By Jennifer Harris,
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
Denying the Holocaust, by Deborah Lipstadt, takes a detailed look at the growing trend toward the denial of the Holocaust's existence. Lipstadt begins by explaining how, when she first began the project, people would ask her why she was even bothering to address the "arguments" of the deniers which no one could take seriously. But she responded that despite the fact that the existence of the Holocaust should not even be a subject for debate, the denial movement is growing. Whereas in the past extremist groups, such as neo-Nazis and skinheads, have readily accepted the arguments advanced by the of deniers, today the deniers and their supporters are trying to "clean up their act and gain entry into legitimate circles." This disturbing trend is primarily what motivated Lipstadt to write Denying the Holocaust.
Lipstadt's fundamental point is that the existence of the Holocaust is not debatable. There is no "other side," the Holocaust did happen. She says that to counter the arguments of deniers would "elevate their anti-semitic ideology -- which is what Holocaust denial is -- to the level of responsible historiography -- which it is not." She fears there is a danger associated with people hearing a "different perspective" regarding the Holocaust: "Unable to make the distinction between pure historiography and the deniers' purely ideological exercise, those who see the issue in this light are important assets in the deniers' attempts to spread their claims."
Lipstadt writes that one of the tactics deniers (mainly Arthur Butz, Robert Faurisson, and Fred A. Leuchter) use to achieve their ends is to camouflage their goals. She adds, "in an attempt to hide the fact that they are fascists and anti- semites with a specific ideological and political agenda, they state that their objective is to uncover historical falsehoods." In effect, the deniers purport to be involved in a factual academic undertaking.
Lipstadt devotes an appendix of her book, entitled "Twisting the Truth," to discrediting the charges most often made by deniers of the Holocaust.
First she addresses the deniers' charge that Zyklon-B (prussic acid) was totally inappropriate for use as a homicidal agent. She disproves their claims by utilizing well-known facts and established data. She explains how the powerful insecticide Zyklon-B, which was intended for use in private homes, could become a deadly killing agent when sprayed in gas-tight chambers such as existed in the death camps. She also refers to the testimony of former prisoners and SS personnel who said that the inmates who removed the bodies wore gas masks thereby indicating that poison gas was used. The deniers maintain that Zyklon-B was only used as a disinfectant. But Lipstadt points out that "disinfection is carried out with a bactericide, not an insecticide, particularly one so powerful as Zyklon-B."
Lipstadt then challenges the deniers' assertion that there isn't any documentary proof that the gas chambers existed (they reject the credibility of all human testimony). As an offering of proof, she lists a brief summary of the extensive findings of Jean-Claude Pressac, who broke new ground with his research in the archives of the Soviet Union. Pressac found proof that the of gas-tight doors were installed in supposed "shower chambers," and the water pipes were not connected to the showers in the death camps. He also found numerous references in German to the "gassing cellar" (vergasungskeller).
One major target of the deniers is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. They have attempted to prove that the book is a forgery, that it was written after the war, and that it has been heavily edited. To support their claims, the deniers have asserted that the ink and other materials used to write the diary were not in use during the 1940s. They have also quoted the diary out of context to cast doubt on its veracity, and have spread slander regarding Anne's reputation, and "proved" that the diary was not written by Anne but by a New York playwright "in collaboration with the girl's (Anne Frank's) father." Lipstadt points out that the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation subjected the diary to a series of rigorous scientific tests, and concluded that the deniers' claims are indeed false.
Deborah Lipstadt does an excellent job of discrediting each of the charges of the deniers. She spelled out in detail the foundation of the deniers' claims, and then effectively discredited each of the arguments the revisionists have advanced. Although she states that the Holocaust is not a subject for "open debate," she has taken care not to leave any area of their claims unaddressed.
In the last chapter of her book, "Watching on the Rhine," Lipstadt offers the following to those who care about truth in all its forms: "We must function as canaries in the mine once did, to guard against the spread of noxious fumes. We must vigilantly stand watch against an increasingly nimble enemy. But unlike the canary, we must not sit silently by waiting to expire so that others will be warned of the danger. When we witness assaults on truth, our response must be strong, though neither polemical nor emotional. We must educate the broader public and academe about this threat and its historical and ideological roots. We must expose these people for what they are."
Deborah E. Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: The Free Press (A Division of Macmillan, Inc.), 1993. 278 pages.
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