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DEBATING THE HOLOCAUST

© 2015, T. Dalton

Chapter 1 – The Great Debate

There can be no denying the Holocaust of the mid-twentieth century:  it was called World War II.  Roughly 50 to 60 million people died worldwide—about 70 percent of whom were civilians.[1]  They died from a variety of causes including guns, bombs, fire, disease, exposure, starvation, and chemical toxins.  Within this greater Holocaust there existed many lesser holocausts:  the Allied fire-bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, and Cologne; the killing of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers and civilians, by the victorious Allies, after the formal end of the war; the US nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which incinerated 170,000 women, children, and elderly; and the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany.  It is this last Holocaust which has been the topic of heated debate over the years.  It is this Holocaust that I address in this book.

Of the millions who died in the war, about 10 percent, or six million, are claimed to have been Jews killed by the Nazi regime, both in Germany and in its occupied territories.  This Jewish Holocaust—the Holocaust, many would say—has been the subject of intense study for 70 years now, ever since the postwar Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and 1946.  Thousands of books and articles have been written on it; numerous films describe it; countless news stories have covered it.  According to some, it is the “most well-documented event in history.”[2]

In order to properly examine the Holocaust, we first need to know what exactly it was.  The basic outline of the conventional story has been mapped out for several decades now, and there is today a rough consensus.  Here is one “widely accepted definition”:

When historians talk about the “Holocaust,” what they mean on the most general level is that about six million Jews were killed in an intentional and systematic fashion by the Nazis using a number of different means, including gas chambers.  (Shermer and Grobman 2000: xv)

Here is another, from an official source—Michael Berenbaum, former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.:

[The Holocaust was] the systematic state-sponsored murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War 2.  (1993: 1)

These definitions imply that three key components are essential to the orthodox view:  (1) the killing of roughly six million Jews; (2) homicidal gas chambers; and (3) intentionality on the part of the Nazi leadership.  Should we lack any one of these three, according to this view, we have a tragedy, perhaps—but something less than ‘the Holocaust.’

The conventional story begins with the persecution of German Jews in the 1930s.  It accelerates with the round-up of Jews under German control in early 1940.  It becomes mass murder with the shootings in the Soviet Union in mid-1941.  It ends with gas chambers, mass graves, and burned corpses—either in open pits or crematoria.  This heinous act, it is claimed, was a singular pinnacle of human evil.  “Adolf Hitler or the incarnation of absolute evil,” according to famed survivor Elie Wiesel; indeed, he says, Nazi crimes against the Jews “have attained a quasi-ontological dimension.”[3]  For Bartov (2015: 11), the Holocaust is a “black hole of violence and depravity.”  The Auschwitz crematoria are “the most perverse, insidious, indeed utterly demonic circumstances in the entire Nazi genocidal apparatus”; they reside “in the lowest chambers of hell,” and represent “the very essence of Nazism’s bottomless evil” (ibid: 241).

There remain, however, many open issues and many unanswered questions.  Revisionists make challenging and troubling claims, ones that threaten to overturn major aspects of the Holocaust story:

  • Key witnesses to the Holocaust have either falsified or greatly exaggerated important aspects of their stories.

  • The figure of ‘six million’ has little basis in fact.  This number, which theoretically could only have been known after the war, actually traces back decades before.

  • Major death camps, like Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Treblinka, have vanished without a trace—as have most of their alleged victims.  Such a thing is not possible.

  • Both of the alleged means of gassing victims—cyanide gas (under the brand name Zyklon B) and carbon monoxide from diesel exhaust—are impractical, unworkable, and simply ridiculous. 

  • No ‘Holocaust order’ from Hitler exists; nor was there any budget or any plan.  How, then, could the Nazis have pulled off their perfect crime?

  • Wartime air photos do not substantiate the traditional account of events.

  • Why are there, even today, so many survivors?

It seems that no two writers on the Holocaust have the same opinion on these matters.

As I outlined in the Introduction, the disputants in the Great Debate fall into two clearly defined groups:  traditionalists and revisionists.  Were this any other matter of historical dispute, the two camps would typically engage in cordial, lively, and fact-based argumentation.  They might attend joint conferences, praise each others’ ingenuity, share lunch, and even grant a deferential respect to one another.  But not with the Holocaust.  Here, none of the usual rules apply.  A kind of argumentative chaos reigns.  Ad hominemattacks fly.  Absurd charges are issued; as Specter (2009: 4) sees it, “Holocaust deniers…are intensely destructive—even homicidal.”  Reputations are impugned, and basic intelligence is challenged.[4]  Strategic confusion and targeted obfuscation are the norms. 

