Holocaust Deniers and their Motivation


Holocaust Deniers and their Motivation


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Who Denies the Holocaust And Why Do They Deny It?

By Amarnath Amarasingam

The Holocaust may be a matter of debate but the question of whether it happened is most certainly not. Thousands of personal testimonies, tens of thousands of documents, and documentary films are all testaments to it and the horrors it represented. Hundreds of books have been written about the Holocaust and any clear commentary is usually welcome. But to deride it as a 'Holohoax' is, I would argue, not welcome commentary.

How is one to approach the deniers? Shall we just ignore them and watch with assurance as the truth of the Holocaust pummels them to the ground and makes fools of them all? Is answering their claims defending the Holocaust or giving them legitimacy? The deniers are dedicated to the task of taking "revisionism" into the mainstream. American Holocaust denier Bradley Smith says that "students should be encouraged to investigate the Holocaust controversy the same way they are encouraged to investigate every other historical controversy."1 He forgets that students and scholars have already done a substantial amount of investigating and know the Holocaust to have happened. For the deniers, however, until the 'Holohoax' is exposed, true scholarship is not being done. This hints at a common denominator among the deniers: they are not really scholars with academic motives; they are anti-Semites and conspiracists who have as their aim legitimacy and public acceptance.

Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened?

The denial of the Holocaust has gone through its own unique form of evolution. At first, the deniers were reluctant to claim that the mass killings did not take place – they were not brave enough yet. Instead, they tried to "minimize the number of victims, to deny the existence of an overall plan, to place responsibility on individuals among the German people, and the like."2 But, over the years they have become more focused, solidified and determined to push their views into the mainstream. Many of the deniers associate with each other, reference each other in their works, and have become homogenous in their approach. They give each other awards and, in general, try to give off the impression that they are serious scholars doing serious work as opposed to a motley group of anti-Semitics. Their organizations are well structured and professional sounding (like the Institute for Historical Review). Past the façade, however, some are simply die-hard Nazis who claim, for example, to know from personal experience that there were no gassings at Auschwitz and that the gases were brought there simply to rid the camp of mice and bacteria. Most of the deniers are often nothing more than racists and anti-Semitics who are dedicated to removing the "Holocaust stain" from history so that they can push their beliefs and ideologies free of any impediments.

As far as tangible organizations go, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), situated in southern California, is the foremost Holocaust denial group in the United States, if not the world. It is a non-profit organization that receives, according to its current director Mark Weber, all its revenue from catalogue sales, subscriptions as well as donations. The IHR is determined in distancing itself from all that is anti-Semitic and strives to maintain a public image as a genuine organization made up of distinguished historians dedicated to the study of history.

The IHR was founded in 1978 by Willis Carto and gained popularity in 1980 with its headline-grabbing $50,000 challenge to anyone to prove that Jews were actually gassed at Auschwitz. When the Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein submitted his and fellow survivors' diaries as proof, he had to take the IHR to court to collect the money. Mark Weber said in a 1994 interview that their payment did not amount to admittance that they had been wrong but that they paid the sum because the IHR "did not have the resources for an extended legal battle."3

Most of what the IHR does is deliberately enveloped with an "aura of research" that often succeeds in clouding their true anti-Semitic attitudes. And although it professes to be motivated by nothing else than a "deep dedication to the cause of truth and history" and claims to be focused on a total revision of world history, the IHR is mostly focused on World War II and the Holocaust.4

Among the deniers, Mark Weber is the most knowledgeable about the history of the Holocaust (with the possible exception of David Irving). Weber is extremely bright and is a formidable debater in any number of subjects. One of these "subjects" is the "Jews" who he likes to group into a unified whole as if every one of "the Jews" is cut from the same cloth and lack the diversity afforded to other groups. He is a blatant racist and white supremacist who expressed his belief, in a 1989 interview, that "the United States was becoming 'a sort of Mexicanized, Puerto Ricanized country' owing to the failure of 'white Americans' to reproduce adequately."5

David Irving is the author of over thirty books on the Second World War, which had already, by the 1970s, rendered him a highly controversial writer. But despite it all, Irving has never held a university post and does not have a degree. "I am an untrained historian," he likes to say, finding satisfaction in his belief that professional historians turn green with envy when they couple that piece of information with all of his successful books. He does want the respect and praise of the intellectual community, however, while at times lashing out against them for their inability to recognize the value of his work. Historians have described Irving "as a man who 'seizes on a small and dubious particle of evidence,' using it to dismiss far-more-substantial evidence that may not support his thesis."6 He is recognized as a "first-rate archivist" and respected for his tireless digging into historical documents but is often accused of selective quoting and wild speculation to reach conclusions that will support his beliefs.

