Part I: The political basis for Holocaust Denial
How does a responsible citizen in a free society respond to the man who comes forth to state: "The earth is a flat entity, not spherical, as has been so often proclaimed throughout history." And furthermore he says to you, "Without the benefit of technical data (because I myself do not believe in the utility of such things), prove to me decisively that the world is not flat." You might at first think that he was being ignorant or delusional or irrational. On the other hand, you might also suppose that he knows the truth of the matter but prefers to state otherwise. He perhaps despises the prestige or elitism of modern science and wishes therefore to insult and defy its defenders with outrageous remarks.
Those who deny that there ever was a Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II have used a similar style of arguing. Deniers have subjugated science, in this case historical science, to a political agenda, creating a pseudoscience called Holocaust Denial. Whether they are cognizant con artists, or true believers duped by their own illogic, they distort facts to a desired end in the guise of skepticism. This two part article will examine first the political goals of Holocaust deniers, and then in a subsequent issue will delve into the various strategies of deception.
The Holocaust deniers come from the most extreme fringes of the political spectrum; they are (for now) mainly far right or far left wing demagogues: radical anarchists, so-called "libertarians", extreme "conservatives" and most of all dedicated fascists and neo-Nazis. Not all of them, however, have kept their distance from the mainstream in American politics. David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, the founder of the NAAWP [National Association for the Advancement of White People], a self-proclaimed disciple of Adolf Hitler, garnered nearly 40% of the popular vote in Louisiana during his bid to become a United States Senator in the late 1980's. Patrick Buchanan, though not overtly a Holocaust denier, has in his earlier days as a right-wing columnist, cast doubts on certain specifics about the history of the Holocaust and questioned the validity of survivor stories in general. Talk show hosts have regularly invited and interviewed Holocaust deniers and have given them somewhat excessive exposure on daytime television. Invariably, they have subjected tens of thousands of American TV viewers to vulgar and abusive campaigns of hate and bigotry.
Deniers of the Holocaust have used every method in the vast repertoire of modern media to generate and disseminate their obscene propaganda, from "scholarly" journals to comic-books, video tapes and Internet homepages. They call themselves "Revisionists" - a title with an air of professionalism which they suppose will someday bring them a measure of respect. They pretend that they have a very pure desire to introduce alternative interpretations to help clarify certain "vague" aspects of history, but scholarship is certainly not one of their objectives. In fact, they do not contemplate legitimate historical ambiguities; they endeavor to obfuscate them. At worst they are sociopathic con-artists and creators of devious lies; at best, they are fanatics blinded by extremist beliefs.
What have deniers of the Holocaust, whose movements have grown large
and spread worldwide, asserted over the last 50 years? The following list
outlines the most commonly shared formulas among the abovementioned parties
(particularly Nazis) in the United States and Western Europe:
- that six million Jews were never killed, they were merely repatriated to Poland and Russia and, after the war, to America.
- that the "genocide of the Jews" is a Zionist myth designed to gain the world's sympathy and ultimately to generate profits for Judaic causes.
- that among those Jews who died in WWII, most perished from "natural causes" and "Allied bombs."
- that gas chambers were never applied to the murder of human beings (and particularly Jews) in WWII.
- that Hitler, the Nazis and the Third Reich did not instigate the Second World War. The Allies (influenced by the "Zionists") brought war to the Germans first. Specifically, elements within the International Jewish Conspiracy - not Hitler - prompted the governments of Allied nations to declare war on the German people.
Here we see the basic core of a cruel mythology. They have inverted the accepted truths; they have constructed an imaginary universe in which Jews were the criminals and Germans were the victims. The role of perpetrator and persecuted have been reversed or obscured.
They think that the "uninformed" public, gullible or ignorant, will believe anything which is told to them - any lie, any misinformation - as long as it is presented with enough vim and vigor. They would have us believe that all Jewish accounts and diaries such as Anne Frank's and Primo Levi's are "lies" or delusions because Jews simply are incapable of telling the truth. They wish for us to relearn history as we know it: that all non-Jewish accounts (including those by German, French, Russian, and Polish prisoners) are "Allied forgeries." They have tried time and again to instill confusion in the academic world by denouncing or denying the existence of any material evidence, any written document and any living witness. They have repeatedly ignored those speeches before and during the War (by Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and others) that demanded the total physical extermination of the Jewish race and (when confronted with actual Nazi documents) they have called such proclamations "hyperboles." They have dismissed the confessions of former Nazi officers and bureaucrats as inauthentic ("extracted" via torture and coersion inside American and Soviet prisons).
