Holocaust Denial

Understanding the arguments of so-called revisionists.

Print this page Print this page

"Meanwhile, Revisionists want to know where those 3 million souls have been the last 45 years. Were they part of the fabled Six Million?"

In fact, the actual numbers were inflated, but not by Jewish historians trying to guilt the world into compensation. The Soviets overstated the number of non-Jewish victims for propaganda purposes. A noted historian, Raul Hillberg, estimated just over a million deaths at Auschwitz. He did that in 1950, and estimates by historians such as him have been always been the scholarly basis for determining the number of victims.

Tactics Dissected

Debating whether the figure of six million is inflated is just tip of the iceberg. Other denial arguments center on the use of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. Still others question the role of top Nazi officials, pointing out that no document exists with Hitler's signature that instructs, "Kill all the Jews."

Additionally, there are other minor details of the Holocaust that come up for questioning. The piles of hair, boots, and other gleanings from the victims of concentration camps are often criticized. Some cite this as a propaganda creation rather than actual Nazi collections. Others have criticized the Anne Frank's diary, contending it was a post-war forgery

Like the above theories, all Holocaust denial, reflects a specific approach. The primary goal is usually to undermine a specific claim by ignoring the whole body of historical evidence and instead targeting a single, sometimes obscure, fact. This is perhaps the defining tactic of Holocaust denial.

Deniers will pull a reference from the historical record and present it as impossible. These statements often sound legitimate and serve a dual purpose to the average listener. Doubt is cast upon the specific claim, and the onus is placed back on those who claim the Holocaust happened. If they can raise enough doubts about enough claims, deniers believe they can undermine the entire Holocaust narrative by eroding public certainty.

Take for example the use of Zyklon-B in concentration camp gas chambers. The Institute for Historical Review, a denial organization, refers to a confession from Rudolf Hoss, the Nazi commandant at Auschwitz: "Hoss said in his confession that his men would smoke cigarettes as they pulled the dead Jews out of the gas chambers ten minutes after gassing. Isn't Zyklon-B explosive? Highly so. The Hoss confession is obviously false."

Sounds plausible? Zyklon-B is explosive--so how does one account for the discrepancy here? To answer that, one needs to understand the minimal concentrations necessary for a gas to explode and terms such as "parts per million," or point to the ventilation systems Nazis themselves installed in the gas chambers. By this point, however, deniers have reached their goal of planting doubt within their audience

It's this approach, rather than extreme claims about Jewish conspiracies, that can find an audience even among fair minded individuals. Dr. Robert Faurisson, a former French academic, made his name in the denial community first by focusing on the "problem of the gas chambers." He later would argue that the Holocaust is a "Zionist lie" and a "huge financial swindle of which the state of Israel is the principal beneficiary." This reflects a common sentiment among deniers, that the Holocaust has been, at the very least, exaggerated in order to benefit Jews and Israel financially. Nevertheless, denial arguments don't usually start with that conclusion. They end there.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

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.