He is best known for the firestorm of criticism he received for his book Hitler's War, published in 1977. In the book, Irving argued that not only did Hitler not order the mass execution of the Jews but also that he did not even know about it until 1943 and, throughout it all, Hitler had "done his best to mitigate the worst anti-Semitic excesses of his subordinates."7

Irving seemed to be saying that Hitler was a puppet of his administration rather than the other way around. He sparked even greater controversy by issuing a public challenge to anyone who could come up with a document proving him wrong. He wanted the long-sought Fuhrerbefehl – the order from Hitler to exterminate the Jews. During this time, Irving no doubt believed that the Holocaust happened but stood by his beliefs that Hitler had not ordered it. It was only sometime after he read the Leuchter Report, which denies the homicidal use of gas chambers, that Irving began to question, and ultimately deny, major aspects of the Holocaust.

In 1993, Deborah Lipstadt published a book called Denying the Holocaust. When Irving read the book and saw his name in close proximity to words like "discredited", "neofascist", "denial connections" and "ardent admirer of the Nazi leader", he was fuming. He demanded that Lipstadt and her publishing company, Penguin Books, remove the book from circulation. When they refused, he took them to court. It was clear to Lipstadt and Penguin that they had to accept the challenge from Irving. Penguin could not leave Lipstadt out to dry because if they did, the literary community would never forgive them. Lipstadt would have been right to assume that her credibility was on the line but, more importantly in the long run, if she ignored Irving, it would have given revisionism a huge boost on the legitimacy meter.

The problem was that Irving sued in England and English law tends to favor the plaintiff. In the United States, it was up to the plaintiff to prove that the author had lied and maliciously made objectionable statements. In English law, however, the defendant had to successfully establish a positive defense or they could be deemed libelous. In other words, in the United States, Lipstadt would have been innocent until proven guilty by Irving. In England, the onus was on Lipstadt to clear herself of Irving's charges. Defamatory statements, in England, were branded as falsities until proven to be otherwise. Lipstadt and her team soon discovered that they only had one real line of defense: they had to prove that what Lipstadt wrote about Irving was true.

The trial began on January 11, 2000 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The stakes were high for both parties; reputations were on the line. But, the stakes were unimaginably high for Lipstadt and Penguin because they had placed on their shoulders, by Irving, the responsibility of defending history. "If David Irving won, a British court would have lent its imprimatur to his version of events, in which the survivors of Auschwitz are branded as liars, and the suffering of the victims of the gas chambers is simply erased from the pages of history."8 History, and the Holocaust itself, was on trial. The danger was serious enough for Penguin Books to pay 2 million pounds for lawyer fees and expert witnesses. Stephen Spielberg and several other American Jews gave money and support in this do-or-die grapple to defend the dignity of the Holocaust and all those who had suffered under it.

After all of the talk, after all the eggs that had been literally thrown at him, Irving sat jacketless with his elbows on the table, hands folded, chin resting on his hands – waiting. Justice Charles Gray delivered his 333-page decision on the trial on April 11th. The most scathing assault on Irving came when Justice Gray stated, "it appears to me to be undeniable that…in the absence of any excuse or suitable explanation for what he said or wrote, Irving is anti-Semitic. His words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turns hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to Semitic people, their characteristics and appearances…[and therefore,] it appears to me that the correct and inevitable inference must be that for the most part the falsification of the historical record was deliberate and that Irving was motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence."9

