World War II was a difficult time to live in. Families all over the world were sending their husbands, sons, and brothers off to fight Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. But while they were fighting for peace, many others were fighting for their lives. In 1941, the beginning of a horrific event occurred; the Holocaust. It all began when the Nazis came into power in Germany. They believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community ("Holocaust Memorial"). As a result the Jews were then placed in ghettos, concentration camps, or forced-labor camps where they either died from malnourishment, incarceration, maltreatment, or disease. Extermination of the Jews was an essential part of the gospel of Nazism and inherent in the core of its creed (Wigoder 450). "Out of the seventy eight people in my family, I am the only one to survive. My parents had three boys and three girls: My parents were Jacob and Toby; my brothers were Moishe and Baruch, and my sisters were Sarah, Rivka and Leah. They were all killed," claims Holocaust survivor Solomon Radasky ("Quotes from Holocaust"). By the end of the Holocaust, around six million Jews were killed. Even though there is substantial evidence that this event occured, there are many people in the world that believe the Holocaust never really happened. Holocaust denial began in 1979 when Willis Caro founded the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), the "headquarters" of Holocaust denial.
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Holocaust denial consists of claims that the genocide of Jews during World War II did not occur at all, or that it did not happen in the manner or to the extent historically recognized ("Holocaust Denial"). David Irving, a popular Holocaust denier, claimed in a speech in Portland, Oregon, "Yes, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, but there were no factories of death" ("Representative Quotes"). Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian, author and Holocaust denier, reports that a 1993 Roper Poll found that twenty two percent of American adults and twenty percent of American high school students believe that it is possible that the Holocaust didn't happen. A 1993 Newsweek poll found that a full forty percent of American adults express doubts regarding the generally accepted magnitude of the Holocaust ("Austin"). Key elements of Holocaust denial claims are the rejection of the following: that the German Nazi government had a policy of deliberately targeting Jews for extermination as a people and that genocide was carried out at extermination camps using tools of mass murder, such as gas chambers ("Holocaust Denial"). In order to make their points, deniers concentrate on their opponents' weak points, while rarely saying anything definitive about their own position.
Holocaust deniers emphasize the inconsistencies between eyewitness accounts, for example (Shermer 212). Most believe that eyewitness accounts are very helpful when making an argument; they provide us with their experiences and thoughts on the matter. They tell us stories about what had happened to them, their friends, their families, and other people that went through the same experiences. But Elizabeth Loftus, a world-renowned memory expert and University of Washington psychology professor, found that an individual's memory is not as reliable as most of us think (182). As new bits and pieces of information are added into long-term memory, the old memories are removed, replaced, crumpled up, or shoved into corners (Loftus 20). Since this became a realistic possibility, many Holocaust deniers use this to their advantage by telling Holocaust survivors that what had happened to them was all in their imaginations; that it never occurred. For example, on March 14, 1994, Michael Shermer, the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, went on the Phil Donahue show to discuss Holocaust denial with Bradley Smith and David Cole, two Holocaust deniers. They both focused on denying that gas chambers and crematoria were used for the mass murder of Jews. During the show, Smith made a statement that it was a lie about the Germans cooking Jews to make soup out of them. This claim sent a Holocaust survivor, Judith Berg, on the edge claiming that this statement was true. She went ballistic when Smith continued denying that what had happened to her and what she had seen for several months was the truth. Smith used her hysteria against her to make her appear as if she was lying. He twisted her words, as well as Shermer's few attempted thoughts in the discussion, to help him prove his point. Another attacking point during this program was the discussion of gas chambers.
