Holocaust denial

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The term Holocaust denial is used in a variety of senses, which should not be confused. For many ordinary people, it refers to the claim that the Holocaust, a massacre that took place during World War II killing millions of Jews, did not occur. However, academics generally apply the term also to the positions of those who, while agreeing that some sort of holocaust did take place, dishonestly manipulate evidence to dispute material parts of the events as accepted by recognized historians. At least one academic, Professor Lipstadt, has extended the term still further by a concept of "soft-core denial", meaning denial of the unique evil of the Holocaust, any comparison with, say, Stalin, or Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Holocaust denial is mainly associated with Neo-Nazism, although some radical Islamists have used it. Holocaust denial is generally seen as a belief rooted in a political stance or the result of miseducation. In nearly all members of the European Union, it is a criminal offense to publish or publicly proclaim these beliefs. Those historians and scholars who do engage in arguments with Holocaust deniers focus both on weaknesses of their investigatory and analytic methods, and criticisms of the specific claims regarding the Holocaust.

Criticism of methods used by Holocaust deniers

The first argument against the claims of deniers centers upon the methods used to present arguments that the Holocaust never occurred, or that it occurred with far fewer deaths than mainstream historical accounts hold to be true. Holocaust deniers have presented their interpretation of facts and evidence through various mediums, including court cases. Critics of deniers, however, say that these claims are be based upon flawed research, biased statements, and deliberately falsified evidence.[1] The Nizkor Project, a group opposed to Holocaust denial claims, analyze these claims for instances where the evidence used by Holocaust deniers have been altered or manufactured. Ken McVay, the founder of the Nizkor Project, described the methods of deniers in a 1994 interview:

"They'll cite a historical text: 'K.K. Campbell says on page 82 of his famous book that nobody died at Auschwitz.' Then you go to the Library of Congress and look up K.K. Campbell, page 82, and what you find he really said was, 'It was a nice day at Dachau.' They get away with this because they know goddamn well most people don't have time to rush off to the Library of Congress. But people read that and say to themselves, 'Who would lie about such a thing when it's so easy to prove them wrong? They must be telling the truth.'"[2]

Denial as anti-Semitism

Critics often claim that Holocaust denial is motivated by antisemitism, and for that reason, the methods of deniers are questionable.

One example of this is an email sent by Harold Covington (the leader of the National Socialist White People's Party) on July 24, 1996 to a number of neo-Nazi supporters (many of whom were Holocaust deniers). In this message, Covington explained Holocaust denial in a manner that has been used by its opponents and critics as a definitive answer to the question of why:

"Take away the Holocaust and what do you have left? Without their precious Holocaust, what are the Jews? Just a grubby little bunch of international bandits and assassins and squatters who have perpetrated the most massive, cynical fraud in human history...I recall seeing a television program on revisionism a few years ago which closed with Deborah Lipstadt making some statement to the effect that: the real purpose of Holocaust revisionism is to make National Socialism an acceptable political alternative again. I normally don't agree with anything a Jew says, but I recall exclaiming, 'Bingo! Got it in one! Give that lady a cigar!'" -- "On Revisionism" by Harold Covington (writing under the pseudonym "Winston Smith"), NSNet Bulletin #5, July 24, 1996

David Irving case

David Irving is an example of a partial denier, who is nevertheless often called a "Holocaust denier" without explanation. At one time he did indeed deny the Holocaust completely, but he now agrees that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, but rejects parts of the standard narrative:

  1. he says the total number was substantially under 6 million;
  2. he says Hitler ordered the extermination of only Russian Jews, and that his subordinates extended this behind his back;
  3. he says few Jews were gassed at Auschwitz, that it was mostly at Treblinka and other camps;
  4. he says the Auschwitz gas chambers shown to tourists are a post-war reconstruction.

Recognized historians reject all these claims, and an English court found his methods dishonest and described him as a "Holocaust denier" in accordance with common usage. German and Austrian courts made similar findings and he spent time in an Austrian prison.

Criticism of Holocaust denial claims

The second main objection to Holocaust denial is the claims presented by the deniers themselves. This objection arises primarily out of the large quantity of evidence for the existence of the Holocaust. This evidence was well documented by the heavily bureaucratic German government itself. It was further well documented by the Allied forces who conquered Germany in World War II. Among the evidence produced was film and stills of the existence of prisoner camps, as well as the testimony of those freed when the camps were entered.