But Hitler's and Himmler's tirades are not subtle insinuations subject to liberal interpretation. They specifically demand the total elimination of all Jews - not just from Germany, not just from the Third Reich, but from the face of the Earth. In October 1944, Himmler officially tells his SS office in Auschwitz to end the systematic killing of Jews by gas. Then in November 1944, he orders the complete dismantling of all crematoria. Why would he have halted an operation that had never existed?
Deniers bypass many extraordinary details recorded in the most easily obtainable Nazi chronicles. These include the meticulously compiled materials detailing the murder frenzies early in the war: the experimental gassing of the tens of thousands of mentally ill patients and Soviet prisoners, the mass killing of tens of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar and other sites throughout Eastern Europe by the Einsatzgruppen, the mass starvation of Jews in the ghettoes of Warsaw and Lvov.
But not all assertions by deniers are so blatant. A handful of "revisionists" have been less bold. Among those who have been less ostentatious and obnoxious are "scholars" who employ a certain sophisticated lingo reminiscent of historians and sociologists. They have inserted segments from interviews with alleged "survivors" and paraphrased sections from "unpublished" materials. They have mentioned libraries and memorials where their "yet undiscovered evidence" remains hidden to the world. They have tried to appeal to our sense of scientific and enlightened thinking. Here is an example. A revisionist states survivor so-and-so recalls 4 million Jews were murdered in Auschwitz while recent historians' calculate a number closer to 1.2 million. He goes on to conclude that because of this one mistake, everything else in that individual's essay must likewise be erroneous. Anyone who has done any kind of work in the field of journalism or history knows that mistakes are made in every type of interview and diary because so much of our memory is degraded by forgetfulness, guesswork, misunderstanding and hearsay. But we know from the overwhelming body of knowledge that comes from the thousands of Holocaust survivor accounts and the tens of thousands of pages of Nazi records, that the overall picture of Auschwitz and Babi Yar and Kristallnacht are factual - despite the small errors.
Some deniers have become quite brutal and have taken to taunting survivors - asking them to prove the veracity of certain details in the Holocaust story. This has indeed been a slap to the face - adding insult to injury against those who have already suffered immeasurably. In September of 1979, members of a "revisionist" congress organized by well-known Holocaust deniers offered $50,000 to whomever could prove the existence of gas chambers in Europe and furthermore could prove that these were utilized in the murder of millions of European Jews.
Why do they do these kinds of things? Clearly, it is not simply a mental exercise nor a joke. Clearly, there is a hidden agenda. But whose? Anarchists hope in their smear campaigns to undermine the success of Jewish people everywhere - labelling them greedy capitalists. The neo-Nazis and Nazis, on the other hand, follow a more primitive and barbaric pathway: to blame and persecute the Jews for all that is wrong and imperfect in the lives of "White Aryan men." But despite these varying contexts, the common root is the same for both. It is virulent antisemitism that inspires them all - full of hate, full of anger, and full of ill-will. It is the same ancient mythology which has been levelled against the Jews throughout the history of Western civilization. And it draws its strength from harnessing the unfocussed anger and paranoia of disenfranchized individuals.
Holocaust deniers, like most cultish leaders who have devoted their lives to deceiving the public, have used every imaginable method to develop the "believeable story." Their dangerousness lies not in their capacity to offend but to convince people with their emotional energy and pseudo-logic. The role of true skeptics in our time is to identify the small minority of charlatans who call themselves historians and to uncover (in order to dispel) their most vindictive lies. It is a profound irony that despite the absurdity of these revisionist claims and despite the blatant fallacies in their "logic", they have - by virtue of mere scandalousness - opened up a "forum of debate." And although they pretend to partake in a stimulating intellectual exercise and to share in a liberal democratic system - they have done little more than waste our time forcing us to argue against their terrifying propaganda. Their belief is that perhaps some day in the near future they will have a cadre - even an army - of "true believers" who will earnestly hold fast to the notion that a Holocaust never occured. How much easier will their task be when there are no more survivors to bear witness to history?
