Ditlieb Felderer, Denier of Truth and Memory
by G. B.
A student essay from Dr. Elliot Neaman's History 210 class (historical methods - spring 2001)© Elliot Neaman / PHDNReproduction interdite par quelque moyen que ce soit / no reproduction allowed
The Holocaust was the systematic, state sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Germans called this "the final solution to the Jewish question." The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word 'olah, meaning a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God. This word was chosen because in the ultimate manifestation of the Nazi killing program (the death camps), the bodies of the victims were consumed whole in crematoria, after being killed often by gassing (Britannica.com 1).
As with any subject that is upsetting and unpleasant to people, some have doubts as to its magnitude and validity. Holocaust deniers feel that the numbers of gassed victims are far too high to be possible, after they have conducted their shoddy research. Ditlieb Felderer is on such Holocaust denier, or revisionist. After conducting his research, he published it and others' who share his beliefs. Although he claims to have done research, there are many holes in it, and it is quite easy to see that his claims are ill founded.
Ditlieb Felderer was born in a Nazi internment district in Austria in 1942. His mother was of Jewish descent and religiously a Jehovah's Witness. To escape persecution, his family hiked over the mountains into Italy. They lived there as refugees for many years until the emigrated to Sweden when his parents felt that sufficient time had passed after the end of the war and the internment. Felderer himself became interested in the Holocaust at age 13 in 1955 (Lenski 129). He did not begin to visit camps and conduct his extensive research until 1976, when he was working for the Jehovah's Witness publication Awake! (zundelsite.org 1). During this time, Felderer was assigned research on the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses and their internment by the Nazis during World War II. When he began his initial research on the holocaust, it was thought that 60,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were killed by the Nazis in death camps. After visiting the headquarters o the Jehovah's Witnesses in New York and the archives in Toronto, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries, Felderer discovered that in actuality, only approximately 200 Jehovah's Witnesses were killed. These findings upset the leadership of the sect and members were warned not to talk to Felderer. In a later Jehovah's Witness Yearbook, the leadership acknowledged Felderer's research and conceded that only 200 were killed in death camps.
While doing his research in 1976, Felderer received a copy of Richard Harwood's "Did Six Million Really Die?" Before reading this booklet, Felderer believed that there was an order from Hitler to exterminate the Jews. This was the first that he had ever read to the contrary. He felt that this line of thought was important because it paralleled his findings regarding Jehovah's Witnesses and their claims of World War II. The following year, he translated the booklet from English to Swedish and distributed approximately 10,000 copies (zundelsite.org 1). Before publication, per Swedish law, Felderer submitted a copy to the Attorney General's office. The publication was read by the special department within the Attorney General's department where publications are scanned to make sure that they are lawful. The booklet was found lawful, and no complaints or prosecution was brought against Felderer (zundelsite.org 1). Felderer also became known in the revisionist world for publishing "sexually explicit cartoons of holocaust survivors," and cartoons portraying exterminationists and Auschwitz Museum officials as clowns (Lipstadt 232).
In 1979, Felderer met Ernst Zündel. Both had an interest in the "extermination theory" of World War II. Because of Harwood's "Did Six Million Really Die?" and Felderer's preliminary work with the Jehovah's Witnesses the two became fast friends and had shared interests. Felderer takes credit for first peaking Zündel's interest in revisionist history (Lenski 480). In 1974, "Did Six Million Really Die?" was published in England. In 1976, as stated above, it was published by Felderer in Sweden. After meeting Felderer, Zündel added 4 pages of introduction and conclusion and published it in Canada (Lenski 4).
After talking with Zündel, Felderer decided to go to the death camps himself to do research on the claims of the exterminationists and the revisionists. The first camp that Felderer visited was Dachau, in West Germany. He found upon arrival that no one was gassed at Dachau despite the gas chambers and crematories; they were taken out of Germany and exterminated. Felderer decided that he would visit camps outside of Germany (in Poland) where gassings actually did take place. He did research before going to the camps, which included studying books by Raul Hilberg and Gerald Reitlinger and the claims made in each (zundelsite.org 2). He made note of the claims that such exterminationists made and brought pictures of them to the camps that he visited. He then asked the guards and personnel of the camp if the exterminationists in question looked familiar or if he had ever been to the camp. When the guards responded that the men in the pictures were unfamiliar, an essential aspect of Felderer's revisionist theory was proven: that the exterminationists do not conduct any real research.
