Holocaust Denial, Holocaust Deniars in the 1980's
The Nizkor Project
Manuel Prutschi, 1989
The story is told of the Jew who, on being captured by the Nazis, was dealt eighty brutal blows by his captors and yet managed to live to tell the tale. This survivor carried with him not only the memory and the pain of those eighty blows, and what he and his people underwent during the Holocaust, but also the fear that the suffering of the Jews would not be believed because the inhumanity that they underwent was unfathomable. To him that would constitute the eighty-first blow.
The Nazis, while committing mass murder, were covering up their tracks so that the Jewish story in fact would not be believed, and they would get away with their crime. They carried out their program in secrecy. They developed a whole vocabulary to mask genocide in euphemism. Transportation to death was referred to as emigration, repatriation, or resettlement in the east. Murder of Jews was referred to as special treatment or special action. The annihilation of the Jewish people came to be known as the final solution. The disappearance of the Jews off the face of the European earth was to be made, for future generations, as puzzling a mystery as the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
The final solution did not wholly succeed. The Nazis lost the war and the story of the Holocaust has very much gotten out. But the eighty-first blow has been struck nonetheless, in a manner more vicious than the survivor could have anticipated. Rather than the survivor's story not being believed because the level of inhumanity was incomprehensible, the story is actually being denied. And there is an international movement engaged in that denial.
Holocaust deniers contend that for mass murder to have taken place there had to be a 'super weapon.' That super weapon was the gas chamber. They proceed to assert that not a single human being was gassed to death by the Nazis. Gassing, they argue, was purely used for disinfection. Only thousands of Jews died during the Second World War and these perished as the unfortunate victims of the exigencies of war, mainly at the end of the conflict. There was no policy of genocide.
Even in its broad strokes Holocaust denial is deliberately misleading. It focuses exclusively on gassing as the sole means of murdering Jews, when there were a series of other methods. The einsatzgruppen, or mobile SS killing squads, followed the German army as it advanced eastwards, and engaged in mass shootings which claimed the lives of well over one million people. The deniers do not speak of the crowding of Jews into ghettos or of the labour in the concentration camps, and the deaths that resulted from starvation, disease, and brutality.
The deniers, in their questioning of gassing, deal only with Auschwitz, which was both a slave labour camp and an extermination camp. Nothing is said of the other factories of death: Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Majdanek. These were small points on the map - non-descript, tiny villages -to which trains took hundreds of thousands of Jews, and returned empty. The deniers are silent on the use of gas vans. And they do not speak at all of the Nazi euthanasia program against their own "Aryans" in Germany itself. Tens of thousands described as mentally or physically infirm by the Nazis were gassed to death, setting the precedent for the use of gas against the Jews in a massive way during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust deniers are individuals with an idee fixe. They reject all evidence which undermines their so-called thesis. Documents and photographs are all forgeries. Survivor eyewitnesses are all victims of mass delusion and indoctrination. Confessions of Nazi war criminals are invalid because they were all extracted by torture or were the result of plea bargaining. The scholar Nadine Fresco has looked at the work of the Holocaust deniers, and written that in their "research the only ethic is suspicion... distrust is the only certitude." This does not make for a workable, honest methodology of history.
In history you do not begin by attaching yourself to a wild theory and then reject anything that flies in the face of it. Yet the Holocaust deniers want to portray themselves as disinterested truth seekers, real historical researchers. That is why they choose to refer to themselves as "historical revisionists."
The revision of history is a legitimate pursuit. Every generation takes a new look at its past and revises it somewhat in the light of new evidence, new perspectives. When engaging in such reinterpretation, historians ask themselves what happened, how it happened, why it happened. They do not deny the events themselves.
Historians, for example, when looking at the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, might ask themselves why it was necessary; how was the decision made; could it have been avoided; could the Japanese surrender have been obtained in some other way. No historian suggests that bombs were not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; that the whole thing was an invention by the Japanese to extract reparations and to get the United States to rebuild their country's economy; that the survivors of those nuclear holocausts are simply suffering from delusion.