For starters, consider the names of the two groups.  Holocaust revisionists are often called ‘Holocaust deniers’ by mainstream writers.  This appellation is both derogatory and, technically, almost meaningless.  What does it mean to ‘deny’ the Holocaust?  How much of the conventional view does one have to reject in order to be a ‘denier’?  Take the three pillars of the Holocaust story.  What does it mean to “deny” the six million figure?  Is ‘five million’ denial?  Unlikely, given that orthodox icon Raul Hilberg consistently argued for roughly that figure.  Four million?  No—early traditionalist Gerald Reitlinger claimed in 1953 that the death toll could be as low as 4.19 million.  To my knowledge, no one has ever called him a Holocaust denier.  One million?  Five hundred thousand?  We can see the problem here.

What about intentionality?  Does this refer to Hitler alone?  Or must it include the likes of Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, and Göring?  And how are we to judge intention?  Spoken and written words can be misleading; discerning one’s intention has long been a notorious philosophical problem.  Clearly there is no ready answer to these many questions.  It seems that being a ‘denier’ is rather like being an ‘anti-Semite’—essentially in the eye of the beholder.

Revisionists in turn often refer to their opponents as ‘exterminationists’—as in, those who believe that the Nazis were on their way to eliminating the Jewish people from the face of the Earth.  Traditionalists reject not only this label, but any label at all; any group designation implies that they are simply one school of thought, to be held on equal footing with the revisionists.  The notion of a competition between schools of thought is anathema to them.  In their eyes, there is only one basic truth about the Holocaust, and they are its guardians. 

Some traditionalists have demonstrated amazing levels of arrogance.  A good example is Pierre Vidal-Naquet (1992: xxiv):

It should be understood once and for all that I am not answering the accusers, and that in no way am I entering into a dialogue with them.  … [T]he contribution of the “revisionists” to our knowledge may be compared to the correction, in a long text, of a few typographical errors.  That does not justify a dialogue… [O]ne should not enter into debatewith the “revisionists”.  … I have nothing to reply to them and will not do so.  Such is the price to be paid for intellectual coherence.

Deborah Lipstadt mimics this stubbornness:  “I categorically decline” to debate them, she says (1993: xiii).  Such a reluctance to engage in debate suggests, of course, a fear of losing.  The leading revisionists rarely pass up an opportunity to debate; the leading traditionalists, to the best of my knowledge, have never accepted one.[5]  In this sense, most traditionalists are themselves ‘deniers’; they deny that there is anything to debate at all. 

More seriously, we now have a situation where the power of the State has been brought to bear against revisionism.  In 1982 two influential Jewish groups, the Institute of Jewish Affairs and the World Jewish Congress, created a plan to combat the growth of revisionist publications.  They issued a report, “Making the Denial of the Holocaust a Crime in Law,” calling for widespread legislation against revisionism.  Israel passed such a law in 1986, and France and other countries followed in the 1990s.  Today there are 17 countries that have enacted or expanded laws against Holocaust denial,[6]ostensibly to combat racist hate crimes against Jews or other minorities.  Penalties ranging from severe fines to imprisonment can now be levied against those who openly challenge the conventional Holocaust story.  The presumption is that revisionist writings or speeches will inflame violent extremists, or will ‘corrupt the youth’ (Germany), or will somehow bring unacceptable pain to Jewish people or others sympathetic to their suffering.  I am unaware of any cases in which revisionist writings have been shown to be a contributing factor to anti-Semitic violence—but perhaps this is beside the point.

In recent years, several prominent revisionists have been arrested for challenging the traditional Holocaust account.  Ernst Zundel, a flamboyant publisher and promoter of right-wing literature in Canada, was arrested in February 2003 in Tennessee, for violating United States immigration statutes.  He was quickly deported to Canada and held in prison for two years as a “national security threat.”  In March 2005 Zundel was deported once again, this time to his native Germany—where he was charged with distributing hate literature, and with maintaining a US-based revisionist Web site.  In February 2007 he was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum allowable under current German law.  He was freed in March 2010, having served three years.

Germar Rudolf, a one-time doctoral student in chemistry in Germany, published the influential revisionist works Vorlesungen über Zeitgeschichte(“Lectures on Contemporary History,” 1993) and Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte (“Foundations of Contemporary History,” 1994).  In a throwback to the Middle Ages, his books were not only confiscated, they were burned.  Tried in 1996, he was sentenced to fourteen months in prison.  Rudolf fled to the US but was arrested on immigration charges in late 2005 and deported back to Germany.  In March 2007, the German legal system sentenced Rudolf to two and a half years in jail.  He was released in July 2009. 

