Chapter 1 : Negationism In General
The negationists themselves prefer to call themselves revisionists, after all they think that there is nothing to deny or negate, and that the known facts of history are a fabrication which will be exposed when history is given a second look or revised. Many commentators use the two terms interchangeably, and it has become impossible to use the word revisionism (once used as a Maoist term for Khrushchev's destalinization) except in the sense of negationism. Only a few purists, like the Flemish scholar Gie van den Berghe (working at the Institute for the History of World War 2 in Brussels), insist on the distinction between negationism alias revisionism, and the legitimate revisionism. Revisionism stricto sensu is then defined as the normal activity of historians, viz. the reassessment of given historical facts.
For instance, when a country has won a war, its official historians will often write a version of the history of the war in which the dates and figures are correct, but into which a very slanted interpretation is woven (with all the guilt and the barbarity being ascribed to the opponent): it is then the duty of historians to re-analyze the facts and give a new and more balanced interpretation. Such revision of the established story is often controversial, as it is usually an attack on the version preferred by established political interests. But normally, after some turbulence, the revisionists' critique is either rejected as too extreme, or incorporated in a more advanced and more balanced official version of history. This way, revisionism stricto sensu is part of the normal progress of scientific history-writing. By contrast, in negationism, facts are not re-interpreted but denied.
As the term revisionism has become ambiguous, we will not use it here. The pollution of language with unclear terminology is a problem closely related to that of history falsification, so in this context ever more than elsewhere, we prefer clear terminology. We will therefore speak of negationism on the one hand, and re-interpretation of history on the other.
Before we describe the problem of negationism, let us first look at the bonafide revision of the history of Nazism and the Holocaust, in order to avoid confusion between the intellectual crime of negationism and the proper task of historians to re- investigate and re-assess known and undisputed historical facts. The history of Nazism is a complex one, and it is only natural that historians do not take received wisdom and dominant interpretations for granted. Even if some negationists with a political axe to grind would deny facts, sincere historians still have a professional duty to study these facts more closely sine ira nec studio (without aversion nor preference) and to amend interpretations which on closer analysis are no longer sustainable.
One point of discussion among historians, already since the early fifties, has been the degree of intentionality of the Nazi genocide on the Jews, on the extent to which the Holocaust had been pre-planned. The intentionalist theory says that the Nazi leadership knew from the very beginning (early 1920s) that, once it got the chance, it would exterminate the entire Jewish population living within its domains. The functionalist theory says that the decision to send the Jews to the gas chambers was only the culmination of a process which had started with far less drastic measures, but in which each new phase made the next and uglier phase thinkable as well as technically within reach.
Today, the intentionalist explanation has been largely abandoned for the functionalist one (though the remaining intentionalists may tell you the opposite). The gas chambers had not been planned years in advance, but were the culmination of a succession of two strings of events (a possible third contributor will be dealt with later).
The one escalatory process goes from general anti-Jewish propaganda through cancellation of Jews' citizenship (1935), exclusion of Jews from professional and economic life (1938), encouraged emigration of Jews, violence against Jewish establishments by Nazi thugs, internment of Jews together with political opponents in work camps, herding of Jews in occupied territories into ghettoes, pogroms with the aid of local militias, deportation of German Jews and political opponents to camps in the occupied territories (because German public opinion couldn't stomach too much repression under its own eyes), killing these prisoners on a less systematic scale or letting them die through hardships, and finally the industrial-scale extermination in the gas chambers.
It is established that as late as 1940, the Nazi final solution (Endlosung) consisted in the removal of all Jews from German-held territories, either to Palestine (in co-operation with the Zionist movement 1937-39) or to an area in the colonial world, notably Madagascar. But Britain did not want to let large numbers of Jews into Palestine, nor did any country agree to take in large numbers of German Jewish refugees, and when Germany lost the Battle of Britain in 1940, it became clear that the colonial world was going to remain out of reach. So, something else had to be tried.
The other tributary to the final extermination campaign was the forced sterilization of carriers of hereditary diseases, followed by the euthanasia programme which, between 1939 and 1941, killed 70,000 handicapped and mentally deranged people as a matter of racial purification. it had to be stopped because of massive protest from the German public opinion and the Churches, but it had given the Nazis a taste of how to extreminate on an industrial scale, and also taught them that the only politically feasible way to do it, even in wartime, was under maximum secrecy.
The decision to resort to the total extermination of the Jews was announced by Hermann Goering on 31 July 1941 and finalized in detail at the Wannsee conference on 20 january 1942. A small extermination camp had already been started one month earlier in Chelmno. The decision to physically liquidate the Jews had not yet been taken in 1922 or even 1933. The Germans who had voted for the Nazis had voted in many cases for anti-Judaism, but not for the Holocaust. That at least is the functionalist assessment of the historical material, corroborated by a lot of research since the early fifties. The intentionalist theory, which says that the Holocaust had been the Nazi action programme from the start, is still popular in anti-German stereotyping but has little to recommend itself among historians.
