WHAT IS HOLOCAUST DENIAL?
The Holocaust is one of the best documented events in history. “Holocaust denial” describes attempts to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. Common denial assertions are: that the murder of six million Jews during World War II never occurred; that the Nazis had no official policy or intention to exterminate the Jews; and that the poison gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp never existed.
A newer trend is the distortion of the facts of the Holocaust. Common distortions include, for example, assertions that: the figure of six million Jewish deaths is an exaggeration; deaths in the concentration camps were the results of disease or starvation but not policy; and that the diary of Anne Frank is a forgery.
Holocaust denial and distortion are generally motivated by hatred of Jews, and build on an accusation that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests. This view perpetuates long-standing antisemitic stereotypes by accusing Jews of conspiracy and world domination, hateful charges that were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Holocaust.
The United States Constitution ensures freedom of speech. Therefore, in the United States denying the Holocaust or engaging in antisemitic hate speech is not illegal, except when there is an imminent threat of violence. Many other countries, particularly in Europe where the Holocaust occurred, have laws criminalizing Holocaust denial and hate speech.
This timeline lists some key events in the evolution of Holocaust denial.
1942-1944: To conceal the evidence of their annihilation of Europe's Jews, Germans and their collaborators destroy evidence of mass graves at the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers, and at thousands of sites of mass shooting operations throughout German-occupied Poland, the German-occupied Soviet Union, and Serbia, including Babi Yar, in an operation code named Aktion 1005.
1943: In a speech to SS Generals at Poznan, Heinrich Himmler, Reich Leader (Reichsführer) of the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons), remarks that the mass murder of the European Jews will be kept secret, never to be recorded.
1955: Willis Carto founds an influential, far right group based in Washington, DC, that eventually comes to be known as the Liberty Lobby. Led by Carto until its bankruptcy in 2001, the Liberty Lobby advocates a “racially pure” United States and blames Jews for problems facing the US and the world. The Liberty Lobby begins to publish Holocaust denial literature in 1969.
1959: American clergyman Gerald L. K. Smith's antisemitic publication, Cross and the Flag, claims that six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust but immigrated to the United States during World War II.
1964: Paul Rassinier, a French Communist who had been interned by the Nazis, publishes The Drama of European Jewry, in which he claims that gas chambers were an invention of a “Zionist establishment.”
1966-67: American historian Harry Elmer Barnes publishes articles in the Libertarian periodical Rampart Journal claiming that the Allies overstated the extent of Nazi atrocities in order to justify a war of aggression against the Axis powers.
1969: Noontide Press, a subsidiary of the Liberty Lobby, publishes a book entitled The Myth of the Six Million.
1973: Austin J. App, professor of English literature at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, publishes a pamphlet: The Six Million Swindle: Blackmailing the German People for Hard Marks with Fabricated Corpses. The pamphlet becomes a foundation for future claims by Holocaust deniers.
1976: Northwestern University engineering professor Arthur R. Butz publishes The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry. Butz was the first Holocaust denier to use the pretense of academic rigor to disguise his falsehoods. Northwestern responds by declaring Butz's statements an “embarrassment” to the university.
1977: Ernst Zündel, a German citizen living in Canada, establishes Samisdat Publishers, which issues neo-Nazi literature that includes Holocaust denial. In 1985 the Canadian government prosecuted Zündel with distributing information he knew to be false.
1977: David Irving publishes Hitler's War, arguing that Hitler neither ordered nor condoned the Nazi policy of the genocide of the European Jews. Irving distorts historical evidence and scholarly methods to lend legitimacy to his thesis.
1978: William David McCalden (also known as Lewis Brandon) and Willis Carto found the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) in California, which publishes material and sponsors conferences denying the Holocaust. The IHR masks its hateful, racist messages under the guise of valid academic inquiry.
