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April 7, 2014

New book “The Unpersuadables” by Will Storr reviewed by Michael Shermer

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:50 am

My blog post today is about a new book which mentions the gas chambers at Majdanek.  I previously blogged about the Majdanek gas chambers at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/selections-for-the-gas-chamber-at-the-majdanek-death-camp/

At the end of Michael Shermer’s review of the book entitled The Unpersuadables is this sentence: “Mr. Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. His next book is on the moral arc of science.”

Michael Shermer’s review of Will Storr’s new book, was published in the Wall Street Journal. You can read the review in full at

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304418404579467702052177982?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304418404579467702052177982.html

This quote is from Michael Shermer’s review:

Mr. [David] Irving is one of a pantheon of unconventional characters featured in Will Storr’s “The Unpersuadables,” a series of vignettes about what he calls “enemies of science.” In addition to Mr. Irving, Mr. Storr profiles British ESP researcher Rupert Sheldrake, Australian creationist John Mackay, past-life regressionist Vered Kilstein and the late John Mack, a Harvard Medical School professor and Pulitzer Prize-winner who also happened to believe in alien-abduction stories.

Mr. Storr’s style is to get close to his subjects by spending enough time with them so that they let down their guard and say what they’re really thinking. For his chapter on Mr. Irving, for example, Mr. Storr spends a week touring Nazi concentration camps with Mr. Irving and his followers. He narrates this trip in a you-are-there account that takes the reader right into a gas chamber at Poland’s Majdanek concentration camp, where Mr. Irving announces to his group: “This is a mock-up of a gas chamber. Those cylinders are carbon dioxide not carbon monoxide. A typical Polish botch job. There are handles on the inside of these doors,” suggesting that the prisoners could have simply let themselves out.

Mr. Storr has an engaging, first-person style and makes it clear that his purpose is to grasp why people believe such irrationalities more than it is to debunk their specific beliefs. But he gives his readers enough information to test the verisimilitude of his characters’ claims. For example, Mr. Storr examines those doors on that “mock-up” gas chamber. He finds that “there were bolts on the outside, two of them, huge ones, each attached to clasps that would have locked the door closed over airtight seals.” Mr. Storr adds that Mr. Irving also saw these details, “the manifest truth” that the gas chamber was real. “What happened in his mind when he saw the bolts?” Mr. Storr asks. Was Mr. Irving “a liar or deluded? Evil or mistaken?”

Mr. Storr finds one answer in a cognitive process called confirmation bias, where we look for and find confirming evidence for our beliefs, ignoring or rationalizing away all disconfirming evidence. We remember in great detail studies that support our political preferences, forgetting all counterexamples. We also tend to befriend people who think like us and so reinforce our beliefs. This cognitive bias is not restricted to the unpersuadables—we all have it—but when you’re dealing with sensitive topics like the Holocaust, it’s especially noticeable.

I haven’t read this new book, and probably never will, so I don’t know if Michael Shermer is aware that the number of gas chambers at Majdanek has been reduced.

The room, in the photo below, is called a gas chamber, on a similar photo, at the Yad Vashem museum in Israel.  This room is actually a real shower room.

Shower room inside the Majdanek "gas chamber" is called a gas chamber by Yad Vashem

Shower room inside the Majdanek “gas chamber” is called a gas chamber by Yad Vashem

The entrance to one of the gas chambers at Majdeank was through this air raid shelter door

The entrance to one of the gas chambers at Majdeank was through this air raid shelter door

Notice the peephole in the door shown in the photo above. The peephole was for the people inside the gas chamber to look out. Note that there is a door handle on the inside of the door. The victims inside the gas chamber could look through the peephole, and if it was all clear, they could open the door from the inside.

Did David Irving point this out to the people on his tour?

I saw the Majdanek gas chambers on a trip to Poland in 1998. I had to restrain myself from laughing when I saw the gas chambers at Majdanek.

According to the book review, David Irving made the statement: “Those cylinders [inside the gas chamber] are carbon dioxide not carbon monoxide.”  When I was at Majdanek in 1998, I saw these cylinders, which are in a tiny room inside one of the large gas chambers.

Two cylinders inside the Majdanek gas chamber

Two cylinders inside the Majdanek gas chamber

David Irving pointed out the carbon monoxide cylinders in the Majdanek gas chamber

David Irving points out the carbon dioxide cylinders in the Majdanek gas chamber

When I was at Majdanek, my tour guide told me that an SS man, wearing a gas mask, stood inside a little room, which was inside a larger room, and gassed the prisoners with carbon monoxide.  The SS man was armed with a gun, to shoot the prisoners inside the gas chamber if they tried to attack him. I am not sure if the tour guides are still telling visitors this ridiculous story.

I don’t know the difference between carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, so I don’t know what these cylinders were used for, nor why they were stored inside a Majdanek gas chamber room.

The entrance to the Majdanek gas chambers is through a real shower room. My tour guide told me that the purpose of taking a shower was to warm up the bodies of the prisoners so that the gas would act faster to kill them. I laughed out loud, but quickly hid my laughter by pretending to cough.

The prisoners at Majdanek also had to take a dip in a bathtub before they were gassed.  The photo below shows the bathtub inside the fourth gas chamber, at the Majdanek camp.  This gas chamber was reconstructed by Soviets after the building was allegedly burned down by the Nazis.

Bathtub inside the Crematorium at Majdanek death camp Photo Credit: PickledPru

Bathtub inside the Crematorium at Majdanek death camp Photo Credit: PickledPru

David Irving became a “Holocaust denier” when he said that the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp was a “reconstruction.”  At the time that he said this, the Auschwitz Museum was claiming that the gas chamber in the main camp is original. Now it is being admitted that the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp is a reconstruction, done by the Soviets after they liberated Auschwitz.

Now David Irving is being ridiculed by Michael Shermer because he is trying to teach people about the Majdanek gas chambers, which are quickly going by the wayside. Majdanek had the lowest number of Jewish deaths of any “death camp” yet it had the highest number of “gas chambers.”

The number of Jews killed at Majdanek has now been officially reduced to 59,000. It was claimed, by the Soviets, at the Nuremberg IMT that 1.5 million Jews had been killed at Majdanek. I wonder what Michael Shermer has to say about that.

P.S. In other news, you can read an interesting article at http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/38925-a-century-of-deceit.html