Topic: Holocaust Denial
"The Holocaust Never Happened," a controversial ad campaign in Berlin in 2001 to raise money for a Holocaust memorial. In fine print: "There are still many people who make this claim. In 20 years there could be even more. Make a donation to the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe."
Holocaust denial is one of the most recent forms of anti-Semitism. Its activists claim that the Holocaust is a lie invented by the Jews in order to obtain financial compensation from Germany, as well as for political gains (the creation of the State of Israel). Behind these thoughts lie well worn anti-Semitic clichés, such as the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, the Jews’ love of money, and their influence in politics and in the media.
Holocaust denial has nothing to do with historical research, as is claimed. It does not offer "another version of history," but is a truly anti-Semitic ideology, based on falsification and defamation, which seeks to appear in a respectable, academic guise. Deniers like to call themselves 'Revisionists,' an ambiguous term that needs to be substituted by Holocaust deniers, which is more adequate to reflect their ideology.
The father of Holocaust denial was Paul Rassinier (1906-1967), a one-time French Communist and deportee to the Dora concentration camp, where he was placed in the privileged position of being the gardener for a Nazi commander. He returned from Dora with a front-to-back vision of the roles: the victims of the war were the Germans; the ones to blame were the Jews who were responsible for the world conflict. Rassinier did not see any gas chambers in Dora [note: there were no gas chambers in that camp] and thus stated that there were none anywhere. His book, Le Drame des Juifs Européens, was published in Paris in 1948, before any Holocaust historiography. It was on this basis that the Holocaust deniers' method was built: they considered all Jewish witnesses liars; they ignored all pre-Liberation documents. Nazi documents were, in their opinion, fabrications, false confessions from Nazis at the Nuremberg trials obtained under torture. Any other pre- or post-World War II historical evidence is ignored, falsified, taken out of context or rapidly put aside (e.g. they never mention that gypsies and homosexuals were also sent to gas chambers; they question one sentence of a survivor’s testimony to discredit every eye-witness account). Under the guise of wanting to denounce a lie, the Holocaust deniers defend the Nazis and dream of their comeback. Leading Holocaust deniers are Mark Weber and his 'Institute for Historical Review,' Ernst Zündel (previously in Canada, now in the United States), Germar Rudolf, Serge Thion, Robert Faurisson, David Irving (Europe), and Jürgen Graf (now in Iran).
We should point to the mirror effect: Holocaust deniers denigrate existing scholarship of the Holocaust and consider it fake, biased and invalid, but in turn, they substantiate their own claims of the Holocaust as a hoax with scholarly-looking explanations. They use quotes taken out of context, accumulate footnotes that look serious, mimic the aesthetics of academic journals in their own papers and online publications, and often grant themselves the title of 'professor,' 'historian' or 'expert.'
Semantics of Religion
Holocaust deniers state that Hitler never planned to kill the Jews, but simply wished to displace them to the East; that there is no written order in the hand of Hitler that calls for the systematic destruction of all Jews. Moreover, according to them, there is absolutely no proof that gas chambers ever existed, because the camps were destroyed at the end of the war (the Nazis did indeed try to destroy any evidence of their crimes).
The campaigns of the deniers often state that Jews transformed the Holocaust into a 'religion' that everybody has to 'believe,' and that no one is allowed to question the 'dogma.' They argue that Jews – because of their so-called political influence, financial power and successful conspiracy – were able to brainwash the whole world and have everybody accept their 'lie' as truth. The vocabulary of religion is omnipresent in the deniers’ writings, from their expression 'religion of the Holocaust' to their expression 'sacrosanct 6 Million,' as well as their comparisons with religious stories: just as everybody in the Middle Ages believed in witches and their so-called satanic rituals, everybody believes with the same 'blind faith' in the Holocaust; just as people believe in the Immaculate Conception, they believe in the 'immaculate extermination' that could have taken place without a weapon, since, according to their analysis gas chambers never existed except to disinfect clothes from lice and germs. Holocaust deniers present themselves as scholars with a skeptical/critical approach, who are merely expressing doubt and asking for evidence (the old dichotomy science v. religion). While considering religion as bad faith and challenging sacred memory, their activism borrows from civil religion and commemoration: they keep quoting the same authors, excerpts and statements, and they have shifted from Holocaust memory to Nazi apology by commemorating Hitler's birthday or the bombing of Dresden.
