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February 6, 2011

Web site that challenges Holocaust denial

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:32 am

Back in April 2010, I read about a new web site that was soon to be launched by British historian Laurence Rees.  The web site that made the announcement put the photo shown below at the top of the home page.

On the web site that made the announcement, the caption under the photo reads: “Prisoners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp: damning evidence to rebuff attacks on the Holocaust”

Prisoners at Sachsenhausen concentration camp

Exactly what is the “damning evidence” in this photo that rebuffs Holocaust deniers?  Is it the earmuffs that two of the prisoners are wearing?  Young people today probably don’t know what earmuffs are; they might think that the prisoners are listening to music.  In my opinion, this photo scores one for the deniers, but what do I know?

Sachsenhausen was not a “death camp” for Jews and the men in the photo do not appear to be Jewish.  Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp mainly for political prisoners.

I decided to take a  look at the new web site, that was advertised as a website to combat Holocaust denial, which is at  I found that the web site is really about the history of World War 2 and that it is aimed at teachers.  To use the web site, one must first sign up and pay a fee.  So the purpose of the web site seems to be to make money, not to combat Holocaust denial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I clicked on the teacher’s option for a free look at Laurence Rees’ lesson plans here.  I found that the lesson plan for the segment on the Hungarian Jews directed teachers to “Explain (to the students) that the lesson will explore these issues and the fate of Hungarian Jewry through the testimony of Alice Lok Cahana.”

That name was very familiar to me.  Alice Lok Cahana is one of the Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust. Her story was told by Laurence Rees in his book entitled Auschwitz, a New History which I read in preparation for my second trip to Auschwitz in 2005. Alice was also featured in Steven Spielberg’s documentary The Last Days.

Alice Lok was 15 years old when she arrived at Auschwitz in 1944; she passed the selection for the gas chamber and was registered in the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp. Alice barely survived because children under 15 were sent immediately to the gas chamber and were dead within an hour or two.

According to her story, as told to Laurence Rees, Alice Lok was selected months later to be gassed in crematorium #5, also known as Krema V. This was one of the two gas chambers at Birkenau that were disguised as shower rooms; the other gas chamber disguised as a shower room was in crematorium #4.  Alice was told that she would be given new clothes after taking a shower. (This was the way that the SS men lured innocent young girls into the gas chamber. What teen-aged girl would not want new clothes?) Alice told Laurence Rees that the purpose of the red brick Krema V building was deceptively disguised by red geraniums in window boxes.  (Another way to lure young girls to their death.)

Old photo of crematorium #5 was taken before the window boxes were put up

By a remarkable coincidence, Alice was inside the gas chamber in Krema V at the exact time that the revolt by the Sonderkommando unit in Krema IV began on October 7, 1944. This was the occasion when the Sonderkommando prisoners blew up the Krema IV gas chamber building with dynamite that had been sneaked into Birkenau by some of the women prisoners who worked in factories outside the camp.

Laurence Rees wrote this in his book Auschwitz, a New History:

“But the revolt did save some lives. It must have been because of the chaos caused by the Sonderkommando in crematorium 4 that the SS guards emptied the gas chamber of crematorium 5 next door without killing Alice Lok Cahana and her group.”

Forget “combating Holocaust denial”; the story of Alice’s escape from the gas chamber would be a good way to explain the term “Deux ex machina” to students in fiction writing classes.   According to Wikipedia, “Deux ex machina”  is the name of a plot device used by writers  when “a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability or object.”

When I was studying fiction writing in college, this plot device was laughed at and frowned upon.  If Laurence Rees seriously wants to combat Holocaust denial, he should avoid including stories like this in his lesson plans for school kids.

Another reason that Alice Lok Cahana is not a suitable person to give testimony to school kids, who are studying the Holocaust, is the fact that, instead of being gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, just like Anne Frank. This fact tends to disprove the claim that Auschwitz-Birkenau was a “death camp.”

Alice was one of the Hungarian Holocaust survivors featured in Steven Spielberg’s documentary, The Last Days.  In the documentary there is a scene where Alice goes to the Memorial Site at the location of the Bergen-Belsen camp in order to find out what happened to her sister, who was also an inmate there.  Alice is filmed as she  is shown the detailed camp records kept by the Germans at Bergen-Belsen. She learns that her sister was using the name Edith Schwartz when she was at Bergen-Belsen and that she died on June 2, 1945.  The Bergen-Belsen camp was turned over to the British on April 15, 1945 so this means that Edith died while in the care of the British.

According to British historian Martin Gilbert, there were 27,000 Jews who died after the British took over the camp.

A photo of Alice, taken in Bergen-Belsen in 1945, is shown in the documentary The Last Days.  Strangely, Alice does not look emaciated and she has a full head of shoulder-length hair.  She appears to be in remarkable condition, considering that she was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau “death camp,” and then at Bergen-Belsen where the British claimed that the prisoners were starved to death.  So how does the story of Alice Lok Cahana combat Holocaust denial?