Martin Barillas: Wikipedia Struggles with Holocaust Disinformation; Ravensfire Deletes Jewish Content

Historians in the News

[Cutting Edge senior correspondent Martin Barillas edits Speroforum.com.]

Wikipedia posters continued to struggle with the campaign to delete information about IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust as contributors posted and reposted conflicting theories of what should and should not be allowed to appear in the Internet encyclopedia. Wikipedia is the massive online project anyone can edit at any time, generally using fictitious names. Key among the issues in contention was whether the word “Holocaust” was permissible in descriptions of IBM’s pivotal participation in Hitler’s destruction of six million Jews.

The information about IBM’s role in the Holocaust was originally brought to light in 2001 by author Edwin Black in his bestselling book IBM and the Holocaust. Despite numerous calls for an answer, the company has never denied the information. Various groups, from Gypsies to Jewish survivors, have sued IBM for its involvement, but all the cases have been dismissed.

Several weeks ago, Black and his work were targeted by anonymous IBM advocates on Wikipedia, openly supported by an official IBM archivist, who made a team effort to eliminate references to the Holocaust on the History of IBM article. At the same time, the group sought to delete or substantially alter the article on the book IBM and the Holocaust, and even targetedthe page devoted to author’s Black’s biography.

In the latest wave of edits, IBM advocates succeeded in inserting verbatim text from a 2001 IBM press release on the History of IBM article while eliminating the word “Holocaust.” Posters attempting to reinsert the term Holocaust were rebuffed, however one unnamed anonymous poster finally succeeded in getting the IBM press release language attributed and placed in a block quote. That could change at any time since Wikipedia changes can and do occur at any time.

At the same time, other Wikipedian editors bounced back and forth on whether they would permit a standard synopsis of the book IBM and the Holocaust, or whether they would permit the word “Holocaust” to be used altogether in the descriptive article about the book. Other posters declared that the book synopsis could be written at some point but it was decided no one would actually look at the book. Author Black entered the online discussion and offered to send the synopsis writers an electronic copy of the book to make a more informed summary. However, it was the anonymous consensus that the synopsis should be written without consulting the book. One poster called “Rd232” explained, “I don't really have the time.”

During one five-to-ten-minute series of moves, the article entry on Black’s book was moved back and forth from one location to another by contributors worried that readers would be misled that the book was actually about IBM’s role in the Holocaust. Ironically, Black’s award-winning book is solely devoted to IBM’s role in the Holocaust. A user named “Blaxthos” compared the notion of IBM involvement to the image of the “Man in the Moon.”

While some Wikipedia contributors were busy deleting Holocaust references, an editor using the assumed named “Ravensfire” turned his attention to recent Jewish-oriented content on the Wikipedia entry devoted to author Black’s published body of work. One poster had added to Black’s list of notable articles a recently syndicated feature on the disgraced kosher slaughterhouse operator, Sholom Rubashkin. Shortly after the article had been added, Ravensfire deleted it saying its addition to Black’s list of articles could not be justified. Ravensfire’s rationale could not be ascertained.

Earlier, Black’s biographical article was tagged with two labels “American Jew” and “weasel,” which was linked to a large cartoon of a weasel. Black objected to the notion that he was being denigrated as an “American Jew weasel.” At that point, another poster named “Fred the Oyster” joked on Wikipedia: “I wonder what colour an American Jewish weasel is, and are they similar to a circumcised ferret?” Ultimately “Fred the Oyster” was found to be a previous banned user named “Webhamster” who was found to have been threatening others. Wikipedia administrators indefinitely blocked the newest identity of “Fred the Oyster.” The labels were ultimately removed from Black’s biographical page with the explanation that the intent was to label Black as an American Jew and one who uses “weasel words.”

At some point in the weekend exchanges, Black entered the online discussion himself to offer information, documentation or book material to any Wikipedia poster. After he did so, his computer was blocked for three months by a Wikipedia administrator named “Chase me Ladies, I'm the Calvary.” On his public user page Chase me Ladies, I'm the Calvary ” warns that he is a serving member of the British Navy and possibly subject to prosecution if his superior officers learn of  his actions. His warning, found at the bottom of the page, states:  “By communicating with me, you agree that I may republish your communication in any forum whatsoever, and that you irrevocably release all rights to the communication to me. This is in order to ensure a transparent communications stream, and is for the protection of all parties concerned. This is due to the increasing number of abusive emails sent to my personal email account. This does not affect your ability to contact me, however, abusive mails will be reported to both Wikimedia Foundation and legal authorities. Please also note that as I am in the forces, threatening to report me to my superiors for something I do may leave me liable to prosecution under the Armed Forces Act 2006 and/or the Naval Discipline Act, or other laws which do not apply to civilians, and thus falls under our no legal threats policy. Breaking this policy will result in an immediate ban from the English Wikipedia until the threat is withdrawn, or the legal action is completed.”

