Holocaust Denial Literature
Holocaust denial literature is based on the premise that the treatment of Jews and members of other ethnic and social groups by the Nazi regime during World War II has been misrepresented by historians, journalists, and governments. Authors of Holocaust denial literature first contended that the wartime killings were implemented without Adolf Hitler's knowledge by the lesser officers of the SS who ran the concentration camps. These authors ultimately have come to maintain that there were no systematic killings at all and that the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps were used only for delousing clothing, not killing human beings. As anti-Israel sentiment grew within certain political factions, the denial movement embraced the theory of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy to gain sympathy for Zionist ideals by propagating a Holocaust "story." In the 1970s and 1980s Holocaust denial gained public attention with the trial in France of Robert Faurisson, a University of Lyons professor who was prosecuted under French law for his Holocaust denial writings; the establishment in 1980 of the Journal of Historical Review, the periodical of the Institute of Historical Review, a group of revisionists who claimed to be legitimate historians; and the publication, beginning in 1987, of Holocaust denial advertisements in major American university newspapers. The latter engendered controversy when critics denounced the decision to run the advertisements as little more than insensitive attempts to falsify history. Newspaper editors countered that their actions were governed by the principle of freedom of expression rather than historical accuracy. Freedom of expression was also invoked in the case of Robert Faurisson when Noam Chomsky, a noted American linguistic theorist, argued that Faurisson and all scholars have the right to research and publish without fear of persecution. The debate continues over what place, if any, Holocaust denial literature has in universities and libraries.
App, Austin J.
The Six Million Swindle: Blackmailing the German People for Hard Marks with Fabricated Corpses 1974
Butz, Arthur R.
The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry 1976
The "Problem of the Gas Chambers," or "The Rumor of Auschwitz" 1979
Memoire en defense contre ceux qui m 'accusent de falsifier l'histoire: la question des chambres d gaz 1980
A Prominent False Witness: Elie Wiesel 1990
Friedrich, Christof [pseudonym of Ernst Zundel] and Thomson, Eric
The Hitler We Loved and Why 1980
Grimstad, William N.
The Six Million Reconsidered: Is the Nazi Holocaust Story a Zionist Propaganda Ploy? 1979
Harwood, Richard [pseudonym of Richard Verrall]
Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth at Last 1974
Hoggan, David L.
The Myth of the Six Million 1969
Hitler's War 1977
Journal of Historical Review 1980—
The Leuchter Report: The End of a Myth. An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, Poland 1988
The Drama of the European Jews 1975
Debunking the Genocide Myth 1978 [Reprinted as The Holocaust Story and the Lies of Ulysses]
The Real Eichmann Trial, or, the Incorrigible Victors 1979
The "Confessions" of Kurt Gerstein 1989
Smith, Bradley R.
Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist 1988
The Spotlight 1975—
Worldwide Growth and Impact of "Holocaust" Revisionism: A Handbook of Revisionist Views and the Controversy Today 1985
SOURCE: "The Holocaust Denial: a Study in Propaganda Technique," in Neo-Fascism in Europe, Luciano Cheles, Ronnie Ferguson, Michalina Vaughan, eds., Longman Group Limited, 1991, pp. 120-46.
[In the following essay, Eatwell analyzes propaganda techniques used in Holocaust denial literature]
The Holocaust of Jews during the Second World War is part of modern collective memory. Images of the emaciated living, of rag-doll heaps of the dead, of gas chambers and ferocious SS guards, are vivid not just for survivors. Popular media, such as film and television, provide constant reminders of the twentieth century's potential for bestiality. Yet, during the 1970s and 1980s there was a notable growth of articles, pamphlets and books seeking to deny that there was a systematic Nazi policy of genocide. Such views might be considered the historical or political equivalent of the 'scientific' belief that the moon is made of green cheese. However, four opening points about the growth of this Holocaust-denial literature illustrate the dangers of dismissing its potential impact, especially at a time when there are signs that anti-Semitism may be reviving, and criticisms of Israel growing.
Firstly, such propaganda should not be seen solely within the context of the limited circulations achieved by most contemporary Fascist publications. Laws banning the publication of Nazi works have hampered German Fascists from focusing on these arguments. However, among notable Holocaust-denial works which have circulated is Thies Christophersen's pamphlet Die Auschwitz Liige, first published in 1973 by Kritik-Verlag (Mohrkirch). By 1979 over 100,00 copies had allegedly been distributed. That year also saw the appearance of Wilhelm Staglich's 498-page Der Auschwitz-Mythos, published by Grabert Verlag (Tübingen). This was quickly suppressed but, apparently, only after all but seven of its 10,000-copy run had been sold; subsequently, it has been republished in English and French, while German language editions are advertised for smuggling back to Germany.
This republication of works abroad illustrates a second important point: the international aspect of the Holocaust denial and, especially, the link between some of the groups and individuals involved. These international links can be seen most clearly through the activities of the American Institute for Historical Review (IHR), founded in 1978. Many leading European, American and Arab 'Historical Revisionists', as they prefer to be known, have attended IHR conferences and contributed to its The Journal of Historical Review. Among the most active have been Arthur Butz and Robert Faurisson. The former is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at Northwestern University, Illinois. He is best known for his 315-page book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, first published in 1976 by the Historical Review Press (Brighton). The latter has been a Senior Lecturer in Literary Criticism at the University of Lyon-2. His prolific works in the 1980s include the 304-page book Memoire en defense contre ceux qui m 'accusent de falsifier l'histoire, published by La Vieille Taupe (Paris). This contained a preface written by the left-wing American linguistician Noam Chomsky, a document which caused considerable outcry and surprise. These points illustrate a third factor which should be underlined at the outset: some Historical Revisionists are highly educated. Among earlier ones who were capable of sustaining a more sophisticated level of debate, it is important to note Maurice Bardeche, the brother-in-law of the literary Fascist Robert Brasillach. Bardeche wrote several books and articles which anticipated Historical Revisionist themes, and edited the neo-Fascist journal Defense de l'Occident.
In her book The Holocaust Denial (1986), Gill Seidel draws attention to a fourth point: the clear Fascist and/or racist motivation of this literature. It is interesting, here, to note Richard Harwood's widely-distributed pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die? (1974). On page 2, Harwood reveals his motivation when he writes:
what happens if a man dares to speak of the race problem, of its biological and political implications? He is branded as that most heinous of creatures, a 'racialist'. And what is racialism, of course, but the very hallmark of the Nazi! They (so everyone is told, anyway) murdered Six Million Jews because of racialism, so it must be a very evil thing indeed. When Enoch Powell drew attention to the dangers posed by coloured immigration into Britain in one of his early speeches, a certain prominent Socialist raised the spectre of Dachau and Auschwitz to silence his presumption.
It is interesting to note that this is removed in the 1987(?) revised edition, which admits that a small number of errors crept into the original version. However, the revised edition includes a more esoteric reference to Fascism in relation to the former French distributor of the pamphlet, Frangois Duprat, who was assassinated in 1978. The new introduction notes that Duprat's party, the Front National, was subsequently taken over by 'opportunists', a clear reference to the less overtly Fascist tone which emerged as support grew during the 1980s. If further evidence is sought about motivation, it should be noted that Harwood subsequently turned out to be Richard Verrall, a leading member of the British National Front during the 1970s. The apparently anodyne Historical Review Press, which published the pamphlet, has close links with British Fascist and racist organisations. It has been active in distributing a wide range of literature, including works by Butz, Christophersen, Faurisson and Stiglich, and it distributes IHR publications. The motivation of other publishers has not always been strictly Fascist. In America, anti-Semitism seems more to be the key. Some money has also come from Arab sources, clearly with the desire of delegitimising Israel. In France, Faurisson's works have been published by a left-wing collective called La Vieille Taupe, which includes Jewish supporters. Here again, anti-Israel sentiments, which are common in sections of both the Communist and non-Communist left, seem to be central (this position tends to be pro-Palestinian, seeing Israel as capitalist and imperialist—even racist—in the light of its policies towards the Palestinians).