Swiss Holocaust denier Jürgen Graf (now living in Iran) explains the "transformation of the Holocaust into a religion":
"The orthodox Holocaust story can not possibly be defended with rational arguments because its absurdity is overwhelming. We are asked to believe in the fata morgana of a vast slaughter in killing factories which left no traces whatsoever - no documents, no bones, no teeth, no ashes - nothing! We are further asked to believe that the Allies, who had a large network of informers all over Europe and a spy in the German leadership (Admiral Canaris, the head of the German intelligence), did not become aware of this gigantic genocide until the end of the war, for if they had known about the mass murder, they would have acted to stop it. Finally, we are asked to believe that the Jews in Poland, the epicentre of the Holocaust, did not know anything about the Auschwitz gas chambers as late as in August 1944, otherwise the Jews from the Lodz ghetto would not have gone to Auschwitz voluntarily - which is precisely what they did, as related by Raul Hilberg in his standard work about the Holocaust (Die Vernichtung der europaeischen Juden, p. 543/544)....
"The Jews are gradually transforming the Holocaust into a religion. This is a very clever strategy, for as Robert Faurisson aptly remarks, one cannot refute a religion with scientific arguments. Thus, the Holocaust museums and Holocaust monuments spreading like mushrooms all over America and Europe are really temples of the new religion, whereas professional 'Holocaust survivors' such as Elie Wiesel are the priests of the new religion. To prove this assertion, we only have to quote Wiesel himself: 'The Holocaust is a holy mystery, the secret of which is limited to the circle of the priesthood of survivors' (Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, 1999, p. 211, 212, retranslated from the German). Another high priest of the Holocaust cult, Simon Wiesenthal, goes even further: 'When each of us comes before the Six Million, we will be asked what we did with our lives... I will say: I did not forget you' (Simon Wiesenthal in Response, Vol. 20, Nr. 1)....
"French Zionist propagandist Claude Lanzmann, the producer of a long and unspeakably dull film about the Holocaust (the title of this film is Shoah, the Hebrew word for 'catastrophe,' which is often used by Jews as a synonym for 'Holocaust') makes no effort to conceal that the Holocaust cult is to replace Christianity:
'If Auschwitz is something other than a horror of history, then Christianity totters in its foundations. Christ is the Son of God, who went to the end of the humanely endurable, where he endured the cruellest suffering. (...) If Auschwitz is true, then there is a human suffering with which that of Christ simply cannot be compared. (...) In this case, Christ is false, and salvation will not come from him. (...) Auschwitz is the refutation of Christ.' (Les temps modernes, Paris, December 1993, p. 132, 133.)
"Nowadays, a large percentage of the Jews do not believe in God any more, but virtually all of them believe in the Six Million. The Zionist leadership cunningly exploits the Holocaust to unite the World's Jews by keeping them in a constant state of hysteria and persecution mania, insinuating that only if the Jews stick together will they be able to ban the threat of a new Holocaust."
Holocaust denial remained confined to a discrete sect until the end of the 1970s. After that, deniers tried to expand their audience, mainly through scandals that would be reported in the media. Thus one sees them infiltrating the media (letters to the editor, press releases, advertising, public outbursts), universities and schools (public lectures, ads in college newspapers), public forums (conferences, demonstrations), and political circles (far-right and far-left).
Holocaust denial us bolstered by the actual crisis in values (non-believers, relativism), the criticism/reassessment of the attitude of certain countries during World War II (especially France and Switzerland), and by the growing distance from the historical events and the gradual disappearance of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Holocaust denial today finds an echo amongst the younger generation, whose lack of knowledge serves as fertile ground for the diffusion of such arguments.
