Harry Mazal is the founder and director of The Holocaust History Project, a collaborative educational website that provides technically accurate and vetted responses to Holocaust denier claims and user questions. He has been actively combating online Holocaust denial since before the birth of the modern Internet.
The Holocaust History Project website is available at www.holocaust-history.org.
Mazal is also the creator and curator of the Mazal Library, one of the largest private collections in the world of Holocaust related materials. His collection includes over 20,000 books, ephemera, microfilms, video-films and photographs.
In 1983 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by HM Queen Elizabeth for “Services to the Crown.”
He is interviewed by Dan Leshem, program manager of the Holocaust Denial On Trial website. This podcast is underwritten by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
Mr. Mazal, I’d like to thank you for being with us here today.
It’s my pleasure.
I wonder if you could begin by telling us a little bit about yourself and about your beginnings in the study of the Holocaust?
Certainly. I’m 72 years old. I was born in Mexico City. My training was as an analytical chemist, and I worked as a chemist for several years but decided that I’d make very little money, so I started selling equipment that chemists use and I ended up making a lot more money.
I became a copper miner when I was about 22 or 23, just after school, which is where I learned how to use dynamite. And the use of this dynamite helped me a great deal in 1998 when we were doing an analysis of the damage that was done to the gas chambers in Birkenau.
I’m now retired and living in the United States and mostly dedicated to studying the Holocaust and playing with my grandchildren.
Could you tell me a little bit about how you started studying the Holocaust so intensely, moving from your profession as a chemist into your, as an amateur historian, your overwhelming interest.
Certainly. I didn’t think much of the Holocaust. I was brought up in a society that didn’t talk about bad things. It wasn’t until I retired and came to the United States some twenty-some-odd years ago that I bought my first computer and learned how to go online to the famous bulletin boards. It was long before the Internet. And I was seeking my roots, because although both of my parents were Jewish there was no religion in our home, so I didn’t know very much about the religion or my origins.
And in one of these discussion groups that you would dial into with a modem had some people who were discussing the Holocaust, saying that it didn’t happen, that it hadn’t happened. So I wondered how this could possibly be because I did remember my grandmother holding letters that her brothers had sent her before they were taken away, crying, and I didn’t think that my grandmother’s tears were based on anything that wasn’t real. But I knew very little so I started buying books and reading them, and reading more, and responding to these idiot bulletin boards. And more than overwhelming, what I am is compulsive, and I went over 20,000 books and a couple hundred thousand documents.
Can you describe a little bit how you collected all those volumes, and the travels you’ve done to Holocaust related sites around the world?
Certainly. Initially I would just run down to the local used bookstore, half priced books, and pick up an armful of books and read them. I’m a very fast reader. At some point I just wasn’t finding any of the material that I wanted that related to the Holocaust. So, I discovered there were various vendors who specialized in selling books and I got on their mailing lists and bought most of my books from people like that, from people like Abe Books. And of course when you buy one book and it refers to another one, well then you go and buy the other one, and it becomes a chain reaction in every direction.
I didn’t visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum until after I had been to Auschwitz, which I believe my first trip was in 1998. And when I was in Auschwitz I found that I was shocked we would have been fighting this long after we had established the Holocaust History Project, and we had been fighting the deniers’ statements saying about the holes on the roof of Crematorium II, “No holes, no Holocaust.” That was Faurisson’s statement and became the rallying flag around which these people joined.
So, I spent quite a long time in Birkenau while in Auschwitz in general during that trip, and from there I went to Belzec, and to Sobibor, and to Chelm, and Lublin of course, and met a lot of people who pointed me in many different ways. And with all of this travel, and with all of the discussions that we had about the Holocaust ‐ we did a Holocaust research project ‐ I became convinced that we had something very good and really started working hard on the project.
Could you give us a brief history and introduction to the Holocaust History Project? I’m imagining that as the Internet got more developed, not only the claims Holocaust deniers were putting out were different, but also the technology was changing the geography of the debate. How did that transition work for you?
