An important foundation of anti-Hitler propaganda, quoted over and over during the war, was Hermann Rauschning’s Conversations with Hitler (also published under other titles), which was discredited by Swiss researcher Wolfgang Haenel in 1983 (Hans Neueborg, AP 1 November 1985). It was this false record of alleged conversations with Adolf Hitler that laid the foundation for Allied propaganda portraying the German leader as a psychopath bent on world-conquest.
Sometimes, as in the case of Yankel Wiernik’s A Year in Treblinka, the memoir is published by a government (in this case the post-war Communist government of Poland). Wiernik’s pseudo-memoir claims, among other fantasies, that a naked Jewish woman wrested a rifle away from a guard and leapt over a three-meter fence — which would be a world’s record even today.
Very often, however, this kind of lying occurs without direct sponsorship of any government. Private individuals will make up stories about themselves that conform to the prevailing myth, whatever it may be. The motive may be just to attract attention, or to make money, or of course to add to the overall campaign of propaganda. Also, when some accused person seems guilty but the evidence of guilt is inconclusive, it can always happen that some false witness will come forth to fill the gap. That person thereby makes himself important, and can rationalize in his own mind that he is aiding justice by lying.
One subset of this kind of liar that we commonly encounter is the person who claims to have “lost” some number of relatives in “the Holocaust.” If you hear somebody make such a claim, ask for details. If any are given, compare them to known facts. Be aware that there may be a kernel of truth augmented with fiction to make an otherwise dull story more interesting.
The Daily Mail (21 June 2013) carries an essay by novelist and sometime historian Guy Walters that scratches the surface of this phenomenon. The title asks: “Could there be anything more twisted than these Holocaust fantasists?” It says that “more and more people are making up memoirs about witnessing Nazi crimes.” Walters names the following as fake memoirs:
Towards the Dawn by Joe Corry (2001). Corry claims to be a former member of a “Special Service Unit” during the Second World War. Walters points out that Corry’s claim to have discovered an “experimental extermination camp” in Holland cannot be true.
Fragments: Memories Of A Wartime Childhood by Binjamin Wilkomirski (1995). Walters says that this author was exposed as a liar in 1998 “by a Swiss journalist, who revealed the author had been nowhere near the camps; that he was in fact called Bruno Grosjean, and had been raised in an orphanage.” (The book had won the National Jewish Book Award in the USA and the Prix Memoire de la Shoah in France before Daniel Ganzfried exposed it as a fraud.)
Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat (2008). Rosenblat had gained notoriety through an appearance on Oprah in 1996. After the book was published, former inmates of the camp where the story was alleged to have taken place said that it was impossible, and within months Penguin withdrew the book from publication.
Misha: A Memoir Of The Holocaust Years by Misha Defonseca (1997). This Jewish woman claimed to have survived the Warsaw ghetto and been raised by wolves. She explained: “It’s not the true reality, but it is my reality.”
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz by Dennis Avey (2011). Walters himself exposed this as a fraud.
Survivor Of The Long March: Five Years as a PoW 1940-1945 by Charles Waite (2012). This author claims to have witnessed a Jewish baby being snatched and killed by a guard in front of its mother. Walters notes that such episodes have become a staple of Holocaust literature; he considers them to lack credibility “for the simple reason that killing babies in front of their parents is not the best way to pacify a train full of prisoners.” Walters also suggests that most guards probably did not want to kill babies.
Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell? by Horace Greasley (2013). This author claims to have escaped from a German POW camp more than 200 times. Walters comments: “Mysteriously, Greasley’s PoW record held at the National Archives does not make one mention of these 200 ‘escapes’. Working camps for NCOs such as Greasley were not the tightly-guarded places conjured up by our collective imagination, which is weaned on images from Colditz and The Great Escape. In fact, bunking out of one’s camp to fraternise with local girls was hardly unusual, and certainly not ‘escaping’ in the sense most of us understand it.” One may infer that Greasley’s reference to his German POW camp as “Hell” is likewise an exercise in histrionics.
