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Children stare through the barbed wire of a concentration camp

Inside the warped world of Holocaust deniers

Anyone who has visited Auschwitz will remember the feeling of passing through the gates, knowing that over a million people walked to their death in the exact same spot. Reading the history books is one thing, but seeing the physical evidence of the largest genocide in history is hard to put into words; seeing the human hair that was used by the Nazis to produce socks, the small worn out children’s shoes, rusty pocket watches and a multitude of other personal belongings that are the only physical representatives left that people were once there. Yet, something that is even more difficult to comprehend is why Holocaust deniers claim that it never happened.

A pile of shoes at Auschwitz Credit: Getty Images

How did denial of the Holocaust start?

Rebuttal of the Holocaust finds its roots in the Nazi Party. Hitler, entrenched in the knowledge that his operation would warrant an unfavourable reaction, is said to have covered up the killings, ordering that the extermination not be spoken of in German documentation or public statements. Instead, heavily euphemistic language was used when speaking of the hushed operation, as well the careful cremation of victims’ bodies.

For those who wonder why people choose to deny the Holocaust, it’s hard to say whether they're adamant Nazi supporters, brainwashed, or if they can honestly look themselves in the eye in the morning and assert that it never happened. Most historians determine that post-war Holocaust denial goes back to Paul Rassinier, a European writer who came to the defence of the Nazi regime after the war, asserting that the gas chambers were nothing but an invention of a "Zionist establishment."

Astonishingly, Rassinier himself had been a victim of the Hitler’s regime, arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 for smuggling Jewish refugees over the Franco-Swiss border. Having never seen the gas chambers, he used his credibility as a survivor to disparage reports of the chambers, describing concentration camp literature as “a collection of contradictory pieces of ill natured gossip”.

Paul Rassinier, the father of Holocaust deniers Credit: Getty Images

After the first specks of Holocaust denial became visible, it was inevitable that more would follow. The following years saw the uprising of widespread Holocaust denial with people like Heinz Roth, David Irving and Ahmad Hussein arguing against the mass murder of roughly six million people. But the question we have to ask is, how? How can anyone possibly deny the unshakeable evidence that narrates the worst homicide in history?

Different groups of deniers

There are countless forms of Holocaust denial, but most variations tend to be based on four principles; that the number killed by the Nazis amounts to a few hundred thousand rather than six million, that the gas chambers were not used to kill and that Hitler merely intended to deport Jews to Eastern Europe and that the event was a myth invented by Allied propaganda during the war and has been sustained since by Jews who use it for political and financial gain.

The most important thing to remember about these people is that, true to their name, they are in denial. Although they prefer to call themselves "revisionists", it's crucial to distinguish them from historians who challenge the past with a methodologist approach. Rather than looking at the facts in front of them and connecting them to reality, Holocaust deniers ask questions like “is there a written order from Hitler telling his people to exterminate?” and “why didn’t the Jews fight back?” They demand autopsy reports concluding that Jewish prisoners died from gassing and sneer at the many thousands of testimonies from prisoners, guards and allied soldiers, not to mention the secret wiretaps made of German prisoners of war where they freely discussed the extermination policy.

Auschwitz survivor Credit: Getty Images

Over the years it became clear that they could be categorised into three camps. The first group strongly believe that the “Final Solution” was faked by both the Allies and the Jews in order to gain sympathy; calling death camp witnesses “insane” or “liars,” they claim that the Nuremberg testimonies were extracted under torture and are therefore unreliable. The second sub-category group simply claims that the Holocaust was not genocide, but merely a forced labour program with the ultimate aim of excluding all Jews from Germany. Finally, the third group of Holocaust denial asserts that any evidence found is weak and death counts are “over-exaggerated”. A novice sceptic may be deceived by the attention to detail in any of the groups’ claims, but look closely and you’ll see that they simply aren’t true.

Holocaust deniers often base their theories on so-called “scientific evidence”. In an effort to disprove the use of gas chambers, they cite the lack of Prussian Blue on the gas chamber walls and insist the chambers were used for nothing but delousing. They ignore the solid scientific fact that it takes a much lower concentration of HCN to kill a warm-blooded creature over a cold-blooded insect.

The object that Zyklon B couldn’t have been used for killing in the gas chambers because it is explosive and was near to furnaces. They turn a blind eye to the fact that the concentration of HCN necessary to cause death is nearly 200 times lower than necessary to cause an explosion.

Auschwitz survivor shows tattoo Credit: Getty Images

They affirm that the Nazis couldn’t have possibly gotten rid of the ashes of the dead, estimated at one shoebox per person. They pay no attention to testimonies from concentration camp staff stating that remnants of human bodies were used as fertiliser and thrown into nearby rivers and swaps, as well as the belongings that have undergone forensic examination.

They use the killing of six million people as a weapon against Israel, stating the Jews used the “hoax” to bring about the country. They forget the fact that Israel was not a direct result of the Holocaust and most of the institutions of a Jewish state were in place when Hitler rose to power.

They ask why the eyewitnesses to the gas chambers not killed. They disregard the fact that there are few of these survivors and that they are merely lucky, having escaped through the rebellion of October 1944 or at the very end when the camps were liberated.

They question the reliability of Anne Frank’s annex diary, among other war texts, claiming that the text written by the 13-year-old year is simply a forgery, forcing the Anne Frank Museum to investigate the authenticity. They turn a blind eye to the forensic document analysis and handwriting comparison that took place, bringing researchers to the conclusion that the young girl did in fact write the diary.

Why is Holocaust denial relevant today?

So, if Holocaust denial is nothing but false claims, made by a deluded group of individuals, why are we still giving them the time of day? The awful truth is that Holocaust denial is alive and well right at this very moment. As hard as it is to believe, as we speak there is a whole new generation of Holocaust sceptics being inspired. Recently, David Irving, who has dismissed Auschwitz as “Disneyland”, stated that he regularly gets messages from people as young as 14 who have watched his Youtube videos. His claims highlight the fact that the rise of the internet has allowed these claims to resurface and thrive.

Pictures of Holocaust survivors in the background Credit: Getty Images

The dangers of the online world were called to public attention again in 2016 when it was revealed that the top ranking Google search site for “did the Holocaust happen?” was Stormfront, a white supremacist Neo-Nazi site. In addition, many have speculated over the Trump administration’s flirtations with Holocaust denial, with deputy assistant secretary Teresa Manning praising an ally of the group. Not to mention, amid the recent Charlottesville rallies, it came to light that nearly 10 per cent of Americans believe it’s fine to be a Neo-Nazi.

The truth is that, more than 70 years later, Holocaust denial is damningly relevant to our society and it is something that is not going away anytime soon. But by allowing people to even entertain the notion, we disparage the innocent people who suffered; Holocaust denial is an insult to all sufferers and their surviving relatives, and by letting it continue, we risk the resurgence of Nazi ideology. The Nazis are the very people who wanted us to believe the mass murder never happened and by accepting those who do so, we lose our compass that directs us to a better future.

No matter what warped way they deny the events of the 1940s, the fact of the matter is that the Holocaust happened. However, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it and we're overdue in reasserting the truth in a world full of lies.

Featured illustration by Egarcigu