You Tell Me

by Marc Moran

When I was a child I remember my father reading a story to me about Custer's Last Stand. The story, as I remember it, referred to the Battle of the Little Big Horn as a tragic defeat of the United States Cavalry at the hands of a numerically superior force made up of warriors from several tribes including the Sioux led by Crazy Horse. Aside from a single soldier who was sent to the rear at the first signs of a battle, there were no survivors. This battle was a loss for the armed forces, but it led to a change in policy that brought about the eventual defeat of the Indian nations at the hands of the government of the United States of America.

Years later the story changed. Historians and activists revisited the engagement in the light of twentieth century standards and determined that instead of a hero, General George Armstrong Custer was nothing less than a genocidal megalomaniac whose arrogant overestimation of his forces coupled with his failure to properly assess his enemy's capabilities led to the 7th Cavalry's defeat at the hands of his noble foe.

As an avid reader of historical texts I devoured these revisionist histories with relish. After all I had been collecting Indian artifacts for most of my life and I always felt a sense of spiritual kinship with the dispossessed Indian. Why should I remain fixed on a story that had obviously been told to advance an agenda of an expansionist America? Wasn't it possible, in light of archaeological and historic discoveries, that the original story had been skewed to paint Custer in a different light than he deserved?

Of course it was. That is history, after all. History, unlike chemistry, is not a hard science. It is based in large part on the recollections of those involved as well as those who were peripheral to the event or events studied. If someone is involved in a car accident, for example, the police report will reflect the testimonies of those involved, those who witnessed it as well as the observations of the scene after the fact, as detailed by the investigators who respond to the call. Should the incident require an appearance in court, a judge will review the disparate testimonies and various documents that have been entered into the record. At some point a determination will be made that will forever after be considered the official version of the incident, until such time as new evidence surfaces that might affect the judgment. The question that should be asked is this: Is the final determination of that particular incident 100% accurate? Has every detail been accurately and truthfully submitted? Is it possible that something critical or incidental has been overlooked? Does it serve us better to accept the final determination and close the book forever to discussion or investigation, or should we always seek to better understand the causes and the effects of any historic event in an effort to either prevent or encourage such events in the future?

The answer is as clear as a bell.

Like most Americans born in the shadow of the Second World War, I accepted every word I heard as gospel. My own family was wounded terribly in that conflict. My Grandmother's only brother, Irvin, the first child in the family to graduate from college, was dead and buried in North Africa less than a month after he entered the war. My Uncle Chet reported for duty in the Pacific and promptly disappeared for four years, leaving his young wife to cope without the knowledge that he was, in fact, alive and well. His return sent her into a mental institution as she had considered him long dead at the hands of the Japanese. My mother's favorite uncle, Buddy, lost his leg on Anzio beach on his eighteenth birthday. I can only imagine what he must have endured, lying bloody and wounded on a foreign beach, wondering if he would live to see nineteen.

No one ever questioned these men about their experiences. Nor do I recall them ever discussing the war in anything but general terms. War was war and it was not the stuff of casual conversation. They knew what men were capable of and they knew better than to trouble those who hadn't fought with the awful truth. There were reporters and historians whose sole purpose was to give voice to the events of that time. There were photographs and films that depicted the horrors of Normandy and Iwo Jima and anyone who was curious could damn well do the research on their own.

And so I researched. I read at great length Montgomery's account of the battles of North Africa. I also read Rommel. Between the two I was able to piece together the story of victory and defeat and place my great uncle in midst of that campaign. Many years later I was able to visit his grave in Tunis when I was a young soldier myself, a place that his mother and his sisters never got to see.

Slowly, inexorably, I began to understand the causes behind the single greatest conflict in the history of mankind. I understood almost everything with one exception.

I was eight when we went to the shoe store for my brand new school shoes. It was a warm day, I still remember. The store was in one of the first strip malls in the country, smack between a Grant's department store and a Sherwin Williams Paint store.

The man who waited on my mother and I was a short, burly guy with a balding head. He spoke with a thick European accent that even today I would be unable to identify. He brought out a metal device for measuring feet and he was more than happy to bring out several different pairs of shoes for me to try on. I remember picking out a pair of PF Flyers that came with a decoder ring. I also remember looking down on that man as he slipped the shoes on my feet and noticing a set of numbers tattooed into his hairy forearm.

"What do those numbers mean?" I asked innocently.

My mother turned white and her eyes widened in horror. The man looked up at me and then looked at my mother. She tried to say something to reprimand me, but stammered and choked.

"It's okay, " he said. "The boy should know."

The two of them stared at each other as if they were engaged in a conversation, yet neither one said a word.

I looked at my mother and then at the man crouched at my feet. My mother said nothing, nodding slightly.

The man looked right into my eyes and smiled. "Some bad men did this to me." He said.

I stared back, not understanding what he meant.

"I am not from this country." He went on. "I am from Poland."