The linking publishing theme is therefore political manipulation rather than a desire to engage in academic debate. In its more sophisticated form, this even involves a form of Gramsci-ism, the belief that the radical needs to fight at the level of ideas in order to undermine dominant cultural-political values. While such views are normally found on he left, the French Nouvelle Droite offers a notable example of 'Gramsci-ism of the right' (moreover, the extent to which contemporary Fascist tracts circulate at the international level means that this Nouvelle Droite position has been influential elsewhere). A leading member of La Vieille Taupe has even claimed that Louis Pauwels, the director of the French conservative newspaper Le Figaro and a leading figure in the Nouvelle Droite, met Faurisson in private and expressed support for Historical Revisionism. Pressure from advertisers, and the threat of legal action prevented Pauwels openly siding with Faurisson, but he later financed a trip to America for a 'revisionist' member of La Vieille Taupe. While such testimony must be treated with extreme caution, it underlines the possibility that Historical Revisionism is viewed as useful by more respectable members of the right (and left).
These diverse political motivations are a vital perspective, but unduly emphasising them can lead to the belief that all Historical Revisionists are frauds in the sense that they are consciously lying. Most undoubtedly are but Faurisson, in particular, appears to believe what he is arguing. Certainly, his earlier writings on French literature had a tendency to adopt the Messianic view that he had seen the true light, whereas countless others had been deceived, a markedly similar line to his one on the Holocaust. Emphasis on the Fascist and racist links also means that Holocaust-denial arguments tend to be ignored or parodied. Once the political associations of the individual have been established, substantive debate of the issue seems unnecessary. Such an approach leads to underestimating the potential appeal of some arguments. Evidence as to their potential can be seen by the fact that the author Colin Wilson wrote a review of Harwood's pamphlet which reveals that he was clearly impressed. The Henri Roques affair in France offers further evidence of the potential appeal of such arguments, even to academics (it also attracted considerable popular-media attention). In 1985, a student was awarded a doctorate at the University of Nantes for a Historical Revisionist critique of the Gerstein document (see below). The degree was subsequently revoked as a result of a series of irregularities involving the connivance of some academics. It is impossible to tell whether the individuals concerned were convinced by the arguments or saw them, more, as politically useful. Certainly, some had connections with various Fascist and racist groups. Nevertheless, there seems to be a strong case for analysing the appeal of Holocaust-denial arguments more systematically.
An important question when approaching the Holocaust denial is whether it would be better to ignore the literature. It could be argued that discussing such claims could both give them legitimacy in the sense that they are seen as worthy of debate, and increase their familiarity among those who might otherwise have been unaware of their existence. This may have been the best policy when such works were rare, but their recent growth makes a more specific response vital, especially as ignoring them could be seen as confirming a conspiracy (a common Historical Revisionist allegation) of silence.
It has been argued that such a response should focus on legal suppression. Censorship raises a series of wide-ranging issues about democratic politics. However, even at the pragmatic level, it is possible to question whether legal proceedings can be deemed unequivocally useful. The threat of legal action (mainly under race relations laws) has probably served to deter the wider publication of Historical Revisionist arguments. On the other hand, there were various prosecutions against Faurisson in the 1980s, followed by appeals and counter-appeals. In the end, both sides claimed victory. The anti-racist groups stressed that Faurisson had to pay damages and was given a suspended sentence. He argued that the court had ultimately concluded that his work on the gas chambers was 'scientific', and that the charge that he had been deliberately negligent was not proven. This process almost certainly helped keep alive an issue which might otherwise have remained on the fringes. The prohibition of the public sale of the French journal Annales d'histoire révisionniste in 1987 may have harmed its sales (it was limited to subscription sales) but it is not clear that it will limit the impact of the ideas. Holocaust denial works have circulated fairly widely in Germany in spite of bans. Moreover, banning may even increase the appeal of such works by reinforcing the claim that there is a conspiracy to suppress them.
This still leaves the problem of how to study such literature. Many social scientists have sought to analyse Fascist propaganda within the framework of quantitative content analysis, which seeks to measure the recurrence of key terms. There have been a series of major objections to this approach. One concerns a failure to perceive that such terms, for example 'freedom', can have radically different meanings. There is also the problem of the selection of texts. This is a particularly significant issue in the context of the Holocaust denial because it is useful to distinguish between two types of text.
The first, and by far the largest group, is the sort which involves an overtly Fascist or racist content. This would include crude works such as the grossly-mistitled Committee for Truth in History's The Six Million Reconsidered, published in 1979 by the Historical Review Press. This is littered with references to Jewish power, Zionism's baneful consequences and other familiar themes. It is not necessary to move beyond the contents page to see the tone: 'Zion's Own "Six Million" Plans … The Tsarist Pogrom Myth … Jews and Organized Crime … Jews and Communism … Epilogue in Palestine'. It would also include Harwood's Did Six Million Really Die? (mentioned above), though the tone of this is far less crude. The second group includes texts like Faurisson's article 'The Mechanics of Gassing', published in The Journal of Historical Review (No. 1, 1980), or the Italian Carlo Mattogno's article 'Le Mythe de l'extermination des juifs', which appeared in the Annales d'histoire révisionniste (No. 1, 1987). Such texts are normally more 'academic', in the sense that they include extensive footnotes, and refer to major secondary works, e.g. Mattogno's forty-two page article has an average of almost two footnotes per page, including many leading works on the Holocaust and related areas.
Several objections could be made to this division. Firstly, it is not clear how to classify some works. Butz's The Hoax of the Twentieth Century is lengthy and has extensive footnotes, which might indicate that it should be classed as a type-2 work. On the other hand, it has limited references to Jewish influence and Zionism which place it in type-1. Secondly, it could be argued that the type-2 works are normally published by people with clear Fascist, racist or anti-Zionist intentions. Why, therefore, separate them out from type-I works, which often have the same publishers? A third objection concerns the fact that an absence of crude Fascism or racism in a particular text does not mean that the author has not expressed such views in other texts, especially in those not intended for widespread circulation. A common distinction in analysing contemporary Fascist propaganda concerns the differences between its public ('exoteric') and private ('esoteric') appeals. This distinction is undoubtedly relevant to many Historical Revisionists. David McCalden, for example, when wearing his public hat as Director of the IHR, tried to present an academic facade (he left the IHR in 1982, mainly because of friction with its founder, Willis Carto). However, in a limited-circulation tract he referred to the sponsor of the 1988 Oxford conference on the Holocaust in the following terms: 'Typically, the wealthy [Robert] Maxwell has bought himself a Holocaust© Expert © in the form of Prof. Yehuda Bauer, who cannot make up his mind these days whether to sell his services to the nouveau riche Slovakian-Jewish barrow-boy Maxwell, or to the nouveau riche Iraqi-Jewish barrow-boy Vidal Sassoon'. It is hardly necessary to be an expert in anti-Semitic stereotyping to recognise the old themes of the wandering, money-centred, scheming Jew.