The Holocaust deniers, in contrast, when they approach the Holocaust flatly say there was none. It was an invention by Jews or Zionists - and they use these terms interchangeably - to gain reparations from Germany for themselves and for the State of Israel. Holocaust deniers are not historians but evil magicians. In the claims of the Holocaust deniers, the victims of the genocide are made into liars and criminals, perpetrators as they are of the greatest fraud in history while the Nazis - the very perpetrators of the genocide - emerge as victims. Since there was no crime of genocide there can be no Nazi war criminals. Nazis in effect are falsely accused. The criminals are innocent and the innocents are criminal.
This is a classic inversion of images which George Orwell warned us about in his book 1984. Orwell wrote the book in 1948, but since it was supposed to presage a future society, for the title he simply inverted the order of the date's numbers and he called it 1984. In his book Orwell dealt with the bastardization of language and doublespeak. Black is white. Peace is war. Truth is false. Falsehood is truth.
With Holocaust denial, the world foreseen in 1984 has arrived. Holocaust deniers are out to mesmerize, to confuse and to dislocate. They are out to make people unsure about definitions, to unhinge them from their certainties, to make them lose sight of right and wrong. In this way they aim to achieve their ultimate purpose, which is the unabashed and unqualified rehabilitation of the Third Reich. If there was never any crime of mass murder then there are no mass murderers. Nazism and the Third Reich are whitewashed and made once again respectable and, what is most important for the neo-Nazis, attractive.
The Holocaust made Nazism into a tainted product, even causing many who might otherwise be attracted to its doctrines, to shy away from it. If Nazism was to remain viable as an ideology, in light of the Holocaust, logic absolutely demanded that, as neo-Nazism, it deny that the Holocaust ever happened. A movement whose raison d'etre is to hate and to promote the hatred of Jews, needs to attack anything which elicits sympathy for Jews. A movement bent on marketing the thesis that there is a Jewish conspiracy to conquer the world, must deny that there was a conspiracy on almost a global scale of commission, collaboration, and omission, to destroy the Jewish people. Holocaust deniers want to bring back Nazism and make it today and tomorrow the powerful political force that it was yesterday.
The Nazis, to create the atmosphere which made the delegitimization, the persecution and, ultimately, the annihilation of the Jewish people possible, adopted and disseminated the notion of a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. The basic document which outlined and encapsulated the conspiracy theory for the Nazis, was the infamous Czarist Secret Police forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
That is why the historian Norman Cohn, in a seminal study, has rightly and so aptly described the Protocols as a "warrant for genocide". In the historian's unchallengeable view, the myth of a Jewish world-conspiracy led directly to the Holocaust.
Holocaust denial is but a new layer, superimposed on the traditional world Jewish conspiracy theory. It also elaborates and expands upon the theory because it incorporates another dimension drawn from the cosmology of antisemitism - of the Jew as a cheat and extortionist. The theory clearly implies that only the Jews, expert cheats and conspirators that they are, successfully could pull off this conspiracy of conspiracies, this scam to beat all scams - a hoax not merely global but truly universal in its scope.
Ernst Zundel is the prime practitioner of Holocaust denial in Canada In the early 1980's he gave Canada the dubious distinction of being the principal source for Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi material being exported to West Germany. Zundel, in his publications and activities, forthrightly purveyed Nazi memorabilia, advanced Nazi doctrine, and admired Nazi personalities. He sold military SS-like paraphernalia, glorified Aryan man, and was the co-author of the panegyric work, The Hitler We Loved and Why.
In 1985, in Toronto, Zundel was charged under Section 177 of the Criminal Code which makes it a crime to disseminate false information, known to be false by the disseminator, and likely to cause injury or mischief to the public interest. In the Zundel case "public interest" was particularized by the Crown to mean social and racial tolerance.
