Providence Journal, RI
Dec 31 2006

Horrors of the Holocaust bring Jews closer to their faith

01:00 AM EST on Sunday, December 31, 2006


He told me that the columns I'd written about Auschwitz and Dachau
had moved him deeply. `What happened in those places was a horror
show,' he said. Then he added this:

`But the whole idea of gas chambers, a lot of that was just myth.'

He went on: `Many of the claims surrounding the camps are just
atrocity propaganda.'

I don't often write a series of three columns on the same subject,
but in this case, I was drawn to explore it one more time.

Two weeks ago, the Holocaust deniers' conference in Iran prompted me
to revisit the words of camp survivors I'd interviewed over the
years. After that article appeared, I heard from an aging Catholic GI
who had helped liberate Dachau, so last week, I told his story.

Those columns brought several phone messages from people questioning
the Holocaust. One such caller went on for almost 10 minutes.

I'll tell you what left me most surprised about him. You expect such
people to be angry and less educated. But he was respectful, measured
and articulate. He signed off by saying, `I've always liked your
column, and I thank you for your time. I hope you have happy holidays
and God bless.'

He did not leave a name, but I'd like to have a conversation with him
today. Let me begin with some of what he told me.

`In Europe,' he said, `you can insult Muslims, insult Christians, but
if you question one iota of the Holocaust, you're subject to censure,
fines and imprisonment. You're a heretic questioning holy writ, and
that's a thought-stopping smear.'

He went on: `I can't imagine the horror that went on in those places.
But the living in Germany today should not be unfairly demonized for
things that may or may not have happened.'

He talked about the deaths.

`Did millions of Jews die in the camps? Most certainly, and in a
gruesome fashion.' But he said it wasn't intentional - these were
meant to be work camps. Many, if not most, of the deaths, he said,
were from starvation after allies bombed rail-lines. `The food just
ran out when trains couldn't get to the camps anymore.'

Typhus, he added, caused many camp deaths, and he said that the real
function of any gas chambers were not to kill prisoners, but to kill
the typhus. The infamous Zyklon-B gas used at places like Auschwitz,
he said, was a known pesticide.

Finally, he said he didn't care much about Middle East politics, but
claimed that Holocaust `exaggerations' have long been used to keep
anyone from questioning Israel in any way.

`What happened wasn't right,' he concluded. `It just wasn't as
malevolent as people claim it was.'

How to respond?

Let me start by saying he got me thinking about laws in Germany and
other countries that make Holocaust denial a crime. On the one hand,
such speech can incite anti-Semitic extremists, in the same way that
radical Muslim clerics can incite terrorism. But I can see how
imprisoning Holocaust questioners could backfire by punishing
controversial ideas.

As for the rest of what he said, well, for starters, Zyklon-B was
indeed a pesticide, but even Nazi officials have testified its
cyanide component made it effective for mass killing in gas chambers.
And there are libraries of evidence showing that Hitler planned and
implemented a `final solution' of the `Jewish problem.' Frankly,
`proving' the Holocaust is as easy as talking to survivors with
tattooed numbers on their arms.

So with the little space I have left, I'd like to address a question
that I think is more central.

Why do people bother to question the Holocaust? In the Arab world and
elsewhere, it seems to be a suspicion that Jews obsess on the death
camps to gain sympathy for Israel.

I don't think that's true. Partly, it's the same reason people
`obsess' about, oh, events ranging from the Civil War to 9/11 - these
are important parts of history with cautionary lessons for today.

But there's an even deeper reason Jews focus on the Holocaust that
few understand.

Although it happened less than 70 years ago, many Jews have begun to
see it as their faith's version of the Crucifixion. A thousand years
from now, if Jews survive, it will likely remain that sacred.

Why focus on something so sad as a centerpiece of identity?

You could ask the same question of Christians: Why focus on Christ's
terrible death? Much of it, of course, is the theology that He died
for people's sins. But I've come to realize that every people finds
it important, even shaping, to remember and honor the deepest
suffering of their kind.

I once wrote an almost too-graphic column about the horrible things
done to Armenians when more than a million were killed in a genocide
by Turks from 1915 to 1917. I wondered if Armenian readers would
chide me for being so grisly in print. Instead, I heard from scores
who thanked me for remembering. Curiously, they were grateful that I
mentioned the most horrible details.

Why? Because such ancestral suffering is central to them.

As the Crucifixion is for Christians.

And the Holocaust for Jews.

It's not political. It's a matter of the soul.

And so, to my caller, I thank you for your time, and hope this
holiday season will bring you peace.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress