Monday, 13 February 2012

Holocaust denial

What is Holocaust denial?

Holocaust denial is a historical and political movement which denies the central features of the accepted historical account of the Nazi genocide against the Jews which was perpetrated between approximately 1941 and 1945.

The central features of Holocaust denial (which is also known as negationism and, somewhat euphemistically, as historical revisionism) are as follows:
  • The Nazi regime had no policy of carrying out the mass murder of Jews.
  • There is no convincing evidence of such a policy, and what alleged evidence exists is unreliable or fabricated.
  • While a large number of number of Jews were killed by the Nazis, the death toll was much lower than the commonly accepted figure of 6 million.
  • Atrocities committed by the Allies, such as the mass bombing of Germany and Stalin's Gulag, were comparable to the Nazis' crimes against the Jews.
  • The camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere did not use gas chambers for the purpose of homicide.
  • The Allies invented the story of the Holocaust as wartime propaganda.
  • The Jews promoted the story of the Holocaust to advance their interests: to make money or to protect the state of Israel.
There are usually clear political motives for negationism:
[I]nventors and disseminators of the myth have varied motives.  Many are outright fascists or neo-Nazis, captivated by the idea of a powerful national-racial community, and admirers of Hitler....  They are right-wing German nationalists or philo-Germans who want to rehabilitate Germany's reputation tarnished by the crime of genocide.  By absolving the Third Reich of systematic mass murder, including more than a million Jewish children, these Nazi apologists hope to increase fascism's appeal for today's world, enhance Hitler's statutre, and reinvigorate German nationalism.  The same outfits that promote Holocaust denial also distribute audiocassettes of Nazi marching songs, videocassettes glorifying life in the Third Reich and German victories in the war, and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion....  (Perry and Schweitzer, Anti-Semitism, p177)
Holocaust denial is not a new phenomenon.  The publicisation of the Nazis' atrocities at the end of the War was immediately followed in some quarters by dismissal of the reports as propaganda.  The French fascist Maurice Bardèche went down this road in his book Nuremberg, ou la Terre Promise (1948), as did a German-American literature professor called Austin App.  Another Frenchman, Paul Rassinier, was embarked on the same course by 1950.  Rassinier - who was a complex figure, a man of the pacifist left rather than the neo-Nazi right - can be considered a sort of founding father of Holocaust denial.

It took the passage of a generation for Holocaust denial to become a serious movement, and negationism is essentially a product of the 1960s and 70s.  In 1964, Rassinier published The Drama of the European Jews.  In the preceding two years, the American Harry Elmer Barnes, another figure whose roots were on the left, had published two pamphlets, Revisionism and Brainwashing and Blasting the Historical Black-out.  Barnes corresponded with Rassinier and cited his work.  In 1969, there appeared a book entitled The Myth of the Six Million; this had seemingly been written in 1960 by David Hoggan, another American who knew Barnes personally, although it was published without Hoggan's permission and led to a lawsuit as a result.  In the 1970s, these figures were joined by the likes of Robert Faurisson, Ernst Zündel, Thies Christopherson (a former SS officer), Arthur Butz, Richard Verrall and the Institute for Historical Review.

The denial movement reached something of a peak in the late 1980s and early 90s, and has declined somewhat since then.  Holocaust denial spread to the Muslim world in the 80s and 90s, where it has become inextricably linked with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Its highest profile sponsor is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Holocaust denial is a crime in a number of European jurisdictions, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and Spain.  In other countries, negationism has been the subject of legal proceedings, such as the Canadian case of R v Zündel (1985) and the English case of Irving v Penguin Books (2000).

Did Six Million Really Die?

As an example of the genre, here is an extract from Richard Verrall's tract Did Six Million Really Die? (1974).