However, distinguishing between two types of Holocaust denial text underlines a strategy delineated in a La Vieille Taupe samizdat circular of 1986 and seems to fit a more general Holocaust denial perspective on how to exert influence. The La Vieille Taupe tract advocated agit-prop developments for popular consumption, accompanied by a deepening of the historical and theoretical knowledge of the Holocaust for more educated audiences (this involves the classic Communist distinction between 'agitation' for the less educated and 'propaganda' for the educated, a terminology not mirrored in the West, where the term 'propaganda' tends to have more pejorative connotations). Such a division still leaves the problem of how to approach the texts. Quantitative content analysis could be used to analyse type-1 Historical Revisionism, though whether such an investigation would produce anything worth while is another matter. It seems far less suitable for the type-2 texts, which do not include the ideological framework of normal Fascist propaganda. Indeed, type-2 texts tend to read like academic history articles (the main exception is the currency of words such as 'myth', which more than hint at conspiracy theory). Thus, such an approach would not pick up the key values which are the focus of social science content studies of Fascist propaganda of the Hitler-speech type.
In the following description of Historical Revisionism, a form of qualitative content analysis is therefore used which seeks to create a general account of the major arguments. In constructing this model, it is important to note the following points. Firstly, such an approach risks sanitising the debate by making it seem more credible, and especially by underplaying the overt Fascist or racist aspects of type-1 arguments. This seems acceptable in the context of this chapter where such links are clearly stated, and where a major purpose is to seek to understand any potential appeal to educated audiences. Secondly, the order of presentation of an argument can influence its force. For example, psychologists have debated the question of whether arguments are most powerful when presented in climatic, or anti-climatic manners. The order of the following model tries to reflect what have been qualitatively judged to be the most frequently-used Holocaust-denial claims. It begins with what have become the most common assertions, and ends with less frequent arguments (though an increasing Historical Revisionist perception of the possibilities of the last argument given below, the 'scientific' one, is changing the balance). Thirdly, the model begins with a series of brief quotations which set out what the more cogent Historical Revisionists do not claim. They frequently state that their position is travestied by critics, and there is some truth in this. For example, the Publisher's Preface to Seidel's The Holocaust Denial misleadingly claims that 'Now it is being argued that Jewry emerged unharmed' from the war. Another work claims that 'The Revisionist propaganda is a reiteration of the forgery … The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Holocaust-denial arguments may share conspiracy theory as the basis of their appeal, but they are not based on forgery in the sense of creating documents (though the Hitler diaries, 'discovered' in 1983, conformed very much to the Historical Revisionist view of the world).
Historical Revisionists often argue that Jews ultimately benefited from the Holocaust because the 'myth' led to the establishment of Israel, reinforced group solidarity at a time of assimilation, and hindered a revival of anti-Semitism. However, they do not normally deny the following points (all the quotations are taken from the IHR's pamphlet The Worldwide Growth and Impact of 'Holocaust' Revisionism, published by the IHR in 1985 in Torrance):
The existence of a vast network of concentration camps … The fact that Jewish, and other, practitioners of illegal behind-the-lines partisan warfare were executed by German Einsatzgruppen… And the fact that in these round-up operations some innocent people … were indeed killed … The fact that many Jews perished … and that their casualties from all causes—including natural attrition, disease, malnutrition, bombings, military actions, pogroms conducted by indigenous Eastern European populations, Einsatzgruppen actions, nameless ad-hoc atrocities and general wartime havoc—numbered unquestionably in the hundreds of thousands … The fact that some atrocities did occur … None of this is denied. What is denied is that there was a deliberate German policy of systematic extermination of Jews.
Historical Revisionist arguments can usefully be grouped under five main headings, though there tends to be some overlap. They will not be dissected until the following section as the object, here, is to reconstruct as accurate an account as possible of the more 'academic' type of Holocaust-denial case. However, it is important to note that it is not possible completely to divorce content from technique.
1. Documentary, trial and confessional evidence
Stäglich notes [in The Auschwitz Myth] that 'As a source material for historiography, documents of every kind are assigned pre-eminent rank'. Much play is, therefore, made of the assertion that, in spite of the Allies capturing vast quantities of German documents, no specific order can be found in which Hitler clearly orders the killing of the Jews, or in which key aspects of the Holocaust are set out. As Harwood argues [in Did Six Million Really Die?]: 'It should be emphasised straight away that there is not a single document in existence which proves that Germans intended to, or carried out, the deliberate murder of Jews.' This claim holds that many of the so-called key documents which are alleged to have been part of the planning of the Holocaust are open to different interpretations. For example, at the famous Wannee conference in January 1942, which saw the gathering of leading Nazi figures involved in the 'Final Solution', no reference was made to the experimental gassings which had allegedly been carried out during the preceding year, nor to future gassings. For Historical Revisionists, this constitutes evidence that it was simply a discussion of Jewish population numbers which is seen as perfectly understandable in view of Nazi plans to resettle them in camps.
Butz, in his book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, has tried to show that the language about the Holocaust to be found in documents is open to different interpretations—a line which has been followed by others. The term 'Final Solution' (Endlosung), it is argued, can be found in contexts where it clearly refers to emigration, or resettlement in Jewish ghettos. The phrase 'Special Treatment' (Sonderbehandlung), normally seen as designating those to be gassed, can also be found in reference to prominent figures, such as the French Socialist leader Leon Blum, who survived the war. In these cases, 'Special Treatment' referred to providing better accommodation or rations. This argument holds that there is a paradox between occasional highly provocative Nazi speeches about the fate of the Jews, for example Hitler's speech in the Reichstag on 30 January 1939, and the alleged euphemisms of the documents. For Historical Revisionists this poses no fundamental problem. Rhetoric was part of the Nazis' style, part of their social control. Conventional accounts of the Holocaust, it is held, need a rationale based on an Orwellian double-think: they have to hold that the Nazis in public could be viciously anti-Semitic, but in private dealt only in euphemisms.
Evidence from the post-war trials, especially Nuremberg, is particularly attacked. In part, this involves an attack on the very legality of the victors trying the vanquished, for example charge number one (conspiracy to wage aggressive war) could be seen as applying to one of the judging nations, the Soviet Union, which had invaded both eastern Poland and Finland during 1939-40. More specifically, trial procedure is attacked on two counts. Firstly, much of what was admitted in evidence was not cross-checked. This is seen as hardly surprising in view not only of the presumption of guilt on the part of the accused, but also of the allegedly high percentage of of Jews working for the various prosecutors. Secondly, it is argued that much testimony derived from torture, the threat of being handed over to the Russians, or the promise of leniency in return for a co-operative attitude. Thus Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, 'court' confidant, and Minister of Munitions during the war, was given the relatively light sentence of twenty years because he told the court what it wanted to hear: namely, that Hitler headed an evil empire (though he—Speer—knew nothing of the worst atrocities).
Faurisson, Roques and others have sought to prove, through internal textual criticism, that much of the court or interrogation information is worthless. Their use of the Gerstein document is a good example of this approach. Gerstein was an SS officer in charge of procuring Zyklon B crystals (which served both as a fumigator and as a source of lethal gas). He was interrogated in France at the end of the war, before committing suicide. Historical Revisionists look for internal contradictions in such testimony, or for patently ludicrous statements, for example the claim that hundreds of victims were packed into gas chambers of only a few square meters. They allege that such claims prove that the witness was simply saying what he believed his captors wanted him to say.
Finally, the controversial British historian David Irving wrote, in a letter which appeared in The Spectator on 25 November 1989, that the Auschwitz death books had been found in a Moscow archive. They revealed that 74,000 people had died in the camp, which he noted was 'of course, bad enough: nearly twice as many as died in the July 1943 RAF attack on Hamburg' (see below for further examples of this tendency to compare the Holocaust with Allied 'atrocities'). Irving added that his documentary research in the New York Yivo Institute revealed an order that deaths in Auschwitz should be carefully recorded; he thus argues that the documented 74,000 deaths can be treated as an accurate figure—a dramatic reduction on the accepted figure!
