Writers: Don’t Mess With The Holocaust

Recently, the Auschwitz official Memorial Museum Twitter feed assailed the Amazon Prime series Hunters for inventing something at Auschwitz that never happened:

In response, the show’s creator, David Weil, wrote according to Digital Spy:

“Years ago, I visited Auschwitz and I saw the gates my grandmother was forced to enter decades earlier and the barracks she was forced to live in as a prisoner,” he said in a statement.

“I saw vestiges of the nightmarish world she had survived. It was an experience that forever altered the course of my life.

“It was the moment consecrated in time and memory that I sought to make good on doing my part – however big or however small – to ensure the promise of ‘Never Again’.

“I believed then – as I do now – that I had a responsibility as the grandson of Holocaust survivors to keep their stories alive.”

He invokes the “My family…” assertion as if that validates whatever is concocted. “Stories” also is not quite the best word in that context, given “stories” may be fanciful – meaning fiction. TRUTH is what matters when it comes to the Holocaust.

There are times we should just back off and admit we got it wrong: “You know, you’re right. We meant no disrespect. We will place a special disclaimer on both the opening and the end credits on that episode to make sure viewers are told the facts.”

[Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence. Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography. Copyright: Public Domain.]

Nope, not in this case. The series creator’s response to the Auschwitz Memorial people specifically about that inaccuracy? He stands his ground:

…Weil also acknowledged that the chess match was a “fictionalised event”, but argued it was “important to script and place in series”.

“[It’s included] to most powerfully counteract the revisionist narrative that whitewashes Nazi perpetration, by showcasing the most extreme – and representationally truthful – sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims,” he said.

My jaw dropped when I read that second paragraph because it is SHOCKING. That scene could NOT be “representationally truthful” if it DID NOT HAPPEN. “Representationally truthful” is to dramatize a real happening and/or real people.

And none of that contradicts or even really addresses the Auschwitz Memorial’s main criticism. Bottom line: you may get slammed if you misrepresent historical facts in an historical setting. In their case, the historical Nazis were more than bad enough, so one hardly needs to invent anything when it comes to portraying their sadism and violence.

[Lt. Col. J.W. Branch, Chief Surgeon of the 6th Armored Division, 3rd U.S. Army, dresses body sores of a Hungarian woman survivor in Penig, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. SS guards evacuated all those prisoners who could still walk upon the approach of American troops, leaving behind those too ill to move. Women in the camp suffered from starvation, typhus, diptheria, and tuberculosis. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park. Copyright: Public Domain.]

One example. According to the ‘Room of Names’ (‘Digital Memorial Book for the Dead of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its Subcamps’), Alfred Jones, a British bombardier (corporal of artillery) from Wales, was taken prisoner with the rest of his 51st (Highland) Division (composed mostly of Scots) after most of the division was trapped and forced to surrender to the Germans at the French port of St. Valéry-en-Caux on June 12, 1940. (Unlike Dunkirk to its north, no Royal Navy ships could get to these 10,000 or so men.) Weeks later Jones and several others escaped from a column of prisoners, but he was subsequently apprehended by the Germans in October 1941 while hiding with a Belgian family in Brussels. At Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, according to eyewitnesses, Jones experienced this:

Although the Germans knew he was a British soldier he was treated as a “Nacht und Nebel” political prisoner. He was in a “Kommando”, made to try out boots for the German military by walking in them to test their strength. The prisoners were made to walk around a semi-circular area, the Appellplatz, which had different surfaces along it – grass, asphalt, stones etc. They were forced round and round the track all day walking about 25 kilometres carrying 30 pound packs on their backs whilst living on starvation rations. If they dropped, they were kicked and the dogs set upon them. Occasional halts were made for a man in civilian clothes to inspect the boots and make notes.

Jones was held at Dachau concentration camp from September 4 to September 16, 1944. He was then moved to Mauthausen (in Austria), and the bulk of the evidence is 31 year old Bombardier Alfred Jones was murdered – either gassed or shot in the back of the neck – on November 9, 1944. Bear in mind that was how he, a British soldier (his name is on the Dunkirk Memorial in northern France) supposedly entitled to POW protections under Geneva Conventions Hitler’s Germany claimed it tried to adhere to towards Western Allied military captives, was in fact horrifically abused and eventually done away with. (Nazi Germany discarded any pretense of observing POW international law protections when it came to Soviet, Polish, and other Eastern European captive soldiers. Most of them were killed or starved in captivity within months of capture.)

So messing around with Holocaust historical facts is especially inappropriate given this other reality (which the Hunters creator also does allude to): By the 1970s in Europe a few – usually anti-Semitic politicians and “intellectuals” – started arguing publicly that the industrial-level genocide of Jews undertaken by Nazi Germany had been exaggerated or even never happened. That became known as Holocaust denial. It became so vocal in some circles in the 1980s that during the 1990s and early 2000s it was made ILLEGAL in most European countries.

Why illegal? Don’t Europeans have free speech? Of course they do. Protecting the truth of the genocide came about particularly because of the involvement of collaborationist governments in those same occupied countries. In France and other countries state resources – such as local bureaucrats, police, and state railways – were used in assisting the German Nazis (as well as their own homegrown Nazis) to round up and transport their Jewish citizens to death camps like Auschwitz. Such collaboration – engaged in too often not grudgingly, or to in any way impede; but too often rather independently enthusiastically – is held to have been so indefensibly heinous and morally reprehensible that it was felt necessary to place denial of those actions and therefore the larger Holocaust legally “outside” of normal free speech and political discourse protections. In short, NO ONE was or is going to be permitted to assert that appalling STATE behavior did not happen…

…or to try to wipe from memory the lives of millions – such as that of 21/22 year old Hungarian Margit Gross – as if they had never lived. So those who deny the Holocaust publicly are now usually found outside of continental Europe. American commentators attacking Holocaust denial laws as undermining free speech miss the mark because the American experience is not easily comparable. No numbers of American politicians, “intellectuals,” or even rabble rousers, for instance, claim that (possibly the nearest comparisons) African slavery, or the wars on indigenous Americans, did not happen. (Even the worst American racists do admit they happened.) The closest Americans have probably come to something similar to Holocaust denial is “9/11 trutherism”; but that – as ugly as it often is – is nowhere near on par in the U.S. with Holocaust denial in Europe where the murders of six million Jews actually occurred.

On our authoring level, this I think is worth recalling here too. I wrote a post four years ago in response to encountering an idiot indie romance novel series. As an historical fiction author, I stand by every word of this excerpt below and that entire February 2016 post: Memo To Romance Authors: Nazis Are NOT “Leading Men”:

Finally, a word for writers. Just about any other fictional romance invented between those of “different worlds” is probably at least vaguely plausible. However, if for some incomprehensible and – to be blunt – stupid reason you are in front of your PC feeling the urge to author a novel featuring a “dashing” SS officer and his “adoring” Jewish “heroine,” please immediately stand up, step away from the computer, walk outside, find a brick… and smash yourself over your head with it repeatedly until you are unconscious.

The Auschwitz Memorial’s Twitter’s reply to this “ordinary” tweeter should I feel be the last word on this:

Indeed: “So, end.”