Professor Samuel G. Freedman
The New York Times
Dear Professor Freedman.
I have here your interesting article published in the New York Times titled "Struggle to Squelch a Rumor." It addresses the rumor propagated via the Internet that due to pressure by Muslims, the University of Kentucky was forced to “drop” its Holocaust course taught there by Professor Jeremy D. Popkin, which in fact is untrue.
I’m interested in the issue of “rumors” regarding the Holocaust story, particularly what appear to be “rumors” that the Germans used gas chambers to kill millions of people during WWII. The heart of the Holocaust story – the claim that about one million victims were murdered by Germans in the gas chambers at Auschwitz – itself appears to be “rumor.”
To that point, I have asked Professor Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust, The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, to provide us with the name of “one person, with proof, who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” I understand that her principles do not permit Professor Lipstadt to respond to such a question. As for myself, on principle, I am sending “The Question” to academics and journalists on and off campus, asking for a response to this simple request. “One person, with proof. . . .”
With regard to “squelching rumors,” revisionist arguments have squelched rumors that during WWII Germans murdered unknown thousands of persons in gas chambers at Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and other camps in and around Germany. These rumors were exceptionally ugly, helping to forward the charge of “unique monstrosity” against the Germans of that era, a charge that is still exploited today by those who profit from it.
It has become a moral imperative to either provide the name of one person, with proof, who was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz, or simply announce that the use of gas chambers at Auschwitz was, and is, a rumor created by those who profited most from it, and protected by a taboo against questioning the rumor. We all know who benefits most from taboo – again, those who profit most from it.
U Kentucky president, Lee T. Todd Jr., wrote “I understand quite well the power of the Internet. “Information flows instantaneously without respect to somewhat arbitrary borders of geography or nation state.” That’s how the “rumor” of Auschwitz spread – “instantly” via wire services, radio, overnight print stories, all of it forwarding rumors initiated by the U.S., British, and Soviet Governments.
Mr. Freedman: can you help here? My understanding is that those who teach the relevant history and journalism courses at Columbia University, your university, are in the top tier of such academics in America. You probably know a number of them. Will you take a moment to run a couple questions past those folk?
Ask the historians if there is not one among them who can provide the name of one person, with proof, who was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. And ask your peers in the Journalism Department why this question should, or should not, be asked of our historians.
Thank you very much. I will run this letter past U Kentucky Professor Jeremy D. Popkin for his review.
Bradley R. Smith
Samuel G. Freedman is a professor of journalism at Columbia University. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: I copied this letter to academics who teach history and journalism at U Kentucky and Columbia U. None has yet tried to answer the question. I encourage academic historians to reply to The Lipstadt Question. I will publish all replies.