Lipstadt and Penguin had succeeded. Whether or not Irving's "falsification of historical record" was deliberate is perhaps up for debate but Irving is almost certainly anti-Semitic. As Shermer and Grobman pointed out in their book Denying History, "what are we to make of Irving's recording in his personal diary that one day he sang this little song to his young daughter: 'I am a Baby Aryan/ Not Jewish or Sectarian/ I have no plans to marry/ an Ape or Rastafarian'?…to record the act in his diary makes it difficult for us to believe that Irving does not have some anti-Semitic leanings that might color his objectivity when dealing with historical documents of what Nazis did to Jews."10

Robert Faurisson, the "Pope of Revisionism," is another colorful character treading in the pool of deniers. He was once a professor of literary criticism at the University of Lyon. Most of his comments concerning the Holocaust have to do with arguing that gas chambers did not exist. He is famous for his challenge to historians to "show me or draw me a Nazi gas chamber" as well as for his pamphlet called "The Problem of the Gas Chambers." For his views he has been fired from his job, had his jaw and some ribs broken from an attack in the park, taken to court and fined, and forbidden to hold any government posts in France. Using science, he has tried to prove that mass gassings were literally impossible. He has the habit of wagging his finger and demanding "one proof, just one proof" that gas chambers were used as methods of murder. But, he has been reluctant to say what exactly he would consider as proof. He "has no interest in empirical evidence or logical analysis. He is a protagonist, with the apparent goal of pushing a certain point of view."11 It seems fairly evident that if ever someone does show Faurisson some proof, he will shove the tips of his fingers as deep as they will possibly go into his ears in a desperate effort to salvage the illusion he now lives in.

Ernst Zundel is a Canadian, pro-German, propagandist extraordinaire. About the Holocaust, he says that it has been harmful to National Socialism in that it has barred thinkers from exploring some of the positive characteristics of the ideology. If the burden of the Holocaust were lifted off of Nazi Germany, it, according to Zundel, does not look so bad. He admires Hitler for taking a struggling country at the end of the First World War and making it, within six years, into a social and military powerhouse. In 1984, the Canadian government charged Zundel with spreading anti-Semitism using material he knew to be false. "His publicity stunts received the most attention at his trial. Each day he appeared at the courthouse wearing a bulletproof vest and a hard hat bearing the words 'Freedom of Speech.' On the day of his sentencing he arrived at court in a Rent-A-Wreck vehicle, emerging with a blackened face to demonstrate that 'white could not receive justice in Canada,' hefted an eleven-foot cross labeled 'Freedom of Speech' on his shoulders, and carried it up the steps to the courthouse door."12

Robert Faurisson as well as David Irving flew, salivating, to Canada to assist with the trial and testify on Zundel's behalf. If six million Jews had not been killed in the Holocaust, Faurisson was asked at the trial, then where have they all gone? To this, he admitted that he did not know. Both Faurisson and Irving solicited the help of Fred A. Leuchter who was an "expert engineer" from Boston specializing in execution apparatus's. Leuchter agreed to serve as a witness and soon after, he left for Poland where he collected bricks and cement from sites at Auschwitz/Birkenau as well as Majdanek and had them tested upon returning to Boston. He published his findings in the Leuchter Report, which concluded that homicidal gassings had not happened at any of these sites. The deniers, predictably, saw Leuchter's testimony as momentous, but on the stand, Leuchter was exposed as having little technical training, his methodology derided as "gross speculation" and his opinions dismissed as having "no greater value than that of an ordinary tourist."13 In short, Leuchter's credibility took a hard beating.

What Do They Deny and How Do They Deny It?

"There is an assumption by deniers that if they can just find one tiny crack in the Holocaust structure, the entire edifice will come tumbling down." 14 This is wishful, if not delusional, thinking. The Holocaust is not a single event that a single piece of evidence can prove or disprove. Written documents, eyewitness testimony, photographs, the existence of the camps, and data from pre-war and post-war periods all converge and interlock to prove the reality of the Holocaust. Deniers, by finding a flaw in one eyewitness testimony, or at some concentration camp, cannot disprove the whole event – the Holocaust is not a house of cards that crumbles when one card is removed – it depends on a convergence of evidence.