The criminal charges brought against Zundel arose out of his publication and dissemination of two pamphlets. One was a thirty-two-page pamphlet entitled "Did Six Million Really Die?" which branded the Holocaust a hoax. It was widely distributed throughout Canada, especially to politicians, media people, and librarians. The second one was a four-page letter entitled "The West, War and Islam!". It advanced the notion of a conspiracy by Zionists, bankers, communists and Freemasons to control the world. It was mailed to twelve- hundred specific addresses, in the Middle East.
Zundel was acquitted on the charge connected with "The West, War and Islam". Since precious little time was spent on this charge at trial, one can only speculate that the jury thought it unimportant and, also, possibly reasoned that the letter could not have done much harm in Canada since it was mailed out of the country. On the other hand, the jury did convict on the key Holocaust denial charge and Zundel was sentenced to a jail term. Zundel appealed the conviction. On legal technicalities, a re-trial was ordered. The second trial was held in 1988 and a jury, again, found Zundel guilty, and a jail term was imposed. The case is now once more under appeal.
Two other notorious Canadian antisemites who have been identified with Holocaust denial are James Keegstra and Malcolm Ross. Keegstra, for many years, taught high school in the small town of Eckville, Alberta while Ross is a teacher in the Moncton, New Brunswick area.
For Keegstra and Ross Holocaust denial is not as central to their world view as it is to Zundel's, but it is nonetheless a direct outgrowth of it. Both these men consider themselves religious Christians and have imbibed deeply at the well of Christian antisemitism. They can rightly be described as theologians of hate." To them Jews are evil, satanic world conspirators out to wreck western Christian civilization. Of course this view of a world Jewish conspiracy, when rid of its religious dimension, is precisely what the Nazis propagated.
Outside of Canada, Europe and the United States yield the most significant examples of Holocaust deniers.
The intellectual father of the movement was the Frenchman Paul Rassinier, who died in 1967. Rassinier was a bundle of contradictions. He was a socialist, an anarchist, and a communist. His ideological, political background was from the left, not from the right as one might expect. He was a politician, hero, and a pacifist. He was a concentration camp survivor, having spent two years at Dora and Buchenwald.
Rassinier, in his personal concentration camp experience, found that the everyday suffering inflicted on the inmates was done primarily by the kappos. These were individuals - themselves drawn from the camp population - placed on top of their fellows, as a way of shielding the SS and other authorities from the direct anger or the wrath of the inmates. Rassinier, in a bizarre mental odyssey, went from blaming the kappos, through absolving the Nazis of any responsibility, to blaming the victims for inventing the whole thing.
Rassinier's mantle was inherited by another Frenchman, Robert Faurisson who, in some ways, today is the movement's `elder statesman.' He has a doctorate from the Sorbonne in literary textual criticism. He was a professor of literature at the University of Lyons II but has been suspended from teaching since 1979. He has been found guilty of libel, racial defamation and incitement to racial hatred, and failure properly to discharge his responsibilities as a historian, both in his approach to evidence and testimony as well as in his research methods. He was a star witness for Zundel at both his trials.
Another Holocaust denier in France of more recent prominence is Henri Roques, a sixty-five-year-old retired, agricultural engineer. He produced a long thesis which was Holocaust denial through-and-through, and shopped around for a university to grant him a doctorate. Rejected by the universities of Paris and the Sorbonne, among others, he finally hit pay dirt at the University of Nantes. An academic panel of three granted the thesis a Ph.D. and gave it top grades. The supervisor, Jean-Claude Riviere, is a specialist in the medieval history of Provence. Sixty Nantes professors protested. After the Ministry of Education investigated, the doctorate was withdrawn in July, 1986 and the thesis supervisor was suspended.
Faurisson and Roques have their younger disciples. In April of 1987, on the eve of the trial of Klaus Barbie, fliers appeared in Lyons on behalf of what alleged itself to be a group of high school students from Lyons, Nancy, and Strasbourg. They claimed that the only gassing the Nazis had engaged in was for purposes of disinfection. "Only fleas were gassed in the camps", the posters read.