 “Chase me Ladies, I'm the Calvary” offers a public photo of himself on Wikipedia that appears to be manning a naval gun. However, at press time, the claims by “Chase me Ladies, I'm the Calvary” of his official status in the British Navy had not yet been authenticated with British naval authorities either in the United States or Britain, although a response was expected soon.

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More Comments:

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 6/23/2010


Jonathan Dresner - 6/20/2010

Oh, you're back?

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 6/20/2010

"...Hitler’s destruction of six million Jews." There they go again.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/2/2010

I intend to, thanks.

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 5/1/2010

It’s difficult to communicate with a historian(!) who claims what I see, want, inclined to do, admit to, imply, and what I want to minimize.

There is a obvious conclusion to such claims. Au revoir. Have a good life.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/30/2010

You see an apparent contradiction and want a solution, or a surrender, but historians don't work that way. There's a difference, in history, between sources and reliable sources; historians have to evaluate whether their sources are actually credible on the subjects they cover. You've not done that, nor do you seem inclined to do so. The only possibilities you'll admit are an error in the death numbers or outright falsehood, when errors in the pre-war and post-war global numbers are more likely and the only falsehoods are coming from people who want to minimize the extent of the German atrocities.

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 4/30/2010

I appreciate how the subject is as distasteful to you as to me. If our exchange is to degenerate into personal remarks let’s bid adieu now.

My letter did use citations, e.g., The World Almanac, Dr. Franciszek Piper, director of the Polish Historical Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, The New York Times, Aufbau, a Jewish-oriented newspaper in New York, Shmuel Krakowsky, head of research at Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial for Jewish Victims of the Holocaust (“Israeli experts said …”), the American Jewish Committee. I am interested as to where specifically might my numbers (“interpretations?”) be flawed so as not to repeat them - and citations for your last.

Jay Knott - 4/29/2010

Wikipedia editors toe the safe party line. Here is a description of attempts to refute slanders against a free-speech group in Oregon:

Jonathan Dresner - 4/28/2010

Your interpretation of the data is fundamentally flawed. As I pointed out, the global figures you cite aren't reliable, while the death figures cited by scholars -- reputable ones put the total deaths of Jews in the Holocaust between 5.1 and 7+ million -- come largely from specific counts and identified victims. Your Auschwitz problem is actually not a problem at all, but a correction of a previous error in which Auschwitz was presumed to be the place of death for literally millions of Jews who were starved, shot or otherwise executed outside of the concentration camp system.

There's no mystery here, and no problem, except that engineers often make very bad historians.

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 4/28/2010

Your experience is impressive and your opinion given due weight; it is further noted there is yet no specific refutation of the information in the letter.

Edwin Black - 4/28/2010

Just this... I know Piper and Krakovsky personally, the later I met decades ago ay YV when I started my research. Six million is an iconic number for me. It could be 5 million or 7 million. I count the 12-year Holocaust from 1933 to 1945 which includes the Jews starved to death in ghettos, killed in camps and so forth. Let us say it was 3 million, 4 million, 5 million, 7 million (a number I implied could have occurred in 1984). What is the purpose of this math? 35 million other Europeans may have been killed from Stalin to the Blitz. Was it 35 million. How about 15 million. Here is the important number: in many areas some 99% of all Jews were murdered during a long public genocide. Now before you hit the reply key, let me say, I am way ahead of you on this. Been there done that. So I hope this has given some measure of insight, help and exit to this discussion. Edwin Black---oops, don't hit the reply button--I won't be there for you.

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 4/27/2010

Thank you for your observations.

Some population figures are indeed estimations as itemized in the letter. Note that well-documented death totals from unrefuted sources (except by individual Holocaust revisionists since the 1991 verification by Shmuel Krakowsky of Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial) are also cited in the letter.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/27/2010

You're assuming the accuracy of the before-and-after population figures (created by estimation and collection from disparate sources) as a given, when it's much more likely that the well-documented death totals -- a consistent set of sources involving actual counting rather than estimation -- are correct.

Robert Patteson Kelso Sr. - 4/27/2010

To the editor,

Allow me to suggest an error in the subject article: “…Hitler’s destruction of six million Jews.”

For 6 million to be accurate, Auschwitz must account for 4 million of the 6 million. Indeed until the 1990s the Auschwitz memorial plaque exhibited the 4 million figure.

