QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON “REVISIONISM” AND THE HOLOCAUST
This short series of questions and answers is intended as a quick introduction to a variety of topics that are often raised in respect of “revisionism” and the Holocaust. Readers are encouraged to check out the links to other articles on this web site for more complete information.
1) What is historical revisionism?
As the word implies, historical revisionism is the exercise whereby historians revise their opinions on historical events in the face of new evidence. It is an essential part of the history writing process. “Revisionism” (with quotes) is a distortion of history practiced by persons, usually inspired by antisemitism or a desire to rehabilitate the Nazis, or both. They deny that the Holocaust — the attempted extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany — took place. The more accurate description of “revisionists”, is “deniers”. They describe themselves as revisionists because they think it gives them an air of respectability.
2) What is the Holocaust?
The attempted extermination of European Jewry by Nazi Germany, resulting in at least 6 million Jews dead. In addition, another 6 million non-Jews — Gypsies, homosexuals, prisoners of war and others — were murdered.
3) Do “revisionists” deny the Holocaust?
Yes, although they will claim they don’t. See Question 4.
4) What aspects of the Holocaust do “revisionists” believe to be supported by evidence?
“Revisionists” claim to believe certain minor aspects of the Holocaust, in the hope they will appear reasonable. So, they will admit that some Jews suffered under the Nazis, and that there were some Nazi excesses, but deny an overall extermination plan. But once questioned, it becomes quickly apparent that their real position is as that they deny all of the major elements of the Holocaust: the plan to kill the Jews, mass shooting by the Einsatzgruppen, gassing at extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, just to mention a few.
But it isn’t quite that simple. There is a school of thought that holds that “revisionists” don’t really believe the Holocaust didn’t happen, but rather that they deny its occurrence in an attempt to foment antisemitism, rehabilitate Nazism, and/or enrich themselves.
5) Wasn’t the Holocaust proven at the war crimes trials?
Yes. The Nuremberg Trials (the trial of the major war criminals 1945-46 and subsequent trials) established beyond a doubt that there had been a plan to exterminate the Jews and that the attempt was made to carry out that plan. Later trials in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s produced even more information about this.
6) Didn’t the Nazis themselves admit there was a program to exterminate the Jews?
Yes, repeatedly. Statements, speeches and diary entries survive from such Nazis as Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann and many others that testify to the plan to kill the Jews. In addition, the documentary evidence, in the form of captured German documents, is staggering.
8) What was the Jewish “question”?
In short, the issue of what the Nazis were to do with the Jews. The “answer” was to murder them.
9) What was the “Final Solution of the Jewish question”?
The “final solution” was the attempt to physically annihilate all Jews under Nazi control. The reason it is called “final”, as the Nazi documents attest, is that other solutions were attempted before this radical step was taken.
10) What is the origin of the six million figure?
The figure is at best a popular estimate of the number of Jews who killed by the Nazis during the Final Solution. Different historians have different approaches to arrive at estimates of the number killed. Some have based their estimates on demographic (population) analysis, others on records left behind by the Nazis, still others on analysis of different cause of death, others on Jewish records in the countries involved. Many have combined these methodologies. Estimates range from around 4.8 to 6 million Jews killed. As research continues, it begins to appear that the figure may be understated.
11) Why do “revisionists” not find the eyewitness testimony credible?
The simple answer is that it interferes with their attempt to deny the Holocaust. But to be fair, it should be pointed out that it is not the eyewitness testimony alone that bothers “revisionists”, but rather the fact that the testimony from German perpetrators, Jewish survivors and neutral observers converges in the same result: the attempted annihilation of the Jews. It is this convergence of evidence, along with the documentary, scientific and photographic evidence, that is the most damning to the “revisionist” position.
12) What was the purpose of Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, and so forth?