In Switzerland there is Mariette Paschoud, a teacher at a high school in Lausanne. In August 1986, at a press conference in Paris, she denied that there had been any gassing of Jews in the Second World War. She has been stripped of her history course but she still remains in school teaching French. Students went on a city-wide protest feeling that the authorities had been over-lenient.
In Germany there is the case of Wilhelm Staeglich, formerly a Hambourg judge with a doctorate from the University of Goettingen. In 1981 he published The Auschwitz Myth. He was stripped of his doctorate, fined ten percent of the salary he had received as a judge since 1981, and authorities have banned his book.
Sweden provided the example of Ditlieb Felderer. In April, 1983 he was convicted of hatemongering and underwent court- ordered psychiatric treatment. It seemed to have been of no avail, since he also twice testified in Zundel's defence.
In England there is the case of Richard Hawood or Richard Verrall. He was the editor of the neo-Nazi National Front's magazine Spearhead. He authored the pamphlet "Did Six Million Really Die?", for whose publication and distribution in Canada Zundel has been twice convicted under the "false news" section of the Criminal Code. It was first published in 1974 by "Historical Review Press" which was owned by R.F. Beauclair. Beauclair is an ex chairman of the Racial Preservation Society, which subsequently merged with the National Front.
More notorious than Harwood/Verrall however is David Irving. He is an ultra-nationalist Englishman with fascist sympathies. He is a prolific writer of popular, as opposed to scholarly, historical works - dozens of them.
In "The Destruction of Dresden", Irving declared that the Allies were as bad as the Nazis in the commission of atrocities against civilians. In "Hitler's War" he argued that Hitler neither ordered nor knew about the destruction of the Jews. He in fact offered a reward of one-thousand pounds to anyone who could produce a written Hitler order to annihilate the Jews. Until recently David Irving, in what he wrote or said publicly, had gingerly straddled the line between legitimacy and illegitimacy. However he never has been coy about the company he kept. He has attended conferences at the Holocaust denying Institute for Historical Review, for instance. At one convention he is quoted as proclaiming that "Hitler was probably the biggest friend the Jews had in the Third Reich, certainly at least when the war broke out."
Irving, at long last, chose to come out of the Holocaust denial closet at the second Zundel trial. In the closing moments of the case for the defence he was brought out as a "surprise" witness and he openly declared himself for the Holocaust denier that he really is.
Under vigorous cross-examination Irving was confronted with what he himself had written ten years earlier in his book, "Hitler's War". In that work Irving did not deny the Holocaust - far from it. In fact he outlined in detail its extent and its horrors, ascribing it to Heinrich Himler [sic] and his subordinates but insisting that Hitler was ignorant of it. Repeatedly, when faced by the Crown with passages from that book which asserted the reality of the Holocaust, Irving monotonously countered that "He believed then but he no longer believed now." When he was asked whether he had done any research in the last ten years in this field which led him to change his mind, he candidly admitted that he had not. When pressed further, as evidence for his turnaround, he cited the Leuchter "report".
Fred Leuchter is a self-confessed expert in "execution hardware" whom Ernst Zundel found in the United States, and recruited to go to Auschwitz for him to collect samples of the soil and off the walls of the gas chambers. Zundel and Leuchter had this soil "analyzed" and then, in a "report", presented "findings" which suggested no evidence for gassing at Auschwitz. Irving would have seen this worthless "report" no earlier than forty-eight to twenty-four hours before he took the stand. Yet he pointed to it as a significant influence in changing his mind away from what he had written about the Holocaust ten years earlier, in "Hitler's War". If Irving had any credibility as a historian, the a-historical and indeed anti-historical way in which he dealt with the facts of the Holocaust while testifying, under oath, in the Zundel trial reduced his credibility to zero.
