The term “revisionism” means the practice of revising one’s understanding of something that was previously accepted as accurate. A Holocaust revisionist attempts to challenge the history of the Holocaust and how it has been understood in the past. In this sense, Holocaust revisionists are people who deny the existence of the Holocaust, regardless of the evidence that proves its reality.
In September 1919, an army veteran by the name of Adolf Hitler joined the ranks of the German Workers Party, which soon became known as the Nazi Party. The Nazis reached the height of their power from 1939 to 1945, in the midst of World War II. The list of atrocities committed by the Nazis is nowhere near short. Before World War II, Germany was a democracy. As the Nazi party began to gain power, this democracy rapidly turned into a dictatorship. And then, the horrors of the Holocaust occurred.
10How Did the Nazis Rise To Power?
Germany’s loss to the Allies during World War I is said to have had a significant impact on the Nazis’ rise to power. This loss forced German leaders to sign the Treaty of Versailles, in which they agreed to shrink Germany’s armed forces, give up land, and pay massive sums of money in reparations. All of these together caused a weakening of Germany’s already unstable economy. Many Germans felt betrayed and embarrassed by their leaders because of this. The common fear during this time was that Germany would end up on a constant decline, and its people would be forced into poverty.
While all Germans were living in fear, Hitler started to move his way up the rankings in the German Workers Party. As a gifted public speaker, Hitler managed to capture the people’s disillusionment. His speeches preached the creation of a stronger, more unified Germany than what currently existed – this got people’s attention. Hitler blamed one group for everything that was happening to Germany post-WWI: the Jews.
In 1929, Germany, along with many other nations, was hit with the Great Depression. This caused the German economy to go on a rapid decline, so much that it was basically destroyed overnight. The Great Depression forced many Germans into unemployment, and Hitler saw this as his opportunity to seize power. He did so by overtly critiquing the ruling government and promising to put Germany back on its feet. Hitler was persuasive enough to make Germans think they had found their savior.
This caused the Nazis to win a majority government during Germany’s 1932 election. During this time, Hitler became the head of the German government as Chancellor. It wasn’t long before Hitler used his power to increase the size of the German military and implemented anti-Semitic laws that forbid Jews from working, voting, and being in public spaces. It was through the use of propaganda that Hitler was able to further persuade Germans into believing his vision for “a better Germany,” and this was one without Jews. In 1934, Hitler became the dictator of Germany, and the Holocaust began.
9The History of the Holocaust
The term Holocaust means “whole burned” in Greek, and since 1945, it has signified the mass murder of over six million Jews and other minorities of Europe by the German Nazi party. Hitler, who led the Nazi regime during WWII, believed Jews were a parasite to the German nation and decided they should all be persecuted. This decision marked the beginning of the Holocaust, which led to the creation of concentration camps to be used to send Jews to their death.
The very first concentration camps were constructed in Germany in 1933. Concentration camps were created as a way to implement political terror and was where Hitler’s army would incarcerate the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. Dachau was the working model for all of the Nazi’s future concentration camps.
After Hitler’s regime was consolidated, anyone who was perceived as a threat to the Nazi vision was sent to a concentration camp. From the moment of the consolidation onwards, the number of Jewish prisoners in concentration camps began to rise significantly. Prisoners in concentration camps were forced into labor, where they were exploited every day. Beyond using these camps for brutal work, they were also used to implement the policy of mass murder of Jews.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest concentration camps, was created as an extermination camp, so Jews would be sent here to be put to their death. During the time of the Holocaust, over 40,000 different types of camps were constructed by the Nazis. In these camps, millions of people were either put to death or died from malnutrition or abuse.
8The Origins of Holocaust Denial
Wondering how the denial of the Holocaust could have ever begun is questioned in many people’s minds. The answer seems to be simpler than we expect: the Nazis. They rarely wrote anything down, and instead, they made sure that all of their plans for the extermination of the Jews of Europe were made verbally. Their ideas were rarely plans at all since it seems the Nazis often acted in an improvised manner. Historians have noted that the Germans got rid of almost all documentation from the Holocaust before WWII had reached its end. This was to keep their slates clean. If there was no documentation, they assumed nothing could be proven.
On the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website, it states that “In order to hide the killing operation as much as possible from the uninitiated, Hitler ordered that the killings not be spoken of directly in German documentation or in public statements. Instead, the Germans used codenames and neutral-sounding terms for the killing process. In Nazi parlance, for example, “action” (Aktion) referred to a violent operation against Jewish (or other) civilians by German security forces; “resettlement to the East” (Umsiedlung nach dem Osten) related to the forced deportation of Jewish civilians to killing centers in German-occupied Poland; and “special treatment” (Sonderbehandlung) meant killing.”
