Is the Holocaust “revisionism” movement no more?

This blog is primarily about medicine, the scientific basis of medicine, and general skepticism and critical thinking. As part of my interest in skepticism, a particular form of pseudoscience and pseudohistory that I first took an interest in about a decade ago, namely Holocaust “revisionism,” which is, of course, in reality Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is the denial or minimization of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime, in particular the industrialized genocide of European Jewry. The reasons, as I’ve discussed time and time again, virtually always boil down to a combination of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi beliefs, often also manifest as an admiration for Hitler. In this, David Irving is perhaps the quintessential example. Not only is he prone to blatantly anti-Semitic remarks, but he has in the past expressed his admiration for Hitler as a “strong man.”

As despicable as Holocaust denial is, however, time marches on, and the horrific events that were put to an end 63 years ago. As the events recede into the past, both the perpetrators and the victims have grown very old, and many are dying. It won’t be long before the generation that remembers has passed from the earth. This normal course of events is a two-edged sword for Holocaust deniers. On the one hand, that fewer and fewer people are familiar with what happened between 63 and 75 years ago in the heart of Europe serves their purposes, because they can more easily use misinformation to deny the Holocaust, knowing that few know enough about it to recognize the misinformation. On the other hand, the generation that actually is emotionally invested enough in Nazi-ism to deny the Holocaust and genteel enough to want to disguise their anti-Semitism. Wishful thinking? I don’t think so.

Witness this lament by professional Holocaust denier Mark Weber recently published on the website of the Holocaust denial organization Institute for Historical Review. He’s basically throwing in the towel, as you will see. He begins with an admission that the Holocaust “revisionism” movement has failed:

Revisionists have published impressive evidence, including long neglected documents and testimony, that has contributed to a more complete and accurate understanding of an emotion-laden and highly polemicized chapter of history.

I have played a role in this effort. In published writings, in lectures, and in courtroom testimony, I have devoted much time and work to critically reviewing the “official” Holocaust narrative, to countering Holocaust propaganda, and to debunking specific Holocaust claims.

But in spite of years of effort by revisionists, including some serious work that on occasion has forced “mainstream” historians to make startling concessions, there has been little success in convincing people that the familiar Holocaust story is defective.

“Impressive evidence”? I nearly spit my iced tea on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro when I read that. As is the case for all cranks (like creationists, 9/11 Truthers, and many varieties of quacks), the “arguments” of Holocaust deniers consist of cherry picking evidence, ignoring masses of data that do not support their views, logical fallacies, and, if necessary to make their case or ignore “inconvenient” evidence, outright lies. Even so, what I find remarkable about this passage by Weber is that he is plainly admitting that he has failed and the Holocaust “revisionism” movement has failed. After ten years of battling online Holocaust denial, I find this to be an amazing admission. Of course, he can’t resist throwing a few denier chestnuts in there, such as the swipes at the “official” Holocaust narrative, “Holocaust propaganda,” and the “familiar” Holocaust story. One of the favorite rhetorical techniques of Holocaust deniers is to complain about the “official” narrative as “political correctness.” The other, naturally, is to whine about the “power” and “influence” of the Jews and represent themselves as beleaguered truth seekers whose speech is being suppressed by those evil Jews/Zionists (in the eyes of Holocaust deniers, the two are one in the same):

This lack of success is not difficult to understand. Revisionists are up against a well-organized, decades-long campaign that is promoted in the mass media, reinforced in classrooms, and supported by politicians.

Tim Cole, a history professor and prominent specialist of Holocaust studies, has written in his book Selling the Holocaust: “From a relatively slow start, we have now come to the point where Jewish culture in particular, and Western culture more generally, are saturated with the ‘Holocaust’. Indeed, the ‘Holocaust’ has saturated Western culture to such an extent that it appears not only centre stage, but also lurks in the background. This can be seen in the remarkable number of contemporary movies which include the ‘Holocaust’ as plot or sub-plot.”

