by William Samelson, Ph.D.
Visiting Professor, Trinity University
The Holocaust is an irrefutable fact. As a survivor of several labor and concentration camps, and as one whose entire family, save my elder brother, was murdered by Nazi thugs, I sincerely wish it had not occurred. It is also irrefutable that I am still here - a reminder of those barbaric acts perpetrated not so long ago on the European Jews by an ostensibly civilized German nation. Law-abiding, ordinary citizens of the Third Reich turned fanatical, implementing their beloved Führer's agenda of murder and destruction. They became killers for him and we became the survivors of his madness. We were not expected to remain alive and give testimony to their crimes against humanity. Alas, it can not be denied that I survived this disaster: the most horrendous calamity of the twentieth century. I am here, alive. I represent the tragic truth. It is my belief that I was spared for this purpose. It is now my moral responsibility to bear witness for as long as I shall live, for I am the truth and will not be silenced by lies. To deny the truth, the awful facts of the Holocaust, is simply to lie.
The evidence, of course, is overwhelming. The countless photographs (most of them taken by Nazi SS and military personnel), testimonies of survivors, and Allied liberators as well as from Nazi documentation media and their war-time propaganda films all prove that this mass Judeocide took place. Yet, there are a number of people that claim it was all nothing more than a hoax. These deniers call themselves "revisionist historians." Their express purpose is to alter documented historical fact. In the process, they turn scholarship into mockery, transforming truth into a make-believe fantasy spawned from unmitigated cynicism. They use the resulting misinformation to spread their anti-Jewish beliefs to the general public. Moreover, their theories, derived from blatant fabrication of data, misquotations, and quotations used out of context, are presented under the deceptive mask of scholarship and are made available to the world by way of the Internet, radio, and television. Although only relatively few fringe groups, propagandists, and pseudo-scholars embrace Holocaust denial, their activity is increasing and the potential for their influence to grow is evident. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all Holocaust survivors, historians, and those sincere chroniclers of the Holocaust to inform the world of the truth before the peoples around the world potentially fall prey, over time, to collective amnesia and adopt a romantic mythical view of the past events.
In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Adolf Hitler expressed his belief that "the great masses of people...more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one" (p. 231); and that the simplest ideas "should be repeated thousands of times" so people will remember them (p. 185). Essentially, Holocaust denial is one big, bold, lie. In an attempt to legitimize the Nazi regime, revive National Socialism, forward their theory of a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy and, evidently, justify their virulent anti-Judaism, deniers repeat this lie over and over. They hide their aims under such legitimate-sounding organizations as the "Institute for Historical Review" and the "Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust." Some deniers have the audacity call themselves "scholars" or "historians." Whichever way they chose to identify themselves, their intentions have nothing to do with the preservation of history but with its distortion.
The deniers' basic belief is that the "myth" of the Holocaust is a way for "organized world Jewry" to gain sympathy and financial support for the Zionist cause and to render themselves immune from criticism. Furthermore, the deniers also claim that the Allies' atrocities during the Second World War were just as bad, if not worse than the Nazis' atrocities, and finally, that Hitler did not even want war and did not order the extermination of the Jews in Europe. These are main points of the deniers' "big lie."
Denying the fact that the Holocaust occurred makes about as much sense as claiming that the earth is flat. It was the meticulous Nazis themselves who produced a large portion of the documents now available to anyone who desires to peruse them. They all point to the deniers' hypocrisy and make it plain that their claim to a "Holocaust hoax" is an unmitigated farce. Furthermore, contrary to the deniers' assertions, Hitler was fully aware of and did, in fact, order the annihilation of the European Jews. The facts of the Holocaust are so well documented in serious scholarly accounts that denial of Hitler's responsibility for the murder of the Jews is too preposterous to require refutation and argument. Hitler explicitly stated his murderous intentions in some of his speeches, as in the following:
Today I want to be a prophet once more: If international finance Jewry inside and outside of Europe should succeed once more in plunging nations into another world war, the consequence will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe...
In fact, most serious historians also believe that the extermination of the Jews was Hitler's most consistent policy, in whose execution he persisted relentlessly. Hitler's compulsive-obsessive attitude in regard to the Jews may even have cost him his war. I can attest to the fact as one of the frequently "resettled" victims, that the Jewish transports of slave laborers and those destined for extermination in Hitler's killing factories, were always given highest priority right of way on our journeys. This was done even at the expense of retarding the flow of vital transports of materiel and personnel to the Nazi front lines at a time when those were critically needed.
To this day, documents demanding the annihilation of the European Jews are being discovered in Russian archives. Hitler's intentions, as outlined in his various speeches, written orders, and his Mein Kampf, were obvious. His obsession with war was also plain. Hitler raved incessantly about a "Holy War," "preparing for war," and a "plan for the next war" (pp. 658-660). After reading Hitler's speeches and his book, it is impossible not to acknowledge his plans for Germany, for Europe, and the world. The deniers ignore these words or grossly misconstrue them in order to formulate their own fanciful fables.