In Poland, Felderer visited all of the camps said to have gassed Jews during the war. These camps included: Chelmo, Belzac, Treblinka, Sobibor, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Gross-Rosen, Stutthof, and Majdanek (zundelsite.org 2). His visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau totaled more than thirty each and his research focused mostly on these two sites. He took many photographs and conducted interviews with the personnel of the camps. Because of his many visits, the personnel of Auschwitz were well acquainted with Felderer and showed him original documents such as Rudolf Höss' handwritten documents (zundelsite.org 4). The documents were in pencil, with no corrections or mistakes. Felderer asked the Auschwitz Museum officials, who had made the material available to him, how this could be and if there was an original draft. The original draft was not found and after discussion with Zündel, Felderer realized the importance of original source material seeing as documents could be easily forged or altered. Between the years of 1978 and 1980, Felderer took 30,000 pictures of the camps that he visited (zundlesite.org 2).
At Auschwitz, Felderer discovered many things that made the camp look more like a vacation spot than a death camp. Felderer said that the kitchen was one of the largest and modern buildings of the camp. He felt that in an extermination camp the kitchen, a room to make food and sustain life, need not be large and well equipped. There was a theatre at Auschwitz for the prisoners to use for orchestras and plays. There was a swimming pool that the guards said was used for rehabilitation and recreation such as water polo. All of these luxuries were evidence for Felderer that the inmates at Auschwitz were treated well and had the extravagances of a vacation spot, not the miseries of a death camp.
Felderer was also extremely concerned with the doors, portholes, lids and openings of the gas chambers. In his article entitled "Doors and Portholes," Felderer says that "one of the most blatant examples of Holocaust forgery is in the access to the gas chambers" (1). When he visited the death camps in the late 1970s many of the doors did not seem to be that of a gas chamber. At Auschwitz, the doors were made of light masonic board and tin plate, which is not sturdy and would not keep deadly gas inside a room. Most doors to the gas chambers also had windows in them. At Majdanek, the gas chambers did have sturdy metal doors and in addition they also had blue marks on them, which should mean that Zyklon B was used there. Felderer obtained a sample of the blue material and found that it was in fact not the residue of Zyklon B but a fabrication.
In his article entitled "Lids and Openings" Felderer discredits perpetrators who have come forward to admit that they had gassed victims during the Holocaust. One such perpetrator is Rudolf Höss. Felderer refers to his affidavit at Nürnburg on April 5, 1946 when Höss said "when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyklon B, which was crystallized Prussic Acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening" ("Lids and Openings" 1). In his autobiography Höss says that "some holes had been pierced in the ceiling through which gas could be discharged" ("Lids and Openings" 1). (He had access to the original because of his acquaintance with the personnel at Auschwitz and the Auschwitz Museum.) Felderer takes this to mean that there were many holes in the ceiling, as he discovered from his own investigations, and that all that Höss says is completely untrue, therefore gassing did not occur. Felderer also found in Höss' autobiography a description of the actual gassing process. In his description he says that there was a shaft that was connected to the holes in the ceiling, which allowed the gas to enter the room. At the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Felderer found no shafts that connected to the holes in the ceilings. This proved, for him, that the allegations of gassings must be false.
From his experiences researching the Nazi death camps, Felderer published many articles (such as the ones referred to above), two books (Auschwitz Exit and Diary of Anne Frank- A Hoax? both unavailable in the United States today) and pamphlets to publicize what he had found to be "true." His book, Diary of Anne Frank- A Hoax? is said to be a profound and groundbreaking work of truth by his friend Zündel, but even Ernst Zündel found areas of Felderer's work tasteless including chapters of the book entitled "Sexual Extravaganza," and "Anne's Character- Not Even a Nice Girl" (Lenski 138 & Lipstadt 233). Zündel also found Felderer's pamphlets to be counterproductive. One pamphlet on the subject of Anne Frank and her diary was sent to recipients with a condom attached. Lipstadt says that Felderer's motivation to produce sexually explicit material like this was to contribute to stereotypes about the Jews being unnaturally interested in pornography and concerned with sex (233).