While presenting information that by its very nature suggests that the Holocaust story in general ought to be questioned, Walters has not gone all the way. On the contrary, Walters has taken preventive measures against being called a Holocaust-Denier, and against being called an anti-Semite. He has compromised his veracity in order to do that.
In the first place, Walters pretends that lying about “the Holocaust” is a relatively new phenomenon that only became common in the 1990s*. Walters is either shockingly ignorant of the history of disputes in this field or he is putting us on. Yankel Wiernik’s A Year in Treblinka was published in 1945. Paul Rassinier, a Socialist who had been an inmate of Buchenwald and Dora, criticized the dishonesty of other former inmates with The Lie of Ulysses: A Glance at the Literature of Concentration Camp Inmates as early as 1950, and continuing with other books into the 1960s. The observation that many people have lied about what they experienced during the Second World War dates from the war itself.
In his discussion of Joe Corry’s pseudo-memoir, Walters refrains from stating a fact that casts the entire Holocaust story into doubt. Walters does not point out that the Holocaust story has changed drastically since 1945. Mainstream historians today do not claim that there was any extermination-camp west of the current border between Poland and Germany, but the propaganda of 1945 claimed more extermination-camps spread over a wider area. (You will still encounter people who think that there were gassings at Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Buchenwald, but these are people that haven’t gotten the memo.) Corry’s tale of the “experimental extermination camp” might have been treated as credible in 1945 but it is not consistent with the official story that is enshrined today. Walters avoids mentioning that the Holocaust story has changed.
Walters covers himself against accusations of anti-Semitism by quoting a Jew who also complains about the lying. That Jew is one Felix Weinberg.
Based on the briefest perusal of what is available online of his book, I can say that Weinberg himself seems to be far from rigorously truthful. I noticed some obvious problems. Weinberg says: “…. the fact that inmates disappeared exactly six months after their arrival and that the chimneys were spouting smoke conveyed an ominous message.” Is it really true that inmates consistently disappeared six months after arriving at Auschwitz? It is hard to argue with Weinberg’s claim, because he could simply say the person who had allegedly spent more than six months in Auschwitz was lying — but the most easily available material indicates that there are such people. In any case Weinberg’s assumption that anybody who disappeared had been gassed is nothing more than an assumption and a rumor.
But it seems that Weinberg also fabricated aspects of his own story. Weinberg claims that the Germans made inmates waste their valuable labor in purely sadistic exercises, like digging holes and refilling them, and carrying bricks around in circles. For a highly educated nation at war, which was at the time suffering a severe shortage of labor, this is obvious poppycock.
Weinberg’s warning against Holocaust-liars seems to be a diversion. It’s analogous to a thief saying, Watch out for pickpockets! as he dips his hand into your pocket.
Walters does more than just quote Weinberg, however. He concludes his essay with: “We should all share the repugnance felt by the late Professor Weinberg, and read his book instead.” Really? Walters surely realizes that very few readers of his essay will bother to obtain Weinberg’s book.If they do, and if they have learned from Walters’ essay to exercise some skepticism, they will realize that Weinberg is hardly better than those he criticizes. And they will realize that Guy Walters does not tell the whole truth.
I suppose that Walters had to hide behind the apron of some Jew in order to get his essay published in mainstream media without suffering repercussions (such as have been experienced by David Irving) that would make it the last time he could get such exposure. After all, if it is true that publishing false memoirs damages the credibility of the Holocaust story, the key element in that damage is the exposition of the frauds, and Walters has contributed to that. I hope that Walters at least felt the urge to hold his nose while endorsing Weinberg in order to use him as a shield.
I cannot know for certain what Walters’ real intention was, but it seems to me that despite his stated intention to save the Holocaust from critics, despite his commendation of some allegedly legitimate Holocaust memoir, the admission in a major news-source that much of the writing about the Holocaust is false — something that the general public likely did not know — represents a net plus for historical truth.
*I will concede however that the growth of Holocaustomania may have required a decade or so to peak after the NBC mini-series Holocaust initially popularized the term and the concept in 1978. Also, the end of the Cold War, and the fact that people in general were freed from worrying about themselves being incinerated in a nuclear holocaust, may have increased public receptivity to propaganda that urges pity for Jews to the near-exclusion of everybody else.