Essay:A critical view of the article on Holocaust Denial
[This essay does not advocate, or even discuss to any extent the content of, Holocaust revisionism. It addresses the right to investigate, and accuses the Holocaust Denial article of condoning denial of free thought and—unique to this topic—suppression of the normal process of open historical enquiry. That article at best fails to address the issue and at worst supports suppression of free speech and fair comment using the straw man of "Denial".]
- 1 The rationalist approach
- 2 Holocaust exceptionalism
- 3 Norman Finkelstein and the "Holocaust Industry"
- 4 Denialism v. Revisionism
- 5 Criminalisation of dissent
- 6 Physical intimidation, taboo and moral pressure
- 7 Revisions accepted since Nuremberg
- 8 The case against the deniers of debate
- 9 Shades of grey
- 10 EU moves and an opinion from Leon Brittan
- 11 Afterthought
The rationalist approach
Most rationalists will reject the majority of fringe theories such as 911 “troof”, flying saucers, aliens secretly on Earth among us, moon-landing “hoax”, etc. not because they are “evil” but because we have looked at the evidence and do not find it convincing. We do not try to forbid the expression of such views. We also reject conventional religion, although in this case we find ourselves in the minority and we fight hard for our right to dissent.
As rationalists we support open scientific investigation and condemn the imposition of dogma. We form opinions and theories to which we hold only as long and as far as they appear to us to offer the best available model for reality, and we are happy to refine, modify or even abandon them if we are convinced that more appropriate models have been developed. We encourage research and investigation in any area in order to advance knowledge. If anyone tells us that we must not hold a position because it is “evil” or “against God”, we rightly laugh at them. If they try to browbeat us by physical or moral force such as exerted by the Catholic Church, the fundamentalist Christian Right, fundamentalist Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Communism, Fascism or any other -ism, we rightly combat them. We do not want to suppress their right to express their views, even though they try to suppress ours. We will even fight for their rights if they are suppressed or attacked by a different -ism. We believe in tolerance and, above all, openness. It is an essential component of a rationalist view that we are always open to evidence that our opponents may be right on some, or even all, points. In general, we recognize that real life is complex and that a black and white portrayal is rarely accurate. We do not accept a position simply because some authority tells us we should.
Yet there is one sacrosanct exception: the Holocaust. I do not use the word “sacrosanct” sarcastically nor to give offence, but to point to the way that a particular attitude of unquestioning reverence to an event of history, combined with a dogmatic fixation on precise numbers and events, has gradually, since about 1980, become established as a simplistic and quasi-religious dogma that may not be subject to any enquiry. (The word holocaust, itself a religious term, was not used in earlier decades. It was then more likely to be found in the context of a “nuclear holocaust”.) It is promoted by a well-budgeted media blitz, by emotive educational programmes forced upon schools, by museums and memorials, and by both moral and physical intimidation. Far from situating events in the global picture of the most horrific war in history, you almost get the impression that WW2 was a side issue to the main event of the Holocaust. You do not have to be a dissenter yourself to see the undesirability of this emotion-laden imposition of “memory”, with its suppression of enquiry, or to suspect its motives.
Norman Finkelstein and the "Holocaust Industry"
Norman Finkelstein, an American Jewish University professor, whose parents both survived camps, who lost the rest of his family in the Second World War and who has not questioned the events of the Holocaust, has written The Holocaust Industry in which he exposes self-appointed representatives of the Jewish community who, in his view, have exploited the Holocaust to obtain large amounts of money for themselves (Elie Wiesel charges many thousands of dollars for one lecture) and from the German government and the Swiss banks: money which has gone not to aid the now-limited number of needy camp survivors but to finance museums and propaganda and to support the State of Israel (which Finkelstein opposes). He considers it has become a religious dogma which you must believe in and worship or be declared a heretic.
Interestingly, Finkelstein had the active support of Raul Hilberg, probably the most respected mainstream Holocaust historian, until the latter's death in 2007. Hilberg had also expressed doubts as to whether the Holocaust was centrally organised by Hitler: doubts which if expressed by a revisionist today in Germany could well lead to years in prison. Hilberg, like a number of mainstream Holocaust historians, pointed out the unreliability of eye-witness testimony. Another, Jean-Claude Pressac, has been quite scathing about the poor quality of Holocaust testimony, stating "The record is rotten to the core".
