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Explore the Central Motivations for Holocaust Denial


By Hannah Bigham



“The SS guards took pleasure in telling us that we had no chance of coming out alive, a point they emphasized with particular relish by insisting that after the war the rest of the world would not believe what happened; there would be rumors, speculation, but no clear evidence, and people would conclude that  evil on such a scale was just not possible”. 


This quote, from Sherman and Grobman’s Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?, and the fears represented from a Holocaust survivor, have become a reality in some people’s minds. Holocaust Denial is something that has been around and well publicized for decades, and still is. This essay will look at the main points that Deniers believe, such as David Irving and Mark Weber, and their motivations for it, such as denying that there were gas chambers, that six million Jewish people died and that there was no master plan for annihilating European Jewry. This essay shall explore the central motivations for Holocaust Denial, by looking at the details of the arguments put forward by deniers’ and the evidence they use to support it, and then the counter arguments shall be looked at, and the evidence that disputes the Deniers beliefs. Some of the evidence that shall be looked at will be events such as the David Irving trial and key facts and figures. After reviewing all the evidence and arguments a conclusion shall be reached on the motivations for Holocaust Denial and whether or not they are justified.
Holocaust Denial started taking off around the 1960 and 1970s, and this can partly be down to work, such as Arthur Butz’s Hoax of the Twentieth Century;
[2] it was from these works that the main points of Holocaust Denial emerged; these are that there were no gas chambers used to exterminate Jews, that the figure of six millions is far from the truth and that Hitler and the Nazis did not have a master plan for exterminating the Jewish race from Europe. It was after the Second World War that revisionism took hold in Germany, largely due to the Nuremburg Trials which were seen as biased and unfair, or “Victor’s Justice”. Some revisionist historians also dispute the fact that Germany was responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War, stating that the World Jewry declared war on the Nazis and as the Nazis were the ruling power of the Germany, they simply reacted to this threat that the World Jewry had put forward. These points marked the increase of anti-Semitism in Germany. One French ex-socialist who made a stir with Holocaust Denial is Paul Rassinier, author of Debunking the Genocide Myth: A study of the Nazi concentration camps and the Alleged Extermination of European Jewry, who was arrested for smuggling Jews into Switzerland in 1943 and he spent the rest of the war in Buchenwald. After the war, he was supposedly so offended by the accounts from survivors of the camps – particularly their claim of the gas chambers being used to exterminate Jews – that he publicly claimed that they were lying and were exaggerating. Rassinier also believed that the number of Jewish deaths was extremely exaggerated (he thought 1.5 million was a more accurate figure)[3]. Famous Holocaust Deniers, including David Irving who began voicing his opinions in the 1970s.

