During World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies led a systematic, state-sponsored genocide which attempted to rid Europe of all Jewish people, without regard for age, gender, religion, nationality, or ideology. This event is known as the Holocaust. Although there is no exact count of how many Jews were killed, most historians place the number around 6 million[1], and the World Holocaust Remembrance Center has records accounting for three million[2].

The Holocaust is the largest and most widely documented genocide in history, and yet, there are some who claim that it never happened. Holocaust deniers, who prefer calling themselves “historical revisionists,”[3] say that there was no systematic attempt to exterminate Jews, believing instead that the holocaust is nothing but a Zionist conspiracy. While Zionism is a real movement that espouses the establishment and protection of a Jewish homeland in Israel, Zionist conspiracy theories simplify a politically complicated goal into the vile conspiracy attempting to control the world through nefarious means.

Although many find it laughable, holocaust denial constitutes dangerous conspiracy theory. It draws its theses from pervasive anti-Semitic stereotypes and myths about Zionism, resulting in the demonization of Jewish people and the perpetuation of falsehoods and misinformation. Despite the outlandishness of these beliefs, it is important to asses and deconstruct the denier’s theories in order to understand understand the multiple logical fallacies that help justify their bigoted, predetermined conclusions.

 “The Holocaust Never Happened”

There are three facts that Holocaust deniers generally refute as falsehoods: (1) that Jews were at the center of an extermination policy carried out by the Nazi government and their allies, (2) that gas chambers and crematory ovens were used to carry out the murder in extermination camps, and that (3) five to six million Jews were murdered as a result.

Deniers claim instead that the Nazi government never advocated for the annihilation of Jews, rather merely promoted their emigration. This policy, deniers believe, was exaggerated by Allied nations and turned into the “so-called extermination” in an effort to disseminate anti-Nazi propaganda[4]. Some deniers completely deny the existence of any evidence for extermination camps. Others concede that camps existed, but argue that these were not used for extermination, but to separate communist Jews from the general population[5]. They claim that gas chambers were not used to murder Jews, but to delouse clothing, and crematoriums were in place to dispose of approximately 300,000 Jews who died not due to planned extermination, but war-caused famine and typhus epidemics[6].

According to holocaust deniers,

holocaust-denial-2
Fig 1. This cartoon of unknown authorship, found in multiple holocaust denialist websites, depicts Jews as deeply indoctrinated conspirators. This stereotype can be found in much denialist propaganda following (and prior to) World War II.

this lie has been promoted for several different reasons,
but mainly to secure a Zionist homeland for the Jews, and to abuse Palestinians. The pamphlet “Did Six Million Really Die?” by Richard Verrall is one of the original denier texts, which proposed that the holocaust was created to generate support for a Jewish national homeland[7]. Verrall argues that “Zionists wrested from the Government the land of Palestine and created their haven from persecution, the State of Israel,” and goes on to proclaim that “the Jewish people emerged from the Second World War as nothing less than a triumphant minority.” [8] Almost as icing on the cake, Verrall draws from the stereotype that Jews control the media, and asserts that the best-seller status of The Diary of Anne Frank is an example of Jews using the “holocaust hoax” to sell books and movies[9].

img_6939
Fig 2. This excerpt from one of Ernst Zundel’s pamphlets was distributed in Canada, the U.S. and West Germany, appealing to German national pride to encourage anti-Zionist ideas.

Denier Individuals and Organizations

Ernst Zündel is a German publisher who promoted denialist theories and was jailed multiple times in several countries, such as Canada and Germany, for inciting hatred against Jews and espousing racist and hateful theories[10]. Prior to becoming a notorious peddler of neo-Nazi literature, Zündel worked as an illustrator for Maclean’s Magazine, a Canadian weekly news publication – hardly the background you would expect from someone who is “revising” history. Zündel claimed to have a mailing list of 29,000 in the U.S. alone, which he used to distribute neo-Nazi literature and memorabilia. This kind of literature was outlawed in Germany, which meant that Canada-based Zündel stood to profit from printing divergent literature [11].