Well, it was very interesting because those dial-in bulletin boards were really very tedious and very slow. But, when I was corresponding through one of these bulletin boards with someone else commenting on a third person’s writings, a man named Rick Eaton wrote me privately and said, “We’re very interested in what you’re doing, and very interested in how you’re approaching this. Would you like to join a private group for discussion on this subject?” And I said, “Certainly.” So they gave me a code number and I went onto Genie, which was General Electric’s bulletin board system, and joined something called the “Bomb Shelter”. In the Bomb Shelter there were 25 or 30 people of like belief as I was, and between us we were then able to discuss things and the arguments that deniers were making and compare notes and learn from each other.
And I was very active in that bulletin board, so I guess I drew the attention of the Nizkor (Nizkor.org) people and they contacted me and said, “Would you like to form part of this thing?” And of course that’s how I got in touch with Ken McVeigh for the first time. With Ken McVeigh’s group it was a very profound experience for me but all of us who were working as volunteers of Ken McVeigh just didn’t like the way he ran things.
But this Internet came on, and of course everything changed because instead of just sending messages back and forth so that someone could read them suddenly the Internet allowed messages, pictures, eventually music, God knows what, to be available instantly anywhere to anybody in the world. I believe it’s the most important step that humanity has taken in communications ever, even more important than the alphabet, or learning how to write, or the printing press. The Internet gives everybody the same power, and from a democratic point of view it’s very good. From history’s point of view it’s terrible because there’s no real way of determining what is true and what is not true on the Internet, unless you have either some previous experience, or you’re willing to research it.
In any case, when we broke away from McVeigh, from being his volunteers, it was Jamie McCarthy, Danny Keren, myself and five or six others, decided to set up a simple website, without color, without too much flamboyance, in which we would address issues about the Holocaust in a serious way. And we started that; I guess it must be about 15 or 16 years ago. And it was an immediate hit because of all of the services that we provided and because we didn’t enter into polemics. We studied something, we presented to each one of our members, everybody commented ‐ there was a very strong and critical peer review ‐ and then we would publish it. And that’s how we continued operating up until this moment. The fact that everything that goes onto our website is criticized, abused, stomped on, desecrated by every other member generally guarantees that what we publish is going to be fairly accurate.
We added other facilities to it that many people don’t have ‐ our questions list for example. We take questions from anybody, anywhere in the world. And we get several hundred of these every year, most of which we try to answer. It’s been a wonderful way of learning more about the Holocaust because often those questions lead us in directions we had never thought of.
Can you give me an example, for instance, from your writing of the essay on the “holes in the roof” at the Auschwitz crematoria and the gas chambers? Of an instance in which this peer review technique helped insure accuracy.
Well, yes. Partly, of course, the accuracy was almost instilled because of the method that we used for writing the paper. Although only three of us appear as authors, seven or eight other people also collaborated with us in the writing of this document. And, as I may have pointed out previously, in I think it was 1994 an associate professor of French literature in France went to Birkenau, stood on the edge of the ruins of the gas chamber of Crematorium Number 2, which had been destroyed, blown to smithereens, by the Germans in January of 1945, and looked for the holes which were apparent in many of the aerial photographs, and of course he didn’t find them. So he said, “No holes, no Holocaust.” And that became their [Holocaust deniers’] rallying cry.
What we did then is brought in Danny Keren, who is a mathematician and Jamie McCarthy who is a computer specialist. And I collaborated because my experience in the use of explosives as I had been a miner during my youth, and in the construction of concrete structures because I built several buildings for my businesses in Mexico and the United States. From the moment that we started writing this we had Robert Jan von Pelt, who is a very well known historian, reading our production. And as we were getting it ready and submitted it to Michael Gelb at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, who was our greatest fan and our most difficult critic, once we had published not the actual paper but the pre-paper on this we let our members look at what we were writing. And immediately we started getting comments: “This picture’s not clear, this concept isn’t correct.” I can tell you I must have had three or four hundred emails on the subject. And that allowed us to go fine-tuning the article to a point that it was finally accepted by Oxford University Press.