A second case of bonafide re-assessment of the history of Nazism and the Holocaust, concerns the question of whether the Holocaust has a unique status in history, recently highlighted in the so-called historikerstreit (German: "struggle among historians"). Among German historians, a lively debate was started in 1986 when Ernst Nolte questioned this uniqueness.
There are two different aspects to this uniqueness question. The first concerns the comparative assessment of the Nazi crimes with such a comparison and deride it as a trick to minimize and banalize the Nazi crimes. Other historians, and not only Nolte, maintain that the comparison holds in most respects. Stalin's massacres of the kulaks, of (suspected) political opponents and their families, of the educated classes among subject nations (Poles, Estonians), etc., were wellplanned, large-scale, systematic, merciless and ideologically motivated. The number of Stalin's victims exceeded that of Hitler's (when the German army entered the Soviet Union, it was welcomed as a liberator in many places, but it lost that credit by treating the Slavas as Untermenschen, less-than-humans). More importantly, Stalin's massacres largely preceded Hitler's: in the 1930s alone, he had between 15 and 20 million people killed, a number of victims per decade literally unprecendented in world history. When in 1950 the leftist intellectuals Sartre and Merleau-Ponty joined the debate on the concentration camps and the bloody repression in the Soviet Union, they acknowledged that Hitler's camps owed a lot to Stalin's camps.
So, the possible third contributor mentioned above, which should be considered when we investigate the determinants of the Holocaust, was the inspiring example of Stalin's massacres on a scale which Hitler tried (but failed) to emulate. Of course the Nazi crimes cannot be explained as a simple reaction to and imitation of Stalin's (and Lenin's) crimes; but there is no doubt that the new horizons in organised mass murder which Stalin had opened have contributed to the very thinkability of the Holocaust. They also created an intense fear of Communism, the sense of an all-out struggle for life against this Bolshevik barbarity, which in turn made extreme steps against all who could be accused of any kind of association with Communism (including the Jews, via "the Jew Karl Marx") acceptable to many Germans; and which convinced many Europeans of the need to collaborate with the Nazis as a comparative lesser evil.
It was already in about 1950 that historians had sought a common denominator for Nazism and Stalinism, which was found in the concept of totalitarianism. The pro-socialist spirit of the times did not receive this concept very well, and in circles where double standareds for Hitler and Stalin are still upheld, you will be told that the concept of totalitarianism was a failure. The Historikerstreit was, in a sense, a new episode to the totalitarianism debate, but focusing more on events and actions than on ideology and structures. However, the German anti-Communists weakened their case by drawing an exaggerated parallel between Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany: equating Stalin's brutality and authoritarianism with Hitler's is defensible, but equating Honecker with Hitler and the Berlin Wall with Auschwitz is of course exaggerated.
There is a second aspect to the uniqueness debate, highlighted in public forums in the U.S. since the seventies: there is an argument over the claim made by many Jews (like the Nobel-prize winning writer Elie Wiesel) that the Holocaust is an unspeakably unique, un-analyzable and incomparable event. This attitude is closely linked with the (outdated) intentionalist theory: the unique thing about the Jewish genocide as compared with other mass-murders is that there was an ineffable diabolical will behind it. Nazism embodied the fullest manifestation of an age-old intention of the world to destroy the Jews. Every attempt to historicize the Holocaust, to explain it with universal socio-political, economical and cultural factors, is a sacrilege, a breach of taboo: the factors which might explain other massacres do not apply here, the Nazi holocaust was nothing but pure naked Evil. This claim to uniqueness in suffering is the observe side of the claim to being God's chosen people. In fact, as large sections of the Jewish community outside Israel are losing their religious fervour (parallel to the secularization of the Christian communities), the Holocaust memory has started to replace the Torah (the five books attributed to Moses) as the cornerstone of Jewish identity.
This claim to uniqueness has become more insistent as international sympathy for Israel waned. After the 6-day war in June 1967, Israel had come to be regarded as a considerable military power imposing its will on occupied territories, not a David but a Goliath. With the Yom Kippur war of 1973, sympathy continued to decrease, and Arab oil power forced Western governments to become friendlier towards the Arab states and more aloof from Israel. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the suppression of the Palestinian revolt (intifada) brought Israel a continued decrease in international sympathy. Almost in direct proportion to this shift in the international attitude to the state of Israel, the Holocaust gets more and more emphasized as the foundation myth and justification of Israel and of its policies. Another factor in the increased sacralization of the holocaust is a cultural and political shift within Israel, where the Zionist founders generation with its forward-looking no- nonsense project of building a modern state is being replaced by more traditionalist tendencies which keep on cultivating the memories of persecution.
Efforts to study the Holocaust in the historical context easily get branded as a lack of respect for the victims and their next of kin, as an attempt to banalize the Holocaust, or as a veiled attempt to deny it. Other genocides can be called unique in their own way, but did not have the same absolutely evil quality that Auschwitz had. Auschwitz is a turning-point in history, changing our ethical view of mankind, our esthetics ("can one still write poetry after Auschwitz?" - Sartre) and metaphysics ("It is stupid and reprehensible to continue philosophizing after Auschwitz just like before..." - Lyotard). It was not a historical but a metaphysical and religious event, a kind of reverse theophany (God's manifestation in the stream of history), or rather diabolophany (devil-manifestation). According to Rabbi Emil Fackenheim, the Holocaust was the only example of Absolute Evil.
