Adolf Hitler, right foreground, and Italy’s Benito Mussolini, left are shown during a Hitler visit in Italy in 1938. Italy’s Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, and Hitler’s Deputy Rudolf Hess behind. (AP)

Spicer comment overlooked Hitler’s infamous gas chambers

Sean Spicer turned heads in the White House briefing room last week when he wrongly claimed Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons.

Spicer, President Donald Trump’s top spokesman, was discussing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks on his own people.

“You had someone who is despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer told reporters.

When pressed by reporters, he attempted to clarify his point: “He was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But (not) in the way that Bashar al-Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down, into the middle of towns.”

We believe ‘Holocaust centers’ referred to concentration camps.

There is a reason Nazis and Hitler became synonymous with the term gas chamber. They pumped hydrogen cyanide gas into the killing rooms packed with Jews, Roma, and others singled out for extermination by Nazi leaders. Jews were taken from cattle cars and forced into “showers,” where guards released the gas. At the height of deportations, an estimated 6,000 Jews died each day in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spicer appeared to be trying to limit his definition of chemical weapons to those dropped from planes or fired through cannons, as Assad is alleged to have done.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which took force in 1997, defines them this way:

(a) Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;

(b) Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in subparagraph (a), which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices;

(c) Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices specified in subparagraph (b).

The Nazis’ hydrogen cyanide meets the first condition and the gas chambers would qualify as a “device” in the second.

There is no mention that chemical weapons are only those used on the battlefield.

Brian Finlay, president of the Stimson Center, a Washington defense policy group, told us “the Nazis would surely have been in contravention of the (Chemical Weapons Convention) had it being in effect during the second World War.”

For what it’s worth, the consensus view is that Hitler did not use chemical weapons in battle.

But Spicer’s explanation that Hitler didn’t use them on his “own people,” overlooks that German Jews were citizens until they had their rights stripped away by Hitler’s totalitarian regime.

After the press briefing, Spicer said: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Our ruling

Spicer said Hitler never used chemical weapons. The Nazi regime brought an industrial approach to mass murder of its citizens and others it sought to exterminate. The construction of gas chambers and the use of deadly gas was fundamental to that strategy. While the convention against chemical weapons did not exist in World War II, the modern definition would encompass the Nazi gas chambers.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

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