By Steven Zimmerman
There are people who say the Holocaust never happened. It’s shocking to other that such an attitude is even prevalent in today’s world. How can anyone deny the death of over six million people based on religion?
There is even a study, released in 2013 that says upwards of twenty million people died at the hands of the Nazi regime in death camps. TWENTY MILLION is a number I cannot even begin to imagine.
Holocaust deniers are a sad fact of life. They are simply individuals who want to negate the whole event and say it is a continued conspiracy put forth by Zionists. There is even a Rabbi, Rabbi Dovid Weiss who denies the Holocaust.
Another Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi says that not even one million Jews died in the Holocaust. It’s sad, but he does believe this. And there are others.
What does someone have to gain by saying that something as well documented never occurred? What do they get out of it?
I can answer that question. What they get out of it is a distorted sense of power they could not have any other way.
I know this for a fact as I used to be one who denied the Holocaust- not so much the Holocaust as the number of deaths that occurred.
I could not believe that that many people would have lost their lives without someone feeling compelled to do something. That was before research on various parts of my family.
Like other members of my family, and there are many – my Uncle Robert Zimmerman, Janet Webb, and others – I have an interest in where my family has been, where we’ve come from, and just where we might be going.
It was when I was doing a bit of research on my father’s side, considering his real father, that I began to make some shocking discoveries.
There was a branch of the family that found themselves in different camps during World War II. Some were there because some were classified as “anti-social,” and that is such a broad term.
One was there because they were suspected of being gay. And one person who ended up in a camp and was liberated. He was in the camp for helping to hide Jewish families and get them out of Germany.
This opened my mind to the reality of World War II.
Another reason people begin to deny the existence of concentration camps and death camps is the fact it was all a state secret in Germany. They regime wrote down as little as possible. What they did document, they then later attempted to destroy near the end of World War II.
It is felt that the lack of “official” documentation from the German government argues against the existence of the Holocaust. This still does not explain the existence of the camps that remain today and serve as a stark reminder of the brutality man can sink to.
Seven camps are preserved as a somber reminder of a dark time in our collective history. Each of these sites argues against those who deny the Holocaust.
Others have tried to say they conducted extensive tests of the camps and their tests show that no one was killed, or any poisons were used.
Markus Tiedmann has written a book entitled “In Auschwitz wurde niemand vergast.” (“Nobody was gassed at Auschwitz.”: 60 Rightist Lies and How to Counter Them”) and has documented sixty of the largest arguments used by those who deny the Holocaust, and countered them with the truth.
One of these so called “truths” put forth by those who would deny the Holocaust is that the construction of the death chambers in Auschwitz was not on par with then current technology. This was the claim of Fred Leuchter.
From “In Auschwitz wurde niemand vergast:”
George Wellers, a French Auschwitz survivor, had the following to say about Leuchter’s “expert” testimony:
“The worthy Mr. Leuchter finds it strange that Höß didn’t cross the Atlantic in 1941-42 during the height of the war to get tips from the Americans on how to kill hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children more efficiently…His conclusions contain many astonishing clues that this executioner de luxe has confused his Hilton gas chambers with the miserable sheds that served the purpose in Auschwitz.”
At first, even the Nazis had no experience with mass murder on this scale. They improved their technology slowly as they gained that experience.
There were different types of gas chambers. The first stationary one was put into use in Belzec in February 1942; mobile gas chambers in trucks were also used. In addition, different types of gas were tried, primarily carbon monoxide (from canisters or diesel exhaust) and prussic acid (Zyklon B).
Development was very uneven; whereas Belzec still used wooden barracks with three gas chambers, there was a brick building with a concrete floor at Sobibor. The first gas chambers that could be hermetically sealed were at Treblinka. Further efficiencies were brought about to Auschwitz in early 1943 with the introduction of Zyklon B and by building the gas chambers with adjacent crematoria.
The Nazis were certainly not concerned with the humaneness of their technology; efficiency was their only goal. If the necessary technology was unavailable or overloaded, they shot or hanged their victims.
It’s sad, but there are still those who deny the atrocities of the Holocaust.
I decided that I would visit the El Paso Holocaust Museum and talk with them about their history, as well as modern day hate.
I met with Lori Shepherd, the executive director of the Holocaust Museum, as well as Jamie Flores, the programming, and education director (the latter interview is contained in the posted audio version).
“You cannot end hate,” Lori Shepherd said, “until you teach empathy.”