The pamphlet that was most widely circulated and that caused Felderer's imprisonment was entitled "Please Accept This Hair of a Gassed Victim." The Auschwitz Museum displays hair of gassed victims as proof that people were actually gassed in the death camps. After Felderer's research at the museum, he felt that these exhibits were faked and that they were in no way proof that gassings took place. The flyer was sent to the Auschwitz Museum officials; Felderer claimed that the hair was as much proof of gassings as the garbage that Felderer had at his own home. Felderer's flyer encouraged his patrons to send their own garbage to the museum to enlarge their exhibit. In part, the flyer reads:
Next time you cut your hair, do not discard it! No, mail it to Mr. Smolen at the Auschwitz Museum or to any of the addressees found on the next page- to be exhibited in the display of hair of gassed victims. Your hair has a much better claim to be exhibited there than the phony samples of commercial wigs and hair hitherto exhibited. Also collect together the hair of all your friends, dogs, and other animals. Send it all in a plastic bag to Mr. Smolen. He will remember you for it!… They [museum officials] would highly appreciate if you could send them any documentary garbage that you may possess so they can complete and extend their princely exhibits. May we suggest the following items to be considered to be sent to the distinguished gentlemen at your speediest convenience: pulled teeth (exhibited as authentic samples from gassed victims), dust from vacuum cleaners, scrap paper, broken spectacles (exhibited as proof of gassed and clobbered victims), cut nails (Nazi examples of pulled nails)… cigarette butts, used chewing gum, used snuff (snuff cans are exhibited at Auschwitz)… tin cans (exhibited as contained Zyklon-B)… and countless other precious items: you name them, they will take them! (zundelsite.org 14)
Intermixed with the text are cartoons, which mock the museum officials and the exterminationists. In the first is a women smiling holding a wrapped gift with the inscription "Please send us all your junks. We need them for our authentic exhibits and documentation!" (zundelsite.org 14). The second cartoon is of a clown who is saying "I am an Exterminationist specialist. Kindly send your documents to all of our addresses. You will be remembered for it!" (zundesite.org 14). The third cartoon is of a male crying crocodile tears. The caption reads "I was gassed six times! No! Ten times, No! There are 5,999,999 others like me! The six million gassed Jews is a swindle!" (zundelsite.org 14). Felderer said, during the trial of Ernst Zündel, that this flyer was purely satire. He felt that in order to "penetrate the belief in the extermination theory, a theory which had so much state power and money behind it, it was necessary in Felderer's view to use satire" (zundelsite.org 10).
In 1980, Felderer was arrested by Swedish police for publishing this flyer. He spent three weeks in jail, and then in 1983, he was charged once again for this flyer and spent ten months in jail (Lenski 138). He was convicted of agitating against an ethnic group. During his time in prison, he claims he was treated inhumanely. Felderer says that he spent most of the ten months in a concrete cell staring at the wall. He was not allowed to go outside often and had no pen and paper (he did not receive the pen and paper until after his third hunger strike); he was often beat and sustained injuries (zundelsite.org 10). Felderer said in 1988 that the prisons of today are less humane than the so-called death camps such as Birkenau (zundelsite.org 10).
Because of his friendship with Ernst Zündel, their mutual commitment to revisionism and his time spent in prison, Felderer felt compelled to be a witness in defense at Zündel's second trial in 1988. Zündel was on trial for publishing his version of Richard Harwell's "Did Six Million Really Die?" in Canada (Lenski 4). At the trial, Felderer showed 300 of his slides, which he took at the various death camps that he visited. At the trial, Felderer told the court that he received garbage and diapers at his own address, after his publication of "Please Accept This Hair of a Gassed Victim." As he told of the incident during his testimony, he had a smile on his face and seem to take it with a grain of salt. His feelings that Holocaust denial was a valid study and that it should be protected as a freedom of speech prompted him to participate in the defense of Zündel. Shortly after the trial, Ditlieb Felderer lost interest in revisionism, because he felt that he had done all of the work that he could, and the subject was lost for him.
