by Grace Robinette
Globally, one of the major historical events most students learn about is the Holocaust. From the time students were young to well into college educations, the Holocaust has been widely discussed, analyzed, and taught. For decades now, the atrocities that resulted from the Holocaust have been central in understanding racism, bigotry, and prejudice as well as global relations. So, how is it that despite overwhelming evidence, there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever happened? Enter, Holocaust deniers and the extraordinary belief that the Holocaust is a conspiracy.
Broadly, Holocaust denial is when people ignore and try to argue the facts of the Holocaust. In the same category is Holocaust distortion, which is disputing the impact and magnitude of the Holocaust. The belief stemmed from antisemitism, and has been a way to discredit Jews, as well as reduce sympathy from them. Denial and distortion of the Holocaust are also meant to instill doubt about Jews as a way to further push a Nazi agenda. This movement began its rise in 1980 when the Journal of Historical Review as well as the Institute for Historical Review emerged. Since then, it has been publishing articles that combat claims of accuracy regarding the Holocaust. To call this belief extraordinary is an understatement, simply considering the amount of evidence, testimonies, policies and practices and knowledge that came out of this horrendous event. There is overwhelming support for taking action against those who deny the Holocaust and it has actually even been criminalized in many developed countries.
To first understand the extraordinary beliefs surrounding Holocaust denial, one must first examine the facts. Holocaust deniers base much of denial on three key details: sheer numbers of Jews executed, lack of physical evidence outlining direct orders to murder Jews and the debated existence of gas chambers. Holocaust denier’s ague the validity of the numbers associated with the Holocaust, saying that the facts and figures have fluctuated over time, from 4 million to 6 million. In addition, they argue that there were only 2.4 million Jews under German occupation, which does not account for the remaining 3.6 million. While there is no one document that details each death, experts estimate the amount of Jews executed is around 6 million. These estimates are based on several records including the census reports, eyewitness reports and recovered archives.
Additionally, Holocaust deniers claim there was never any direct statements made about executing Jews. Again, there is a sliver of truth in this statement, because there was never and outright proclamation about the extermination of Jews. In addition, there is no certainty as to when Nazi’s set forth the annihilation plan. Despite there not being a forthright statement, policies were put in place over a span of years to isolate Jews and create a society that was impossible for Jews to participate in German society, culture and economy. As a result, there was an abundance of hate and antisemitism. This discrimination transitioned straight into more overt and drastic forms, such as murder via death camps, shootings and starvation. It was framed that Nazi authorities had the go-ahead from Hitler to eliminate any threats, perceived or physical, to the German rule, which translated directly as Jewish people. There was been direct documentation but towards the end of the war, German officials destroyed as much evidence as possible to cover their tracks. What remained, however, was eyewitness reports as well as surviving documents proving the orders to eliminate Jews.
The last piece of the Holocaust denier’s argument is that gas chambers are not possible and were made up as an attempt to exaggerate the Holocaust. This belief stems from Ernst Zundel, a German man residing in Canada who dedicated his life to denying the Holocaust and disseminating neo-Nazi literature, who insisted that the gas chambers in Auschwitz be examined to determine their validity. In 1988, he recruited Fred Leuchter to complete the task with his only credentials being that he was a self-proclaimed expert in the field of execution methods. If him being a self-proclaimed expert wasn’t red flag enough, surely the fact that it was execution methods he claimed to be an expert in should have been. However, he returned with his findings reflecting that the gas chambers were false based on the engineering of them. From there, a slew of people denied the use or existence of gas chambers. Yet, upon further investigation, it turned out that Leuchters methods were unreliable and had no validity, thus further falsifying Holocaust deniers pillars of beliefs.Unlike other extraordinary beliefs, such as horoscopes or palm reading, the choice to believe in the claims of Holocaust deniers is not based in misinformation, but rather outright bigotry. Don’t get it twisted, those who believe in the denial of the Holocaust are delusional, but not in a way that cognitive contributions can fully account for. Not only is the evidence against their beliefs overwhelming, it clearly follows an agenda that is hateful and evil. There is a trail leading back to the root of each belief, which at first may have been understandable early on, but at this point it’s inexcusable.
There is an obvious social context here. As previously mentioned, the beliefs are based on a neo-Nazi agenda and came out of a time where discrediting Jews was essential to their political plan. Since then, Holocaust denial has been carried through the generations by those who have an interest in creating tension with Jews and would benefit from Jews losing their agency. Whether it be people who hate Jews for illegitimate reasons or people who seek to attack the foundation of the nation state of Israel, Holocaust deniers are bad news all around.What can be said about those who are Holocaust deniers is that they certainly fall victim to the confirmation bias. They seek out information and expertise that further asserts their claims as true. They may only trust sources that further enforce their agendas, however, they are in a very small minority of people who can deny a major historical event. In the end Holocaust deniers beliefs, while may be perpetuated by misinformation or bias, is inherently derogatory and detrimental to Jews globally.