Denial of the Holocaust

Scott Miller
Holocaust deniers claim that the Holocaust never happened-that there was no "Final Solution" or systematic plan by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews. "Hard deniers" claim that the estimated five to six million murdered Jews were actually never killed,1 and that the Holocaust, or at least the greater part of it, is a hoax. In other versions of denial, generally referred to as "soft denials," it is contended that, while some atrocities took place, there was still no plan to annihilate the Jews. "Soft deniers" try to attribute the high death rate among Jews and others to the nature of the war itself, citing factors such as disease and starvation, which themselves are sometimes attributed to atrocities inflicted by the Allies on the Germans.
Holocaust denial is not a position based on the facts. It has no historical support. The typical denier is driven by political motivations, and in most cases espouses a right-wing, racist ideology with affinities to National Socialism. The memory of the Holocaust, which is widely regarded in the western world as the epitome of evil, is a major threat to the spread of such doctrines. Another important source of denial is the historical chain of anti-Semitism, with its recurrent inventions of conspiracy theories against the Jews, such as those contained in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Denial of the Holocaust, and the allegation that it is a Jewish-created "hoax," are modern versions of accusations of a Jewish conspiracy.

For teachers, the problem of Holocaust denial can be quite complex, for several reasons. First, deniers call themselves "revisionists," which is a respectable academic term in the study of history-even though in this case, they are not revising but denying.2 Unfortunately, their appropriation of a legitimate term has caused confusion. Moreover, deniers are denying facts, not opinions, and school curricula are not oriented toward dealing with the denial of facts. This often leaves teachers in a quandary as to how to deal with issues of denial, which can only be fully resolved by thorough knowledge of the facts of the Holocaust.

The Deniers
The key to understanding Holocaust denial is the world outlook of the deniers. Denial is inextricably linked with racist, anti-Semitic ideology. The deniers lack academic credentials for the study of the Holocaust.
The central institution of Holocaust denial in the United States is the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), located in southern California, and founded (with a deceptively scholarly name) by Willis Carto. Carto was previously a founder of the Liberty Lobby, an ultra right-wing and anti-Semitic organization. Other individuals associated with IHR and Holocaust denial are Lewis Brandon, the first director of IHR; Tom Marcellus, his successor as IHR Director; and Mark Weber, editor of the Journal for Historical Review (the IHR journal). Not one of the four has academic credentials relevant to the study of the Holocaust.3

Anti-Semitism is clearly evident in Carto's thinking. Carto once wrote: "If Satan himself had tried to create a permanent disintegration and force for the destruction of nations, he could have done no better than to create the Jews."4 In another memo, Carto termed the Jews "public enemy No. 1."5

Admiration for Hitler is also widespread among IHR officials. The Liberty Lobby under Carto's influence has been described as "infiltrated by Nazis who revere the memory of Hitler."6 In a deposition under oath in 1979, Carto acknowledged his agreement with the principles of Francis Parker Yockey, who consistently proclaimed that the Holocaust was a myth created by the Jews. In his book dedicated to Hitler, Imperium-The Philosophy of History and Politics, Yockey called for the establishment of an empire of Aryan nations, claiming that the Jews "live solely with the idea of revenge on the nations of the white European-American race."7

A number of IHR officials have been active in neo-Nazi groups. Lewis Brandon (also known as William David McCalden) was once an officer of the British neo-Nazi National Front Party. Irish-born and educated in England, Brandon has edited a number of anti-Semitic and racist publications,8 and actively promoted the view that no Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. Mark Weber is the former editor of the National Vanguard, the journal of the anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi organization National Alliance.

Appeals to white racism are a common theme among these Holocaust deniers. Carto has expressed the belief that "Jews and Negroes" are at the heart of America's problems.9 In a letter to the racist author Earnest Sevier Cox, Carto complained about the "Niggerfication of America."10 Fearing this "niggerfication," Carto organized the Joint Council for Repatriation, which advocated the return of all Blacks to Africa.

In a 1989 interview, Weber told the University of Nebraska Sower that he feared the United States was becoming "a sort of Mexicanized, Puertoricanized country," due to the failure of White Americans to reproduce adequately.11 Brandon's successor as IHR director, Tom Marcellus, has criticized acceptance of the Holocaust "hoax" on the ground that it does damage to the "self-image of White people."12

Predictably, prominent members of the Ku Klux Klan are also Holocaust deniers. In the Crusader, the publication of David Duke's organization, the National Association for the Advancement of White People, Duke termed the Holocaust a "historical hoax."13 These words of a former Grand Wizard of the KKK highlight the affinities between Holocaust denial and classical American racism (an association that may appropriately be pointed out by teachers in the classroom).

