“This was not Holocaust education but miseducation,”
June 25, 2016 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Man Who Claimed to Have Escaped Auschwitz Admits He Lied for Years [The Guardian] Joseph Hirt said he fabricated story of being sent to camp and meeting Nazi doctor Josef Mengele to ‘keep memories alive’ about history of the Holocaust.
A Pennsylvania man who claimed for years to have escaped from Auschwitz, met track and field star Jesse Owens and Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, confessed on Friday that he had fabricated the entire story. “I am writing today to apologize publicly for harm caused to anyone because of my inserting myself into the descriptions of life in Auschwitz,” Joseph Hirt, 86, wrote in a letter sent to his local paper, LNP, this week. “I was not a prisoner there. I did not intend to lessen or overshadow the events which truly happened there by falsely claiming to have been personally involved.”
- Adamstown Man Called 'Holocaust Impostor and Historical Fraud' Over Auschwitz Claims [Lancaster Online]
A history teacher is calling an Adamstown man who says he escaped from Auschwitz a “Holocaust impostor and historical fraud.” Andrew Reid and some of his students attended a presentation in Lowville, N.Y., in April where Joseph B. Hirt, 86, shared his story about being a Holocaust survivor. Hirt spoke of being captured by Nazis and being imprisoned in Auschwitz for eight months before escaping in 1942. But as Reid listened to Hirt's story, he said he noticed a few red flags. A studied historian, Reid, who grew up in Lancaster County, later conducted extensive research on Hirt's claims. Many of the claims — that Hirt was a prisoner at Auschwitz, that the identification number tattooed on his arm was his prison ID, that he met Auschwitz officer and physician Josef Mengele and Olympic athlete Jesse Owens — do not line up with history, according to Reid's research.
posted by Fizz (34 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm surprised it took this long for Mr. Hirt to be caught within his lie.
posted by Fizz at 7:31 AM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


...and now the Holocaust deniers will be all over this. "See, this is proof that it's all a sham!"

Thanks, asshole.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2016 [55 favorites]


I was kind of torn when I read that the person who figured this out went public with it and asked him to apologize. I mean, on the one hand, his lying does see to dishonour all those people who really were held in concentration camps. On the other hand, this will fuel the holocaust deniers who will surely take great glee in thanking each other for the congratulations on being right.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


“I determined at that moment to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of the truth about wartime life (and death) at Auschwitz.”

He had to lie to preserve the truth? Why do these fabricators always try to cloak their self-aggrandizement in a "noble" disguise? "I wanted the attention" is a far more likely motive. "That's why I distorted the historical record and added some extra deceit and confusion."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2016 [29 favorites]


Hirt said that he realized “it wasn’t about me”, and that he was motivated to lie by his fears that the history and horror of the camps would be forgotten.

Why not make up a story that happened in one of the many Holocaust sites that have in fact been forgotten, then?
posted by thelonius at 7:45 AM on June 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


I was hesitant to post this even, I know that stories like this are fodder for denialists. But, better to shame this individual and expose him for the fraud that he is. The truth should be recognized. A horrible injustice to the survivors that did experience these horrors.
posted by Fizz at 7:46 AM on June 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Jesse Owens story should have sent up the bullshit flags.

A lot of prisoners from many services and civilian victims did not want to talk about this stuff.
I'm glad he re-canted.
posted by clavdivs at 7:52 AM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


One reason that this is significant betrayal is that, like "recovered memories," it has the potential to overwrite real memories, to replace the truth that this fraud was so eager to "defend" with misinformation and inaccuracy. It's not as bad as denialism, but it's still a blow to a historical event that people are eager to erase.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


aw jeez. I can't imagine how actual holocaust survivors feel about this. Clearly a pathological problem with the guy somewhere in the noggin so I can't really hate on the liar, but damn has he done some damage to the hearts of the actual holocaust victims and for that matter jews everywhere.

He's earned a well deserved "Christ, what an asshole!"
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:58 AM on June 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Hirt said that he realized “it wasn’t about me”, and that he was motivated to lie by his fears that the history and horror of the camps would be forgotten.

