What are the reasons for denying the Holocaust?

Right-wing extremism

Christopher Egenberger

To person

Christopher Egenberger studied history and political science at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He was a consultant at the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation for six years and is currently Employee of the Courage Against Right-Wing Violence editorial team of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

In Germany, according to Section 130 (3) of the Criminal Code, it is forbidden to publicly approve, play down or deny the National Socialist genocide of European Jews. But there are still people who strive to reevaluate, reinterpret and rewrite history.

A compilation of photographs of former Jewish prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp on a wall at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. (& copy AP)

In Germany, according to Section 130 (3) of the Criminal Code, it is forbidden to publicly approve, play down or deny the National Socialist genocide of European Jews. Because although the Holocaust is one of the best researched and documented events of the past, there are still people who do not want to recognize this historical fact and strive to rewrite history. The theses of these revisionists aim to relativize the Nazi crimes, and it is not uncommon for the existence of extermination camps and gas chambers to be questioned in part, but also completely. The following argumentation strategies can be described as examples:

1) With the help of pseudo-scientific reports, the feasibility of mass murder in the concentration camps is questioned. Holocaust deniers argue that, for example, no residues of poison gas were found in the gas chambers or that the crematoria in Auschwitz were far too small for mass cremation of corpses. However, such arguments have been completely refuted by detailed scientific studies and court reports.

2) Some revisionists try to release Hitler and the Nazi leadership from their responsibility by admitting crimes against the Jews, but denying the targeted planning and systematic implementation of a genocide. Individuals would have acted accordingly without an express order from above. Such an argument, which is directly linked to Nazi propaganda, often blames the Jews themselves for the crimes committed against them. They would have provoked a "popular anger" through their actions, which is reflected in such spontaneous acts. Even if serious historical research discusses impulses for the final solution from the lower decision-making levels under the term "structuralism", a central role of Hitler and the top management in the planning and implementation of the extermination policy is unquestionable.

3) A third strategy is to play down the extent of the genocide. While the renowned historian Wolfgang Benz estimates the number of Jewish victims of National Socialism at around six million, revisionists argue that such a number of Jews did not even have lived under German control. Since the registration lists of the concentration camps were destroyed, the surviving death books are referred to, in which, however, the victims of the gassings were not listed. This leads to the assertion that the concentration camps did not serve the purpose of scheduled extermination. The high mortality is due exclusively to malnutrition and illnesses and in this respect does not differ from the conditions in the US prison camps in the Rhineland.

4) The previous point already points to the strategy of relativizing Nazi crimes by referring to Allied acts of war. The German approach would have been determined by the war, in which atrocities were committed on both sides. In this sense, the statements from the parliamentary group of the NPD in the Saxon state parliament from April 2005 can be seen, which described the Allied air raids on Dresden as a "bomb holocaust". A comparison with other genocides can also help cast doubt on the singularity of the Holocaust. But this is based on the fact that expropriation, expulsion and murder were the openly formulated goal of a modern European industrial state, carried out with all bureaucratic-industrial means and even the murders were subjected to financial exploitation.

5) It is not uncommon for Holocaust deniers to mix up their absurd view of history with often anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. After that, the Allies staged the lie of genocide in order to harm Germany and to eliminate it once and for all as an equal opponent. The Jews would use the exuding lie to extort more reparations payments. They also put moral pressure on the international community to support the State of Israel.

History revisionists try to present their theses as serious research. Often their writings are provided with the addition 'Report' or 'Expert opinion' and appear in pseudo-scientific magazines. Another tactic to create the appearance of a professional discourse is to use countless footnotes and quotations, but only one Holocaust denier relates to the next. The reader is thus led around in an argumentative way. It even happens that a reference is made to one's own publication published under a pseudonym. Evidence or arguments contradicting their claims are barely taken note of, but rather rejected as forgery or fraud. An impartial review and evaluation of the facts, as the revisionists themselves repeatedly demand, is fundamentally undesirable.

For the revisionists' endeavors are by no means an academic question, but rather the pursuit of tangible political goals. A relativization of the German guilt should help to portray the consequences of the lost war - reparation payments and territorial losses - as an unjust and harsh punishment. A revision of the historiography must then also be followed by a revision of the German eastern border. This is how the cynical remarks of the NPD chairman Udo Voigt, which the SWR program 'Monitor' broadcast in June 2007, are to be understood: "Six million cannot be right. A maximum of 340,000 can have perished in Auschwitz. Then the Jews always say: Even if only one Jew perished because he is a Jew, that is a crime. But of course it makes a difference whether we pay for six million or for 340,000. And then at some point there is also the uniqueness of this great crime - or supposedly great crime away. [...] Pomerania, West Prussia, East Prussia, Silesia, whether this is Königsberg, whether this is Danzig, whether this is Breslau, these are all German cities for us [...] to which we naturally claim. "

Last but not least, dealing with such an incomparable excess of nationalism hinders the "relaxed" expression of a new German national feeling that the revisionists want. But the Auschwitz lie is also used politically outside of Germany. So it serves anti-Zionists as an argumentation aid to deny Israel's right to exist. This is the context in which the Holocaust conference and caricature competition, which Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad initiated in 2005, stand. Numerous Holocaust deniers from numerous countries were invited to the conference. Historical revisionism in relation to the Holocaust was not limited to Germany as a perpetrator nation from the start. Significant impulses came from the USA and France. This benefits the revisionists today, as there are laws in numerous countries against the denial of the National Socialist genocide. They use their international connections to spread their propaganda from abroad. The internet is becoming more and more important.

Finally, the question arises how one should deal with such attitudes. Serious historians generally reject a technical discussion because, on the one hand, they do not want to upgrade the revisionist positions as worthy of discussion and, on the other hand, they have always shown themselves to be resistant to arguments denying the Holocaust. Imprisonment, fines and entry bans, on the other hand, have had an effect by considerably restricting the revisionists' options for action. However, because of the Internet, they will never be able to be completely silenced. It is therefore all the more important to carry out broad educational and educational work so that young people in particular are not confronted with this propaganda unprepared. This task does not get any easier as the time lag behind the Nazi era and after the last eyewitnesses died out. The repeated calls from the middle of society to finally draw a line under the German past show that it is not only the so-called right-wing fringe that is susceptible to the goals and argumentation strategies of the revisionists.

Anyone who would like to find out more about the Third Reich and the genocide of European Jews should refer to the standard works by Wolfgang Benz: 'History of the Third Reich' (Munich 2000) and 'The Holocaust' (Munich 1999).