The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: Höss and the Historians

Writer: Jamie McCarthy

The IHR‘s Greg Raven provided another classic example of the sort of blatant misrepresentation commonly employed by Holocaust deniers when he made the following assertion in Usenet’s alt.revisionism:

…Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss, who for years has been held out as proof there were gassings (the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum depends on a Höss statement to make its point). Recently, Deborah Lipstadt and Christopher Browning have admitted that the Höss statements are useless (Vanity Fair, December 1993). [1]

Did Browning and Lipstadt say this? In a word, no.

In December 1993, a three-page article on “revisionism” appeared in Vanity Fair. A half-page discusses “the most sinister of the current revisionist arguments – if indeed it is an argument at all,” Holocaust-denial. [2] The author contacted Browning and Lipstadt to get their opinions of the Höss statements.

Browning was quoted as saying, “Höss was always a very weak and confused witness…the revisionists use him all the time for this reason, in order to try and discredit the memory of Auschwitz as a whole.” [3] Being “weak and confused” on the witness stand is one thing. But Höss’ chief contribution to our knowledge of the Holocaust is his memoirs, written after his conviction and sentencing. The brief Browning quote doesn’t even mention his views on the memoirs.

Lipstadt directed the article’s author to her book Denying The Holocaust, p. 188, which merely points out what historians have known for decades: the official Communist death total at Auschwitz, four million, conflicts with the historians’ total (1.3 to 1.5 million). Höss isn’t even in Lipstadt’s index; she nowhere mentions him! Yet Raven asserts that she has “admitted that the Höss statements are useless.”

Ironically, the Höss statement in question, far from destroying his credibility, was quite accurate. In his testimony, Höss said that 2.5 million were killed at Auschwitz. But in his memoirs, he makes it clear that this estimate came from his superior officer, a Gruppenführer Glücks, who received it from Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann, and his deputy SS Hauptsturmführer Hans Günther, he added, were the only ones who had access to the information needed to calculate such a figure. Höss claimed that he never knew the number, and had no way to make an estimate. [4] He later made it clear that he regarded the figure as “far too high,” noting that “Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive possibilities.” [5]

So we see that Höss believed Eichmann to be mistaken, as he was. The various guesses about the victim count, accurate or inaccurate, in no way affected Höss’ credibility when he described the gassing process itself, and other anecdotes about the camp:

By the will of the Reichsführer SS, Auschwitz became the greatest human extermination centre of all time…he himself gave me the order to prepare installations at Auschwitz where mass exterminations could take place, and personally to carry out these exterminations. [6]

Protected by a gas mask, I watched the killing myself. In the crowded cells death came instantaneously the moment the Cyclon B was thrown in. A short, almost smothered cry, and it was all over. [7]

The killing of these Russian prisoners-of-war did not cause me much concern at the time. The order had been given, and I had to carry it out. I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain how these mass killings were to be carried out. It would be by gas, but we did not know which gas or how it was to be used. Now we had the gas, and we had established a procedure. [8]

One woman approached me as she walked past and, pointing to her four children who were manfully helping the smallest ones over the rough ground, whispered: “How can you bring yourself to kill such beautiful, darling children? Have you no heart at all?” One old man, as he passed by me, hissed: “Germany will pay a heavy penance for this mass murder of the Jews.” His eyes glowed with hatred as he said this. [9]

Although Lipstadt doesn’t mention Höss, she does include the following statement in her book. It provides an appropriate conclusion to this discussion:

These works demonstrate how deniers misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completely distorts the authors’ objectives. Deniers count on the fact that the vast majority of readers will not have access to the documentation or make the effort to determine how they have falsified or miscontrued information. [10]