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The Latest Anti-Obama Talking Point: Holocaust Denial

Q: What did one Jew say to the other on the train to Buchenwald? A: "Hey, at least we're not on the train to Auschwitz!" It's funny because it's true, right? Just ask Rand Simberg, who in a little jape … Read More

By / May 30, 2008

Q: What did one Jew say to the other on the train to Buchenwald?

A: "Hey, at least we're not on the train to Auschwitz!"

It's funny because it's true, right? Just ask Rand Simberg, who in a little jape promulgated by University of Tennessee Law Professor and "blogfather" of the right Glenn Reynolds, wrote this:

Buchenwald…while atrocious beyond normal human understanding, was merely a slave labor camp, and not historically abnormal in a time of war.

Let's see: Was Buchenwald a slave labor camp ordinary in the history of war? There were some 238,380 people incarcerated there between 1937 and 1945, of whom SS materials record 33,462 dead. Additionally, according to a former prisoner's calculations, there were 8,483 executions by shooting, 1,100 executions by hanging, and 13,500 deaths on evacuation transports beyond the SS numbers, for a grand total of 56,545 deaths. What could possibly be more historically normal for a time of war than that?

But wait, it gets better. Simberg adds:

The people who died there did so under the stress of work and disease, rather than as a deliberate attempt to wipe them off the planet. Which, of course, says much more about human nature and history than it does about the Nazis.

Did the victims of Buchenwald die of stress and disease rather than "a deliberate
attempt to wipe them off the planet"? John Cole points us to the Jewish Virtual Library's entry on Buchenwald, which includes not historically abnormal details such as the secret experiments with poison, chemical burns and incendiary bombs, spotted fever virus, yellow fever, smallpox, typhus, paratyphus A and B, cholera, and diphtheria conducted on prisoners. And what about the prisoners who died under "the stress of work"? Here is how Reinhard Heydrich described the purpose of labor camps, as recorded in the minutes of the Wannsee Conference by Adolf Eichmann:

Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival.

In other words, inducing "the stress of work and disease" was a deliberate attempt to
exterminate the Jews. Simberg is claiming that the Nazi concentration camp system, with the exception of Auschwitz, was not the mechanism of a premeditated plan to murder the Jewish people, and that whatever deaths occurred there were not historical outliers. Those are the fundamental premises of Holocaust denial, endorsed by a popular right-wing blogger and passed along to anyone who might be interested by a tenured law professor at the University of Tennessee.

What on earth could possess anyone who is not eager to be shunned by decent society to say (or in Reynolds' case, disseminate) such things? Why, naturally, it helps to discredit Barack Obama, who recently mentioned in passing that his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz. In fact, Obama's great-uncle helped liberate Buchenwald. The first error generated a gleeful apoplexy on the right because no one ever has or would describe a great-uncle as an "uncle." The second is nefarious because Auschwitz was so awful, and Buchenwald so blah by comparison, that Occam's razor itself, Simberg aptly observes, dictates that Obama substituted "Auschwitz" for "Buchenwald" in a calculated attempt to boost his Jewish vote. Which makes sense only if (a) you buy into Holocaust denialism or (b) you're a deranged hack.

Incidentally, the second Allied officer at Buchenwald was William B. Ravenel III,
who later was hired as an English teacher and football coach at Episcopal High School, and eventually became a mentor and surrogate father to John McCain. In Faith of My Fathers, McCain wrote that "when I came home from Vietnam, Mr. Ravenel was the only person outside of my family whom I wanted to see. I felt he was someone to whom I could explain what had happened to me, and who would understand. That is high tribute to Mr. Ravenel. For I have never met a prisoner of war who felt he could explain the experience to anyone who had not shared it." I spoke recently with Katharine Ravenel, William Ravenel's daughter, who told me that what enabled her father to connect to McCain's experiences as a POW was not any lesson in the classroom or on the football field, but Ravenel's experience liberating Buchenwald and forcing the local townsfolk to see with their own eyes what had happened there (one of the mayors Ravenel led through the camp shot himself).

In other words, Simberg and Reynolds are denigrating the heroism of one of the most important influences on John McCain's life, in addition to their graver indecencies. They were out to score points against Barack Obama, but the gutter they dove into is too polluted with filth to allow for any partisan outflow.

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