First of all, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno were not concentration camps. They were “death camps” (“Vernichtungslager” in German). In those camps, the only purpose was to murder Jews. They were almost always gassed within a short time of arrival and very few were chosen to perform slave labour, such as was the case in Auschwitz. As an example, only about 7 Jews survived the Belzec extermination camp, although at least 550,000 were killed there. Auschwitz was a complex of camps; some Jews were killed in Auschwitz I (the main camp), but most were killed in Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Auschwitz III (Monowitz) was involved with production of synthetic rubber and other materials.
13) Why was the Wannsee conference held? The understanding of the role of the Wannsee Conference is changing as new evidence is uncovered. For decades, it has been described as the conference that put the finishing touches on the administrative arrangements involved in the Final Solution. But new evidence unearthed by German historian Christian Gerlach would suggest that the ultimate decision to kill all the Jews may not have been taken by Hitler until December 11 or 12, 1941, and that Wannsee (originally scheduled for December 9, 1941, but postponed to January 20, 1942) was therefore the first meeting after the Hitler decision where the bureaucrats finally had the green light. Thus, it had a far more pivotal role.
14) What did Himmler refer to in his Posen speech?
Actually, Himmler made two speeches at Posen between October 4 and 6, 1943. He referred brutally and unequivocally to the policy and practice of exterminating the Jews. One of the speeches was recorded and still survives. Himmler’s words have been described by German writer Joachim Fest as “one of the most horrifying testaments in the German language”.
15) What did the term “selection” refer to?
It referred to selecting which Jews would be murdered immediately and which would be worked to near-death and then murdered. As Jews arrived at camps such as Auschwitz, they were visually inspected by SS doctors. The so-called “able to work” Jews were sent to one side, and those deemed unable to work were sent to the other side. This latter group — always the large majority — was immediately gassed. The process of deciding which Jews died immediately and which were spared for a time, was called the “selection”.
16) What is Zyklon-B used for?
17) Why would German documents designate Zyklon-B as material for Jewish resettlement?
“Resettlement” was a Nazi jargon word that was used to mean “kill” in any documents that it was feared might eventually become public.
18) Why were Jews required to wear a yellow hexagram (Star of David) on their clothing in Nazi Germany?
To mark them for easier identification. This served two purposes according to Raul Hilberg’s seminal work The Destruction of the European Jews: first to humiliate them and alienate them from the non-Jewish German population and second, to make them easier to find when deportations began. There was also a system of badges in the concentration camps.
19) What role did the Einsatzgruppen play in the German war effort?
The Einsatzgruppen were not involved in the war effort. They existed to shoot Jews wherever they were found, especially in the “sweeps” of 1941 and 1943. As Mr. Justice Musmanno testified at the Eichmann Trial: “The purpose of the Einsatzgruppen was to murder Jews and deprive them of their property”.
20) Why were so many dead bodies found in the Nazi camps when they were captured by Allied troops?
The camps found at the end of the war were not the extermination camps. They had been previously destroyed on the orders of Himmler. The camps liberated were concentration camps where many thousands died due to neglect (untreated disease and starvation) and torture.
21) What was the function of Treblinka camp?
Like the other death camps of Sobibor, Belzec and Chelmno, Treblinka existed exclusively to murder Jews. Approximately 750,000 were killed at Treblinka, mostly with carbon monoxide gas.
22) What evidence is used to prove the death camp story?
Nazi documents and photographs, statements by both camp commandants and camp personnel, statements by survivors and other Nazi officials who were there.
23) Why is the question of the gas chambers important?
The gas chambers are merely one of the methods used to kill the Jews. Shooting, deprivation, torture, etc. are equally important and were also used as part of the same process. “Revisionists” like to pretend that the Holocaust hinges principally on the gas chambers. They then demand to see a functioning one (knowing that they were destroyed on orders from Himmler), failing which they proclaim that the Holocaust is untrue.
24) How did the Holocaust story originate?
First of all, it is not a story, but rather a fact. The Nazis left behind massive documentation on it — memos, orders, photographs, films. They also failed to kill all the Jews, some of whom survived to recall what happened. Their recollections corroborate the documentary and other evidence. Remains of murdered Jews have been found at several locations (most recently at Belzec), blueprints for gas chambers, crematoria and other instruments of death were left behind — in short, the war ended before the Nazis could destroy all the evidence.
