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Short Story
2149 words
SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011

Sincerely, Max Weber

Mathias B. Freese

Given our previous correspondence in which I made very clear to you that I was a Holocaust revisionist and my wondering if your query to review The i Tetralogy was a kind of hoax, I’ve decided to go ahead and review it. As you know I’m a historian and not a literary reviewer, but your historical fiction is a serious effort at revealing the Holocaust from a literary and psychological point of view. Although your book sees the Holocaust through the eyes of a German officer as well as a victim of the Holocaust, you enlarge upon your themes by having the officer flee to the States and raise children here. Conrad, being one of them, and it is he who writes the last novella which is redemptive in nature.

You raise so many issues that dealing with all of them is like capturing mercury; allow me to comment in passim on several. You’re aware, I’m sure, that as a writer you tend to be ornate, often saying the same thing often several times, as if this perseveration makes your point of view even more telling. It doesn’t. You claim in your very query that the Holocaust is a “species-devastating” event, arguing that in all of human recorded history there has never been an event such as this one; that it’s unique and reveals significantly the nature of man. Apparently you take a very dark and somber perspective on humanity. We can disagree on that; however, by implication you assign blame to the German people as a whole, criticizing them for having degraded the species to such an extent that their actions have been memorably disastrous for mankind. Again, you have a keen writing style but this is a gross exaggeration.

As a revisionist I don’t deny events. Actually I subscribe to the view the deleterious actions of the Nazis had suborned the German people. What is subliminally and not so subliminally off-putting about your literary fiction is the broad sweep you use to characterize Germans. You hammer home a point and then hammer it again—and once more. A good editing of your book might have thinned it out considerably without sacrificing your intent or purposes. In short, as a historian I can say that your passion gets the better of you, for you risk your literary effort by tainting it with hyperbole.

Allow me to make some statements at this point, to produce some basic assumptions on which as a historian I view the Holocaust. After that, I’ll further comment on your book.

I’m not writing to offend you, not in the least. I’m trying to sustain a reasoned discourse with you as a Jew, a writer, and apparently a committed human being. Clearly you thought it provocative to send your book to me, an announced Holocaust revisionist, to get a rise out of me, or to see what I might do with the offer. It’s an opportunity for me without shouting, abusive language, and slurs to engage you. Given this, I’ve a few thoughts I wish to share as I just said. For example, it’s often argued that 6,000,000 Jews died at the hands of the Nazis. Perhaps. Maybe. Very unlikely. Dissenting Jewish historians themselves are not certain about the count. For some reason Jewish and non-Jewish historians hold fast to this number as if to say that abominations that occurred in the death camps go beyond the pale; that in fact it was a “species-devastating” time in world history. I think not. I have reasoned, based upon my studies, that the number is greatly exaggerated. (I’m not alone in this conclusion.) It doesn’t in the least take away from the terrible toll it did take. However, history is written by the victors, a quick perusal of American textbooks right at this moment, let us say with regard to the war with Mexico, makes the case.

Veracity in all historical events is critical to a professional historian. To be critical of the number of Jews slain doesn’t make one anti-Semitic—just judicious and reasoned, from my historical perspective.

The camps that had crematoria and the number of Jews consumed are highly debatable. Serious historical studies have pointed to the probability, once again, that some camps didn’t have crematoria at all, some did. What is important, from my position on this as well as others, David Irving, to wit, is that the Jews did die at the hands of the Nazis but not in the astronomical amounts claimed. Irving has been denounced for his efforts to set the record straight (in fact sued in an English court by the American historian, Deborah Lipstadt), but revisionists have become inured to this kind of inquisitorial attack. We will continue to pursue the truth.

The last statement I wish to make other than accuracy of numbers and the accurate depiction of events, such as crematoria existing in camps and execution squads, has to do with the psychological, sociological, and emotional content of these events. What I find troubling in your book and other works by Levi and Wiesel is what I like to characterize as their appeal to the soul of humanity or its need for justice. All that is highly commendable but not for the sake of doing away or dismissing historical conditions that did exist at the time, or the twisted retelling of events.

What I also find troubling is the hold that Jewish writing has had on world history. Given that these events did occur to this minority, nowhere in history can I find such colored narratives about historical events which are accepted by world historians, generally speaking. I find this most disturbing.

I find it an expropriation of the truth, given that you and I may differ over it. No one group should hold such powerful sway over the history of any event, even and especially with the Holocaust. Holocaust revisionism grew out of the need to set the record straight. All historians, regardless of their affiliations or personal backgrounds, strive to document events accurately, although revisionists have been overwhelmed by historical efforts to make the Holocaust larger than what it was. With exceptions, with twists and turns, the Holocaust isn’t unique in world history. What is unique is how it has been used to push a particular point of view, such as your “species-devastating” comment.