David Irving was a once reputable historian who began spreading theories which painted Hitler in a positive light, and qualified the extermination camp gas chambers as a “fairy tale.” [12] Most interestingly, Irving’s original skepticism of the holocaust came from his observation that British World War I propaganda would exaggerate and fabricate events in order to promote an anti-German sentiment[13]. This is indeed true – researchers and scholars exposed much of England’s propaganda as exaggeration and lies [21], which led to a presumption of falsehood towards all consequent British wartime propaganda.

Many scholars consider the Institute for Historical Review to be the epicenter of holocaust denial. The IHR was founded in 1978 by David McCalden, a former member of the British National Front, an all-white far-right political party. According to Kathleen M. Blee, professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, the IHR publishes the Journal of Historical Review, a non-peer-reviewed which attempts to lend legitimacy to racist and anti-Semitic theories[14]. The journal has been met with absolute rejection by the Organization of American Historians[15] and the Journal of American History[16].

Kernels of Truth

As with any historical event, the evidence surrounding the holocaust is sometimes confusing and contradictory, so there are here are shreds of truth to the claims that holocaust deniers often make. For instance, the exact number of victims of the holocaust is indeed contentious, and has actually changed over time, with most modern accepted estimates ranging from 4.5 to 6 million. Furthermore, the exact ways in which the Nazi regime carried out the extermination of millions of people are quite complex, and the economics and logistics whereby the genocide was carried out are constantly being re-analyzed by historians. And as previously stated, a common technique of wartime propaganda is exaggeration, which can lead to a well-deserved skepticism that can extend to real events, as in David Irving’s case [13] [21].

This continuous re-assessment of history is called “historical revisionism,” and it is a legitimate and important academic activity. Historians who debate the number of victims are not attempting to rewrite history, but are questioning the precision of the available data, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the past. On the other hand, so called “revisionists,” such as those from the Institute for Historical Review, depart from a predetermined conclusion and then seek out data to support their claims [17]. This essentially reverses the proper analytical method, which would entail looking at evidence objectively and with an open mind, allowing the facts to lead into a rational conclusion that is supported by the evidence.

Holocaust deniers may not be entirely wrong when they argue that the holocaust is being used to advance political goals which include the protection of the Israeli state. Although this is a contentious subject, the use of the holocaust as a rhetorical tool should be analyzed critically, but it does it mean that the holocaust didn’t take place. Arguably, the prevention of a second holocaust is one of the most compelling arguments for the existence of Israel. Jewish scholar Norman G. Finkelstein argues that a “Holocaust Industry” is currently exploiting the holocaust to promote the notion of Jewish victimhood, in an attempt to justify “criminal policies of the Israeli State and the U.S. support for these policies [18].” Finkelstein’s claims do not attempt to deny that the holocaust occurred. His arguments point out issues regarding how the holocaust is constructed in people’s minds and used to sell products and policies. Whether one finds the arguments compelling or not, the goal of Finkelstein’s analysis is to make sure that one atrocity is not used to justify another, and the arguments used are rational, if controvertible.

img_6937
Fig 3. The persistence of the holocaust in classrooms and media outlets has been used as evidence of conspiracy by both holocaust deniers and critics of the “Holocaust Industry.” This cartoon uses traditionally antisemitic imagery, such as the hairy chest and arms, circular eyeglasses and dialectical spelling of ‘remembah’ to  vilify and demonize the jewish mad depicted therein.

Logical Fallacies 

Holocaust deniers utilize faulty logic to further their claims and justify their anti-Semitic stances. As mentioned above, Gord McFee, a historian and scholar of German history and literature, details the faulty revisionism of Holocaust deniers in the essay “Why Revisionism Isn’t.” McFee argues that deniers work backwards from a preordained conclusion, end deny the facts that don’t support it[19]. Holocaust deniers tend to become fixated on small details, which they nitpick for so called “inconsistencies,” which are then used as proof that the holocaust could not have happened at all.

