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I’ve just discovered an interesting book related to World War II:  After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh.  This book covers the mistreatment of German POWs and civilians by the Allies after the end of the war, which is a topic I’ve read about before, although not in this much depth.  This post gives a few details about the contents of the book, as does this article in England’s newspaper The Telegraph.

I’d already known about the tendency of the Soviet Army to rape German women, but I hadn’t been aware of how widespread this was.  Apparently almost no women in the Soviet-occupied territories were spared from this, not even children, and some were passed around like bottles of vodka to be raped more than 25 times in a single day.  The war crimes of Stalin’s followers aren’t really news anymore, but what’s more surprising is that the Americans weren’t much better in this regard.  According to part of the book quoted in the Dialog International post, the Americans made use of most of the same methods that SS officers at Dachau concentration camp had used against prisoners there.  This is true in the most literal sense possible—quoting the Telegraph article, “Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and even Auschwitz stayed in business after the war, only now with the Germans behind the wire.

This fact is worth pointing out to anyone who tries to assert the moral superiority of the United States over Nazi Germany.  The Nazis were the creators of these concentration camps, and used them to kill around 10 million civilians as opposed to the 3 million Germans killed by the Allies after the war was over, but those ten million victims were spread out over a period of around four times as long as the Allied occupation of Germany.  In other words, the average number of deaths per year was actually higher under the Allies than it was under the Nazis.  From 1933 until 1945, the Nazis killed an average of 830,000 civilians and POWs per year, while from 1945 until 1948, an average of 1,000,000 German civilians and POWs were killed per year while these camps were in use by the Allied forces.

So how does this relate to revisionism?  The answer has to do with the fact that I’d already been somewhat familiar with this topic, as a result of having researched it as part of a report for my tenth grade English class.  (I’m not sure why they made us learn about World War II in English class rather than history class, but they did.)  Back then there wasn’t a main authoritative book on this topic like the one I linked to, so what I knew about it was pieced together from several sources, all of which only mentioned it in passing.  The reaction to my report was unequivocal—I was told that this was a Revisionist viewpoint, which was the word that class used for Holocaust deniers, and I was accused of academic dishonesty for allegedly failing to admit that my report was based on Revisionist sources.  Since there wasn’t yet any individual mainstream source I could point to in support of my viewpoint, there was no way for me to disprove this allegation, and it was one of the justifications that the principal there used for kicking me out of his school at the end of the year.

Well, this idea isn’t so “revisionist” anymore, now that it’s been covered by a mainstream history book with articles about it in several widely-read newspapers.  But people still seem to have the same amount of ire that they’ve always had for any ideas within the realm of what’s considered “holocaust revisionism”, except that this realm now contains one fewer idea than it did before.

I still think there’s probably no support for the most well-known idea in holocaust revisionism—the idea that the Nazi’s concentration camps were used only for forced labor rather than extermination, and that the people who died there died only as a result of malnutrition and disease.  The main argument used for this idea seems to be Fred Leuchter’s examination of the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but Leuchter’s analysis involved several flawed assumptions, such as that the amount of cyanide residue left behind in a gas chamber used against people would be comparable to the amount left from using cyanide gas for de-lousing.  (It wouldn’t—because lice have so much slower metabolisms than humans, the concentration of cyanide needed to kill them is several times higher.)  But after seeing one of these formerly-reviled revisionist ideas gain mainstream acceptance, I’m much more reluctant to have this attitude towards other ideas currently regarded as such, since experience seems to show that what’s currently considered “revisionist” might not always be.

The British historian David Irving and the German-Canadian conspiracy theorist Ernst Zündel have both served time in prison for denying certain aspects of the holocaust in countries where doing so is illegal. Zündel’s ideas in particular are kind of hard to take seriously—among other things, he’s known for having claimed in the 1970s that Hitler was still alive somewhere near the south pole, and that from their secret underground base in Antarctica the Nazis were plotting to conquer the world using a battalion of UFOs.  (I swear I’m not making this up.)  I also wonder, though:  is it really necessary to imprison someone for trying to convince other people of ideas like this?  I think the eventual acceptance that the Allies committed these war crimes against Germans shows that in general, it’s best to critically examine unpopular ideas about history rather than just suppressing them.  And, you know… it would be quite an embarrassment to Zündel’s prosecutors if Hitler’s underground Antarctic UFO base were discovered someday.
GrievousError Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2009
It's never good to take any accepted account as gospel, especially one that puts one side on the moral high ground, and even Holocaust denial should be covered in any sort of society with freedom of speech. However, imprisonment doesn't lend any credence to their claims.
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March 1, 2009