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Many survivors of the Holocaust talk about the gas chambers. Gas chambers are claimed to be one of the leading cause of death in concentration and extermination camps during the Holocaust. Judith Berg, the survivor that appeared on the Phil Donahue show, claimed she lived near the crematorium in Auschwitz, where she spent several months. "I lived near the crematorium as far as I am from you. You would never eat roast chicken if you had been there" ("Phil"). It is a wonder to many individuals how deniers can claim that the extermination of Jews by gas chambers never happened when these facilities still exist to this day (Shermer 227). One of the leading Holocaust deniers, Fred A. Leuchter, America's leading specialist on the design and fabrication of execution equipment, was curious about the gas chambers. In 1988, Leuchter scraped samples from the "gas chamber" walls in Auschwitz, Birkenau and Lublin. Cyanide residue would be clearly evident on all these walls if gassings did occur. To his astonishment, Leuchter found no significant cyanide traces in any one of these rooms. In 1991, the Polish government repeated these tests to disprove Leuchter's findings, but they as well found no evidence of any gassings ever occurring ("Hoax"). It also appeared that the structure of these gas chambers was also extremely faulty. The rooms apparently had ordinary doors and windows which are not sealed. There are large gaps between the floors and doors. If the Germans had attempted to gas anyone in these rooms, they would have died themselves, as the gas would have leaked and contaminated the entire area. Also, no equipment exists to exhaust the air-gas mixture from these buildings. Nothing was made to introduce or distribute the gas throughout the chambers. There are no provisions to prevent condensation of gas on the walls, floors or ceilings. No exhaust stacks have ever existed ("Hoax").
Not only do survivors claim that gas chambers existed but guards have confessed to the gassings as well. Pery Broad, an SS Unterscharführer, was captured by the British on May 6, 1945. After his capture, he wrote a memoir that was passed on to the British Intelligence Service. In his memoir, he described in detail the gassing procedure, including the use of Zyklon-B and the design of the undressing room, gas chambers, and crematorium (Shermer 230). Deniers dismiss confessions like Broad's because they think the guards that have confessed to gassing were either coerced into a confession or made up the claim for bizarre psychological reasons. Broad also claimed that the gassing process only took about four minutes to complete. Deniers point this out because it is at odds with the statements of others, such as Commandant Hoess, who claim it was more like twenty minutes. Because of such discrepancies, deniers dismiss the account entirely. A dozen different accounts give a dozen different figures for time of death by gassing, so deniers believe no one was gassed at all. Obviously, the gassing process would take different amounts of time due to variations in conditions such as temperature, the number of people, the room size and the amount of Zyklon-B poured into the room (230).
It seems as though Holocaust deniers thrive on the inconsistencies of eyewitnesses to prove their points. Granted eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust may not be the best way to prove what happened since memory is lost or distorted with time. Elizabeth Loftus admits that eyewitness accounts are faulty because every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory and reality may be changed - colored by succeeding events, other peoples' recollections or suggestionsâ€¦ Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective but subjective, interpretive realities (Loftus 20). But what Holocaust deniers forget is that there are plenty of other ways to prove that the Holocaust existed such as pictures, videos, and remnants from the facilities used during the Holocaust.
There are not many of the above left due to the fact that the Nazis tried their best to conceal the crimes they had committed after the war. First, they limited the written record of their crime to a minimum. Second, they falsified the record, to the degree that technical and organizations made its existence necessary. And lastly, they destroyed the superfluous and the most incriminating part of the record, once it had served its purpose, in the final phase of the Third Reich. They destroyed not only documents, they also destroyed the mass killing apparatus and liquidated the witnesses ("Denial"). Although there is not as much evidence as there was during World War II, what remains is still enough to prove that it existed.
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If there is a museum dedicated to the Holocaust, how can anyone say that it doesn't exist? The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, found in Washington DC, is a living memorial to the Holocaust. It has exhibits containing more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters that include historic film footage. Some of the videos on display within the museum are of the experimentation as well as the execution that was performed on the Jews within concentration camps. These videos are graphic and disturbing to watch. During my visit to the Holocaust museum, some visitors may not find many of the exhibits moving or disturbing until they actually watch the videos, such as a video of the experimentations performed on the Jews. The one video that sticks out in my mind is the one about fertility and genetic experiments. The video showed graphic images of guards raping the women in the camps. Many found the video very disturbing and violating. In another part of the museum, they have a railcar that was used to transport Jews from their homes to the concentration camps; visitors can even walk through it. The museum also contains the barracks in which the Jews "lived." They are just planks on top of supports, there's nothing really to them. Many Holocaust deniers believe that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has no proof whatever of homicidal gassing chambers, and no proof that even one individual was "gassed" in a German program of genocide ("Phil"). Although it is true that they do not show the actual gassing of Jews, they have written documents from the camps as well as the "Shoe Room." This room contains hundreds of shoes from the undressing rooms of the gas chambers; you can still smell the feet of the individuals who wore them. Most who visit find the museum an amazing tribute to the Holocaust and that it captures the harsh reality of what the Holocaust was.