Part II: The Tactics of Denial
In Part I, I explored the basic political motivations that underlie Holocaust Denial. Here, I will review some of the rhetorical tactics commonly used by deniers to achieve their agenda. Although they claim to be historians, interested in open discussion and skepticism, they practice historical pseudoscience, subverting truth to political will.
The following is a list of examples of the styles of argument employed by well-known holocaust deniers. The tactics of deception used will be familiar to anyone who has listened to the speech of a cult leader, read the hyperbole of tabloid news, or purchased a used car.
1. Name-calling: First and foremost it is important to recognize that all Holocaust revisionist theory exists within a framework of antisemitism. Therefore, one must be wary to the bitter jargon used by men like Professor Paul Rassinier in Paris who call such respected Holocaust historians like Raul Hilberg "collaborators" taking part in a world conspiracy designed to promote the "Holocaust myth." One must also be particularly attentive to the unsavory vocabulary that is often levelled against Holocaust historians who pursue honest research: titles such as "exterminationist" and "Holocaust promoter" (as if to say that Jewish historians love to think about the Shoah).
2. Applying moral relativism: A common cliche among Holocaust revisionists is the notion that the Americans and the Allies were just as guilty in their "crimes against humanity" as were the Nazis. A post-War "historian" Harry Elmer Barnes began such a debate some forty years ago. He gives the following example of anti-German "atrocities:" the expulsion (but not the annihilation) of the Sudetenland Germans from Czechoslovakia (an act of Allied retaliation which he calls the "Final Solution" for the German people in mockery of Heydrich's and Himmler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question"). Others from Barnes' school have discussed the firebombings over Dresden and Koln and conveyed that such actions constituted a greater war crime than any killings in Nazi camps. In saying so, they have attempted to dilute and dissipate the historical significance and unique quality of the Jewish genocide.
3. Misquoting sources (intentionally): Rassinier only pretends (in one of his most crucial essays) to be quoting a passage from a well-known authority. He states that the famous historian-sociologist Professor Hannah Arendt wrote that three million Polish Jews were murdered in the "first day of war." In reality, she never said such a thing. Arendt's original assessment is that the German campaign to annihilate three million Polish Jews BEGAN on the first day of World War II. By creating such distortions, Rassinier tries to cast doubt on the credibility of Arendt as well as all Jewish scholars who discuss the Holocaust. Rassinier then states (in the same paragraph) that Professor Hilberg, another famous Jewish historian, claimed "two million Polish Jews were transported to their deaths." (Actually the original Hilberg quote includes a qualifier "... were transported by train in 1942 and 1943 to their deaths.") Rassinier then conveniently juxtaposes these two segments -Hilberg's "two million" and Arendt's "three million" - in order to prove that even two famous and "reliable" Jews disagree significantly on even the most rudimentary facts.
4. Eliminating the facts: Rassinier frequently ignores the most basic and profound pieces of evidence. For example, he dismisses certain key statements by Hitler as mere "hyperbole." Der Fuhrer made two very public speeches in the Reichstag (in 1939 and then again in 1942) stating his wish to annihilate the "Jewish race in Europe" in the event of war. It seems Adolf Hitler would have been quite disappointed if he knew that future fascists and antisemites would deny him his proudest accomplishment - making Europe free of Jews.
5. Changing the facts by subtracting the details: We know for a fact that Jews who disappeared during the war were generally killed by Nazis and other fascists inside concentration camps and in Einsatzgruppen raids in Poland, Ukraine and Russia. We also know that all of these places were regions that came under Soviet jurisdiction after the war. Austin App, one of the earliest Holocaust deniers, inverts key component in this sequence of events. He states that Jews who disappeared during the war did so within the boundaries of Soviet-occupied territories. His implication is that the Communists, not the Nazis, were responsible for all Jewish deaths.