A dispassionate historian cannot subscribe to this uniqueness claim. The Holocaust is merely one in a series of genocides. Without anyhow denying the Holocaust, we should put it in the perspective of other crimes against humanity (nor just crimes against Jewry). And we should keep in mind that all people who suffer, who are pushed into suffering with their entire being and have little occasion to contemplate other people's suffering, tend to over-estimate the comparative horror of their own suffering.
Within one century after Columbus' arrival, the entire native American population of the Caribbean islands was exterminated, probably 8 million people. In continental Latin America, only 12 million people survived after a century of colonization - while the population in 1492 is estimated at up to 90 million. True, many died because of new diseases which the colonizers had involuntarily brought with them, and many died not by massacre but under the hardships of slavery (which also happened to many prisoners in the Nazi work camps), but the number of literally massacred people still amounted to millions. In North America too, the 2 million native inhabitants of Patagonia (southern Chile and Argentina) were gradually but systematically killed to the last, as were all the inhabitants of Tasmania in a single campaign, and most of the aboriginals of Australia: in these cases, the genocide was entirely intentional.
The number of Africans killed in the age of the slave trade and colonial conquest has been estimated at up to 50 million. It has been said that Europeans found the Holocaust so gruesome because the things which they had considered acceptable in the case of black savages had now been committed on white Europeans. In the conquests of America and Africa, the same psychology was at work as in Auschwitz: the inferior races had to make way (or Lebensraum, living space) for the superior race. In some cases the massacre was functional, the result of an unplanned escalation. In others however, the massacre was entirely intentional and pre-planned.
Between 1915 and 1917, the Turks massacred nearly 1.5 milion Christian Armenians, nearly the entire population of Western Armenia, or almost half of all the then living Armenians. Another million survived deportation thanks to the timely defeat of the Ottoman empire: the Turks' goal was the total extermination of the Armenians, nothing less. In relative though not in absolute figures this is worse than what Hitler did to the Jews. Western Armenia has been entirely cleared of its original population, and the remaining church buildings are used by the army as targets for artillery practice.
Even outside the Islamic and the European sphere, genocides are not unknown: the 19th-century Zulu emperor Shaka purposely exterminated subdued populations in the order of magnitude of a million. In antiquity, the Assyrians, like early Stalins, both massacred and deported entire nations.
Of the Gypsies, at least 400,000 were killed in the same annihilation camps as the Jews, and some more Gypsies were killed in ordinary massacres. It is remarkable that the Gypsies are hardly ever mentioned in connection with the Nazi extermination campaign, as are the estimated 6 million Russians who died in Nazi captivity (apart from another 20 million Russians who died in war circumstances). Then again, it is only natural: all people who have suffered, complain of (or at least notice) a general lack of interest from outsiders in their experiences. The remarkable thing is rather the enormous attention which has been given to the genocide committed on the Jews.
This attention is not out of proportion, and is in principle a good thing; but its justification, viz. "beware not to let this happen again", is in stark contradiction with the unicity claim. It is precisely because non-demonic, purely human factors may, in a given historical configuration, converge to cause a genocide, of which the Nazi Holocaust is merely an outstanding example, that we have to study past genocides like the one in Auschwitz in order to avoid similar events in the future. If Auzchwitz had been a totally unique event beyond human understanding, there would be no fear of repetition and no need to study it.
It would be a bit harsh to say it before a Jewish audience, but it is nonetheless an incontrovertible fact: one of the earliest genocides has been described and ideologically motivated in their own sacred Scripture, the Tenakh (acronym from Torah + Naviim + Ketuvim, i.e. Moses' Regulations, Prophetic books, and Writings; known to Christians as the Old Testament). The massacres of neighbouring nations and all kinds of idolaters by the prophets and established kings of the Promised Land were not even the worst. The worst was in the very beginning, when the Israelite people conquered this Land which they claim Yahweh had promised them.
In the books Deuteronomy, Numbers and Joshua, we read how Moses and his successor Joshua receive orders from their god Yahweh to exterminate the entire population (women, children and even animals included) of the cities in the Promised Land, then known as Kanaan (Deut.2:34, 20:12-17), as well as in all cities where idolatry was practised (Deut.13:13-17). In cities outside Kanaan, they could take booty and slaves, but the men had to be killed. At Yahweh's explicit command, all the men, women and male children of Midian (outside Kanaan) were killed, and the virgin girls and the cattle distributed among the Israelites (Num.31:7- 18). Inside Kanaan, the Israelites had no mercy, and the book Joshua describes how the populations of Jericho, Ai, Makkeda, Libna, Lakis, Eglon, Hebron, Debir and its vassal cities, were exterminated (Jo.6:21-27, 8:24-29, 10:28-39). Joshua created Lebensraum for the chosen people by exterminating the Kanaanites, with God on his side: "This way Joshua conquered the land: the hill country, the suthern desert, the lowlands, the coastal strip, and he killed all the kings. He did not let anyone escape and he destroyed every living being, just like Yahweh the god of Israel had ordered." (Jo.10:40)
Many Bible scholars believe that this story is highly exaggerated: the Israelite conquest of Kanaan took place some 7 centuries before the Bible text was edited, and its description may have been adapted to suit the ideological needs of the Israelite people and its priestly class at the time of writing. Probably Moses had led a fairly small group which had to settle amid existing populations, on whom the cult of Yahweh (and with it, the integration into the Israelite nation) was imposed only gradually. Nonetheless, the story as it is, and which is revered as revealed Scripture, does contain an ideology of genocide, no matter what lofty ethical or religious insights may be present in other parts of the Bible.
