(This article was first published in Hard Evidence, Vol. 11, No. 4, July-August 2011)
Sooner or later, people, who are interested in conspiracy theories, come across Holocaust deniers or revisionists who claim that there were no Nazi gas chambers and the mass murder of the Jews in World War II did not happen. Holocaust revisionists like to portray themselves as proponents of suppressed truth which might sound appealing to conspiracy theorists. In this two part article I will argue that Holocaust revisionism is not suppressed historical truth. Their approach to historical evidence is politically motivated and anti-historical. If we were to apply the arguments which they use to all historical evidence, we would know nothing about the past.
The political foundation of Holocaust revisionism
Holocaust revisionism is not unique. There are other cases of war crimes and genocide which have their deniers and apologists. There are Japanese who deny the Japanese war crimes in World War II happened and Turkey denies the Armenian genocide during World War I happened. Communists used to deny the atrocities committed by Communist governments. In the 1980s in Australia there was the pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia which denied there were any human rights problems in the Soviet Union.
In all these examples those, who deny the mass murder, are motivated by their political or nationalist beliefs. Turkey denies the Armenian genocide because it makes Turkey look bad. Communists deny the crimes of Communist regimes because it makes Communism look bad. Holocaust revisionists deny the Holocaust because it makes the Nazis look bad. Like in George Orwell’s 1984, their view of history and reality is determined by their political ideology. If something contradicts their politics or makes it look bad, they refuse to accept that it happened.
One argument, which revisionists use, is to point out that there have been different estimates for how many Jews were killed in Auschwitz. This is supposed to cast doubt on whether there was a mass-murder of Jews at all in Auschwitz (1). However, Auschwitz is not the only case where the estimates of mass-murder victims have varied.
According to Wikipedia, before 1991 estimates of those killed by Stalin ranged from 3 to 60 million. After 1991 estimates ranged from 4 to 10 million, excluding famine victims of 6 to 8 million. Many historians still believe around 20 million were killed (2). If Holocaust revisionists were to be consistent and apply the same standards as they do to Auschwitz, they would also believe that the different estimates of the numbers killed by Stalin prove that his crimes did not happen.
However, Holocaust revisionists are anti-Communist and believe the crimes of Stalin and other Communist leaders happened, but not the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis. What they believe did or did not happen has nothing to do with the quality of the historical evidence. There is more evidence for the crimes of Hitler than the crimes of Stalin. Their beliefs are determined by their political bias. There are some exceptions, but most revisionists tend to be pro-Nazi, so they deny the Nazi crimes happened. Since they are also anti-Communist, they believe the Communist crimes happened. The actual historical evidence is largely irrelevant.
There is no real difference between a Holocaust revisionist, who denies the Holocaust happened, and a Communist who denied the crimes of Stalin or other Communists happened. Both are motivated by their political bias, not what the actual evidence shows. Both rewrite history, attack, distort and deny the evidence, so it fits their political preconceptions. If any revisionist thinks these criticisms are unfair, they should explain why they believe the crimes of Stalin and Mao happened, but not the Holocaust.
Holocaust revisionists and eyewitness evidence
Holocaust revisionists demonstrate that they are not legitimate historians in the way they treat historical evidence. Real historians use historical evidence to reconstruct what happened in the past. Holocaust revisionists attack the evidence for the Holocaust and the gas chambers, and try to explain it away because it conflicts with their pro-Nazi political ideology.
This anti-historical approach is evident in the way revisionists treat eyewitness evidence. Almost all history depends on eyewitnesses. The eyewitness saw what happened. His account was written down and was later studied by historians who used it to reconstruct what happened. When historians use eyewitness evidence for the Holocaust, they are not doing anything unusual or inconsistent. Eyewitnesses present a problem for Holocaust revisionists because what the eyewitnesses, both Jewish and German, say happened is not what they want to believe happened. Revisionists seem to despise eyewitnesses. You can almost hear the venom in their voices when they say the word.