Another, arguably, is Mark Weber, the director and editor of the Journal of Historical Review, which is the voice of the IHR and has been publishing issues for more than 20 years[4]. The IHR plays a big part in voicing Holocaust Denial; it caused the biggest stir in the 1980s, where it made a $50,000 challenge for proof that Jews were in fact gassed at Auschwitz. They lost this, as a Holocaust survivor came forward by suing the IHR and he ended up winning $40,000 for his “personal suffering” – Weber counters this by saying that the IHR only paid the suit because they did not have the resources for a long legal battle. Another legal battle (that involved the IHR), involved in fighting between Willis Carto, head of the IHR and the staff at the Institute. The IHR had become dependant on Carto for financial backing, and when Carto did not hand over the $12.5 million, eleven lawsuits were filed against him. Carto eventually lost control of the Review. Carto later claimed that the Institue had been taken over by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, and this caused others to withdraw their funding too[5]. This example shows the controversy that went on between these deniers, and perhaps shows how, if there was so much fighting between them on the inside, then how sturdy is the ground that they stood on when they lectured about their belief in Holocaust denial?
These are the detailed points that deniers believe. One is that the main causes of death were starvation and disease which was generated by the Allied destruction of German supplies and resources towards the end of the war. Germans over-working Jews only accounts for a small percentage of the dead and that the gas chambers were used for delousing clothing and blankets. The crematoria were used to dispose of the bodies of those who had succumbed to other forms of death such as disease. Secondly, that 300,000 to 1 or 2 million Jews died or were killed in ghettos and camps. And thirdly, that there was no Nazi policy to exterminate European Jewry- the Reich had too many Jews to deport so had to put some into camps. Holocaust deniers, such as Weber and Irving, claim to have evidence to support these three points. Irving once said, that the “systematic destruction of European Jewry in the Final Solution was scientifically and logistically impossible” . So-called scientists, such as Fred Leuchter have proven that the existence of the deadly gas Zyklon-B (claimed to have been one of the gasses that was used to gas the Jews to death) on the gas chamber walls cannot be found and therefore it was not used- the carbon monoxide that claimed to be found on the walls, also gets the same response from Leuchter. He also claims that the use of the gases would cause a massive explosion- and there were no reports of gas chambers intentionally exploding. Another source is used to support the apparent myth of the gas chambers; a letter written by Leon Degrelle, who was the leader of the Belgian Rex movement, to the Pope John-Paul II, claiming that thousands of people being gassed was impossible:
[6]  “These campaigns are based on lies and have poisoned the whole subject of Auschwitz for more then a quarter of a century- yes I mean lies. It’s ridiculous to imagine and above all to pretend that 24,000 people could have been gassed at Auschwitz each day- in batches of 3,000- in a room of 400 cubic metres.”[7] Deniers justify the fact that there was no master plan implemented by those who were high up in the Nazi regime (i.e. no written order), by saying that when Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels would talk about exterminating Jews, they really meant “rooting out”, deporting them out of the Reich- removing them for the German race. Deniers also believe that when the German government only “confessed” as such, that the Nazis were attempting to exterminate the European Jewry, because they wished to be able to rejoin the family of nations as peacefully as possible.

As the main points of Holocaust denial have been studied, this essay shall now look at the repercussions of what a Holocaust Denier may face, in particular looking at David Irving. Irving went on trial on the 20 February, 2006 at an Austrian court for denying the Holocaust in 1989- he was sentenced to three years in prison, of which he spent only eleven months. The reason that he was sentenced so swiftly is due to the fact that he pleaded guilty to denying the Holocaust in Austria in 1989; however at his trial he claimed that he now accepted that the Nazis had murdered millions of Jews: “I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
[8] But the prosecution said that he was only changing his view as a tactic so he would not be imprisoned. Irving also faced the situation, in 2000, of losing his libel case against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin UK for peddling so-called “lies” about him in her accounts of Holocaust denial. These defeats by Irving lead to the arguments and the documentary evidence to support the arguments against Holocaust denial[9].