It would be unfair to hold the present-day Jewish community guilty of an effective commitment to this ideology of God- ordained self-righteousness at any cost, including genocide. Even if there is an amount of self-righteousness in the Israelis' attitude in the occupied territories, it is nothing but gross rhetoric to say that Israeli occupation is the new Nazism, as was claimed in a UN resolution, now repealed). Even the crassest fundamentalists are not calling for a Joshua-style terror campaign: the Jews regard Joshua as part of their history, not to be disowned, but not to be repeated in the modern world either.
Today, Israel is the most democratic, humane and tolerant society in West Asia. If it claims defensible borders and sufficient territory, this is a legitimate secular claim, especially if one considers the most likely alternative, viz. the incorporation into the Islamic world with its retrograde, financial and dictatorial regimes which threaten to destroy Israel. The Arab world, itself the result of ruthless conquest, and which continues to expand at the expense of internal minorities like the Kurds, Assyrians (Aramaic-speaking Christians) and Berbers, is in no position to criticize Israel's desire for safe territory for its dense population.
Nevertheless, even if the God-ordinated genocide attributed to Moses and Joshua has not been emulated by the Jewish people, its scriptural sanction has certainly played a destructive role in history. One cannot deny that the Biblical injunctions to destroy Pagans by all means has contributed to the extreme self- righteousness against Pagans which Christianity has displayed duirng its most expansive phases.
The extermination of native populations in America and Oceania by Christians could not have taken place on the same scale if those populations had not been Pagans. Modern Christians claim that not the missionaries but the uneducated and un-Christian gold-seekers were responsible for the plight of the native Americans; but even if we disregard the destructive role played by many misionaries, the fact remains that even the most illiterate Christian adventure remembered one thing from his Christian upbringing, viz. that Pagans are inferior to Christians and that in dealing with them, different ethical standards apply. Intra-Christian wars were never that extreme, and the worst wars in Christian Eruope before the secularization of politics in the 18th-19th century was precisely religious wars against Pagans or heretics: the war of the Teutonic Knights against the Baltic Pagans (ending in the annihilation of Paganism by the 15th century), the Crusade against the Manichean Cathar sect in southern France (1209-29, an intentional genocide), the "thirty years' war" between Catholic and Prostestant powers (1618-48, killing 5 million Germans, one third of the population).
Islam is another zealous successor to Moses' heritage: its destruction of Pagan populations and cultures was always committed in the belief that the same God who had Moses' enemies wiped out, had now ordained the Islamic trail of conquest and destruction. This conviction immunized mujahedin against doubts arising in their conscience.
The occurence of genocide in Jewish Scripture has of course been pointed out by people who want to justify their anti-Jewish feelings or policies. The latest example is the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman who has been trying to explain to the world why the Croatian government during World War 2 had killed so many Jews. According to newspaper reports, he has written a book in Croatian in 1989, titled Wastelands: Historical Truth, in which he refers to the Bibical narrative and comments that for the Jews, "genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon... It is not only allowed, but even recommended". This may win him some sympathy among supporters of the Palestinian cause, but it is quite misplaced: the anti-Jewish violence of the last centuries and especially of the Nazis and their Croatian allies had nothing to do with the gruesome way in which Moses and Joshua conquered the Promised Land. The contents and orientation of the Jewish religion have fundamentally changed since the days of Moses, and the Jews have practised live and let live for many centuries, during which they contributed immensely to the economic and intellectual life of their host countries.
Genocide is not natural to any any individual or nation. The behaviour of human beings is conditioned not so much by their blood or ancestry or nationality, but by their thinking. Genocide is the outcome of an ideology. It could happen to Moses' Israelites and to Hitler's Germans, to the Caliph's Turks and to the colonizing Europeans, because they believed that genocide was justified as a means to a superior goal. Each of the genocidal movements believed it was a kind of chosen people, destined to rule a specified part of the world (as in the case of Christianity, Colonialism, Islam and Communism).
While there are differences of method and quantity, it must be clear now that the difference between the Nazi genocide and other genocides is not absolute and metaphysical. So, the comparative assessment of Hitler's and Stalin's massacres, and the comparative assessment of the genocide on the Jews and the genocides on the Red Indians, Black Africans, Tasmanians, Armenians, Gypsies and other nations, are legitimate objects of study. They don't need suspect political motives. On the contrary, it is the refusal to address these topics of history, the desire to prevent such lines of study, that demonstrates political compulsions.