Some have said that gas chambers were made only after the end of the war - contrived somehow by Poles and others to justify the war against Germany. One little-known fact (which the deniers maximally exploit) is that a few gas chambers were re-built after the war based on original schematics and broken remnants left behind by German engineers. But these were re-built (NOT built for the first time) for local museums because so many of the originals were destroyed by the Nazis as they fled from the Soviet attack. Nevertheless, the German records include the original blueprints for the various types of gas chambers - including those designed specifically for mass murder.
Finally, the British neo-fascist Harwood takes a 1943 / 1944 report from the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and intentionally leaves out certain crucial facts. He extracts and highlights a section in the original manuscript on how certain pockets of European Jews roamed about freely. He is no doubt referring to the Jews of Denmark who nearly all survived the War and also the Jews of Hungary and Italy who lived in relative safety until the second half of 1944. But these Jews survived not because the Nazis had wished it so. They survived because their respective governments resisted Hitler's anti-Jewish policies. In Denmark, the king and his supporters -saved the Danish Jewish community by agreeing to distribute yellow stars to everyone (Jews and Gentiles alike) so that no distinction could be made by the German invaders.
In Hungary, President Horthy denied the Nazi's request to surrender the Hungarian Jews until August of 1944. Likewise, in Italy, ilDuce Mussolini did not comply to Hitler's commands concerning the treatment of Italian Jews. But these Jews were unusual among all the European Jews in that they were briefly spared the wrath of Hitler's killing machines. Yet Harwood makes a bizarre leap; he concludes that if the Nazis had allowed just a few Jews to "roam freely about" then they certainly had not planned on annihilating any of them. What he has deleted in his essay is a key section in the ICRC report which states the following: that most other Jews - the majority (those of Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia etc.etc.) were mistreated, deported, starved and murdered in concentration camps.
6. Applying the "Conspiracy Theory" [on why Germany "needed" to persecute Jews]: Austin App notes the following coincidence and trumps up its historical significance. He concludes that only two leaders (both coincidentally Jews) ultimately determined the fate of Europe: the United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and the Soviet Antifascist Committee Chairman Ilya Ehrenburg. What he fails to include is this: that greater than ninety-five percent of the leadership in the US and USSR was Gentile, and these two world leaders - Ehrenburg and Morgenthau - had infinitesimally minor roles to play within the broader circle of policymakers. But App insinuates that a few influential Jews planned the Second World War and that Germans had no other choice than to fight the US and USSR in order to overthrow those nebulous "International Jewish Conspirators."
App claims also that the Jewish Chairman of Palestine, Chaim Weizmann, called for the allegiance of European Jews to Western democracies and extrapolates from this new myth that any military "response" on the part of Hitler to this "provocation" was a matter of German national security. He implies that Weizmann forced Hitler's hand and that ultimately all Jews deserved what they got. App must have known that Chairman Weizmann had no army, no government and no nation with which to launch a viable frontal assault against the might of the Third Reich. A so-called alliance of Jews and Britons could never have materialized.
7. Playing the numbers game: App frequently dabbles in what one might call a "numbers game." Perhaps he thinks that the mere mention of numbers (even erroneous ones) might render his arguments more cogent or more scientific. He uses distortions of published figures or he changes the numbers themselves to suit his arguments. For example, he states that there were 700,000 Jews in Germany before the war and 500,000 after the war. He implies that the German Jewish communities were still largely intact even after the so-called genocide. What he fails to mention, however, is that most among the 500,000 were non-German who travelled to and stayed in the former Reich in order to find the remnants of their families. These 500,000 were so-called DPs - or displaced persons - who stayed only temporarily in Germany only for as long as it took to locate surviving relatives. They were French, Dutch, Italian, Polish and Russian refugees - returning from the liberated camps and ghettos. Most of the original 700,000 German Jews had escaped, emigrated or died before and during the war.
App then goes on to "quote" the Associated Press in their assessment of the total refugee situation in postwar Germany and Europe. The original AP article states that 3,000,000 displaced persons were seeking a new home. App tampers with this information and instead declares that 3,000,000 JEWS were seeking a new home. He tries to deceive the public by implying that all refugees were Jews - that none (or very few) had died. Finally, in his essay called "The Six Million Swindle," App claims that the government of Israel demanded 20 billion dollars in indemnities for the resettlement of the European Exodus. In reality, Israel requested 735 million dollars.