Another tenet of the deniers' philosophy is that there is a moral equivalence between the wartime actions of the Allies, which may have resulted in civilian deaths, such as the bombing of Dresden, and atrocities committed by the Nazis. It is similar to the comparison a few make between a legal execution and a murder during a robbery. One of the most prominent American "revisionist" historians, Harry Elmer Barnes claimed that:
...the atrocities of the Allies in the same period were more numerous as to victims and were carried out for the most part by methods more brutal and painful than alleged extermination in gas ovens ...
Barnes failed to note the difference between war casualties and the mass murder of the millions of non-combatant people. The Jews of Europe never declared a fight against Hitler in his "Holy War," although he vowed to annihilate them. War between armed military entities is not genocide, therefore Nazi atrocities are not comparable to the war action of the Allies. It is inappropriate to even compare the two. The deniers and the revisionists ignore the obvious distinctions between war and murder, Nazi pagan barbarism and Allied necessity.
Another revisionist claim, an obvious result of anti-Judaism, makes the assertion that the Jews' primary concern regarding the Holocaust is the acquisition of money. According to the deniers, Jews use the "hoax" of the Holocaust in order to milk money from sympathizers for their homeland in Israel and to accomplish total domination of the financial world. For example, the infamous French "revisionist," Paul Rassinier declared that:
...the aim of the Zionists is the gold of Fort Knox. If the plan should succeed - and all that is needed is for the American branch of international Zionism to get its hand on Wall Street - the Israeli home-port of the Diaspora would become the command post of all the world's industry. Then at the very least, it could be said that the designation 'Chosen People' which the Jews claim for themselves, would assume its full significance.
This is pseudo-historical interpretation to ridiculous limits. Sparked by their innate hatred of Jews, deniers stereotype Jews as money-grabbers, dishonest businessmen, and avaricious bankers. Through this racist-revisionist theory, the deniers can not only write off the Holocaust as a "hoax"; they can use it as a means to justify their misinterpretation of Jewish intent. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I can not permit this injustice being wrought on the millions of innocent victims of Nazi assassins. Allowing this deception to flourish unabated would subject all those gentle, beloved people to suffer their deaths a thousandfold. Clearly, the deniers' currency is counterfeit; mine is legitimate tender.
Their theories are proof positive that Holocaust deniers must be either incredibly ignorant or utterly unrealistic. But if Holocaust denial is so absurd, why should we bother to research its aims? I believe that in order to separate fact from fiction, it is important to learn about the fiction as well as the facts. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I have experienced the factual consequences of that tragic event at great losses to myself and my family. When I confront the deniers' fictional interpretations of the Holocaust, I can distinguish between them accordingly. Needless to say, there is a large segment of the general public that does not have this advantage. This population will inevitably grow with ignorance, ingrained prejudice or plain naiveté. There will always exist people who will be susceptible to the propaganda generated by the deniers of the Holocaust.
Even in America, TV show and radio hosts, in their efforts to gain better ratings, try to convey "both sides of the story" by inviting both Holocaust survivors (or historians) and Holocaust deniers to explain themselves on their programs. The problem with this idea is that the Holocaust did happen. There is no "other side" to the issue. The very fact that the radio-TV host invites the denier to the show in order to debate the issues opposite a survivor or a bona-fide historian gives the deniers' revisionist beliefs undeserved legitimacy and publicity.
Moreover, Holocaust denial has filtered through in other ways to an unsuspecting public. For instance, syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan, who twice ran for president, has made references to the so-called Holocaust "Survivor Syndrome" and claimed that it was "physically impossible for the gas chambers at Treblinka to have functioned as a killing apparatus." Although Holocaust denial is an idea shared only by a few fringe groups, Jew-baiters, and propagandists, its theories have already taken root in American media and politics.
Historian Michael Sturmer asserts that "in a land without history, the future is controlled by those who determine the content of memory, who coin concepts and interpret the past." Such an assertion is especially applicable to the Holocaust. As we, the survivors, become scarce, there will be fewer sources of primary information about the Holocaust in the world. Furthermore, the essence of truth vested with the authority of the eyewitness, will no longer prevail. They will no longer be able to impress future generations with the horrors of Nazi genocide. It is hard to conceive whether or not the Holocaust denial movement could further its influence. However, it is up to the vigilance of authentic historians and serious scholars to prevent its spread by educating the general public on how to separate fact from fiction and valid historical interpretation from the "revisionist" propaganda. We hope that future generations of discerning individuals will realize that the deniers' diatribes are used not only to discredit the Holocaust victims, but also to tarnish the veracity of eyewitness accounts.
Moses Maimonides said it most succinctly in his brilliant treatise Guide of the Perplexed (xxxi, p. 41): "...A proposition which can be proved by evidence is not subject to dispute, denial or rejection; no one but the ignorant would contradict it, and such contradiction is called 'denial of demonstrated proof.' Facts are only doubted by those who ignore things fully proved."