Zu Offnen die Tur des Richtigs (An Overview of Holocaust Denial)
by E-A. G.
A student essay from Dr. Elliot Neaman's History 210 class (historical methods - spring 1996)© Elliot Neaman / PHDNReproduction interdite par quelque moyen que ce soit / no reproduction allowed
Unfortunately, in our society today, fear breeds ignorance. Ethnic and religious groups who have not taken the time to understand the views of each other, begin to fear the unknown. What is it that exists in this largely Christian society that causes people to fear and hate each other? I believe this to be the absence or miseducation of people. If people are not taught to value new ideas and in turn people and cultures that are new to them, the obvious result is mistrust and fear of the unknown.
One of the most extreme cases of fear of another culture is the Holocaust. The first main objective of the Nazis was the annihilation of all Jews who were seen as foreigners amongst an Aryan race. A second objective was the extermination of all individuals such as cripples, mentally ill and those who did not fit into the mold of the new Nazi Germany. Never has this world seen such persecution as the result of ignorance and hatred. All those persecuted during World War II were seen as threats to the Third Reich. They did not believe that both they and the ones they persecuted belonged in the same country or even Continent. The Holocaust evoked sympathy in many people and the reaction was World War II. Once the war was over, people believed the persecution to be over as well. Yet, strangely enough, in our midst exists individuals and groups who would wish covertly to return to the persecutions of all who are different. Today, this exists much more insidiously. Under the guise of scholarship, Holocaust deniers seek to discredit the suffering of the Jews and in turn everyone else who was exterminated by the Nazis. These deniers work in educational institutions, publish books and run rampant on the computer Internet.
The Methodology of Holocaust Denial
The denial of the Holocaust is simply anti-Semitism in the guise of scholarship. These deniers have theories on how the holocaust was an elaborate plan thought up by the Jews in order to discredit the Germans and in turn gain power. An obvious question posed by educated people would be; Why would Jews broadcast and revel in the mass extermination of about six million of their own people? The deniers basically believe the existence of the persecution of the Jews. They know that camps existed regardless of what purpose they served. They also realize that Jews did die during World War Two and sometimes due to the Nazis. What they like to ignore or try to discredit is the extent of the persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. They acknowledge a percentage of the persecution but the rest they believe was fabricated by others. They try to justify the acknowledged percentage by pointing out what they believe to be the higher percentage of blame to be placed on the Jews. This is a clear case of blaming the victim.
Holocaust deniers seek to place the majority of the blame of the Holocaust on the Jews. How is this possible in an educated society such as ours? The deniers seek those people who are less educated or who are vulnerable. They look for individuals who are looking for reasons why they have not achieved their goals. What better way to justify your own failure than to blame it on another group. These people are easily taken in because they yearn for acceptance from a group. The deniers prey on the vulnerable and this is most evident because they target people on college campuses. Young people at college, away from home and the control of their parents, sometimes tend to be easily taken in by extremist groups. They do not know their own beliefs let alone understand and appreciate the differences in different cultures and races. They get a sense of belonging to something, a cause regardless of its implications. The Internet is also another way of targeting vulnerable people. There is probably a higher percentage of young people using the Internet versus older people. It is also an easier way to distribute material without censorship because there are usually no guidelines about who or what is on the Internet. The Deniers can peddle their hate propaganda somewhat anonymously and reach millions of impressionable people. The deniers reach all those people who are looking for someone to blame for their misfortune instead of getting an education and taking responsibility for their own lives.
Why is it hard to find and prosecute these deniers? They are hard to find because they operate in covert ways. Under the guise of academic learning they have formed committees, held conferences and published books and articles. One of the more famous publications is the Institute for Historical Review. Based solely on the name, the Institute appears to be an institute of higher learning thus publishing good, sound research. This is only an institute that publishes the so- called myth of the Holocaust. A report done by the Simon Wiesenthal Center calls the Institute for Historical Review "a prototype of the modern neo-Nazi movement. Instead of burning crosses or flaunting the swastika at mass rallies, the IHR stages sedate conferences. Rather than distribute crude, racist pamphlets or deliver frenzied speeches, it serves up quasi-academic papers and publishes a journal and a bimonthly newsletter."(Wiesenthal,pg. 32) They call themselves revisionists because they feel that the extent of time separating World War Two and now has given historians the opportunity to look at the Holocaust and revise it.