Noted British writer and historian David Irving came slowly and hesitantly to revisionism, over a period of several years.[7]  He had been sympathetic to the German side at least since his 1977 book Hitler’s War, but did not start to seriously question the Holocaust until the mid-1980s.  It was not so much his writings as his speeches and interviews that got Irving into trouble.  In 1993 Lipstadt labeled him a denier and neo-Nazi sympathizer in her book Denying the Holocaust.  Irving sued for libel, losing in 2000.  He was then arrested in Austria in November 2005 for an act of ‘denial’ committed sixteen years earlier, back in 1989.  A Viennese court sentenced him to three years in prison in February 2006, though he was granted early release in November of that year.

More recently we have cases such as that of German-Australian revisionist Dr. Frederick Töben, who served three months in jail for a denial-related penalty in August 2009.  And in February 2015, French revisionist Vincent Reynouard was sentenced (again) to prison, this time for two years.  His crime:  posting on-line videos challenging the conventional Holocaust story.  The local French court actually saw fit to double the sentence that was sought by the prosecution.  ‘Deniers’ are evidently a dangerous lot; no leniency shall be shown.

Such attacks, in addition to significantly raising the stakes of the debate, have a stifling effect upon free speech and academic freedom generally.  Many groups and individuals have strongly opposed such heavy-handed acts of state censorship, even though they may disagree with the revisionists.  Notable intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky—himself no revisionist—have spoken out on their behalf.  One must wonder:  How serious a threat can these people be?  Why are they able to draw the attention of national legislators around the world?  Whom do they threaten?  And perhaps most important—Are they on to something?  Do they in fact have a case to make, that the Holocaust story is fundamentally deficient?  The State does not attack those who argue for a flat Earth, or warn against some imminent alien invasion.  Those who are irrational, or cannot make a coherent case, pose no threat, and thus are left alone.  Apparently the ‘deniers’ are not in this category.  This fact alone should make the average person wonder—Could they be right?

The Core of Revisionism

Unlike the traditionalist view, revisionism resists a general characterization.  The alternate depiction of events that revisionism promises is only dimly outlined at present, and opinions are too disparate and too variable to form a truly cohesive view.  Nonetheless, there are certain points of broad agreement among a majority of serious revisionists; these constitute a kind of core of revisionism today.  Among the general points of agreement are the following:

  • Hitler did indeed dislike the Jews, and strongly desired to rid Germany of them.  This desire was shared by most of the top Nazi leadership.  Their antipathy had three sources:  (1) Jewish domination of major sectors of German finance and industry;[8] (2) the Jewish role in the treasonous November Revolution at the end of World War I;[9] and (3) the prominent Jewish role in Soviet Bolshevism, which was seen by most Germans as a mortal threat.[10]

  • To achieve this end, the Nazis implemented various means, including evacuations, deportations, and forced resettlement.  Their main objective was to remove the Jews, not kill them.  Hence their primary goal was one of ethnic cleansing, not genocide.  This is why no one has ever found a Hitler order to exterminate the Jews.

  • Of course, many Jews would likely die in the process, but this was an unavoidable consequence.

  • The Germans actively sought places to send the Jews.  One option under consideration was to forcibly acquire the island of Madagascar from France, and to ship them there.[11]

  • By mid-1941, due to speedy victories in the Soviet Union, large areas of territory came under German control, and hence a new option emerged—the Jews would be shipped to the East.

  • By mid-1943, things were turning bad for the Germans.  Shipments to the East were no longer viable, and furthermore all available manpower was needed to support the war effort.  Thus deportations became subordinated to forced labor—hence the heavy reliance on Auschwitz, which was first and foremost a labor camp.

  • A major problem with deporting and interning large numbers of Jews was disease, especially typhus.  Therefore a major effort was needed to kill the disease-bearing lice that clung to bodies and clothing.  All Nazi camps were thus equipped to delouse and disinfest thousands of people. 

  • The primary means for killing lice was in ‘gas chambers,’ in which clothing, bedding, and personal items were exposed to hot air, steam, or cyanide gas.  The gas chambers described by witnesses really did exist—but every one was built and operated as a disinfesting chamber, not as a homicidal gas chamber.

  • The larger part of witness testimonies—both from former (Jewish) inmates and from captured Germans—consists of rumor, hearsay, exaggeration, or outright falsehood.  This does not mean that entire testimonies are invalid, but only that specific claims must be verified by scientific methods before we should accept them.  In particular, claims about huge casualty figures, mass burials and burnings, and murder with diesel exhaust are largely discredited.

  • The total number of Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis—the ‘six million’ number—has been highly exaggerated.  The actual death toll was perhaps 10 percent of this figure:  on the order of 500,000.

Individual revisionists place emphasis on different aspects of the above account, but all would likely agree with all these points.