"[W]ell into the war period, the Germans continued to implement the policy of Jewish emigration. The fall of France in 1940 enabled the German Government to open serious negotiations with the French for the transfer of European Jews to Madagascar.... Eventually, however, [the Madagascar plan] was rendered impractical by the progress of the war... and on February 10th, 1942, the Foreign Office was informed that the plan had been temporarily shelved. This ruling, sent to the Foreign Office by Luther’s assistant, Rademacher, is of great importance, because it demonstrates conclusively that the term “Final Solution” meant only the emigration of Jews, and also that transportation to the eastern ghettos and concentration camps such as Auschwitz constituted nothing but an alternative plan of evacuation.... Only a month later, however, on March 7th, 1942, Goebbels wrote a memorandum in favour of the Madagascar Plan as a “final solution” of the Jewish question....

....[W]hat reliable statistics there are, especially those relating to emigration, are sufficient to show that not a fraction of six million Jews could have been exterminated....

It should be emphasised straight away that there is not a single document in existence which proves that the Germans intended to, or carried out, the deliberate murder of Jews.... The documents which do survive, of course, make no mention at all of extermination.... The [bulk] of the programme is supposed to have begun in March 1942, with the deportation and concentration of European Jews in the eastern camps of the Polish Government-General, such as the giant industrial complex at Auschwitz near Cracow. The fantastic and quite groundless assumption throughout is that transportation to the East, supervised by Eichmann’s department, actually meant immediate extermination in ovens on arrival....

The complete lack of documentary evidence to support the existence of an extermination plan has led to the habit of re-interpreting the documents that do survive.... The Germans had an extraordinary propensity for recording everything on paper in the most careful detail, yet among the thousands of captured documents of the S.D. and Gestapo, the records of the Reich Security Head Office, the files of Himmler’s headquarters and Hitler’s own war directives there is not a single order for the extermination of Jews or anyone else....

Should anyone be misled into believing that the extermination of the Jews was “proved” at Nuremberg by “evidence”, he should consider the nature of the Trials themselves, based as they were on a total disregard of sound legal principles of any kind. The accusers acted as prosecutors, judges and executioners; “guilt” was assumed from the outset...."

What actually happened?

It is not clear exactly when the idea of exterminating the Jews of Europe through mass murder was conceived.  Some historians have pointed to a notorious speech made by Hitler to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939, which contained the following passage:
Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Europe!
Nevertheless, Nazi policy was not explicitly genocidal at this point.  From 1939 to mid-1941, the Nazis were resolved to deport the Jews under their control to a remote part of their territories.  There was talk of expelling the Jews to Madagascar, a plan that originated in late 19th century antisemitic circles.

In practice, the Holocaust can be said to have begun with the mass shootings of Jews in the East by the SS Einsatzgruppen that followed the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.  However, there is some doubt as to when the Einsatzgruppen killings were converted into a policy of industrially organised mass murder, with the familiar paraphernalia of death camps and gas chambers.

The order to commence the Holocaust is sometimes identified as a document referring to a "final solution" of the Jewish question signed by Hermann Göring on 31 July 1941 at the behest of Reinhard Heydrich's office, but it is not clear whether this document really is the smoking gun.  Later recollections by Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, place the order to begin the Holocaust earlier, in June 1941, but it has been doubted whether he was correctly remembering the sequence of events.

It is probable that genocide definitively became state policy in late summer or autumn 1941.  On 19 August, Goebbels reported in his diary that Hitler had been referring to his January 1939 speech and talking about the extermination of the Jews.  In the same month, Hitler halted the Nazi "euthanasia" programme directed against handicapped individuals, which had involved the use of poison gas.  He also sanctioned an extension of the requirement for Jews to wear the yellow star badge, the purpose apparently being to facilitate future moves against them.  In September, he ordered all Jews to be removed from core German territory.  In October, Himmler banned any further voluntary Jewish emigration.  By now, various prominent Nazis - Heydrich, Eichmann, Alfred Rosenberg, Franz Rademacher, Ehrard Wetzel and Paul Wurm - were reportedly talking about a "total solution" of the Jewish question, "extermination", and the use of gassing.  On 25 October, Hitler was reported as referring again to his January 1939 speech and as speaking with seeming approval of the idea of exterminating the Jews.  On 12 December, Hitler told a group of senior Nazis in a private speech that the "destruction of the Jews" would be carried out.  In public speeches in January and February 1942, he used words like "extirpate" and "disappear" in relation to the Jews, and once again recalled his speech of January 1939.

