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Dear John

The conference started on Saturday. In the center of the lobby stood a Kentia palm, and in concentric circles around it were peace lilies, crotons, bird-of-paradise flowers, and happy conference-goers. Young and old, they talked like any Americans at any professional conference: talked of the weather, their homes, their children ("One is a lawyer, another a businessman. For their sake I’m still in the closet"). On the hour, more and more were wearing the NO HOLES?  NO HOLOCAUST! shirts in red, green and gray as they seated themselves on bridge chairs to listen to speakers in the shuttered-windowed darkness of the Garden Ballroom. "It’s one heck of a nice conference," I heard someone say.

Now about NO HOLES?  NO HOLOCAUST!  The first thing to know is, no one at that palm-filled hotel would deny that Hitler hated the Jews, that Hitler sent them to concentration camps, and that Hitler said, "I want to annihilate the Jews," as hundreds of thousands died in (a denier called them)—in God-forsaken hellholes like Auschwitz. It may surprise you, but no one at that hotel would deny that hundreds of thousands of Jews died of typhus, dysentery, starvation and exhaustion at Auschwitz or that their corpses went to the constant flames of five crematoriums night and day. The deniers even call this the Holocaust, and what they deny is that some of the Jews didn’t die of natural causes: that some went to rooms that the Germans poured cyanide (or at four other camps, carbon monoxide) into. The Jews, say the Holocaust deniers, weren’t murdered, and the Germans didn’t deliberately murder them.

Tens of thousands of witnesses disagree. Jews who once stood at the railroad depot at Auschwitz say that the Germans told them, "Go right," and told their mothers, fathers and children, "Go left," and say that they never saw those mothers, fathers or children again. I and the rest of the world believe that the Jews who went left went to cyanide chambers, but the deniers believe they went to other parts of Auschwitz or, by train, to other concentration camps. "Part of the Jews remained in Auschwitz," a speaker (another scholar, a man who speaks seventeen languages, including Chinese) said at the ballroom lectern one day. "The rest were transported further. Many opted to stay in the Soviet Union." Tens of thousands of witnesses saw the cyanide chambers, too, saw the lilac-colored cyanide pellets cascade onto the Jews, but almost all of these witnesses died in five minutes, without being able to testify to it. A few indeed testified, among them two Auschwitz commandants. One said that children under twelve and old people over fifty-five were cyanided daily, and one said, "At least 2,500,000 victims were executed by gassing," then backed off to 1,200,000. Some doctors at Auschwitz testified.  One doctor said, "When the doors were opened, bodies fell out," and one doctor said, "The Inferno, by Dante, is in comparison almost comedy."  Some Jews who toted bodies to the crematoriums testified.  One said,


We found heaps of naked bodies, doubled up. They were pinkish and in places red. Some were covered with greenish marks, and saliva ran from their mouths. Others were bleeding from the nose. There was excrement on many of them.


and one said, "We were met by the sight of the dead bodies lying higgledy-piggledy. I was petrified."

To this abundant evidence the Holocaust deniers say—and they’re right—that one Auschwitz commandant confessed after he was tortured and that the other reports are full of bias, rumors, exaggerations, and other preposterous matters, to quote the Jewish editor of a Jewish magazine five years after the war. The deniers say, and again they’re right, that the commandants, doctors, the SS and Jews at Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and a whole alphabet of camps testified after the war to cyanide chambers at those camps that all historians today refute. The deniers say, and they’re right again, that at Auschwitz the witnesses said that the Germans poured the pellets through holes in the cyanide chamber roofs, even said that the Germans joked as they poured, "Na, gib Ihnen schön zu fressen. Well, give them something good to eat." It’s there that the NO HOLES?  NO HOLOCAUST! on the T-shirts comes in. The roofs at Auschwitz still stand (or, rather, lie collapsed, for the Germans blew them up in November 1944 so the world wouldn’t know) and, the deniers say, you can’t find holes in those former roofs for Germans to pour the cyanide through.

Myself, I’d call this one of life’s little mysteries, like why are there holes in Swiss cheese and not in Cheddar, but everyone in the palm-filled hotel made a tremendous deal of it. One speaker there was David Irving, the British historian of World War II, a man with a statesman’s bearing, a statesman’s elegant pin-striped suit, and a Member of Parliament’s elocution, a man who strung together his clear definitions, crisp distinctions, and withering innuendoes in parse-perfect sentences, like graduated pearls. He had just sued, for libel, the author and publisher of Denying the Holocaust. The trial was in London last year.  Irving lost, but not before he scored points by invoking the "No holes? No Holocaust!" argument. On the stand, a witness for the author and publisher cited some Auschwitz witnesses, and Irving, his own attorney, leapt like a crouching lion. "Professor," said Irving, a handsome, granite-featured, imposing man, "we are wasting our time, really, are we not? There were never any holes in that roof. There are no holes in that roof today. They [the Germans] cannot have poured cyanide capsules through that roof. You yourself have stood on that roof and looked for those holes and not found them. Our experts have stood on that roof and not found them. The holes were never there. What do you have say to that?"

"The roof is a mess. The roof is absolutely a mess," said the professor lamely. "The roof is in fragments."

"You have been to Auschwitz how many times?"

"Sometimes twice or three times yearly."

"Have you frequently visited this roof?"

"Yes, I have been there, yes."

"Have you never felt the urge to go and start scraping where you know those holes would have been?"

"The last thing I’d ever have ever done is start scraping away."

"How much does an air ticket to Warsaw cost? £100? £200?"

"I have no idea."

"If," said Irving triumphantly, "you were to go to Auschwitz with a trowel and clean away the gravel and find a reinforced concrete hole, I would abandon my action immediately. That would drive such a hole through my case that I would have no possible chance of defending it."

Not quite flying to Auschwitz, the author, publisher or professor apparently called up the Auschwitz Museum, for the Museum told the Times of London that it had started searching for the fabulous holes. A two-mile drive. A trowel. A camera—that’s what the search entailed, but it’s now nine months later and the Museum hasn’t found them.

 


But lo! Someone did...   More