For instance, deniers claim that the crematory apparatus of the camps could not have eliminated the bodies quickly enough – therefore, the entire holocaust must be a fabricated narrative. Not only is this a big logical leap to make, but scholars have numerous time refuted this claim by proving that the amount of ovens, along with the use of open pits to dispose of bodies, would have been able to get rid of cadavers quickly enough for the genocide to continue at the rate it did. [20]

Taking a step back, and looking at the larger scale of the conspiracy, it is an extremely difficult pill to swallow. The manufacture of a lie as large as the murder of six million people would require collusion from hundreds of thousands of people. It requires believers to reject every piece of literature, first-hand account, court decisions, artifacts, the entire body of evidence that supports the historical fact that is the holocaust.

Deniers routinely dismiss this entire body of evidence as fabrication, under the delusional claim that the evil Jewish-Zionist machine is powerful enough to pull off such a grand con. The idea that for the past 70 years every major publication and world government has colluded with pro-Israel intent, without anybody confessing the truth, is absolutely ludicrous.

Holocaust denial is a very dangerous conspiracy, as it reinforces the very same anti-Semitic notions that brought about the genocide which is so adamantly negates. Denier organizations exist in nearly every country in the world, across the entire political spectrum, actively pushing their denialist claims and trying to make it the mainstream narrative. The scariest part is that in a few decades, as the holocaust fades into distant history, the lack of living survivors and direct descendants might make it easier for deniers to convince people of their falsehood.

Deniers are not exclusive to the holocaust. The same techniques and agendas are applied in other countries to invalidate the plight of certain groups, such as the cover up the Holodomor genocide in Ukraine by Stalinist Russia. It is important to look out for rhetoric that aims to segregate and target specific ethnic groups, jewish or otherwise. Only then can we avoid another holocaust.

References:

[1] The Avalon Project: Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 3 – Twentieth Day. The Avalon Project: Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 3 – Twentieth Day. Yale Law Library, 2008. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[2]The Holocaust.Yad Vashem. The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[3] Stern, Kenneth S. Holocaust Denial. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1993. 2. Print.

[4] Verrall, Richard “Did Six Million Really Die?Internet Archive. Internet Archive, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

[5] Stern, Kenneth S. Holocaust Denial. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1993. 3. Print.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Verrall, Richard “Did Six Million Really Die?Internet Archive. Internet Archive, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Bonokoski, Mark. “Zündel Released from German Jail.Toronto Sun, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[11] The Nizkor Project (last updated 2012) is an archive of information that has the explicit goal of monitoring and refuting false information distributed by racist, anti-semitic and nazi publications. Their information on Ernst Zündel can be found in: Prutschi, Manuel. “The Zündel Affair.Shofar FTP Archives. The Nizkor Project, 22 Apr. 1996. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[12] Traynor, Ian. “Holocaust Denier Jailed.The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2011. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

[13] Rosenbaum, Ron. Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999. Print.

[14] Blee, Kathleen M. Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement. Berkeley: U of California, 2002. Print.

[15] Mark Weber. The Organization of American Historians: Faithfully Reflecting Prevailing Standards. The Journal of Historical Review, July–August 1993 (Vol. 13, No. 4), pp. 20-24.

[16]  Journal of American History, Vol 80, No. 3, p. 1213.

[17] McFee, Gord. “Why ‘Revisionism’ Isn’t.The Holocaust History Project, 15 May 1999. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[18] Finkelstein, Norman G. The Holocaust Industry: Reflection on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. London: VERSO, 2000. Print.

[19] McFee, Gord. “Why ‘Revisionism’ Isn’t.The Holocaust History Project, 15 May 1999. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

[20] Stern, Kenneth S. Holocaust Denial. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1993. 65. Print.

[21] Sanders, M. L., Taylor, P. M. (1982). British Propaganda During the First World War, 1914–18. p.256 London. Print.

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