The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,soc.history,soc.culture.jewish,talk.politics.misc
Subject: Proving the Holocaust: Defining the Holocaust (Part 2 of 15)
Summary: Dr. Michael Shermer's article on Holocaust revisionism,
         "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the 
         Restoration of History," _Skeptic_, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, 
         California, June, 1994. Published by the Skeptics Society, 
         2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.
Reply-To: poster
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project

[Followups directed to alt.revisionism]

Part 2: Defining the Holocaust

One of the fundamental principles of science is to define the key terms
of a subject. To avoid talking at cross-purposes we need to know what
historians and revisionists mean by "the Holocaust." When a historian
asks "How can you possibly deny the Holocaust?" and a revisionist
responds "I'm not denying the Holocaust," they are obviously defining it
in different ways. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives a
historical usage of "complete destruction, especially of a large number
of persons; a great slaughter or massacre" (caust--burn, holo--whole).
By this definition, then, the Nazis attempted a holocaust since they did
not succeed in completely exterminating European Jewry. But Holocaust
historians mean something much more specific.

   The Holocaust, according to the Director of the Research Institute of
U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Michael Berenbaum, is "the systematic
state-sponsored murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their
collaborators during World War II; as night descended, millions of
others were killed in its wake" (1993, p. 1). Please note the clause
following the semi-colon. Holocaust revisionists complain that Holocaust
histories, as well as the museum, concentrate too much on Jews and
ignore the millions of others who were persecuted and killed. Obviously
they do not, nor does the museum. Capital "H" Holocaust, then,
specifically refers to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

   What Holocaust revisionists are explicitly denying are three points
found in most definitions of the Holocaust:

   1. There was an intentionality of genocide based primarily on race.

   2. A highly technical, well organized extermination program using gas
      chambers and crematoria was implemented.

   3. An estimated five to six million Jews were killed.

   Revisionists do not deny that there was rampant anti-Semitism in Nazi
Germany, or that Hitler and many of the Nazi leaders hated the Jews. Nor
do they deny that Jews were deported, their property and wealth
confiscated, and that they were rounded up and forced into concentration
camps where they were, in general, very harshly treated and made the
victims of overcrowding, disease, and forced labor. Specifically what
the revisionists claim is (Weber, 1993, 1994a, 1994b; Irving, 1994;
Cole, 1994; Zuendel, 1994):

   1. There was no intention, or policy, on the part of the Nazi
leadership to exterminate European Jewry. The "Final Solution" to the
"Jewish question" was deportation out of the Reich. Because of early
successes in the war, the Reich was enveloping more Jews than they could
deport. Because of later failures in the war, the Reich concentrated
Jews into ghettos, and finally into camps.

   2. The main causes of death were disease and starvation generated
primarily by the Allied destruction of German supply lines and resources
at the end of the war. There were shootings and hangings (and maybe some
experimental gassings), and the Germans did overwork the Jews in forced
labor in the war effort, but this accounts for a very small percentage
of the dead. Gas chambers were for delousing only, and the crematoria
were used to dispose of bodies that succumbed to these other forms of
death, especially disease.

   3. Anywhere from 300,000 to one or two million Jews died or killed in
ghettos and camps.

   In this analysis I mean by the Holocaust: The intentional or
functional near-destruction of a people based primarily on race. I
include these qualifications:

   1. Whether approval to exterminate European Jewry was officially
given or tacitly approved is irrelevant to the final outcome. While I
believe there was an intention on the part of Hitler and a few other
extreme anti-Semites (e.g., Streicher and Himmler) from early on in the
regime, the function of carrying it out evolved over time, mitigated by
such contingencies as an increase in political power, growing confidence
in getting away with a variety of persecutions, the impracticality and
impossibility of transporting the Jews out of the Reich, and the
infeasibility of eliminating Jews by disease, exhaustion, overwork,
random shootings, and mass shootings.

   2. Gas chambers and the crematoria were only part of many mechanisms
of extermination, proved through a collaboration of physical and
documentary evidence with eyewitness accounts from perpetrators,
victims, and bystanders. But should it ever turn out that gas chambers
played a lesser role than we once believed, this is no way lessens the
crime--murder is murder. (As we have seen in Rwanda, where between
100,000 and 200,000 people were murdered in less than a month, neither
gas chambers nor crematoria are necessary for mass exterminations.)

   3. Five to six million killed is a general estimate (no historian
takes the six million figure literally). I tend to go with the more
conservative figures because of the still unknown quantities killed in
the Soviet Union. But if it turns out that fewer than this were killed,
say "only" three to four million, this in no way lessens the crime--
millions are millions.

[Continued in Part 3]

                          Work Cited

   Shermer, Michael. "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of
      Revisionism & the Restoration of History," _Skeptic_, Vol. 2,
      No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. Published by the
      Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001,
      (818) 794-3119.

_Skeptic_ magazine:

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