Saturday, 26 June 2010

Everybody Research the Holocaust Day - 30 June 2010

As those of you with a calendar will quickly spot, this is a rather premature post. I'd promised to post something on this subject on my blog on June 30th, during a senior moment. I should have remembered I'll be in a tent, probably far away from a keyboard on that date. So here's my modest and rather too early contribution to this effort.

To recap the reasons for researching the Holocaust on this day - a few 'fearless Islamic keyboard warriors' got annoyed about "Everybody Draw Mohammed" day and decided to retaliate by declaring 30th June "Everyone Research the Holocaust Day". The agenda behind this group is clear enough - its manifesto describes the Holocaust as a 'secular cult' and urges people to 'reject being emotionally blackmailed by Hollywood tales and holocaust museums'. Clearly, in the Islamic Radical dictionary "research" is synonymous with "deny". Unity at the Ministry of Truth blog has noticed the emergence of this nasty little group and has set up an alternative Facebook group, urging people to research the subject from a non-conspiracy-theorizing-denialist perspective.

I don't think there's anything wrong in questioning about what we think we know. There seems to me no good reason to make exceptions to this rule, even in sensitive areas as the Holocaust. What I'm getting a bit bored with is the repetition. After all, the revisionist question (strong version "did it really happen?", weak version "was what happened any worse than other horrible things that have happened in history?"), has been already been asked and fairly comprehensively answered in court. Maybe what's worth reminding ourselves what happened when denialism had its day in court.

The accepted version of the Holocaust (the deliberate killing of approximately six million European Jews in a systematic programme of state-sponsored genocide) has survived the deniers presenting what I assume must have been their best evidence in a court of law. The case of David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt was a golden opportunity for deniers to pick massive holes in the accepted narrative (and avoid substantial libel costs), assuming there was a robust body of hard evidence to support an alternative view.

In fact, despite a lifetime's obsessive study of Hitler and his regime, Irving's version of the Holocaust was packed full of startling conclusions that required massive suspensions of disbelief and shaky assertions that dissolved into equivocation and back tracking when challenged.

The real hard work has already been done by meticulous fact-checkers like Richard J Evans who have put Irvings's assertions under the microscope. The historical facts, as far as they can be verified, are the most important things here. There are, however, plenty of clues in the deniers' own questions and assertions that the questioning is isn't a disinterested search for historical truth, but a surreal dialogue with the reality-challenged. Some of the assumptions these people are working on are strange enough to be worth thinking about in themselves:

We reject being emotionally blackmailed by Hollywood tales and holocaust museums which legitimize the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the extremist Atheist regime of Tel-Aviv.

Come again? Israel ... an extremist atheist state? I'm assuming that in this person's head, any synagogues that tourists might have noticed are either elaborate Potemkin village-style hoaxes or hallucinations caused by too much sun. The interesting thing here isn't that some random person on Facebook is working from some pretty bizarre assumptions, but that the working assumptions of the more "respectable" Holocaust deniers have been almost as odd. For example, going back to Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt:

Irving does not dispute that Hitler was deeply anti-semitic from at least the end of World War I. But he claimed that, once Hitler came to power, he lost interest in anti-semitism.
Lost interest? Let's just recap. Nobody disputes that Hitler was "deeply anti-semitic" before he came to power. Here are a few of the things that happened after he came to power:

April 1, 1933 NSDAP encourages boycott of shops and businesses owned by Jews.

April 7, 1933 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, Article 3, section 1, "Civil servants who are not of Aryan descent are to be retired; if they are honorary officials, they are to be dismissed from their official status."

April 11, 1933 First legal definition of who is a Jew since the passing of the Enabling Act allotted to the Chancellor absolute powers, passed March 24, 1933.

Article 3 "A person is to be considered non-Aryan if he is descended from non-Aryan, and especially from Jewish parents or grandparents. It is sufficient if one parent or grandparent is non-Aryan. This is to be assumed in particular where one parent or grandparent was of the Jewish religion."

April 25, 1933 Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools

Restricts the proportion of Jews admitted to public education institutions to their proportion in the population.

September 15, 1935 Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour

Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood were forbidden. Marriages nevertheless concluded were deemed invalid, even if concluded abroad to circumvent this law. Extramarital intercourse between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood was forbidden.

Jews were forbidden from employing in their households female subjects of the state of German or related blood who were under 45 years old.

Jews were forbidden from flying the Reich or National flag or to displaying the Reich colours.

November 14, 1935 First Supplementary Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law - a further legal definition of who was a Jew, emphasising that Jews could not be citizens of the Reich and could not vote or hold public office.

August 17, 1938 Regulation requiring Jews to change their names.

"Section 1

1. Jews must be given only such first names as are specified in the directives issued by the Reich Minister of the Interior concerning the bearing of first names.

2. Section 1 does not apply to Jews of foreign nationality.

Section 2

If the Jews bear first names other than those authorised for Jews by Section 1, they must, from 1 January 1939, adopt another additional first name, namely `Israel' for men and `Sarah' for women."