2. Jewish and other survivor testimony
Considerable attention is also paid to survivor testimony. It is frequently claimed that there are countless oral and written accounts about gas chambers existing in camps which are now accepted as not having been involved in the mass gassing campaign, for example Dachau or Ravensbrück. 'I-too-was-there' evidence has also been used to counter claims of gas chambers. Christophersen's pamphlet Die Auschwitz Liige often figures prominently because the author worked as an army agricultural researcher in Auschwitz for eleven months. Great play is made of the fact that the Allies had aerial reconnaissance shots of Auschwitz, which was a major centre of war production. None of these, it is alleged, reveals evidence to support conventional Holocaust-survivor accounts, for example there were no groups waiting for 'selections', or to enter gas chambers; there were no crematoria with constantly burning chimneys.
It is worth concentrating on a single article. It clearly impresses the Historical Revisionists as it has appeared in both the Journal of Historical Review, and in the Annales d'histoire révisionniste (though the latter has generally seemed short of substantial new material). Its author is Howard F. Stein, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma. The editorial of the IHR journal notes:
Dr Stein is himself of Jewish origin, and believes that forty of his relatives died in Europe during World War Two. His focus is not so much on history as meanings. He feels that it is wrong to label the Holocaust a 'hoax' or 'lie' because the people who are propagating it actually believe in it themselves. It is this phenomenon of self-deception which he addresses in his very fine article.
Or in Stein's own words:
Whatever did happen in the Holocaust must be made to conform to the group-fantasy of what ought to have happened. For the Jews, the term 'Holocaust' does not simply denote a single catastrophic era in history, but is a grim metaphor for the meaning of Jewish history …One is either anxiously awaiting persecution, experiencing persecution, recovering from it, or living in a period that is a temporary reprieve from it.
Thus, Stein is arguing that the experiences of camp life were interpreted within a framework of a history of persecution. In camps where families were broken up, where the smells and sounds of industrial production were strong, even repellent, it was easy to imagine all forms of horror. This tendency was fuelled by the fact that some horrific acts did take place within the camps. Limited, non-systematic killings, were therefore incorporated into a collective picture of genocide because of the very nature of Jewish psychology when faced with incarceration in concentration camps.
3. Cui Bono?
A third form of argument is to pose the question: who benefits from the Holocaust 'myth'? Usually, the focus is upon the Jews and Israel. Harwood claims that belief in the Holocaust was not only important in leading to the creation of Israel but, by the early 1970s, had led to £6 billion compensation being paid by West Germany. A 1988 article by Mark Weber claims that, at the end of 1987, the West Germany government gave a figure of eighty billion marks as the total sum paid in compensation ['"Holocauste": reparations versees par l'Allemagne de l'Ouest', Annales d'histoire révisionniste, Winter 1988-89]. More generally, belief in the Holocaust is seen as useful both in fostering Jewish solidarity and limiting the revival of anti-Semitism. Faurisson, in a samizdat circular, has attacked the film Shoah partly along these lines, claiming that Menachem Begin approved an allocation of $850,000 towards the making of the film as it furthered Jewish national interests. The Holocaust is portrayed as a form of rite of passage; discovering the Holocaust, becoming immersed in the Holocaust, is part of the very process of becoming an adult Jew (it then continues as a way of bonding Jews together in a sense of shared past persecution and potential future threat).
The wartime Allies are also portrayed as beneficiaries of the Holocaust 'myth'. Belief in German atrocities helps deflect attention from alleged Allied war crimes, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden in the closing stages of the war, or the Soviet killing of Polish officers at Katyn. The Soviet Union, in particular, benefits because the Holocaust deflects attention from the gulags and the Stalinist terror. Indeed, the Soviet Union is often portrayed as a major factor in the creation of the Holocaust myth. It is argued that all the main alleged extermination camps are in what was to become Communist Europe. It was many years before Western observers were allowed into these camps, by which time they had been heavily rebuilt. Faurisson, for example, argues that what is now shown as the main gas chamber at Auschwitz appears on plans as a series of small rooms. Butz adds that the creation of Israel and subsequent US support for Israel has fostered the USSR's interests in the Middle East by preventing the Americans lining up fully behind anti-Communist Arab states. The USSR, therefore, has a strong vested interest in keeping Holocaust memories alive.
4. Holocaust 'myths' and 'lies'
Another line of attack is to point to parallels with other myths and, especially, to attack the historiography of the Holocaust. It is often pointed out that the First World War saw a vast number of atrocity stories, including claims that the Germans boiled corpses into soap, or transfixed babies on bayonets. All the major stories later turned out to be fakes. Paradoxically, they featured prominently in First World War propaganda, whereas the Holocaust attracted little attention during the Second World War. Historical Revisionists argue that this points to the conclusion that much of the Holocaust is a post-war fabrication. It is often added that Allied intelligence services, and the Vatican, had considerable knowledge of what was happening in occupied Europe; thus, if there had been systematic genocide, these sources would have made more of it during the war.
It is noted that there are some fakes relating to the Holocaust which are even admitted by Jewish groups. Many photographs relating to the Holocaust are alleged to be faked, or presented in a misleading way. Perhaps the most common charge of all, in terms of forgery, is the claim that Anne Frank's diary was clearly written after the War, a claim that has found some echo among journalists and others beyond the confines of Historical Revisionism. The argument is based on the claim that parts are in ball-point pen, that the handwriting varies, and that the thoughts are beyond those of a young girl. In spite of the publication of a detailed defence of the validity of the work by a Dutch official organisation, Faurisson repeated the forgery claim in 1989. However, the argument is not always featured. Butz, while clearly agreeing with the charge, argues that it is irrelevant to proof about the Holocaust as the diary refers to a period of hiding in Amsterdam. Anne Frank subsequently died in a typhoid epidemic in Bergen-Belsen.
It is also frequently argued that the common images of rag-doll-emaciated dead are (when genuine) pictures of typhoid and other epidemic victims. These diseases took a heavy toll near the end of the war, when supplies of food and medicine broke down as Germany collapsed (Anne Frank died in March 1945). There were earlier major epidemics at Auschwitz and elsewhere. In these latter cases, large numbers of bodies had to be cremated quickly, or buried in pits. It is alleged that much of the Holocaust literature and, especially, imagery relate to these events. Such events, it is suggested, help explain the large number of crematoria in the camps; such crematoria were also needed simply because camps such as Auschwitz were large industrial-population centres.
Historians of the Holocaust are attacked for careless research, even deliberate disortion. Thus Faurisson, in a 1987 samizdat circular, claimed that the leading British historian Martin Gilbert had deliberately altered part of the Gerstein evidence for his book The Holocaust, enlarging the physical size of the gas chambers to make the evidence seem more plausible. He also claimed that Gilbert's books were full of manipulation and slipshod scholarship. For example, in Auschwitz and the Allies Gilbert writes that in 1942 'hundreds of thousands of Jews were being gassed every day at Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor and Treblinka'. As the hundreds of thousands is in words, not numerals, this cannot be a typographical error. The four million Jews, normally considered to have been gassed (rather than shot, etc.), therefore met their end in a month, according to Gilbert. Gilbert is a leading historian, so the fact that such an error can creep into his work is used by the Historical Revisionists to cast doubt on all historical accounts.
