The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Did Simon Wiesenthal once state in writing that "there were no extermination camps on German soil"?

3. Did Simon Wiesenthal once state in writing that "there were no extermination camps on German soil"?

The IHR says (original):

Yes. In Books and Bookmen, April, 1975 issue. He claims the "gassings" of the Jews took place in Poland.

The IHR says (revised):

Yes. The famous "Nazi hunter" wrote this in Stars and Stripes, Jan. 24, 1993. He also claimed that "gassings" of Jews took place only in Poland.

Nizkor replies:

Wiesenthal's 1975 letter to the editor said:

Because there were no extermination camps on German soil the Neo-Nazis are using this as proof that these crimes did not happen [...]

How ironic that he was not only correct, but that those very words were later misused in the manner he described.

Both answers are correct in themselves: Wiesenthal did indeed indicate in 1975 and in 1993 that there were no extermination camps in what is now Germany. Innocuous as the change seems, it does lead the reader to assume that the most recent statement is some kind of admission that the Holocaust was much more limited than has been maintained and that the truth is finally coming out. Statements like Wiesenthal's are in fact the basis upon which deniers claim that their pressure is forcing the truth out of reluctant historians.

The truth is that historians, and others like Wiesenthal, have attempted repeatedly over the years to dispel several myths about the Holocaust: the mass production of soap made from human fat is a good example.

Another misconception which they have tried to dispel is that the bulk of the extermination of the Jews took place within Germany itself -- or, more properly, within the "Altreich," the prewar boundaries of Germany. While there were indeed gas chambers and homicidal gassings in the Altreich, they were on a much smaller scale than the gassings in the camps in Nazi-occupied Poland, such as Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Kulmhof/Chelmno, Maidanek/Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. About three million people, almost exclusively Jews, were gassed to death in those camps. Camp gassings in the Altreich probably claimed the lives of only a few thousand people, almost certainly under ten thousand. Aside from "small-scale" gassing in places like Dachau, Gusen, Neuengamme, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, and Ravensbrück, and Brandenburg, the site of the first gas chamber, it was largely confined to the "euthanasia" program, which did claim the lives of over a hundred thousand people, mostly non-Jews.

The Nazis had at least two good reasons for building the death camps outside of Germany. First, they were easier to conceal from the German people. Given the chaotic wartime conditions in the territory surrounding the Altreich, they were easier to conceal in general. As Richard Brietman pointed out while writing about the so-called "euthanasia" killings:

"It was one thing ... to kill hundreds of thousands of East European Jews on site in the East -- in inaccessible places, with police cordons preventing spectators from attending. It was quite another thing to murder Jews in Germany or Western European countries... "

...The false causes of death reported raised some suspicions, the residents in the vicinity of the gassing centers began to realize what was going on nearby, and other leaks occurred as well. Adverse public reaction and even signs of open protest induced Hitler to shut down the gassing centers ... the euthanasia killings continued in a more decentralized -- and even less noticeable -- fashion. Still, the experience did not generate confidence about the secrecy of killing on a large scale within Germany." ( Breitman, Richard. Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew, New York: Hill & Wang, 1998. pp 69-70)

Second, the vast majority of murdered Jews came from conquered territory to the east and south -- why go to extra trouble to ship them back into Germany? (See the statistics at the end of question 1.)

What is not given any recognition by the deniers is that the latest "admission" by Wiesenthal is exactly what respectable historians have been saying for the past 45 years, starting perhaps with the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History in 1950. This selectivity amounts to nothing less than lying by omission and innuendo.

[ Previous | Index | Next ] [an error occurred while processing this directive]