25) Did resistance to German occupation affect Nazi treatment of Jews in territory under their control?
Yes, they were usually among the first to suffer for any real or imagined resistance. German reprisals to any partisan activity usually were on the scale of 100 killed for each German killed.
26) How were Jewish ghettoes in Nazi territory administered?
The prisoners were fed at starvation levels, and forced to live in unimaginable filth and disease-ridden areas.
27) What events led up to the Kristallnacht pogrom?
The Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass) pogrom began after a Jew named Herschel Grynzspan murdered an official of the German legation in Paris. On November 9, 1938, Joseph Goebbels (the Propaganda minister) and Reinhard Heydrich (number 2 man at the SS) used that as an excuse to destroy thousands of synagogues throughout Germany. Hence, the expression “broken glass”. Typically, the Nazi government, once it realized that the German insurance companies were liable for the billions of marks of damage, imposed a “fine” of a billion marks on the Jews.
28) What evidence is there that Jews were being “resettled” by the Nazis?
None. “Resettlement” meant deportation to, and death at, an extermination camp.
29) What was done with the bodies of the dead at the death camps?
They were cremated in crematoria, burned on open pits or buried, depending on the camp and the situation..
30) How good is testimony as a form of evidence?
Testimony is one of the prime methods of adducing evidence as thousands of trials have demonstrated over the centuries. It is most convincing when it is corroborated by other forms of evidence, such as documents, other witnesses, photographs, and so on, because testimony by itself may be imperfect due to a variety of human frailties. Historians have used testimony in this way, as part of a rich mosaic of evidence, when studying the Holocaust.
“Revisionists” like to claim that the entire Holocaust story rests on testimony. As only a cursory examination of this web site and the available literature will demonstrate, that allegation is completely untrue.
31) What did the Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Hoess confess about the Auschwitz camp?
He confessed about the origin, mission, operation and death toll for Auschwitz. His testimonies have been corroborated by documentation, eyewitness testimony by other Auschwitz personnel, survivors and subsequent research.
32) How was Hoess’ confession obtained?
He was interrogated. “Revisionists” like to claim that he was tortured and that his testimony is therefore tainted. The evidence though shows that after having been roughed up by the British when first captured, his treatment thereafter was reasonable and that he testified freely at Nuremberg and at his own trial in Warsaw. He also wrote memoirs.
33) Where did concentrations of Jews exist in Europe before 1939?
The United States Holocaust Museum says there were about 9.5 millions Jews in Europe in 1933, with approximate national breakdown as follows:
- Poland: 3,000,000
- Soviet Union: 2,525,000
- Romania: 980,000
- Germany: 525,000
- Hungary: 445,000
- Czechoslovakia: 357,000
- Great Britain: 300,000
- Austria: 250,000
- France: 220,000
- Netherlands: 160,000
- Lithuania: 155,000
- Latvia: 95,000
The rest of the Jews were spread among another dozen or more countries.
34) Did the Allies have information during the war that indicated that exterminations were underway?
The Allies had Ultra intercepts on the early Einsatzgruppen shootings, as well as photographic and survivor evidence. In addition, several Jews escaped from extermination camps and passed their stories on to the Allies.
35) Are accounts of cremation pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau credible?
Yes. Photographs of the cremation pits exist and several people involved have testified to their existence.
36) What evidence exists for the charge that the Nazis used the bodies of Jews to make, among other things, soap and lampshades?
Some evidence exists that this was done on a small, experimental scale. In any event, it is not critical to the Holocaust, but rather a sadistic by-product of it. “Revisionists” try to use this red herring to deflect discussion from the overwhelming proof of the Holocaust.
37) What is the explanation for all the hair, shoes, eyeglasses, and other personal items found at Auschwitz?
They were taken from the murdered Jews.