Historical Revisionists have put considerable efforts into trying to use population statistics to show that six million Jews cannot possibly have died. Much of this is derived from the works of French socialist Paul Rassinier, who was imprisoned in Buchenwald for resistance activities. Harwood puts the argument concisely when he writes: 'The World Almanac of 1938 gives the number of Jews in the world as 16,588,259. But after the war the New York Times, February 22nd 1948 placed the number of Jews in the world at a minimum of 15,600,000 and a maximum of 18,700,000'. These figures are used to estimate Jewish losses, through epidemics, random killings etc., as in the hundreds of thousands.
5. 'Scientific' arguments
A final set of arguments can be grouped under the heading 'scientific'. From his earliest writings, Faurisson tried to show the scientific impossibility of mass gassings, for example in his article 'The Mechanics of Gassing', he developed the remarkable claim that gassings, in the way alleged in Holocaust literature, were scientifically impossible. He used evidence from the gassing of single prisoners in US executions, and from the commercial use of Zyklon B. He noted that barracks which had been fumigated with Zyklon B were supposed to be left for twenty hours before special teams went to test them. In American executions, the problems of venting a single small room meant that the acidic vapours were turned into a salt, and then flushed out with water. Yet it is alleged that large gas chambers were quickly vented in camps which contained Germans as well as Jews. It is also claimed that teams, usually without masks, went into the chambers within minutes to remove bodies. A different scientific point was raised by the IHR's 1982 offer of $50,000 for evidence that a single Jew was gassed. It asked for forensic evidence—in particular, an autopsy showing that a single person had been gassed. The IHR claims that no one came forward.
The controversial British right-wing historian David Irving has written: 'Unlike the writing of history, chemistry is an exact science. Old fashioned historians have always conducted endless learned debates about meanings and interpretations … Recently, however, the more daring modern historians have begun using the tools of forensic science'.
Before 1988, Irving's public line accepted that Jews had been systematically killed, but he claimed this was not ordered by Hitler. His conversion to the Holocaust denial position came, allegedly, as the result of evidence compiled by an American expert in gas chamber construction, Fred Leuchter, who visited Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek in early 1988. From his study of the design of the installations, Leuchter concluded that they could not have been used for mass gassings. Forensic samples taken in the gas chambers were analysed in the USA, revealing no significant traces of hydrocyanic gas, though comparison samples taken in delousing chambers for clothes revealed significant levels. This evidence was collated in a report that Irving published in 1989, a document which, he claimed, marked 'the end of the line' for the Auschwitz myth. Irving clearly hoped that the report would exert an appeal even over academic audiences, for the cover states that free copies were being distributed to 'heads of the History, Chemistry, Physics and Engineering departments, the libraries and junior common rooms of every university in the United Kingdom' (though it is not clear how many, if any, were sent; certainly none appear to have arrived at Bath University).
Some books on propaganda list a small number of specific techniques which are seen as central to persuasion. This approach has been rightly criticised on the grounds that there are literally thousands of verbal and non-verbal forms of persuasion. Even in connection with Historical Revisionism, it is possible to delineate a substantial list of devices.
Some techniques are more common in type-1 arguments than in type-2. For example, type-1 texts tend to use a framework of keywords, repetition and stereotyping around the basic arguments. Thus, terms such as 'conspiracy', 'Zionist', 'International Capital/Capitalism' often figure prominently. The Six Million Reconsidered is a good example of this. Clearly, these terms, especially 'conspiracy', seek to play on anti-Semitic tendencies. They are not normally present in type-2 arguments, though it could be argued that the presence of words such as 'myth' reflects a more subtle awareness of propaganda technique. There is some evidence that educated audiences are more influenced by propaganda which allows them to make the last link for themselves. Thus, even if the often crude anti-Semitism of type-I Historical Revisionism failed to alienate educated readers at the outset, it might lead to a lower level of retention of the basic message by too clearly stressing conclusions.
This discussion raises the possibility that it might be best to analyse such texts in terms of hidden messages. One structure which has been common in much propaganda is the story of the martyr as hero. The hidden message in the Holocaust denial could read as follows: Hitler is dead, but he helped warn the world of the dangers of conniving Jews and of expansionary world Communism (stressing the anti-Communist side of Fascism is a common form of rehabilitation). This raises a fascinating area, but it moves away from directly countering the model of Historical Revisionism set up in the previous section. It is, therefore, necessary to revert to a more overt content-based analysis. Limitations on length … make it impossible to consider all overt techniques, or to counter every argument put earlier. Nevertheless, four headings help to dismantle the basic technique.
The whole of the Holocaust denial could be seen as deception, in the sense that it is hard to accept that most advocates believe the proposition that there was no systematic genocide. There is also clear lying within specific arguments. Two examples from Harwood's main pamphlet illustrate the point. (a) He claims that by 1938 most Jews had left Germany, all with a 'sizeable proportion of their assets'. In fact, most Jews who were lucky enough to leave Germany lost the majority of their assets. (b) He claims that the International Committee of the Red Cross found no evidence, in its wartime visits to Germany and the occupied territories, of 'a deliberate policy to exterminate the Jews' (changed in the 1987(?) edition to 'no evidence whatsoever of "gas chambers"'). Harwood omitted to point out that the report he referred to specifically stated that there was a Nazi policy of extermination.
Much of type-2 Historical Revisionism avoids easily-traceable specific deception, as does the better type-I literature. It relies more on selection, or rather suppression, as all history inevitably involves selection.
An example of suppression would be Harwood's quotation from Colin Cross's book Adolf Hitler. Harwood writes: 'Cross … observes astutely that "The shuffling of millions of Jews around Europe and murdering them, in a time of desperate war emergency, was useless from any rational point of view"'. The clear implication is that Cross doubts the Holocaust, but reading his book shows, that, shortly afterwards, he uses this line of argument to demonstrate the fanatical anti-Semitism of the Nazis!
A more general example of suppression is a tendency to say little about the Einsatzgruppen period, or the euthanasia programme which helped set up the mechanics of gassing. There is also a focus on Auschwitz, which was an industrial complex of 100,000 people as well as a death camp. Little or nothing is said about other camps in Poland which had no such labour need and which operated for human destruction. Faurisson's 'scientific' discussion of gassing is particularly selective. It does not refer to the fact that Zyklon B was not the only form of gassing (carbon monoxide was also used in specially converted sealed lorry-backs, and in gas chambers). He fails to point out that the Sonderkommando who emptied the gas chambers were young Jews, for whom the Nazis would hardly impose rigorous safety standards. Gas chambers, with their bare walls, clearly would not retain dangerous pockets of gas as long as barracks, which he claims were left for a day before being entered after delousing. Moreover, the very fact that Zyklon B was regularly used on an extensive scale to fumigate barracks in camps shows that the venting problem in a large open space was not critical. These same points apply to Leuchter's arguments about the dangers of using gas in the camps. Other aspects of selection in the Leuchter report include his claim that Zyklon B would only be effective in warm temperatures, but that his visit revealed the chambers to be damp and cold. As the camps were unoccupied and as he visited Poland in February, the low temperature is hardly surprising; he omits to mention that central Europe in the summer is relatively hot. He also glosses over the fact that his samples were taken surreptitiously—hardly under controlled scientific conditions. Moreover, there are hypotheses which could explain why there should be higher concentrations of hydrocyanic acid in the walls of delousing chambers than in those of gas chambers: for example, the human body would absorb far more gas than clothes.