Many know the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Well this is very true when it comes to pictures of the Holocaust. Although most photographic evidence of the Holocaust was destroyed by the Nazis towards the end of World War II, there are still plenty that remain. There are pictures of emaciated, naked bodies lying on top of one another in pits dug in the ground. The bodies in the pits were then burned to make room for more bodies. There are other pictures of naked women being lined up next to the pits with guards pointing guns at them; the women were then killed execution style and thrown into the pits with the other bodies. There are pictures of children smiling at cameras through barbed wire fences in stripped prisoners' clothing. There are also plenty of pictures of men, women, and children waiting in line to be placed in gassing chambers, awaiting their death. With pictures such as these that remain, how can anyone deny the fact that an act as horrific as the Holocaust existed?
Not only are there pictures of these horrific events, there is significant evidence that still exists today. The Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau still contains remnants of the gas chambers. Auschwitz is, in many ways, the main target of attacks by deniers, yet the denial of genocide, the existence of the gas chambers, and mass murder nevertheless extends to all the camps, the death camps, and, generally, the mass killing of the Jews ("Denial"). The gas chambers were used by authorities to delete traces of their awful crimes by burning bodies (Wigoder 190). The "Leuchter Report," claimed that there was not enough hydrogen cyanide present in the existing gas chambers to prove that the Jews were killed there. He claimed that with how small the amount that was present, the Zyklon-B was only used for delousing purposes only. This is contradicted not only by statements from former prisoners and Auschwitz commandant himself. The basic German document on crematorium throughout, prepared by the Central Construction Board in Auschwitz on June 28, 1943, states that the five crematoria in the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, together, could burn four thousand seven hundred fifty six corpses in a twenty four-hour period. This document indicates that the Birkenau crematoria could burn 1.6 million bodies per year. This makes it clear that the "Leuchter Report" is nothing more than an attempt, concealed beneath an academic-looking smokescreen of graphs, analyses, and calculations, at misinforming readers who have no access to the scholarly literature ("Denial"). More proof of the existence of gas chambers exists in the remains of the floor plans for concentration camps. They are very clearly drawn and state the undressing, gassing, crematoria, and morgue rooms. With all of this evidence stacked up, it is obvious that gas chambers existed and were used in the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.
Today, we face an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism-even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened-as well as genocide and threats of genocide in other parts of the world; all of this when we are soon approaching a time when Holocaust survivors and other eyewitnesses will no longer be alive ("About"). Holocaust deniers focus on the faultiness of eyewitness accounts. They may change with time, contradict each other, and may be too crazy to believe, but eyewitness testimonies are still keys to the past and to our world's history. Although their experiences are important to the proof of the Holocaust, there is a large amount of other evidence that helps to prove its existence. The Nazis failed at trying to hide what the Holocaust was by attempting to destroy the concentration camps, documents, photographs, and videos. Their failure led to the creation of museums such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and The Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau that are dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. The extermination of six million Jews is not a fallacy but a reality. The deniers may claim that only a few million were killed during the Holocaust, but then what happened to the other few million? It is not possible for two or three million people to just disappear of the face of the Earth. Deniers may claim that there were no gas chambers and that the chambers were only used for delousing due to the evidence that Fred Leuchter supposedly found. They also may claim that the museums have no video or photographic proof that Jews were gassed, but the proof the floor plans and documents that remain say otherwise. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau contain so many artifacts and evidence that Holocaust deniers can barely make a case. Holocaust deniers may think they are able to prove the Holocaust didn't exist, but the amount of evidence available proves otherwise.