My mother, I knew, was Polish. I had heard it mentioned without having a clue as to what it meant. She may as well have told me she was a sentient being. I was an American and my understanding of heritage was limited to corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day in honor of my Grandfather. This man was the first "foreigner" I can recall having met.

"I was a boy when the Nazis came," he said. I knew what Nazis were and I knew that they were bad, but I had no idea why.

"They came and took us away," he continued. "They took away my father and then they took my mother and my brothers and me."

I was dumbstruck. I felt as if I was in a conversation I had no business hearing. I couldn't take my eyes off that man and his tattoos.

"The Nazis gave me this." He said rubbing his forearm with his thick fingers. He did not look upset, but he was serious.

"I never saw my mother or father again," he told me. I looked over at my mother, panic in my eyes.

The conversation ended there and as we paid him at the cash register I remember looking at him and asking one more question.

"What about your brothers?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know."

No matter what I read, nothing will ever erase that memory from my mind. It was a first-person testimony to the Holocaust, or Shoah, as the Jews refer to it.

No one went around tattooing themselves with numbers and telling stories about missing mothers and vanished brothers for his own amusement. That man went through something too awful to imagine and at an age when he should have been playing and going to school. I saw the tattoos and I heard the sincerity in his voice and if I were forced to swear to it in a court of law I would.

I believed him then and I still do.

I am, however, on the horns of a dilemma.

Several years ago I came across some material that called into question that which, according to some, should never be questioned. I read an article that suggested that the Nazis did not gas the Jews in specially constructed gas chambers. The article presented evidence, some of it quite compelling, that showed the buildings identified as gas chambers as something other than that. The evidence included studies of the chemical composition of the soil, mathematic extrapolations on the numbers of humans alleged to have been executed in those chambers and the time it would have taken to accomplish what the authorities claimed to have happened.

I saw photographs of two plaques, one of them citing the mass murder of four million Jews in the gas chambers and one which cited two and one half million Jews respectively. I have seen photographs showing smoke rising thick from smokestacks at a concentration camp and I have also seen the original that shows no such smoke. The first one, even upon cursory examination, is obviously doctored.

As I continued to research these claims I became aware of other sidereal issues, none of them known to the general public, yet all of them connected to the Holocaust in one way or another. I discovered that in some countries in Europe if someone mentions what I have already written in this essay, he would face stiff fines and imprisonment. Not for contributing to the extermination of human beings, but for asking questions about it. I have found that if someone makes a comment asking why the figure six million is cited in light of the fact that the number of dead at Auschwitz has been lowered from four to two and one half million, that the inquirer would find himself behind bars if he lived in the wrong country. I further learned that the officers of the government that we defeated in Germany at the end of the war were tortured to obtain their confessions. I have no way of determining if their confessions were genuine or not -- they may have been, but I know as an American and as a former soldier that torture is abhorrent and that any confession obtained by such means carries no weight in a civilized court. I have discovered that as bad as six million dead Jews might seem, twenty million dead Gentiles is no less a crime against humanity, yet no one mentions the untold destruction of the Bolsheviks and the Communists in Eastern Europe during the same time frame and the fact that Jews seem to have committed an inordinately large part of that particular genocide. I remember reading that the Katyn Forest Massacre was an atrocity committed by the Nazis. It has since been proven to be a crime committed by those who opposed them and yet I have never seen a retraction outside of some revisionist texts. It appears as if the only stories worth investigating are those that confirm the official version of events and anything that contradicts it is deemed irrelevant or hateful.

What troubles me the most, however, is not what takes place in another country. It is what takes place within our own borders.

I am an American. I have served my country faithfully. I vote regularly and I observe the laws of the land whether I agree with them or not. I believe that knowledge is power and I have watched as certain segments of our society have attempted to restrict our First Amendment Right to freedom of speech. I have watched as they have hijacked certain phrases and terms and twisted them into something unrecognizable in an effort to conform public opinion into something that serves some, but not all.

In the same way that historians and researchers have redefined the Battle of the Little Big Horn, there are today those who are interested in exploring and redefining what transpired during the era of the Second World War. There are serious, sincere people who are less than certain that an entire nation suddenly turned, overnight, into ravening murderers and genocidal psychopaths. There are questions that need to be asked about causes and effects and there are answers that have yet to be provided. Perhaps what we did to bring down the Third Reich was entirely justified, in so much as Custer was justified in his actions once upon a time. Perhaps we were not. One day we may come to understand what led to the horror of the mid twentieth century in a way that takes into account all the evidence instead of that which is approved and encouraged by those who control the debate. The United States of America is the last, best hope for mankind. Of this I am certain. We cannot, however, continue to avoid the unpleasant task of examining our history and accepting the responsibility for our actions in the clear light of reason.

Did the Holocaust occur? Of course it did. Did it happen exactly the way we have been told and for the reasons we have been given? That, I do not know. Should I be imprisoned for asking these questions? You tell me.


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