With 75th Anniversary of the liberation of arguably the most famous concentration camp complex of Auschwitz, and the discovery of the Holocaust, marked on Monday 27th January. With Reel History’s upcoming episode exploring the film Denial, Jenna Pateman discusses the murder of around 6 million Jews, and 11 million other “undesirables”, during the Third Reich.
Mild Spoiler Warning: The Holocaust Definitely Happened.
“The Holocaust (aka the Shoah) was a genocide in which Nazi Germany killed approximately six million Jews between 1933 and 1945.”
That is something everyone knows, right?
As this statement is the most basic definition of the Holocaust to which mainstream historians universally agree upon: Well. Personally, I would add the 17 million additional victims, who were included the horror purely due to their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or because they were considered mentally or physically inferior to the racially superior Germanic people. However, for pure simplification, this is a good place to start.
But why am I including such a simple definition of one of the most famous events in world history, something that we all surely learnt about at school?
An event that has been written about thousands of times, in historical books aimed at school children, right through to the hardcore academic. With fictional tales like Sophie’s Choice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or The Book Thief. Or the many more non-fiction tales including the Comic Book version Maus, where the title’s author, Art Spiegelman, depicted his father’s struggles during the Holocaust and became one of the first comic books to recognised as academically important, and the first to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
This is not to mention the thousands of depictions in both television and film, including documentary and film in every genre. Surprisingly this actually includes comedy with films such as The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin released in 1940, which condemned Adolf Hitler, as well as the antisemitism of Nazi Germany, and Jojo Rabbit which was only released in the last few weeks in Britain.
Even on the street, there are statues, art pieces, memorials reminding us of the millions that died that are placed all around the world. As well as museums, most of which tend to have at least a mention to the Holocaust. However, many have an exhibition regarding the event or have simply dedicated the entire building to the Holocaust. The sites associated with the Holocaust, including the camps, have become tourist attractions in their own right, with tens of thousands of visitors every year. Everyone knows about the Holocaust! We have been indicted with it. It is very likely to be one of the most depicted events in every media medium in human history!
But why am I discussing this? Well, this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, is a milestone, marking the 75th anniversary since the Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz camp complex and many people of the general public started to learn about the full extent of the Nazi’s hatred. So, it an excellent time to write about it. It is also because, despite the amount of evidence we have (prosecutors at the Nuremberg trial submitted some 3,000 tons of records!) and media representation, Holocaust denial is on the rise all around the world.
In a poll released for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019, revealed that five per cent of British adults do not believe that holocaust took place and that forty-five per cent don’t know how many people were killed. Nineteen per cent believing the figure being under two million. This is in line with a study conducted in 1993 for the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when American’s were asked: “Do you think it is possible or impossible that the Holocaust did not happen?” A shocking number, twenty-two per cent of adults and twenty per cent of high school pupils replied that it was possible that the Holocaust did not happen. There are also many other studies conclude that Holocaust Denial is on the rise.
However, the fact that five per cent of the British population don’t believe that the Holocaust happened is a serious cause for alarm. Asking question about things that happened during the Holocaust is fine, even questioning the figure can be fine. However, we must understand WHY people are asking these questions? Is it genuine curiosity and the want to learn, or is it to undermine the validity of the Holocaust, and why would they want to do that.
Deniers, who often self-described themselves as ‘revisionists’ in an attempt to make it seem like they are merely reinterpreting history evidence, rather than consciously rewriting and distorting the history for their political reasons. The rewriting of history can be used to excuse both other historical events and current events. Some of the most famous people to do this was the Nazi’s themselves used history and archaeology as reasons justification to why they were allowed to invade areas of Europe, including Poland, whose invasion kicked off the Second World War.
The Nazi’s even used false historical narratives in a lot of their propaganda. In 1940, Joseph Goebbels commissioned three of the most antisemitic films of all time, one ‘documentary’ Der Ewige Jude, (The Eternal Jew, or the Wandering Jew), and two historical-based narrative films Jud Süß (Süß the Jew) and Die Rothschilds. All three films claimed historical accuracy and were likely an attempt to counter three films: Jew Süss, The House of Rothschild, and The Wandering Jew. The three British films released between 1933–34 all depicted their Jewish characters in a favourable light while the persecution of the Jewish people throughout history in a negative light. The Goebbels versions were to present the opposite message.