This secrecy about what the Germans did to the Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust is the reason people today think this genocide can be denied entirely.
7David Irving: The Holocaust Denier
Although some of the Holocaust deniers that exist today could still be a result of the misleading of the Nazis about the genocide, other Holocaust deniers continue to come up with new assumptions about how the Jews could have made up the Holocaust.
David Irving is one of the most recognized Holocaust deniers of today. He is an author who writes about historical events, with a significant focus on WWII. In her TED Talk, Dr. Lipstadt discusses Irving’s Holocaust denial ideas as being filled with lies – he does not use any historical truth. Irving’s theories of how it could be possible that the Holocaust did not exist had no evidence backing him up. When Dr. Lipstadt read the research that Irving was using in his footnotes, she says the texts had all kinds of incorrect data in them, including false dates.
Irving has told the media that he is proud to have inspired “a new generation of Holocaust skeptics” with his publications. The trial between Dr. Lipstadt and Irving seems to has sparked many young people’s interest in Holocaust denial. Since many modern deniers, who claim themselves to be scholars, get their arguments from Irving, this should come up as a red flag to people and immediately prove the falsity in their statements as well. Instead, Irving claims he gets nearly 300 emails a day from people who believe what they hear in his lectures and writings.
6Is the History of the Holocaust Fading?
A survey that was released in 2018, around the time of Holocaust Remembrance Day, showed that many American adults failed to have basic knowledge about what went on during the Holocaust. The results of this survey dictated that the group of adults with the least amount of knowledge about this historical event were millennials, who are grouped as people from the ages of 18 to 35.
The findings of this survey include a statistic that states, “Seven out of ten Americans (70 percent) say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to.” So, why is this? Many believe schools should be responsible for teaching students about the events of the Holocaust, and many blame the education system for their lack of knowledge on the topic. While this is, of course, people’s personal opinions, it seems like, with the abundance of information on the internet, people should have no excuses for not being aware of a significant event in world history like this.
More statistics from this study include “Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans and 66 percent of millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.” It is clear that education about the Holocaust has been on the decline in recent years, and this is causing it to slip from millennials memories.
5Dr. Deborah Lipstadt’s Understanding of Holocaust Denial
In her TED Talk, Deborah Lipstadt, a recognized historian, states that she is in front of her audience to talk about Holocaust deniers, who she refers to as “liars.” Dr. Lipstadt is baffled at the idea that anyone could even consider trying to deny something as profound and real as the Holocaust. She notes that the Holocaust is the best-documented genocide in the world, so how could people still not believe it happened?
“For deniers to be right, who would have to be wrong?” she questions. Her answer to this is the victims; the truth they lived during this genocide would somehow have to be now understood as falsity. The survivors who chose to share their horrible experiences of the Holocaust would have to be told that everything they believe they went through, never happened. The other people who would need to be wrong if Holocaust deniers were right would be the bystanders who lived in the towns where Jews were stripped from their homes and taken to concentration camps. These bystanders who saw their neighbors of every age be forced to march to the outskirts of their villages would have to be told that everything they saw was a lie. The dead bodies these bystanders saw on the streets would apparently have been figments of their imagination. The Polish people who witnessed the camps be filled with more people every day would have to be wrong as well. Finally, she says the perpetrators, the ones whose jobs were to keep the victims in the camps, who have admitted to their actions during the Holocaust, would also need to have been lying.
4Hardcore Holocaust Denial vs. Softcore Holocaust Denial
Dr. Deborah Lipstadt says that Holocaust denial can be split into two forms: hardcore denial and softcore denial. Hardcore Holocaust denial is “the argument made by deniers that there was no planned centralized program of the annihilation of the Jews by the Nazis, that this whole idea of eliminating the Jews from the Europeans continent and beyond never happened.” According to these hardcore Holocaust deniers, Jews made the Holocaust up entirely with an aim for financial gain and to get the whole world on their side in order to get a state of their own. This is a clear example of antisemitism because the two reasons they give for why Jews made up the Holocaust, for money and for the state, are stereotypes that are always associated with Jewish people.
Softcore Holocaust denial does not actually deny the Holocaust, but it denies the depth of how grave this genocide was. Softcore deniers admit to the realness of the Holocaust but claim that there weren’t six million people who died as a result of it. They deny the existence of things like the gas chambers, regardless of the physical proof of these chambers that still exists in Poland and Germany today.
In other words, hardcore Holocaust deniers, according to Dr. Lipstadt, are more overt about their antisemitic beliefs than softcore Holocaust deniers – even if they don’t admit to such. Both the hardcore and the softcore deniers seem to be discomforted at the notion of Jews as the victims of the Holocaust.