Overall, the focus of Historical Revisionism has increasingly centred on the evidence about the existence of gas chambers. Why Jews should have been in concentration camps is glossed over. Historical Revisionists sometimes point out that the British used camps during the Boer War, or that the Americans interned aliens during the Second World War. However, the Nazis' first concentration camps, such as Dachau (which was not specifically for Jews), were set up shortly after they came to power in 1933—not during a war-emergency. Virulent anti-Semitic outpourings were a feature of the 'thought' of many Nazis, especially Hitler, well before the Second World War. It is true that there is a growing debate about the centrality of anti-Semitism to Nazism in general, but it is grossly disingenuous to portray the camps, with their concomitant degradation, torture and killings, as simply a response to the War.
3. Authority/status claims
In order to boost their arguments, academic credentials are stressed or invented. Thus: the Institute of Historical Review; its Journal of Historical Review; its annual conferences held in America; the Historical Review Press; the Annales d'histoire révisionniste—reminiscent, in its title, of the prestigious French history journal, Annales. The IHR managed to place an advertisement in the London Review of Books, and came close to placing a full-page one in History Today. The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1980, listed seventeen members of its Editorial Advisory Board: nine were given as being current or retired academics. None were serious historians, but it is important to underline the fact that Historical Revisionism has attracted highly educated supporters.
In other cases, fraudulent academic or status credentials have been employed. The most notorious example is 'Richard Harwood', who not only used a pseudonym for Did Six Million Really Die.?; he also found it necessary to state on the back cover that he was 'a writer and specialist in political and diplomatic aspects of the Second World War. At present he is with the University of London' (Harwood's name, and therefore this reference, is omitted from the 1987 (?) revised edition). Rassinier is frequently referred to as a 'Professor' or 'geographer'. In fact, he was an anti-Semitic writer and teacher. Harwood shows nothing if not nerve in referring to a book about Allied bombing and the post-war trials as being written by J. P. Veale, 'the distinguished English jurist' ('lawyer' in the revised edition). Veale was in fact an obscure solicitor.
Ultimately, the key to the Holocaust-denial technique can be seen in the Historical Revisionists' concept of evidence and proof. Many of them stress that, at one point, they believed in the Holocaust but that their eyes had been opened when they looked more closely at the evidence. Clearly, this raises the question of what is valid evidence and proof. Staglich, a former magistrate, argues [in The Auschwitz Myth] that:
According to the time-honored principle of Roman law in dubio pro reo, he [the accused] must be acquitted when the facts of the case leave room for doubt, even though his innocence cannot be definitely established … Thus the accused—the German people—are under no obligation to prove that 'gas chambers' did not exist. Rather it is up to our accusers to prove that they did.
There are, unquestionably, some valid legal problems which can be raised about the Nuremberg trials and about other aspects of evidence relating to the Holocaust. However, it is important not to confuse legal and historical practice, for example hearsay, or evidence obtained under duress, may be invalid in a court of law but they are not necessarily ignored by historians. Moreover, it is important to stress that hearsay evidence or evidence obtained under duress constitute only a small part of Holocaust evidence. The knowledge that the Nazi state practised systematic genocide is based on normal historical methodology which uses as many sources as possible to reach a conclusion which is beyond reasonable doubt. It is not necessary that every piece of evidence be without a flaw, simply that the whole case be based on careful weighing of all the evidence. As such, it is possible to question whether the number of Jews who died was six million. Indeed, respectable writers have done so: Gerald Reitlinger gives a figure of just over four million [The Final Solution, 1971]. Details of decision-making and of the process of genocide can also be questioned; again, there is a growing debate about these issues, especially whether the Holocaust was in some way inevitable. What cannot be doubted is that millions of Jews (and others) suffered appallingly, and that the Nazi state committed genocide.
The more sophisticated arguments stress the need for 'scientific' proof. There is a sleight of hand here in the sense that historical arguments cannot exhibit some features of 'paradigmatic' scientific arguments, for example repeatability. However, it is interesting to adapt the Popperian notion which holds that science can be demarcated from metaphysics because scientists are supposed to employ falsifiable conjectures. (The fact that this view of science can be criticised is irrelevant here.) The whole basis of Historical Revisionism relies on the fact that it will not accept falsification. Even when Historical Revisionism appears to conform to this Popperian notion, there is a trick. The IHR's offer of a $50,000 reward for forensic evidence seems to require just one autopsy. However, the Nazis clearly did not carry out autopsies on their own gas victims, whose bodies were subsequently cremated or burned. (Autopsies were carried out on those who died during the horrifying medical experiments inflicted on some camp inmates.) In some cases, corpses were even exhumed in order to burn them. This request for forensic evidence plays on popular images of large piles of rag-doll dead found at the time of the liberation of the camps. It is true that there were many dead in camps such as Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, but these were the victims of typhoid and maltreatment rather than of gassing. In the extremely unlikely event that an autopsy was found, the IHR would probably still manage to avoid considering this as proof. Such an autopsy could be challenged as a forgery. Even if this tactic failed, it could be argued that the person was not gassed in a mass gas chamber, but as a result of the random killings which Historical Revisionists accept did happen. Moreover, to be on the safe side, the IHR insisted that such evidence be examined by its own panel of 'experts'! Thus, even after a claimant, Mel Mermelstein, took the IHR to court over the $50,000 reward, and a judge had taken 'judicial notice' of the fact of gassings, the IHR still maintained that gassings had not been proven (the IHR claimed that the court awarded Mermelstein damages rather than the reward).
More generally, the Holocaust denial relies on introducing an element of doubt into the argument, for example as some eyewitnesses may have remembered incorrectly, or even lied, it is held that all eyewitnesses cannot be believed. As there were myths of atrocities in the First World War, it is claimed that there are similar myths for the Second World War. However, as Descartes has shown, if we try to doubt everything, we find that there is nothing of which we can be certain except our own ability to doubt. Historical Revisionism relies on an unattaintable conception of proof in which there is not the slightest doubt in any area.
In view of the above discussion, the potential attraction of Historical Revisionism could be seen within two main psychological frameworks. Firstly, it appeals to those who are already Fascist or racist, or who have personality traits which lend themselves to such views. Secondly, it is especially appealing to those with a predisposition to view the world in terms of conspiracy theory. Such individuals are thus able to discount what psychologists call 'dissonance' (conflicting evidence): evidence as to the existence of the Holocaust, for instance, can be dismissed as the product of Jewish manipulation. Michael Billig has argued [in 'The Extreme Right: Continuities in anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theory in post-war Europe', in The Nature of the Right, 1989] that 'psychological approaches to the study of conspiracy theory can basically be grouped around two themes: the study of cognitive and motivational factors'. In the former case, there is a tendency to argue that the search for explanations is natural. Conspiracy theory appeals precisely because it offers a simple explanation of complex and diverse political events. In the latter case, the emphasis is more on the psychological compensations to be gained from a belief in conspiracy theory. Thus, there could be a sense of superiority which comes from believing that one knows a hidden truth; or repressed emotions could be projected onto the alleged conspirators. However, while these approaches are important, they seem better at explaining why the Holocaust denial might appeal to less rather than more educated audiences. They also ignore important non-psychological aspects of the potential appeal of such arguments.
The French sociologist Jacques Ellul has argued that education is not necessarily a defence against propaganda. Indeed, he believes that there are three reasons why educated audiences might be susceptible to propaganda: they receive large amounts of unverifiable, unsystematic information; they believe themselves capable of judging; and they tend to think that they ought to have an opinion on matters. To this might be added the academic tendency to look for new arguments, to reject the 'conventional wisdom'.