Revisionism and Holocaust Denial
Revising history is a common practice of historians and honest historians can gather information that might have not been present or relevant at the time and they can reevaluate it. But the kind of revisionism that the Holocaust deniers use is sloppy and faulty. They have misconstrued information and have used what information they have to institute hatred and most prevalently, anti-Semitism. The role of revisionists is to assimilate information and come up with a more plausible, grounded theory on the historical event in question. Their own personal agenda should not enter into their assimilation of the facts of history. According to Deborah Lipstadt in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, "the revisionists' arguments were... a perfect foil for the deniers. Their contentions about government chicanery, mistreatment of Germany, and atrocity reports and their desire to change public attitudes were too tempting to be ignored. The deniers would hijack this movement and use it for their own purposes" (Lipstadt, pgs. 34-35).
The tricky aspect of revisionism on the part of holocaust deniers is that they present it in such a rational way that it is easy for people to be taken in by it. What is the most important thing to look at when evaluating their theories is what motivates them to publish these theories which fortunately are not accepted by the majority of historians or even most rational people. A close look revels anti-Semitism.
Robert Faurisson, a suspended teacher from the University of Lyons II and a leader in Holocaust denial, concludes that "the alleged Hitlerian gas chambers and the so-called genocide of the Jews form a single historical lie whose principal beneficiaries are the State of Israel and international Zionism and whose principal victims are the German people, but not its leaders, and the Palestinian people in its entirety" (Naquet-Vidal, pg. xiii). He clearly denies or tries to lessen the involvement of the Germans in the annihilation of the Jews. It is also clear that his own biased personal opinion concerning the Jews is present in what he claims as historical accurate theories. He questions the existence of the gas chambers and in turn tries to deny the experiences of those who remember the horrors of the extermination camps. As it will be pointed out in further detail in this paper, the preponderance of evidence supports the universally accepted idea of the extermination of the Jews through the use of poisonous gas in the gas chambers. Again, who would go against the physical and emotional evidence of the Holocaust?
The Mermelstein Case
In one instance, the Institute for Historical Review offered up a $50,000 reward to any person who wished to prove the existence of the gas chambers. Mel Mermelstein, a survivor who also lost members of his family due to extermination, took up the challenge. He provided ample evidence. The result was harassment on the part of IHR and then Mermelstein took them to court. The ruling was not a surprise. "On October 9, 1981, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas T. Johnson ruled that the Holocaust' is not reasonably subject to dispute... The court does take judicial notice that Jews were gassed to death in Poland in Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 [when Mermelstein's family was there]" (Stern, pg.17). While the ruling produced the result of Mermelstein being paid the money owed him, holocaust deniers also gained media attention. Media attention is a primary way that these people can spread their message of hate. What Mermelstein expressed was his disbelief that he even needed to try to prove something that has been universally accepted. This has become increasingly more prevalent for historians to have to try and prove something that has already been debated and decided since the Nuremberg Trials.
The Gas Chambers and the Nuremberg Trials
One of the main objectives of the Holocaust deniers is to disprove the existence of the gas chambers. In turn, they try to disprove the notion of the Final Solution, Hitler's stages towards the removal and annihilation of the Jews. At the Wannsee Conference in 1942, a group of prominent Nazis made plans for such an annihilation. The members of the Conference have confessed to the purpose of the meeting. Also, a full set of minutes survived the war.(Lipstadt, pg. 214) Deniers have tried to discredit witnesses be they Jewish or German. To them, Jews profit from the idea of mass extermination. They also believe that the Nazis that confessed at the Nuremberg trials were forced to. They were physically and verbally threatened by those who monitored the Nuremberg Trials. Deniers also have the theory that propaganda spread by the Allies convinced the Germans that there were gas chambers when according to them they were an invented myth. The obvious question posed then is: Why would anyone, Nazi or otherwise, admit to taking part in the gassings of about six million people? Many Nazis admitted to war crimes. Among the large number of confessors, how many claimed complete innocence? If what the deniers say is true than it can be believed that several confessors would have rather suffered the consequences than to admit to something they are innocent of. In fact, this opportunity did not exist. Too much evidence was collected against the Germans.