38) What have forensic examinations of the extermination sites revealed?
Where such examinations have been carried out, they have revealed evidence of large-scale death. Large areas of ashes, body parts and other remains have been unearthed at Treblinka. Recently, a similar find was made at the Belzec death camp. This latest evidence is still being evaluated.
39) What is the Leuchter Report?
In the late 1980s, Fred Leuchter, funded by denier Ernst Zuendel, visited the Auschwitz extermination camp. Although trained only in the arts, he purported to gather evidence that the quantity of cyanide residue on the walls of the gas chambers is inconsistent with their having been used for mass gassings. His findings were almost immediately challenged, both on scientific and methodological grounds and have been completely disproved.
40) What do Himmler’s diaries reveal about the final solution to the Jewish problem?
Among other things, they reveal that the Final Solution was intended to kill as many Jews as possible and that it was ordered by Hitler. For example, a recently unearthed diary entry from December 18, 1941 contains the words “Judenfrage/als Partisanen auszurotten” (Jewish Question/to be exterminated as partisans). This was written, as the entry indicates, after a meeting with Hitler. [quoted in Die Zeit, edition of January 9, 1998]
41) Who was Kurt Gerstein?
He was chief of the Waffen-SS Technical Disinfection Services. He visited Belzec with Professor Pfannenstiel and while there, witnessed a botched gassing van attempt where the engine refused to start for over two hours before the Jews could be gassed. He described the whole scene in detail. The next day, he witnessed gassings at Treblinka. In all, he estimates he saw 10,000 Jews gassed in two days at the two camps. His record is anathema to “revisionists”, who like to claim there is no evidence of murder at Belzec and Treblinka.
42) Did Hitler order that the Jews be exterminated?
Yes. There is no doubt that Hitler personally ordered the extermination of the Jews. Apart from the fact that it is impossible that such an action could have been carried out in Nazi Germany without his knowledge and approval, there is sufficient evidence to establish that Hitler both willed and ordered the Final Solution. In addition to the Himmler diary entry referred to in Question 40, there are Hitler speeches, his Political Testament, and testimony by persons close to him (Albert Speer, Hitler’s adjutants and support staff), diary entries by Joseph Goebbels (the Propaganda Minister and a close confidant), and other evidence that establish his culpability.
43) Does the reduction in the estimate of Jews murdered at Auschwitz from 4 million to 1 million mean that the overall Holocaust total of around 6 million should be reduced by 3 million?
No. The overall total of 6 million is not based, and never was, on 4 million killed at Auschwitz. The 4 million figure comes from a plaque erected at Auschwitz shortly after the War that talked about 4 million people (not Jews) having lost their lives there. It was erected by the Communists and based on an incorrect estimate of the numbers who would have been killed if the gas chambers had operated at maximum capacity all the time. They did not of course. The 4 million figure has never been used by serious historians of the Holocaust, with only one or two exceptions. The correct number, estimated by the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess as early as 1946, is about 1.1 million, mostly Jews, and that is the number on the plaque today.
The overall total of around 6 million is based on demographic studies and analysis of Nazi train records that record the numbers of Jews shipped to Auschwitz during its existence. An example of the methodology used is in Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews.
44) How do you explain the fact that the World Almanac showed 15,319,359 Jews in the world in 1940 and 15,713,638 in 1949 (based on 1948 figures), if 6 million Jews are supposed to have perished in the Holocaust?
This typical piece of denier chicanery is explained fairly easily. Deniers like to make us think that the 1948 figure is the number of Jews in 1948, but it is not. The 1948 figures (quoted in the 1949 edition) are based on the 1938 – that is pre-war – census. The figures for 1949 are post-war and show a catastrophic drop in the Jewish population, down to 11,266,600. When you factor in the fact that the 1949 edition assessed the 1939 population at 16,643,120, you arrive at a difference of 5,376,520.
an essay by Gord McFee
This essay describes, from a methodological perspective, some of the inherent flaws in the “revisionist” 1 approach to the history of the Holocaust. It is not intended as a polemic, nor does it attempt to ascribe motives. Rather, it seeks to explain the fundamental error in the “revisionist” approach, as well as why that approach of necessity leaves no other choice.
