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David Irving has claimed that the Holocaust was a “hoax” and that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz; discuss the evidence for and against this claim.
“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.”
-W.E.B Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 1935.
There could not be a more appropriate account to go with the debate between Holocaust deniers, and those who see it as a genuine event in history. From our mid teens we are taught about the events that occurred under Hitler’s reign, the most horrific of those being the mass genocide of an estimated eleven million people, many of which Jews, during the Holocaust. It is also taught that the most famous extermination camp existed at Auschwitz, where up to 10’000 people were exterminated per day. These are exactly the kind of facts that were presented to me during school, and to many others; some individuals, however, claim that this horrific event never took place.
Those who claim the Holocaust did not appear as traditional history describes, believe that “the current mainstream understanding of the Holocaust is the result of a deliberate Jewish conspiracy created to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other nations.” (1) A statement remarkably closely related to the anti-Semitic views of the Nazi’s. In the case of Holocaust deniers, it is more of a case of a lack of evidence which they use to promote their views; no conclusive evidence has been presented, with numerous Holocaust deniers admitting to have lied about so called facts. (2)
The main claims which Holocaust deniers make are that the Nazis had no formal policy or plan of exterminating Jews. That Nazis did not use gas chambers to mass-murder Jews, and that the figure of between 5 and 6 million Jewish deaths is a significant exaggeration and the actual number is much lower, a few hundred thousand at most. Other claims include the notion that the documentary evidence in support of the Holocaust, photographs and the Diary of Anne Frank for example, is fabricated, that survivor testimonies are unreliable, and that the Nazi prisoners’ confessions were obtained through the use of torture – a process which can lead to inaccurate information. (3) One example of survivor testimonies being unpredictable is an excerpt of a conversation David Irving supposedly had with a survivor:
“IRVING: You said you saw smoke coming from the crematoria?
IRVING: Is that correct?
IRVING: But crematoria do not smoke, Mrs Altman. Go and visit your local crematorium in Sydney”
(Evans (2002) page 142)
Irving took challenging the Holocaust to the extreme, and proclaimed himself as a Hitler supporter, which may have something to do with him living, working and studying in Germany for many years. In Irving’s book, Hitler’s War, he states “that Hitler did not order the extermination of Europe’s Jews: the mass killings must have been carried out by Himmler and his cohorts behind Hitler’s back” (4)
The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) states that “The Institute does not ‘deny the Holocaust’.” And that “there is no dispute over the fact that large numbers of Jews were deported to concentration camps and ghettos, or that many Jews died or were killed during World War II.” But that the “Holocaust – the alleged extermination of some six million Jews (most of them by gassing) – is a hoax and should be recognized as such by Christians and all informed, honest and truthful men everywhere.” More than being just a pro-Nazi viewpoint, Holocaust deniers believe that the death-toll amount which is widely accepted is a falsehood in an attempt to get more compensation, and sympathy. It is believed that the interest of the Zionist movement is to augment the amount of Holocaust deaths so that their gains will be greater. (5)
The Holocaust deniers maintain that the Holocaust is a myth in order to establish the possibilities which can occur when an individual or group of people try to play God. This claim may have resulted from various factors, and in many cases of a denial, a particular political agenda backs it up, along with their own personal beliefs colouring their view. To fully understand the claims of these people, both sides of the debate must be looked at.
The case which acknowledges the Holocaust as it is presented has much more convincing evidence, the most notable of which being photographs, video footage and personal accounts. Where the Holocaust deniers get their supposed evidence from however, is the jigsaw in which the evidence which shows the Holocaust as the event we’re taught it to be is made up of. Those denying the event say that the pieces of primary sources which prove the existence of the Holocaust, are in fact fabricated in an attempt to make people think that certain events happened when thy in fact, did not. (1)
There are many accounts from survivors of the Holocaust, a selection of which exists in Lyn Smiths “Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust”, within which mentions the implementation of the “final solution”. In the same note it is said that upon arrival, most were “sent immediately to the gas chamber and crematorium.” (6). For females in concentration camps it was an even more shocking ordeal – regularly being raped, and on giving birth having their babies taken from them to be murdered. Dennis Avey, a British prisoner of war at Auschwitz gives his account:
“Now dreadful things were happening in Auschwitz-Birkenau during 1944. They were gassing and burning thousands of people who could not work any more because of their failing strength; I knew practically everything that was going on there…They just put them into the gas chambers using this Zyklon B gas and then they were burned. And this happened day in and day out.” (6)
There are many other accounts which describe similar stories, such a vast amount of matching testimonies can not possibly be a fabrication, but that is not the only evidence which supports the events of the Holocaust and Auschwitz. There are many photographs of the gas chambers, and of mass graves. Not only is there masses of evidence recorded to verify the authenticity of the Holocaust; but it is backed up by sworn testimony from both victims and the culprits. In addition to this there is evidence which Allied soldiers discovered when they liberated the camps. There is also a host of documentary evidence; the Nazi’s were extremely particular about keeping records, some of which were presented as evidence to the Nuremberg Tribunal and a set of evidence from several post-war trials. As well as archaeological evidence as further proof, there are bookings by the SS for the ‘special trains’ to Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
Of course, the issue which arises with both of these claims, and history as a whole, is that unless someone is actually present at an event and experiencing something, they have no way of knowing exactly what went on during a given time and date. It is for these reasons which we need to rely on sources other than ourselves to understand the past, and a primary source is the most reliable place to look first. Talking with a Holocaust survivor, reading the diaries like that of a certain Anne Frank hiding from the Gestapo, and looking at pictures and videos from Nazi Germany at that time allows for the closest link possible from today to the days gone by, and rejecting these ideas as a fabrication severs the best link to the truth.
Holocaust deniers will be inclined to believe what they want to be true, even if it does not match up historically. The Holocaust was a dismal time not only for the Jewish race, but also a cataclysmic event in the history of mankind. The idea that not all people are equal and those of less value need to be exterminated is a notion that should never have occurred. The evidence that we have today appears to confirm that the Jewish Genocide by the Nazi people was a real event. In addition, it is extremely difficult to reasonably doubt this event and believe that people would lie about such an ordeal.
1. Gizon, A. (2009). Holocaust. www.projectaladin.org. [Last accessed 23 June 2010]
2. Nikzor, P. (2008). David Irving. www.nizkor.org. [Last accessed 23 June 2010]
3. Lipstadt, D. (2009). Denying the Holocaust. www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars. [Last accessed 23 June 2010]
4. Irving, D. (1991). Hitler’s War. London: Focal Point Publications.
5. Austin, B. (2004). Holocaust Denial. www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. [Last accessed 23 June 2010]
6. Smith, L. (2005). Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust. London: Ebury Press. P.156/210