Paul Rassinier, on the other hand, invents the following fantasy: Because Hitler could not have killed three million Jews (his "calculated" number of missing Jews after the War - a gross underestimation even by Nazi standards), and because three million Jews could not have simply disappeared from the face of the earth, they necessarily must have emigrated. But where? He comes up with an incredibly unlikely scenario (which is far more unbelievable than even the most improbable facts). He states that more than two million had been evacuated by the Soviet Communists to Central Asia and from there half of them (or approximately one million Jews) travelled by land to China and by sea across the Pacific Ocean to the North American continent. Revisionists rely on the likelihood that any falsification of history will pass unnoticed because it will not be verified or corrected by the majority of people; the latter (he presumes) do not care passionately enough about issues pertaining to the Holocaust to make such corrections.
8. Generating incredulity [or appealing to "logic"]: App and most other Holocaust revisionists harp on the unlikeliness that mass killings could EVER occur anywhere. They ask us the same question that we ask ourselves: what would have , prompted all those many intelligent men to divert the vast technology and resource of a respected industrialized society (incidentally with a long history of music and poetry) to accomplish such a feat of horror? Who knows? But that is exactly why the Nazi war crimes - even half a century after Hitler's death - present themselves as inexplicable and heinous in all the eyes of humanity.
9. Instilling doubt: Holocaust deniers love to point out witnesses' accounts which contradict one another. If, however, all available information from all personal accounts were nearly identical, that indeed would be hard to believe - given the degree of government censorship and personal stress which each survivor endured during six years of war. Human memory, even in normal circumstances, is poor at retaining minute details or specific numbers, but it has been quite adequate in preserving the Gestalt.
10. Feigning stupidity: A professor at Northwestern University, Arthur Butz has been one of the most outspoken Holocaust deniers in the academic arena. Because of his image as a respected scholar at a respected institution, he seemed at first less malignant than the others in his realm. Nevertheless, his claims are often just as egregiously deceptive as any. His chief complaint is that the Nazi war criminals tried in Nuremburg (Frank, Goering, Ribbentrop) often misunderstood the questions posed to them by the War Crimes Tribunal. They therefore answered incorrectly to many simple queries such as "was there mass murder?" or "were there mounds of corpses?" Butz goes on to say that these men on the stand were, in effect, tricked by "Jewish propagandists."
11. Creating publicity: All demagogues love nothing more than publicity. With publicity - and notoriety - comes a certain degree of legitimacy. In a 1984 court case, the government of Canada accused the German emigre, Ernst Zundel, with producing and distributing antisemitic propaganda. He used the court trial as a platform from which he launched his neo-Nazi diatribes and antisemitic agenda. He hired an "engineer" by the name of Fred Leuchter, an eccentric man with a long history of business fraud and questionable credential (no background in toxicology, no degree in chemistry, no degree in physics or engineering), to become an expert witness who would decisively debunk the "legend" of the Nazi gas chambers. In the end, the judge dismissed or barred Leuchter's "evidence." Nevertheless, the Holocaust deniers in the end claimed one tiny victory. They had gained some free publicity by way of news coverage in the trial. Even Leuchter, despite the widespread accusations that he was a charlatan and an amateur in the field of execution-related technology, continued to be interviewed on that very topic by several agencies. The first of his stories appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (February 1990). Another on Prime Time Live (May 1990). Another in the New York Times (October 1990).
12. Inventing and promoting pseudoscience [the art of using "expert witnesses"]: Leuchter claims that the gas chamber was not really used against human beings. He concludes this after a brief vacation to Auschwitzand and several trips to a local library. He states that the design of the "gas chamber" was compatible only with a disinfecting facility.
Error #1: Leuchter estimates that a certain crematorium at Auschwitz could process only 156 bodies. He was apparently unaware of an SS report which confirms that the same building (which he describes) destroyed 4756 bodies in the course of a single 24 hour period.