At the Nuremberg trials, for example, the deniers were quick to point out the errors and slip-ups of certain witnesses as evidence of a lie. There were indeed cases of witnesses who based their testimonies on rumors or simply invented stories to ensure that the accused were convicted. "The deniers made careful note of these slip-ups – and then extended them into wide-ranging generalizations."15 The reality of the Holocaust, then, is ensured by a convergence of evidence. This composition is so indestructible because the factors that make it up reinforce each other – they exist in their own right but find strength in the whole.

Some of the main targets of the deniers are the documents, the diaries, and the testimonies. It is in these sources that the humanity of the Holocaust is most clearly seen and for this reason, it is these sources that the deniers find most threatening. The Diary of Anne Frank is often singled out and called a forgery because of its enormous popularity. In Anne Frank's Diary: A Hoax Ditlieb Felderer offers several 'proofs' of its fraudulency. [1] That it was impossible for Anne Frank to be transferred to Bergen-Belson in a time of full-scale war after he capture. But, this was routine, and the fact is that the Nazis were willing to sacrifice the war effort to ensure that that Final Solution would be successful. [2] Anne Frank's handwriting differs in certain areas – one was script, the other was print; one was more adult, the other more childish. The simply explanation for this is that she signed an earlier piece of writing. [3] A child as young as Anne Frank could not have had the sexual feelings she describes, and thus, Felderer states, the diary was likely written by a pedophile. This is simply bizarre; "anyone who has ever known children of Anne Frank's age, knows that the thoughts she expressed were honest and natural – in fact, that is part of the reason why her diary is such compelling reading for young adolescents."16 Ernst Zundel claimed at his trial that the Diary was a fake because it was written with a ballpoint pen, which was a post-war invention – therefore, Anne Frank must have survived the war. Zundel conveniently did not explain how, then, the Diary was published in 1947. "Nor did he attempt to explain away the considerable documentary evidence that the fifteen year old girl was shipped to her death in 1944."17

Another area in which the deniers expend most of their efforts is in attempting to reduce the number of Jews that died during the Holocaust. If they could succeed in bringing the number down to a few hundred thousand, then the Jewish dead could perhaps be dismissed as war casualties. One of the events that the deniers used to support their thesis was the fact that some Jewish survivors found each other after many years had passed. "For others, these stories of separation and discovery were heartwarming. [For the deniers] these were evidence that millions of Jews presumed dead were merely misplaced."18 What stands in the way of that idea is several pre- and post-war statistics that show the Jewish population as substantially lower after 1945. The American Jewish Year Book, for example, gave the world Jewish population in 1939 at 16.6 million. "The 1948 Year Book listed world Jewry at 11,373,350."19

Most of the deniers share several of the same core beliefs. The 'three pillars' of Holocaust denial are that there were no gas chambers; six million Jews did not get murdered and that there was no master plan for extermination. Most historians believe that there was: [1] a highly technical, organized extermination program, using gas chambers and crematoria. To this, the deniers respond that the main causes of death were actually disease and starvation caused mainly by Allied destruction of German supply lines and resources. [2] Six million Jews were killed, to which the deniers respond that it is more likely that less than 2 million died. [3] It was an intentional genocide based primarily on racial ideology. The deniers contest that "there was no Nazi policy to exterminate European Jewry. The Final Solution to the Jewish Question was deportation out of the Reich."20

Why Do They Deny?

The reasons behind why the deniers deny does not seem too complex at all. For one, most of them are rabid conspiracy theorists. They are also anti-Semitic. At times, these two get coupled together to produce the age-old fear of Jewish world domination. Many of the deniers have become convinced that history is guided by conspiracies. "Conspiracy theories have a way of growing on a person, to the point they become a way of seeing life itself. This is conspiracism, the paranoid style, or the hidden-hand mentality.