Between 1989 and 2003 alone, more than 170 films with Holocaust themes were made. In many American and European schools, a focus on the wartime suffering of Europe’s Jews is obligatory. Every major American city has at least one Holocaust museum or memorial. The largest is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which is run by a taxpayer-funded federal government agency, and draws some two million visitors yearly.

A number of countries, including Britain, Germany and Italy, officially observe an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United Nations General Assembly in 2005 approved a resolution introduced by Israel to designate January 27 as an international Holocaust remembrance day.

In the United States and western Europe, the Holocaust has become is a venerated, semi-religious mythos. Prof. Michael Goldberg, an eminent rabbi, has written of what he calls a “Holocaust cult with its own tenets of faith, rites and shrines.” In this age of secular “political correctness,” Holocaust “denial” is the modern equivalent of sacrilege.

Yes, indeed, here’s another technique beloved of cranks, which is to portray the accepted consensus as nothing more than a religion, because religions are based on faith, not fact, science, or evidence. It’s much easier for a crank to represent the consensus, be it scientific or historical, as being “just another belief system” if he can somehow get the label of “cult” to stick, as Weber so charmingly just tried to do. Of course, even if all these ceremonies and remembrance days were overblown to an inappropriate level, it would not change the evidence for the historicity of the Holocaust. It would not change the historical fact that the Nazi regime tried to exterminate European Jewry and almost succeeded. In short, it would not change reality, which does not depend upon whether one “believes” in it or not.

So what? you might say. This could all just be sour grapes. Weber realizes that he’s getting nowhere with Holocaust denial and he’s frustrated; so he vents a bit. Well, yes, but that’s not all there is to his article. Here is the most astonishing admission of all:

A major reason for the lack of success in persuading people that conventional Holocaust accounts are fraudulent or exaggerated is that — as revisionists acknowledge – Jews in Europe were, in fact, singled out during the war years for especially severe treatment.

[…]

No informed person disputes that Europe’s Jews did, in fact, suffer a great catastrophe during the Second World War. Millions were forced from their homes and deported to brutal internment in crowded ghettos and camps. Jewish communities across Central and Eastern Europe, large and small, were wiped out. Millions lost their lives. When the war ended in 1945, most of the Jews of Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and others countries were gone.

Given all this, it should not be surprising that even well-founded revisionist arguments are often dismissed as heartless quibbling.

My jaw dropped when I read those last two paragraphs. Weber has seemingly just admitted that the Holocaust actually happened! Does that mean he’s no longer a Holocaust denier? This is such an amazing admission that it’s even started to be picked up in the German press quite accurately (from what I can tell) as an admission that Holocaust deniers were going back to their real “core business,” which is Jew hatred.

It is true that one favorite technique of Holocaust denial is to concede that, yes, the Jews suffered horribly during World War II, even that millions died, but to deny that there was an intentional program of genocide waged against them by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In this variant of the Holocaust denier argument, Jews died not because they were gassed in death camps or worked to death in work camps, but rather because, basically, “war is hell” and that was especially true of World War II. But Weber went even farther than I expected. He was, for perhaps the first time I’ve ever seen him, totally honest, albeit deluded, given his characterization of the “achievements” of Holocaust deniers:

But despite a discouraging record of achievement, some revisionists insist that their work is vitally important because success in exposing the Holocaust as a hoax will deliver a shattering blow to Israel and Jewish-Zionist power. This view, however, is based on a mistaken understanding of the relationship between “Holocaust remembrance” and Jewish-Zionist power.

Even before World War II, the organized Jewish community was playing a major role in the political and cultural life of Europe and the United States, and the Zionist movement was already very influential. Although propaganda about the wartime catastrophe of Europe’s Jews was a factor in American society during the 1950s and 1960s, it was not until the late 1970s that “the Holocaust” began to play a really significant social-political role. It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that the term began to appear as a specific entry in standard encyclopedias and reference books, and became an obligatory subject in American textbooks and classrooms.

In short, the Holocaust assumed an important role in the social-cultural life of America and western Europe in keeping with, and as an expression of, a phenomenal increase in Jewish influence and power. The Holocaust “remembrance” campaign is not so much a source of Jewish-Zionist power as it is an expression of it. For that reason, debunking the Holocaust will not shatter that power.