Four Myths

An inquiry into the Great Debate of Holocaust revisionism cannot even begin until a few prominent myths are dismissed.  Four are of particular importance:

Myth #1:  Revisionists believe that the Holocaust ‘never happened.’  This is a common caricature of the revisionist position.  It implies a belief that there was no widespread killing of Jews, that they suffered no persecution, that there were no gas chambers of any kind, and perhaps even that no Jews actually died at the hands of the Nazis.  Those traditionalists who make this claim are being disingenuous at best.  They seem to want the reader to believe that revisionism is so far out of touch with reality, and so extreme in its views, that it can be safely disregarded.

No serious revisionist doubts that extensive killing of Jews occurred, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, at least.  No serious revisionist doubts that a catastrophe ‘happened’ to the Jews—whether they call it a ‘holocaust’ or not is incidental.  Revisionists do dispute that the number of deaths was anything like five or six million.  All accept that gas chambers existed in most or all of the German concentration camps; but they dispute the purpose of those chambers.  And revisionists dispute that any German camps were ever built and operated as ‘extermination camps.’

In one sense, the very statement of this myth is loaded.  As I explained earlier, the event called ‘the Holocaust’ requires intentionality, homicidal gas chambers, and some 6 million Jewish deaths.  If any of these three points is found to be significantly in error, then technically, ‘the Holocaust’ did not happen.  But this, of course, is not what our orthodox historians mean when they make this charge.  In fact, they never actually explain what they mean when they invoke this myth.  Hence any such statement, by either side, to the effect that the Holocaust ‘never happened’ is pure propaganda.[12]

Myth #2:  Photographs of corpses prove the Holocaust happened.  We all have seen the gruesome pictures of bodies stacked up outside some crematorium, or unceremoniously dumped into pits.  These are offered as proof of ‘Nazi barbarity,’ and of the slaughter of the Jews.  Yet many things about such photos are misleading.  For one, we do not know, or at least are not told, whose bodies those are.  They could be Jews…or Polish internees, or Russian POWs, or German inmates.  In fact little effort seems to have been made to actually identify, or autopsy, any of those bodies. 

Second, those famous photos came from the camps liberated by the British and Americans—primarily Bergen-Belsen.  The problem is that these were not extermination camps.  From the ‘real’ extermination camps, we have no corpse photos at all.[13]  This fact alone should give us reason to consider whether aspects of the traditional story might be suspect. 

Third, there were rampant outbreaks of typhus and other diseases that claimed thousands of lives in all the camps; yet the photos are used to imply that these were gassing victims.  And fourth, the photos show at most several hundred corpses.  This is so far from ‘six million’ that the vaunted photographs are almost meaningless as ‘proof’ of the Holocaust.

Myth #3:  The Holocaust was a ‘hoax.’  This idea rests in large part on the writings of Arthur Butz, above all his widely read book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (1976).  Butz continues to hold to this notion today, as do a handful of other revisionists, such as Robert Faurisson and Fritz Berg.

I explore this whole idea in more detail in Chapter 12, but briefly, what is a hoax?  The term derives from the pseudo-Latin phrase hax pax max used by Renaissance-era conjurers and magicians to impress their audience.  This same phrase is the source of the more benign magical incantation ‘hocus pocus.’  A ‘hocus pocus’ refers to a fabrication intended to entertain and amuse, whereas a hoax came to mean a fabrication intended to deceive, in a malicious sense.  Both refer to contrived circumstances, carefully arranged to achieve a desired effect.

Now, it certainly is possible that the Holocaust story—especially the mass murder in gas chambers, and the ‘six million’—was a kind of deliberate fabrication to achieve a desired effect of deception.  But to my knowledge, no revisionist has offered any specific evidence to support this contention.  Without solid evidence of deliberate falsification of at least large parts of the Holocaust story, we are unjustified in calling it a hoax.  Individual lies, exaggerations, even gross exaggerations, do not qualify as hoaxes.  Therefore, in my opinion, the Holocaust was not a hoax.[14]

However, this obviously does not mean that the story is true!  It may still be rife with falsehoods, lies, and assorted absurdities.  But there are many other ways in which untrue depictions of events can come to be widely believed, some of which are relatively innocent.  Lacking hard evidence, we should grant the benefit of the doubt.  Revisionism should attack the story, not the motive. 

Traditionalists in turn leap on this hoax label and use it to their advantage.[15]  They take it to mean a kind of global conspiracy, a large-scale collective effort to deceive the general public.  They say, “Those deniers actually believe that the Jews could pull off this monumental fraud!  They actually think that thousands of historians, writers, journalists, government leaders—everyone, in fact, who supports the standard view—are in on the scam, all conspiring to assist the powerful Jews.  How stupid can they be?”  And there is some weight to this.  You cannot claim massive fraud without a solid basis for it.  If someone lies, call it a lie.  If someone utters a blatant absurdity, call it absurd.  Revisionists risk looking foolish, and only hurt their cause, by arguing for a hoax.

