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Elie Wiesel   Letter 08   23-Jun-1999   You failed to live up to your obligations
The conclusion that seems to be called for is that your name appears on an account of Treblinka that is exculpatory of John Demjanjuk.

June 23, 1999
Elie Wiesel
University Professor and
Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities
Boston University
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts  02215
USA

Elie Wiesel:

The world has read your description of one implausible method of mass execution:

In my Letter 3 to you of 20Apr98, I documented your stating that the method of mass execution employed at Auschwitz was leaping into pits of fire.  As you must have become aware since your early statement, however, the bulk of other Holocaust witnesses appear to have arrived at the consensus that the chief method of execution at Auschwitz was one that you do not even mention in your biographies gas chambers dispensing the toxic agent, Zyklon B.

And now the world finds you lending your name to descriptions of other implausible methods of mass execution:

I am writing to you today because of my discovery of descriptions of still other methods employed by the Nazis in their mass killings, and my discovery that you have lent your name to these alternative descriptions.  Specifically, a few days ago in a public library, I inadvertently stumbled across the book, Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, The Black Book, Holocaust Library, New York, English translation copyrighted 1981.  On the list of the Advisory Board of the Holocaust Library, I find your name, and under the Statement of Purpose of the Advisory Board, I find the following first paragraph laying out the admirable goal of presenting Holocaust history free of distortion:

The Holocaust Library was created and is managed by survivors.  Its purpose is to offer to the reading public authentic material, not readily available, and to preserve the memory of our martyrs and heroes untainted by arbitrary or inadvertent distortions.

The alternative methods of execution described by Ehrenburg and Grossman in The Black Book were ones that are said to have been employed in the Treblinka gas chambers, and these are of particular interest to Ukrainians, as Ukrainian John Demjanjuk was once convicted in an Israeli court of having been Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, and of having operated the gas chambers there, and was once sentenced to death for these crimes, and once heard from his cell the banging of hammers as the gibbet to be used in his execution was being constructed in the prison yard by Israeli carpenters.  I was surprised to discover that Ehrenburg and Grossman claim that the gas chambers at Treblinka operated not according to one method, but according to three, with none of the three relying on Zyklon B:

Various means were employed to effect this mass slaughter.  One of them was by forcing the exhaust fumes from the engine of a heavy tank that served as the Treblinka power station into the chambers.
(Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, The Black Book, Holocaust Library, New York, English translation copyrighted 1981, p. 417)

The second method, and one that was the most widely used, was pumping air out of the chambers with suction pumps until the victims were dead.  As in the case of the first method, death was caused by depriving the victims of oxygen.

The third method, used less but nevertheless used, was murder with steam.  This method, too, aimed at depriving the organism of oxygen, for the steam was used to expel the air from the chambers.
(Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, The Black Book, Holocaust Library, New York, English translation copyrighted 1981, p. 418)

Thus, in total, there appear to have been at least four types of gas chambers: one employing Zyklon B (that was not used at Treblinka), and three employing, in order of frequency of use, vacuum, diesel exhaust, and steam (that were used at Treblinka).

If false, The Black Book demonstrates the prevalence of Holocaust fabulism

Although considerable controversy today swirls around the plausibility of employing Zyklon B or diesel exhaust in mass killings, at least it can be said that there are individuals who continue to affirm that Zyklon B and diesel exhaust were indeed employed in various times and places.  However, with respect to the other two mechanisms namely, vacuum and steam my impression is that these claims have been abandoned, and that no serious Holocaust scholar still argues today that vacuum or steam were ever employed.  I base my impression primarily on the testimony of Yitzhak Arad at the trial of John Demjanjuk in Jerusalem in 1987 for two days Arad was questioned concerning Treblinka, and the only kind of gas chamber he described was one employing diesel exhaust.  My reasoning is that if Yitzhak Arad who at the time of his testimony had been head of Yad Vashem for 15 years neglected to mention vacuum and steam chambers at Treblinka, then this could have no other meaning than that the preponderance of informed opinion had inclined to the view that vacuum and steam chambers had never been used at Treblinka.  If you believe that Yitzhak Arad was in error to not have mentioned vacuum and steam chambers at Treblinka in his testimony, I would appreciate your bringing this to my attention.