Denialism v. Revisionism
People who are usually called Holocaust deniers mostly reject this label and prefer Revisionist. I would like to avoid name-calling and look at the proper use of these two terms.
I would think that, as normally used, "denier" is a pejorative term which implies one or more of three things:
- dishonesty: arguing for something you do not actually believe, because it suits your purpose, or
- obstinate argumentation from a preconceived position ignoring or rejecting by reflex all contrary evidence, or
- total rejection, which may be honestly held.
Revisionism, on the other hand, simply means deviating from the commonly held view. The term is ethically neutral. In the context of WW2 it usually means an interpretation more sympathetic to the German or Japanese position. AJP Taylor  and, more recently, Patrick Buchanan  have written revisionist histories of the origins of the war, where they argue that it arose more from failures of communication than from German expansionism, and that a minor border dispute was turned into a world catastrophe. They also question Churchill's role. Other recent revisionist discussion suggests that Stalin, who had already occupied the Baltic states, Bessarabia and Eastern Poland, was planning in 1941 to move against Germany and possibly the rest of Europe, and that Barbarossa was at least partially preemptive.
In the context of the Holocaust anyone doubting any aspect of the conventional story may be classed as a revisionist, but those who identify themselves as Revisionists (with a capital R) usually question:
- the six million figure
- intent to exterminate
- the existence of gas chambers
This generalisation does not always hold. David Irving, for example, thinks that large scale killings of the order of two to three million took place on Eastern front and in the Reinhardt camps. While pointing out his differences he still appears to class himself as a Revisionist. Irving's views have changed a lot over time, he says in the light of new evidence, in particular the Eichmann papers he uncovered.
Criminalisation of dissent
In Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Poland, and a number of other countries, you will be jailed for several years simply for expressing a dissenting opinion. You take major risks even by just looking at a website. The most famous dissenter of recent years, David Irving, is not even a Holocaust denier. He has expressed doubts about the Auschwitz gas chambers and considers the six million number too high, but he says that several million were killed, mainly on the Eastern front and in the Reinhardt camps of Northern Poland. He places the responsibility with Himmler rather than Hitler.
Germar Rudolf and Ernst Zundel have been jailed in Germany. Jurgen Graf was forced into exile from Switzerland to escape prosecution. None of them were demonstrated to be inciting hatred; simply writing or publishing material which questioned aspects of the Holocaust was enough. No defence is possible: the court “takes judicial notice” of the established view. (Irony of ironies: Rudolf's books, which are not polemic, but studies of chemical analyses, were ordered to be burned.) In France the law ridiculously requires you to accept everything decreed at Nuremberg, despite the fact that much of what was “established” at Nuremberg is no longer accepted by mainstream historians either. For example none of them any longer believe there were extermination facilities on any camp in Germany itself, or that people were killed in steam chambers or on electric floors, or that the Germans were responsible for the Katyn massacres.
David Irving was fined 30,000 DM by a German court for saying the gas chamber shown to tourists in Auschwitz 1 is a post-war partial reconstruction by the Soviets and Polish Communists of what is alleged to have previously existed. Later the Auschwitz Museum authorities admitted he was right.  (Last word on the last line but two, and the only recognition on the entire site as far as I am aware.) Irving's conviction was not rescinded.
There have been moves to force all EU countries to accept such legislation. In the mid nineties they were stopped by the United Kingdom, led by Home Secretary Michael Howard (who, incidentally, is Jewish); he was supported by the EU Commissioner Leon Brittan (also a British Jew). Later efforts have also been stopped by the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries. There have been moves in the UN to get a worldwide ban.