This cartoon shows David Irving “Not Saluting but Drowning”. It is a very symbolic cartoon, with clear connotations about his situation in 2000. He is not able to properly carry out the infamous Nazi salute, but instead drowning in his theories- hence the books clutched in his hand. The commentary that Steve Bell has written on the cartoon, is a slight alteration of the famous poem by Stevie Smith, “Not Waving But Drowning”. It represents Irving’s desperation and position at this time of the trial.
Now, responding to the deniers claims shall be looked at- the first claim is that the gas chambers were not used to exterminate Jews. Gas chambers were just one mechanism of exterminating Jews in the Final Solution, and it had evolved from an earlier Euthanasia Program for the physically and mentally handicapped- if the Nazis were willing to kill those who they viewed as alien to society, they were willing to kill those who they viewed as alien (Jews). There are eyewitness testimonies of people being moved from the gas chamber to the crematorium, which matches the ground photos, taken secretly. There are written documents that contain orders for Zyklon-B in an amount that was too much for just disinfection, blueprint plans and other building materials and also traces of Zyklon-B on the walls of the chambers- what should be noted is that the apparent scientist Leuchter is not in fact an engineer or scientist and therefore does not have the correct training in assessing whether or not the gas was there- even David Irving called him “an archaeologist with a sledge hammer.”
[10] The second claim is that only 300,000 to 1 to 2 million Jews died or were killed in ghettos and camps. This figure is seen as too small, by many historians, and that six million is a fairer estimate. This is based on population demographics, emigration numbers, number reported transported to camps, number liberated from camps and the number remaining after the war. Some deniers believe that the Jews were deported, which is why they believe the figure six million is ridiculous- but surely the world would have heard hard evidence of millions of “deported” Jews verifying this? The third claim is that there was no Nazi master plan (Final Solution) to exterminate the Jewish race- this is countered by the destruction by the Nazis and their collaborators of six million Jews evolved over years, which started in the early 1930s with the expulsion of Jews from society and economic life. This continued with the deportation of Jews from Germany, and also to ghettos and camps which resulted in many being murdered. The policy intentions themselves are hard to prove, but the policy outcomes are not- many Jews died and this fact cannot be ignored.
Other evidence to support the argument that the Holocaust denial points are incorrect, is the fact that for one David Irving is un reliable. He has no professional training in history and has not been consistent over the years- for example, in an interview in 1994, he estimated that 600,000 Jews were killed, but a year later he admitted that as much as 4 million Jews died
[11]. The fact that Irving has been jailed for his beliefs shows that even though the deniers work hard to justify their arguments, the world over still does not support them, including those of authority in the court room. There is other evidence, such as aerial photographs matching the ground ones, which show bodies burning en masse. Even SS guards, such as Pery Broad, have confessed to the gas chambers being used as a mechanism for mass murder and this was used formally in the Nuremburg trials.
The Holocaust survivor, talks about how they were told that people would not believe evil on such a scale was possible. This is a fear that Deniers hope is believed by people through-out the world, and is something for which many have spent decades campaigning. Motivated by the evidence which they firmly believe is truthful, they continue to believe this to this day, that the gas chambers were not used to exterminate Jews, that six million Jews having died is a grossly exaggerated number and that there was no master plan to rid Europe of the Jewish race. This essay has looked at both sides of the argument, the evidence that provides the motivation for the deniers and those who counter it with over whelming and depressing evidence that disputes that. On reflection, the conclusion has been reached that although it can be understandable that some academics, who may not have a wide range of knowledge and professional training in history, may believe some of the shaky evidence that deniers and revisionist and controversial historians put forward, the evidence on the other side of the argument, that gas chambers were used, the figure of 6 million murdered is realistic and that Hitler and the Nazis did plan to rid Europe of the Jewry, is much stronger and realistic- how can eye witness testimonies from people on different sides of the fence be ignored? Documented evidence and photos cannot be ignored of the terrible and horrific events at the concentration camps. The central motivations that urge on the deniers can simply not be justified.


Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler, History , Holocaust, and The David Irving Trial,  Perseus Books Group, New York, 2001


Griffin, Roger, ed., Fascism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995 


Lipstadt, Deborah, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving,     HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005

Sherman, Michael and Alex Grobman, Denying History: Who says the Holocaust       never happened and why do they say it?, University of California Press,  Berkeley, 2000

Websites consulted:
http://www.ihr.org/main/about.shtml (Institute for Historical Review)  


[1] Sherman, Michael and Grobman, Alex, “Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?”, p39.

[2] Ibid., p.40.

[3]  Sherman, Michael and Grobman, Alex, “Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?”, p.41.

[4] www.ihr.org/main/about/shtml.

[5] Evans, Richard, “Lying About Hitler, History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial”, p.141-142.

[6] Griffen, Roger, ed., Fascism, p.34.

[7] Ibid., p.330.

[8] www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/20/austria

[9] Lipstadt, Deberah, History on Trial.

[10] Sherman, Michael and Grobman, Alex, “Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?”p.129.

[11] Sherman, Michael and Grobman, Alex, “Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?” p 49-50.



Copyright: 2009 Hannah Bigham & H.E.A.R.T


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