Many of the war criminals that were tried after World War II admitted to taking part in the killing of humans. But they also prefaced their admissions by blaming higher officers that gave them the orders to kill. Each officer claimed innocence because they were just following orders and doing their jobs as members of the SS. There were four main extermination camp leaders. Franz Stangl, Commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka in Poland,was brought to trial in Germany in 1970. It was calculated that he was responsible for the deaths of about 900,000 people.(Sereny,pg.21) Both Sobibor and Treblinka were death camps as opposed to concentration camps. People who entered these camps usually did not come out alive. Gitta Sereny interviewed Stangl while he was serving his life sentence in Germany. She chronicles his life in her book Into That Darkness. She was mostly interested in what had made him into the type of human who kills others rather than the gory details of exactly what he did. He admitted to being the Commandant of the two camps but he also did not understand why he was being punished for following the orders of his superiors. As stated previously, most of the war criminals that were brought to trial during or after the Nuremberg trials admitted to taking part in the exterminations. It is therefore not understandable why the deniers still resist the idea of the gas chambers when the people who were responsible for it admit to it.
Numerous reports were found after the War which substantiated the claims of the Allies about the existence of the gas chambers. One such report was "filed in June 1943 by the Waffen-SS commandant of construction at Auschwitz on the completion of the crematoria. The report indicated that the five crematoria had a total twenty-four-hour capacity of 4,756 bodies" (Lipstadt, pg. 167). Not only do reports such as these exist but also the actual plans from the contractors who designed and built the crematoria. The plans clearly indicated the extermination of humans and not other things such as rats as the deniers contend. In actuality, the extermination campaign began on September 1, 1939. Hitler gave permission to two officers to institute and grant "merciful deaths". This was called Operation T4 with the objective to get rid of "incurables and the mentally ill" by the use of gas chambers. This Operation killed about 100,000 people and was ended officially on August 24, 1941 (Naquet-Vidal, pg. 107). But did it really end? It is known that gassings began in 1941 at the extermination camps because the war was not going according to plan for the Nazis. The camps were over-crowded and disease and infestation was rampant. The war did not appear to be reaching a conclusion. This was the point of desperation that pushed the Nazis towards mass extermination. As was already pointed out, they were already predisposed to eliminating those who cluttered up Nazi Germany and the occupied territories.
Another controversy that surrounds the gassings is the questioning of the particular gas used and if the gas was even effective. Zyklon B was the gas most often used, especially at Auschwitz. Rudolph Hoess, commandant at Auschwitz, admits to this gas first being used at Auschwitz on September 3, 1941 on Soviet prisoners (Naquet-Vidal, pg 106).
Robert Faurisson again raises arguments against the possibility of gassings. His first assertion is that he found it impossible for 2,000 or so people to fit in the chambers according to their dimensions. Also, those working in the process of extermination entered the chambers and were apparently not affected by the gas. He also raises questions about how those being exterminated would have to help in the extermination in as far as opening windows to insert the chemical through and he also points out the possibility of the fumes which might have prevented speedy removal of the corpses. He then claims that because of the flammable property of the chemical the stoves could not have been in the same location. His theories are easily disproved by a description of the gassings. Most victims were told that they would be getting a shower and that they should disrobe. Efforts were made in order to trick the people into believing that they would receive these long overdue showers. With little resistance at first, the inmates would by crowded into the crematorium. The Nazis used force in order to cram about 2,000 prisoners into the building. Windows were built on top of the roof that opened from the outside. Officers dumped the Zyklon B powder into the room which then turned into gas at a certain temperature. Within three minutes, the inhabitants of the chambers were dead. Three minutes was actually the most humane time that existed. In less modernized camps such as Birkenwald(Buchenwald), the deaths were probably more drawn out. The effect was the same. After airing out the chambers the bodies were taken to the stoves in another section of the building or an all together different building.(N-V,pgs.62-63) The above report obviously refutes the assertions of Faurisson. Zyklon B appears to have been very effective indeed.