Admiration for the white supremacist doctrines advocated by Hitler is also visible among prominent foreign deniers of the Holocaust. For example, Ernst Zundel, a German citizen with immigrant status in Canada, has advanced the claim that Jews were not killed in the gas chambers. Zundel is the author of the book The Hitler We Loved and Why, which praises Hitler and his white supremacist ideology.14 Zundel has no academic credentials relevant to the study of the Holocaust.

Among the "soft" deniers is David Irving, a British popular historian (the only well-known denier with a knowledge of history, though without adequate academic historical credentials). Irving argues that about 500,000 to 600,000 Jews died as victims of war,15 and claims that Hitler did not know about the Final Solution. His view of Hitler is reflected, according to Lipstadt, by his having "placed a self-portrait of Hitler over his desk," and having described his visit to Hitler's mountaintop retreat as a "spiritual experience."16 In 1994, David Irving stated "I think the Jews are largely to blame for themselves by the knee-jerk responses [to anti-Semitism]... Goebbels himself said that, in fact."17

Combating the Denial of the Holocaust in the Classroom
Denial is a position contrary to the facts, and should not be treated by teachers as a matter of opinion representing one side of a debate.The most effective way to deal with the deniers is for teachers to thoroughly learn, and then teach, the storyline of the Holocaust. An extraordinary amount of Holocaust documentation exists, enabling teachers to eliminate arguments of denial by citing the facts and sharing their awareness of the documentation with students.

The Scale of Documentation
Due to the nature of German record keeping, the Holocaust is one of the more thoroughly documented historical events in the annals of humanity. For example, at the World War II Records Division of the National Archives in Alexandria, Virginia, Holocaust related material fills 28,000 linear feet of shelves. This includes mostly military documents, some SS documents, and some documents of the civil administration. And here we are only speaking of the Holocaust material in a single location.
Documentation of the Holocaust exists all over the world. There are hundreds of thousands of orders, decrees, memos, letters, blueprints, and memoirs. Eyewitness testimonies abound. There are graphic photographs and clips of documentary footage, taken by both military officials and civilians, of atrocities such as the Einsatzgruppen (Mobile Killing Units) shootings. Particularly dramatic is the testimony of the Nazis themselves. The major perpetrators of the Nazi crimes, on trial at Nuremberg, did not deny that the Holocaust took place, though they did try to place the blame for it on other Nazis.

Contrary to popular belief, there is an abundance of material dealing with the gas chambers. Many believe that since the Nazis themselves destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria (out of fear of retribution), there remains no evidence of the gas chambers. However, documentation exists. For example, remains of the gas chambers were found at the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek death camps (at Majdanek, in fact, not all the gas chambers were destroyed). Blueprints of the gas chambers exist in the archives at the Auschwitz Museum as well as in Moscow, and now in the archives at the Research Institute of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There are Allied aerial photographs of the crematoria, as well as clandestine photographs of the crematoria and of people walking to the gas chambers. Deniers claim that the gas chambers were only used for delousing. But even the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, made no attempt to deny the gas chambers. In his autobiography, Hoess described the gassing process:

Then, very quickly, the door was hermetically sealed, and a can of gas was immediately thrown onto the floor, through an opening ... in the ceiling of the gas chamber, by the disinfectors, who were standing ready. This led to the immediate release of the gas ... those who were near the opening died immediately ... a third died within a moment. The others began to struggle, to scream, to choke ... after a few minutes all were on the ground. After a maximum of twenty minutes, nobody moved.18
Other testimony comes from camp guards and from survivors of Auschwitz (members of the Sonderkommando - Jewish prisoners assigned to work at the crematoria). In the case of the Belzec and Sobibor death camps, as well as at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a vast quantity of gassing victims' shoes, clothing and other personal belongings was discovered by Soviet soldiers at the war's end. At the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soviet troops also found over 15,000 pounds of human hair. Other documents record the ordering and supply of Zyklon-B gas.

Much of the written documentation on the Holocaust is now available in English, and is useful for teachers. Raul Hilberg, this country's pre-eminent historian of the Holocaust, has collected much of this material in Documents of Destruction. Hilberg also documents decrees and deportations in his momentous The Destruction of the European Jews. John Mendelsohn has published an eighteen-volume compendium of Holocaust documentation entitled The Holocaust. Daily accounts by German army officers of mass shootings of Jews and others, as well as lists of areas made judenrein, "cleansed of Jews," have been translated into English as The Einsatzgruppen Reports. Danuta Czech's Auschwitz Chronicle (805 pages), is now available in English. It contains the Nazi daily records of Auschwitz down to the smallest details-construction of gas chambers, deportations, arrival numbers and numbers gassed. Perhaps the best overview of operations at Auschwitz is the newly released Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Yisrael Gutman.19

Also available in English are the proceedings of the Nuremberg and other post-war trials.20 These are an extraordinarily useful tool in verifying the historicity of the Holocaust, because here the perpetrators of the crime gave first-hand evidence. Unlike today's Holocaust deniers, the perpetrators never denied that the crime took place. Some tried to justify their actions by expressing their fear of Jews; some claimed "orders from above," while others acknowledged what happened while claiming that others did the actual killing. But never did they deny the Holocaust. As Hilberg concludes "... there was no denial obviously among any of the people who were in any way even close to these [killing] operations-no denial in the railways, no denial in the finance ministry, no denial in the SS, and so on and so forth."21 Should students request that the "Nazi point of view" be taught, the testimonies of the perpetrators offer the best answer to such a request.

