Auschwitz diaries combat classroom revisionist rhetoric

"Show me a gas chamber."

It is the mantra of Holocaust deniers. On college campuses, television talk shows and the Internet, "revisionists" point to the absence of gas chambers after World War II as evidence they did not exist.

Revisionism in the classroom takes a more subtle form, but it is potentially just as dangerous, said Ephraim Kaye, director of seminars for educators from abroad at Yad Vashem in Israel.

"At a certain point in time your students will say, `Was it really so bad? Were so many people killed?'" Kaye said. "It's not so much denial as disbelief.

"You have to know how to answer this."

Yad Vashem educators Kaye, Shulamit Imber and Richelle Bud Caplan spoke to both Jewish and secular educators about teaching the Holocaust. The workshops they led were sponsored by the S.F.-based Holocaust Center of Northern California.

Before instructing them on how to combat deniers' rhetoric, Kaye first addressed the problems inherent in proving the Holocaust occurred.

"How do we know 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust?" Kaye said. "German records? There were none for the six death camps. They never wrote it down. The Nazis weren't idiots."

According to Kaye, in 1942, when the Axis powers were at the height of their strength, SS Unit 1005 "was trying to erase what they were doing."

No gas chambers or crematoria were left standing.

Only one film of actual killings — four minutes long and housed in the Yad Vashem archives — exists. Fewer than 200 photographs remain that show Jews actually being killed.

Most survivors never saw their next of kin killed. "They just disappeared to the east for `work' or `special treatment,'" Kaye said.

Even the remains of the bodies of 33,000 Jews shot into a pit at Babi Yar are gone. The gases released by the bodies created an ecological disaster. They were dug up, the bones crushed and then burned.

At Birkenau, "there are no crematoria, no gas chambers, no clothes. Nothing," Kaye said. "Nothing of the effects of 2 million killed there. It's as if they evaporated into thin air."

All of this provides fodder for deniers who claim less than a million Jews died during World War II, that there was no "Final Solution," that Jewish deaths were casualties of war and that the Holocaust is Zionist propaganda for Israel to secure dollars.

Kaye suggests teachers turn to primary sources — German, Russian, Jewish and Polish documents, as well as transcripts of the Nuremberg trials — "to teach our children history."

Jewish documents of proof include "The Scroll of Auschwitz."

Three diaries with entries written in Polish, German, French and Russian, these accounts written prior to gassing were buried with the hope someone would find them. The diaries detail what was seen, heard and smelled, and actual numbers of Jews burned in the crematoria during a three-week period.

"This is Dante's hell on earth. This is a `no-no' for less than 12th-graders," Kaye advised.

Polish sources document numbers of Jews who rode trains into the country, ultimately to their deaths. Russian archives hold 65,000 pages of testimony from Russian investigative committees.

While liberating towns after the war, investigators asked residents, "Who was killed? Who collaborated? And how?" All of this was written down.

German documents are most incriminating — among them, the Einsatzgruppen Reports. Just a few lines long, the 195 reports list date, location and number murdered.

Consider number 101: "Oct. 2, 1941. Report of massacre at Babi Yar. Thirty-three thousand, seven hundred and seventy-one Jews in Kiev executed."

"Why did they write the exact number? Why not round it off to 34,000 or 33,770? Because it was a total solution. The Nazis intended to make each Jew a victim. They all counted," Kaye said.

Similarly, train documents list more than 4 million Jews who were transported on between 16,000 and 18,000 trains to their deaths.

In addition, Nazi archives hold blueprints for the gas chambers and crematoria made by the German company Topf Und Sohne.

So proud of its three-muffler system — a patented single coal source to fuel three ovens — Topf Und Sohne stamped its name and logo on its creations. The company also supplied a document stating that four crematoria could burn 4,756 bodies in 24 hours, and a gas chamber could kill 6,000 to 8,000 people within five to eight minutes.

Completed in 1943, "this was the pinnacle of the Nazi destruction process," Kaye said.

"We can't cough up a gas chamber, but we have everything to show us how it was built and who built it," Kaye said. "We will never know the exact number and every name of everyone lost.

"But this is the most we've known since the Nuremberg trials. We've been closing the gap slowly since then."