Conspiracism resembles other 'isms' in defining an outlook that can become an all-encompassing concern."21 Conspiracy becomes a window through which all events are seen; 'the hidden hand' is at work in all places, controlling everything from behind the scenes. When anti-Semitism is thrown into the mixture, 'the hidden hand' becomes the hand of a Jew. This conspiratorial anti-Semitism places Jews in opposition to everyone – they are the world enemy. "Conspiracy theorists evince a startling faith in the capabilities of their enemies."22 The Jews can be considered to be superhuman if they indeed caused all of the things that they are accused of causing. This is bizarre considering that Jews are often also portrayed as subhuman. One of the main assumptions that conspiracy theory works under is that 'appearances deceive.' To most reasonable people, the absence of evidence does not mean a conspiracy exists, but to a conspiracy theorist, "the best evidence is no evidence at all."23 In other words, absence of evidence is seen as proof of deception. In addition, when evidence is found, it will be viewed as being planted there by the shady cabal. Thus, conspiracy theories can never be proven wrong.

Yet another motive for denial, which fits into the idea that the Jew is the 'hidden-hand' that controls the world, is that the Holocaust was faked to "make Germany an ever-lasting milk cow for Israel" because, it is argued, Germany had to pay "Israel sums calculated on the basis of about 6,000,000 dead."24 The argument falls apart, however, in their belief that the reparations paid to Israel by Germany were based on the number of people dead. They believe that the high death toll was contrived to receive a higher payment. But, the problem for the deniers is that, "the reparations Germany paid to Israel were not based on the death toll but on the cost to Israel of absorbing and resettling both Jews who fled to Germany and German-controlled countries during the prewar period and survivors of the Holocaust who came to Israel during the post-war years."25 Therefore, if the motive of 'the Jews' were a monetary reward then it would have served them better to say that fewer died and more came to Israel. It is a lower death toll, not a higher one, which would have brought a greater financial reward.

For Nazism and anti-Semitism to make inroads again, the Holocaust cannot have happened and thus the deniers try to prove that it did not. Creating fertile ground where the seeds of anti-Semitism can once again flourish seems to be one of the main motives for denial. "What better way to rehabilitate anti-Semitism…than by convincing the world that the great crime for which anti-Semitism was blamed simply never happened – indeed, that it was nothing more than a frame-up invented by the Jews…what better way, in short, to make the world safe again for anti-Semitism than by denying the Holocaust?"26 As Yisrael Gutman asks, "Are we dealing here with merely a passing phenomenon, a transient, ugly wave that may be regarded as a sort of by-product of the 'Final Solution,' or are we faced with an anti-Semitic trend that may have a future, in which case we shall have to confront it?"27

It is more likely the latter. Their ideas, in all of their extravagance, conspiracy and rebelliousness, will seem attractive to those who know little about twentieth-century world history. If a person is reading a tract by one of the deniers without knowledge of their ideological leanings then the information may seem 'enlightening' rather than ridiculous. Some individuals seem to be attracted to ideas that show everything they ever believed to be wrong; they get excitement from feeling that they are privy to secret information and knowledgeable while everyone else is stuck underneath a shroud of ignorance. This reason, for one, is why the deniers must be confronted, taken to task and discredited.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a Graduate Student, Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and can be reached at amar2556@wlu.ca


1 Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman. Denying History (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002): 13

2 Yisrael Gutman. Denying the Holocaust. (Jerusalem: Graph-Press, Ltd., 1985): 16.

3 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 43.

4 Deborah Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. (New York: The Free Press, 1993): 143.

5 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 46.

6 Lipstadt, 1993: 161.

7 Richard J. Evans. Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial. (New York: Basic Books, 2001): 4-5.

8 D.D. Guttenplan. The Holocaust on Trial. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001): 2.

9 Ibid. 281-283.

10 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 258.

11 Ibid. 60.

12 Lipstadt, 1993: 159.

13 Ibid. 163.

14 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 33

15 Gutman 1985: 17

16 Kenneth Stern. Holocaust Denial. (New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1993): 80

17 Ibid. 81

18 Ibid. 67

19 Ibid. 66

20 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 100.

21 Daniel Pipes. Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From. (New York: The Free Press, 1997): 22

22 Ibid. 44

23 Ibid. 45

24 Lipstadt 1993: 56

25 Ibid. 57

26 Shermer and Grobman, 2002: 16

27 Gutman 1985: 9


from the July 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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