Fear of a Gray Planet

March 10, 2015

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Fear of a Gray Planet

Seminal historian Professor Raul Hilberg chose a Maya Angelou PBS tai chi summit about rape and evil to make a shocking claim about Hitler.

Do you know how giddy I was to write that? I was giddy because I know I’m the first person in the history of the world to string those words together as a sentence. When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to see if we could come up with a legible sentence that no human before us had ever uttered. To this day, I still recall winning that competition by saying, “Look out, here comes Edward James Olmos on a unicycle, and he’s brought the woodpeckers.”

As much as that line still makes me laugh, it was pure fiction. But the Hilberg sentence is real. Yes, Raul Hilberg, the father of Holocaust history, chose a 1988 PBS documentary in which Maya Angelou uses tai chi to overcome rape and evil to make a declaration so startling that PBS edited it out of the broadcast. And, in fact, he may have implicated himself as a perjurer.

How do I even start eating this overstuffed monte cristo of craziness?

“I’m asking my question rhetorically, because I know the answer. It’s the ‘fear of the gray area.’”

“Facing Evil with Maya Angelou” was a PBS special hosted by LBJ dirty-trickmeister-turned-lovable-homespun-Gomer Bill Moyers. The concept of the show was simple: Angelou would explore issues of evil, including lynchings, the Holocaust, and her own rape as a child, and then make everyone feel better with tai chi and “happy dancing.”

Did I say simple? I meant insane.

For some reason (and I don’t know why) Hilberg decided to begin his talk with a startling anecdote. And PBS censored that anecdote (and I totally know why). Some years ago, I found the original audiotape of Hilberg’s speech. The full PBS special is online; you can see it here. Hilberg makes his appearance at the 50:52 mark; his speech begins at 53:36.

This is the opening part of Hilberg’s speech. On the audio clip, I’ve let it run so that it bleeds over into where PBS chose to begin the remarks.

For those of you too lazy to click on the clip, here’s a transcript of the censored portion:

In 1976, I went to a small town in Bavaria, Ludwigsburg, which has the headquarters for investigations of so-called National Socialist crimes, an office maintained by the provinces of the Federal Republic of Germany. About thirty prosecutors were housed in that particular building, and I went there to study court records, various affidavits, and other materials. But one afternoon, they said, “We’re having a party today, would you join us?” Why, yes. They said, “we have one bottle of wine for each person.” (laughter from the audience). And after a while I chanced to talk to the deputy chief of that office, and I said to him this: I’ve been troubled by one question. And I’m afraid that I went into print with something that isn’t entirely accurate. And that is the role of Adolf Hitler himself in the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe. Now, I know that you are only concerned here with live individuals, and that you do not investigate the dead.

But still … what do you think?

“Ach,” he said, “we’ve often fantasized about drawing up an indictment against Adolf Hitler himself. And to put into that indictment the major charge: the Final Solution of the Jewish question in Europe, the physical annihilation of Jewry. And then it dawned upon us, what would we do? We didn’t have the evidence.”

And he laughed.

This is not insignificant. Here’s Hilberg, in 1988, speaking of a conversation he had with German war crimes prosecutors in 1976. In-between ’76 and ’88, Hilberg testified against Canadian Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, who was on trial under Canada’s “false news” law. Let’s be clear—Hilberg was helping the Canadian government put Zundel in prison simply for publishing a pamphlet. And on the stand, Hilberg steadfastly maintained that there was at least one, maybe two, direct orders from Hitler to initiate the “Final Solution.”