But if vacuum and steam had once been proposed by Ehrenburg and Grossman with vacuum being represented as the chief mechanism of mass execution at Treblinka! and if this proposal had been backed by the Holocaust Library, and therefore by yourself as one of the members of its Advisory Board, then what does this tell us?  What it appears to tell us is that Soviet stories of the Holocaust in part came out of Soviet war-propaganda factories that drank intemperately from the well of hyperbole, and that these Soviet stories were repeated uncritically by non-Soviet Jewish leaders who found the stories useful in heightening Jewish group cohesion, and useful in expediting the flow of donations from the Jewish population to the pockets of those leaders, and useful in speeding the emigration of Jews to Israel.  What it appears to tell us, more specifically, is that you are one of these Jewish leaders who mislead your own people, who tell them fantastic stories in order to incite their fear and their hatred, who deceive them in order to increase their submission to your control.

If true, The Black Book demonstrates that John Demjanjuk was innocent

In their coverage of Treblinka on pp. 399-429, Ehrenburg and Grossman describe a great deal of sadistic behavior, and identify a large number of individuals by name.  If the Israeli accusations against John Demjanjuk had any merit, then we would expect that among the individuals described in The Black Book would be John Demjanjuk, and that among the names mentioned would be the name of Ivan Demjanjuk, as he was supposed to have been by far the most notorious murderer and torturer in all of Treblinka, if not in all of history.  However, The Black Book does not mention the name Ivan Demjanjuk.  It does not mention the surname Demjanjuk, or any name resembling it.  It nowhere even mentions the Christian name, Ivan.  It does not mention the appellation Ivan the Terrible.  It does not describe anybody who resembles John Demjanjuk in age and in height and in hair color.  It does not attribute the operation of the gas chambers to any Ukrainian, and does not attribute any sadistic behavior to any Ukrainian.  In fact, The Black Book's description of Treblinka does not so much as even allude to any Ukrainian.

And so what conclusion does this alternative line of reasoning lead us to?  The conclusion that seems to be called for is that your name appears on an account of Treblinka that is exculpatory of John Demjanjuk.

Therefore, you should have done one of two things

You should have disowned The Black Book.

On the one hand, if you believed that Ehrenburg and Grossman's The Black Book was a fabrication, then you would have been obligated to warn Jews of the dangers of believing it.  You would have been obligated to advise The Holocaust Library of the harm in publishing it.  You would have been obligated to convince Jewish leaders of the damage that Holocaust fabulists inflict on Jewish credibility.  You would have been obligated to publicize that lending your name to the book had been a mistake.  You would have been obligated to classify The Black Book as hate literature, equally deserving of suppression with any other hate literature.  But as you did none of these things, then I am forced to conclude either that you disagree that The Black Book is a fabrication, or that you failed to live up to your obligations.

Or you should have defended John Demjanjuk.

But on the other hand, if you believed that Ehrenburg and Grossman's The Black Book was true, then you would have been obligated to recognize that it exculpated John Demjanjuk.  You would have been obligated to spring to John Demjanjuk's defense.  You would have been obligated to bring your conclusions to the attention of the Israeli prosecutors and the Demjanjuk lawyers, and to the attention of the world press.  You would have been obligated to dedicate yourself to sparing the Jewish people the crime of having hanged an innocent man.  But as you did none of these things, then I am forced to conclude either that you disagree that The Black Book is true, or that you failed to live up to your obligations.

You made John Demjanjuk your business

Don't tell me that John Demjanjuk was none of your concern.  In your 02Dec86 letter to Soviet ambassador to the US, Juri Dubinin, you demonstrated not only that you were interested in John Demjanjuk, but that you actively intervened in his case on the side of trying to get him hanged, of course and that right from the beginning, you had a remarkable grasp of the details.



Lubomyr Prytulak


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