Holocaust Denial

Understanding the arguments of so-called revisionists.

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Why Bother?

A more immediate question arises when looking at the efforts of Holocaust deniers against a mountain of testimonials, documents, and historical research. The Nizkor Project, an anti-denial group based out of Canada, puts simply puts it: "Given the evidence... why do people deny the Holocaust?"

Today, denial has largely been relegated to fringe hate groups, neo-Nazis, and blatant anti-Semites. So for the answer, it's worth looking at what such groups themselves say on the subject. The Nizkor Project has an entire section of its website devoted to the statements of the National Socialist White People's Party on denial. Their leader, Harold Covington, is quoted from a 1996 bulletin paraphrasing leading critic of Holocaust denial Deborah Lipstadt:

"The real purpose of Holocaust revisionism is to make National Socialism an acceptable political alternative again," Covington summarizes. Then he adds, "I normally don't agree with anything a Jew says, but I recall exclaiming, 'Bingo! Got it in one! Give that lady a cigar!'"

Covington is quoted elsewhere as saying, "Take away the Holocaust and what do you have left? Without their precious Holocaust, what are the Jews? Just a grubby little bunch of international bandits and assassins and squatters who have perpetrated the most massive, cynical fraud in human history."

Many see Holocaust denial as an anti-Semitic attempt to legitimize white power and hate group ideology. Though some deniers have attempted to minimize this reality and cloak their efforts in scholarship, their own statements reveal their primary motivations.

Still in the years just after the Holocaust, denial was less a blatantly anti-Semitic movement and more the outgrowth of extreme libertarianism, anti-war thinkers, and perpetrators themselves attempting to avoid blame.

The father of the denial movement was Harry Elmer Barnes. Hardly a raving anti-Semite, he was once a respected historian. He was an anti-war writer in the years prior to World War II, and after the war based his criticism of U.S. involvement on libertarian principles. It was these positions that led Barnes to write off the Holocaust as a piece of Allied propaganda--something most other libertarians rejected even while embracing his other writings.

However clear the historical record may be, it remains forever vulnerable to popular ignorance and apathy. The tactic of deniers is to pose questions, raise doubts, and ignore historical evidence. While informed people might call Holocaust denial ridiculous, their clear strategy and goals are far from that.

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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.