Scholar: Holocaust survivor memoir is “exaggerated” & “implausible”
January 26, 2010 · Print This ArticleBy Carolyn Yeager
Joachim Neander, PhD, an independent scholar from Cracow, Poland, examines Irene Weisberg Zisblatt’s Holocaust survivor memoir and concludes that it is “not in accordance with the historically established facts,” “exaggerated,” “implausible” and not true overall. Neander has contributed to publications in Poland, Germany, Israel and the USA. In 2001-02, he had a Charles H. Revson Foundation Fellowship for Archival Research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
His January 9th article, Irene Zisblatt, the “Diamond Girl”- Fact or Fiction? can be read here.
Dr. Neander asks in the title of his critical review of Irene Zisblatt’s autobiography The Fifth Diamond, which purports to be a Holocaust survivor ‘true story,’ or memoir, whether it is fact or fiction. He comes to the only conclusion possible for a man who wishes to maintain his reputation as a scholar—that it is mostly fiction.
However, probably for the reason that he seems to have been assigned this project by some well-known Holocaust defenders (Kenneth Waltzer, Chairman of the Jewish Studies Dept. at the University of Michigan, who provided him with the Seigelstein documents, for one) and he is a Holocaust defender himself, he has tried to soften the blow wherever he thinks he can, going out of his way to find some positive things to say about “Mrs. Zisblatt” and her narrative. These positives are mainly in the realm of having a forgiving spirit and a sympathetic attitude toward an “elderly lady” who has suffered in her life. But Neander rightly decides that truth must be upheld, it being more important that not hurting someone’s feelings.
On the whole, Neander does an excellent job of dissecting Zisblatt’s claims in The Fifth Diamond, but his forgiving spirit causes him to overlook some of her more atrocious lies, and her attacks on the German character, by attributing them solely to her repeating “Holocaust stereotypes and myths.” In my opinion, she exhibits a special intent to blacken the German nation and magnify the alleged hatred of the “Nazi” for the Jew, when she includes long dismissed war atrocity propaganda, such as Nazi soldiers tearing Jewish babies in half and throwing them in a river; SS men picking up Jewish children by the legs and banging their heads against a truck; hauling children to a burning pit; using the skin of Jewish women like herself to make lampshades and gloves; undergoing meaningless but very painful “experiments” by Dr. Mengele, of whom she made the statement, “Yes, that kind of hatred existed in the Twentieth Century in Nazi Germany.” The hateful attitude of Germans vs. the innocence of all Jewish victims is her theme. All SS are cruel monsters and so are even non-German Gentiles; she doesn’t distinguish between them—they have all become Nazis.
Since Neander basically agrees with my own dissection of Zisblatt’s book, I will here just point out the things he has smoothed over, in some cases by “setting it aside,” in order to “soften the blow” to Zisblatt, the Holocaust Industry, and all who are involved or have an interest in the Zisblatt saga.
Smoothing over inconvenient facts/implications
In the first paragraph, Neander writes that she “had her first name changed to Irene” when she obtained a visa in 1947 for emigration to New York. That can be understood either as ‘someone else changed her first name’ or ‘she herself had it changed’—leaving the interpretation up to the reader. In fact, she claims in her book (but not in her testimony) that her name was Chana (by which she called herself up to that point), and this name was changed, much to her surprise, by an immigration official because he (or someone) thought the “American” name of Irene would be better for her. Taking such prerogatives is and was simply not done by immigration officials, and adds to the farcical quality of the book.
Neander asks in the 7th paragraph, pointing out why some will believe he should not criticize Zisblatt: “Are there not the Holocaust deniers, who already have attacked Mrs. Zisblatt on the Web and even at court? […] a handful of cranks.” But Dr. Neander, isn’t it just these “cranks” that have brought the fictions of Zisblatt to your attention; that have stood up for the truth, in spite of being called names for it? Would you have written this article were it not for we “cranks?” The reason Neander gives for telling the truth about dishonest holocaust survivors is not a regard for truth itself, but is because students who today are gullible enough to believe it, might, when they grow up, “reach for a scholarly book” and, discovering they were lied to, reject the entire Holocaust story. Ironically, that is exactly what happened with Eric Hunt. He was forced to read Elie Wiesel’s Night in high school; he believed it was true and was distressed by it, but learning later that it was a fiction, he is now a well-known “holocaust denier.” So people like Neander are cognizant that extreme liars like Zisblatt must be rejected. (He will need to take on Wiesel next.)
Neander only gives a couple of instances of Zisblatt’s Shoah testimony that differ from her book, whereas in reality there are many, as I have documented in “A Special Jewel in the Genre of Holocaust Horror Stories,” posted here at Inconvenient History Blog. This alone proves that one or the other is fiction—as it turns out, both are.
Neander says that Zisblatt is very lax in putting dates to the events she describes, but “this is common in survivor memoirs, and it alone does not speak against her.” Yes, it does, Dr. Neander. Just because it is common among dishonest survivors doesn’t excuse it. In Zisblatt’s case, her bigger problem is that the dates she does give, or attempts to give, are wrong.
