‘Holocaust denial’ or ‘Holocaust revisionism’ are both designations for the view that the Holocaust (i.e. Nazi Germany’s extermination of around 6 million European Jews during World War II) did not happen.
Why deny the Holocaust?
|Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel with his bodyguards
It seems incredible that someone will think (and say) something as strange as ‘the Holocaust never happened’. What we are talking about here is, of course, a highly controversial – and in several countries illegal – standpoint.
Among the deniers of the Holocaust, who usually speak of themselves as ‘revisionists’, are both individuals and organised groups. Denial of the Holocaust takes place for many different reasons, but most frequently as a result of anti-Semitism or rightwing extremism.
Fundamental for the Holocaust deniers is the idea of the Holocaust as a “construction”: According to the deniers, the Nazi extermination of the Jews is a myth that is sustained by pro-Jewish historians.
How is the Holocaust denied?
The modern form of Holocaust denial is focused on a dismissal of three core aspects of the Holocaust:
- “The suggestion of around 6 million Jewish victims is absurd – some Jews may have died during World War II, but not nearly 6 million”
“The suggested gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere are an invention – scientific experiments show that gas was not used to kill people, but only for disinfections”
- “It was never Hitler’s intention to murder the Jews – they were to be deported to the east, but never killed”
In order to create doubt about the truth of the Holocaust, the deniers use some very dubious methods. Some examples:
- The deniers pretend to be working for the “historical truth”. This sounds very noble, but only works as a cover. The deniers are merely working to undermine acknowledged scholarship.
- The deniers put an equation mark between the existence of several historical interpretations of the Holocaust and the fact that it never happened. In other words: If one historian suggests that only 4 million Jews fell victim to the nazi persecution, and another historian suggests 7 million, then they disagree – an then the Holocaust is a false construction.
But: that two historians disagree about the number of victims is NOT the same as suggesting that the Holocaust never took place. Those elements are NOT inter-connected.
- The deniers’ interpretation of the sources is highly suspect. If a source says something specific or direct about extermination of the Jews, it is rejected as a euphemism – words like ‘extermination’ are said to mean something much less terrible. If, on the other hand, a source does use a euphemism (for instance ‘special treatment’ instead of ‘murder’) – which the Nazis frequently did – this source is of course taken literally.
- The deniers also use pure falsifications, lies, rewritings of quotations, quotations taken out of their original context, and several other dirty tricks.
The 'Institute for Historical Review' (IHR)
The American pseudo-scholarly institution, the ‘Institute for Historical Review’ is situated in the centre of modern Holocaust denial. The alleged purpose of the Institute is to work for “truth and precision in history”, to “bring historical writing in agreement” with the facts”, and “promote historical consciousness, understanding and mutual respect among nations”. The IHR speaks of itself as a ‘revisionist’ organisation.
In reality, however, the Institute for Historical Review is the centre of the international Holocaust denial movement. Its purpose is to propagate incorrect allegations of the extermination of the European Jews during World War II. In order to promote such ideas, the Institute – which is NOT doing serious scholarly work – publishes a large number of books, pamphlets, brochures and the like. It also publishes a pseudo-scholarly journal, the Journal of Historical Review, which, as the name suggests, passes itself off as a serious historical journal.
Want to know more?
>Holocaust denial: Historical view
>Holocaust denial: Sources and suggestions for teachers
>Information in English about Holocaust denial - external link
>Teaching resource - includes suggestions for teaching and source texts
The most well known introduction to the subject of Holocaust denial is Deborah Lipstadt’s
Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory (New York, 1993). Another good
introduction, with a partially different view than Lipstadt’s, is Michael Shermer and Alex
Grobman, Denying history : who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it
(Berkeley, 2000). Also, see John C. Zimmerman,
Holocaust denial: demographics, testimonies, and ideologies (Lanham, MD, 2000).