"It’s all a conspiracy…." At first I didn’t take him seriously. We were passing by the Hillel center one evening and I wasn’t quite paying attention to what my friend was telling me. "What?" I asked, still laughing from the joke someone had made a few seconds before. "It’s all a conspiracy; it’s not as big as they all say it was." His words pierced the air and the group was somewhat quieter for a moment, quieter than they’d ever been all together before. It was as if my stomach was punched hard and I gasped for air, still confused as to why my good friend would say something like this. It felt like it was a joke at first, he couldn’t really believe this, and then it hit me. I realized what this statement meant to me. It went against everything I’d learned about the Holocaust, it said my grandparents were liars and their stories were fabrications that they so easily convinced me to be true. It offended me. Why would James say this? He’s not stupid or uneducated and to my knowledge not an antisemite, I mean, he knew that John and I were both Jewish. He comes from at fully developed town only about a 30 minute drive from my home in the Bay Area. I had assumed that most Holocaust deniers were drastic right–wing people that came from more conservative states like Indiana or Alabama or someplace far away from me. I didn’t believe any people my age, any of my friends, could ever declare that the Holocaust was a conspiracy. We’d been taught a great deal about the Holocaust in school, and where would he get such an idea anyhow? Why did he believe this? Is James an antisemitic Holocaust denier? In most cases, Holocaust deniers are antisemites, whether they became such after their denial testimonies attracted antisemitic groups (such as David Irving,) or whether they already had deep rooted antisemitic feelings before beginning to openly deny the Holocaust.
Holocaust denial is a propaganda movement active in the United States, Canada and Western Europe that seeks to deny the reality of the Nazi regime's systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II. Denying the Holocaust is a sign of antisemitism and in some cases fascist extremism. Throughout Holocaust denier history, time and time again we find that the statements made by these deniers stem from a hatred against Jews. We know that Nazis tried to cover all traces of mass killings and other brutalities by the end of the war. After World War II, besides former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers hiding Holocaust evidence and hoping the world wouldn’t believe in this atrocity, Holocaust denial first became apparent in France. Fascist writers wrote books about Allied war propaganda, saying the evidence regarding that concentration camps and the number of deaths was falsified. One writer, Maurice Bardeche, wrote about the Holocaust as early as 1947, only two years after the war ended. He wrote that Nazis weren’t only to blame for the war, but that Jews themselves started it by supporting the Treaty of Versailles. He argued that Germans were only defending themselves from Communist Stalin and that Allied bombing raids were the real war crimes. This doesn’t make sense however, since Hitler signed a treaty with Stalin that he himself broke, while Stalin showed no intentions of taking over Germany. Bareche was the first to say that photos and documentary evidence of the Holocaust was bogus and that gas chambers weren’t used to kill the Jews, but used to disinfect them. These ideas and those of other French Holocaust deniers of the time were accepted by contemporary deniers, and similarities in argument can be seen in deniers today. The ideas of these French deniers and others reached the United States by the 1950s and 1960s. For a while deniers were mainly found in extremist and racist groups, yet slowly their influence has trickled into more respected groups. They are gaining resources and an audience. This is how they can achieve power.
Holocaust deniers are now even more capable of reaching masses of people. Propaganda has been passed around as advertisements in college newspapers, pamphlets, magazines (such as Catholic Weekly), pseudo-scholarly journals, on television, radio, and now the internet. While newspapers, pamphlets, internet, television, and radio reach a great many people, pseudo-scholarly journals can be most misleading to those trying to find truth. These journals mimic the style and layout of well known and credible journals and are even listed among the most noted scholarly journals, which confuses readers into simply believing what’s written. However, if looked at more closely, one will find that many of the authors of these articles have little recognition and often haven’t earned a degree in history. Where do such people find backing and resources for their propaganda?
The answer is The Institute of Historical Review based in Los Angeles. One might suspect this institute to review all historiography, and refute everything we’ve known about all historical events. However, the Institute (IHR) mainly focuses on developing new channels for their anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and sometimes pro-Nazi propaganda. This institute claims to be a "research, educational, and publishing center devoted to truth and accuracy in history," yet it boycotts the truth. Rather than making claims and accurately justifying them, the IHR only tries to disprove credible evidence. It was started in 1979 by a former National Front member, Dave McCalden, and by Willis Carto, the founder of the Liberty Lobby, an antisemitic and racist neo-Nazi group in the United States. It is comprised of professors without academic credentials such as David Irving, Henri Roques and Bradley Smith. Other members of IHR have degrees in areas other than history, such as Arthur Butz’ degree in engineering and Robert Faurisson’s degree in literature. Still other people associated with the organization are full fledged antisemites such as Mark Weber, the late David McCalden, and Ernst Zundel. All of these men are well-known Holocaust deniers who disseminate their work through the IHR. These men from all over the world converge and pool their ideas and funding within the IHR, creating a large, strong organization. The early tactics to gain publicity for the IHR were just a scam, foreshadowing the reality of its own beliefs and denial of the Holocaust. To gain publicity, co–founder McCalden announced a reward of fifty thousand dollars to the person who "could prove that the Nazis operated gas-chambers to exterminate Jews during World War II."(Lipstadt pg 137, Weber). The IHR sent letters to certain survivors in the area daring them to submit some sort of proof. Survivors not wanting the IHR to imply that they couldn’t come up with any evidence and feeling their credibility on the line, indeed took the necessary steps and research to comply with the IHR requests. Yet this was not enough for the IHR and soon they were demanding more, and making accusations until one survivor, Melvin Mermelstein, took the IHR to court and won (Lipstadt pg 139). Although he won, the IHR still got what it wanted in that it was now publicly known around the world and so began its trek to distribute information and "educate" people of the "non–orthodox" view of the Holocaust.
