The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Subject: Proving the Holocaust: Common Methodologies of Fringe Groups (7 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.
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Part 7: Common Methodologies of Fringe Groups

In examining the revisionists' history and literature I am struck by the
similarity of their methodologies with other fringe groups. Since they
are not consciously modeling themselves after, for example, the
creationists, this may be an evolutionary sequence and ideological
pattern of many, if not most, fringe groups trying to move into the

   1. Early on, there is a wide diversity of thought and members,
representing the extreme fringes of society. They have little success in
entering the mainstream (creationism in the 1950s; revisionism in the

   2. As the movement grows and evolves there is an attempt by the more
conservative members to disassociate themselves and their organization
from the radical fringe and establish scientific or scholarly
credentials (creationism in the 1970s when it became "creation-science;"
revisionism in the 1970s with the founding of the IHR, and their recent
break with Carto).

   3. During this drive toward acceptability there is a change in
emphasis away from anti-establishment and toward a more positive
statement of beliefs (creationists abandoned the anti-evolution tactic
and adopted the "equal time" rhetoric; revisionists are at present
trying to divorce themselves from their racist, anti-Semitic past).

   4. To enter public institutions such as schools, fringe groups will
use the First Amendment and claim their "freedom of speech" is being
violated when they are not allowed to be heard (creationists legislated
equal-time laws in several states in the 1970s and 1980s; Bradley
Smith's ad campaigns in college newspapers).

   5. To get the public's attention they shift the burden of proof from
themselves to the establishment, demanding "just one proof"
(creationists asking for "just one fossil" that proves transitional
forms exist; revisionists demanding proof that even one Jew was killed
in a gas chamber).

Common Fallacies of Fringe Groups

The parallels between the fallacies of reasoning of revisionists and
other fringe groups, especially the creationists, are also eerily

   1. They attack their opponents' weak points, concentrate on their
mistakes, and rarely say anything definitive about their own position,
so they cannot be attacked (creationists hammer on the gaps in the
fossil record; revisionists on the inconsistencies between eyewitness

   2. They find errors made by scientists or historians and exploit
these as if all their conclusions are wrong (creationists love the story
of the pig's tooth that was wrongly labeled as Hesperopithecus, or
"Nebraska Man;" revisionists adore the human-soap myth; they cling to
Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer's reinterpretation of the Wannsee
conference as only a "stage" in the Final Solution; they call attention
to the historians' reduction of the number killed at Auschwitz from four
million to one million, calling it "the incredible shrinking Holocaust,"
as if historians never make revisions).

   3. They quote, usually out of context, leading mainstream figures to
buttress their own position (creationists quote Gould, Eldredge, Mayr;
revisionists quote Hilberg, Bauer, and even leading Nazis).

   4. They mistake genuine, honest debates between scientists and
scholars for a debate about the veracity of the entire field
(creationists cite the gradualism--punctuated equilibrium debate as an
argument about whether evolution happened or not; revisionists use the
intentionalist--functionalist debate about the development of the
Holocaust as an argument about whether it happened or not).

   5. They focus on what is not known and ignore what is known,
carefully selecting data that fit, and ignoring data that do not fit
(creationists continually ask for new transitional forms and pass over
those that are discovered; revisionists concentrate on what we do not
know about the gas chambers and disregard the eyewitness accounts and
forensic tests that support the theory).

   Albert Speer: A Fallacy Test Case. A classic example of this last
fallacy is how the revisionists treat the testimonies from the Nuremberg
Trials. Nuremberg confessions are unreliable, they claim, because it was
a military tribunal run by the victors, and we all know how biased war
trials can be. The evidence, Mark Weber claims, "consists largely of
extorted confessions, spurious testimonies, and fraudulent documents.
The postwar Nuremberg trials were politically motivated proceedings
meant more to discredit the leaders of a defeated regime than to
establish truth" (1992, p. 201).

   First of all, Weber has not proved that most of the confessions were
extorted, spurious, or fraudulent. But even if he were able to prove
that some of them were, this does not mean that they all were, and thus
we must always seek corroboration from other sources. But, amusingly,
revisionists do use Nuremberg trial testimonies when it suits their
cause. For example, they will reject the testimony of Nazis who said
there was a Holocaust and they participated in it, but accept testimony
of Nazis who said they knew nothing about it, such as Albert Speer. But
even here, revisionists overlook a deeper analysis. Speer did say at the
trial that he did not know about the extermination program. But his
Spandau Diary speaks volumes (1976, p. 27):

      December 20, 1946.  Everything comes down to this: Hitler always
      hated the Jews; he made no secret of that at any time.  He was
      capable of tossing off quite calmly, between the soup and the
      vegetable course, 'I want to annihilate the Jews in Europe.
      This war is the decisive confrontation between National
      Socialism and world Jewry.  One or the other will bite the dust,
      and it certainly won't be us.' So what I testified in court is
      true, that I had no knowledge of the killings of Jews; but it is
      true only in a superficial way.  The question and my answer were
      the most difficult moment of my many hours on the witness stand.
      What I felt was not fear but shame that I as good as knew and
      still had not reacted; shame for my spiritless silence at the
      table, shame for my moral apathy, for so many acts of

   In addition, Matthias Schmidt (1984) has demonstrated that Speer not
only knew about the Final Solution, he indirectly participated in it.
Among other things, Speer organized the confiscation of 23,765 Jewish
apartments in Berlin in 1941; he knew of the deportation of more than
75,000 Jews to the east; he personally inspected the Mauthausen
concentration camp where he ordered a reduction of construction
materials and redirected supplies that were needed elsewhere; he was
present at Dora in 1943 when preparations were made to execute inmates
as a warning against sabotage in the construction of A-4 rockets; he was
apparently present at the October 6, 1943 Himmler speech when the SS-
Reichsfuehrer said, with regard to killing Jewish women and children "we
had to reach the difficult decision of making this nation vanish from
the face of the earth" (though he claims he left before Himmler began to
speak); and in 1977 he confessed in a newspaper interview: "I still see
my guilt as residing chiefly in the approval of the persecution of the
Jews and the murder of millions of them" (pp. 181-198).

[Continued in Part 8]

                          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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