[This post was merged into this thread so that it's points / responses could more easily be compared to previous points / responses. M1]
This response is necessarily going to have to be long, so I'm posting it in its own thread. I apologize in advance for the length. The referenced thread to which I'm responding is here:https://forum.codoh.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=9238FIRST,
on my original comparison to 9/11. I was responding to what I had thought was Hannover's assertion that a genocide -- or perhaps an intended genocide -- was impossible because there were survivors. My point here was to indicate that the mere existence of survivors proves nothing about intent.But to stay here for a moment, there are accounts from survivors of events on 9/11 that have not been proved and for which there is no evidence, e.g., secondary explosions in the trade centers after they were hit but before collapse, these allegedly occurring multiple stories below the points of impact (in at least one case, situated in the elevator lobby). There is no reasonable explanation, nor any proof, beyond the testimony, for these explosions. They are assumed by most experts not to have happened.SECOND
is this matter of multiple claims of German intent to exterminate all Jews in Europe. Unsurprisingly, I hold that this assumption is true. However, I think that it's been heavily oversimplified in its presentation by many well-meaning people. Here multiple sub-points must be made.
(1) While there are some historians who maintained, and a smaller number who continue to maintain, that the Nazis always intended to murder Europe's Jews, this has always been a poorly substantiated theory that was never borne out by the weight of the evidence. As some of you reading this might be aware, this was the thrust of the intentionalist vs. functionalist debate. Indeed, what the evidence has borne out is the functionalist argument, put forth by Hilberg first and foremost in English-language scholarship, i.e., that Nazi policy vis-à-vis Europe's Jews only became essentially murderous by the summer of 1941 at the absolute earliest. Even a large number of the intentionalists ultimately concede that position. The position of extreme intentionalists (in English-language scholarship, Davidowicz and Goldhagen, e.g.) is (rightly, in my opinion) virtually ignored by the vast majority of experts on the topic, as is the position of the extreme functionalists (in English, again, Arno Meyer comes to mind as an example). The historians on whom I rely (on this, more below) are functionalists, as I think the evidence increasingly bears out.*
(2) Given (1), any claim about Nazi policy regarding Europe's Jews is going to have to be considered within the historical context of the frequently changing nature of that policy. So perhaps it's surprising for some of you to read that it's only a minority of the period between 1939 and 1945 that the Nazis could fairly be said to "want to kill every Jew they lay their hands on," and even in the places where that policy could be considered true, it might be true in one place and not another.
(3) Turning now to the sources cited by Hannover:
This particular Web page concerns only the death camps, i.e., the six camps in Poland with which I assume you are all familiar. Ergo, the claim as given is what I would call "mostly true." Certainly, I consider it true for the Reinhard camps and for Chelmno. I do not consider it true for Auschwitz and, if possible, even less true for Majdanek. E.g., the periods during which Jews deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were killed on arrival was quite brief, particularly given the length of time during which that particular camp was open -- essentially parts of 1942 is the only significant period during which that particular style of treatment applied consistently. I can elaborate on this point more elsewhere or in response to specific questions, but this is the short version of why some children deported to Auschwitz survived.
source: Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, 2004, p. 424. Also cited here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Solution
Browning's work is absolutely essential to understanding the point of view most widely accepted and best supported today. Most importantly, the quote as given is incomplete without its context. Browning is saying that the policy applied became killing of all Jews between 1939 and the fall of 1941. This is the focus of this particular book. Browning is perfectly aware of how and why Nazi Jewish policy changed during and after 1942, nor is he ignorant to the fact that a large number of Jews were nevertheless spared and/or allocated to labor between the fall of 1941 and the end of Aktion Reinhard, when he establishes that the Nazi régime was at its most murderous.
Again, as in the case from the USHMM Web site, the specific case discussed here is the death camps. To be fair, as I've already noted, this assertion by Isaacman is only true for certain camps and, at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek, certain periods. That said, I've never heard of Clara Isaacman before and I haven't read her book, so I don't know anything about her methods, her credentials, her reliability, etc. A quick Google search reveals she was in a concentration camp during WWII.
Finally, to this assertion of Hannover's -- "you're apparently not even aware of the storyline you are trying defend" -- I find this a bit ironic. Most of the criticisms of Holocaust history that I hear from self-styled revisionists have nothing to do with the prevailing historical understanding of the period at all; in fact, it is they who rely too much on the "marketed storyline." The majority of revisionists seem to believe a sort of popular culture version of the events and have engaged in no real reading of any of the core historical studies or historians of the period. Rare is the revisionist who has even read Hilberg, much less Browning. As such, they are woefully ignorant of the period, historically speaking.THIRD,
there is the matter of the testimony itself and the role it plays in developing an historical understanding of the period. This also requires a nuanced approach, as follows.
(1) First, is should be understood that all historians of any caliber know that eyewitness testimony is the single least reliable form of evidence that exists, which is why no responsible historian ever relies on it alone. Rather, historians rely on corroboration to determine what testimony, if any, should be considered seriously and what should be discarded as wholly worthless. This corroboration comes in two varieties, which we could call internal and external corroboration. The former would be examining testimonies to see where they agree in the main. The latter would be examining testimonies in the light of other forms of evidence (documents, scientific evidence, etc.).
