June 2006 Archives

Question everything… but then listen to the answers.

Recently I've come across a few vague Holocaust denials. Rather than explicitly state that the Holocaust did not happen, they simply "raise questions" about the "accepted versions" about what happened. When outrage ensues, they do the intellectual equivalent of shrugging innocently and say, "What's wrong with asking questions?"

Questions come in several types. There are leading questions, designed to steer the thinking of the listener in a specific direction, or elicit a specific response. These are typically "Yes or no" questions, as in, "Did you not, on the night of…." And then here are open-ended questions, questions to which the asker does not know the answer. They can be stated as a first step to seeking knowledge, or they can be posed to convey that you don't know something ("Why does anyone do anything?")

The problem with "questioning the Holocaust" is not that someone is seeking knowledge. Seeking knowledge is a good thing. Rather the "questioning" is a form of leading question, designed to guide the thinking of the listener into doubt. Then comes the usual intellectual bait-and-switch: if minor fact x can be shown to be mistaken, then dismiss every other related fact as well.<

If you want to understand the Holocaust, ask questions, but then look for answers. With the Holocaust you are dealing with a fairly recent historical event. There are still eyewitnesses living. There are mountains of written eyewitness testimony (and an eyewitness video library at USC in Los Angeles with close to 6000 video testimonials). And of course there are the Nazi archives, with 10's of millions of records. That Germany is finally opening the largest to the public after 60 years recently made headlines. It contains 60 million documents, with names, addresses, relationships, serial numbers, and dates of execution for millions. In short, there is simply too much evidence for any sort of reasonable doubt.

Therefore, to me anyone who denies the Holocaust is both profoundly uneducated and unwilling to seek the truth: there is simply too much evidence in all forms - eyewitness, forensic, and written - to even begin to question it. Granted, the most important question - WHY? - is basically unanswered to this day. But if you want to doubt the existence of the Holocaust, you might as well argue that Denmark doesn't exist - its purported existence was fabricated by the Dutch so they would have a better marketing campaign for their cheese - it is simply preposterous.

That is, unless you come from a country where antisemitism is endemic, namely Russia. Then perhaps you won't think it so unusual to question the Holocaust, and wonder what the bid deal is when people react strongly. This may seem a bit of an extreme statement. However, the history of antisemitism in Russia is long – it was on of the few things to survive unmodified from Czarist into Soviet times, and it continues to this day. Periodically it will make the news, such as the front-page article in the New York Times last year. Certainly antisemitism in Russia is milder now than in the days of the Pogroms. But to Western sensibilities the degree is still shocking. In such an environment, perhaps "questioning" the Holocaust is not such a big deal; it's done all the time. But in the West, it simply doesn't play well.

Daniel Hindes

Sources on Russian antisemitism:

And the list goes on (just use google). What these reports don't readily capture is the social climate in which disparaging Jews is just simply accepted and normal, kind of the way that racism lives in America.

Below is something I wrote to the Anthroposophy email list over at Yahoo Groups. It is in response to a lengthy german message from Willy Lochmann to Robert Mason, that Robert posted there. The original post was in German, so I won't reproduce it here. I'll try to make my comments comprehensible without reference to the original, since all but a few German speakers won't know what it was about anyway.

So Willy Lochmann, Bondraev's publisher, assumes responsibility for expurgating the Holocaust-denial statements from the German edition of Bondarev's book. He admits why it was necessary: the general unpopularity of the position, combined with possible legal liability. Now I don't know what is more interesting, the fact that he kept them out of print, or that he would privately state that he agrees with them. This whole, "we're not getting the whole story about the Holocaust" combined with "I resent Jews making such a big deal about it" is downright antisemitic. Citing English-speaking Holocaust deniers and "The New World Order" does nothing to mitigate the antisemitism. Such antisemitism is rampant in Russia today, so I can excuse it as cultural heritage in Bondarev's case, but Willy Lochmann has no such excuse.

Citing 20% of Steiner's output (volumes 160-220 of the complete works) as supporting the position is feeble. Steiner did indeed talk of "historical symptomology" and looking beyond the surface of events. And he attempted to do this frequently in said volumes. But please don't claim that anyone who has read 60 Steiner books is suddenly qualified to judge whether or not the Holocaust occurred. A far better method would be to check out some of the several archives (the Nazi's kept detailed records) or any of the relevant books on the subject. You can't just wrap yourself in the cloak of mysticism and spout of nonsense and expect the world to bow down to your superior insight. Stupid statements like "no one who has not read the above Steiner books is qualified to form a judgment of Bondarev's book" and "those who have read the above books and still disagree with us haven't understood them" show a real open-mindedness on the subject.

Lochmann shows quite a persecution complex. He considers the death of Irina Gordienko shortly after the completion of her anti-Prokofieff book as a possible contract killing (ordered by Prokofieff, or merely a supporter?). Welcome to the high-stakes world of anthroposophical debate. The delayed, but generally negative reception of Bondraev's book is interpreted as an orchestrated campaign to silence him, rather than an honest reaction to a misguided text.

As to Bondraev, the one who knows more and better than everyone else, is it any wonder that he is not popular in Dornach. Besides denying the Holocaust, he has called everyone there a sellout, and accused them of failing to maintain Steiner's legacy (presumably because they dont do things the way he would). These types of statements illustrate the most important point in considering Bondarev's work: the tone. Here is an idealist profoundly upset with the modern world. His work is in every sense of the word reactionary. And as such, he shares not just opinions, but also attitudes, with a whole host of other reactionary fundamentalists. The whole world has gone wrong. Traditional values are not being upheld. God will punish us for this. Etc. You can read the section on homosexuals that Robert Mason so kindly put up on the internet (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Sparta/1105/GoodEvil.htm). For a self-professed "Christian Initiate"there is very little of Christ's love or compassion. In fact the whole thing is rather Old Testament.

And that is just one of the many things that don't add up. Another example: I have a hard time understanding how skydiving is part of a satanic initiation (supposedly free-fall separates the physical from the etheric bodies; however, if that is the goal, there are plenty of illegal drugs that will accomplish this much more effectively, and they are far more widely used).

In the end I find Bondarev's work interesting, but I don't agree with a lot of his conclusions. And I find the tone quite off-putting. Apparently I'm not alone; most anthroposophists who have reviewed the book come to similar conclusions. To Willy Lochman, that means I am part of an anthro-conspiracy to keep the wisdom of Bondarev from other anthroposophists (by speaking negatively about it). Indeed, I am part of an anthro-Gestapo which is now hounding the saint, now that the actual KGB has stopped (his words below). What can I say? I'm sorry you see it that way, but I'll make up my own mind, thank you. I don't "follow" Steiner, and I certainly won't "follow" Bondarev just because he thinks he knows more than I do.

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