Inquisitive students will no doubt ask whether any of the many historical documents on the Holocaust have been forged. Unlike some other major historical phenomena, the study of the Holocaust has not faced the problem of false documents. In an interview by Michael Berenbaum, director of the Holocaust Museum's Research Institute, Hilberg states that he has never in his "45 more years of research in this field found a forged document."22 Students may need to be shown that forgery of historical documents is somewhat more sophisticated than the kind of forgery students may know from personal experience. As Hilberg points out:

It sounds easy, but it is very, very difficult if one were to attempt it. For one thing, it is a matter of the right paper, the right typewriter, but even more, it is the proper language. One would have to be extraordinarily knowledgeable about the nature of the administrative operations to be able to feign the document and put it as though if it were real...23
Forgery on the enormous scale of the Holocaust documentation would be impossible. The documents are too numerous, their sources too diverse, and the time period of their discovery too limited for such massive, coordinated forgery to take place. And there was no conceivable reason for the discoverers of most documents, the victorious World War II Allies, to fabricate the vast quantity of documents about the Holocaust.

A Key Resource: The Holocaust Museum
In the United States, the most thorough pedagogical documentation of the Holocaust, which presents the historical timeline of the Holocaust from beginning to end, is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.24 Almost all the contents of the Museum's permanent exhibition are actual artifacts-objects, photos, oral histories, eyewitness evidence, including the testimony of survivors, and documentary footage. These objects tell a story, a history of the Holocaust, from its beginning through its middle to its end making, the Museum an important pedagogical tool.25 Though the purpose of the Holocaust Museum is to teach a lesson and preserve memory, and not to answer the claims of those who say the event never happened, the institution ends up doing this as well.
Inscribed on the walls of the building and repeated at the beginning of the Museum's permanent exhibition are the words of General Eisenhower after witnessing the Ohrdruf concentration camp following its liberation-the first publicized testimony by an American on the atrocities of the Holocaust:

The things I saw beggar description ... the visual evidence and verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were overpowering...I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.26
Adding to the pedagogical and documentary value of the Museum is the Wexner Learning Center, a multi-media center where visitors can access, on a single screen, various media of original documentation on the Holocaust-documentary footage, photos, survivors and eyewitness testimonies, music, maps and a daily Holocaust chronology.

Teachers at the high school level can take advantage of the various archival collections of the Holocaust Museum's scholarly division-the United States Holocaust Research Institute. The Institute's archive consists of a Documents Archive, Photo Archive, Oral History Archive, Film and Video Archive, Library, and Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The notion of "archives" should not be treated as an unfriendly concept by classroom educators. The access to primary sources that they provide offers teachers at all levels a major opportunity.

A notable resource of the Research Institute is its especially rich archival collection of materials from Eastern Europe, Germany, and the former U.S.S.R. Much of the material captured by the Red Army in 1945, and then sequestered for forty-five years in Soviet archives, has been made available to western scholars with the dissolution of the Communist bloc. A significant part of this material is in the Research Institute's archives, making it one of the largest repositories of Holocaust documentation.

The Education Department of the Museum also offers teacher training workshops for educators wishing to incorporate the Holocaust into their curricula, and a teacher's Resource Center, equipped with teaching guides arranged according to specific topics, e.g. ghettos, camps, etc. and various media useful for Holocaust education. During the two years since the museum's opening, the Resource Center has responded to more than 70,000 requests from educators.

Teachers can teach the Holocaust by utilizing all the objective sources and scientific methodologies appropriate for teaching history. The singularity of the Final Solution in human history makes it an emotional subject, but emotion and historicity are not mutually exclusive. As with other historical events, the Holocaust has had its share of historiographical debates. The facts about the Holocaust are not, however, a matter of debate, and teachers need not hesitate to point out the racist ideologies and lack of academic credentials of deniers of the Holocaust. In the words of Deborah Lipstadt, truth does not have to "be on the defensive." 27

1 Perhaps the best known case of a claim that Jews were never gassed was that of Fred Leuchter, a self-described engineer from Massachusetts (Leuchter has no engineering credentials). Leuchter spent three days at Auschwitz and one in Majdanek to determine whether systematic gassing occurred there. Upon his return, he published his finding in The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek, Poland. Leuchter based his finding on "forensic samples" he gathered while inspecting the remains of the gas chambers. His findings were dismissed by engineers, historians, and officials of the State Museum at Auschwitz.