That said, there is a small kernel of truth in this myth.  It may be fair to say that certain parties took an undeniably tragic event and made the most of it.  They assumed the worst possible outcome, the worst possible death tolls, and turned the worst rumors into ‘truths.’  It may have been something like a fish tale, in which one catches a trout but claims it was a shark.  Now, a fish tale is not a hoax—presuming that one actually went fishing, and actually caughtsomething.  It is untruthful, deceitful, and perhaps even malicious, but not a hoax.  The undeniably tragic deaths of many thousands, whose remains were utterly obliterated, can easily become ‘millions.’  A falsehood, an exaggeration, a fish tale—but not a hoax.

Unfortunately the situation goes from bad to worse.  An exaggeration gets repeated over and over.  It becomes the basis for trials, billions of dollars in reparations, imprisonments, even death sentences.  Then it must be defended at all costs.  We can well imagine how such a situation could come about, step by step, over the course of 70 years.

Myth #4:  Revisionists are right-wing neo-Nazi anti-Semites.  Again, a classic ploy:  impugn your opponent so that the reader will be inclined to dismiss him.  Unfortunately this occurs repeatedly in almost every traditionalist book that even touches on revisionism.  Other, related charges usually follow.  Zimmerman (2000: 119), for example, writes, “Everyone who has studied this [revisionist] movement realizes that the ultimate goal of denial is the rehabilitation of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.”  Quite a claim!  One wonders how Zimmerman knows such things, and what his evidence might be.

Are revisionists right-wing?  Since being right-wing is no crime, their critics presumably mean far right, which, they imply, is an evil thing.  Of course this is only evil from the perspective of the left, but more to the point, it implies that traditionalists are not themselves right-wing—often far from the truth!  Hard-core traditionalists, by whom I mean the militant Zionists, are among the most right-wing activists around—as are the evangelical Christians, who typically are strong supporters of Israel and the standard Holocaust story.  Portraying all revisionists as right-wing is clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

When revisionist writings touch on political issues, they are most often neutral with respect to the political spectrum.  More important, this point is irrelevant to the arguments at hand.  Whether a given revisionist is right, left, or center has no bearing on his arguments or his critique.  Rudolf (2004) has noted that “revisionism is neither left nor right.”  Anyone from any point on the spectrum may see the need to challenge the traditional view.  Two of the more prominent early revisionists, Paul Rassinier and Roger Garaudy, were staunch leftists.  Recently, left-leaning political activists have begun to raise questions about the Holocaust.  If the traditionalists don’t like what the revisionists are saying, then they must counter their arguments, not slander someone’s character.

Are revisionists neo-Nazis?  None of the major writers openly admits to being a National Socialist, and few seem to care much about burnishing Hitler’s image.  And, as with the right-wing accusation, even if a revisionist were openly National Socialist, or an open admirer of Hitler, it would be irrelevant to the arguments presented.

Are the revisionists anti-Semites?  An anti-Semite is, technically, one who ‘displays hostility or discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group.’  Thus it is either a form of racism or religious discrimination, against Jews as a whole.  Yet again, one finds no such attacks in any serious revisionist work.  The academic revisionists are, on the whole, passably respectful of Jews.  If they target an ideology, it is frequently Zionism.  Not all Zionists are Jews, and not all Jews are Zionists; thus, an anti-Zionist stance is neither racial nor religious discrimination.  In fact, it is Zionism that is more inclined toward racism, in its oppressive and discriminatory attitude toward Palestinians, and Muslims in general.  And it may even turn out that the traditionalists do more to foster anti-Semitism, if it happens that they are found to be promoting an unjustifiable myth of Jewish suffering.  One can only imagine the repercussions, if a large section of the public should come to believe that they have been lied to about the greatest crime in history.

Today, ‘anti-Semitism’ has become a largely meaningless epithet, deployed either to slander one’s opponents—or to shut them up.  It is used simply because one does not like what the other says, and has nothing more intelligent to offer.[16]

Who’s Who in the Debate

I will close this first chapter with a quick look at the main players on each side of the debate.  Consider first the orthodox historians.  Here we have an immediate problem.  There are literally thousands of books on the Holocaust, and hundreds of new ones appear each year.  The sheer number of authors is astounding.  Everyone, it seems, is in on the game.  Publishers who are reticent to publish on other worthy topics readily snap up proposals for new Holocaust books.  Apparently it is a good career move to write, and to publish, on the Holocaust. 

In order to bring some structure to the chaos of names, I will focus on the leading figures past and present, and on those few who have elected to engage with revisionism.  Let me begin with those now deceased, and then move on to the currently active writers.