It concludes that “revisionism” is a misnomer because the facts do not accord with the position it puts forward and, more importantly, its methodology reverses the appropriate approach to historical investigation.
What Is the Historical Method?
History is the recorded narrative of past events, especially those concerning a particular period, nation, individual, etc. It recounts events with careful attention to their importance, their mutual relations, their causes and consequences, selecting and grouping events on the ground of their interest or importance. 2 It can be seen from this that history acknowledges the existence of events and facts and seeks to understand how they came about, what they resulted in, how they are interconnected and what they mean.
The distinctions need to be made among facts, analysis and interpretation. Facts are demonstrably empirical events whose occurrence can be proven using evidentiary methods. Analysis is the method of determining or describing the nature of a thing by resolving it into its parts. Interpretation is the attempt to give the meaning of something. It follows that facts lead to analysis which leads to interpretation. And it follows that each step in the process is more subjective than the preceding step.
In this context, history is inductive in its methodology, in that it accumulates the facts, tries to determine their nature and their connectivities and then attempts to weave them into an understandable and meaningful mosaic.
What is Legitimate Historical Revisionism?
On its basic level, revisionism is nothing more than than the advocacy of revision, which in itself is the act of revising, or modifying something that already exists. Applied to history, it means that historians challenge the accepted version of the causes or consequences of historical events. As such, it is an accepted and important part of historical endeavour for it serves the dual purpose of constantly re-examining the past while also improving our understanding of it. Indeed, if one accepts that history attempts to help us better understand today by better understanding how we got here, revisionism is essential.
Three examples of legitimate historical revisionism should suffice to illustrate this:
- A.J.P. Taylor has applied a very new interpretation to the events leading up to the Second World War. He minimizes Hitler’s role in those events – the Anschluß with Austria, the annexation of the Sudetenland, the Danzig crisis, the role of the Allies, appeasement – compared to the standard interpretation, while portraying Nazi Germany as much less centralized and monolithic than the norm. 3
- Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has challenged virtually all the usual interpretations of the reasons for the complicity of many Germans in the perpetration of the Holocaust, and has posited that ordinary Germans willingly involved themselves because of the existence of a deep-rooted, eliminationist antisemitism in Germans of that era. He downplays, if not outright dismisses, the influence of Hitler and the Nazi Party. 4
- German historian Christian Gerlach has interpreted a diary entry by Joseph Goebbels and a newly discovered one from Heinrich Himmler to mean that the date of the decision by Hitler to exterminate the Jews is in December 1941 rather than late spring or early summer as most have till now believed. 5
What Do “Revisionists” Do?
“Revisionists” depart from the conclusion that the Holocaust did not occur and work backwards through the facts to adapt them to that preordained conclusion. Put another way, they reverse the proper methodology described above, thus turning the proper historical method of investigation and analysis on its head. That is not to say that historians never depart from a preconceived or desired result; they often do. But in adhering rigorously to the correct methodology, they accept that the result of their investigation may not be what they envisaged at the beginning. They are prepared to adapt their theories to that reality. Indeed, they are often required to revise their conclusions based on the facts. To put it tritely, “revisionists” revise the facts based on their conclusion.
Since “revisionists” depart from the conclusion that the Holocaust did not happen, i.e., they deny its existence, they are often called “deniers”. Rather than analyze historical events, facts, their causes and consequences, and their interactions with other events, they defend a conclusion, whether or not the facts support it.
Why they do this is not the subject of this piece, but a few examples of the distortions, evasions and denials that it forces on them will illustrate how intellectually dishonest it is. And it should be remembered that they are forced on them, since “revisionists” are denying a historical occurrence, then distorting the facts into accord with that denial.
