Holocaust Denial Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.