Another way of considering the potential appeal involves looking at some epistemological problems in coming to terms with Historical Revisionist arguments. The difficulties can be seen most clearly by considering debates about the nature of scientific knowledge, a particularly appropriate analogy as some Historical Revisionists make great play of the scientific nature of their work. Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch have shown in their study of scientists' response to the paranormal that most reject such work outright because it does not fit existing theories. Proponents of paranormal views are usually seen as frauds. There seems to be a parallel with much of the literature on Historical Revisionism, where critics have often clearly read little of what they criticise, and quickly resort to attacks on individual motivations. It could be countered that this is a grossly misleading parallel. Scientists dismiss the paranormal because it does not fit existing theories; the Holocaust denial is rejected because it contradicts well established facts. However, a final point about the sociology of science illustrates the problem of frameworks in discussing Historical Revisionism. It has become commonplace to argue that what we observe depends largely upon what we know, or rather believe we know. Much of the literature on the Holocaust has clearly been produced within a framework of what has become known as the 'Intentionalist' view of Nazi anti-Semitism. This holds that anti-Semitism was fundamental to Nazism, and the Holocaust the inevitable, or almost inevitable, consequence. Radical supporters of what has become known as the 'Functionalist' or 'Structuralist' school see anti-Semitism as little more than a rhetorical prop of Nazi agitation. The functionalist interpretation makes it more difficult to understand the Holocaust, especially when added to facts such as that some Jews were allowed to leave Germany as late as 1940.
Academically, Historical Revisionism plays on the view that knowledge is ideologically structured, that the historian is not a totally impartial observer, however much he may try to follow the injunction to empathise. The editorial of the first Annales d'histoire rivisionniste, published in 1987, specifically refers to the tradition of history, allegedly dating from Herodotus, which sees its main task as teaching lessons rather than discovering objective facts. As the early Judaeo-Christian historical tradition shared similar traits, Historical Revisionists seek to portray the history of the Holocaust as a latter-day version of the 'exemplar' rather than the Enlightenment philosophy of history. In other words, the goal is not the discovery of facts, even laws, in a neutral scientific spirit; the point is to teach morals, to defend the community's interest. The Holocaust is portrayed as a useful lesson to Jews to retain group solidarity; it is a means of combating anti-Semitism. It is important, in this context, to admit that there seem to be books on the Holocaust which have been written with the intention of stressing lessons rather than closely examining all facts (or with other non-historical motives in mind). And in drawing such lessons, style, often based on emotive appeals, has sometimes transcended the demands of strict historical scholarship.
The same issue of Annales d'histoire révisionniste also plays on the revisionism which is inherent in all history. Lucy Dawidowicz has pointed out, that, in the case of Nazi Germany, major academic revisionism goes back to the early 1960s with the publication of A. J. P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War. This viewed Hitler as a pragmatist in foreign policy, lacking a grand design. A notable contribution to late 1970s revisionism was David Irving's book Hitler's War. This claimed that no documentary evidence could be found which showed that Hitler either ordered, or knew about the Holocaust. Himmler and the SS were portrayed as the guilty parties. Irving went on to offer a $1000 reward, through his short-lived magazine Focal Point, to anyone who could produce a genuine document showing that Hitler clearly had knowledge of the Holocaust. The debates in the 1980s between the 'Intentionalists' and 'Functionalists' are therefore only a part of a growing revisionism of Nazi history. The drift of this has been to challenge the totalitarian model of the 1950s with its emphasis on features such as the dominant leader purveying a clearly defined ideology.
Historical Revisionists in the late 1980s took particular comfort from aspects of the bitter Historikerstreit debate in West Germany. This began with an attempt by the historian Ernst Nolte to 'relativise' the Holocaust, but soon spread to question central aspects of the 'conventional' wisdom on Nazi Germany. He claimed that the Holocaust was only one of many examples of terror and genocide in world history. Moreover, Nolte saw it as a reaction to fear born of the Russian revolution, and the ensuing terror and gulags. More specifically, he claimed that the World Zionist Organization had, in effect, declared war on Nazi Germany, and this gave grounds to treat Jews as prisoners of war! This argument is especially interesting for the questions it raises about the nature of history. For example, while Nolte does raise some important questions in comparative history, he seems motivated by a clear desire to rehabilitate aspects of Germany's past. At least, this seems the most charitable explanation of views such as his claim that there existed a Jewish declaration of war on Germany: how could diverse peoples, with no state, yet alone army, 'declare war'?
The French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet has written [in Les assassins de la memoire, 1987] in relation to Historical Revisionism that 'to deny history is not to revise it'. This glosses over the fact that it is not always easy to provide a neat philosophical definition of what is history and what is propaganda. In some ways, the distinction is one of intention: the historian should seek to provide as objective an account as possible; the propagandist seeks to serve an ulterior political motive. The vast majority of Historical Revisionist writings have a clear political motive, usually anti-Semitic and/or neo-Fascist. However, the distinction between history and propaganda cannot simply be one of intention. There are many works, which are usually seen as history, where there is a clear, overt, or at least implicit, political position; for example, are not most Western accounts of Fascism written from the perspective of the superiority of liberal democratic systems? And if intention is the sole key to propaganda, how should we view the writings of an Historical Revisionist who actually believed what he or she wrote?
Propaganda has, therefore, also to be understood in terms of the nature of the arguments. One such approach would be to claim that propaganda teaches us what to think, rather than how to think. The distinction opens up fruitful avenues for further thought, but fails fully to resolve the problem in the sense that much history surely tells us what to think. A more helpful one-liner is the view that propaganda serves to narrow thought, whereas history serves to broaden it. The legitimate historiography of the Holocaust raises a vast number of questions. These include detailed questions about the procurement of transport for the Jews. It encompasses more general questions about the Nazi regime, for instance whether the system was truly totalitarian, or whether it was more chaotic and fragmented than has generally been assumed. Holocaust historiography even raises sweeping issues, such as the question of human nature, or the concept of progress. On the other hand, Historical Revisionism concentrates on a small number of issues and, on many of these, it is misleading, downright wrong, even dishonest. Historical Revisionism ignores vast amounts of evidence which contradict its position. As such, it is hardly likely to influence the central views of the professional historian or serious student of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the history of propaganda indicates that the 'big lie' or the repetition of a small number of points, can, all too easily influence the views of the less well informed. It is, ultimately, for this reason that the central arguments and the propaganda technique of the Historical Revisionists are worthy of an essay in specific analysis and refutation.
SOURCE: "Dancing with the Fuhrer," in The Humanist, Vol. 53, No. 5, September-October, 1993, pp. 42-4.
[In the following essay, Siano focuses on the writings of David Irving and Willis Carto, two major figures in the Holocaust denial movement.]
There's a scene in the Mel Brooks movie The Producers where Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel visit a writer whose stage play could be the guaranteed flop they need to make a million dollars. (Rent the film if you need an explanation.) The writer is a deranged Nazi and his play, Springtime for Hitler, is subtitled "A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgarten." He invites Wilder and Mostel to celebrate and, while singing old German drinking songs over schnapps, says wistfully: "Not many people knew this, but the fuhrer was a terrific dancer."
"Really?" Mostel replies tentatively. "I never dreamed.."
"Zat is becauss you were taken in!" shouts the playwright. "Zey told lies."
That's sort of the experience I had reading David Irving, the historian-at-large of the neo-Nazi Institute for Historical Review. Irving is somewhat unique among this crowd, and not just because his last name's Irving; some of his books, unlike those of the other Holohoaxers, are actually available in otherwise respectable bookstores. The Sunday Times of London even enlisted his aid (albeit reluctantly) in obtaining the recently discovered Goebbels diaries from Moscow. And Irving's circulation in neo-Nazi circles does give him some unique career opportunities; in 1992, he announced that he'd recently obtained the original transcripts and some surviving tapes of Adolf Eichmann's memoirs, dictated throughout the late 1950s.