Irving frequently visits Canada on cross-country tours sponsored by various radical right groups.
In the United States there is the case of Harry Elmer Barnes. He died in 1968 at the age of 79. He was responsible for translating Rassinier into English.
Barnes was once a respectable historian. He was an isolationist. He felt that the United States, contrary to its interests, was led into two disastrous world wars. So he started to see a conspiracy which had maneuvered his country into these conflicts. During the First World War there were a series of propaganda stories that had been circulated by the allies to taint Germany. Subsequent investigation proved a number of these atrocity stories had been false. To Barnes, World War II atrocities would once be shown to have been as false as World War I propaganda. Paul L Berman, in a 1981 Village Voice article on Holocaust denial, which is probably still the best single journalistic piece on the subject, having studied Barnes, contends that in the United States, Holocaust denial intellectually has its roots in American isolationism with its revisionism of World War I and its suspicion of "western militarism".
Arthur R. Butz is another American. He is the author of what has become one of the classic texts of the Holocaust deniers: The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, published in 1977. He is still a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University.
The world nerve centre of Holocaust denial is the Institute for Historical Review, in Torrance, California It holds conferences which bring Holocaust deniers together from all across the world. It issues a journal called "The Journal of Historical Review" which, on the surface, has all the appearance of a legitimate research periodical.
Willis Carto, of the unabashedly antisemitic Liberty Lobby, founded the Institute in 1979, after the N.B.C. television series on the Holocaust. The tremendous impact that the series had, not only in North America but indeed in a good part of the world, spurred Holocaust deniers to counter it with increased activism. The series is what brought Zundel out of the shadows and, in 1979, brought him to the Institute's founding convention. At the convention Faurisson, not sufficiently confident of his English, asked Zundel to read his paper for him. This was to be the beginning of an enduring association.
The Institute for Historical Review had David McCalden as its first Director. McCalden hails from Northern Ireland, lived in Britain for a number of years, and now resides in the United States.
In Britain, McCalden, as an outgrowth of the neo-Nazi National Front, organized the National Party in 1975. Because of his known racism the British National Union of Journalists denied him membership in their organization.
In the United States, McCalden (under the pseudonym Lewis Brandon) has worked for Noontide Press, another branch organization of the Liberty Lobby. McCalden, while in the employ of Noontide Press, was in charge of distributing The White Student, a promotional organ of the Ku Klux Klan Youth Corps.
The Institute of Historical Review, in a 1981 mailing signed by McCalden (under his alias Brandon), as a stunt to publicize its Holocaust denial claims, offered a $50,000 reward for "proof" that Jews had been gassed at Auschwitz. Melvin Mermelstein, an Auschwitz survivor, took up the challenge and supplied the necessary proof, only to be ignored by the Institute. Mermelstein then sued. In July, 1985, the Institute, as a result of a Superior Court of Los Angeles ruling, agreed to pay Mermelstein the $50,000 reward as well as an additional $100,000 for suffering he underwent as a result of the Institute's publicity stunt; apologized in writing to Mr. Mermelstein and other survivors for calling the Holocaust a hoax; accepted a 1981 California Superior Court ruling (which formed part of the case of Mermelstein against the Institute) that the Nazi mass murder of Jews was an indisputable fact, and undertook publicly to so declare.
David McCalden has also been actively involved with Zundel. He formed part of Zundel's "Brains Trust" at his trial and was also present at the trial of James Keegstra. McCalden has now broken with the Institute, and formed his own enterprise, "Truth Missions", through which he continues to purvey Holocaust denial materials. A variety of Canadian addresses are on his mailing list.
Antisemitism is a most redoubtable of bacteria, ever mutating and developing new strains to survive the times. Holocaust denial has emerged in the contemporary world as the ideological synthesis in the dialectics of antisemitism. It incorporates within it the age-old stereotype of the Jew as financial finagler, satanic, anti-Christian force, and the vicious and deadly libel of the Jew as world conspirator. Holocaust denial, most effectively, has managed to pull together the various antisemitic strains into a single, coherent whole. Nazis, theologians of hate, and white supremacists are as one in their Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is the point and the cutting edge of the antisemitic knife in the 1980's.
