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
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 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.