Fortunately other people are on it:
The virtual Holocaust survivor: how history gained new dimensions. Pinchas Gutter survived a Nazi death camp – and now his story will live on through a hologram that can answer your questions. [THE GUARDIAN]
posted by mazola at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's already on denialist sites, but honestly... it's not like they need any "real" evidence. Anyone who buys into that shit and cannot be swayed by the existing historical record is too far gone. This fabrication happened. It's done. Brushing it under the rug instead of calling it out only creates more fodder for the assholes.
posted by Behemoth at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


An odd story, for sure. Now if the man went to schools etc and told about the camps, and this was fiction, did this differ from a novel that constructs a fictional account of the camps? But so moves those reading or listening that they reach a new understanding of the event?
---That said, here is a true 1936 Olympics story.
---Some years ago my wife and i went to a small outdoor party given by a woman who had gone to school with my wife. The party was a small birthday gathering for the girl's mother. The mother, I discovered, had been a female shot putter, for the Germans, at the 1936 Olympics, the Jesse Owens games.
---The woman told me that she had come from an aristocratic background, had had lots of land and wealth, but lost it all when Germany lost the war (WWII).
---I had worked on programs in college on the Holocaust, and so responded: "I am sorry for your loss but there are many who lost much more than you."
posted by Postroad at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't go so far as to say that fiction can't relate a type of truth that can be vital to contextualizing and understanding a terrible event (see the Schindler's List thread at /r/Ask Historians) but, yeah, self-insert Holocaust fiction masquerading as historical testimony goes about 1,000 steps too far.

(For a compelling perspective on the historically fraught and tense relationship between testimony, memoir, fiction, and the truth of the Holocaust, see Ruth Franklin's A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction. Also, The Atlantic.)
posted by xyzzy at 8:31 AM on June 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


The bartender asks 'why so glum'? He makes something up, because he doesn't want to talk about it. He gets a free drink and some sympathy. It starts there. I wonder what it was he didn't want to talk about?
posted by adept256 at 8:31 AM on June 25, 2016


I wonder what it was he didn't want to talk about?
His probable personality disorder and his desire to subsume the suffering of others for personal gain?
posted by sockermom at 8:35 AM on June 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


Maybe he comes clean, we forgive, and get on with never forgetting.
posted by petebest at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


The true stories are already disappearing. I had a math professor in college named Carl Cohen. He was a really sharp guy - had multiple PHDs, was fluent in a bunch of languages. He was also a camp survivor. Showed us his tattoo, and told us what it was. I didn't find out until i read his obituary years later that while in the camp, he somehow managed to get bomb-targeting information out to the Allies. There was a lot of other remarkable stuff in that obit that I don't remember clearly enough to put here.

I cannot find any information on the Web about that Carl Cohen. Not even the Boston Globe obituary.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


I cannot find any information on the Web about that Carl Cohen. Not even the Boston Globe obituary.

Is this his story? There's a picture, which should make the identification easy.
posted by jedicus at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


The true stories are already disappearing.

Slight derail: on the subject of stories that are disappearing. Please check out StoryCorps and The Human Library. The story-telling experience is a very important one. Talk to the elders that are in your life and community. So much history and knowledge just waiting to be shared.
posted by Fizz at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


He's not the only one. In 2005 it came to light that Enric Marco hadn't really been interned in Flossenbürg as he claimed, and by then he was president of the association of Spanish survivors of concentration camps (Asociación Amical de Mauthausen y otros campos).
posted by sukeban at 9:27 AM on June 25, 2016


I guess this is what people did before they could pretend to be sick on the internet?
posted by rmd1023 at 9:29 AM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


...and now the Holocaust deniers will be all over this. "See, this is proof that it's all a sham!"

Which is a bit ironic, considering that part of the reason he was revealed as a fraud is his absence from the list of prisoners at Auschwitz, written by the actual Nazis running the camps.
posted by ymgve at 9:53 AM on June 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Better he's caught out like this than by Holocaust deniers (though I guess you'd have to accept, or at least use, historical records of the Holocaust in order to prove he was lying).
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


The deniers really don't need any assistance and pointing out this guy was a liar would probably require pointing out the existence of Nazi records which help corroborate the scale of the Holocaust. Most of the deniers are going to stay away from that and keep with their what do you mean there was crematoriums show us the evidence those were just used as a bakery or something like that.
posted by vuron at 12:51 PM on June 25, 2016


...and now the Holocaust deniers will be all over this. "See, this is proof that it's all a sham!"

It shouldn't be any proof at all, but it could get some traction. This is the reason that it's helpful to talk about logical fallacies in culture and academia more broadly and in response to certain public statements, even though it can seem overly pedantic. I'm going to risk doing so here for the better good of the universe and to provide some talking points in my own head in case I hear this response.

In this case, one doesn't logically follow from the other at all. I can lie about having been in the NFL, I can lie about having attended a school, I can lie about having gone to prison. I think you can see where this goes. It is the prime example of a faulty generalization to suggest that a lie has anything to do with the existence of the thing being lied about, especially when there is a lot of other evidence to the contrary. To support this position, this would necessarily have to follow: "If the Holocaust happened, nobody could have lied about it." That's pretty face-value goofy, but frames it in such a way that it is obvious.

