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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 18:16 GMT
Holocaust book yields new insights
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News

The timing could not have been more symbolic: days before Germany and the world marked the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, Austria announced it had arrested Holocaust denier David Irving.

Mr Irving had hit the international headlines five years earlier, when he sued American historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel in Britain.

Prisoners at Buchenwald after liberation, Elie Wiesel among them (second row, next to the standing man). Imperial War Museum courtesy photo
The Nazis sent millions to their deaths in camps

He lost and the court branded him "an active Holocaust denier".

Lyn Smith, a professor of politics in London, is bewildered by people like Mr Irving, who deny there were gas chambers at Auschwitz or that Hitler knew his underlings were systematically murdering six million Jews, plus millions more Slavs, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and political prisoners.

"That's something I just cannot understand - that people like Irving continue to deny, when there is so much evidence."

Mrs Smith is more familiar with the evidence than most.

Starting in the 1970s, she worked as an oral historian for London's Imperial War Museum, interviewing survivors of the Holocaust for the museum's sound archive.

She has recently assembled testimonies from the archive into an extraordinary book, Forgotten Voices Of The Holocaust.

'Near as you can get'

The book weaves together excerpts of recordings from survivors and witnesses, tracing the Holocaust chronologically, from the persecution that accompanied the rise of Hitler, through the ghettos, concentration camps and death camps, death marches, liberation and the aftermath.

"It is as near as you can possibly get to first-hand views of the Holocaust," Mrs Smith says.

"We don't have just one story, we have over 100 voices. You get an idea of the utter complexity of what the Holocaust was.

Jan Imich at liberation in 1945 (Courtesy photo)
Jan Imich has no idea why an SS guard decided not to shoot him
"Some Germans were kind and some were brutal. Sometimes inmates would help one another and sometimes it was everyone for himself," she says.

Jan Imich, a Polish Jewish survivor, recalls having to haul coal to run a furnace burning bodies.

"I remember pushing the wheelbarrow full of coal, up this slope towards the crematorium, arriving there and actually walking into the crematorium and seeing it in action - seeing the bodies lying there waiting to be put into the ovens and seeing bodies in the oven being burnt."

After several trips up and down the hill, he collapsed in tears.

"It so happened there was an SS man nearby and instead of taking out his gun and shooting me, which he could have done, he looked at me, smiled, and told the Kapo to let me go. Funny, isn't it? He could just as well have killed me."

Astonishing stories

Even with her years of experience interviewing survivors, Mrs Smith says, she was sometimes overwhelmed by what she heard.

"Though you do it professionally, some of the things I heard were absolutely astonishing. You think: 'How did this person possibly survive?' "

Zdenka Ehrlich, for example, survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and a death march before she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, the camp where Anne Frank died.

Only five members of Helen Stone's (left) extended family survived the Holocaust.

"My sister was dead, all my friends around me were dead," she says.

"I was one of the three hundred on the floor, some were alive, some were dead; you couldn't tell the difference any more between who was breathing, who was not.

"I was just like a dying animal lying there on the floor - completely left to my own devices. My lips were blue from thirst. I was delirious. I was as close to death as one can possibly be... I only had eyes and teeth. The rest was gone."

She weighed 28.5kg (63lbs) when she was rescued - "Four and a half stone, a grown woman!"

Most survivors came out of the camps with no understanding of why or how the Holocaust could have taken place.

Helen Stone was one of only five members of her family to live through the war.

"It's hard to believe in God if you went to Auschwitz," she says.

"Why am I alive and my father, who did so much good for others, didn't have a chance? He went straight to the gas."

Keeping secrets

Many survivors decided not to talk about their experiences.

Stanley Faull went through the camps, while his brother escaped occupied Europe and fought against the Nazis.

The Holocaust did happen - testimony is the evidence against Irving
Lyn Smith
"When Stanley met his brother, his brother asked him to describe what had happened. Stanley started to tell him and his brother started to cry. Stanley was so upset he vowed never to tell anyone, if it could upset this he-man in a pilot's uniform," Mrs Smith says.

It was decades before many survivors began to talk about their experiences - part of the reason the book title refers to "forgotten voices".

But Mrs Smith also warns there is another reason - despite an apparently never-ending stream of books and films about the Holocaust, including Oscar winners like Schindler's List and The Pianist, many people still know little about the Final Solution.

A BBC poll taken at the beginning of 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz found 45% of Britons had never heard of the largest Nazi death camp - a figure that rose to 60% among women and young people.

That is a particular concern when people like David Irving deny the Holocaust took place, she says.

"The Holocaust did happen. I think that testimony is the nearest we will ever get to the reality. It is the evidence against Irving, who, incredibly, persists with his campaign."

Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith is published by Ebury Press in association with the Imperial War Museum.

Profile: David Irving
18 Nov 05 |  UK


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