Two of the films flopped at the German Box office, Die Rothschilds for simply being hammy, cheap and boring. Der Ewige Jude, the film that Hitler believed would engage the German Public and educate them about the evils of the Jews, had claims and images that were so extreme, audiences were repelled. This meant that the ‘documentary’ was only really seen by those that already held Nazi Ideals.
Goebbels learnt from the two previous films and decided to “introduce propaganda as a subliminal message within the context of a story with which the audience could identify.” So, Jud Süß combined the Nazi message with an engaging story, some well known German actors in the lead roles, ensured the film looked lavish and sewn in antisemitic messages and images as part of the narrative. The film was a massive blockbuster, with 20 million German’s viewing the film. A film in which claims to be historically accurate, however, the only reliable things about the film is that a Jewish man named Joseph Süß Oppenheimer did serve Duke Karl Alexander, and was brought to trial and then executed after the Duke’s death. Some of the clothing is close to what was worn during the period. Everything else in the piece is pure bunk, and all helped create the image of the Jew as the ‘other’ in the public’s mind, which helped Hitler and his party to install ghettos, work camps and then the Final Solution.
Holocaust Denial today is about rewriting the historical narrative, by either stating the entire Holocaust was faked, just didn’t happen, or was not supposed to be a genocide, only an expulsion. Others indicate that the Nazi’s really weren’t that bad, indicating that the reported deaths were overexaggerated. And didn’t Stalin kill more people during the Holodomor (possible, however so? Both are stains on humanity’s collective history) and that the Allies of WWII were also responsible for civilian deaths (Such as bombing of Dresden).
So many of these strategies are entirely on show during the 2016 film Denial. Based on the book by Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial, itself based on the real-life libel trial of Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin by David Irving after she called him a Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust. Throughout many of Irving’s works, he wrote history in such a way that it downplayed the enormity of both Hitler’s and the Nazi’s party part to play in the Holocaust. This basically whitewashed history was to such an extent that Irving claimed that the biography he had written on Hitler, an act of cleaning, removing “years of grime and discolouration” that had been placed on Hitler’s reputation, unjustly according to Irving.
Throughout Irving’s works had so many mistakes had been found by Historian Richard Evans, the Expert Witness hired by Lipstadt’s Solicitor firm that the report that was submitted to the court was over 400 pages long. Irving’s claim and statements that were brought to the courtroom included such gems as the claim that Nazi’s did not use gas chambers to kill Jewish prisoners (using the very very debunked Leuchter Report), claimed that the Final Solution had taken place without Hitler’s knowledge, asked a Holocaust survivor how much money she had made off her number tattoo, as well as claiming that the survivor’s testimony was lies and that Auschwitz was ‘just’ a slave labour camp, among so many more claims.
His books presented “deliberate manipulations, misinterpretations, omissions and mistranslations of the evidence” when it came to the history surrounding the Second World War. Due to his works mostly read by readers that were outside of academic history, Lipstadt saw him as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial,” as were they supposed to able to spot the mistakes and know of the context that he wrote his books? Was an armchair historian suppose to know that Irving’s depiction of Nazi Germany and its leaders reflected his dangerous neo-fascist, right-wing and conspiratorial views. Especially as Irving had built up a reputation within the media that he was an expert of the Third Reich…
Irving claimed that his “duty as an historian [was] to establish the truth,” claiming that he was a “non-conformist historian” and that he was fighting back against of history academia, by claiming unlike academic historians, he went to the primary sources and that he was just asking questions and examining them from a different point of view. I feel like it is important to point out that asking questions about the Holocaust is not a bad thing, nor is historical revisionism, this is how we learn, and often leads to more research being done. Even among mainstream historians, there are often questions that are augured about, such as was the Final Situation planned from the very beginning, as Hitler and the Nazi party gained power in Germany? Or was a slow evolving plan, that escalated from a climate of extreme antisemitism and hatred of the other to the killing of millions? These arguments for either functionalism or intentionalism have plenty of evidence and is a type of historical revision. However, this does not argue that the Holocaust did not happen.