3What’s the Objective of Holocaust Deniers?
While, as mentioned before, some Holocaust deniers are misinformed about the atrocities committed by the Nazis due to the Nazis destroying written evidence of their plans of concentration and extermination camps. These Holocaust skeptics are miseducated, but real Holocaust deniers have motives to their theories.
Certain people deny the Holocaust with racists or political objectives in mind. Some use Holocaust denial to continue the existence of antisemitism but cover this up by making their false words come off as rational ideas. This involves them beginnings all of their theories with the prelude that the Holocaust never happened. By doing so, they claim their objective to be revising mistakes that were made in history – hence where the term “Holocaust revisionism” comes from. Regardless of all of the proof that the Holocaust did in fact happen, including the remains of victim’s clothes in concentration camps that one can still visit today, they refuse to believe this genocide ever went on.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum points out that “Holocaust denial has been called by some scholars the “new antisemitism” for it recycles many of the elements of pre-1945 antisemitism in a post-World War II context. Holocaust deniers argue that reports of the Holocaust are really part of a vast shadowy plot to make the white, western world feel guilty and to advance the interest of Jews.”
2“Revisionist” or Neo-Nazi?
Dr. Lipstadt says, “deniers are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and that they are Nazis. Her metaphor about them wearing “sheep’s clothing” is to say they were acting like respectable scholars, but this didn’t take away from their Nazi beliefs. The deniers Lipstadt studied had an “Institute for Historical Review” and a journal that went alongside it. Lipstadt believes the term “revisionists,” which Holocaust deniers refer to themselves as is synonymous to neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. She claims that their belief system follows “the same adulation of Hitler.” They make their racist ideas come off as rational discourse.
Dr. Lipstadt’s book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” was successfully published in 1993, until she got a letter from the publisher. In this letter, she was informed that David Irving, an author of historical works, was suing her for the contents in her book, and specifically, for calling him a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt believes Irving’s works take on the belief that what happened to the Jewish population during the Holocaust was deserved. Irving once asked a Holocaust survivor, “how much money have you made from having that number tattooed on your arm?”. He also denies specific parts of the Holocaust such as the gas chambers, claiming that no amount of people ever died in them. Irving thinks Jewish folk made this all up in hopes to get money from Germany, and that any “evidence” is something that they managed to plant.
1Is it Worth the Debate?
The academic system teaches us that everything is up for debate, but this may not be a belief to follow. There are certain things that are true, which we cannot and should not deny. If something is an indisputable fact, our time should not be wasted trying to figure out the other side of it, because there is no other side.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Holocaust deniers want to debate the very existence of the Holocaust as a historical event. They want above all to be seen as legitimate scholars arguing a historical point. They crave attention.” The museum’s opinion on this issue further explains that Holocaust deniers may think their views should be allowed in conversations, but since they go against facts, they should not be. The USHMM states that denying the Holocaust is not about “revising” history, it’s about allowing the continuation of antisemitism that existed within the Nazi regime, which should not be given the time of day. In the same vein, Dr. Lipstadt argues that “What deniers want to do is take their lies, dress them up as opinions… maybe sort of out-of-the-box opinions, but then if they’re opinions, they should be part of the conversation. And then they encroach on the facts.” She further notes that social media, although it has done great things for us, also allows “the difference between facts – established facts – and lies to be flattened.” We must be wary of what we see on the internet because it makes every word found on it seem like a truth claim, and this is rarely true.
Dr. Lipstadt’s main point during her TED talk is that “We must understand that truth is not relative.” People’s lack of knowledge about what occurred during the Holocaust undeniably plays a role in Holocaust revisionism. No education on the subject shows an attempt to eradicate the history of it. The 2018 survey that discovered how little American young adults know about what happened during the Holocaust proves there needs to be more education provided to the youth about this historical event. Genocides like the Holocaust cannot be forgotten, for this leads to a higher possibility of historical skeptics, which ends up distorting people’s views about terrible events.
The upsetting statistics that came out of the 2018 survey should inspire millennials to educate themselves on the Holocaust. Knowing the world’s history is essential to ensure genocides like the Holocaust do not happen again. Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, and this should not be taken lightly.
Holocaust revisionists are extremists who use their words to persuade people. They claim in their opinions, or their lies, to be rational discourse. When it comes to extreme claims like denying the Holocaust, make sure to ask yourself: where is the proof? Where is the evidence? There was a film released in 2017 called “Denial,” which recreates the trial between David Irving and Deborah Lipstadt. It looks at Holocaust denial in a jury setting and shows how Irving went bankrupt, trying to have his lies seem like facts. If this article has interested you, then this film is worth a watch!