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Defense Documents

David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

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3.6 Conclusion >>

3.2 Holocaust denial

3.2.1 Standing apart from this very substantial scholarly literature is the phenomenon of 'Holocaust denial'. This is the attempt by a very small number of writers to deny that there was any systematic or organized extermination of Europe's Jews by the Nazis; to suggest that the number of Jews killed was far smaller than five or six million; and to claim that there were no gas chambers or other specially built extermination facilities.1 In her book Denying the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt summarizes the deniers' arguments as follows:
The Holocaust - the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people - never happened. Typical of the deniers' attempt to obfuscate is their claim that they do not deny that there was a Holocaust, only that there was a plan or an attempt to annihilate the Jewish people...The real crimes against civilization were committed by the Americans, Russians, Britons, and French against the Germans...The Germans suffered the bombing of Dresden, wartime starvation, invasions,...victors' vengeance at Nuremberg, and brutal mistreatment by Soviet and Allied occupiers...The postwar venom toward Germany has been so extreme that Germans found it impossible to defend themselves. Consequently, rather than fight this ignominious accusation, they decided to acknowledge their complicity....The central assertion for the deniers is that Jews are not victims but victimizers. They "stole" billions in reparations, destroyed Germany's good name by spreading the "myth" of the Holocaust, and...used the world's sympathy to "displace" another people so that the state of Israel could be established.2
The motives of 'Holocaust deniers', Lipstadt argues, are varied, but many of them are extremists of the far right who wish to resurrect fascism and know that this historical blot on   the reputation of fascism must first be removed if it is to stand any chance of political rehabilitation.
3.2.2 Lipstadt's book is only one of a number of studies of the phenomenon of 'Holocaust denial'. The British political scientist Roger Eatwell(also an expert witness in the present case), a specialist in the study of fascism and neo-fascism, has argued for example along similar, if more differentiated lines. He notes that Holocaust denial takes a number of different forms and its exponents embark upon it for a number of different motives. Some are mainly antisemitic, some seek to deligitimise the state of Israel, some are overtly neo-fascist. It should not be a cause for surprise, therefore, that there are disagreements among them. Some are crude and overtly antisemitic in the presentation of their ideas, others - usually referring to themselves as 'Historical Revisionists' - are more academic in style. Both work in tandem, however. As Eatwell comments, 'there seems to be a dual strategy of using more reasoned arguments to appeal to the educated, and cruder arguments to appeal to the more stereotypical neo-Fascist activist.'3 Eatwell distinguishes four specific arguments common amongst Holocaust deniers, with variations of emphasis and accentuation.
  • 3.2.3 First, they point to the absence of any document signed by Hitler and ordering the extermination of the Jews, and the absence of references to gassing in documents like the minutes of the Wannsee Conference. Pursuing this point further, they tend to argue that the language of supposedly incriminating documents is open to a variety of interpretations, some of them not at all sinister. Thus Arthur Butz, for instance, notes that the terms Endlösung (Final Solution) and Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) can be found in contexts where it referred to matters other than killing.4 As far as   Holocaust deniers are concerned, Nazi antisemitism was largely a matter of rhetoric. Practice was very different. Postwar evidence from the Nuremberg trials is dismissed as the product of 'victors' justice', of poor court procedures, bias (it is alleged for example that there were a lot of Jews working for the prosecutors) and testimony extracted under torture and threats. A recent Holocaust denial work, for example, has asserted that the former commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, was 'beaten almost to death' and his wife and children threatened before he gave his testimony. Minor errors in Höss's evidence are taken as discrediting the whole.5
  • 3.2.4 Secondly, Holocaust deniers discount or attempt to discredit the postwar testimony of survivors of the camps, again pointing out minor errors and contrasting this evidence with eyewitness accounts of Germans who were alive at the time.
  • 3.2.5 Thirdly, they argue that the alleged evidence of the Holocaust, including photographs, and documents such as Anne Frank's diary, is a postwar fabrication, and use population statistics to show that the figure of Jews who died must have been much less than six million.