A wholly different matter from re-interpretation of known historical facts, is the denial of these facts. In Europe we have the negationism of a handful of historians and extreme-right groups concerning the Nazi extermination campaign against the Gypsies and the Jews, which took place between 1941 and 1945. Their claim is that this Nazi extermination campaign is in fact a concoction. The widespread belief that the Holocaust did take place, would merely be the work of a conspiracy.
There is, according to the negationists, no dearth of motives for floating the concoction of the Holocaust. The two most important ones concern the Communists and the Jews.
In order to legitimate their own horrible regime, the Communists had to print Fascism (a term often used when Nazism is meant) in the most terrible colours. It is true that they always throw the swearword Fascist at everyone: from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to the Dalai Lama, every decent human being who stands in the way of Communism gets branded as a Fascist. Now, according to the Negationists, the Communists had to invent gruesome crimes for Fascism, and to make the sting of the swearword Fascist sharper. A case in point, they argue, is the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn: blamed on the Nazis by the Soviets (an allegation adopted by the other Allies, so that as late as 1989 the British Foreign Office still denied that evidence for Soviet responsibility existed), but in fact committed by the Soviets themselves. If the Communists could falsely accuse the Nazis about Katyn, why not about Auzchwitz?
But more than the Communists, it was the Jews who, according to the negationists, had every reason to invent the Holocaust myth. Look at its effects: the immediate outcome of the successful spreding of the Holocaust myth was that in 1948 the United Nations could not deny the Jews their new state Israel, and that this new state could at once claim huge reparation payments from Germany. Today the Holocaust memory is the justification of Israel's political claims to safe, defensible borders - which effectively means the annexation of the occupied territories. The last two decades, Western support for Israel has become less unconditional, and to reclaim this support the Holocaust memory has been made more insistent, with the orchestrated flood of books and films about the Holocaust.
So, according to the negationists, the victims were in fact the aggressors. With fakes photographs and false testimonies by tutored eyewitnesses the Jews framed the Nazis on a huge and horrible crime of genocide which had never been committed. After all, the declaration of war by France and Britain against Germany in 1939 had been arranged by the Jewish conspiracy which controlled finance (and therefore politics) in those countries. And the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann had immediately declared that in this war all the Jews would be on England's side. So, the war itself had been forced on Germany by the Jews, and the Holocaust myth was the next element in this Jewish conspiracy aimed at sucking Germany's blood and resources. That is very briefly the negationists' position on why this Holocaust story was made so popular.
The negationist position is not widely believed, in fact it is widely detested as the motivated history-distortion which it really is. In France and Germany, publishing negationist writings is punishable by law (in Germany, denial of the massacre of Germans in ex-German territories in 1945 was equally made punishable). Negationism can boast of only a few academics in its ranks, most academics will have no truck with it, and some have published thorough and precise refutations of negationism. Most of the negationist publications are pamphlets of a pitiable intellectual calibre. Yet, a few academic-looking institutes for "revision of the history of World War II" have been set up, notably the Institute for Historical Review in California. And at least a few negationist academics and writers are clever polemists and have managed to create a semblance of respectability for negationism in some circles.
The methods of the negationists are intellectually quite objectionable, they do all the things which are in the "don't" column of methodological vademecums. For instance, they commit unbelievable feats of "quoting out of context". I realize that it is often a cheap excuse in polemical forums to allege quoting out of context: it is done when you cannot escape the conslusions which your opponent has drawn from your own side's statements. By invoking (without specifying) the all-redeeming context, you can claim that the analyzed statement really meant something else than your opponent had assumed in making his analysis. Nevertheless, the false allegation can only work because the genuine product, quoting out of context, does exist. The negationists shamelessly change the meaning of sentences by plucking them from their contexts. Whenever one of their opponents, in the middle of a systematic refutation of negationism, dares to concede that "there are contradictions in the testimony of ex-prisoner X", or that "no records are extant from concentration camp Y", they quote this one line and go on to conclude that this opponent "has had to revise his earlier belief in the Holocaust under the impact of new findings".
For example, they eagerly quote the German historian Martin Broszat's statement that there were no gas chambers designed for largescale killing in the German Reich. Yes, that is what he said, and he was probably right: no matter how gruesome otherwise, the camps inside Germany, like Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen, did not contain such gas chambers. For, Broszat continues but the negationists omit, "the mass destruction of Jews by gassing was mostly done in the occupied territories".
Negationist pamphlets are often very unashamed to announce from the beginning that they are not meant to do history, but merely want to take an unprejudiced look at the allegations of Nazi genocide. Some of their more pretentious publications have a lot of academic-looking references and quotations (referring mostly to other negationist authorities and to the pamphlet liteature), as well as out-of-context quotes from original Auschwitz testimonies and research, in which witnesses a charge are turned into witness a decharge. Negationist publications also contain a lot of plain lies, apparently counting on the public's lack of time and means to check sources.