Had we not done it that way this would have just been a website with an article, which means it doesn’t mean anything. But once it gets published by a first class organization like Holocaust and Genocide Studies it gives it great credence.
Can you briefly summarize the conclusions of your “holes in the roof” paper?
Certainly. When we looked at the roof we saw the same thing that Faurisson had seen ‐ rubble, pieces of concrete strewn everywhere, cracked and broken, rebar sticking up. It made no sense whatsoever. So Danny Keren, who was the professor of mathematics at Haifa University, drew some lines down what remained of this roof and said, “What we’ve got to do is look for the holes. They can be no more than some 75 centimeters from this line in either direction.” So that gave us the first indication of where to start looking.
Then my wife, who was a very good observer (she’s a painter), was walking around the ruins and she noted that one-third of the entire roof slab had folded under the other two-thirds. So of course that would have meant that hole number 4 would have disappeared, or been on the very edge of that. So we went to the point where hole number 4 should have been and we found a rebar structure that was exactly the size of the hole, and in exactly the right place. Since I had built many rebar structures I noticed the places the rebar was sticking out of many of these had been thinned out as if you had pulled a piece of taffy and it stretches out and breaks. That’s exactly what an explosion will do. When it blows up this steel rebar stretches out until it breaks. So what we were looking for were places where the rebar had actually been cut and bent, and found three instances. The first one that I just mentioned a minute ago and two others where the rebar had cut and bent, and checked the dimensions and in each one of these cases it was exactly the right size.
One of the discoveries that we made, and this is something that there is still a lot of contention about, was that the holes were cast into the roof; they weren’t cut into it afterward. So this proves malice aforethought. The design of that roof, and while it doesn’t appear in any engineering papers, the actual marks that were made when it was cast are still there. You can still see the places where the concrete came up to a wooden structure and had formed a hole. When they remove the wooden structure the concrete remains, but it’s very smooth. So those were some of things that we did. Then those are made projections using contemporary photographs from the Nazis’ famous aerial photographs. Every one of these things started coinciding, and once we had all that information together we had a paper that to this day can’t be refuted.
I understand you’re currently working on a paper about Zyklon B and the Prussian blue staining at Birkenau. Could you please describe in general what you are working on and what you expect to find?
Well, the first thing is, and here’s where science comes back into this thing: Everybody’s talking about prussian blue. Can you tell me that it is prussian blue? Has anybody actually tested that pigment to be sure that it is prussian blue? And I’ll tell you no. So one of the first thing’s that I’m doing is I’m doing some fairly simple tests to demonstrate that it is, or that it isn’t, Prussian Blue. This comes to my mind because of something [Jean-Claude] Pressac says in one of the papers that he wrote, where he says that these stains did not appear on the B1a/B1b Saunas until long after the war had ended. And that doesn’t make any sense.
But the first thing that we want to do is establish what exactly that is. If it is Prussian blue, fine, we’ll go ahead with the research. If it’s not then we have to figure out what it is and why it’s there.
The second thing is Prussian blue is a fairly complicated chemical to produce. But it’s not impossible because there are at least fifty stains are Prussian blue, four places where it appears, two on Saunas in B1a and B1b, and in Majdanek, and then in a church where blue stains came through the wall after they had run Zyklon B into the church to get rid of insects.
Now, how is it possible that Zyklon B or Hydrogen Cyanide was used in tens of thousands of places ‐ barracks, ships, homes, you name it: Any place that could be closed with sticky paper. And the only places that these stains appeared are the four that I’ve mentioned. How is it possible that nowhere else in the world, under no other circumstance, under every other circumstance, there are no stains? So, that has to be analyzed when you’re doing a paper of this sort, because what makes these four places unique?