  • 3.2.6 Fourthly and finally they deploy a range of 'scientific' arguments to disprove the Holocaust. The French writer Robert Faurisson has been particularly active here, using parallel evidence from the gassings of individual capital offenders in the USA and from the commercial use of Zyklon-B. This line of argument, says Eatwell, was strongly reinforced by the 'Leuchter Report' in 1988.
These details will be discussed further below. The point to note here is that Eatwell, while broadly agreeing with Lipstadt, places particular emphasis on the argument that the evidence for the Holocaust was fabricated, or produced under duress or under psychological stress, after the war, as a central element of denial.
3.2.7 The distinguished French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, writing in 1980, outlined six major principles of Holocaust 'revisionism', along broadly similar lines. These were:
  • There was no genocide, and the gas chambers never existed.
  • The 'final solution' was merely the expulsion of the Jews to eastern Europe.
  • The number of Jewish victims of Nazism is far smaller than has been claimed.
  • Hitler's Germany shares the responsibility for the Second World War with the Jews
  • The principal enemy of the human race was the Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany.
  • The genocide was an invention of Allied propaganda, which was largely Jewish.
3.2.8 Vidal-Naquet also went beyond this list of core beliefs to elaborate an outline of 'revisionist' methods. Those who argued in this manner, he wrote, declared that 'any direct testimony contributed by a Jew is either a lie or a fantasy', and that documents describing the gassings and mass killings were either forgeries or falsifications, or were simply ignored. 'Any Nazi document bearing direct testimony is taken at face value if it is written in coded language, but unacknowledged (or underinterpreted) if it is written plainly.' Nazi testimony obtained after the end of the war is usually considered as having been obtained under torture, or by intimidation. The falsification and suppression of evidence are key methods. 'A vast pseudotechnical arsenal is mobilized to demonstrate the material impossibility of mass gassings.'6
3.2.9 Yisrael Gutman, author of Denying the Holocaust (Jerusalem, 1985), defined what is known in German as the 'Auschwitz-Lie' as
the slogan under which the murder of the European Jews by the National Socialists is denied, the losses amongst the Jews are portrayed as enormously exaggerated, the murder of the Jews as the result of a   purposeful policy is disputed, and the tendentious and trivialising claim is advanced that this process was not unique but had precedents which even served as models...The most extreme are those who claim that the authorities of the "'Third Reich'" never planned to murder the Jews of Europe, that no extermination camps were constructed or operated, and that the claim that the National Socialists systematically murdered five to six million Jews is an invention.
3.2.10 Gutman distinguished between 'partial' and 'extreme' deniers, but noted that even extreme deniers conceded that between 200,000 and 400,000 Jews were killed (estimates varied) and that all deniers dismissed the testimony of Jewish survivors as worthless.7 Gutman's argument that the mention of parallels and precedents is an integral part of Holocaust denial reflects the time when he was writing, as a number of German historians were arguing along these lines, and is not typical of the broader literature on this subject.8 However, other writers on the subject concur that the denial of the uniqueness of the Nazi mass murder of the Jews certainly does belong among the central tenets of Holocaust denial.
