The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Open Letter to Greg Raven:
Lies, Damn Lies

August 12, 1996
Part 1 of 4

Mr. Raven,

On the bottom of your web page "Lies, Damned Lies, and History," you ask the reader to send you questions and comments. I have several I'd like to share.

My chief comment is that I find your analysis to be deceitfully misleading about the content of Pressac's work. I'd like to explain this abrupt and harsh lead-in by explaining that I recently spent an evening reading through Pressac, comparing it to your web page on my laptop. In the course of that analysis, I found many minor errors and lies, and one big whopper.

I'll deal with the minor problems as they come up, but the whopper is your failure to tell the reader what sort of work is Technique and Operation, and your attempt to mislead the reader in that regard.

What Sort Of Work

Technique and Operation is a presentation of the Auschwitz gas chambers conducted entirely with the revisionist view of what constitutes historical "proof." Pressac's years spent with the prominent revisionist Robert Faurisson have left their mark. He considered it a great oversight that historians had concerned themselves with what historians usually concern themselves: eyewitness testimony, descriptions of the scenes by those who were there, and corroborating evidence thereof.

Pressac, not being a historian, not having studied in history, fails to understand how historical work generally functions. "Revisionists" argue that these standards are unacceptable in the case of the Holocaust, because they think that a worldwide conspiracy intimidated and coerced dozens of Nazis into testifying that they were witnesses to gassings, forged hundreds of documents, and talked thousands upon thousands of prisoners in Nazi camps into weaving lies of varying degree into their stories of what life was like in the camps. They thus conclude that all testimony is utterly worthless -- unless of course it corroborates their point of view, or at least leads to embarrassing questions for the traditional view.

We can argue the merits or demerits of this position at some other date. Obviously you can tell that I feel it to be ridiculous by the way I've described it. But my point here is that Pressac has chosen to look only at the evidence for the gas chambers which "revisionists" feel is acceptable: physical evidence. To be specific, documents and the ruins of the gassing installations as they look today.

Pressac, not understanding that essentially all history is based on testimony, moderated by considerations for the credibility of that testimony, and backed up by corroborating evidence, describes the study of history as "complete bankruptcy." He explains his motivation for beginning his new approach as follows (p. 264):

The fact that the history of the extermination rested essentially on eyewitness accounts gave rise in the West to a debate based on comparison and confrontation of these testimonies, a critical attitude which led in the end towards some people purely and simply denying the existence of homicidal gas chambers. Testimony history and its revisionist offspring being very closely linked, the one having generated the other, it became absolutely essential to find a new historical approach in order to escape from the closed circle of futile debate and go further in search of the truth.

I know you're familiar with all this, Mr. Raven, not only because you've taken the time to review Pressac's entire tome, but because your first quote from Pressac is a few lines which occur later in this very paragraph:

This study already demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of the traditional history (and hence also of the methods and criticisms of the revisionists), a history based for the most part on testimonies, assembled according to the mood of the moment, truncated to fit an arbitrary truth and sprinkled with a few German documents of uneven value and without any connection with one another.

I suppose that I should point out that your quote of that sentence omitted the parenthetical comment. This is your first attempt to mislead.

But the more important omission is that Pressac's entire work is an attempt to prove the Holocaust on revisionists' terms: to play the game by their rules and see what points can be scored. Pressac and I disagree strongly about whether those rules are appropriate. I won't tackle what I find wrong with his approach in any detail, that's a topic for another day. But I cannot deny -- one cannot deny -- that he has scored some marvellous points.

Except, Mr. Raven, that you deny it. You call his work "hysteria," you say he presents no sources or evidence, and most astoundingly, you say he shows no "photos or drawings of the murder factories."

I'll get around to describing his points in a little while, and to how your deliberately ignoring them is your big whopper. But for now, I'll go through your web page in order, presenting what Pressac writes and how you misleadingly characterize it.

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