The Holocaust was a massive undertaking that lasted for years across several countries, with its own command and control infrastructure. Although the Nazis made attempts to destroy the evidence of the Holocaust when they could see that their defeat was imminent, they left a large amount of documents relating to the Holocaust. Due to the extremely rapid collapse of the Nazi forces at the end of the war, attempts to destroy evidence in Germany were for the most part unsuccessful.

After their defeat, many tons of documents were recovered, and many thousands of bodies were found not yet completely decomposed, in mass graves near many concentration camps. The physical evidence and the documentary proof included records of train shipments of Jews to the camps, orders for tons of cyanide and other poisons, and the remaining concentration camp structures. There are also extensive records of first-hand testimony from Concentration Camp survivors.

As a result of the records produced, mainstream historians agree that the Holocaust did, in fact, take place.

Hitler was not complicit in the Holocaust

Argument: There was no specific order by Adolf Hitler or other top Nazi officials to exterminate the Jews.

Holocaust deniers cite the fact that there was never a blatant, unquestionable order written or signed by Adolf Hitler that specifically ordered the death of the Jewish populations of Germany or Poland. Critics counter this argument by noting that very few Nazi documents used such obvious terms as "murder" or "death" when addressing their actions. Almost always, they spoke and wrote with suggestive phrases such as "the final solution to the Jewish question" rather than "the destruction of the Jewish people." The most often-cited quotation from Hitler regarding the intention to eliminate the European Jewry comes from his January 30, 1939 speech to the Reichstag:

"Today I want to be a prophet once more: If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."[3]

Gas chambers were not used for killing

Argument: Nazis did not use gas chambers to mass murder Jews. Small chambers did exist for delousing and Zyklon-B was used in this process.

There have been claims by Holocaust deniers that the gas chambers which mainstream historians believe were for the massacre of civilians never existed, but rather that the structures identified as gas chambers actually served other purposes. These other purposes include delousing and disinfection. A similar argument is sometimes used that claims gas was not used to murder Jews and other victims, and that many gas chambers were also built after the war just for show. An document advancing this theory is the "Leuchter Report" by Fred A. Leuchter, a paper stating that only traces of cyanide were found when he examined samples taken from one of the Auschwitz gas chambers in 1988. This is often cited as evidence that gas was not used in the chambers, as no trace amounts remain. Despite the difficulty of finding traces of this material 50 years later, in February of 1990, Professor Jan Markiewicz, Director of the Institute of Forensic Research in Kraków, redid the analysis.[6] Markiewicz and his team used microdiffusion techniques to test for cyanide in samples from the suspected gas chambers, from delousing chambers, and from control areas elsewhere within Auschwitz. The control samples tested negative, while cyanide residue was found in both the delousing chambers and the gas chambers. The amount of cyanide found had a great variability.[7]

The search for cyanide in the bricks of buildings said to be gas chambers was important, because the pesticide Zyklon B would generate such a residue. This was the gas most often cited as the instrument of death for prisoners in the gas chambers, supported by both testimony and evidence collected of Nazi policy.

Another claim made by Holocaust deniers is that there were no vents in the gas chambers through which Zyklon B could be inserted (in the words of Leuchter, "No holes - no Holocaust.") The BBC offers a response showing that this requires disregard of much documentation:

Deniers have said for years that physical evidence is lacking because they have seen no holes in the roof of the Birkenau gas chamber where the Zyklon was poured in. (In some of the gas chambers the Zyklon B was poured in through the roof, while in others it was thrown in through the windows.) The roof was dynamited at war's end, and today lies broken in pieces, but three of the four original holes were positively identified in a recent paper. Their location in the concrete matches with eyewitness testimony, aerial photos from 1944, and a ground photo from 1943. The physical evidence shows unmistakably that the Zyklon holes were cast into the concrete when the building was constructed.[8]

Another piece of evidence Holocaust deniers frequently question is what happened to the ash after the bodies were cremated. The amount of ash produced in the cremation of a person is about a shoebox full, if done in a proper crematorium. However, eyewitness testimonies documented by Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews describe the burning process used in Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec to have carried out in multiple open-air grills where stacks of bodies were burned on top of metal bars. These grills were operated by burning piles of wood underneath. It has been questioned by holocaust deniers (e.g. in the "One Third Of The Holocaust" documentary) if it would have been possible to burn hundreds of thousands of corpses using the method as documented by Hilberg, especially when the low efficiency of such burning process, the high amounts of wood required and the often windy weather conditions of the camps are taken into account.