3.2.11 The German political scientist Armin Pfahl-Traughber, writing in 1996, also using the German term 'Auschwitz-Lie', argued that it was going too far to include in it, as Gutman did, the argument that there was no concerted policy in National Socialism to exterminate the Jews, or that the extermination had parallels and precedents elsewhere, and preferred a more restricted definition, tied more closely to the political aim of the moral rehabilitation of Nazism. He pointed out that since the 1970s Holocaust deniers had tended to give themselves the label 'Revisionists' in order to suggest that what they were engaged in was a legitimate exercise in revising historical interpretations rather than (as was really the case) a pseudo-scholarly falsification of the historical record. Pfahl-Traughber suggested that there was a broad and a narrow way of understanding the phenomenon. In its broadest sense, 'Revisionism' was a general term under which all attempts to make National Socialism seem   harmless could be grouped, from the denial of its responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War to relativising comparisons (Auschwitz and Dresden). The narrow and in his view the more correct definition, was the denial of the mass extermination of Jews in the gas chambers of the extermination camps, or in other words the 'Auschwitz-Lie'. But while Pfahl-Traughber was correct to argue for a precise and quite restricted definition, he in turn went too far in narrowing it down. The reason for his extremely narrow definition lay partly in the common German usage ('Auschwitz-Lie' rather than 'Holocaust denial'), and partly in his wish to tie it exclusively to far-right and neo-Nazi politics, but mainly he was arguing for a narrow understanding of the concept because for a variety of reasons he wished to tie it to the legal definition in Paragraphs 130, 131, 185 and 189 of the German Criminal Code, which make it an offence to deny the Holocaust in the sense of denying the mass murder of Jews in the gas chambers. In view of the fact that the real centre of Holocaust denial by any definition is in the United States, it would be wrong for a general, internationally applicable definition of the term to be tied too closely to the understanding accorded it in German law. Moreover, what we are dealing with in the actual terms of the libel suit brought by Irving against Lipstadt and Penguin Books is of course the concept 'Holocaust denial', not the concept 'Auschwitz-Lie'.9
3.2.12 At the other extreme, perhaps the most elaborate of all check-lists of Holocaust denial beliefs has been drawn up by Limor Yagil, a researcher working for the Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University. He has argued, again with a somewhat differing emphasis, that 'since the 1970s there has been general consensus among Holocaust deniers on the following positions and principles':
  • (1) There never was any genocide, and the gas chambers that symbolized it never existed.
  • (2) Jewish victims of the Nazis number far fewer than 6 million.
  • (3) Hitler's Germany does not bear primary responsibility for the Second World War, but shares this responsibility with the Jews, and perhaps should not be held responsible at all.
  • (4) The main enemy of mankind in the 30s and 40s was not Nazi Germany, but Stalin's Soviet Union.
  • (5) The "Final Solution" never called for more than expelling the Jews to Eastern Europe.
  • (6) Most of the Jews who perished in pogroms or disappeared, had been in territories under Soviet, not German, control.
  • (7) The claim of genocide was invented by the Allies - primarily by Jews, and in particular by Zionists - to serve propaganda purposes.
  • (8) The Jews killed by the Germans were mostly subversive elements, spies, and criminals.10
3.2.13 Not all of these views, of course, relate directly to the Nazi extermination of the Jews; for the purposes of the present discussion, for example, number (4) in the above list can be discounted, and numbers (3) and (8) are less than central. However, a number of the views listed by Yagil do correspond closely to those cited by other writers on Holocaust denial in their surveys of the literature.
3.2.14 In most works on Holocaust denial, the issues are put more simply than they are by Yagil. Thus a relatively early writer on this phenomenon, Gill Seidel, in her book The Holocaust Denial: Antisemitism, Racism and the New Right, published in 1986, noted:
In various parts of the world, a small but increasingly vocal minority is claiming that the mass extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany never took place; that the gas chambers never existed; that   Anne Frank's diary is a fraud; that the war atrocity photographs showing the heaps of bodies of camp inmates are also fakes. The Holocaust is presented as "a gigantic hoax" and "the myth of the twentieth century".11
3.2.15 Like other writers on this topic, Seidel observed that 'there is not one single version of the neo-Nazi myth denying the Holocaust and the gas chamber, but several', although she ascribed them all, as Eatwell, writing a decade or more later, no longer did, to the resurgence of international neo-Nazism.12 Seidel listed four central beliefs of Holocaust denial literature:
  • 1. The Nuremberg trial conducted by the Allies at the end of the war to judge Nazi war crimes was a "kangaroo court" because prisoners were tortured to obtain confessions; and the judiciary were Jews or communists, or under their influence. It was therefore a case of "victors' justice".
  • 2. The Holocaust is a "hoax", a "swindle", "a multi-million dollar racket" to make Jews rich (at the expense of Germany through war reparations) and to justify the Jewish state at the expense of Palestinians.