Error #2: He notes that the cyanide residue from one gas chamber wall is less than the residue from a wall inside a known delousing chamber. Leuchter claims that this is the most conclusive evidence that a "gas chamber" could not have been used for killing humans. His argument is based on the assumption that humans require much more cyanide than lice to die - an assumption that, as it happens, is wrong. In fact, lice require about a 50 times higher dose of cyanide gas than humans in order to die.
Error #3: One gas chamber contains no cyanide residues. Leuchter postulates from this observation that the building in question (which in every other way resembles the typical "gas chambers" at Auschwitz) had never been used for gas and casts doubt on whether any such building could have been used for gas. Again, he is unfamiliar with the record. The particular crematorium which he studied is different from all the others. The Nazis had destroyed its ceilings and walls with powerful explosives before escaping Auschwitz. As a result of the attempted demolition, the remaining walls have been exposed for more than 40 years to wind, rain and flooding. As a result of this exposure, the cyanide traces naturally have been nearly obliterated.
13. Entering campus life: A Holocaust denier by the name of Bradley Smith entered the fray in the early 1990s as a one-man "campus crusader." Although he frequently voiced such notions as "open debate" and other noble pursuits, he was merely mocking and debasing true academic learning. He advertised his messages on behalf of an organization called CODOH [Committee on the Open Debate on the Holocaust] in school newspapers and magazines. (More recently, he has monopolized several Internet sites under the same pretext and format.) In his writings appear the usual ramblings of Holocaust-deniers. Examples included the following: that pictures of concentration camps were fake, that the war trials were illegal, that the gas chambers never existed, etc. etc. On most campuses, starting with the University of Michigan (and then at Duke and Cornell), huge controversies erupted over the publication of Bradley's ads. At Michigan, the newspaper's president argued that his decision to publish the material was to avoid setting a precedent in censorship. This, despite the fact that the same newspaper regularly excluded cigarette ads and pornographic materials (because of their indecency) and despite the fact that the editing staff regularly rejected and excluded badly written or poorly researched articles. Even more surprisingly, the university administration, the local newspaper and even the New York Times defended Bradley's 1st Amendment Right to free expression. The Harvard Crimson on the other hand turned away Bradley's ad calling it "utter bullshit..." and an attempt "to propagate hatred against Jews."
14. Recruiting "neutral" parties: Professor Noam Chomsky, considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern linguistics, has also earned himself a sizable reputation as a left-wing radical and a "self-hating Jew." He has, at countless rallies, launched vicious verbal attacks against the state of Israel and the US on matters relating to Palestinian rights. He has, on various occasions, supported the position of the PLO even when that organization was still deeply entrenched in terror tactics as a primary modus operandi. His essays, which mercilessly condemn Israelis and Jews for crimes against Palestinians, have become the centerpieces of his career - rarely objective even when they have been scholarly - often verging on spiteful venom and hysteria. Although he himself is free of the taint of Holocaust denial, numerous Nazi and Communist journals (especially in France) have published his works because he has been an avid defender of "free speech," especially in the realm of antisemitic and revisionist literature. He has placed numerous articles in neo-Nazi publications including the Journal of Historical Review.
Neo-Nazi polemicists describe Chomsky as objective, scientific and neutral. Clearly, Chomsky's Jewish ancestry has not rendered him "neutral." In fact, his position is distinctly anti-Jewish. By virtue of his birthright and his high standing as a world-famous researcher, he has merely granted some legitimacy to neo-Nazis such as Robert Faurisson (France's best-known neo-fascist). Briefly, Faurisson's thesis is this: that all Jews are unrepentant liars and therefore all "survivor" accounts are fake. Yet Chomsky calls Faurisson "a liberal" who shows not a "hint of antisemitism" and thereby endorses his books and articles.
Far from the skeptical, fair-minded academicians they pretend to be, Holocaust deniers are political activists, pushing an agenda of hate. They employ the tactics of hoaxers and frauds in an attempt to rewrite history to suit their ideological needs. Perhaps their only redeeming value is that they serve as an extreme and therefore obvious example which illuminates the subtler and more politically acceptable forms of antiscientific historical revisionism increasingly infiltrating the academic arena.