In every document they know how to select a line in their own favour. If a judge convicts them because of their negationism, they clamour that it is outside the judiciary's competence to judge historical methods and theories (apart from seeing it as proof of the omnipresent Jewish conspiracy); but when a judge refrains from passing judgement on their methods and theories, they explain it as a vindication of negationism. When the leading French negationist professor Faurisson was convicted several times on charges of slander and incitement to racial hatred, but not because of his history distortion, he claimed that henceforth nobody had the right to denounce his method, and that "it is now permitted to declare that the gas chambers have not existed".
Their easiest technique of deception consists in simply keeping all the evidence for the Holocaust out of the view of the readers, or in denying its existence. The numerous testimonies by camp survivors and Nazi officials (of whom some to appease their conscience, had already leaked the truth to the outside world during the war) are simply not mentioned at all, except if seemingly gross contradictions or mistakes can be shown in them, so as to create the impression that the Holocaust myth is based on the rantings of a few paranoid misfits.
They challenge the established historical certainty of the Holocaust not with precise questions and challenges to competent historians, but with stunts and bluff aimed at the broader public. Thus, in 1979 the Institute for Historical Review promised $ 50,000 to whomever could prove that people had been gassed in the Nazi camps. The small print said that candidates for the prize must have seen someone being gassed, must submit an autopsy report of a victim gassed with Zyklon-B gas. After one year, it announced triumphantly that the prize could not be awarded as no one had come forward with the proof. Actually, the items demanded by the Institute are available, but most self- respecting historians have decided to boycott the negationists completely, as even a public trial of strength would only give them publicity (apart from the fact that most relevant original documents were in pre-glasnost Soviet and Polish hands). In my opinion, it is better to face the negationist challenge head-on, and to confront them with the evidence they defiantly ask for.
The chief argument of the negationists is that the evidence given for the Holocaust is flawed. There are indeed some flaws in the available evidence for the Holocaust. To start with, there is comparatively little of it. It most camps the Nazis had thoroughly destroyed all the evidence by the time the Soviet and Anglo-American forces moved in. Moreover, the evidence available is in coded language, because the Holocaust was conducted as a secret operation: hardly anywhere in the Nazi documents is it written explicity that people have been gassed. Nevertheless, the remaining evidence is still overwhelming: testimonies by camp guards and Nazi officials, given during trial or as a voluntary act; testimonies by transport workers, chemical engineers and people otherwise connected with the material realization of the Holocaust; diaries by prisoners, survivors in all kinds of forums after the liberation. The code to the secret language of Nazi documents has been revealed by Nazi officials.
The other flaw in the available evidence, and which is always the negationists' crowning argument, is the contradictions and inaccuracies of the camp survivors' testimonies. For instance, people have claimed that fellow prisoners had been gassed in camps in which no gas chambers ever existed. Or, the authentic diaries of some prisoners give a very different picture from the version which they gave in interviews after the war. Of course, if one does not select merely the flawed pieces of testimony, but keeps an eye on the general body of evidence, such inaccuracies, contradictions and in some cases even lies, are only what one can except when people testify to what they have experienced of a real event. These things can be explained with our general knowledge of human psychology: e.g., there is a kind of envy among people who have suffered when they find that people who have gone through more spectacular suffering get all the attention, and so they make their own story a bit more interesting. Even after an ordinary traffic accident, people's versions differ, yet there is no doubt about some basics, such as the actual occurrence of the accident. Digging up inaccuracies in a few testimonies in order to deny the entire body of evidence is the safest way of lying: you pronounce correct judgements about some of the parts, and merely by acting as if these few parts constitute the whole, you implicitly tell a huge lie about the whole.
Finally, the negationist position is sought to be given some credibility by discrediting the forum where the Holocaust was officially put on record: the Nurnberg trial. Jurists now knowledge that the Nurnberg trial violated some rules of justice, esp. by thwarting the rights of the defence, and by judging on the basis of retro-active laws created ad hoc. When German officers who had committed crimes against huminity in odedience to orders, justified these with the universally valid rule of military discipline Befehl ist Befehl (an order is an order), it was ruled that military orders should not be obeyed when they violate certain human principles (in emulation of this ruling, German courts have recently convicted East German soldiers who had obeyed the order to shoot people who tried to cross the Berlin wall; the mixed feelings over this judgement have brought the dissatisfaction with the Nurnberg trial back to mind). Worst of all, the Nurnberg trial was a cynical farce to the extent that some of the parties sitting in judgement were just as guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, starting with the Soviet Union.
And yet, it is obvious that all these flaws in the judicial treatment of the Holocaust and of those responsible for it, do not make any difference to the question whether the Holocaust actually took place. The negationists will always try to pick on their opponents' presentation of the facts, to pull the attention away from the facts themselves.
In their attempts to convince public opinion, the negationists currently benefit from a few circumstances.