Another issue surrounding Zyklon B is the search for traces of it in the chambers today. According to Fred Leuchter, a denier who wrote The Leuchter Report: The End of a Myth, Zyklon B is not evident in the gas chambers he visited at Auschwitz so thus its use was fabricated. The response to this is that the chambers in which he visited were not the real chambers in which the gassings took place. The chambers at the main Auschwitz camp were converted during the war into raid shelters. It is also documented that the "SS blew up Crematorium II in January, 1945" (Stern,pg.72). The gassings were then moved to Birkenau which was then destroyed during the war. In order to preserve the memories of those who died, an exhibit was created at Auschwitz. The old raid shelter was converted back into the gas chamber in order to show visitors what had occurred at the death camps. It would make sense that Leuchter found no traces of the gas in the chambers at the camp. Instead, what is evident is all the eye-witness reports and the existence of documents that confirm the use of Zyklon B. In the exhibits at Auschwitz, piles of cans of Zyklon B are displayed. It appears as though these cans might have been present when the Allies took over the camp during the Liberation. There are also numerous reports existing which prove the existence of Zyklon B stating how it was used for human extermination in the gas chambers.
The deniers, at times, will admit the existence of poisonous gases and even gas chambers to some extent. But they rationalize the existence of these things in a different way. Because of the conditions in the crowded camps, disease and rat infestations were rampant. The deniers, if they even admit the existence of the gas chambers, try to prove that the chambers were used to dispose of dead corpses that died due to typhus or other contagious ailments. The gas is then believed to have been used to kill rats and lice. It is also known that Zyklon B is an insecticide which logically would not be used for lice or rats. For disinfection,a bactericide would be used because an insecticide is too powerful (Lipstadt, pg. 225). Obviously, there are many discrepancies over the kind of gas used and what it was used for.
Basically, deniers try to remove the blame of the deaths of millions due to gassings from the Germans to the prisoners who had the misfortune of succumbing to the effects of overcrowding. A rational person would see that either way the Germans were responsible for the deaths be they intentional or inadvertent. The conditions in the camps were created by the Nazis. They were the ones who rounded up all the detractors of the Nazi state. The prisoners did not willingly go to the camps and choose to stay in filthy and overcrowded barracks. The obvious conclusion is that they were not responsible for their conditions while held prisoners so therefore they are not responsible for their own deaths.
The Deniers' "Numbers Game"
Along with all the discussions surrounding the extermination camps also comes discrepancies about the number of people who died due to the Nazis. Many historians, German or otherwise, have confirmed the number of around six million Jews killed. The Supreme Court has come up with a similar number, Soviet documents support the figure as well and the Germans have even calculated around six million. An SS Major quoted Adolph Eichmann as having said that, "[A]pproximately four million Jews had been killed in the various extermination camps, while an additional two million met death in other ways, the majority of which were shot by operation squads of the Security Police during the Russian campaign" (Stern,pg.66). If those who actually did the killing confirm numbers then why is it that Holocaust deniers have such a hard time believing numbers that have been universally accepted? The Germans were very meticulous in keeping up their records, most of which were used during the Nuremberg trials. Of course the numbers could be off because they do not take into account all those who died in transit to the camps and all those who were directed by mistake into the lines for the chambers. The Nazis also did not include dead babies in their reports.(Stern,pg.68)But it appears that the research into and the inclusion of these figures would only increase the total number. Holocaust deniers also like to point out that there were many misplaced or missing persons after the war. They believe that the number is inflated because these people are included in it. There have been reports of those believed dead from the gas chambers surfacing many years later. To many this is a good thing but deniers use this to disprove the numbers and in turn the existence of the Nazi extermination system.