The Conspiracy Theory
Since the facts are not in accord with the “revisionist” conclusion, they must find an all-encompassing way to dismiss them. This is not a simple task, since the facts converge in the result that the Nazis had a plan to exterminate European Jewry, succeeded in large part in accomplishing it, and left behind multitudinous evidence of the attempt. 6
Hence, “revisionists” must argue that there is a conspiracy to fabricate all that evidence – a conspiracy that must have begun its work before the end of the war – and one that continues to this day. “Organized Jewry” or several variants on “Zionists” are at the root of this conspiracy. The conspiracy theory manifests itself in the following contrived positions:
- survivor witnesses lied, even where their evidence is corroborated by documents, or other sources;
- perpetrator evidence was evinced through torture, fear for their families or falsified in various ways;
- documents left behind by the Nazis were falsified, don’t mean what they appear to mean, or are forgeries;
- photographs were faked;
- films were faked;
- words don’t mean what they appear to mean. When Himmler used the word “ausrotten” (exterminate) in respect of the Jews, he didn’t really mean “exterminate”. When Hitler used the word “vernichten” (annihilate) in respect of the Jews, he didn’t really mean “annihilate”. When the Einsatzgruppen spoke of killing Jewish women and children, they really meant partisans, even though partisans had a separate listing in the many reports they left behind;
- recorded speeches were faked. Himmler’s 1943 Posen speech, which was recorded, wasn’t really his voice, or parts were added later, or the technology to record didn’t exist in 1943 (it did), or it disagrees with Himmler’s notes for the speech (it doesn’t);
- the victims were responsible for what happened to them. The Jewish women and children were partisans or were guilty of committing heinous crimes, or both;
- Jews deserved rough treatment anyway. Even though the Holocaust didn’t happen, it would have nonetheless been justified because the Jews are an alien, parasitical race, hell-bent on destroying the noble Aryan, and/or defiling his blood, etc.;
- if no written Hitler order for the Holocaust can be found, there was no order at all;
- no gas chamber is currently functioning. Therefore, there never were gas chambers. But even if there were gas chambers, they were only for fumigating clothing, even if they were in morgues.
Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus
Since, as this list shows, the amount of empirical evidence for the Holocaust is so overwhelming, the “revisionists” must throw in another dismissal trick. This has been called the “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” condition (one thing mistaken equals all things mistaken). It means, for example, that if any single piece of survivor evidence can be shown to be wrong, all survivor evidence is wrong and is to be dismissed. If any Nazi official lied about an aspect of the Holocaust (on-topic or not), all Nazi officials lied, and anything Nazis said after the war is dismissed. If any Nazi can be shown to have been tortured or mistreated, they all were and anything they said is invalid.
“Revisionism” is obliged to deviate from the standard methodology of historical pursuit because it seeks to mold facts to fit a preconceived result, it denies events that have been objectively and empirically proved to have occurred, and because it works backward from the conclusion to the facts, thus necessitating the distortion and manipulation of those facts where they differ from the preordained conclusion (which they almost always do). In short, “revisionism” denies something that demonstrably happened, through methodological dishonesty.
Its ethical dishonesty and antisemitic motivation are topics for another day.
- The quotes around “revisionists” are not sneer quotes. They indicate that methodologically “revisionists” are not what they claim to be. This is explained in detail in the body of the essay.
- Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language, Volume 1, New York, 1973, p. 599.
- A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1964.
- Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1996.
- Die Zeit, edition of January 9, 1998. His findings are reported in Zeitschrift Werkstatt Geschichte, Heft 18/1997.
- See inter alia Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews; Gilbert, The Holocaust; Yahil, The Holocaust; Dawidowicz, The War Against the European Jews 1933-1945; Breitman, The Architect of Genocide; Less, Eichmann Interrogated; Fleming,Hitler and the Final Solution; Broszat et al., Anatomie des SS-Staates; and many more.
Gordon McFee received his Master’s degree in 1973, from the University of New Brunswick, Canada, and Albert Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (split studies), in history and German.