If we use more formal logic:
If we received testimony that is true about being a prisoner in the Holocaust, the Holocaust happened.
We received testimony that is not true about being a prisoner in the Holocaust.
Therefore, the Holocaust didn't happen.
Symbolically,
T --> H
~T
~H
This is obviously not a valid argument, because of denying the antecedent.

A more obvious example:
If I go outside, my feet will get dirty.
I did not go outside.
Therefore my feet are not dirty.
My feet could have gotten dirty apart from going outside! The Holocaust could have happened apart from the false testimony of one person!

And with that, I feel a little better now.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


An odd story, for sure. Now if the man went to schools etc and told about the camps, and this was fiction, did this differ from a novel that constructs a fictional account of the camps?

On the small chance that you are actually asking this question, it's the difference between telling a lie and writing a novel.
posted by layceepee at 1:57 PM on June 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Nothing can excuse this guy, but I wonder: if the real Holocaust survivors were to step forward and mount the stage, push him aside and say what actually happened to them and what they saw, how many of us would be able to sit there in the audience and take it?

I'm not sure I could.
posted by jamjam at 4:16 PM on June 25, 2016


Flashes me back to my elderly Russian piano teacher telling me her own, very gripping, Holocaust story. Years later, I looked for her online only to find an article about her sister, who had written a book about her own Holocaust story. It was identical to the one I had heard from my teacher. In the article, the sister's son said that his aunt, my teacher, was estranged from her sister and that he didn't understand why she wouldn't talk about those days.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:37 PM on June 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is this his story?

Yes, it is. Thank you for finding it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:02 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nothing can excuse this guy, but I wonder: if the real Holocaust survivors were to step forward and mount the stage, push him aside and say what actually happened to them and what they saw, how many of us would be able to sit there in the audience and take it?

Real Holocaust survivors have spoken in public about their experience. Repeatedly. Many have written about it, at length, eloquently and movingly. They shouldn't need to push aside some liar for the rest of us to listen to them. There are recordings of speeches and presentations they've given. If you want to see whether you'd be able to "sit there and take it", why not listen to one of the recordings of an actual person's actual experience instead of theorizing about what would happen if the survivors pushed past a liar to speak?
posted by Lexica at 7:45 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Real Holocaust survivors have spoken in public about their experience. Repeatedly. Many have written about it, at length, eloquently and movingly.

There are a tiny handful of survivors and a number of their children among my wider circle of friends.

I would say that survivors who speak to the general public more often than not choose to spare the sensibilities of their listeners, but will occasionally fill in the gaps with their silences.
posted by jamjam at 8:16 PM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mr. Reid sounds like an amazing teacher. His students may not have gotten to see a presentation by an actual holocaust survivor, but they got a lesson on how to do research to verify historical claims, and why it is important to do so. His 23 page letter should be required reading for anyone who wants to question the veracity of another's claims.
posted by TedW at 4:19 AM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


This just makes me sad in a myriad of hard to define ways. My grandfather served in WWII, taking him through Europe, just being the Battle of the Bulge and on into Berlin. He saw action but never spoke of it to family like my dad, let alone me. Dad did overheat him reminiscing with an old at friend once and gleaned a few stories that way but grandad just didn't talk about what he saw or went through for whatever inner reason was his own.

He stopped the soldiers next to him from continuing to shoot surrendering Germans as the war wound down by telling the shooters "Hey, them boys is just like us, what are you doing?.". He was the only one in his platoon that could handle a boat so ended up ferrying them, a handful at a time, across a stream to save their collective asses. He walked into a basement to find over a dozen tired, beat enemy combatants that, instead of swarming/shooting him, surendered on the spot.

Hell, he didn't even know he was awarded a Bronze Star with V (for Valor), we only discovered it after he passed away and we were making funeral arrangements on the military side of things.

I miss him. I will always treasure the flight chronograph from a crashed ME 109 fighter that he stripped and used as a bedside clock for decades (because the dial glowed in the dark, a novelty then I think).

He was truly one of the greatest generation. People like the subject of this article lessen the history somehow, they water it down, they weaken it, and that's sad and tragic.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:13 AM on June 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


It is never a good thing when someone lies about being in a genuine tragic event, and I have written about such destructive hoaxes.

This case is about collective tragedy, but people lie about having cancer, getting kidnapped, and every other bad thing under the sun. Each case has to be weighed separately. I am always disturbed when someone exploits agony for their own personal indulgences and gain. Life is hard enough, but usually with stories like this, the hoaxer goes over-the-top, making the genuine cases seems pale in comparison, and we have less sympathy for those who actually need it.

I am sorry to hear this story, but thank you for the link.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:17 AM on June 26, 2016


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