Denying the Dead
Holocaust Revisionism and a Response
It has often been said that truth is stranger than fiction. That is certainly the case when studying the writings of those who deny the occurrence of the Holocaust. These people affirm that the Nazis’ systematic attempt from 1933 to 1945 to exterminate Jewish people never took place, that the gas chambers never existed, and that the survivors are lying about the horrors they witnessed. In their opinion, the crime of the 20th century was actually the hoax of the 20th century. It is hard to believe that such a movement could exist today and find a sympathetic response among multitudes of people. Yet it is true that, in spite of the mountains of evidence proving the contrary, Holocaust deniers are publishing their opinions and finding a readership for them.
At the end of World War II, facts that had been leaking out of the Third Reich for years were finally revealed to an astonished world. Many people had not believed that the systematic extermination of citizens by the Nazi SS was taking place during the war. Even the leaders of the Allied governments had refused to take action to stop the genocide, despite the information they received about the Nazi atrocities.
The liberation of the concentration camps, the uncovering of Nazi documents, the stories of shattered survivors, and the disappearance of a vast multitude of Jewish people combined to reveal the horror that many had refused to believe. Nearly six million Jewish people in Europe had been shot, starved, and gassed for no reason other than that they were Jewish. The evidence was simply overwhelming, but beginning just after the war ended, there were voices insisting that the whole terrible slaughter had never taken place.
Deniers Who Are They?
In the 1940s and 1950s, occasional articles and books were written by former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in Germany and France in an attempt to raise doubts about the Holocaust. Right-wing fringe groups, marked by vicious anti-Semitism, published booklets attacking the Holocaust as an invention of Zionists to gain sympathy for the newborn State of Israel. Few paid attention to their claims. In the last twenty years, however, Holocaust deniers have attempted to gain some measure of respectability with the public. Books and journals with an outward veneer of academia have been published, often with less rhetoric than the earlier pamphlets, but with the same purpose: to attempt to prove that we have been duped into believing there really was a plan and an effort by Hitler to destroy the Jewish people. In 1977 Arthur R. Butz, a professor at Northwestern University, published The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. His position as a professor (his doctorate was received not in history but in electrical engineering) enhanced the controversy and sought to raise it from the rantings of the radical right to a level of academic reputability. Butz gave the impression of being a serious scholar, but in reality he knew only how to play the academic game. Closer examination revealed that he harbored precisely the same attitudes that had characterized the previous, more overtly anti-Semitic Holocaust denial literature that preceded him.
In 1979, a new organization in California, the Institute for Historical Review, held its first convention, which produced an apparently serious publication, the Journal of Historical Review. The only stated purpose of the Institute and the Journal was to present the truth that would help to revise the establishment version of World War II. Their publications merely continued to promote the theory of Butz and other Holocaust deniers: that the Holocaust never took place and was an invention of Zionists and their dupes to bleed Germany of reparation payments to Israel.
Because of their thesis, the media and scholars paid little attention to the Institute and its work. Most Holocaust scholars have taken the position that to dispute with the deniers only gives them the publicity they want and raises the issue to the level of a legitimate debate, which it is not. Facts are not open to debate, and the Holocaust is an established fact of history.
As a publicity gimmick, the Institute offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove that the Nazis operated gas chambers to exterminate Jews during World War II. They were surprised when a Holocaust survivor, Mel Mermelstein, took them up on their offer. Mermelstein was a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp whose mother, father, brother, and sisters had all perished there. He was incensed at the blatant assault on the accuracy of the horrors he had experienced while imprisoned and the deaths of his family members. He did not, however, fall into the trap of presenting his evidence before authorities of the Institute’s own choosing—the method that they insisted on using to determine the proof. Instead, Mermelstein filed a lawsuit against the IHR, and in July 1985 the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the IHR to pay Mermelstein the $50,000 reward plus $40,000 for pain and suffering caused by the suggestion that his loss and trauma were not real. The defendants also agreed to sign a letter of apology to Mermelstein, which contained an acknowledgment of the fact that the gassing at Auschwitz was not subject to dispute and was a fact. Thus, the charge of the deniers that the Holocaust could never be proven in a court of law was turned on its head.
Undaunted by this defeat, Holocaust deniers have continued to slander the dead. The Liberty Lobby, an apparently anti-Communist, patriotic organization, began publication of the Spotlight, a tabloid newspaper that has continued to be the main vehicle of Holocaust denial. The man responsible for the majority of this movement is Willis Carto, infamous for his anti-Semitic activities, among them a libel lawsuit against the Wall Street Journal for calling him an anti-Semite. Carto lost the case; the court found the evidence for his anti-Semitism simply overwhelming.