Among the more important past authors are:

  • Gerald Reitlinger (died 1978).  His book The Final Solution, first published in 1953, was one of the earliest detailed studies.  It covered all aspects of the Holocaust, from the Jewish perspective.  But there was one small problem:  Reitlinger counted far fewer than six million deaths.  His estimated range—from 4.2 to 4.58 million—is the lowest of any major author.  Today such figures would border on heresy, but in 1953 there was no such tension.  Even in the later revisions to his book, he did not significantly alter his numbers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Reitlinger is not often cited by traditionalists today.

  • Lucy Dawidowicz (d. 1990).  Her major works included The War against the Jews (1975, 1986), and The Holocaust and the Historians(1981).  She estimated a total of 5.9 million Jewish fatalities.

  • Jean-Claude Pressac (d. 2003).  A pharmacist by training, and one of the few non-Jews to challenge revisionism.  Pressac’s work Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (1989) was a direct response to the writings of Faurisson.  A very detailed study of the design and operation of the Auschwitz gas chambers, this work raised as many questions as it answered.  Far from the “definitive refutation” of revisionism that was hoped for. 

  • Pierre Vidal-Naquet (d. 2006).  Author of Assassins of Memory (1992—French original in 1987), an early attempt to refute revisionism.  Almost useless for assessing the validity of revisionist arguments, since he addressed nothing in specifics.  An arrogant and polemical response to revisionism.

  • Raul Hilberg (d. 2007).  Until his death, Hilberg was considered the preeminent expert on the Holocaust.  His primary work, The Destruction of the European Jews, first appeared in 1961.  In 1985 the book was expanded to a three-volume set.  A third edition came out in 2003, clocking in at nearly 1,400 pages.  Like Reitlinger, Hilberg is notable for his low overall death toll; he consistently calculated 5.1 million victims, which has become the lower limit of the ‘acceptable’ range—though even this is rarely mentioned.

  • Yisrael Gutman (d. 2013).  His Denying the Holocaust (1985) was one of the first books to tackle the revisionist arguments.  Has not had much of a lasting effect on the debate.

Among current researchers, we have:

  • Yitzhak Arad.  His 1987 book Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka remains the standard source for those camps—a rather amazing fact, given that it is nearly 30 years old.  Arad was a research director at the Israeli Holocaust center, Yad Vashem.

  • Shelly Shapiro.  She compiled an anthology of essays against revisionism, Truth Prevails: Demolishing Holocaust Denial (1990).

  • Ken Stern.  Wrote Holocaust Denial (1993).  Only a cursory response to the arguments.

  • Deborah Lipstadt.  Her Denying the Holocaust (1993) is perhaps the best-known anti-revisionist work.  Unfortunately, very little of this book addresses the actual arguments—as the reader is invited to confirm.  Lipstadt and her book became widely known after historian David Irving sued her for libel.  She is a professor of theology at Emory University, in Atlanta.

  • Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman.  Co-writers of Denying History(2000)—after Lipstadt, the next most popular anti-revisionist source.

  • John Zimmerman.  His book Holocaust Denial (2000) was the first to seriously address, in detail, revisionist arguments.  It is a technical, academic work, and plays a prominent role in the debate.  Zimmerman is an accountant at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

  • Robert van Pelt.  His hefty 2002 book, The Case for Auschwitz, arose from his expert testimony for Lipstadt at the Irving trial.  He is a professor of architecture at Waterloo University, Canada, and actively lectures on the Holocaust.

  • Ian Kershaw.  British historian, now retired, and author of several important works, including Hitler 1936-1945 (2000) and Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (2008).

  • Christopher Browning.  An American historian, also retired.  Author ofOrdinary Men (1992), The Path to Genocide (1998), and The Origins of the Final Solution (2004).

  • Richard Evans.  Retired Cambridge historian and author of an important three-volume series, The Third Reich at War (2003-2008).  Regarding the Holocaust debate, his major contribution was Lying about Hitler (2001), recounting his version of the Irving-Lipstadt trial.

  • Peter Longerich.  A German historian currently working at the University of London.  His books The Unwritten Order (2003),Holocaust (2010), and Heinrich Himmler (2011) have been influential in sustaining the orthodox view.  As the youngest of the major active writers, Longerich may be expected to be the standard-bearer for some time to come.

In addition to these individuals, we must also include the standard reference works:  Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990; I. Gutman, ed.) and more recently, The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2001; W. Laqueur, ed.).  Finally, we have the leading research organizations, which would include the Israeli group Yad Vashem (www.yadvashem.org) and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org). 

Anti-revisionist forces have been notably quiet in the past decade.  Just one new book has appeared, and only a handful of journal articles.[17]  This is in marked contrast to the outpouring of books by revisionists in that same period—some two dozen in total.  Of course, thousands of traditionalist books and articles have appeared in that time, but virtually none of these take on the revisionist challenge.  Officially, revisionism is now ‘unworthy’ of response; unofficially, it’s good policy to avoid a battle that you may well lose.