Moreover, the Holocaust deniers form an international network that is wide spread: from the United States to Europe, via the Arab countries, Japan, Australia and Latin America. The exchanges, invitations, advertising and relays are numerous, especially on the Internet. This is where deniers can safely disseminate material, sell books and magazines, organize international gatherings (the Beirut conference in 2001 was cancelled at the last minute, but widely publicized on line) and rally courtroom supporters when one of their members is being tried (trial of David Irving in London, Roger Garaudy in Paris, Gaston-Armand Amaudruz in Lausanne). In the past, books and magazines were mostly available through mail order from discrete P.O. boxes, or from bookstores with a backroom reserved to the initiated. Books that were only available in their original language, with a small print run and sold on the sly are now downloadable for free in various translations, and are accessible to a worldwide audience. Ahmed Rami, a Moroccan living in Sweden, broadcasts Radio Islam online and offers a 15-language website with articles and books downloadable for free (including Roger Garaudy’s 1996 Founding Myths of Israeli Politics, which is banned in France).
The Internet allows deniers to share news quasi publicly, in spite of the fact many European countries have implemented anti-Racism laws that prevent deniers from publicly displaying their ideas or distributing anti-Semitic material, such as the Gayssot law in France or the article 261bis of the Swiss Penal Code. Internet websites that were hosted in European countries have migrated to servers in countries with complete freedom of speech, where Holocaust deniers on the verge of being convicted also fled (Ernst Zundel left Canada for the U.S., Jürgen Graf left Switzerland for Iran, René-Louis Berclaz left Switzerland for Serbia) The geography of Holocaust denial is evolving according to laws, but the general trend is an increase of propaganda material and its worldwide distribution.
The Internet has also contributed to creating and reinforcing alliances between Holocaust deniers and other extremist groups, such as neo-nazis, skinheads, radical anti-Zionists and nationalist organizations. It is not uncommon to see quotes, links and other expressions of support on websites not directly sponsored by Holocaust deniers. This shows an expansion of their network and exchanges of ideas (e.g. far-right party Pamyat in Russia, white supremacists in the U.S., skinheads in various European countries, far-right party Front National in France and mainstream Arab-language media in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, for example).
Countering Holocaust Denial
Countering Holocaust denial takes place in schools through education, but especially on the Internet, where numerous resource sites offer serious historical background, visual material and primary sources to oppose deniers’ arguments. More testimonies of Holocaust survivors appear online too, whether in print or in video format. Some scholars have stated that there is no point debating deniers, as it gives them legitimacy.
Nizkor: A resource website about the Holocaust specifically uncovering Holocaust deniers’ techniques.
Documentary Resources on the Nazi Genocide and its Denial (English and French)
Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. A collection of over 4,200 videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust, located at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University. Some excerpts can be watched or listened to online.
Kaye, Ephraim. Desecraters of Memory: Confronting Holocaust Denial, Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1997. A short resource guide for teachers with many illustrations giving a panoramic view of contemporary Holocaust deniers.
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Penguin, 1994. The first scholarly work on Holocaust denial, this book gives a detailed account of the post-World War I intellectual mindset that helped Holocaust denial develop after World War II; shows its evolution and refinement; dismantles its tactics and projects its possible development. Holocaust denier David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for the way he was depicted in this book, and lost. For primary sources regarding the trial, see Holocaust Denial on Trial: David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, a project of Emory University's Witness to the Holocaust Program and the Institute for Jewish Studies. For Lipstadt's account of the trial, see her new book History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving. New York: Ecco [HarperCollins], 2005.
Stern, Kenneth. Holocaust Denial. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1993. A practical manual for activists who wish to counter Holocaust deniers’ arguments and deepen their knowledge on the issue. Another article by Kenneth Stern on the history and development of Holocaust denial can be found here.
Questions for Discussion
1. When using a search engine to research an aspect of the Holocaust, how are Holocaust denial websites identifiable? Look at the name, content, layout, language (ways of talking about the Holocaust; victims; Nazis; testimonies; memory).
Or look at the quote from Jürgen Graf and bring up counter-arguments.
2. Should Holocaust deniers be ignored in order to confine them in relative invisibility, or should they be included in public debates as a means of denouncing them? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. Compare for example the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and a European law against Holocaust Denial: how do they deal with the issue in terms of freedom of speech, hate speech, private sphere v. public sphere, dissemination?
3. In the field of Holocaust memory, one often hears that what happened to the Jews is unthinkable, indescribable, or beyond belief. Think of the pros and cons of this attitude, in regard to testimonies of Holocaust survivors and to the critique addressed by Holocaust denier Jürgen Graf. How is this specific difficulty of talking about the Holocaust used and abused?