A Fable That Only Appears to Be About the Holocaust
Once upon a time there was a man I’ll call George Caldwell. He was the head of the actuarial department at the regional office of a big insurance company you’ve probably heard of.
In college George did not major in history. After graduation, however, the Second World War became a hobby of his: he read many of the memoirs and biographies and popular histories of the period and did not hide his interest from his friends and colleagues.
Then because of circumstances beyond the scope of this story, George found himself, for the first time in his life, in a community of otherwise perfectly nice people who ranged from Holocaust sceptics to Holocaust deniers.
He suddenly found himself a target of provocative, scornful, or derogatory questions and comments:
“You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?”
“I’ve never understood how an intelligent person like yourself could be taken in by such obvious nonsense.”
“Some people are easily influenced, and some just have the need to believe, I guess, despite the absence of any real evidence.”
He would try to answer, in a non-provocative, nonaggressive way:
“I don’t think it’s nonsense.”
“A lot of intelligent people believe in the truth of the Holocaust.”
“There’s plenty of evidence that the Holocaust took place.”
Somehow, though, these people were not really interested in a discussion. They simply wanted to state their own positions, placing themselves on the side of rationality, and denigrate his, making him look like a credulous simpleton.
Even worse were the people who purported to want to discuss the matter with him but really just wanted to back him into a corner.
“Statistics prove that there weren’t anywhere near six milliion Jews total in Europe before the War.”
“If you take the square footage of all the gas chambers and figure out how many people they could hold, there’s no way that all the Jews that were supposedly gassed could have even just walked into them and walked out again, let alone been gassed, even if they marched in and out twenty-four seven during the whole war.”
“The German production of Zyklon B was way too small to gas a tenth of the number of Jews that supposedly died in the gas chambers.”
Sometimes they would gang up on him, two or three taking turns firing snide remarks or persuasive statistics at him.
He didn’t know how to answer these people. He knew they were wrong, but he didn’t have at his fingertips the sources and the statistics to prove it.
Again and again he found himself in such situations. At first he would go away and do research, trying to find factual material to refute whatever had been thrown at him. Even when he was able to do so and presented his findings to his antagonists, they dismissed the results: the math was faulty, the statistics were based on outdated studies, everybody knew that the writer was biased.
He agonized over his inability to defend the position he knew was true, to be a worthy apologist for the hordes of victims he knew had been killed. He felt desperately guilty that those victims had only ignorant, incompetent George Caldwell as their defender.
One day by the grace of God a blinding realization struck him. Ignorant, incompetent George Caldwell was not their only defender. The sceptics and deniers were singling out George Caldwell precisely because he was a believer and was also ignorant and incompetent.
If they truly wanted to find out the truth, he realized, the sceptics and deniers would do their own research, seek out the sources, the eyewitness testimony, the official documents; they would consult other believers, professional historians, people who were not ignorant and incompetent.
The fact that they didn’t do so simply proved that they weren’t interested in the truth. They wanted to hold onto their comfortable, sceptical positions and make themselves feel good by putting down George Caldwell, who was reliably unable to argue effectively with them.
He finally realized that he did not have to stand alone, being patronized and made fun of as he inadequately attempted to defend his beliefs.
He devised a general answer to such people, wrote it down, memorized it, and produced it whenever someone tried to put him on the spot:
“I’m a believer, but I’m no authority. If you’re really interested in finding out the truth, you should consult the writings of people who believe and who have studied the subject and know more about it. They can explain why you’re wrong much better than I can.”
And to the people who then replied scornfully, “You can’t even explain what you believe in?” he would ask innocently, “Can you explain electricity?”