Before he decided that he was finished with revising historical facts, Ditlieb Felderer made many claims as to the validity of the Holocaust. His arguments in favor of revisionism are ill founded. When Felderer went to the death camps to conduct his research, he often brought pictures of exterminationists with him. Upon asking the camp officials if they had ever seen the Exterminationist before and receiving a negative answer, Felderer decided that this meant that they never did any research, and therefore all of their claims are false. Felderer neglects the fact that death camp and museum personnel change, and that they get many visitors per year. It would be impossible to remember each one, even those doing extensive research. Felderer claims that because Höss' personal documents were written in pencil and had no mistakes that they must be forged, and therefore, gassings never occurred. This is a ridiculous claim. The personal documents of Höss and the amount of mistakes they contain have no bearing on the Holocaust and the amount of gassings that took place. Felderer makes extensive comments about the recreational facilities at Auschwitz, and claims that because there were facilities such as a swimming pool and a large kitchen gassings did not occur. Felderer neglects the fact that at each death camp, there were other prisoners interned besides the Jews. One such example is political prisoners, who were much higher on the hierarchy of those interned and were allowed to take advantage of the "luxuries" of Auschwitz. This in no way proves that no gassings occurred.
In his article entitled "Doors and Portholes," Felderer describes the flimsy doors and fake blue Zyklon-B residue found around the portholes. In "Lids and Openings," he describes how there were many different accounts of how many holes were in the ceilings of the gas chambers and whether or not there were shafts attached to the holes. Through his research, he has found that the gas chambers of over thirty years before had been changed. He fails to understand that today (and when he conducted his research) the death camps are used as museums for the public to visit and to facilitate better understanding of the atrocities that occurred during the Nazi regime. Some aspects may have been changed for the public to better understand what occurred. Just because things have been changed, does not mean that Jews were never killed and the Holocaust never happened. Best way to avoid the mistakes and atrocities of the past is to teach about them. This is the primary function of the camps and museums today. The only way to avoid repetition of history is to teach history.
One of Ditlieb Felderer's closest friend was Ernst Zündel. Zündel and Felderer shared their revisionist beliefs and felt equally convinced that the Holocaust was a hoax. Zundel felt that Felderer had done excellent research at the camps and in regard to The Diary of Anne Frank, but felt that Felderer had gone too far with his pamphlets and cartoons. His work was often silly, and immature and often obscene and horrid. Felderer's own friend felt embarrassed by some of his work. Satire is not an effective genre for a so-called historian. If a portion of his work is not respected, how can the rest of it be studied seriously?
Felderer became interested in revising the numbers of Holocaust victims when he worked for the Jehovah's Witness publication Awake! His desire to find the truth turned into an out of control desire to discredit a period of history and a group of people. The Holocaust caused enough pain and suffering that the revisionists are only making worse by their propagation of false history. Because of the work of Ditlieb Felderer and others like him, history is being cheapened. They call themselves historians, or to be more specific, revisionists. One cannot revise history because one dislikes it. As Deborah Lipstadt calls it, the assault on truth and memory is a ridiculously ill founded aspect of a historical period that need no revision. It is a period that must never be forgotten
" ‘Did Six Million Really Die?' Testimony of Ditlieb Felderer." The Zündel Site, 16 pgs. http://zundelsite.org/english/dsmrd/dsmrd/dsmrd13felderer.html
Felderer, Ditlieb. "Doors and Portholes," Journal For Historical Review. 4 pgs: Spring 1980. http://www.ihr.org
Felderer, Ditlieb. "Lids and Openings," Journal for Historical Review. 2 pgs: Fall 1980. http://www.ihr.org
Hoffman, Michael A. Fall 1980. http://www.ihr.org
Hoffman, Michael A. The Great Holocaust Trial. Wiswell Ruffin House, New York: 1995.
"Holocaust." Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 pg: www.britannica.com
Lenki, Robert. The Holocaust on Trial. Reporter Press, Argentina: 1989.
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust. Plume Press, New York: 1994.
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