The History of Holocaust Denial
In order to fully understand why Holocaust deniers would try to disprove the existence of the gas chambers, one must look at who they are as individuals and groups. Holocaust denial began even before the war ended. "In 1944...people who were SS, who were propagandists, who were involved in the camp system, knew they lost the war, and left Germany...they began to work for the readjustment of history. Holocaust denial material appeared very very early after the war" (Stern, pg.6). There were also many people who, while not formal deniers, definitely were very anti-Semitic in nature. Paul Rassinier, a concentration camp survivor from France, was among one of the first Europeans to try to dispute the intentions of the Nazis to exterminate the Jews and the numbers of the dead that were later calculated.(Stern,pg.6) Harry Barnes was perhaps one of the first American deniers to surface. He wrote some of the earliest attacks against European Jews.(Wiesenthal,pg.20) Both men were frustrated in their careers. Perhaps this is because neither one was meticulous or accurate in their research. James Keegstra, a high school teacher in Canada, was convicted twice for promoting and inciting anti-Semitism.(Wiesenthal,pg.24) Ernst Zundel, a Canadian who moved from Germany in the late fifties, has made it his goal to exonerate the Germans of any blame due to the war. He has been prosecuted several times in both Germany and Canada. He claims that the Jews invented the Holocaust in order to gain power. In fact, German officials have repeatedly asked Zündel to not instigate neo-Nazi activities in Germany through his speeches and mailings. They have tried to get Canadian officials to curb Zundel's activities.(Wiesenthal,pg.28-31) It appears as though even the Germans are annoyed by Zundel's attempt to exonerate them. All of the deniers have come up with unsupported theories on how the Jews are responsible for their own annihilation. If Germans admit to the persecution and the rest of the world acknowledged the plight of the Jews then why do a select group have a hard time reconciling themselves to the facts? There are obvious external reasons why these hate groups exist. Thus, the reason why the word "hate" precedes group.
Most of the deniers have some sort of affiliation with hate groups such as the Institute for Historical Review or the Heritage Front which is a white supremacist group in Canada. There are also other groups which support causes like the preservation of the Aryan race and the vindication of hate crime participants. The characteristics and personalities of these individuals are highly questionable. An obvious conclusion is that their theories are highly objectionable as well.
It has been proven in this paper and in society in general that the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people actually did exist. The death camps were called such not because large numbers of people survived them but because the majority of them died in the extermination chambers. All evidence points to the existence of gas chambers, the gas that was used in them and the success of the results apparent in the numbers of those who died.
This topic is a very frustrating issue to be handled by historians. In such a modernized society there still exists primitive people who wish to miseducate others and as a result aid disharmony on an international scale. It is amazing to this writer that such amounts of time have to be wasted to prove a clear wrong against a particular ethnic group. The Jewish culture has already been raped and robbed by hate mongers in the form of Nazi Germany. Must they again be subject to such mutilations of dignity and character? Should we as inhabitants of this planet allow extremist groups to yet again derail our quest for cultural and ethnic understanding? In a democratic society, certain rights exist such as freedom of speech, assembly and press. The deniers use or actually misuse these rights. But there is a fine line between freedom of personal expression and the freedom to incite ideas of hatred. While deniers have the right to think and feel the way they do, they do not have the right to insidiously impinge upon the right of others. Their ideas incite violence and hatred. This directly infringes on the rights of those they oppose. they are not a peaceful group. They are extremists and should be dealt with strictly yet cautiously. The Nazi party started out relatively innocent. They were nationalists who sought the preservation of the Germanic state. They gradually developed into such a large hate machine that a war had to be fought over them. The deaths of millions of people of Jewish and non-Jewish descent are the result. The complete eradication of families and the tormented memories of the survivors are the relicts of a bad period in history. But to speak of these events in the past tense is not accurate. The Holocaust deniers have brought back these memories to haunt us like ghosts that are remnants of past indiscretions. The fact that we view ourselves as so modernized perhaps inhibits us from learning lessons from the past. A reasonably logical person can see the error in ignoring Holocaust deniers. What is the difference between what they do and what the Nazis did? An excerpt from Enrique Santos Discepolo's poem "Cambalache" perhaps sums things up well.
But that the twentieth century is a torrent
of insolent nastiness
No one any longer denies.
We live in a flood of scum
and in the same mud,
All of us manipulated. (Naquet-Vidal,pg.140).
Lipstadt, Deborah E. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The Free Press. New York, 1993.
Naquet-Vidal, Pierre. Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust. Columbia University Press. New York, 1992.
Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing To Mass Murder. McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York, 1974.
Stern, Kenneth S. Holocaust Denial. The American Jewish Committee. New York, 1993.
Wiesenthal, Simon. Holocaust Denial: Bigotry in the Guise of Scholarship. Simon Wiesenthal Center Report. 1994.
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