And then the third thing has to with simple gas laws. It’s obvious that people… well, Fred Leuchter, when he did his so-called analysis of all this stuff, he knows about as much about the gas laws in physics as I do about Maxwell’s theorem. So, what we’re doing… So I’m saying that according to the universal gas laws, which have been around for a couple hundred years, those stains cannot have been made by a gas. And that’s as far as I’m willing to talk about it.
You mentioned a moment ago that the Internet has been terrible for history. I take that to mean that the Internet presents too much information without providing readers with sufficient means for determining truth from falsehood. So how do you recommend that we distinguish between various types of information?
Well, the fact that it was terrible for history and for accuracy (and for many of these other things because it certainly makes it complicated), it’s still an important medium that we have to live with. It’s here; Pandora’s Box has been opened. We’ve got to find way to control all the little critters that came out of it.
When a student goes onto the Internet, most people, especially now that these search engines are so extraordinarily powerful, will type in a word or two and they’ll come up with a huge number of responses. I like to use the example of typing the word ‘Jew’. Type that in and the first site that comes up on Google is a site that is incredibly antisemitic. And, it’s so antisemitic that every time I open that page up I get annoyed. But it’s done in a very clever way besides, because it counts everything in very comfortable and reasonable terms. There isn’t any of this death to “kikes,” or, you know, the usual sort of antisemitism that you expect to find in the National Alliance, or the places like that. This definitely talks reasonably about the Jews, but of course leads you down the primrose path and takes you to the same point that other people do, and that is that Jews are bad, that we’re dangerous, that we’re evil little critters, whatever.
So, when a student is looking up, because the teacher said, “Do some work on the… I want to know about the Jews,” if he lands there first he’s likely to extrapolate from there, and his paper’s going to be dedicated to presenting lies. Most people who have any criteria at all would probably visit three or four or five other sites, and try to figure out which one of these is the truth.
In the end the Internet is a good source to point you in directions, but it’s not a good source for history. If you want to be pointed in a certain direction the Internet will give you many options. From there go to books, go to the library, and use this information that you’ve gotten through the websites, and read about it by people who don’t go around trying to poison the earth with their statements.
There may be some exceptions to this, and that’s when you write a really powerful technical paper. But even that doesn’t work because for everything that we publish that is highly, enormously technical, people like [Carlo] Mattogno, and [Jürgen] Graf, and [Germar] Rudolph publish equivalent things that are completely misaligned, that are absolute fantasy. And, unless you are a really good chemist, how are you going to know the difference between why Prussian blue lands on one wall here and not on one wall there?
So that’s the danger of the Internet. It’s like a card index, but you should follow up and read about it elsewhere.
Do you believe that engaging with Holocaust denial, as some kind of textual reference is important for people learning the Holocaust, or studying the Holocaust?
Well, I don’t really know. To me Holocaust denial is a very refined form of antisemitism. I’ve never run across a single Holocaust denier that didn’t also dislike Jews. And although I have run across some antisemites that don’t practice Holocaust denial, but to a man, or to a woman, every Holocaust denier is an antisemite. There’s no other reason for them to do this and to go to such enormous expense, and to so much trouble. Why does somebody like Bradley Smith write tons, reams of paper, specifically against the Holocaust, when there are so many other issues that are equally valid, and equally important? And you’ll find that how it happened with all of the major writers, you don’t see Mattogno writing about anything that doesn’t have to do with the Holocaust, or Rudolph, or any of those chaps.
Now, there are organizations like the National Alliance. Their antisemitism is focused on racist (if you want to use the word racist) terms, and they have a little niche in there in which they deny the Holocaust. But no: People who are specialized in denying the Holocaust are simply antisemites using a very refined method of hurting Jewish history.
Clearly our cultural interest in the Holocaust is not abating. This is evidenced as much by Holocaust-themed movies as it is by a series of recent highly publicized events including the denial by Bishop Richard Williamson and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and most recently by the tragic shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that left guard Stephen Johns dead. Do you believe that these affronts to the memory and history of the Holocaust represent a degree of success for Holocaust deniers?
