February 13, 2017
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Holocaust deniers are the flat earthers of history. They attack one of the most well-documented genocides in all of human history using pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and bigotry. They have a poor grasp of how science works as well as historical methods, they quote scientists and historians out of context, and they hunt for alleged anomalies while ignoring the massive amount of consistent historical and scientific evidence. It is tempting to view Holocaust denial as just another pseudoscience, but because it involves denying a genocide and extreme ideology, it is in many ways much more severe than many other forms of pseudoscientific nonsense.
Behind Holocaust denial is often misguided and irrational ideologies. This can include antisemitism, religious fanaticism, and even staunch political beliefs about the Middle East. There are many things that makes Holocaust denial scary. Denial is the final part of a genocide, it is an intense reject of history and evidence and its threatening grasp can be felt around the world. Despite it being almost 80 years since it happened, most of the people on earth either has never heard of it or deny that it ever happened. This denial comes from across the political and religious spectrum, involving elements of the far-right and far-left, as well as certain extremist interpretations of both Christianity and Islam.
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January 3, 2017
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Genocide is one of the worst crimes against humanity that has ever happened. The UN Genocide Convention that was adopted in 1948 defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Although it seems extremely hard to grasp, there are many groups out there that falsely deny that the existence of certain genocides (and massacres). They do it against all science, reason and evidence and yes, they really believe what they say. This post surveys some key characteristics of genocide denial with a particular focus on the Holocaust, the Bosnian genocide and the genocide in Rwanda. Although not formally designated a genocide, the Nanking Massacre will also be covered because of the deep similarities in the approach taken by e. g. Holocaust deniers and those extreme nationalists in Japan who deny the former. Debunking Denialism has discussed some of these issues before and the references therein are recommended.
The key characteristics of genocide denial covered in this post are: faulty attempts at moral equivalences, abusing initial estimations done by governments, systematically underestimating death tolls, quoting historians out of context, exploiting new discoveries or honest errors, promoting conspiracy theories, insist that they are nearly asking questions, and having clear ulterior ideological motives.
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August 9, 2014
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It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.
One of the biggest problem facing denialists is that they cannot defeat scientific evidence or overcome skeptical arguments. Instead, they need to deploy various smokescreens, such as accusing their skeptical opponent of being “biased”. This tactic is easy to see through because no actual evidence is presented and they do not engage any of the arguments. A good example of such an approach can be seen in the following comment submitted by stewart on the tour de force debunking article The Intellectually Barren Wasteland of Holocaust Denial.
This article seems as asymmetrically biased as the holocaust deniers themselves.
This is the classic “you are biased, but I refuse to provide examples or interact with your arguments”. In what way is it “asymmetrically biased”? Note that rejecting one side in a struggle based on overwhelming historical evidence is not the same as being biased. Quite the contrary, refusing to accept the most reasonable position (namely that the Holocaust is a historical fact) and trying to portray both sides as equally reasonable would be a clear case of false balance, which is certainly an enormously biased way of tackling these issues.
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September 14, 2013
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Related: My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, Exposing Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Arno Mayer.
There are two fundamental objections that any conspiracy theory must pass in order to have a shred of plausibility even before we start discussing the specific details of the available evidence. Most conspiracy theories that have been proposed by proponents of pseudoscience (regarding topics such as 9/11, chemtrails, vaccines, evolution HIV/AIDS denialism etc.) fail one or both of these tests. These objections can be called the no-leak problem and the prediction problem. The no-leak problem points out that a vast conspiracy theory involving hundreds or even thousands of people is very likely to experience leaks to the public. If no such leaks have occurred, then it is likely that the conspiracy theory is false. The second problem can be referred to as the prediction problem. Reality is a collection of enormously complex dynamic systems and prediction is often very difficult, especially years and decades into the future. This means that there are huge risks associated with attempting to pull off the secret agendas believed by conspiracy theorists. If those risks are sufficiently high, it would be difficult to see why any shadowy organization would attempt it. If the operations failed, they would have been exposed and there is presumably a huge incentive for shadowy organizations to stay under the radar.
Holocaust denialism fails to counter any of the two objections. If the Holocaust was a conspiracy, then that would have to involve thousands of scientists, historians, soldiers, journalists and even members of the Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust. If that were true, something would have leaked during the past 70+ years, but no such leaks have been observed. Ergo, this is evidence against Holocaust denialism. Conspiracy theories about the Holocaust also fails the prediction objection: it is clearly very difficult to have predicted what would happen after WWII and certainly decades after Hitler started agitating against the Jews.