Neander goes on to say that, in spite of her failure to provide dates, “We can fix her arrival at Birkenau between May 16 and 26, 1945, when the deportation transports from Munkács arrived there.” Now he is ignoring that Zisblatt says in both her Shoah testimony and book that her family was transported to Munkács (a two hour train ride) two days after Passover, which was April 8 in 1944. She says they spent no more than a week in the Munkács Sajovits ghetto (which corresponds with other witnesses) before being transported to Auschwitz (a 3 day trip, though she says 5 days). This puts her stated arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau on April 20 or 22, a full month ahead of the officially stated arrival of Jews from Munkács. This is one of Neander’s “smooth-overs” or an oversight on his part.
Neander contributes two items of important factual information that highlight the seriousness of Zisblatt’s lies. One is the fact that the number 61397, which she claims was the Auschwitz prisoner number tattooed on her arm (or under it) that she “could never forget,” could not have been her number. According to records, it belonged in 1943 to a non-Jewish Polish female political prisoner, and numbers were never given twice after 1942. This puts a big blot on Zisblatt’s AND the Shoah Foundation’s credibility. The other is the two file cards from the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, supplied to him by Kenneth Waltzer, referring to a single page from an Auschwitz list of prisoners, the original of which can be found in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum under file nr. D-HygInst/7/No.inw.106156 Segr.50 str.285, according to Neander. There her name is spelled as “Zegelstein, Irén.” The Auschwitz list contains over 770 names of Jewish Hungarian women from Block 8 of camp sector BIIc (Lager C in Zisblatt’s terminology). This is the transit section of the camp. The list is dated September 28, 1944. It has no prisoner numbers because the women from BIIc, the “transit Jews,” were not registered and, therefore, did not have Auschwitz prisoner numbers. The List is a part of documents from the SS Hygiene Institute Auschwitz showing that the women were screened by stool samples, found to be free of typhus and other diseases, and could be transferred into the Reich’s interior for labor. This is an important addition to what we know about Irene Zegelstein of Poleno, and confirms that Zisblatt has concocted a story different from what is the real story of this person.
Neander twice uses the phrase, “There can be no doubt …” about something that can clearly be doubted. The first is: “There can be no doubt that a multitude of unethical, cruel, and even outright criminal medical experiments were performed by SS doctors (and paramedics) in the concentration camps.” A multitude? There is little clear evidence for this, and certainly not for a “multitude.” And even as he says this, he dismisses the experiments that Zisblatt describes as “urban legends” or “pure fantasy.” Neander restricts his own speculation about Dr. Mengele to saying he was the “camp physician at Birkenau” and saw himself as a “scientist.”
A similar self-serving statement: “There can be no doubt that most of the crimes and atrocities reported in The Fifth Diamond did happen sometime, at Auschwitz or another site of the Final Solution.” Here Dr. Neander is contradicting himself. In his own words, he characterized “most of the crimes and atrocities” reported by Zisblatt as simply legends and rumors; as never happening — anywhere. His scholarly credentials are being strongly tested when he uses the phrase “there can be no doubt.”
Says diamonds central to book marketing
Neander writes that “it is inconceivable that Chana for months has been able to relieve herself undisturbed in some corner of the latrine and to retrieve her diamonds unnoticed. As the diamond episode is central in the marketing of Mrs. Zisblatt’s book—and also in her contribution to the documentary The Last Days with the sub-title Everything you are about to see is true — Holocaust deniers hook up particularly on this part of her story.” How right he is. Congenital liars like Zisblatt and the producers of, and other survivors featured in, The Last Days do indeed make it easy for holocaust revisionists and doubters.
But Neander then makes the foolish argument or comment that “On the other hand, according to her story, Chana obviously did not have health problems with ingesting feces, as the Stehzelle episode shows. During the five days in this dungeon, the girls relieve themselves into the ankle-deep water in which they stand and drink the same water repeatedly, without becoming sick.” Is this supposed to make an impression on a few of the more gullible that the diamond-swallowing story could be true, since Chana allegedly could ingest feces without getting sick?!
Neander himself wrote about the “eye-color experiment” earlier, saying “It is also hardly believable that after the experiment the girls were confined to Stehzelle (standing cell) arrest, and that they survived there five days without food and drink. […] What is more, in the known history of Auschwitz we never hear about standing cells filled ‘with water up to [the prisoners'] ankles’.” Cells would not be full of water in any event, because that would mean the guards would sometimes have to walk in that filthy water themselves. It totally contradicts all the efforts made in the camps to prevent disease and epidemics.