The Australian revisionist Fredrick Toben has written, “Professor Arthur Butz has always claimed that we do not need eye-witness evidence to prove that the American civil war happened.” (3)
Eyewitness evidence is exactly how we know the American Civil War happened. We know that events like the fight for Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg happened because of the eyewitnesses, the soldiers who were there. They wrote down what they saw and experienced or told others who wrote it down. Their eyewitness accounts are the evidence or sources which historians use in writing their books or making documentaries about the Civil War. What other method do revisionists think there is for working out what happened in the American Civil War or any other historical event?
Revisionists approach the eyewitness evidence with the intent of finding some way of discrediting them, often calling them liars or insane. They usually focus on the contradictions and discrepancies between the eyewitnesses. Revisionists even talk about the supposed need to cross-examine eyewitnesses to the gas chambers (4).Robert Faurisson claims Holocaust eyewitnesses are not eyewitnesses “in the legal sense of the term” because they have not been cross-examined (5).
Revisionists are more like defense lawyers than historians. When lawyers cross-examine witnesses, they are often not looking for the truth. They do not want to know what really happened. They are looking for some way of tripping up and confusing the witness and discrediting their testimony regardless of whether or not it is true. A good defense lawyer can make a witness look foolish even if they are telling the truth. When revisionists want to cross-examine eyewitnesses, they are likewise looking for some way of discrediting them. The defense was able to trip up some of the eyewitnesses during the revisionist Ernst Zundel’s trial in Canada in 1985 (6). That does not prove that the witnesses were wrong or lying, only that Zundel had a competent lawyer. Their emphasis on cross-examining, attacking and discrediting eyewitnesses only demonstrates how little revisionists have in common with real historians and their objectives.
You will never hear a real historian saying that witnesses need to be cross-examined. The role of a real historian is not to discredit and cast doubt on the historical evidence, but to use the evidence to reconstruct what happened in the past. Holocaust revisionists are not engaged in a search for truth in history. They are engaged in defending the crimes of the Nazis. Unlike lawyers who simply deny the defendant is guilty of the crime, revisionists deny the crime even happened.
In Lectures on the Holocaust Germar Rudolf refers to the research of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus who has shown how eyewitnesses’ memories can be manipulated and distorted so Rudolf argues that eyewitnesses to the gas chambers are unreliable (7). In her book Witness for the Defense Loftus describes eight cases involving problems with witnesses’ memories. These included the case of John Demjanuk who was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”, a guard at the Treblinka extermination camp. In only one of these cases, which involved allegations of child sex abuse, did it turn out that there actually was no crime. Another case involved the serial killer Ted Bundy so even where the reliability of the eyewitness is in doubt, the suspect can still be guilty.
The revisionist Manfred Kohler claims that Loftus said that Holocaust eyewitnesses were the most unbelievable of all eyewitnesses (8). She did not. Apart from the child sex abuse case, Loftus did not suggest that just because the witnesses were mistaken about the identity of the suspect, the crime did not happen. It never entered her mind that just because some witnesses had identified the wrong person who operated the gas chambers at Treblinka 30 years earlier, that the gas chambers at Treblinka did not exist and there were no mass killings there.
The problem with witnesses’ memories, which Loftus describes, do not apply only to Holocaust witnesses, but to all witnesses’ memories. If human memory were normally like a video camera which recorded and recalled everything perfectly and only the accounts of eyewitnesses to the gas chambers contained contradictions and mistakes, then there might be some validity to this approach. Human memory is not perfect. Almost all eyewitness accounts, not just those of Holocaust survivors, contain mistakes. These mistakes do not mean that the events, which they are describing, did not really happen, only that human memory is not perfect and they did not recall the events accurately. If historians were to apply the revisionist method and reject all eyewitness accounts because they contained mistakes, then we would know almost nothing about the past.