Oh, indeed I do. I believe that denial is growing. It’s a cancerous growth. And at this moment there may not be very many deniers in comparison to the total population of the earth, but there’s a whole lot more than there were five years ago, or ten. And they’re a lot more vehement, and they’re a lot more technical. They’re a lot more difficult to combat. And much of this, you talk about Williamson, when he made his famous TV interview; I immediately wrote what I believe is a very technical article that proved him to be completely wrong. I sent copies of this to the Vatican, received response from some people over there. But he’s a Bishop of the church. When somebody like that says the Holocaust didn’t happen it’s not like some, you know, skinhead in Alabama is saying it. This is a guy that has a funny hat on that millions of people revere.
And the same thing happens when you get the president of a country, even one as retrograde as Iran, stating the Holocaust didn’t happen ‐ his words have a great deal of power. And when you get professors like [Arthur R.] Butts, or like [Austin J.] App, who is one of my favorites, making statements, people say, “Well, the guy’s a professor; he can’t be wrong. He’s the president of a nation.” And they have an infinite amount of money, whereas those of us who are combating them live from day to day.
So I think yes, the problem is growing. The more Holocaust survivors die (and they would all be dead in the next, certainly, 20 years; I don’t think anybody’s going to live longer than that); there won’t be any living witnesses to what happened. All we have is what was written. And you have people who are very clever writing like David Irving who will just say that, “You know, those folks (he never calls them Jews, but whatever one of his many euphemisms are), those folks, you know, they were all lying.” The problem grows because what they write doesn’t go away. And even if what we write doesn’t go away there are certainly more important people tending to look at the Holocaust as having been somewhat exaggerated, a bit exaggerated, whatever you like. And of course tying the Holocaust to Israel, and all Jews is to Palestine (24:10), that brings another issue that even confuses the reader more.
I’m not a Zionist per se ‐ I’ve been to Israel a few times, but I have no particular love for it. And I wouldn’t live there, and you couldn’t pay me to live there. I’d rather live in Brooklyn if I have to eat hot dogs. But deniers now, they don’t call them Jews anymore; they call them Zionists. So they’re mixing these two things together and since there’s a tremendous amount of affection in the world for the poor Palestinians, anything that’s anti-Palestinian has got to be wrong, therefore the Holocaust has to be a lie. It’s a kind of a twisted way to look at it but I think that that’s very powerful.
Here at the Holocaust Denial on Trial project we often get emails from people writing in to tell us that they’re in the midst of an online debate with a Holocaust denier and they’d like this and this piece of information, and can we help them refute this and this claim by the denier. Do you still believe in debating deniers like you did back in the early days of the Internet when you were on the bulletin boards?
Oh, well, I don’t believe in debating deniers at all. As a matter of fact, when I was on these bulletin boards I never addressed one of them directly. If they made whatever lies they made, embellished and everything, I would simply write two or three paragraphs about what happened, and sign it, and that’s all. I’d never give them the advantage of recognition.
I think it’s a mistake to debate with Holocaust deniers… A few minutes ago I sent you a letter that we just received from a Holocaust denier in Australia. This person is making all the same statements that Holocaust deniers have been making all along. If I respond to that man’s question, all I’m going to do is open up a vast cavern that will slowly engulf me, because somebody else will write supporting him. Before I know it I’ll be getting fifty letters from this guy and his cronies, attacking every point that I make.
I do not believe it’s a good idea to debate deniers. I think it’s a good idea to take deniers’ material and show how it’s wrong, and where it’s wrong, and to back it up with facts. But I’m a Darwinist. I’m a scientist. I would no more discuss with a creationist about the origins of man than I would with a denier about the origins of the Holocaust. The two positions are incompatible.
Many people who write to us have been deeply affected by what they have learned. In the wake of Bishop Williamson’s scandal for instance, several people wrote inquiring what they could do in their own communities to help increase understanding and combat this antisemitic diatribe. Since, as you just outlined, it is pointless to debate the deniers, what do you recommend people do with their sense of mission?
