The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Subject: Proving the Holocaust: Introduction (Part 1 of 15)
Summary: Dr. Michael Shermer's article on Holocaust revisionism,
         "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the 
         Restoration of History," _Skeptic_, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, 
         California, June, 1994. Published by the Skeptics Society, 
         2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.
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The following series of articles, in fifteen parts, comprise the
entire _Skeptic_ magazine article "Proving the Holocaust," written
by Dr. Michael Shermer. Other than the addition of individual "part
designations," which do not appear in the original article, the
original text is presented here unchanged from hardcopy.

The article is published here with the permission of the author. knm.

                    Proving the Holocaust

 The Refutation of Revisionism & The Restoration of History

                     By Michael Shermer
                Publisher, Skeptic Magazine

The late historian, Koppel Pinson, in his classic history of Modern
Germany (1966), laid out the monumental task of understanding
Hitlerian Germany and the Nazi Holocaust in a chapter appropriately
entitled "Germany Goes Berserk":

To deal adequately with the history of Germany under Hitler, and to
describe the diabolical perversity, the wild flights of political
fantasy, the enormity of the crimes committed, and the disaster and
ruin brought both to Germany and to the entire world, and at the same
time to be able to fathom the motivations and psychological stirrings
of all the participants in this most terrifying drama in world history
would require the historical insight of a Thucydides or a Burckhardt,
the capacity for philosophical and esthetic all-embracingness of a
Tolstoy, and the prophetic compassion of a Jeremiah (p.  479).

   Lamentably, few historians today aspire to unfold the layers of the
past in as broad a scope and as deep a cut as these titans of our
profession.  But we must not only dwell, like God, in the details, we
must also attempt an all-encompassing explanation for how and why the
details fell into place as they did.

   Although the body of literature on the Holocaust is of
Brobdingnagian proportions, the few books and articles on Holocaust
revisionism are mostly chronologies of revisionists' ulterior racial
and/or political motives, with a few claims and refutations scattered
throughout.  If we are going to live up to Spinoza's Dictum (one of
the mottoes of this magazine)--"I have made a ceaseless effort not to
ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand
them"--then it is not enough to dismiss revisionists' claims as
anti-Semitic pornography.  We must understand the claims, the
revisionists, and the Holocaust itself, in order to understand how and
why they want to revise it.

   Does the Holocaust need to be proven, as my title implies?  On one
level, no, because it has already been proved by historians over the
past 50 years of archival research, oral histories, and physical site
inspections.  But on another level--a scientific one (and history can
be a science)--every knowledge claim must be proved and improved.
There are no self-evident truths in science, and no doctrines that
should be taken on faith.  The Holocaust, like evolution, is robustly
supported and generally accepted by all but a fringe minority, but it
must nevertheless be continually tested, regularly revised, and
constantly improved.

   This essay is divided into four parts: (1) defining the Holocaust and
what revisionists are specifically claiming; (2) examining the
revisionists' motives, and fallacies; (3) refuting the revisionists'
claims (e.g., by proving the intentionality of the top Nazis to
exterminate European Jewry, and the use of gas chambers and crematoria
to accomplish this), through a convergence of evidence from many
different sources; finally, (4) illustrating how history can be
distinguished from pseudohistory--the rewriting of the past for present
personal or political purposes.

   I am no Tolstoy, nor am I a Holocaust specialist. As a professional
historian (with research interests in the history of science and the
philosophy of history) and publisher of Skeptic, I do not intend to
prove the Holocaust so much as to demonstrate how the Holocaust is
proven. This is an exercise in historical and scientific methodology to
demonstrate that pseudohistory cannot succeed when scientific
methodology is applied to studying the past.

[Continued in Part 2]

                          Work Cited

   Shermer, Michael. "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of
      Revisionism & the Restoration of History," _Skeptic_, Vol. 2,
      No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. Published by the
      Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001,
      (818) 794-3119.

_Skeptic_ magazine:
http://www.skeptic.com

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