1980: The IHR promises a $50,000 reward to anyone who can prove that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. Survivor Mel Mermelstein submits an affidavit of his internment at Auschwitz and brings suit against the IHR when the institute refuses to pay. In October 1981, Superior Court judge Thomas T. Johnson uses "judicial notice," which allows courts to recognize as fact matters that are common knowledge, to issue a ruling that the Holocaust was fact and that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
1981: A French court convicts literature professor Robert Faurisson of inciting hatred and discrimination for calling the Holocaust a “historical lie.”
1984: In a landmark case, a Canadian court convicts public school teacher James Keegstra of “willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group” for espousing Holocaust denial and other antisemitic views to his social studies students.
1986: On July 8, the Israeli parliament passes a law criminalizing denial of the Holocaust.
1987: California-based Bradley Smith founds the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. During the early 1990s, Smith's organization places full-page advertisements or editorial pieces in more than a dozen American college newspapers under the headline “The Holocaust Story: How Much is False? The Case for Open Debate.” Smith's campaign helps to blur the line between hate mongering and freedom of speech.
1987: Jean Marie Le Pen, leader of France's far right Nation Front party, suggests that gas chambers were merely a “detail” of World War II. Le Pen runs for president in France in 1988 and comes in fourth.
1987: Moroccan-Swedish writer Ahmed Rami begins broadcasting on Radio Islam, based in Sweden. The station describes the Holocaust as a Zionist/Jewish claim. Radio Islam later posts The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Mein Kampf, and other antisemitic texts on its website.
1988: At the request of Ernst Zündel, Fred Leuchter (a self-proclaimed specialist in execution methods) travels to the site of the Auschwitz killing center. He later issues the Leuchter Report : An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, Poland, which is cited by Holocaust deniers to cast doubt on the use of gas chambers for mass murder.
1989: David Duke, a white supremacist, wins a seat in the Louisiana State Legislature. Duke sells Holocaust denial literature from his legislative office.
1990: After Illinois becomes the first American state to mandate teaching about the Holocaust in public schools, parents Ingeborg and Safet Sarich publicly protest by pulling their 13-year-old daughter out of school. The Sariches also mail 6,000 letters to public officials, scholars, journalists, and Holocaust survivors attacking the historical record as “rumors and exaggerations.”
1990: The French government enacts the Gayssot Law which declares that questioning the scale or existence of crimes against humanity (as defined in the London Charter of 1945) is a criminal offense. This act marks the first European statute explicitly outlawing denial of the Holocaust.
1990: In the course of criminal proceedings brought against Fred Leuchter by the State of Massachusetts, it is revealed that Leuchter never actually earned an engineering degree or license. Leuchter admits that he has no training in biology, toxicology, or chemistry, all of which are crucial to the claims of the 1988 Leuchter Report, which is often cited to support claims made by Holocaust deniers.
1990: A Swedish court sentences Ahmed Rami to six months in jail for “hate speech” and revokes the broadcasting license of Radio Islam for one year.
1991: The American Historical Association, the oldest professional organization of historians, issues a statement: “No serious historian questions that the Holocaust took place.”
2000: A British court declares David Irving an “active Holocaust denier.” Irving had sued Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel following the publication of her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
2005: In a speech broadcast on live television on December 14, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a “myth.”
2006: Iran's government sponsors a meeting of Holocaust deniers in Tehran cloaked as an academic conference called “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision.”
2007: On January 26, the United Nations adopts a resolution condemning denial of the Holocaust. The General Assembly declares that denial is “tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.”
2007: The European Union approves legislation that makes Holocaust denial a crime punishable by time in jail.
2009: English-born Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson denies the existence of gas chambers and minimizes the extent of killing during the Holocaust. The Vatican eventually calls on Williamson to retract his statements.
2010: Bradley Smith places his first online Holocaust denial advertisement, which appears on the website of the University of Wisconsin's Badger Herald in February. The Internet—because of its ease of access and dissemination, seeming anonymity, and perceived authority—is now the chief conduit of Holocaust denial.