“What we fear is what we don’t understand,” is what Lori said. It’s true, all too often, if we don’t understand a situation, people, religion, we begin to fear it, and others will feed off of our fear.
“The idea for the museum came from our founder, Henry Kellem,” says Lori. It started around 1984 when Henry learned that there were Holocaust deniers. Henry, his wife Julia, and their nephew were the only ones from their family to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust and the camps.
When they came to El Paso, they vowed to never talk about the Holocaust. Yet, when his wife died, and with the knowledge of individuals who denied the events of the Holocaust, he began to go out and speak at local schools.
“He collected his own memorabilia,” said Lori. “He borrowed space at the Jewish Community Center, in their conference room.”
Henry had owned Hollywood Store for Men and brought a display case from the store and began to fill it with what they had.
“The star that Jerry had worn, a comb that had been his [Henry’s] mothers, things like that,” recounts Lori as we talked about the founding of the museum.
As often happens others began to come and give items to Henry. There were also soldiers from Ft. Bliss who began to give what they had once they heard of the small “museum.”
“Henry started to take over the entire conference room,” says Lori. “So, one day the board came to him and said you couldn’t, you’ve to take over the whole conference room. It’s always booked with students.”
They told him he had to build his own museum. He did.
A capital campaign was started, the funds raised, and next to the Jewish Community Center, on Wallenberg, the museum began to be built.
The old museum looked, from the outside, as if it were part of one of the camps. It was designed this way on purpose. It was a stark reminder of what man is capable of, the depths we can sink to.
The museum remained there, on Wallenberg, until an electrical fire. Afterwards, Henry Kellem, as he was picking through the remains of the museum, and thought that was the end of his vision, the end of the El Paso Holocaust Museum.
Yet, the board of directors for the museum said that they would rebuild, and they did.
“We are one of thirteen free standing Holocaust Museums in the United States,” said Lori. “And we are particularly proud that we are the only bilingual Holocaust Museum in the United States.”
“The only way we can stop history from repeating itself,” says Lori, “is to learn from it. And, we haven’t learned from it yet.”
Lori shared a Jewish saying with me, “When you remember a name, you rescue a life lost from oblivion.”
There were six million Jews who were murdered during the holocaust. As I said at the beginning of this article, six million is like twenty million, a number I cannot even begin to comprehend.
“When we tell just one of those stories,” said Lori, “of a survivor who lost someone, or of the survivor. When we recapture, and we tell it, we make sure that their life wasn’t lost to hate. That it meant something, that it wasn’t for nothing.”
Now we circle around to those individuals who deny the Holocaust or want to create a revisionist history of events surrounding Germany’s actions during World War II.
There are far too many individuals who continue to deny the events of World War II. What do they get from this? Let’s first look at a quote from a book written by a sitting professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University.
Dr. Arthur R. Butz, in his book “The Hoax of the Twentieth Century,” has this to say about the Holocaust:
“I see three principal reasons for the widespread but erroneous belief in the legend of millions of Jews killed by the Germans during World War II: U.S. and British troops found piles of corpses in the West German camps they captured in 1945 (e.g., Dachau and Belsen); there are no longer large communities of Jews in Poland; and historians generally support the legend.”
When speaking to Lori Shepherd about individuals, such as Dr. Butz, who continue to deny the Holocaust, she had this to say, “It’s about maintaining control, maintaining power, and using hate to do that.”
This, she says, is not different that want the Nazi’s did as far back as 1933, using hate to divide a society in order to gain power. “If you can separate groups of people, make them fearful of one another, and make them hate each other you can control them.”
She went on to say that you can’t have that same level of control when people know each other. How can you hate someone you know? How can you hate someone you are friends with or united with? You simply can’t. Thus, the mindset at work is to divide and conquer.
Look at the world around us, and you will see many examples of this “us” verses “them” mentality. Just scanning the headlines is enough to give you dozens of example of this. Or our own inaction when faced with social, religious, or socio-economic injustices.
“Here at the museum we talk a lot about bystanders, we talk a lot at the museum here about collaborators, and then we talk about perpetrators,” says Lori.
When most people think of the Holocaust, they think of the perpetrators, the Nazis. They are the one’s who stormed into neighborhoods causing division and hate. The Nazis are the ones who sent others off to die because they were different.
“But,” Lori said, “they couldn’t have done it without the collusion of collaborators and without the apathy of bystanders. If good people hadn’t turned aside, hadn’t ignored what was happening to their Jewish neighbors, their Gypsy neighbors, the Holocaust could never have happened.”
