ignorant of how life was in a concentration camp, especially for the great majority of prisoners who did not have a “job” as clerks in one of the administrative departments or who held a high position in the so-called “Prisoner self-government.” You really should read some good literature about this (non-Revisionist, of course).
Let me only mention that not more than a handful of privileged prisoners were allowed to have watches or calendars, or had the possibility to occasionally receive a newspaper copy or hear a radio transmission, but that for the average prisoner even the possession of paper and pencil — to take notes, to write a diary — was a “crime” punishable by severe flogging, Stehzelle, or, if the SS man had a bad day, by killing on the spot. The majority of the “prisoner proletariat” quickly lost all feeling for time, all the more as time did not play a role in the everyday routine of camp life. No, Madam — not those prisoners who do not remember dates or confuse them are “dishonest,” but those who call them so.
Another point is that you, in a futile attempt to whitewash the perpetrators, doubt that the atrocities reported in The Fifth Diamond did happen sometime, somewhere in the Holocaust. For all of them there is enough evidence, by far not only from potential victims who survived or from bystanders, but also from the perpetrators themselves, who more often than not boasted with their misdeeds before comrades-in-arms or family members. There are even extant documents from German military and SS courts that tried soldiers or SS men for such crimes, because in the eyes of their superiors it was an undignified behavior. It seems that you, Madam, suffer from a lack of knowledge in this matter. The “stereotypes” I mentioned in my essay refer to a generalization of such events, which is as dishonest as their blunt denial. Fighting for the truth has always been a war on two fronts.
I mentioned in my essay that doubtlessly a multitude of unethical, cruel, and even outright criminal medical experiments were performed on prisoners in the concentration camps. Your remark: “There is little clear evidence for this” again shows your deep ignorance. Did you ever hear of Dr. Sigmund Rascher and his deadly experiments on prisoners of Dachau? When he overstepped the mark, an SS court sentenced him to death. He was executed shortly before the Americans arrived. Or Dr. Waldemar Hoven from Buchenwald? Equally sentenced to death by an SS court, commuted by Himmler to service at the Eastern front, but carried out by the Americans after the war. Or do you think that the experiments on mass sterilization of Dres. Clauberg and Schumann at Auschwitz, about which a thick paper trail exists, were “ethical”? And do you know the ethnicity of the vast majority of the victims of Rascher, Hoven, Clauberg, and other SS doctors? You should inform yourself better before making statements that only unveil your ignorance of the facts.
It seems that you have to grind an axe with “the Tribe,” to use your words. You allege that “the hateful attitude of Germans vs. the innocence of all Jewish victims is [Mrs. Zisblatt’s] theme,” you accuse her of “a special intent to blacken the German nation,” of presenting “the Germans” as “the cruelest people on earth” and the SS as “cruel monsters, and so are even non-German Gentiles . . . they have all become Nazis.” Sure, Mrs. Zisblatt’s rhetoric here is not “balanced,” contravenes the “be-nice-to-one-another” ideology of “political correctness.” But are you really surprised after all that a fifteen to sixteen-year-old Hungarian Jewish girl had lived through under Nazi occupation, in Auschwitz, Gross Rosen, and on the two death marches? Imagine a German woman of Irene’s age, having experienced for herself at the age of sixteen the “liberation” of East Germany by the Red Army, as described by Aleksandr Solshenitsyn, Vassily Grossman, or Anthony Beavor, and who survived this horror. Be honest: would you expect from her another attitude towards “the Russians” than that of Mrs. Zisblatt towards “the Germans”?
I think I made it clear enough in my analysis that Mrs. Zisblatt’s book is not only fiction as such, but what is more, that it is bad fiction and should be withdrawn from circulation. I also emphasized that Mrs. Zisblatt, by telling a story that is not hers, does more harm than good to the undoubtedly noble cause she wants to promote: a gradual collapse of prejudices, racial hatred, and xenophobia. You, Madam, have only harsh and disparaging words for her: “insane, mentally retarded, or a congenital liar . . . an egotist and a business woman.” In my eyes, Irene Weisberg Zisblatt is a confused old lady with an undoubtedly rich fantasy but also with an apparently dysfunctional memory. Therefore she deserves our pity, but never contempt.
 Carolyn Yeager, Holocaust Scholar Finds “Fifth Diamond” to Be a Work of Fiction. http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2010/01/holocaust-scholar-finds-%e2%80%9cfifth-diamond%e2%80%9d-to-be-a-work-of-fiction. Accessed January 31, 2010.
 Joachim Neander, Irene Zisblatt, the “Diamond Girl” – Fact or Fiction? http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2010/01/irene-zisblatt-diamond-girl-fact-or.html. Last edited January 10, 2010.
 More information and sources are given by Alexander Lasik, “Organizational Structure of Auschwitz Concentration Camp,” in: Długoborski, Wacław, and Franciszek Piper (eds.), Auschwitz 1940-1945. Central Issues in the History of the Camp, vol. I, Oświęcim (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum) 2000, pp. 145-279, here p. 212.
 Ibid., pp. 154-155.
 Auschwitz archives, file D-AuI-2/1-877 nr inw. 165352.
Editor's note: also see:
Yeager vs. Neander
Carolyn Yeager and the ANSWP
CODOH's "Inconvenient History" blog - just another antisemitic outlet [about Yeager's neo-Nazism]