Aerial photographs of Auschwitz indicate that what appears to be ash produced in Auschwitz was piled into the nearby river and marsh, and there is well-documented evidence that other ash was used as fertilizer in nearby fields. Photographs of Treblinka taken by the camp commandant show what looks to be ash piles being distributed by steam shovels.[4]

Another argument used by Holocaust deniers is that testimony on the gas chambers is unreliable. The "Institute for Historical Review" is one of the organizations which hold this assertion. In the words of the IHR:

"Hoss said in his confession that his men would smoke cigarettes as they pulled the dead Jews out of the gas chambers ten minutes after gassing. Isn't Zyklon-B explosive? Highly so. The Hoss confession is obviously false."

The Nizkor Project and other sources have pointed out that the minimal concentration of Zyklon-B to be explosive is 56,000 parts per million, while the amount used to kill a human is 300 parts per million, as is evidenced in "The Merck Index" and the "CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics". In fact, the Nazi's own documentation stated "Danger of explosion: 75 grams of HCN in 1 cubic meter of air. Normal application approx. 8-10 grams per cubic meter, therefore not explosive." (Nuremberg document NI-9912) However, whether the Nazis who applied the Zyklon-B followed this guideline or not is uncertain.

The Institute for Historical Review publicly offered a reward of $50,000 for verifiable "proof that gas chambers for the purpose of killing human beings existed at or in Auschwitz." Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of Auschwitz, submitted his own testimony as proof but it was ignored. He then sued IHR in the United States and the case was subsequently settled for $50,000, plus $40,000 in damages for personal suffering. The court declared "that Jews were gassed to death at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during the summer of 1944" was a fact.[5]

The mainstream Holocaust death toll is incorrect

Argument: The figure of six million Jewish deaths is an irresponsible exaggeration, and many Jews who actually emigrated to Russia, Britain, Israel and the United States are included in the number.

Six million Jews did not die in the Holocaust

The figure of "six million" (which refers only to Jewish victims, and is larger when counting the other ethnic, religious, and minority groups targeted for extinction) is often minimized by claims to a figure of only one million deaths, or only three hundred thousand casualties. Numerous documents archived and discovered after the war gave meticulous accounts of the exterminations that took place at the "death camps" (such as Auschwitz and Treblinka). Deniers claim that these documents are based on Soviet propaganda, primarily from Ilya Ehrenburg's Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and are therefore unreliable.

Complicating the matter is that various instances have been reported where the death tolls of particular death camps were claimed to be overstated. These claims vary in verifiability and objectivity.

A much-quoted instance of disputing the toll is the "Breitbard Document"[6] which describes a commemorative plaque at Auschwitz to the victims that died there, which read, Four million people suffered and died here at the hands of the Nazi murderers between the years 1940 and 1945. In 1990, a new plaque replaced the old one. It now says, May this place where the Nazis assassinated 1,500,000 men, women and children, a majority of them Jews from diverse European countries, be forever for mankind a cry of despair and of warning. The lower numbers are due to the fact that the Soviets "purposely overstated the number of non-Jewish casualties at Auschwitz-Birkenau," according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Holocaust deniers insist that the number of Jews killed therefore be lowered by at least 2.5 million. However, the plaque had never been used as an accurate historical source by mainstream historians. As early as in the 1950s, Raul Hillberg estimated 1.1 Jewish deaths in Auschwitz for his estimates on the death toll.

