The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Holocaust Denial Today
Manuel Prutschi, Canadian Jewish Congress

Transcription Note: Mr. Prutschi's report has been arbitrarily split into six parts for easier access and retrieval. knm.

The story is told of the Jew who, on being captured by the Nazis, was dealt eighty brutal blows by his captors and yet managed to live to tell the tale. This survivor carried with him not only the memory and the pain of those eighty blows, and what he and his people underwent during the Holocaust, but also the fear that the suffering of the Jews would not be believed because the inhumanity that they underwent was unfathomable. To him that would constitute the eighty-first blow.

The Nazis, while committing mass murder, were covering up their tracks so that the Jewish story in fact would not be believed, and they would get away with their crime. They carried out their program in secrecy. They developed a whole vocabulary to mask genocide in euphemism. Transportation to death was referred to as emigration, repatriation, or resettlement in the east. Murder of Jews was referred to as special treatment or special action. The annihilation of the Jewish people came to be known as the final solution. The disappearance of the Jews off the face of the European earth was to be made, for future generations, as puzzling a mystery as the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

The final solution did not wholly succeed. The Nazis lost the war and the story of the Holocaust has very much gotten out. But the eighty-first blow has been struck nonetheless, in a manner more vicious than the survivor could have anticipated. Rather than the survivor's story not being believed because the level of inhumanity was incomprehensible, the story is actually being denied. And there is an international movement engaged in that denial.

Holocaust deniers contend that for mass murder to have taken place there had to be a 'super weapon.' That super weapon was the gas chamber. They proceed to assert that not a single human being was gassed to death by the Nazis. Gassing, they argue, was purely used for disinfection. Only thousands of Jews died during the Second World War and these perished as the unfortunate victims of the exigencies of war, mainly at the end of the conflict. There was no policy of genocide.

Even in its broad strokes Holocaust denial is deliberately misleading. It focuses exclusively on gassing as the sole means of murdering Jews, when there were a series of other methods. The einsatzgruppen, or mobile SS killing squads, followed the German army as it advanced eastwards, and engaged in mass shootings which claimed the lives of well over one million people. The deniers do not speak of the crowding of Jews into ghettos or of the labour in the concentration camps, and the deaths that resulted from starvation, disease, and brutality.

The deniers, in their questioning of gassing, deal only with Auschwitz, which was both a slave labour camp and an extermination camp. Nothing is said of the other factories of death: Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Majdanek. These were small points on the map - non-descript, tiny villages -to which trains took hundreds of thousands of Jews, and returned empty. The deniers are silent on the use of gas vans. And they do not speak at all of the Nazi euthanasia program against their own "Aryans" in Germany itself. Tens of thousands described as mentally or physically infirm by the Nazis were gassed to death, setting the precedent for the use of gas against the Jews in a massive way during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust deniers are individuals with an idee fixe. They reject all evidence which undermines their so-called thesis. Documents and photographs are all forgeries. Survivor eyewitnesses are all victims of mass delusion and indoctrination. Confessions of Nazi war criminals are invalid because they were all extracted by torture or were the result of plea bargaining. The scholar Nadine Fresco has looked at the work of the Holocaust deniers, and written that in their "research the only ethic is suspicion... distrust is the only certitude." This does not make for a workable, honest methodology of history.

In history you do not begin by attaching yourself to a wild theory and then reject anything that flies in the face of it. Yet the Holocaust deniers want to portray themselves as disinterested truth seekers, real historical researchers. That is why they choose to refer to themselves as "historical revisionists."

The revision of history is a legitimate pursuit. Every generation takes a new look at its past and revises it somewhat in the light of new evidence, new perspectives. When engaging in such reinterpretation, historians ask themselves what happened, how it happened, why it happened. They do not deny the events themselves.

Historians, for example, when looking at the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, might ask themselves why it was necessary; how was the decision made; could it have been avoided; could the Japanese surrender have been obtained in some other way. No historian suggests that bombs were not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; that the whole thing was an invention by the Japanese to extract reparations and to get the United States to rebuild their country's economy; that the survivors of those nuclear holocausts are simply suffering from delusion.

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