Counting to Six Million: Why Excoriate for Asking Basic Questions?
Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps
In a recent piece on Huffington Post, Bruce Wilson assails former Congressman Ron Paul for speaking at a conference sponsored by The Fatima Center. According to Wilson, The Fatima Center and it's leader, Robert Sungenis, are "holocaust deniers", and therefore Paul is committing a wrong by attending their "Path to Peace" conference. Wilson's piece has prompted me to think about the role of critical inquiry in highly emotional historical questions.
The Forbidden Question
I believe Wilson's piece demonstrates that there is at least one question which is not allowed: "How do we know the number six million Jews is accurate?" Asking the question is an invitation to public excoriation, and -as Ron Paul is learning- merely associating with the questioner is grounds to be defamed. Apparently no one explained to Dr. Wilson that guilty-by-association is recognized as a fallacy.
I have never heard of "The Fatima Center" nor Robert Sungenis. My only knowledge of them comes from what Wilson has written. But I find it interesting what Wilson does to Sungenis: He casts him as a holocaust "denier" for questioning the number of Jews who were murdered. Wilson places Sungenis in the same camp as those who claim no Jews were ever executed by Hitler's regime.
To be clear, I am not saying that Sungenis's claims are reasonable. Wilson is effective in arguing that Sungenis has some really wacky and offensive ideas. But based on what Wilson writes of him, it is clear that outright denial of Hitler’s mass murder of Jews is not one of them. We know by Wilson's own quote that Sungenis believes at least "a few hundred thousand" were executed. So why excoriate Ron Paul for speaking to the Fatima Center's "Path to Peace" conference?
Sungenis is not the first to question the number of people murdered by the Nazis. Admittedly, many who publicly ask the question are fringe and hate groups such as Stormfront and those with ulterior and even nefarious motives. A quick search on Google is enough to demonstrate this. But at its core, there is nothing wrong with asking the question ‘How did we arrive at the number six million in the holocaust?’ It is a perfectly reasonable question and a valid inquiry.
Searching for Holocaust Methodology
Yet it is an insightful exercise for one to use academic databases in order to find credible sources which verify the number of victims and discuss the methodology used to reach the conclusion.
It is reasonable to expect that this and related questions would dominate the search results in an academic research site such as JSTOR. However my experience is that it is very difficult -if not impossible- to find peer reviewed, academic publications which deal with the topic and provide meaningful answers.
For example: I entered “six million Jews” in the search field of JSTOR, and it returned over 15,000 individual articles and reviews. After wading through about 100 pages of results covering 1,000 articles, I could not find a single article which independently explains the validity of the count. The number 6 million is just assumed and accepted in the research with no critical inquiry. A variety of more specific searches failed to return answers as well.
There are many credible sources which simply claim various numbers which are close to six million but as of yet I have not been able locate a source which critically examines the methodology used.
Questions Raise More Questions
There are legitimate, logical reasons to wonder if the number six million is accurate. For instance: In the academic articles, I found several which assert that the six million represented two-thirds of the total European population of Jews. If accurate, that means that the total number of Jews in the early 1930s was 9 million. However the 1904 Jewish Year Book estimates the total population in Europe at almost the same number 35 years prior to the implementation of 'The Final Solution'. This raises research questions:
- Was there zero population growth among Jews in Europe for 35 years?
- Was there massive emigration of Jews out of Europe between 1905 and 1940?
- Was there a significant change in what constitutes a Jew between the time of this census and the methodology being used to arrive at 6 million who died in the concentration camps?
These are legitimate (and very basic) academic questions which should produce a number of research articles and thriving, open discussion in the "publish-or-perish" world of academia. But finding credible, dispassionate academic research to answer them is very difficult.
What are the Implications?
What if the actual number executed in the holocaust turns out to be 5 million? What if Sungenis's quote is accurate and it was "a few hundred thousand"? Does it make the act any less heinous or the suffering of the families less valid? Does it make Hitler any less evil? Of course not. Who knows, maybe the actual number is higher than six million.
But why is it so hard to find an independent, academic source which articulates a sound methodology used to arrive at that number? Pick any other example of mass murder and genocide in history, and you will readily find peer-reviewed research carefully detailing the methodology used to arrive at the unseeming science of body counting. You will also likely find researchers who arrive at a different conclusion.
By squelching legitimate questions and research, we sow the seeds for future evil to re-emerge. If research shows that the number was less than six million, the charge of manipulation or exaggeration might arise. Vile anti semitism could then rear its ugly head as it has all too often throughout history. On the other hand, if it is accurate, one could simply produce the research and the question is answered. But what is not needed is character assassination.