Jewish population

One common Holocaust denial argument is the comparison of the population of Jews before and after the Holocaust. They claim that the 1940 World Almanac gives the world Jewish population as 15,319,359, while the 1949 World Almanac gives the world Jewish population as 15,713,638. In their view this makes it impossible that 6 million Jews died, even given an extremely high birth rate. They therefore claim that either the figures are wrong, or the Holocaust, meaning the deliberate extermination of millions of Jews, cannot have happened.[7]

However, as is typically the case, the evidence given by Holocaust deniers does not stand up to closer scrutiny. In fact, the World Almanac volumes from 1945 to 1948 makes clear they use figures of 1938, "the last available data". The 1949 World Almanac gives the world Jewish population as 11,266,600. Moreover, it revises its estimate of the world Jewish population in 1939 upwards, to 16,643,120. Thus, according to the 1949 World Almanac the difference between the pre and post war populations is over 5.4 million.

In fact, other sources confirm similar numbers--and earlier than the 1949 World Almanac--for the Jewish population before and after the war. For example, the 1932 American Jewish yearbook estimate the total number of Jews in the world at 15,192,218, of whom 9,418,248 resided in Europe. However, the 1947 yearbook states: "Estimates of the world Jewish population have been assembled by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (except for the United States and Canada) and are probably the most authentic available at the present time. The figures reveal that the total Jewish population of the world has decreased by one-third from about 16,600,000 in 1939 to about 11,000,000 in 1946 as the result of the annihilation by the Nazis of more than five and a half million European Jews. In Europe only an estimated 3,642,000 remain of the total Jewish pre-war population of approximately 9,740,000." These numbers are also consistent with the findings of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946.[8]

Holocaust deniers also often ignore the documents produced by the Nazis themselves, who used figures of between 9 and 11 million for the Jewish population of Europe, as evidenced in the notes of the Wannsee Conference. In fact, the Nazis methodically recorded the ongoing reduction of the Jewish population, as in the Korherr Report, which gave the status of the Final Solution through December, 1942:

The total number of Jews in the world in 1937 is generally estimated at around 17 million, thereof more than 10 million in Europe... From 1937 to the beginning of 1943 the number of Jews, partially due to the excess mortality of the Jews in Central and Western Europe, partially due to the evacuations especially in the more strongly populated Eastern Territories which are here counted as off-going, should have diminished by an estimated 4 million. It must not be overlooked in this respect that of the deaths of Soviet Russian Jews in the occupied Eastern territories only a part was recorded, whereas deaths in the rest of European Russia and at the front are not included at all.... On the whole European Jewry should since 1933, i.e. in the first decade of National Socialist German power, have lost almost half of its population.

Nazi documentation

The Nazis themselves documented many of their crimes. For example, the "Höfle Telegram" sent by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle on January 11, 1943 to SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann in Berlin listed 1,274,166 Jews killed in the four camps of Aktion Reinhard during 1942 alone, while the Korherr Report compiled by an SS statistician, gave a conservative total of 2,454,000 Jews deported to extermination camps or killed by the Einsatzgruppen. The complete status reports of the Einsatzgruppen death squads were found in the archives of the Gestapo when it was searched by the U.S. Army, and the accuracy attested to by the former Einsatzgruppen members who testified during war crime trials and at other times. These reports alone list an additional 1,500,000 or so murders during mass shootings, the vast majority of these victims were Jews. Further, surviving Nazi documentation spells out their plans to murder the Jews of Europe (see the Wannsee Conference), recorded the trains arriving at various death camps, and included photographs and films of many atrocities.


There are voluminous amounts of testimony from thousands of survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the testimony of captured Nazi officers at war crimes trials such as the Nuremberg Military Tribunals. Holocaust deniers discount the testimony of officers claiming that these witnesses were tortured, or that Rudolf Hoess allegedly signed a confession written in a language he did not understand English) or that the Nuremberg Trial did not follow proper judicial procedures. However, Hoess's testimony did not consist of merely a signed confession; he also wrote two volumes of memoirs before being brought to trial and gave extensive testimony outside of the Nuremberg proceedings. Further, his testimony agrees with that of other contemporary written accounts by Auschwitz officials, such as Perry Broad, an SS man stationed at Auschwitz while Hoess was the commandant and the diary kept by SS physician at Auschwitz Johann Kremer, as well as the testimony of hundreds of camp guards and victims.[9]

Sonderkommandos provide another key piece of testimony. There were Jewish prisoners who helped march Jews to the gas chambers, and later dragged the bodies to the crematoria. Since they witnessed the entire process, their testimony is vital in confirming that the gas chambers were used for murderous purposes and the scale to which they were used.[10]