Well, they can continue learning about it, because obviously knowing the subject makes you a powerful person. Then next thing they can do is they can start expressing their opinions in forums that matter, like in schools. One of the things that we insist on in the Holocaust History Project is that our members go on to visit schools, army barracks, etc., and talk about the Holocaust, explain what happened, warn them about the dangers of those people who don’t believe in it.
So I think if people want to help, the best thing that they can do is become a standard bearer for the truth and go out and spread it. There’s really no other way, unless you need a whole lot of volunteers coming in to work with you, or you have a method such as we do where we have people from all over the world collaborating on our project. But that requires an organization, one more expense. So, I think the best thing to do is tell them how pleased you were by their comments, and give them several pointers on what it is they can do to promote the truth.
What type of response do you get to your educational seminars, and what take-home message do you try to leave with your students?
Oh, in spite of the fact that I have almost no voice left I get extremely good response from students. My appointment book is chalk-a-block with requests to go talk right now. The Air Force here in San Antonio wants me to go out and talk to each one of their units about the Holocaust. So I’ll be doing that early next fall.
And I come away with a very good notion; I prepare my material very carefully. If the kids are too small I never talk about death, or I try to talk about the dangers of hatred and what it can lead you to. And as the audiences grow older then I go into some more, some stronger examples. But for the most part the Holocaust was the final, the end result of 2000 years of hating Jews; and it was bound to happen because you can’t be preaching against Jews in every church, every day of the year. You can’t be blaming the Jews for the Black Plague, or god knows what other disasters happened throughout mankind. You can’t expect the world to understand why you put pointy hats on Jews, or force them to wear stars, or write nasty newspapers about them. All of those things, it’s a cumulative hatred, and that boil burst in Germany, one of the most unlikely places simply because of their levels of education and civilization, but it finally did burst there. And I sincerely believe that other boils like that are on their way, and we have to find a way of lancing them before they become dangerous.
Finally I’d like to ask you a little bit about the way the Holocaust is perceived outside of the United States. To a certain extent it seems that the Holocaust looms very large in the American awareness. There are some requirements on teaching The Diary of Anne Frank in schools, or Elie Wiesel’s Night, and we have this wonderful museum in Washington D.C. Are American’s particularly obsessed with the Holocaust?
No, I don’t think any more obsessed than human beings should be. The Holocaust in Latin American countries doesn’t take on as much of a significance simply because very little is known about it, although there are countries where antisemitism is rampant, such as Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia, and in some cases even Mexico, which is where I lived for many years. If you go to Spain some of the most violent, vicious, antisemitic sites are in Spain. So I think that ignoring all of these countries, and not bringing them into the truth is just simply asking for trouble in the future.
When I was in Spain earlier this year walking around the downtown at night after the curtains had been pulled down (they pull these metal curtains down in front of stores) there were antisemitic and Nazi graffiti painted on most of the doors of people that were obviously Jewish by their name. So I don’t think it’s a problem that has died, I just don’t think the Holocaust, that the people that have gotten as involved in the Holocaust as the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, or Sweden, or Denmark, or even France, God help me. But in England, they have very excellent websites there. They have, the Imperial War Museum, to my mind, is one of the better museums in the world on the Holocaust, even if it’s only a small wing of that enormous and beautiful structure.
So I think that hatred of the Holocaust, hatred of Jews, is going to slowly evolve in these countries where the leadership is against the Jews. You’ll see more Venezuelans denying the Holocaust because Chavez scoffs at it. And you’ll see a lot of people in Argentina scoffing at the Holocaust and forming vicious acts against the Jews. So although it is stronger in this country because this is the mother, sort of the birth of the Internet is in this country, it will eventually go everywhere.
I want to thank you very much for taking your time and sacrificing some of your throat for us today. I know that it’s probably been a strain to answer all of these questions, but your answers have been very interesting, and I’m sure have a lot to teach our listeners.
Well, I thank you very much for interviewing me. And although my voice stinks I’m going to use it until they put me down.