Holocaust Denial

Understanding the arguments of so-called revisionists.

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How do we know the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust is six million, as opposed to six hundred thousand? What evidence exists that murdering of Jews was official Nazi policy and not the acts of rogue individuals? How do we know that gas chambers were used for mass murder?

Most people would never think to ask these questions. In popular history, it is taken as a given that six million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Nevertheless, Holocaust deniers question these facts. Some even go so far as to claim that a genocide against the Jewish people never took place, that any deaths of Jewish Europeans during World War II was the result of natural events in wartime. The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example has made this exact argument repeatedly. Deniers argue that claims to the contrary are part of a historical lie perpetrated by Jewish leaders, political figures, and historians.

Who's Counting?

One of the most frequent challenges posed by the Holocaust deniers is calling into question the "6 million" figure. Various deniers claim the actual number is only a million or a few hundred thousand.

Holocaust denial proponents point to the World Almanac for proof. The 1940 edition listed the world's Jewish population at 15,319,359. By the 1949 edition, deniers assert, that figure is listed as 15,713,638. How could six million, over one-third of all Jews in the world, be murdered and the population increase?

Historians immediately point out that the 1949 World Almanac does not list that figure for the world Jewish population. Instead, the increased number was taken from an erroneous Senate Judiciary Committee report in 1950. Anybody looking in the 1949 World Almanac would instead see the figure of 11,266,600, along with a revision of the 1939 population upwards to more than 16-and-a-half million.

Another argument stems from the change to a commemorative plaque at Auschwitz. Until 1994, the plaque read "Four million people suffered and died here at the hands of the Nazi murderers between the years 1940 and 1945." In 1991, that plaque was replaced with a new one that listed only one and a half million victims, "a majority of them Jews." Deniers quickly pointed to the revision as proof that the numbers were inflated.

Bradley Smith, a prominent denier who gained notoriety by sending ads to college newspapers questioning facts about the Holocaust, sent out an ad in 1992:

“The Auschwitz State Museum has recently revised its half-century-old claim that 4 million humans were murdered there. The Museum now says maybe it was 1 million. But what proof does the Museum provide to document the 1 million figure? None! The communist propagandists who manage the museum have put on display piles of hair, boots and eyeglasses, etc. While such displays are effective propaganda devices, they are worthless as historical documentation for 'gassings' or a program of 'extermination.'"

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Bradford R. Pilcher

Bradford R. Pilcher is the Managing Editor of American Jewish Life magazine. His writing has appeared in venues such as Wired News, PopMatters, Jewsweek, and he has served as an advisor to the National Museum of American Jewish History.