Supporters of IHR and the institute itself focus on several ideas to explain why the Holocaust should be denied. The first is that it’s a conspiracy. The IHR published an article attacking the Holocaust as a "hoax" by the Jews themselves. The article said:
We assert that the "Holocaust" lie was perpetrated by Zionist-Jewry’s stunning propaganda machine for the purpose of filling the minds of Gentile people the world over with such guilt feelings about the Jews that they would utter no protest when the Zionists robbed the Palestinians of the homeland with the utmost savagery (Weber).
Upon closer examination, one finds that the founding of the state of Israel was already on its way, having been set in motion decades before the Holocaust. Here is an example of how deniers can take some legitimate part of history and distort it their own anti- Semitic views. Supporters of the conspiracy idea maintain that Jews wanted to gain power and wealth with the propaganda. They say Jews continue this hoax to gain support for their state of Israel, to keep up with their collection of money as compensation from the Germany, and also to obtain attention and glorification from the media for their survival and heroism.
Another smaller twist of this conspiratorial view is that deniers, as pro-Germans, believe Jews tried to avenge the Germans. One denier, Austin J. App, maintained that the Germans were innocent and that even if they did imprison the Jews, any other country would have done the same in their situation, such as America imprisoning Japanese Americans. In defending the Germans, App, like so many other deniers, went back to the number of Jews killed, stating that it is impossible for six million to have died. He exaggerated the numbers of "German Jewish survivors," and the fact is, most of the Jews in concentration camps were not "German Jews" but rather came from countries occupied by Germany. He said these survivors and many of the claimed "six million dead" were actually hiding in America, as Jewish leaders continued the lies that millions of Jews had been killed. App wrote to Time magazine about his trip to Germany in 1949. There he witnessed Jews "arrogant to all Germans….German police seemed forbidden to touch them…as they lied, cheated and stole from Germans, almost at will" (Lipstadt pg 93). Here again we see App sympathizing with the Germans while describing Jews behavior in a most stereotypical way, used by many antisemites.
Extremism is another characteristic of some deniers, resulting in the inability of reasoning with them. Some examples of behaviors attributed to extremism include: a belief in an influential "conspiracy" and therefore a lack in faith of democracy, open hatred of opponents because they are "enemies" deserving this contempt, willingness to deny these "enemies" civil liberties, constantly making irrational accusations and lashing out at certain individuals, belief that they have the ultimate truth, and belief that America is controlled by some sort of powerful sabotage or conspiratorial group. Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman quote Brigitte Bailer-Galanda and Wolfgang Neugebauer from their book on current Austrian politics on "right-wing extremists, antisemites, and ‘revisionists,’ that "people with fears for their future, those who believe that ‘aliens’ and other ‘enemies’ are the personification of that fear, serve as a permanent reservoir for extreme right-wing rat-catchers of all hues."  This has clearly been the mindset of Holocaust deniers and antisemites who are afraid of the "Jewish enemy" and these fears and ignorance have formed hatred toward the group. There are many reasons antisemites come up with to hate Jews, including that they’re "Christ- killers" or "God killers," which are some of the very same reasons the Nazis came up with as reasons to kill the Jews. Therefore, if Nazis were antisemites and Holocaust deniers are continually being connected and openly claiming to be antisemites, one can conclude that Holocaust deniers are Nazi sympathizers and are ultimately oppressing the Jews yet again. At least that’s what one could argue using a denier’s logic.
The issue of enemies has been raised several times in the past discussion. Extremists’ main passion is their continual fighting against their "enemy." These enemies give them meaning, purpose and goals. It’s a matter of good vs. evil, and we’ve all seen it in any fairy tale or movie. The need for enemies is a natural need for humanity, as historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have studied how humans have evolved to form groups, thereby creating outcasts and thus more groups (Shermer and Grobman pg 91-93). These groups are bound by alliance, similar qualities or perceived similar qualities, and those that do not fit the profile are excluded as "enemies." People form groups to give themselves direction and purpose, to feel a part of something and often hate crimes are a result of people needing to feel powerful within a group. Nazism spread like wildfire throughout Germany and everyone from the women and men, down to the children and babies had their place and were "needed" within the regime. Germany united for the good of the country, and the Jews were singled out as enemies for their beliefs and for their supposed wealth. Holocaust deniers continue this need for enemies, as many are right–wing extremists and their antisemitic past has chosen Jews as the enemy for creating this "Holocaust propaganda."