In other words, Holocaust deniers see the Holocaust as the source of power behind the Jews they hate and view attacking it through denial not as a search for truth but rather as a strategy to attack that source, nothing more and nothing less. In fact, it has always been thus, ever since the first Holocaust denier crawled out of the slime under the wreckage of World War II to express disbelief that so many millions of Jews were killed. If they can undermine the acceptance of the historicity of the Holocaust, Weber is saying, “revisionists” can thereby undermine the power of the Jews that they hate. It’s an amazing conspiracy theory (is there nothing those rascally Jews can’t do?), but many Holocaust deniers believe it because–surprise! surprise!–they are bigots and anti-Semites. They often buy into many, if not all, of the ancient lies and stereotypes about Jews passed on for centuries, little changed from the days of the Black Plague, when Jews were falsely accused of “poisoning the wells” and that accusation was used to justify the persecution of the Jews. As I said before, I have never seen a Holocaust denier come right out and admit it so bluntly and in such a straightforward fashion. As I have also said before, scratch a Holocaust denier, and you will find the anti-Semite within, and asked before, “Where are the ‘revisionists’ who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?”

None of this is anything new; it’s just that talk of this type has usually been restricted to Usenet postings and denier discussion boards, such as this gem from 2000:

If the general perception of the public were to change . . if people no longer viewed Jews as the “poor, picked-on, innocent scapegoats” that they have been portrayed to be . . . What would be the consequences?

Mark Weber, meet anonymous Usenet bigot. Anonymous Usenet bigot, meet Mark Weber. You two will get along just fine.

In fact, Weber is so clear about it that he points out explicitly the relationship between Holocaust denial and attacking “Jewish power.” And, make no mistake about it, in the eyes of Holocaust deniers, “Zionist” and Zionism are indistinguishable from “Jews” and “Judaism”:

Tony Judt, a prominent Jewish scholar who lives and works in New York, wrote recently:

“Students today do not need to be reminded of the genocide of the Jews, the historical consequences of anti-Semitism, or the problem of evil. They know all about these – in ways our parents never did. And that is as it should be. But I have been struck lately by the frequency with which new questions are surfacing: `Why do we focus so much on the Holocaust?’ `Why is it illegal [in certain countries] to deny the Holocaust but not other genocides?’ `Is the threat of anti-Semitism not exaggerated?’ And, increasingly, `Doesn’t Israel use the Holocaust as an excuse?’ I do not recall hearing those questions in the past.”

This shift has also been noticed at the Institute for Historical Review. Over the past ten years, sales of IHR books, discs, flyers and other items about Holocaust history have steadily declined, along with inquiries about Holocaust history and requests for interviews on this subject. At the same time, and obviously reflecting broader social-cultural trends, there has been a marked rise in sales of IHR books, discs, flyers and other items about Jewish-Zionist power, the role of Jews in society, and so forth. This has been matched by an increase in the number of inquiries and requests for interviews on those issues.

Jewish-Zionist power is a palpable reality with harmful consequences for America, the Middle East, and the entire global community. In my view, and as I have repeatedly emphasized, the task of exposing and countering this power is a crucially important one. In that effort, Holocaust revisionism cannot play a central role.

In other words, Weber is backing off from Holocaust denial not out of any desire to learn the truth but rather because he perceives it as no being longer useful as a tool for him to attack Jews with and Israel in particular. No one believes it, and, no matter how much Holocaust deniers try to persuade them, only the radical lunatic fringe of conspiracy mongering loons (for instance, a subset of 9/11 Truthers) take Holocaust deniers the least bit seriously. Not even most neo-Nazis believe it, I suspect. Indeed, often I think that even the hard core Holocaust deniers don’t really believe it. Some of them are quite intelligent and well-read, and it takes a certain willful ignorance to argue against such a well-established historical event. What Weber admits is what I’ve always suspected, namely that Holocaust denial is nothing more than a weapon, and what I’ve always known, that it is a means of indulging their Jew hatred.