And in the Other Corner…

Early revisionism, as mentioned, was marked by as much polemics and inflammatory language as scholarship.  Revisionists thus tend to fall into one of two subgroups:  activists and academics.  Both groups are important, and both have their own roles to play.  Both groups require fortitude and courage, though in different ways.  Naturally, some individuals fall into both categories; Faurisson and Töben come to mind.

For our purposes, the second group is of chief interest.  The activists make the news, and poke their finger in the public eye, but it is the academics that do the important groundwork to establish the basis for revisionist claims.  Academic revisionists conduct careful, scientific examination of the circumstances of the Holocaust, and write high-quality articles and books on their critiques.  They deserve to be taken seriously.  Early academics would include such people as Franz Scheidel and Paul Rassinier, whose writings date from the late 1940s and early 1950s.  But things did not really start heating up until the mid-1970s.  From then on we find a growing number of serious, dedicated works.  The major revisionist academics include:

  • Arthur Butz.  His 1976 book, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, marked the beginning of serious revisionism; a revised edition came out in 2003.  A dense and challenging book, but useful for scholarly research.  Butz has a PhD in engineering, and is currently a tenured associate professor at Northwestern University, near Chicago, Illinois. 

  • Paul Rassinier.  Further developed his ideas with the books Debunking the Genocide Myth (1978) and The Holocaust Story and the Lies of Ulysses (1990, 2nd ed.).

  • Robert Faurisson.  In the late 1970s he published some notorious revisionist articles in the French newspaper Le Monde.  Since then he has been a leading figure in the movement, at once an academic and a promoter.  His magnum opus is the four-volume French work Ecrits Révisionnistes (1974–1998).  Faurisson is a retired professor of humanities from Lyon University.

  • Wilhelm Stäglich.  A PhD and judge in Germany, he wrote The Auschwitz Myth in 1979 (English version 1986), causing an uproar.

  • David Irving.  Prominent historian and expert on the Third Reich.  A borderline revisionist, the Holocaust is not really his area of expertise, but he seems to get drawn in time and again. 

  • Friedrich Berg.  Specialist on the diesel exhaust issue.  Berg is an engineer, and has been a leading advocate of “scientific” revisionism, based on objective data and scientifically verifiable facts.

  • Samuel Crowell.  Pseudonym for an American professor of history.  Though not a major figure in revisionism, Crowell is, along with Faurisson, the most scholarly.  His monograph The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes (2011) is an excellent “literary analysis” of the many problems with the conventional account.

  • Thomas Kues.  A Swedish scholar and multi-linguist.  Kues has written some 50 revisionist articles, with a focus on the so-called ‘Reinhardt’ camps:  Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. 

  • Germar Rudolf.  Scientist (chemistry), writer, lecturer, and publisher, Rudolf is a leading figure in revisionism today.  His Dissecting the Holocaust (2003) and Lectures on the Holocaust (2011, 2nd ed.) are essential reading for anyone serious about the subject.   

  • Jürgen Graf.  Swiss researcher, and author or co-author of several important writings, including books on Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, and Stutthof camps.  He also wrote a definitive critique of Raul Hilberg, The Giant with Feet of Clay (2015, 2nd ed.).  Driven out of Switzerland by their ‘anti-denial’ laws, he now resides in Moscow.

  • Carlo Mattogno.  An Italian researcher, Mattogno is the leading writer of serious academic works.  He has published detailed texts on the gas chambers and crematories of Auschwitz, and written or co-written major works on all five of the other ‘extermination camps.’  Unquestionably the leading technical expert among revisionists today.

If the reader is unfamiliar with most of the above names, we should not be surprised.  There has been a concerted effort to ensure that the leading revisionist scholars are never engaged, never cited, and never publicized.  This is another clue that all is not as it seems, in the Great Debate.

With this short background in place, we can now begin to take a serious look at the traditional Holocaust story, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses.  Chapter 2 will recount this story and examine the troublesome nature of historical truth—troubles which are greatly magnified with the Holocaust.


[1] According to standard sources, about 17 million soldiers died on all sides:  7.5 million in the Soviet Union, 3.5 million in Germany, 1.3 million in Japan, and some 4.7 million in all other countries combined.  Civilian deaths are hard to determine, but the estimated losses in just the Soviet Union (19 million) and China (10 million) were huge.  If we add 6 million Jews and roughly 3–5 million civilians in all other countries, we arrive at a total close to 55 million.

[2] For example, Rabbi Abraham Cooper recently said this: “No crime in the annals of history has been as well documented as Nazi Germany’s Final Solution, the state-sponsored genocide that systematically murdered 6 million European Jews” (Huffington Post, 17 May 2012).  According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) website, “The Holocaust is one of the most well-documented events in history” (article:  “Holocaust Denial and Distortion”).