Physical intimidation, taboo and moral pressure
Even in countries where there is no such legislation, intense moral pressure, destruction of careers and serious physical violence are used to silence dissent and to discourage others from investigating the heretical view. Robert Faurisson has been beaten up on ten occasions; on one of them his life was in danger. The American Jewish revisionist, David Cole, aroused particular bile. He was threatened with violence by the JDL  and the ADL to the point where he was forced to sign a recantation and has disappeared from public view. His recantation has all the sincerity of confessions in a Stalinist show trial.  Fred Leuchter, the American execution-chamber specialist who investigated cyanide residues in Auschwitz, had his career destroyed. Norman Finkelstein, who is not even a revisionist, was refused tenure at his university as a result of a massive campaign against him by the Holocaust establishment.
Ernst Zundel had his house burned down and a pipe bomb which would have killed anyone who opened it sent to him through the post. The Institute of Historical Review had their premises burned down and David Irving had his home burgled and his printing premises burned. Their meetings and talks are systematically and violently disrupted. Bradley Smith, an American who is in no way racist, whose political position is liberal, has sought to get universities to allow open debates where differing views on the Holocaust may be expressed. He is vilified and on the rare occasions when his advertisements in student newspapers were accepted by a paper they were banned by the institution.
Joel Hayward  was not a revisionist but chose to make a study of revisionism in an MA history thesis at Canterbury University in New Zealand. Although the University rated his thesis very highly, awarding it first-class honours, several years later it was put under heavy pressure by the New Zealand Jewish Council to revoke his degree and Hayward was unable to pursue his career in New Zealand. Big guns, in the form of Richard Evans , who had appeared in the Lipstadt-Irving case, were employed against him. Evans launched a vituperative personal attack on him. He had a nervous breakdown, was forced to repudiate his thesis, and was only able to make a career by emigrating to the UK and completely abandoning any further Holocaust-related work. This, like the beatings received by Faurisson, illustrates very clearly why historians in academic institutions stay well away from the Holocaust unless they are prepared to accept it uncritically.
There are many further examples, too numerous to list here. We are entitled to ask why, if the orthodox Holocaust position is so firmly based, there is so great a fear of any divergent view that such measures of brutal suppression, which exist in no other context, are necessary. Stalin and Mao were tyrants probably each responsible for more deaths than Hitler, but there is no taboo on investigating the extent and the context of their atrocities.
Revisions accepted since Nuremberg
The evidence for the official story is not as incontrovertible as is claimed. Many changes were made before it became set in stone: there is no longer any talk of human soap or shrunken heads, no more lampshades, no gas chambers in Belsen, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck or anywhere in Germany, where the exterminations were originally believed to have happened. Yet the improbably precise (contrast with Iraq) figure of six million has remained an unchanged article of faith for sixty-five years, despite even mainstream Jewish historians (Reitlinger, Hilberg) coming up with smaller figures. No one will claim to tell you with similar certainty the scale of Ukrainian, Russian, German or any other losses. The real question is not "Was there a Holocaust?"; it is "What exactly happened in the events we call the Holocaust?". Scholars (and indeed all of us) should be as free to examine this as any other topic in history.
The case against the deniers of debate
The magnitude of the horrors suffered by non-combatants during WW2 in Eastern Europe is difficult to apprehend from our tranquil and affluent early 21st century. But horrors they were, and inflicted by all sides on all sides: Germans, Jews, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Balts, Croats, Serbs... Those living in Poland, Ukraine, Byelorussia and, let us not forget, Germany, with mass deportations of civilians and fire-bombing of cities, probably suffered most. That the Jews as a group were specifically targeted and suffered great losses, brutality and hardships seems beyond doubt, though they were not alone and, like everyone else, they were also perpetrators: a major motive for attacks on Jews by civilian mobs in Eastern Europe was revenge; fearing Germany more than Russia, and subject to antisemitism from Nationalists at home, Jews had generally welcomed and collaborated with the Soviet invasions, and a large proportion of the NKVD were Jewish. Large numbers of Balts and Poles—many of whom did not survive—were deported to Siberia in cattle trucks, and when the Germans drove back the Russians, political prisoners were massacred by the NKVD before the retreat.