Firstly, there is a feeling that the Holocaust is over- exploited. In certain Jewish circles an excessive cultivation of the Holocaust memory seems to have taken place. Therefore the Holocaust memory is seen by some as an instrument of Jewish self-aggrandizement, and as the bedrock of Israeli self-righteousness. This perception is especially strong in pro-Palestinian circles.
Similarly, there is an impression of self-rightneousness in high-profile anti-Nazi spokesmen. Some statements by the French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld have created irritation, e.g. that the leftist lawyer Jacques Verges was "a shame for his profession" by accepting the offer to defend the war criminal Klaus Barbie (while defence of criminals by lawyers is the former's right and the latter's job). Klarsfeld's action in Germany in 1992 against restrictions on the massive immigration of Romanian Gypsies was equally considered misplaced and self-righteous: any country has a right to its own immigration policy, and Germany had a much more generous refugee policy than any other country (it accepted 2 lakh refugees from Yugoslavia, France less than 1,000). This type of self-rightousness is perceived as a consequence of the Holocaust credit, and so, many people would like the Holocaust talk to stop for a while. That does not amount to an endorsement of negationism, but the negationists take heart from any change of public mood that weakens the indignation over the Holocaust.
In this connection, there is also a perception that the Jewish-controlled press reduces the death toll of Nazism to the Jewish victims, omitting the Gypsies and the many millions of Polish, Ukranian and Russian victims in work- camps and battlefields; and also omitting the victims of Allied war crimes (apart from Stalinism, these comprise the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima etc., and the several hundreds of thousands of German soldiers starved in Allied camps even after the end of the war, plus the crimes committed by real and fake resistance groups after the war). This way, in those circles where anti-Judaism in mild or strident form had been common, the old irritation with the Jews finds itself confirmed when the Holocaust memory is raked up once too often. The sacralization of the Holocaust paradoxically feeds negationism.
Considering what the Jewish people has gone through, I still find it unacceptable to say that Jews exploit the Holocaust memory. It is not of the Jews but of the leftists that one can say stay are exploiting the Holocaust memory. After the fall of Soviet Communism, the trend to fill the media with reminders of the Holocaust, coupled with warnings that we should not let it happen again, has reached an unprecedented intensity. Never before have we seen so many documentaries of the Holocaust on TV. Worse, leftist journalists now routinely show film material of trains to Auschwitz while talking about present-day rightist parties that have emphatically distanced themselves from the rightism of the 1930s: a Goebbelsian use of the Holocaust.
The reason is obvious: after the loss of face which Gorbachov and Yeltsin have inflicted on them, they need an anti-Fascist fever as a new legitimation and as a distraction of the public's attention. The trial of the Communist Party in Moscow occasioned one revelation after another, e.g. about the Soviet financial support to front organizations in the West (such as the peace movement), but reporting has been scant. From our press coverage, you would get the impression that economic inefficiency was Communism's only crime. So many survivors of the Gulag camps can finally speak out, but instead we get to see Auschwitz survivors.
The collaborators with Stalinism in our press will go to any length to keep attention away from their own sins, and they have no scruples in using even the Holocaust victims as a cover. The public indignation with this shameless manipulation of the Holocaust memory by leftists is entirely justified. Fortunately (and unlike the opposition to the so-called Jewish Holocaust exploitation), this has not led to any signs of willingness to go to the other extreme, viz. to tolerate negationism. Still, the Holocaust negationists enjoy these transparent acts of desperation by the Gulag concealers.
A second factor which favours acceptance of negationism on some scale, is the martyrdom suffered by some negationists. The leading negationist Faurisson has been beaten up by a group of Jewish youngsters, sending him into hospital for weeks. Of course, an idea is not worth more simply because some fool has suffered for it, but the aura of martyrdom still has its effect. More generally, there is a sense of unfair treatment by the media and the judiciary.
For example, the French extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has been convicted for saying on TV in 1987 that the gas chambers were merely a detail in history. Even his rightist colleagues trying for respectability disowned him: the Flemish Vlaams Blok leader Filip Dewinter announced that any party member found propagating negationism would be thrown out of the party, and the German Republikaner leader Franz Schoenhuber emphatically said that the Holocaust must not be minimized or denied, and that a renewed German self- respect should not be based on the denial of this horrible episode. However, Le Pen's supporters have pointed out that in the same interview he had clarified that by gas chamber he had only meant the method used for killing (which is indeed a minor issue), not the killing itself. In that case, it is not strictly true that he was guilty of negationism. However, in other contexts he has been very ambiguous about the issue, and most French negationists look up to him as their champion.
Because of the propaganda value of martyrdom, it is not surprising that there are indications of provocation: the negationists seem deliberately to provoke Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors to file complaints, for the sake of publicity and for creating a martyrdom aura with the Jews once more in the role of the villains.