Another excuse Holocaust deniers continually use to justify their denial of the Holocaust is the idea of "revisionism." Deniers claim that their views are simply the other side to what happened and they, like all historians, have the right to question history. Deniers say that they simply have an "unorthodox view" in contrast to the "orthodox" view. The official website of the IHR states that "revisionism promotes historical awareness and international understanding." Ultimately revisionism is the term Holocaust deniers use to describe themselves. Denier Arthur Butz writes on his website’s homepage: 
a minor question that sometimes arises is the relative merits of the terms "Holocaust denial" and "Holocaust revisionism" to describe the views on the Jewish "extermination" claim that I and others have expressed. Generally, my side says "Holocaust revisionism" and our enemies say "Holocaust denial."
Again this denier uses the term "enemy." It is the deniers themselves more than anyone else who makes the quest for the truth a battle. If they were real historians trying to honestly reach the truth about what happened in the Holocaust, they would be willing to work together with others with different points of view. They would take into account opposing views and be prepared to modify their own, for any investigator must look at both sides thoroughly before making a decision. Finally, Holocaust deniers in some cases completely deny that Holocaust happened, which is different from proposing a certain view of the issue. Two people might have different ideas of why something happened, but with all the evidence and testimony, some Holocaust deniers aren’t arguing a viewpoint, but that events happened at all. Instead of looking at the multitudes of evidence that prove the Holocaust existed, they dig through to find scraps of "evidence" to try to prove that the Holocaust might not be as drastic as everyone has previously believed. Some of these "revisionists" create evidence as their tactic for denying the Holocaust, while others stir up confusion and tension by creating debate about the subject at all. Deborah Lipstadt, who has written a book about Holocaust denial, refused to be on television to debate the issue, saying that there was nothing to debate. By allowing these deniers to get attention and even propose their views on national television, she knew she was falling right in to their plan. If deniers can create any doubt in the minds of viewers by coming up with absurd arguments making even Holocaust survivors seem incredulous, then they have won their battle.
Some might say "it’s a crime that these people deny the Holocaust!" In some countries it is a crime to deny the Holocaust or to challenge the existence of "crimes against humanity." Sources including those from the IHR report that "France and Israel have made it a crime to challenge the Holocaust story. Revisionists in France and Germany have been heavily fined for their views" (Weber). Other countries that have different laws against Holocaust denial include Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Canada, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. In contrast, Holocaust deniers are protected by America’s free speech amendment to the Constitution. This freedom that we treasure so dearly also comes with the price that some might abuse it.
If someone can say that the Holocaust never existed, what makes any other historical event safe? One could argue that the United States was never a colony of England or that there was no such thing as the Cold War. Even if ample evidence justifies these events, one could deny they existed or perhaps create some sort of evidence which "proves" they never occurred. Historians and others over time may have analyzed these events and may have different views as to exact dates and numbers, or causes and effects, yet no one denies the fact that they happened. This is where antisemitic Holocaust deniers overstep the boundaries of true historical revisionism. Refuting solid evidence with poor arguments and simply making up excuses such as that all people involved either "lied," were "scared," are "evil," were "tortured," or were "misinterpreted" doesn’t account for reasons in the end. It is antisemitism, and not desire to find the truth, which drives these Holocaust deniers. It is most likely anti- Semitism that is the core reason behind James’ conspiracy argument. As with all Holocaust deniers, it will take more than evidence to convince James the truth about the Holocaust, if that’s possible at all. Since no one can change the ideas of these deniers, I feel that it doesn’t make sense to continue trying to prove the Holocaust to people who will always find more "evidence" to back their claims. Giving deniers attention shows that they are proposing views worth arguing, and it also helps publicize their ideas (as with Mermelstein). Instead, historians and survivors should spend time and resources educating others whose minds aren’t yet corrupted. Holocaust deniers need to accept the facts themselves, as nothing and no one can destroy faith. We’ve already learned that from Holocaust survivors.
1. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust (New York: Plume, 1993) 49-51. (pg 93 reference to App, Austin J. The Six Million Swindle, pp 7-8). [back]
2. Mark Weber, "A Few Facts About the Institute for Historical Review." Institute of Historical Review, Nov. 2001, 23 Feb 2003 <http://www.ihr.org/>. [back]
3. Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, Denying History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000) 89. (Reference to Bailer-Galanda and Neugebauer, Incorrigibly Right (1996) 10. [back]
4. Arthur Butz, "Holocaust Denial or Holocaust Revisionism?" Nov. 18, 1997, <http://pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/~abutz/abhdhr.html>, accessed 23 Feb 2003. [back]
UCSB Oral History
Project Homepage > Research and Teaching
Homepage > Proseminar Papers
> Rise of Holocaust Deniers
Text written by Stephanie Moniz in March 2003
Uploaded May 16, 2003
This page part of the UCSB Oral History Project
Created and maintained by H. Marcuse and students