[3] Time magazine (13 Apr 1998).

[4] The ad hominem attack is, of course, a common and elementary logical fallacy.  Traditionalists hold the clear lead in the name-calling sweepstakes, though certain of the revisionist activists are well known for this tactic.  As might be expected, name-calling—on either side—is a fairly sure sign of a deficiency of arguments.

[5] With perhaps two minor exception:  Traditionalist Michael Shermer appeared on the Phil Donohue television talk show in 1994, along with revisionists Bradley Smith and David Cole.  And in 1995, Shermer debated revisionist Mark Weber.  Videos of both events are available online.

[6] The current list includes Austria, Belgium, the Czech Re­public, France, Germany, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithu­ania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland.  The latest additions to this honor role include Hungary (2010), and most recently, Greece and Russia (2014).  It may strike one as odd that modern industrial nations like these, which claim to uphold the right of free speech and inquiry, could resort to the banning of certain books and ideas—especially today, 70 years after the event.  And odd it is; I elaborate on this in Chapter 12.

[7] It is debatable whether or not Irving truly counts as a Holocaust revisionist; his position continually shifts on this issue.  Traditionalists almost uniformly portray him as such, but he himself apparently denies it, and other revisionists are reluctant to include him among their number.  For the purposes of this book, however, I will classify him as a soft revisionist.

[8] Traditionalist researcher Sarah Gordon (1984: 8-15) gives a good account of this dominance:  “The reader may be surprised to learn that Jews were never a large percentage of the total German population; at no time did they exceed 1.09 percent of the population during the years 1871 to 1933… [In spite of this, the Jews] were overrepresented in business, commerce, and public and private service… Within the fields of business and commerce, Jews…represented 25 percent of all individuals employed in retail business and handled 25 percent of total sales…; they owned 41 percent of iron and scrap iron firms and 57 percent of other metal businesses.…  Jews were [also] prominent in private banking under both Jewish and non-Jewish ownership or control.  They were especially visible in private banking in Berlin, which in 1923 had 150 private (versus state) Jewish banks, as opposed to only 11 private non-Jewish banks.…”

This trend held true as well in the academic and cultural spheres:  “Jews were overrepresented among university professors and students between 1870 and 1933.…  [A]lmost 19 percent of the instructors in Germany were of Jewish origin.…  Jews were also highly active in the theater, the arts, film, and journalism.  For example, in 1931, 50 percent of the 234 theater directors in Germany were Jewish, and in Berlin the number was 80 percent…”

[9] See Dalton (2014).

[10] See Dalton (2013).

[11] For a good account of this episode, see Mattogno and Graf (2010: 179–193).

[12] The continued invocation of this myth borders on the absurd.  As a case in point, consider the 2005 BBC series “Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution.”  After five hours of airtime—and no discussion of revisionist challenges—they insert, at the very end, a statement by former SS officer Oskar Gröning.  As an elderly man, Gröning now sees it as his task “to oppose Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened.”  He adds, “I have seen the crematoria.  I have seen the burning pits.  And I want you to believe me that these atrocities happened.  I was there.”  Of course, no revisionist in his right mind denies the existence of crematoria, pits, or the Auschwitz camp.  Hence Gröning’s statement is meaningless—added for mere dramatic effect.

[13] With one possible exception:  a disputed (dubious) photo of Auschwitz showing a couple dozen corpses, possibly being burned.  See Chapter 10.

[14] Crowell (2011: 9, 23), for one revisionist, concurs.

[15] For a good recent example, see Perry and Schweitzer (2002: 208–211).

[16] A more recent definition was endorsed in an official US government report, Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism (US Department of State, 2008).  “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.  Rhe­torical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish indi­viduals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”  Specific forms of anti-Semitism include:

  • “Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g., gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).”

  • “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”

But again, one wonders what is meant by such words as ‘denying’ or ‘exaggerating.’  Such terms are so broad as to potentially include almost any criticism, questioning, or inquiry into the event.  Hence my point that ‘anti-Semitism’ is so ill-defined as to be almost meaningless.  Or worse:  to be whatever those in power want it to be.

[17] The (unpublished) book—actually, a “white paper”—is Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard (Harrison et al, 2011).  This is a unique case, however.  The five authors are all ‘professional bloggers,’ not affiliated with any university or research center, and generally lacking in any formal qualifications.  They have, in fact, been denounced by their fellow traditionalists for their shoddy practices.  But the work does offer a detailed response to many revisionist arguments.  It has generated an even more detailed revisionist response, The “Extermination Camps” of “Aktion Reinhardt”: An Analysis and Refutation of Factitious “Evidence,” Deceptions and Flawed Argumentation of the “Holocaust Controversies” Bloggers (Mattogno et al, 2013).

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