A new factor that may increase the audience of the negationists, is that with the fall of Communism, we now get to hear the voice of the Central-and East-European peoples, most of which have quite a record of collaboration with the Nazis. In the 1920s and 30s, the leader principle was in, and most of these countries had their own authoritarian rulers. When faced with a choice between Hitler and Stalin, they opted for Hitler. Many of these pro-Hitler leaders and militiamen were slaughtered by the Communists, making them national heroes whose memory has been cherished all through the Communist winter. Now that national history is being revived, these nations do not want to be stigmatized as accomplices in the Holocaust, because to them, collaboration with Hitler had other motives than the extermination of the Jews. On the other hand, their regimes mostly did practise their own brand of anti-Judaism, and when the Jews were rounded up, they did not exactly obstruct these Holocaust preparations. Still, for a fair assessment of the Hitler- Stalin period, these nations would prefer to see some other dimensions highlighted than just the Holocaust, to which it is too often reduced. Moreover, the anti-Fascist propaganda which they were fed under Communist rule had equally de- emphasized the Jews and emphasized the Communists as targets of Nazi persecution. Some Holocaust-denying voices have already been raised in these countries.
In spite of somewhat favourable circumstances and of their own clever manipulations, the negationists are bound to fail. Thus, in 1991 the Spanish Supreme Court has convicted Leon Degrelle, a veteran pro-Nazi leader from Belgium living in exile in Spain, for his describing the Nazi genocide as "a Jewish fabrication", and similar negationist statements. Spain has no law against negationism, but Violeta Friedman, a Jewish-Hungarian survivor of the Nazi camps (in which her parents were killed) invoked the ordinary laws against slanderous publications. Lower courts ruled that an individual cannot claim to be the victim of slander. But the Supreme Court ruled in her favour, and prohibited further public denials of the Holocaust.
Similarly, in the 1991 elections for the post of governor of Louisiana, the Republican candidate David Duke had been an advocate of negationism. Now he disclaims this position, but certain sins remain unforgivable for very long. President Bush, even though himself a Republican, advised the voters to elect the Democratic candidate, because: "I think that someone who has denied the Holocaust, should not ever be allowed to take a leadership position."
The president did not deny Mr. Duke the freedom to voice his negationist position, nor did he try to prevent his standing for elections, but he made it clear that he rejected this shameless falsehood of negationism, even at the cost of his own party's immediate interest.
These incidents should make it clear that negationism is simply not accepted. It is useful to keep this determined rejection in mind as a standard when considering other negationisms. Some of them are championed by governments and intellectuals even though they are just as objectionable as Holocaust negationism.
In the late 1970s, the negationists found an unexpected ally when some French leftists, grouped around Pierre Guillaume and his publishing-house La Vieille Taupe, took up their defence. Within the Left wing of French (let alone European) politics, this is an insignificant fringe group, but the reasons for their support to negationism are interesting.
The more immediate reason for leftist negationism is the current leftist support to the Palestinian cause. The sacralization of the Holocaust as the foundation myth of the Israeli state goes hand in hand with attempts to strengthen the struggle against Israeli policies by denying the Holocaust. Even quite apart from negationism, the extreme Left has been the first to break the taboo on estimating the Jewish death toll in the Holocaust at less than 6 million. After glasnost, the authorities in Poland have declared that according to their first-hand information, the death toll in Auschwitz was only 1.5 million, less than 1 million of them Jews. The earlier official version had been 4 million, while Jewish organizations had assumed it was some 2 million. At any rate, if the Polish authorities have given correct figures, and the Auschwitz number is decreased, then the total Holocaust death toll must also be decreased to less than 6 million. The most reliable sources now agree on around 5.3 million as the total count of Jewish victims of Nazism. But somehow no one dares to amend the established number of 6 million, for fear of being branded a negationist. It was in the Belgian Marxist-Leninist (and strongly pro-Palestinian) weekly Solidair that I read for the first time that "5.1 million Jews" had been killed by the Nazis.
But here we are not dealing with small corrections in the figures, but with a fundamental denial of the Holocaust itself. Unlike most Marxists, the ones under consideration have taken their support to the Palestinian cause as far as denying what they consider the connerstone of the "greater Israel" ideology, viz. the holocaust memory.
The deeper reason for leftist negationism is that the extreme hostility between Nazism and Jews regardless of their class, is in conflict with Marxist theory. Of course, rivalry and even war between capitalists (Jewish vs. German capitalists, German vs. French-British colonial capitalists, etc.) does fit the theory. But the Nazi plan to destroy all the Jews is a different matter, outside the grip of Marxist theory. Marxists define Fascism as merely an extreme phase of capitalism, just like imperialism and colonialism were necessary phases of capitalism. Already in 1953, some Trotskyites had made the analysis that the Holocaust was a extremely useful propaganda instrument for Anglo-American capitalism to differentiate itself from its fascist twin- brother. Thanks to the Holocaust, the capitalists could impress upon the minds that there was a radical difference between Fascism, which had committed the Holocaust, and democracy, which had fought Fascism and stopped the Holocaust. This covers up the reality that Fascist and democratic capitalism are merely two faces of the same monster. The people's struggle should be directed against the Fascist phase of capitalism (which amounts to collaboration with the non-Fascist phase of capitalism), but should be against capitalism as such, without getting confused by intra- capitalist family struggles between Anglo-American and Axis capitalists.