Jewish suffering is not in question. But the official view is that there was a deliberate German policy of extermination, largely using gas chambers and that the six million figure should be considered sacrosanct. Perhaps it is accurate, despite the scarcity of material evidence and lack of forensic investigation. But if it is, why does it need legal prohibitions with prison sentences along with arson, physical assault, moral taboo, vilification and destruction of lives and careers to protect it? That is a serious question that the article on Holocaust Denial should be addressing.
"Holocaust Denial" is to a large extent a straw man. People like Alan Dershowitz and Deborah Lipstadt, who I believe is credited with coining the term, refuse to debate or discuss with anyone who does not accept without reservation their own immutable version of what happened, which is promoted with polemic and emotion rather than reasoned presentation. While there do exist racist apologists who would like to deny Nazi persecution, they are a minuscule fringe group with little influence and generally despised. It is not the position of most Revisionist historians. But anyone who chooses to examine, or who finds inconsistencies in, even a part of the mainstream story is calumnied with these accusations. It is convenient to set up this straw man, resort to ad hominem and dodge addressing the issues raised. If you simultaneously ban revisionist views from all mainstream media and mount a massive worldwide propaganda campaign, the general public will take your version for granted.
Shades of grey
We should not be looking at the issue in terms of deniers and believers. Subjecting an established version of what happened to examination is not denial. In between the black and the white are a thousand possible shades of grey. Yet suggest that any detail of the official version might be open to query and not only will your view be denied consideration but you will have accusations of "denier" and "hater" thrown at you, and by some contorted and malicious logic you will be accused of condoning or even approving the atrocity. There is no justification for brutally suppressing the normal historical process of objective investigation of what happened, its scale, or how it came about. Even if everything the revisionists say were arrant nonsense, they would have the right to make their case in a rational manner and have it reviewed in a rational manner. The factuality of events and validity of arguments are independent of the political position of the proponents: if you think dissenters are motivated by hatred, attack the hatred, while addressing the the arguments; anything else is ad hominem; people can be right for the wrong reasons. However, the haters are rarely the scholars, but polemicists and political extremists who have latched on to their work. Academic freedom should be non-negotiable. Both the underlying issue of the Holocaust and this issue of suppression of debate by imprisonment, taboo and intimidation are topics far too serious for the sub-undergraduate facetiousness employed in the article.
EU moves and an opinion from Leon Brittan
This issue is a very real and topical one as a move is again afoot to class "Holocaust Denial" as criminal hate speech throughout the EU. Let me finish with some words from a speech by Leon Brittan, the EU Commissioner and former UK Home Secretary. As mentioned above, he and fellow Jew Michael Howard successfully opposed a similar move in the nineties, but it keeps coming back. It has so far been successfully resisted by the UK and the Scandinavian countries, with their strong traditions of free speech. Brittan said:
- "If we have a law to stop people saying things, even though they are palpably untrue, then God help us. It is one thing to incite hatred and another to express views, however disagreeable, on historical events. If the freedom of speech means anything at all, it includes the right to be wrong and tendentious, and the right even to cause offence. And if we, as Jews, now live in comparative security, it is largely because we have the good fortune to live in societies where such freedom is taken for granted.
- The whole process of historiography is one of revision, not only because new facts and documents come to light, but also because even established facts can be reassessed and reinterpreted, for one generation rarely sees events through the perspective of another. To demand laws that the received wisdom surrounding the Holocaust should forever be insulated from the process goes against every dictate of reason. Such laws are wrong in principle and are ineffective and possibly harmful in practice. [...]
- Any attempt to stifle their [Revisionists'] work, however, will always lay one open to the suspicion that one has something to hide. And nothing such people can say is quite as damaging as the suppression of their right to say it."
From RatWiki's principles:
- 2 Analyzing and refuting crank ideas.
- 3 Explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism.
The article is undertaken in the spirit of "2". I think it also needs to examine what Finkelstein calls the "Holocaust Industry" for "3".
I also think the snarkiness, which I know RatWiki encourages, detracts from the objectivity and makes it look like what I called above "sub-undergraduate facetiousness". Qwertyuiop (talk) 09:31, 27 February 2010 (UTC)