(2) Second, the job of the historian is not only to determine which pieces of evidence are reliable or not reliable and/or which to ignore or treat seriously. Rather, it is a core function of the historian to provide a narrative of events that accounts for the evidence, explaining how each individual source elucidates that narrative and conceding where the events are unclear or the sources tenuous. This is something that wasn't really established in English until Reitlinger, followed by Hilberg. I have yet to see a single revisionist do this.(3) Third, there is the frequent revisionist criticisms of "orthodox historians" that "they can't keep their stories straight." Again, I would submit that this is a gross misunderstanding of how history works. There are several reasons why the accounts of an historical event or series of events would change over time, and the Holocaust is no different. Where Hilberg's version differs from Reitlinger's, e.g., has to do both with their individual methodologies, as well as (I'd argue, more importantly) the sources used by them. Here we engage the matter of archives. A key matter playing a role in the evolution of the history of the Holocaust has been the availability of archives in different places in time. Perhaps the best-known example was the opening after 1991 of the Soviet archives. Unsurprisingly, what we know about the Holocaust in the Soviet Union has changed enormously since the 1990s for precisely this reason. If there has been a greater emphasis on the Einsatzgruppen since that time, it's because the Einsatzgruppen operated overwhelmingly in the Soviet Union, and access to Soviet archives was severely limited before that point.
(4) Bringing this finally back around to eyewitnesses, a series of discussions in this forum over the reported colors of corpses in the Reinhard camps serves as a good example. Some reported they were yellow, some that they were blue, etc. So what we don't have is reliable eyewitness testimony on the color of the bodies. What we do have agreement on is that there were bodies. Similarly, we have disagreement on the dimensions of the gas chamber or on the number (six or eight) at a specific camp; what we don't have disagreement about among the eyewitnesses is that there were, in fact, gas chambers. That's internal corroboration. Another example of internal corroboration, relying solely on eyewitness testimony, is the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau (a bit of a hobby horse of mine). The amount of internal corroboration that there were gas chambers in the crematoria buildings is simply enormous -- in the dozens, including former perpetrators, witnesses, and bystanders. But there's also external corroboration in this particular case -- albeit not much -- in the form of documents (a large number thanks to the work of Pressac) and scientific investigation. It provides a narrative by which we can understand the specific history of that camp and what went on there. As time has gone on, we've learned more about events there; for instance, we've learned that the number of Hungarian Jews who died there was less than originally believed, in part because a much larger number of deportees from the middle of 1944 were apportioned to labor. Therefore, the story changes not because we "can't keep it straight" but because historians working in archives have found sufficient evidence to make a specific case.FINALLY,
we can return to my remarks on the essay here:http://www.skepdic.com/testimon.html
My take on the addendum differed from Hannover's, unsurprisingly. First, I have been reading medical literature for a living for the last decade, so I get where the writer is coming from and I understand why the sort of evidence that would constitute the best possible evidence from a medical standpoint (a double-blind, randomly and prospectively enrolled, placebo-controlled trial -- commonly called an RCT [randomized, controlled trial]) is lacking in virtually all oncology cases. Thus, case studies (i.e., anecdotal evidence) forms a core part of how oncology drugs come to be used. There are not the only type of evidence, however. While double-blind RCTs are not possible in oncology, open-label trials for nonresponders to approved treatments are available, as well as animal studies. In fact, it's on the basis of the former (open-label trials) that many oncology drugs are approved because RCTs aren't possible. One of the drugs referred to in the article is one I know a lot about -- bevacizumab. This drug was approved first for colon cancer on the basis of open-label trials. It was then used off-label for patients with other cancers that were nonresponsive to approved treatments, yielding case studies, and on this basis, open-label trials were launched. On this basis, bevacizumab has received approvals to treat other forms of cancer.
So my conclusion about the article is that what the author is saying is that not only is it true (as he had always conceded) that eyewitness testimony provides a basis for scientific investigation, but also that when the best possible evidence for something does not exist or is not possible (RCTs), very good, very reliable conclusions can be drawn on the basis of less reliable forms of evidence (case studies and open-label trials).
Note, by the way, that if either case studies or open-label trials had proved ineffective, then no conclusions would be drawn about the efficacy of these drugs, and they would never be approved for any indications whatsoever. In addition, corroboration of animal studies is always necessary -- no drug is ever tested in humans without having shown efficacy and safety in animals first.
The analogy back to the Holocaust is this: The best possible evidence we could have would be a video recording of the events in question, but no such recording exists. As such, we must rely on less reliable forms of evidence, including the least reliable source of all, e.g., eyewitness testimony. In doing so, we move ahead only with caution. We throw out what, among the eyewitness testimony, is in clear disagreement with the vast majority of the testimony. In addition, we reject any detail that is not borne out by or that is disproved by other forms of evidence.
I hope I've made the points I tried to make here. I'm happy to answer questions.
* Just a side note: Readers ought not think that I believe that policies preceding the summer of 1941, i.e., deportation eastward, relocation to Madagascar or Nisko, ghettoization, or encampment, were not fundamentally murderous. I do believe these policies amounted to dumping Jews in places until they starved or were worn out from labor. No version of the Madagascar plan, e.g., involves provisioning the Jews to be sent there once they'd been moved.