Since writing here two weeks ago on the return to Auschwitz of some survivors of that camp of horrors, and of the thoughts their visit gave rise to, I have received an extraordinary amount of mail -- most of it sharply critical, much of it distinctly hostile, and some of it I might characterize, succinctly if colloquially, as bananas. It is not the thoughtful or critical responses to that piece that I want to take up here -- they speak for themselves and some of them have already appeared in this newspaper -- but a couple of those that, it seems to me, fall off the register of acceptable responses into the realm of the dangerous, to put it charitably. (If they were merely lunatic, it would be easier to dismiss them.) These responses, however screwy they may strike me, do not ppear to be written by people who are certifiable -- merely offensive and curiously wrongheaded, which makes them somehow worse. It is not a crime to be offensive in this country or wrongheaded.
The respondents I am referring to do not believe the Nazi Holocaust happened. They believe it is a "cult," that the numbers were grossly exaggerated, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, that there was no Nazi extermination policy, that the firebombing of Dresden was somehow the greater crime. I suppose they believe that Hitler was a humanitarian. And one of them is going to continue my free subscription to his newsletter "monitoring holocaust cultism," although I don't recall having received it heretofore.
As anyone who has ever appeared in print on the subject knows, it is hardly possible to write about the Holocaust without eliciting a strong -- a passionate -- response. It is right up there with abortion, military pensions and the problems of driving and parking in the District of Columbia -- that disparate grab bag of topics that range from the cosmic to the homely on which people feel impelled to express themselves -- issues that affect their lives, their pocketbooks or their most cherished beliefs.
There are some people out there whose most cherished beliefs -- the beliefs they are willing to pay money to promulgate -- have a very ugly overtone. From a special report published by the Institute for Historical Review and sent me by a person unknown: "There were zero "life-extinguishing camps in Germany")$. Dachau was a standard concentration camp originally set up for holding common criminals and unregenerate Communist activists . . . . The dead inmate bodies encountered by the liberating GIs were caused by a massive typhus outbreak." It goes on to describe the gas chamber ("this little sanitizing chamber") as being used to kill lice on clothes. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. might say. And it goes on and on.
This same institute offered to pay $50,000 "to anyone who could prove that Jews had been 'gassed' to death at Auschwitz." Of course, no one could -- at least to the satisfaction of the institute's judges. One person, however, believed he did indeed submit proof and is suing the institute and others for his money. The suit, according to Bradley Smith of Los Angeles, Calif., is now coming to trial. I wish the plaintiff well. Because this stuff I have been reading from the institute is truly hateful. It's as simple as that, but clothed -- like the Nazis -- in the garb of reason.