November 9-10, 1938 Kristallnacht riots

November 12, 1938 Regulation for the Elimination of Jews from the Economic Life of Germany

Article 1

1) From January 1, 1939, Jews are forbidden to operate retail stores, mail-order houses, or sales agencies, or to carry on a trade independently.
2) They are...forbidden ... to offer for sale goods or services, to advertise these, or to accept orders at markets of all sorts, fairs or exhibitions. [Source: Y Arad, Documents on the Holocaust. London: Pergamon Press, 1981,pp.115-16]

Funnily enough, the man in charge of the regime when these things happened used to be a bit anti-semitic. But according to David Irving he'd already lost interest in anti-semitism by that point - how ironic is that? As he was now completely uninterested in anti-semitism, Hitler must have been bored to tears by his own closing speech to the Nuremberg Party Conference in September 1938

When the question is still put to us why National Socialism fights with such fanaticism against the Jewish element in Germany, why it pressed and still presses for its removal then the answer can only be: Because National Socialism desires to establish a true community of the people…. Because we are National Socialists we can never suffer an alien race which has nothing to do with us to claim the leadership of our working people." (Adolf Hitler, quoted in N H Baynes, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, Oxford University Press, 1942, Volume I, pp.735)
Strangely, for a man who was no longer an anti-semite, he had a lot to say about the Jewish question/problem after coming to power, too. The judge was unconvinced:

The evidence is incontrovertible (and Irving does not seek to dispute it) that Hitler was rabidly anti-semitic from the earliest days. He spoke, in his famous speech of 30 January 1939 and on other occasions, in the most sinister and menacing terms of the fate which awaited the Jews: they were a bacillus which had to be destroyed. The Defendants do not suggest that in the 1930s Hitler should be understood to have been speaking in genocidal terms. But, according to the Defendants, the position changed from late 1941 onwards. I was unconvinced by the strenuous efforts made by Irving to refute the sinister interpretation placed by the Defendants on Hitler’s pronouncements on the Jewish question from late 1941 onwards.

Not only was Hitler apparently no longer an anti-semite but, according to Irving, he had no idea what his immediate subordinates were up to. In particular, because no correspondence survives directly linking Hitler with the Wannsee Conference of 1942, Irving assumes that the planning for the most systematic phase of the genocide was done without his knowledge or approval:

As to the Wannsee conference, said Irving, Hitler was not present and there is no evidence that he was apprised of the discussions which there took place. Heydrich’s claim to have the authority of Hitler was either pro forma or a false claim designed to provide reassurance to those present.
It's an interesting assumption to make about Hitler, whose desire for control famously resulted in counterproductive attempts to micro-manage the conduct of the war.

Although Hitler might have been a better people-manager [than Churchill] in some ways, his tendency to attempt to micro-manage the Third Reich once the war broke out led directly to his downfall. Whereas in the years leading up to the outbreak of war Hitler took a back seat in terms of administration, after 1939 he insisted on taking decisions that ought to have been left to far more junior officers. At one point during the war in the east he wound up ordering small-scale maps and directing Wehrmacht troop movements all the way down to battalion level.

Irving's anxiety to distance Hitler from the Holocaust seems a little overdone, since he simultaneously asserts that the number of people who died must have been much lower than the generally accepted figure and represented one of the unavoidable tragedies of war, as opposed to the deliberate and systematic abuse and murder of civilians:

I am not familiar with any documentary evidence of any such figure as 6 must have been of the order of 100,000 or more, but to my mind it was certainly less than the figure which is quoted nowadays of 6 million. Because on the evidence of comparison with other similar tragedies which happened in the Second World War, it is unlikely that the Jewish community would have suffered any worse than these communities.2

It's a classic case of rather too much denial. In the words of Bart Simpson:

I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything.

Interestingly, as Richard J Evans pointed out, a couple of years before coming up with a death toll "the order of 100,000 or more", Irving was, by his own admission, neither an expert in the total number of Jews killed by the Nazis nor particularly interested in what the actual number of victims was:

Until the late 1980s, Irving paid little attention to the numbers of Jews killed during the Second World War. In 1986, for example, while confessing that he thought 'the six million figure is probably marginally exaggerated', Irving described the minimal figure of 100,000 as being put forward by a 'school of thought' that was 'right out at the fringe', and added that 'I have to admit that I haven't examined the Holocaust in any detail.'1
During the course of the trial, Irving (sort of) stuck to his guns on the numbers killed, but had to concede that the killings were systematic and carried out with Hitler's knowledge and approval:

Irving accepts that the number of Jews who were executed was large but disputes that it occurred on the scale alleged by the Defendants. He accepts that the killing was systematic. After some hesitation he conceded that the evidence which he has now seen indicates that Hitler knew and approved what was going on.

The number of victims isn't precisely documented - however a number of sources point to a figure in the 5-6 million range - and Yad Vashem have so far been able to put names to around four million of them.

There is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The figure commonly used is the six million quoted by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. Most research confirms that the number of victims was between five and six million. Early calculations range from 5.1 million (Professor Raul Hilberg) to 5.95 million (Jacob Leschinsky). More recent research, by Professor Yisrael Gutman and Dr. Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, estimates the Jewish losses at 5.59–5.86 million, and a study headed by Dr. Wolfgang Benz presents a range from 5.29 million to six million.

The main sources for these statistics are comparisons of prewar censuses with postwar censuses and population estimates. Nazi documentation containing partial data on various deportations and murders is also used.

There's lots of detailed evidence to refute Irving's assertions, line by line and footnote by footnote. This has been done by people who probably needed an industrial-strength dose of mind bleach after picking though the combination of Irving's skewed logic and the seemingly endless records of the vilest of human behaviour. The good news is that you only need to skim the works of the deniers in a fairly cursory fashion and think about some of their basic assumptions and simpler assertions to see how contrived, flimsy and desperate their arguments are.