The version of the eye-experiment story in which the fifteen women were put into a small cubicle that was divided into little sections, designed so that they could walk into or touch the person in the section on either side only, was in Zisblatt’s Shoah testimony. In her book, the five girls are standing very close together in one small cell located below the Birkenau infirmary. If this is her idea of what “standing cells” were (after reading the literature about them), she has botched it up as she does everything else. The four Stehzellen alleged to be in the basement of Block 11 at Auschwitz (for which there is no definitive evidence beside witness testimony that they ever existed ; what is shown to visitors today are all reconstructions) were in the main camp, not in Birkenau. These reconstructions have a tiny door that would make it extremely difficult for each person to enter and be brought out again. According to official historiography, the alleged standing cells were torn down by order of Arthur Liebehenschel, the new camp commandant on December 1, 1943.  Assuming that this is so, they could not have existed when “Chana” and “Sabka” were being “experimented” on.
Above is a partially-built reconstruction of a “standing cell” that is shown to visitors in the basement of Block 11 at Auschwitz. These cells are approximately 3 feet square and must be crawled into through the tiny door, as shown in this 1998 photo. (credit: scrapbookpages.com)Gas Chamber story most implausible of all
As unbelievable as being able to relieve herself in the corner of the latrine is to Neander, he calls her account of her trip to the gas chamber and subsequent escape “the most implausible episode in Mrs. Zisblatt’s story.” In saying this, he is admitting that she never went to the gas chamber at all. This is a very serious charge, coming from someone who wants to keep her viable by “reconstructing” her story. To tell thousands of young, impressionable teenagers — in their school setting where they are conditioned to believe what they are told — that she experienced being sent naked to a gas chamber to be murdered by the cruelest people on earth, the Germans, when she experienced nothing of the sort — well, what do you call a person like that? What do you call those who support her and facilitate her story, even when they know or suspect she is not telling the truth, such as Steven Spielberg and the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation?
The fantastic account of American “Liberator” General George S. Patton meeting with Chana is one of the incidents that Neander decides to “set aside” on the grounds that “it is difficult to prove or disprove.” Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible to discover that Patton was never in the Volary or Pilsen area when Zisblatt claims she was there.
Neander notes that “Since the only fellow prisoner whose name she remembers, Sabka, died at the very end of the war, it is also nearly impossible to cross-check her memoir.” He should add that by the time she revealed her holocaust experience, 50 years after the fact, everyone involved was dead! This includes the relatives she came to live with in America, and the man she married in 1956 when she was going by the name of Stein, who died in 1969—who was left to refute what she said?
The only other characters she gave a name to were Dr. Mengele and “Bob,” the Jewish soldier who “liberated” her. If he were really the friend to her that she claims, he would have given her his last name and probably an address to “keep in touch” after the war, and she would not have forgotten it. This by itself shows Zisblatt’s entire story to be as phony as a three-dollar bill, to use a trite but effective phrase.
In another effort at rehabilitation, Neander writes: “It is well possible that she personally believes what she tells, that her story is her ‘subjective truth’.” But in all honesty, it is NOT possible that she believes it. She has given two completely different versions of her holocaust experience; she would have to be insane, mentally retarded or a congenital liar to believe both of them, even “subjectively.” Therefore she has to be seen as an egotist and a business woman (not a very good one) who is marketing herself and has come to believe that she can get away with anything, since so far she has. It could also be that her loyalty to Israel and “the Tribe” is another motivation, one which gives her a sense of safety and belonging.
Can Irene Seigelstein be reconstructed?
In keeping with his attempt at salvation, Neander offers a “reconstructed narrative” that fits the documents that are available, without inquiring into the matter with “Mrs. Zisblatt.” He then concludes that Irene Weisberg Zisblatt is not only a survivor of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, but that she has an interesting and instructive story to tell, however one that differs from her Shoah Testimony and her autobiography. His “reconstruction” is the story she should now tell.
But what about her book that is in all those school and town libraries? What about those thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of innocent school kids she has lectured to and brought to tears with her “incredible” life story? Above all, what about her Survivors of the Shoah testimony archived at the University of Southern California, and the academy award-winning documentary The Last Days? How does she take all that back?
Dr. Neander, it is not that easy. It’s one thing to dissect and show the falseness of a narrative that, in your words, is made up of implausibilities and ubiquitous legends. It’s quite another to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. What we have now are a lot of broken pieces shattered on the ground; they will not come together again in any form that is convincing. I’m afraid Mrs Zisblatt’s goose is cooked.
 For example, the only source used for the existence of Stehzelle on the Wikipedia Auschwitz page is Polish priest Maximillian Kolbe’s account of his persecution, for which he was canonized by Polish Pope John Paul II in 1982. See www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Kolbe.html
 This is reported in many books, among them Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, edited by Gutman and Birenbaum, published 1998 in association with the USHMM. In it, Danuta Czech writes: “Liebehenschel also had the standing bunker torn down” (p. 378). The alleged standing cells at Dachau concentration camp are also said to have been removed by the American Army in 1945, after liberation. But why would they do that? At his trial before an American Military Tribunal in Dachau, former Commandant Martin Weiss testified in December 1945 that he had no knowledge of the standing cells, claiming he first heard about them during his trial.Related
Click on the links below to read Carolyn’s longer, 5-part article “‘The Fifth Diamond’: A Special Jewel in the Genre of Holocaust Horror Stories”
Source: Inconvenient History.