Meanwhile, ominous physical steps were beginning to be taken.  Experimental gassing of Soviet prisoners began at Auschwitz in September 1941.  On 13 October 1941, Himmler gave the order for the construction of what became the Belzec death camp.  Finally, gassings of Jews commenced at Chelmno on 8 December 1941.

From this point onwards, there was no going back.  On 20 January 1942, the Wannsee Conference took place, at which the senior bureaucrats of the Nazi regime were charged with implementing the policy decision that had been taken.  Deportations of Jews began on a large scale in the spring.  The most intensive phase of the Holocaust, characterised by the operation of the "Operation Reinhard" death camps, lasted roughly from this time to autumn 1943.

The discovery of the Holocaust

People knew about the Holocaust long before the end of the War.

From the spring of 1942, the British government's Code and Cypher School intercepted encrypted radio messages sent by the death camps camps to Berlin.  However, their contents did not give a clear picture of what was going on.

From December 1942, the Polish government-in-exile in London began to publish reports about death camps in Poland and the use of poison gas.

In mid-1944, three reports on mass murder at Auschwitz became available.  These had been written by a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish escapees (Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar, Jerzy Tabeau, and Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz).  The first two reports were in circulation by June 1944, at which point the New York Times picked up the story.  The following month, the Red Army discovered an abandoned death camp at Majdanek, which included gas chambers, and this discovery was publicised in August 1944.

The reports of genocide were initially greeted with some degree of disbelief.  The First World War had produced lurid atrocity stories, and British and American society was accordingly wary of such things.  Scepticism had been shown towards stories of Nazi persecutions of Jews in the 1930s, and there was some antisemitism in British and American society.  The attitude of Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the British Government's Joint Intelligence Committee, was not atypical.  As late as summer 1943, he said:
It is true that there have been references to the use of gas chambers in other reports; but these references have usually, if not always, been equally vague, and since they have concerned the extermination of Jews, have usually emanated from Jewish sources.
Personally, I have never really understood the advantage of the gas chamber over the simple machine gun, or the equally simple starvation method. These stories may or may not be true, but in any event I submit we are putting out a statement on evidence which is far from conclusive, and which we have no means of assessing.
He also stated:
The Poles, and to a far greater extent the Jews, tend to exaggerate German atrocities in order to stoke us up....

I think that we weaken our case against the Germans by publically giving credence to atrocity stories for which we have no evidence. These mass executions in gas chambers remind me of the stories of employment of human corpses during the last war for the manufacture of fat, which was a grotesque lie and led to the true stories of German enormities being brushed aside as being mere propaganda.
In early 1944, Arthur Koestler wrote in the New York Times Magazine:
....[T]he other day I met one of the best-known American journalists over here. He told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believed that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they didn't believe a word of it. As to this country, I have been lecturing now for three years to the troops, and their attitude is the same. They don't believe in concentration camps, they don't believe in the starved children of Greece, in the shot hostages of France, in the mass-graves of Poland; they have never heard of Lidice, Treblinka, or Belzec....
Evidence of the Holocaust

The foundation of the Holocaust deniers' case is that no written order issued by Adolf Hitler survives mandating the extermination of the Jewish people.  Indeed, both Hitler and his subordinates took care to speak euphemistically about the genocide that they were perpetrating, using terms such as Sonderbehandlung (special treatment), Auswanderung (emigration), Evakuierung (evacuation) and abtransportieren (deport), and speaking as if the Madagascar plan was still on the table.

