By Rosemary Pennington*
I recently attended a meeting with our local Optimist Club, at which a university professor named Dr. Fred Roberts Crawford appeared and gave his “oral witness” to the Holocaust.
Judging from a pamphlet he distributed, he is apparently the only non-Jew involved in a group seeking to contact American soldiers who “liberated” the concentration camps in Germany. The “liberators,” to his mind, constitute a neglected historical source and he thinks it important that their eyewitness accounts be preserved. I was particularly interested in his statement that the organization paying for his expenses was started for the specific purpose of giving the lie to those who are beginning to question established Holocaust dogma.
After displaying the usual pictorial assortment of piled-up bodies and crematoria, Crawford recounted that while serving in the American Air Force in World War II his bomber was shot down over Hungary. He claimed he and other POWs personally witnessed an average of ten persons being hanged every day in the concentration camp in which he was detained.
Crawford observed that the Holocaust was not only a time of horror; it was also a time of great nobility. He told, almost in passing, of a man who risked his own life to save him, the American enemy, from death. When Crawford had finished the audience was left with the clear inference — never directly stated — that it was the fixed policy of the Axis governments, Germany specifically, to exterminate American prisoners of war. This was the first time I had ever heard such a charge, and deep in the recesses of my brain a little voice whispered “lie.”
I got up and asked the speaker if he would be willing to answer questions. Crawford replied he would be delighted. “Would you please tell us the story of how the man you mentioned saved your life?,” I asked.
Crawford then related the following: Forced to parachute from a crippled plane, he floated down to a field where a number of peasants with pitchforks and other weapons rushed up and grabbed him. He could not understand what they were saying and could only recognize a few words such as Jude (Jew) and amerikanisher Schweinhund (American dog). In a killing mood, the peasants dragged him to a tree and prepared to string him up.
Although Crawford is a Presbyterian (his son is in Columbia Theological Seminary), he happened to buy a small cross necklace the week before he was shot down. When the peasants ripped open his shirt, they saw the cross and began arguing among themselves. Before they could decide whether to go ahead with their plans, a policeman came up on a motorcycle and intervened, taking Crawford with him. The policeman turned out to be the man who risked his own life to save Crawford’s. According to Crawford, the policeman’s friendly act was a “violation of his government’s policy.”
When Crawford finished, I asked him to repeat the words the peasants had uttered. He did so. I then recalled that he had said in his speech that he was shot down over Hungary. He nodded. I asked him if the Hungarian peasants were bilingual. At this point he asked me what I was driving at. I explained that Jude and amerikanisher Schweinhund were not Hungarian, but German words. He let on that he still didn’t understand.
I rose to the attack, after first apologizing to the members of the audience by explaining that it was difficult to appeal to people to have an open mind after the kind of emotional program they had just heard. I stated that I had to look at the situation from both sides, as an American whose uncle was a colonel at the Normandy landing and as a person of German extraction on my mother’s side.
I told the audience how hatred was deliberately and continuously being whipped up in this country against Germans and Germany by programs such as this one, all in the name of love and brotherhood. As far as I could see, several things had been established by Crawford’s account of his hairbreadth escape.
First, the peasants were not Germans, but Hungarians. Nonetheless, Crawford had claimed the peasants had used German words, words which just happened to be very familiar to any American brought up on anti-“Nazi” war movies and TV shows. Since the words were not Hungarian, they would not have been uttered by Hungarian peasants and I could only guess that they had been thrown in to spice up the narrative with that familiar Hollywood touch.
Second, it was clear that several pointed references in Crawford’s speech — which he gives to civic clubs everywhere — were deliberately intended to leave in the minds of his hearers the idea that Germans had a fixed, government-mandated policy of killing helpless American prisoners.
Now that my question had brought out the whole story of the man who risked his life for him, I explained that the truth was actually 180 degrees from the inference made in his original talk. His rescuer was a policeman in uniform carrying out his country’s policy of detaining prisoners of war and preventing a handful of irate peasants from showing their resentment of American bombing raids.
I would be very curious to know, I asked Crawford, why he busied himself going about making such false statements and misleading allusions. After the meeting had adjourned, Crawford grabbed his slides and notes and scurried from the room. I followed him and cornered him in the parking lot, where I asked him if he would look at a book (Butz’s Hoax of the Twentieth Century) that pointed out serious errors of fact in most Holocaust stories. He stated that neither he nor anyone else involved in the Witness to the Holocaust Project would be interested in reviewing such material.
*Rosemary Pennington is an assistant professor of journalism in Miami University’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film. In 2007 she earned her Ph.D. in Mass Communication from Indiana University, where she taught journalism classes. She has also completed multiple fellowships in Germany, twice with the Rias Berlin Commission and once with the American Council on Germany.
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