Stephen E. Ambrose has written several books about World War II. Like any historian would, Ambrose relied on the eyewitness accounts of those involved. One of his books Pegasus Bridge was about the British paratroop operation to capture the bridge across the Caen canal on the morning of D-Day. When Ambrose interviewed the participants, he observed, “The veterans had frequently contradicted each other on small points and very occasionally on big ones.” (9)
If a Holocaust revisionist were to hear that these eyewitnesses contradicted each other and applied the same standard, which they use with Holocaust eyewitnesses, he would presumably conclude that the Pegasus Bridge operation, and even D-day, never happened. Of course, this is nonsense. It only proves that something could still happen even if the eyewitnesses cannot remember exactly what happened.
Some revisionists’ claims about eyewitness’ contradictions cannot be explained as the normal weaknesses with human memory. They are cases of revisionist ignorance or misrepresentation. For example, a letter to Hard Evidence in 2008 said, “The so called Jewish eye-witnesses account, how the Zyklon-B-Gas-pellets were inserted into the gas-chambers are contradictory, because some stated that the Zyklon-B-Gas-pellets were thrown through wall-ports, but others say the pellets were thrown through pipelines in the concrete pillars of the morgues. After examination of these pillars, they found out that these concrete pillars were solid and without any pipe-line inside the concrete pillars. If they had filled the holes and pipelines with concrete, it would still be visible today and a forensic archaeologist would find this out. On the other hand, how could there be wall-ports, when the walls were underground?” (10)
This is not a contradiction. There were two types of gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The gas chambers in Crematoria II and III were underground and the Zyklon B was dropped in through openings in the roof. The gas chambers in Crematoria IV and V were above ground and the Zyklon B was thrown in through gas-tight windows. Some of the gas-tight shutters for these windows are now stored in Crematorium I in the Auschwitz Main Camp (11).
Likewise, witnesses, who described the gassings in Crematoria II and III, did not say the Zyklon B pellets were dropped through pipes in the concrete pillars. They said they were dropped through separate metal columns which were connected to openings in the roof (12).
Documentary evidence for the Auschwitz gas chambers
In spite of what revisionists imply, orthodox historians do not gullibly believe everything eyewitnesses say. They look for additional evidence which confirms or corroborates the eyewitness accounts. The additional evidence can be other eyewitnesses, documentary and physical evidence.
Along with the Jewish and German eyewitnesses, who said there were gas chambers in the Auschwitz crematoria, there are also wartime documents which mention a gassing cellar in Crematorium II, a gas chamber in Crematorium IV, gas tight doors, gas-tight shutters, ventilation and hydrogen cyanide gas detectors. These were published in Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers by Jean Claude Pressac which was published in 1989, and can be found on the Internet at the Holocaust History Project Homepage (13). Eyewitnesses, such as Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz and Henryk Tauber, a Sonderkommando worker, said there was a peephole in the gas chamber door (14). There are construction documents referring to the peephole in the gas tight door. These documents give the eyewitness accounts more credibility. The peepholes did exist. The eyewitnesses must have been in the crematoria to know that. This makes what they said about gassings more credible.
Revisionists, who had previously claimed that the gas chambers were only doorless morgues, did not admit they were wrong. They made up new explanations to explain away the new evidence. Some claimed the gas chambers were really air raid shelters. Others claimed they were delousing chambers. There is no documentary or eyewitness evidence to support either claim (15).
Revisionist abuse of the Goebbels Diaries
In his book Auschwitz: A Judge Looks at the Evidence, Wilhelm Staeglich examines several incriminating passages from Goebbels diaries and tries to argue that they are ambiguous or mean something else. For example, in a passage which reads “Short shrift is made of Jews in all eastern occupied areas. Tens of thousands of them are liquidated.” Staeglich’s response is “What this means is uncertain” (16). What is uncertain about “Tens of thousands of them are liquidated”?
Then Staeglich comes to the well-known passage from March 27, 1942, where Goebbels described what would happen to the Jews who were deported to the East;
“Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the Government General are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 per cent can be used for forced labor.”