In 1989, Irving delivered a speech to a neo-Nazi rally held (big surprise) in a Munich beer cellar. Irving declared that Hitler had never ordered the mass murder of the Jews and that, apart from Jews being shot or used as slaves, there were no gas chambers—and therefore no mass murders. Defending himself in court three years later, Irving referred to the Holocaust as a "blood lie" that had been cruelly propagated against the people of Germany.
(Remember, these folks are a whole new realm of extreme. Other Holohoaxers maintain that the Jews died from food shortages, that they were merely well-cared-for slave laborers, and even that a swimming pool had been built for their personal recreational use at Auschwitz.)
Accepting Irving's contention that Hitler was out of the loop for the final solution would require ignoring the fact that Hitler had a phenomenal memory for logistics and military information. Very little went on in the Reich that he didn't know about or couldn't recall in detail. And to suppose that Hitler didn't sanction mass murder would require ignoring hundreds of hours of speeches calling for the extermination of European Jewry. The Goebbels diaries reveal Hitler's jubilation over the notorious 1938 Kristallnacht, in which he ordered the arrests of 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, saying that they would "pay dearly for their own mistakes." On the fifty-third anniversary of this event, Irving addressed a gathering of neo-Nazis in Halle, Germany. He hailed the resurgent nationalism that was driving the Nazi revivalist movement and assured his listeners that their numbers would double over the next few years.
Irving's take on Eichmann's memoirs is instructive. He claims that Eichmann thought the final solution meant merely exporting the Jews to Madagascar—which Irving feels "would have been an ideal solution to a perennial world tragedy."
But at one point in his memoirs, Eichmann himself stated that Reinhard Heydrich delivered the following message: "I've come from the Reichsfuhrer SS. The fuhrer has given the order for the physical destruction of the Jews." Irving promptly falls all over himself trying to explain this incriminating statement away—describing Eichmann as a scared fugitive grasping at any kind of extenuating circumstance, and reminding us that this is a postwar document and so we have to be cautious about taking it at face value, etc., etc. (Never mind all those documents written during the war about how well the gas chambers were working.)
Irving also dwells obsessively on how obsessive Eichmann was getting while in Argentina:
He keeps coming back to the horrible thought. Did they manage to use us? Did the Zionists use the Nazis to further their own ends? Was the Holocaust something they themselves inflicted on their own body, in order to bring about their Zionist cause in the long run?
But rather than contest these ridiculous ravings, Irving relates an instructive little story: Eichmann claimed that a young girl had been removed from a camp-bound train because she wasn't Jewish, but at the waiting station where she was deposited, a Jewish man protested having a non-Jew left there. This story, Irving says, is an "ugly depiction of the way man behaves unto man." Amazing: Adolf Eichmann is a put-upon, persecuted bureaucrat and a man on his way to the concentration camps becomes a symbol of human evil. Welcome to David Irving's moral universe.
As you might have guessed by now, the IHR's Journal of Historical Review isn't exactly bursting with useful historical research. It's basically a hate-sheet, filled with diatribes about how the Jews have somehow strong-armed several continents' worth of scholars, historians, and journalists. Most of the Holohoaxers are fond of retelling stories about how they fearlessly stood fast to their principles in the face of intimidation and harassment from the Jews. They've also somehow convinced themselves that the Holocaust "myth" is essential in maintaining massive U.S. support for Israel every year.
The most powerful figure in the Holohoax movement is millionaire Willis Carto. Carto's financial largesse endows any number of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi organizations, such as the Liberty Lobby, its newsletter the Spotlight, David Duke's misnamed Populist Party, the Noontide Press, and the IHR. Carto himself stays very much in the shadows; I ran a few searches on newspaper databases and found only a handful of passing references. But Carto is listed on IHR letterhead as its founder, and the business license for Noontide/IHR was filed by his wife Elisabeth.
Carto denies that he is either a Nazi or an anti-Semite. He characterizes himself as an "anti-Zionist," which (in his scheme...
(The entire section is 28596 words.)
SOURCE: "On Faurisson and Chomsky," in Assassins of Memory, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, Columbia University Press, 1992, pp. 65-73.
[In the following essay, Vidal-Naquet impugns the motives of Robert Faurisson and Noam Chomsky in defending the authors of Holocaust denial literature.]
Pursuing his crusade—whose theme may be summarized as follows: the gas chambers did not exist because they can not have existed; they can not have existed because they should not have existed; or better still: they did not exist because they did not exist—Robert Faurisson has just published a new book [Memoire en défense]....
(The entire section is 23302 words.)
Deborah E. Lipstadt
SOURCE: "The Evolution of American Holocaust Revisionism," in Remembering for the Future: Working Papers and Addenda, Vol. III, edited by Yehuda Bauer and others, Pergamon Press, 1989, pp. 2579-93.
[Lipstadt is an American historian and educator whose writings focus on modern Jewish history. In the following essay, she traces the evolution of American Holocaust revisionism.]
The roots of American Holocaust revisionism can be found in the work of an influential group of progressive American historians who were deeply disturbed by American involvement in World War I. Some of these historians were highly respected...
(The entire section is 19709 words.)
SOURCE: "Revisionist History in the Library: To Facilitate Access or Not to Facilitate Access?" in Canadian Library Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4, October, 1991, pp. 319-24.
[In the following essay, Katz addresses the major questions that have been raised over the acquisition and dissemination of Holocaust denial literature in Canadian libraries.]
In her very provocative article, "Lies about the Holocaust," (1980) Lucy Dawidowicz describes the concept of "historical revision" (the practice of "reinterpreting the past") as a necessary part of the historian's job. Herself an eminent historian of the Jewish Holocaust, Dawidowicz makes the...
(The entire section is 3809 words.)
SOURCE: "Attacks on the Authenticity of the Diary," in The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, edited by David Barnouw and Gerrold van der Stroom, translated by Arnold J. Pomerans and B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday, Viking, 1989, pp. 84-101.
[In the following essay, Barnouw answers Holocaust revisionists who deny the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary.]
The earliest attacks on the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary we could discover in print come in two articles published in November 1957 in the Swedish paper Fria Ord under the heading of "Judisk Psyke—En studie kring Anne Frank och Meyer Levin [Jewish Psyche—A Study...
(The entire section is 14600 words.)
SOURCE: "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses," in Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. XIII, 1979, pp. 73-125.
[Broszat was a German historian and a respected authority on the Holocaust. Director of the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History for seventeen years, he argued that the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews was not fully formed before World War IL Rather, he believed the strategy of extermination evolved during the war years in response to the pressures of the conflict. In the following essay, Broszat offers an assessment of David Irving's book Hitler's War.]
(The entire section is 20051 words.)
Bercuson, David, and Wertheimer, Douglas. A Trust Betrayed: The Keegstra Affair. Toronto: Doubleday Canada Limited, 1985, 241 p.
Focuses on the trial of Jim Keegstra, a Canadian teacher accused of using anti-Semitic and revisionist books and tracts in his classroom.
Bolton, Judith. "Holocaust Revisionism: Editing the Past." Congress Monthly 59, No. 5 (July-August 1992): 9-12.
Briefly discusses the impact of Holocaust denial on historical study, and concludes: "Rather than resist it by reinventing, rearranging, or downgrading it, the Holocaust must be acknowledged as well as anchored with ethical and moral imperatives."
(The entire section is 661 words.)