Having cleared my throat in a sense, positioning my own historical stance, I’d like to approach your book in a less formal way, responding to it on a personal level; that is what I assumed you wanted the reader to do and why you forwarded a copy of the book to me.

Your Raison d’Etre at the end of your novel sets out fully and very completely in a well-written essay your background, early instances of encounters with anti-Semitism, and your family history down to the early deaths of adult daughter and your wife. Here I found you quite moving for you have suffered a holocaust (small “h”) in your life. As you go on, you cleverly pose questions and then proceed to answer them, being forthright and honest about your feelings and thoughts. I see your clever tactic as one in which you ask questions that a Holocaust denier might ask and then set out to respond to that. I am not a denier, I am a revisionist, so some of your questions don’t apply to me. What you do in this part of your book is to dramatically pull in your reader, a well-done effort at that, although I feel it betrays your book here and there. Granted this is fiction based on certain “documented” events; granted that all fiction is a lie. However, you extrapolate far too long along the arc for me to follow you. I’ll be clearer.

Your book makes its appeal to the soul, sometimes to the mind, often pessimistically, often despairingly. You wring your hands over what was done to Jews while stereotyping Germans and German officers. Nazis were men, hard as that may be for you and others to swallow. You write fictively about them; I write accurately about men, granted once again, that historians—and novelists—allow their proclivities to reveal themselves. Quite unavoidable.

Dwelling on this, and at this juncture, like other Jewish writers, you talk about indifference, the inhumanity of other men and women, of barbaric acts, of devastation to human character and person well beyond the pale—cannibalism in the camps (we have little documentation on that except hearsay by survivors); turning Jews into soap (really an outrageous claim which I readily refuted in a recent historical essay for my journal), and other such misguided claims.

Since you are often blunt and very direct in your writing, allow me some latitude in what I wish to present here. Like you, I am interested in the truth. Your entire book makes a grotesque claim about Germans in toto, as a people, as a culture, allowing no exceptions that I came across. In places Germans are buffoons such as in “Hogan’s Heroes.” At times your German creation, Gunther, a camp guard, turns into a demonic character; that if such an individual existed in the camps he was an exception, a gross one at that. You take one individual and you then generalize from that. It makes for an exciting read but it is unfair, even deceitful, in its animus. Here, I believe, you can be faulted, for your own Judaic prejudices come to the fore, which is exactly what I am trying to counteract in my own studies of the period.

Additionally, given your background as a psychotherapist, I easily detect your analytic tendencies—and biases, as revealed in your characterization of Gunther and Karl, the camp guard. Sadomasochistic traits are brought out by your clever imagination; your description of Gertrude, the woman guard, reeks of pornography which I don’t find necessarily pertinent to your work. You plunge into the psyches of these individuals with a heavy hand and although I found this striking at times, I often rejected it as so much literary slush, grabbing the reader with effects. Sex is always fireworks.

Gradually as I read your work I was moved, even touched by “i” the victim in book one. As I slid deeper into your narrative by your skill and considerable ability through the use of first person to graphically describe the senses of the world within the camps, I also realized that you were enveloping me into a kind of literary caul, an envelope in which you were trying to portray Germans and/or Nazis as more than diminished but as human beings who moved into psychological states of appalling, horrific, bestial behavior. You make a very good case, if you’re to be believed, for human beings to be categorized as one of the lower species. And, of course, once again this is what Holocaust revisionists cannot accept!

Other than the facile argument that given their military history, the German people succumbed to gross inhumanity and crimes against humanity, yet, the general historical cliché is this: Why did the land of Beethoven and Bach produce such a horrible regime? Apparently you want it both ways. You either believe that man is decidedly evil or destructive and that Germans are part of that equation, or you give up the idea of man’s critical deficits as a creature.

And then you play with the historian Goldhagen’s thesis that Germans were willing executioners of the German regime. I hope you’re aware that his book was roundly condemned or criticized by historians who aren’t revisionists for his broadly-based historical statements. I know, as you said in your afterword, that you agreed with him; that you went to see him. You also expressed your being disheartened by his historical and academic positions in that he didn’t seem to take a stand or feel what he was explaining to his audience. You remark that it was your task as a fiction writer to take the other position, to give feelings, to explore them, to explicate all kinds of emotional and psychological states. I agree

What disturbs me is that your entire book is grounded in a mélange of weak history, Jewish suppositions, the general biased climate of opinion about the Holocaust, and, to wit, it’s all self-serving. So, what you have accomplished is to write a good fiction, excellent in parts, but ultimately one-sided and prejudicial. As a literary writer you’re at liberty to do so. Given the detritus we see published, your book is a commendable effort but decidedly wrong-headed. As a historian, I see your historical, minority, and Freudian beliefs as limitations. I do wish you well in your future efforts. I hope you don’t see me as harsh but, like you, trying to discover what is true and what is not.


Max Weber

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury