Does Norman Finkelstein Embellish His Family’s History of Suffering?

Updated 5 April 2017.

Generally when I hear some Jew say that he lost some huge number of relatives in the Holocaust, of course I am skeptical, because we know that there were no homicidal gas-chambers, which are supposed to have been responsible for the vast majority of such deaths, and because from time to time it is reported that some person “lost in the Holocaust” turns out to be still alive and was merely separated from the rest of his family in the chaos following the war. Usually, however, it is not practical to investigate a person’s specific claim about his family.

Usually the most that you can do is to ask the Jew making the claim to explain how he could know what he is claiming, and also have him give some details so as to determine whether his story is consistent with known facts.

Norman Finkelstein is a Jew with academic credentials who has criticized the uses of the Holocaust, and policies of the State of Israel. He does not, however, suggest that the Holocaust may not have occurred (despite abundant evidence that should raise that question in the mind of any thoughtful person examining the matter). He even goes so far as to call the people who do ask these questions “crackpots.”

In a presentation at Waterloo University (Canada), Dr. Finkelstein, facing a difficult audience, decides, as he calls it, “to play the Holocaust card.” Finkelstein says that both of his parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and that (subsequently) his father was in Auschwitz and his mother was in Majdanek. All of his mother’s relatives and all of his father’s relatives, he says, were “exterminated.”

“My late father was in Auschwitz concentration camp; my late mother was in Majdanek concentration camp. Every single member of my family on both sides was exterminated. Both of my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

Finkelstein spoke with greater explicitness in a Canadian interview:

“My parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto from September 1939 to May 1943. My father was then taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. My mother was in Majdanek concentration camp. They were there through the duration of the war.”

There is a problem here. The overwhelming majority (more than 300,000) of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were sent before the uprising to Treblinka, so that about 70,000 were left at the time of the uprising. After the uprising, a relatively small number were sent to Majdanek, but according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum none were sent to Auschwitz.

The USHMM gives the following approximate figures for Jews deported from Warsaw after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943:

  • 7,000 to Treblinka
  • 18,000 to Majdanek
  • 16,000 to Poniatowa forced-labor camp
  • 6,000 to Trawniki forced-labor camp
  • 2,000 to smaller forced-labor camps such as Budzyn and Krasnik

None of the named camps is anywhere near Auschwitz, where Finkelstein says that his father was sent.

Finkelstein may have learned, since I originally posted on this matter in 2011, that the story that he had been telling about his father does not match the record, because he now tells a different story.

On 5 April 2017 I asked Finkelstein this question: “Did your father go directly from the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz, or was he sent to another camp and from there to Auschwitz? If so, to which camp?”

Finkelstein was kind enough to answer: “Majdanek.”

So now it is alleged that Finkelstein’s father was sent to Majdanek, and thence to Auschwitz. It is a direct contradiction of what he told Michael Coren.

He also told Michael Coren that his father was in Auschwitz until the end of the war. This is not what he says now. Responding to a question, Finkelstein wrote on 5 April 2017:

“My Father was in seven different camps. He ended up Auschwitz, and was on the Auschwitz Death March.”

When I asked how long his father was in Auschwitz, Finkelstein said:

“I don’t know. We never discussed it.”

Previously, Finkelstein claimed to know that his father was sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz and stayed there until the end of the war. Now he claims that his father was in seven different camps, and admits that he does not even know how long his father was in Auschwitz. 

Finkelstein also could not possibly know that all the relatives of both his parents were “exterminated.” This is at best a surmise based on not knowing the whereabouts of these people. Some may have died, but it frequently happens that Jews presumed by their relatives to have been killed during the war turn out to be alive (example 1) (example 2) (example 3). 

Finkelstein’s account of his family’s experience in the Holocaust, changing as it does, seems to be an invention. This is not to say that Finkelstein’s parents were never in a concentration camp, but he fabricates the details, including the detail about all his relatives on both sides having been killed. The rhetorical advantage that Finkelstein gains with such fiction is obvious: in a milieu where it is customary to tell this kind of lie, it enables him to out-kvetch his critics.

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