Nevertheless, enough Nazis said and wrote enough to leave a fairly damning trail of evidence.  Deniers therefore have to give an innocent meaning to sinister terms like Vernichtung (annihilation), auszurotten (extirpate) and abschaffen (liquidate, remove) which appear in the record.  Some of the evidence for the policy of genocide, aside from that already referred to above, is set out below.

1.  A note made by Heinrich Himmler of a conversation with Hitler on 16 December 1941:
Jewish question / to be extirpated [auszurotten] as partisans.
2.  A diary entry by Josef Goebbels for 15 February 1942:
The Führer gives expression once again to his opinion that he is determined to clear out the Jews in Europe. One must not have any sentimental moods here. The Jews have earned the catastrophe which they are experiencing today. They will also experience their own annihilation. We must speed up this process with a cold ruthlessness, and we are thereby performing an inestimable service for humanity, which has suffered and been tortured by the Jews for millennia.
3.  A speech by Adolf Hitler delivered on 24 February 1942:
Today the idea of our National Socialist, and that of the fascist revolution, have conquered great and powerful states, and my prophecy will find its fulfilment, that through this war Aryan humankind will not be annihilated, but the Jew will be exterminated.... And only then, with the removal of these parasites, will a long period of understanding between nations, and with it true peace, come upon the suffering world.
4.  A diary entry by Goebbels for 27 March 1942:
The Jews are now being pushed out of the General Government, beginning near Lublin, to the East. A pretty barbaric procedure is being applied here, and it is not to be described in any more detail, and not much is left of the Jews themselves. In general one may conclude that 60% of them must be liquidated, while only 40% can be put to work. The former Gauleiter of Vienna, who is carrying out this action, is doing it pretty prudently and with a procedure that doesn't work too conspicuously. The Jews are being punished barbarically, to be sure, but they have fully deserved it. The prophesy that the Fuhrer issued to them on the way, for the eventuality that they started a new world war, is beginning to realise itself in the most terrible manner.
5.  Hitler's comments to the Hungarian dictator Horthy on 17 April 1943:
If the Jews [in Poland] didn't want to work, they were shot. If they couldn't work, they had to perish. They had to be treated like tuberculosis bacilli, from which a healthy body can be infected. That was not cruel; if one remembered that even innocent natural creatures like hares and deer had to be killed so that no harm was caused. Why should one spare the beasts who wanted to bring us bolshevism? Nations who did not rid themselves of Jews perished.
6.  A speech to generals by Himmler on 5 May 1944:
The Jewish question has been solved within Germany itself and in general within the countries occupied by Germany. It was solved in an uncompromising fashion in accordance with the life and death struggle of our nation in which the existence of our blood is at stake. You can understand how difficult it was for me to carry out this soldierly order and which I carried out from obedience and from a sense of complete conviction.
7.  Another speech to generals by Himmler on 24 May 1944:
Another question which was decisive for the inner security of the Reich in Europe was the Jewish question. It was uncompromisingly solved after orders and rational recognition. I believe, gentlemen, that you know me well enough to know that I am not a bloodthirsty person. I am not a man who takes pleasure or joy when something rough must be done. However, on the other hand I have such good nerves and such a developed sense of duty I could say that much for myself. When I recognise something as necessary, I can implement it without compromise. I have not considered myself entitled, this concerns especially the Jewish women and children, to allow the children to grow into the avengers who will murder our fathers and grandchildren. That would have been cowardly. Consequently, the question was uncompromisingly resolved.
8.  A speech by Hitler to army officers on 26 May 1944:
By removing the Jew, I abolished in Germany the possibility to build up a revolutionary core or nucleus. One could naturally say to me: Yes, couldn't you have solved this more simply – or not simply since all other means would have been more complicated – but more humanely? My dear officers, we are engaged in a life or death struggle. If our opponents win in this struggle, then the German people would be extirpated.