This passage is too explicit for Staeglich to suggest it means something other than mass murder, so he claims that it is a forgery (17). However, David Irving, in a speech to the Institute of Historical Review, said that the passage is original and authentic and “there’s no way anyone could have faked it.” (18)
On the other hand, Robert Faurisson has written, “In itself, this last sentence tends to show that the Reich Minister of Propaganda did not say that there was a German policy to physically exterminate the Jews, either totally or in part.” (19) I have no idea how Goebbels writing that “about 60 percent to them will have to be liquidated” proves there was no “German policy to physically exterminate the Jews, either totally or in part.”
Germar Rudolf claims that when Goebbels wrote that 60% of them would be liquidated, he meant those unable to work would be deported to the east and refers to “the liquidation of any economic, political, and social influence of these people in western and central Europe.” (20)
If this is what Goebbels meant by “liquidated, he would have said that 100% of the Jews would be “liquidated” since they were all going to be deported, not just the 60% who were unable to work.
Like the evidence for the Auschwitz gas chambers, revisionists refuse to accept the evidence and make up other explanations for it. They will either try to give it a more benign interpretation or, if it is too clear and explicit to claim it means something else, they will say it is a forgery.
Conclusion to Part One
There are several books and webpages which are devoted to addressing the arguments of Holocaust revisionists in more detail (21). Instead of addressing them all, in Part Two I will show there is an underlying fatal flaw with Holocaust revisionism, namely, that they spend their time attacking the historical evidence for the Holocaust, but they cannot produce any historical evidence for their own side, what they believe “really” happened to the Jews.
(1) Robert Faurisson, “How Many Deaths at Auschwitz?”, The Revisionist, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2003, p 17-23
(2) “Joseph Stalin”, http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin
(3) Fredrick Toben, “Early New Year Greeting”, http://www.adelaideinstitute.org/newsletters/n182.htm
(4) Robert Faurisson, “Witnesses to the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz” in Ernst Gauss (editor), Dissecting the Holocaust, Theses and Dissertations Press, Alabama, 2000, p 133
(5) Robert Faurisson, “Shoah”, http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v08/v08p-85_Faurisson.htnl
(6) Michael Hoffman, The Great Holocaust Trial, institute for Historical Review, California, 1985, p 46-61
(7) Germar Rudolf, Lectures on the Holocaust, Theses and Dissertations Press, Illinois, 2005, p 348-351
(8) Manfred Kohler, “The Value of Testimony and Confessions Concerning the Holocaust”, in Dissecting the Holocaust, op cit., p 111
(9) Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers, Pocket Books, London, 2001, p 311
(10) Herbert Walters, Letter, Hard Evidence, Vol. 8, No. 6, November-December, 2008, p 2-3
(11) Robert Jan van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz, Indiana University Press, 2002, p 338, 410
(12) Ibid., p 206-208
(14) Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, Phoenix Press, London, 2000, p 198, The Case for Auschwitz, op cit., p 379
(15) Malcolm Nicholson, “The Truth about the Leuchter Report, Part One”, Hard Evidence, Vol. 8, No. 5, September-October 2008, p 46-51
(16) Wilhelm Staeglich, Auschwitz, A Judge Looks at the Evidence, Institute for Historical Review, California, 1990, p 89
(18) David Irving, “Revelations from Goebbels’ Diary”, http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v15/v15n1p-2_Irving.html
(19) Robert Faurisson, “Some people are not only stupid, but very stupid”, Adelaide Institute Newsletter, No. 26, May 1995, p 4
(20) Lectures on the Holocaust, op cit., p 341
(21) John C. Zimmerman, Holocaust Denial, University Press of America, Lanham, 2000, Michael Shermer and Alex Grobham, Denying History, University of California, 2000, Robert Jan van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz, Indiana University Press, 2002, “Holocaust Controversies”, http://holocaustcontroversies.blgspot.com , “The Holocaust History Project”, http://www.holocaust-history.org. “The Nizkor Project:, http://www.nizkor.org