It should therefore not surprise us that Holocaust denial is also anti-Zionist. The term Zionist rather than Jew is often used in Holocaust denial lexicon. Israel figures prominently as the conspirator and benefactor state. The Palestinian people appear in tandem with the German people as the two communities victimized by the Jews. The aim is to bar the Jewish state from its legitimate place in the community of nations, in the same way that Nazism denied, and neo-Nazism intends to deny, Jews their rightful place in the societies of the diaspora. The integral inclusion of anti-Zionism in Holocaust denial makes it uniquely dangerous. Of all antisemitic ideologies, Holocaust denial has brought about the convergence of the radical right and the radical left. Right and left are elements as anathema to one another as fire and water yet Jews are able to work such miracles even among their enemies.
A number of radical leftists in France are intimately connected to Holocaust denial. They include Serge Thion, who is a defender of both Rassinier and Faurisson. Thion is linked with the Marxist publishing house "La Vieille Taupe" "The Old Mole", founded by Pierre Guillaume. Guillaume is the publisher of many of Faurisson's works and has now associated himself with Henri Roques. The most shocking association of all is that of the world-famous Jewish linguist and radical Noam Chomsky. Chomsky has described the Holocaust as "the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history". Yet this did not lead him to prevent a piece he had allegedly written purely to uphold the right of free speech from being used as an introduction to one of Faurisson's books. It also did not stop him from giving Guillaume publication rights in France to one of his important books. As Professor Werner Cohn has pointed out in his pamphlet "The Hidden Alliances of Noam Chomsky", Guillaume's publishing house is a very obscure one and, if it has any credibility at all, it has it in good measure as a result of the connection with Chomsky.
A number of radical leftists, because of their antagonism towards Israel and their anti-Zionism, have become Holocaust deniers or, at the very least, are not loath to associate with deniers. In the same way that the neo-Nazis have to deny the Holocaust to whitewash Nazism, radical leftists have to deny the Holocaust to undermine the strongest justification for the creation and the existence of the State of Israel. And the radical leftists also resort to the Orwellian inversion of images. Israel is described as a Nazi state and accused of perpetrating genocide on the Palestinians.
There is also, as Paul Berman has pointed out, a certain strain of the left which mistrusts the west under all circumstances, and so it has come to mistrust the west on the whole matter of World War 11 as well. As far as these leftists are concerned there is no difference between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois Nazism and fascism. Furthermore, twentieth century genocide flies in the face of Marxist optimism and the assurance of the inevitability of historical progress. Marxist optimism can only be saved if the various genocides that we have witnessed in the twentieth century can be portrayed as "rumours" rather than realities.
In the convergence of the left and the right, in Holocaust denial the circle, paralleling Rassinier's own life, has finally been closed.
Paul Berman, in his analysis of Holocaust denial, has written that "It has long been known that in times of acute social crisis antisemitism takes to the streets. The corollary now looming into focus is that in times of acute ideological crisis, antisemitism takes to the intellectual presses." Our examination of Holocaust deniers in Europe and North America clearly indicates that one can take Berman some steps further, to say that antisemitism has not only infiltrated certain intellectual presses but has become the preserve of a portion of the western intelligentsia Holocaust deniers are in the main university-educated teachers, academics, writers, professionals. They are not exactly like flat earthers. They are not mere kooks or inconsequential eccentrics dealing with a rather bizarre but harmless theory.
Holocaust denial is a matter of concern to the Jewish community, certainly, but in fact it should be of concern to all who prize democracy. The ultimate aim or consequence of Holocaust denial is the collapse of the open, pluralistic societies which we have all built together and hold so dear.