  • 3. Allied bombings and atrocities, particularly crimes against the civilian population, like the bombing of Dresden, were on the same scale as, or even exceeded, alleged German atrocities.
  • 4. Zyklon-B gas was used in the camps, but only as an insecticide, principally to contain the typhus epidemic. "Extermination" is a mistranslation: Jews died, but they were merely victims of war.13
These beliefs, she argued, were common to a variety of Holocaust deniers in Britain, France, the United States and elsewhere.
3.2.16 How accurate and reasonable are these various characterizations of 'Holocaust denial'? Clearly there are some differences between them, and equally clearly, not all 'Holocaust deniers' subscribe to all the views mentioned by Eatwell, Gutman, Lipstadt, Pfahl-Traughber, Seidel, Vidal-Naquet or Yagil in their various definitions of the concept. However, an examination of the principal writings to which they refer, by people such as Arthur Butz, Robert Faurisson, Wilhelm Staeglich and others, which will be discussed below, makes it clear that a Holocaust denier would hold the following beliefs:
  • (a)The number of Jews killed by the Nazis was far less than six million; it amounted to only a few hundred thousand, and was thus similar to, or less than, the number of German civilians killed in Allied bombing raids.
  • (b)Gas chambers were not used to kill large numbers of Jews at any time.
  • (c)Neither Hitler nor the Nazi leadership in general had a programme of exterminating Europe's Jews; all they wished to do was to deport them to Eastern Europe.
  • (d)'The Holocaust' is a myth invented by Allied propaganda during the war and sustained since then by Jews who wish to use it to gain political and financial support for the state of Israel. The supposed evidence for the Nazis' wartime mass murder of millions of Jews by gassing and other means was fabricated after the war.14
3.2.17 It should be possible to ascertain whether or not any particular individual can reasonably be called a 'Holocaust denier' by examining his or her publications to see if these four basic principles of Holocaust denial are present.


1. Cf. the definition of Holocaust denial in Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (New York, 1997), pp 173-252.
2. Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (London, 1994), pp. 21-23.
3. Roger Eatwell , 'How to Revise History (and Influence People?), Neo-Fascist Style', in Luciano Cheles, Ronnie Ferguson and Michalina Vaughan, The Far Right in Western and Eastern Europe (London, 1995), pp. 309-26, here p. 311. The element of diversity in Holocaust denial is also noted by Kenneth S. Stern, Holocaust Denial (New York, 1993), pp. 8-9.
4. Arthur C. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Southam, 1976), pp. 69-71.
5. B. Kulaszka, 'Criminal Prosecution of "Holocaust Denial", in eadem (ed.), Did Six Million Really Die? (Toronto, 1992), p. viii.
6. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Assassins of Memory. Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust (New York, 1992), pp. 18-23 (originally published in 1980).
7. (Yisrael Gutman), 'Die Auschwitz-Lüge', in Jäckel (eds.), Enzyklopädie, Vol. I, pp. 1217, here pp. 121-4.
8. See Evans, In Hitler's Shadow for an account of the contoversy of the 1980's about parallels.
9. Armin Pfahl-Traughber, 'Die Apologeren der "Auschwitz-Lüge" - Bedeutung und Entwicklung der Holocaust-Leugnung im Rechtsextremismus, Jahrbuch Extremismus und Demokkratie, Vol. 8 (1996), pp. 75-101, esp. pp. 75-7
10. Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Limor Yagil, Holocaust Denial in France. Analysis of a Unique Phenomenon (Tel Aviv, 1995), p. 21.
11. Gill Seidel, The Holocaust Denial. Antisemitism, Racism and the New Right (Leeds, 1986), p. 38.
12. Ibid., p. 39.
13. Ibid., pp. 129-30.
14. For a similar listing - denial of mass murder at Auschwitz, manipulation of number of victims, etc. - see the volume edited by the Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/Bundesministerium für Unterricht und Kunst, Amoklauf gegen die Wirklichkeit. NS-Verbrechen und ""revisionistische" Geschichtsschreibung (Vienna, 1991).
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