Unfortunately, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East makes it easy for Weber to make that pivot. After all, as as blogchild Mark Chu-Carroll describes so vividly, many anti-Semites conflate Israel with all Jews and use Israel’s actions as a convenient excuse to seemingly legitimize their bigotry. That is one reason why it is sometimes so difficult to distinguish between criticism of the actions of Israel and anti-Semitic remarks; all too often, they are one in the same, and Israel is not blameless in using this blurring of the line between legitimate criticism and bigotry to its own advantage. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, for example, disturbed a lot of people. Now, Israel’s latest incursion into Gaza to stop rockets from being fired into Southern Israel has been criticized as disproportionate, and arguably it is. However, it also appears to be exactly what Hamas wanted in order to bolster its standing among Arabs (although they probably didn’t anticipates quite so “robust” a response), and it’s hard to imagine any nation simply letting another nation to be used as a base for rockets to rain down on it, sometimes as many as 80 a day.

And so the cycle of violence continues. One side attacks or blockades the other; the other side responds. Civilians die. Both sides consider themselves the victims and completely justified in their actions. Hamas fires rockets into Israel; Israel is prodded to respond, and causes large numbers of civilian casualties in doing so. In this environment, it’s easy for anti-Semites like Weber and other Holocaust deniers to latch themselves and their anti-Semitism onto legitimate criticism of Israel’s military actions and conflate the two. Indeed, it’s part of the reason they are tossing Holocaust denial aside like a jammed rifle and picking up anti-Zionism as another convenient weapon to use, with Israel’s incursion into Gaza as the convenient pretext.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there are no legitimate reasons to criticize Israel’s recent actions or that critics of Israel level their criticism out of anti-Semitism. Most do not, but certainly some do. What I am saying is that Weber’s article seems to be an admission that Holocaust denial as a tactic has been a rank failure and that a better tactic is to latch on to legitimate criticism of Israel as a means of seemingly legitimizing their conspiracy theories, just as “alternative medicine” aficionados latch on to nutrition and exercise, which are legitimate parts of science-based medicine, claim them for their own, and then use them as the “foot in the door” for their more loony pseudoscience, like reiki or homeopathy. (Before anyone whines that I am calling “alt-med” fans Nazis, let me reemphasize yet one more time that, no, I am not saying that CAM supporters are Holocaust deniers or neo-Nazis; I am merely comparing their fallacious methods of argumentation and coopting the legitimate in the service of crankery.)

One thing is for sure: If Weber is truly turning his back on Holocaust denial in order to concentrate on New World Order conspiracy mongering about “Jewish-Zionist” power, it is indeed a blow. Weber is one of the most prominent and energetic of all Holocaust deniers. I would like to agree with this despondent commenter on a discussion board:

Will be interesting to see what Rudolf does when he exists prison, and if he still wants to carry on the fight. I’d say without his involvement, the Holocaust revisionist movement is no more. With Weber and Irving’s pull-out from revisionism, the only real figure left would be Mattogno, who would be lost from the English language without Rudolf.

Unfortunately, Holocaust denial is the crankery that just won’t die. I doubt that Weber’s throwing in the towel will suddenly mean that Holocaust denial will wither on the vine and die. In fact, the demise of Holocaust denial could be the harbinger of a newer, more virulent form of anti-Semitism. After all, why did Holocaust deniers deny the Holocaust? Because they had almost as much revulsion for mass murder as anyone else, and they needed to believe that their heroes didn’t actually intentionally commit genocide. They also knew that they needed to deny the Holocaust to rehabilitate Hitler and the Nazi regime and thereby make National Socialism an acceptable political alternative again, at least in their fantasy world. Weber’s dismissal of Holocaust denial as being no longer important could mean that the bigots accept that the Nazis killed millions of Jews but are no longer embarrassed about it and do not find the Holocaust to be an impediment to accepting neo-Nazi beliefs any more.

If this turns out to be the case, and the disappearance of Holocaust denial presages a new, proud form of anti-Semitism that co-opts legitimate criticism of Israel or Zionism, in the future we may come to view Holocaust denial as a quaint oddity in comparison.