Today, as then, what the Holocaust deniers and hate mongers believe is that if we can divide the people, if we can separate them based on imagined fears or differences, then they can, and will conquer.
The El Paso Holocaust Museum stands a reminder to man’s inhumanity to man. It also stands, as a monument, to what can be achieved, and how we can move towards peace and unity.
How can we move towards understanding and empathy?
“When we have those first middle school classes that come through here,” said Lori, “when our docents start talking, it’s about connecting each one of those kids, and each and every one of our visitors… we want to connect each and everyone of them with a story, with a narrative.”
When you hear a story and can make that connection to a person or one of the survivors, you gain that empathy that will ultimately end that hate, will open you to others. I recall that old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Hearing these stories, learning of their trials, the suffering they have had to endure – and I am not only talking about those who survived the Holocaust, but I am also talking about the neighbors just down the block who you may not yet know – you are connected to them.
“If you can learn about them,” Lori said, “you can support them, and you can learn to love them instead of hating them. We only hate what we don’t understand. We only hate what we fear, and what we fear is what we don’t understand.”
There was a time that I didn’t understand Islam, or the Muslim mindset until I began to meet them, join with them, and learn about them.
There was a time I didn’t understand Jewish beliefs, history, or how the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox would spend so much time in study until I began to meet with an older man named Moshe up in New York City.
The country at large does not understand what most immigrants to this country go through just getting here, or the fear Dreamers have about deportation simply because they do not take the time to get to know them, their dreams, or their histories.
I’ve seen so many people become verbally violent when discussing immigration to this country, or the idea of sanctuary cities. In these discussions, it’s almost as if they are a hair away from becoming physically violent, and that saddens me.
I live in the Lower Valley; I travel to Mexico quite often. I see the fear in the eyes of children who are worried they will be sent back to a country they have never really been to, a country they left when they were just children.
I also see the fear they have because others do not like them, or want them here simply because of who they are and where they have come from.
It’s not right; it’s not.
Last Thursday (September 14) immigration was the topic of the Speak Out Event Series. “Rebirth: A Discussion on Immigration.”
This was a panel discussion about immigration in El Paso. There were experiences of Holocaust survivors, a talk about how people feel about immigration, and more.
“When we look at what we are going to do for our programing, here at the museum,” says Lori, “we want to be sure that we are not just looking at history as it happened, but history as it relates to today.”
“Speak Out” is a new program at the museum where people can come together to share, listen, and grow. “We recognize that people weren’t feeling heard,” said Lori.
“People on both sides of the aisle, people on every side of every issue, they really just want a moment to share what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling.”
“Rebirth After the Holocaust: the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp 1945-1950,” which runs until November 1 is connected to the Speak Out series.
As Lori pointed out, when World War II ended, the struggle didn’t end for the survivors. They had to rebuild their lives and search out remaining family members.
Many of them came to American- directly, or indirectly – through South America. When these individuals and families arrived in new countries, they faced many of the same issues facing immigrants today.
Where will they live, and work? How will they be perceived by the communities they are entering; will they ever be able to rebuild their lives?
The panel discussion brought together those who survived the Holocaust and immigrated here and those who are working with immigration today. They looked at what did, and didn’t work for those immigrating back then, and how they could make changes in today’s system of immigration.
This discussion used the past to inform and shape the present.
That is what the El Paso Holocaust Museum is doing. They remember the past, calling us to witness and learn from it. They are calling us to take those lessons and allow them to grow within us in such a way that they will branch out to others in the hope that peace and love will one day be our reality, and hate only a distant memory.
Before the electrical fire of 2001 there was a small, yet powerful display. You would walk around a corner, and through a passageway, and you were faced with a pile of children’s shoes. Children’s shoes.
Just seeing those shoes, just knowing that there were children who had these shoes removed, possibly removed by force, children who may not have lived to see their next birthday or the liberation of the camps.
I could never walk past those shoes. I had never seen the rest of the older museum. For me, it ended there simply because I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could do this to a child, much fewer adults, simply because they prayed differently than you, worshiped God differently than you, loved differently than you.
Memory, remembering, memorializing – there is no definitive list of those who perished. There is no way we will ever know who has died, who has been brutally murdered in the name of hate. What we can do is honor the memory of all. We can work for peace and unity.
We can learn from our collective history and start recognizing those instances of hate in today’s world, and stop them, use them as a teaching moment.
We can remember, and in that remembrance, we can grow.
Visit the El Paso Holocaust Museum, on line.