2 There are revisionist schools on some of the major historical events of this century. Among the best-known are those on the origins and outcomes of World War I and the Cold War. However, the revisionist schools revise the traditional historiography of these events. They interpret, but do not deny, the fact of their existence.

3 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Free Press, 1993).

4 Ibid., 146.

5 Ibid. Cited in Richard Harwood's 28-page booklet Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last.

6 Ibid., 144.

7 Cited by Lipstadt from John C. Obert, "Yockey: Profile of an American Hitler," The Investigator (Oct. 1981): 8.8Ibid., 13

8. As a result of his "racist politics," Brandon (McCalden) was denied membership into the English National Union of Journalists.

9 Ibid., 146.

10 Ibid.

11 Cited in Michael Shermer, "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism and the Restoration of History," in Skeptic 2, no. 4 (1994).

12 Lipstadt, Denying The Holocaust, 143.

13 In l986, David Duke, who denied that Jews were killed in the gas chambers, declared that "Jews deserve to go into the ash bin of history." Jason Berry, "Duke's Disguise." The New York Times, Oct. 19, 1991.

14 Lipstadt, 158. Zundel established a publishing house, Samisdat Publications, which has reprinted and distributed anti-Semitic and racist literature.

15 David Irving, Hitler's War (New York: Viking Press, 1977).

16 Cited in Robert Harris, Selling Hitler (New York: 1986)

17 Ibid.

18 Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess, (Cleveland: World Press, 1959), 166. Hoess was arrested in 1946. In the Krakow jail where he was held, Hoess wrote an autobiography in which he described the implementation of the Final Solution. At the Hoess trial, held before a Polish war crimes tribunal from March 11 to 29, 1947, the sending of Jews to the gas chambers was reconstructed by Hoess's testimony.

19 Raul Hilberg (ed.), Documents of Destruction (London: W.H. Allen, 1972); John Mendelsohn (ed.), The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982); Y. Arad, S. Krakowski, S. Spector (eds), Einsatzgruppen Reports (New York: Holocaust Library, 1989); Danuta Czech (ed.), Auschwitz Chronicle (New York: H. Holt, 1990); Michael Berenbaum and Yisrael Gutman (eds.), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

20 Publications on the postwar trials, including the minutes of the Nuremberg and other trials of major war criminals, as well as secondary accounts, are widely available in public and university libraries. Documentary footage of the Nuremberg and other postwar trials, notably the Eichmann trial, is also available. One outstanding published source on the Nuremberg trials is International Military Tribunal, The Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal, Blue Series (Nuremberg: 42 volumes, 1947-1949).

21 "What Do We Know About the Holocaust," interview with Raul Hilberg. Conducted by Michael Berenbaum, Director, United States Holocaust Research Institute (of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), February 1994.

22 Ibid. Berenbaum interview with Hilberg.

23 Ibid.

24 The Holocaust Museum opened in April 1993. It has since had approximately three million visitors. According to a survey, over 60% of the visitors are not Jewish.

25 Following a 1980 Congressional vote mandating the establishment of a memorial in Washington, D.C. to all the victims of the Holocaust, it was initially decided to build a "memoriaquot; in the Washington sense of the word-a monument. This posed a pedagogical problem. One does not learn a complete story, or any story, from a monument. Monuments memorialize stories that are already known. The story of the Holocaust was not known to the majority of Americans. Therefore, it was decided, for pedagogical reasons, to build a chronological exhibit to document the story of the Holocaust.

26 Eisenhower visited the site of Ohrdruf concentration camp on April 4, 1945. See Judah Nadich, Eisenhower and the Jews (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1953). Eisenhower's statement is an illustration of the fact that much documentation of the Holocaust is from American and other Allied sources. Much of the documentation is currently in American archives, such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

27 "What Do We Know About Holocaust Denial." Interview conducted by the author with Deborah Lipstadt, February 1994. This interview was conducted as part of an effort by the Research Institute of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate university students with the facts on Holocaust denial. This effort was in response to a string of advertisements by Holocaust deniers which were printed in university newspapers throughout the country in l994. In addition to an interview with Lipstadt, students receive an interview with Raul Hilberg and a letter from Walter Rockler, a leading attorney and prosecutor at Nuremberg Trials, who demonstrates that the printing of denial ads is not a civil liberties issue. Newspapers are under no obligation to take money to publish the opinions of racists.

Scott Miller is University Programs Coordinator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he directs educational programs for university students visiting the Holocaust Museum and assists in developing curricula for college level Holocaust courses. He also served as a research historian for the Museum's Learning Center, a multimedia information center on the Holocaust, authoring its daily Holocaust chronology, 1933-1945.