There had been a revision in the history of the Holocaust many times, for example, Franciszek Piper, a manager for the Historical Department at Auschwitz, concluded in his research that 1.5 million people were killed at the camp, rather than the previous figure which was 4 million. The statistics of who died in the Holocaust is always in flux. In part, due to the scale of the killing as well as the Nazi’s attempts to hide the accurate scale of the war crimes that had been committed.
The closest we can get to exact numbers come from two of the most important Holocaust research institutions, estimating the number of Jewish victims from 5,846,032 (Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial Museum) to 6,273,676 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Yad Vashem has also been able to confirm at least 4.5 million names of the victims with their archive, known as the Wall of Names, as they attempt to save the victim’s names and faces, and “to thwart the stated Nazi intention of murdering them and wiping out their memory.”
When it comes to the additional victims, the number is anywhere between 11 million and 21.5 million.
The main difference between real historian revisionists, and the Holocaust denier’s ‘revisionists’ is that the real revisionist tries to upturn established histories using credible methodologies, striving for more clarity within the history of an event. A Holocaust denier, much like other deniers of other subjects such as climate change or evolution, has already pre-determined conclusion and will ignore overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The questioning of a denier is purposely to put doubt into the listener or reader, for example, there isn’t a specific order by Hitler to exterminate the Jewish population of occupied Europe or a record of a Jewish prisoner having ‘officially’ dying from being gassed. The reason for this questioning is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre is to either “seek to rehabilitate the Nazi regime,” and hopefully allow for Nazi-style fascism to be accepted by a wider audience, or it is merely “promote conspiracy theories about Jewish-controlled governments and media.”
Today, a lot of Holocaust denier discourse, especially as “the Holocaust wasn’t that bad”, and the “deaths that happened were not the main goal” has been seen in the YouTube videos of many of the Alt-right, ranging from full-on conspiracy videos outright denying the Holocaust, to the ‘trollz’ making ‘controversial’ jokes for the quick ‘lolz’. Examples include quotes like “They had a pool, they had a gym, they had a symphony orchestra” at Auschwitz, from the Daily Shoah, who then go on to say that “Their [the Jews] clothes were lice and pest free!” all of which is technically true, because the Auschwitz was a complex made of multiple camps, which served different types of punishment for the prisoners. It was so large, it was its own community, including having to also home all the staff that worked on the site, meaning there were many things on the camp that most people would not associate with the famous work and death camp. And the comment about clothing being pest-free, is simply a dog whistle to those in the Alt-Right who know the denier theory that the gas Zyklon B, which was used at the Death Camp (The only one on the Auschwitz complex was Camp Two, Birkenau) to gas incoming Jews and other prisoners that were not going to be worked to death, was only used in pest control, as the gas had been invented in the 1920s as an insecticide. Many videos that work to debunk the deniers get bombarded by dislikes and comments such as a “Death To Diaper Ghouls” posting on a video discussing the film Jud Süß states that
“Mr. H wasn’t a dumb man. He knew that if they were exterminated, the world would view our ancient friends as martyrs. That is exactly why the hoax continues to circulate. The shicks mewlyon is not unique to WWII. In fact it has been a number that was being used by our ancient friends for nearly 100 years before Mr. H. came to power. Look it up! (although it might take some digging. Google tries very hard to conceal these things).”
For now, I am going to leave things here, as I could easily write another 2000 plus words on this subject, and this was supposed to be a quick piece…
If you are interested in this topic, please listen to an upcoming episode of Reel History presented by Hugh K. David and myself, when we discuss one of the films discussed in this article, Denial.
There are many books and articles on the subject, and I would recommend anything by Deborah Lipstadt as she has become an expert in this area. Telling Lies about Hilter by Richard J. Evans (who was also involved with the Irving trial, his report on Irving is amazingly interesting) and Debunking Holocaust Denial Theories: Two Non-Jews Affirm the Historicity of the Nazi Genocide by James and Lance Morgan. There are also many wonderful YouTubers like Myles Powers using evidence and science to debunk the denier’s claims.
Thank You for Reading.
Jenna Pateman is one of the hosts of Reel History, now broadcasting on Bunkazilla. Check the schedule for upcoming broadcast times.
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