Deniers What to Say?
The Holocaust is an established fact; it is a disgrace to the memory of the dead to even think that their deaths are open to debate. However, because of the persuasive way that deniers twist the facts, many who are not aware of the truth can be deceived. It is necessary, therefore, to know about the naysayers’ attacks and be aware of how they can be answered.
The Holocaust denial writings most often make these points.
- Neither Hitler nor any of the German leaders ever ordered the extermination of the Jewish people under their authority. Any Jews who died did so as a result of the ravages of war or were being punished for specific crimes, like Gentile traitors were punished.
- There was no such thing as a gas chamber in any of the camps. The shower rooms, often portrayed as gas chambers, were for the humane delousing of those who were either prisoners or displaced refugees.
- The shock pictures of starving, living skeletons and the mountains of corpses are either faked photos or were taken of non-Jewish Russian prisoners. Any people who starved did so because the Germans were unable to feed their people and prisoners due to the Allied bombings.
- The testimonies of the survivors are discounted. If there are so many survivors, then there must not have been many victims, the deniers have decided. The survivors’ “dead” or missing relatives ended up either in the Soviet Union or in the United States under other names, or they remarried.
- The most famous Jewish account to emerge from World War II, The Diary of Anne Frank, was a forgery that enriched Otto Frank when he published the story that had actually been written by a Jewish novelist.
- The Germans’ confessions of their atrocities at the postwar trials (e.g., Nuremberg) were forced out by torture and cannot be viewed as accurate.
- The Zionists concocted the myth of the Holocaust to gain world sympathy for a State of Israel following the war. They perpetuated the myth to secure billions of German deutsche marks by way of reparations.
- Continued promotion of the Holocaust simply holds Americans hostage to the evil, bankrupt government of Israel by providing financial and military aid to that country.
Response What Do We Say?
How do we respond to these allegations, and what solid evidence is there to establish the Holocaust as fact and not a hoax? First, no reputable historian with valid credentials—Jewish, Gentile, conservative, or liberal—believes there is any validity to the so-called truth of the Holocaust deniers. Furthermore, while the authors of the denial publications often represent themselves as patriotic, conservative Americans, all the major conservative thinkers and publications have repudiated Holocaust denial. Such conservative publications as Human Events, American Opinion, Buckley’s National Review, and the American Spectator all have labeled Willis Carto and his related publications and organizations as racist and anti-Semitic. They recognize that it is not patriotism that motivates Holocaust denial, but anti-Semitism and bigotry.
The greatest evidence of the Nazi program to annihilate Jewry comes not from the Jews or the Allies but from the Nazis themselves. Thousands of pictures and hours of film documentary of the Nazi genocide were taken by German soldiers and SS officers. Although Nazi leaders made a concerted effort to destroy incriminating documents, evidence has survived that bears witness to the perpetration of their evil plans.
The unbelievable details revealed by the Nazi leaders themselves at trials like Nuremberg further confirm their complicity in the mass murders. Deniers cannot document their charges of confessions forced from Nazi defendants by torture. If the defendants were not forced to confess, and, as deniers claim, there is no evidence of the Holocaust, why did they implicate themselves? Why didn’t they let the so-called “lack of evidence” prove their innocence?
The testimony of thousands of survivors provides the most damning evidence of the mass murders, the gas chambers, the crematoria, the starvation, and the inhuman brutality. While it is easy for deniers to coldly dismiss their testimony as not reliable because they are Jewish, their physical and emotional pain cannot be ignored so easily by the rest of the world. Their united voices confirm the tragedy that we all know took place.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Authority in Jerusalem, contains in its vast archives literally tons of records that document every detail of the Holocaust. Many film documentaries have been made, but none are as powerful as Shoah, the nine-and-a-half-hour film produced by Claude Lanzman, in which Jewish survivors, Polish bystanders, and even camp guards all state in excruciating detail what they saw: the attempted extermination of an entire people just because of who they were. Anyone who could sit through Shoah and still deny that the Holocaust took place reveals his or her own prejudice more than a knowledge of the reality.
More solid documentation of the Holocaust could be cited, but space here does not allow for further facts of the tortures. Among the many volumes on this subject, Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt is the best and most thorough book to bring the facts to light. Lipstadt also documents in detail the evidence for the gas chambers and the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary. Also, in 1981 Yad Vashem published Documents on the Holocaust, which contains the actual words of Hitler, Himmler, Hess, and other perpetrators. Their own words tell the story; no explanatory comment is needed.
At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., you can get a little button bearing one word: “Remember.” That is what we all must do in regard to the Holocaust victims and survivors. Let us not for one second give ground to hate mongers who have launched an assault, not only on memory, but also on truth.