On July, 17, 1990, The Washington Times referenced an article by Krzysztof Leski and Ohad Gozani of the London Daily Telegraph in which it was reported that Dr. Franciszek Piper, director of the Polish Historical Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, had cut the official Auschwitz death toll from 4 million to 1.1 million (http://www.mkidn.gov.pl/website/document/?docId=668). Other publications reporting this are: March 26, 1992, UPI in the New York Post; January 26, 1995, The Washington Post and The New York Times. The January 26, 1995, The New York Times report, Remembering Auschwitz, reads:

... the first convoy of Dutch Jews arrived at Auschwitz. By 1945 at least 1.1 million Jews had been sent there, of whom 90 percent perished. Some 150,000 Poles were dispatched to Auschwitz, of whom half were killed [sic] -- along with 20,000 Gypsies, 15,000 Soviet P.O.W.'s and 25,000 victims of other nationalities.

In 1991, Piper determined that the actual number deported to the camp during its 4 1/2 year existence totaled 1.3 million. Piper estimated that perhaps a quarter million deportees to Auschwitz were non-Jews, bringing the total of Jewish deportees to about the 1.1 million figure. Per the NYT: 90% of 1.1 million equals approximately 990,000 Jewish deaths at Auschwitz. 900,000 is the number reported on August 3, 1990, by Aufbau, a Jewish-oriented newspaper in New York.

According to the Washington Times article, "Israeli experts said evidence to support the lower estimate had been mounting for some time," and that "Shmuel Krakowsky, head of research at Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial for Jewish Victims of the Holocaust, said the new Polish figures were correct.” For reason’s best know to him, Krakowsky chose to down-play the good news of fewer deaths by reporting that the correct number is “about 1.5 million” rather than the 1.1 million or less. His “about one and a half million” figure appears on the replacement memorial plaque.

A more recent confirmation is this Associated Press article by Aron Heller of Jan. 11, 2008, Bush: US Should Have Acted on Auschwitz. “...Yad Vashem's chairman, Avner Shalev, quoted Bush as saying the U.S. should have "bombed it." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush referred to the train tracks leading to Auschwitz not the camp itself, where between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were killed by Nazi Germany. ...”

In summary: per the study and the AP, the more accurate figure for the total Jewish deaths in the Holocaust is six million minus about 3 million (the Auschwitz “4 million”, less the revised 3 million, plus the as yet unchallenged and unverified, non-Auschwitz remainder of 2 million) or about 3 million in total, not the six million to which the subject article refers.

This writer approached the Holocaust Museum of Houston in regard to the above; they did not reply.

This writer also approached the Simon Wiesenthal Center who did not refute the numbers while giving as the reason for the original memorial error, per their “Question 13”: the Poles wanted to exaggerate their own Holocaust death count [!?!] so were obliged to increase the Jewish death count in order to maintain a reasonable ratio[!!?!].

This writer further approached the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, which replied, “There are other studies that go from 5.2 million to 7 million JEWISH victims only. The Polish victims are outside this number--now believed to be about 2 million.”

This brings up an interesting point. If it is acknowledged that one million died at Auschwitz, how many died elsewhere? The World Almanac for 1947 states that in 1939 the world Jewish population was 15,688,259. The Almanac's figures were supplied by the American Jewish Committee. The February 22, 1948, New York Times stated that the world Jewish population for that year amounted "to 15,600,000 to 18,700,000 in addition to the 600,000 to 700,000 living in Palestine. [for a world Jewish population total of 16+ million to 19+ million]." A natural question would seem, If it required three millennia for the world Jewish population to reach 15+ million in 1939 and if then this number is diminished five to seven million (to a total of some 10 million) by the Holocaust, how might the Jewish world population have expanded to 16+ to 19+ million over a ten year span that included the Holocaust years? If one accepts the premise that 5 to 7 million were lost in the Holocaust, then one accepts that although it took some three thousand years for the world Jewish population to reach 15,688,259, the world Jewish population nearly doubled in less than ten years from 1939 to 1948.

Then there is the matter of a duplicate claim of 6 million for WWI. (http://www.iamthewitness.com/Crucifixion-of-Jews.html) which does not seem to enhance the credibility of the WWII six million.

It would appear this is a legitimate area of inquiry, and scholars doing so do not deserve to be tarred as racists, haters, “deniers”, anti-Semites, Nazis, and the like as is too often the case.

Please let us all acknowledge here that all non-combatant deaths during war time are tragic.

Robert P Kelso Sr
Professor (Retired)