In My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, I discussed the tactics and assertions made by a Holocaust denier I met in real life. Fortunately, he was not that sophisticated and his claims could easily be exposed as false. A while back, that post was posted on the Facebook page for Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists. Predictably, a Holocaust denier and other misguided individuals came creeping out of the shadows and posted a couple of comments (now hidden from view because that person was rightfully banned for spamming). No credible arguments were put forward of course, just the same old recycled garbage. Consider this blog post a take-down of those assertions. Read more of this post
March 8, 2012
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Like creationists, Holocaust deniers love to take the word of historians out of context in their feeble attempts to demonstrate their position. I dissected one such example in my article about a quote from functionalist historian Arno Mayer, but there are apparently many more such quotations out of context.
Raul Hilberg was considered the most respected Holocaust historian ever lived, especially since he wrote a huge book on the subject called The Destruction of the European Jews back in the early 60s.
Here is the butchered quote that is often presented:
There was a Holocaust, which is, by the way, more easily said than demonstrated.
Holocaust deniers like to use this quote in an effort to show how leading Holocaust historians believe that the Holocaust is an historical reality based on nothing but faith, since they cannot demonstrate it. The quote is from an interview called Is There a New Anti-Semitism? A Conversation with Raul Hilberg in the Logos journal. Now, lets read the context of the quote, which shows something quite different: Read more of this post
December 7, 2011
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While I have spent many hours debating Holocaust deniers and the anti-immigration forces online at various blogs and forums, nothing quite prepares you for the real deal. I had a rather polite conversation with a person I interact with on a daily basis at the place I spend most of my time during the day. He subscribed to various common anti-immigration beliefs and made frequent appeals to “natural” in his justification of the subjugation of women. He also turned out to be a Holocaust denier and a self-professed “racist”. Because it is pretty clear that these particular individuals live trapped in a mirror world of make-belief and post hoc rationalizations, it is quite a surreal experience talking to one face-to-face. Now, this blog post is going to be pretty anecdotal, but I think it is instructive and could hopefully help others experiencing the same thing in the future.
This person was, luckily for me, not that well-read on arguments or debating tactics frequently used by anti-immigration pseudoskeptics or Holocaust deniers. For instance, the he did not object to the question of whether he was a racist or not, but freely confessed it to be the case. A sophisticated pseudoskeptic would probably have rejected the label and said something along the lines of “I am so tired of being called a racist just because I want responsible immigration policies”, thereby making it appear as if he or she was a martyr, being attacked on a personal level for his or her beliefs. In any case, I tried to help him clearly articulate his position, because he was a bit embarrassed when admitting that he denied the existence of gas chambers or the mainstream figure of about 6 million Jewish deaths. Clearly, he realized that the more he spoke about it, the more credibility among the listeners he lost. Granted, it was pretty low-hanging fruit for me and his claims became more and more absurd the more he opened his mouth, but I was able to shoot down most of the arguments he put forward, point out internal contradictions as well as ask him critical questions that he could not satisfactory answer.
Let me go over them, one by one.
1. Gas chambers where not just delousing chambers
One of his major claims, and one of the most common claim put forward by Holocaust deniers is that the gas chambers at the extermination camps where not actually used to kill people in, but just used for delousing infested clothes. There are many problems with this. First, the gas chambers in Treblinka used carbon monoxide, which is lethal because it reversibly binds to hemoglobin in mammals and prevents it from transporting oxygen around the body. However, lice do not have hemoglobin so using carbon monoxide to delouse clothing would be a very ineffective method. Second, some gas chambers in Auschwitz used Zyklon-B and had special chambers inside these that where specifically used for delousing. If the gas chambers where really just “delousing chambers”, why put a specific box for delousing clothing within this supposed “delousing chamber”? Clearly, the evidence supports the mainstream historical account, rather than Holocaust denialism. Read more of this post
September 10, 2011
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It is quite fascinating how different groups of pseudoskeptics from vastly different fields, such as evolutionary biology and 20th century history, tend to apply the same type of deceptive debating tactics. For instance, creationists like to quote the distinguished paleontologist Stephen J. Gould and make it appear as if he is rejecting central concepts in evolutionary biology, when he is fact is merely debating the relative merits of different evolutionary mechanisms. Creationists are thus misrepresenting the internal scientific discussion about how common descent happens, roughly expressed as “punctualists versus gradualists” (although they are not incompatible), as if it was a discussion of whether common descent was true.
As it turns out, Holocaust deniers use the same tactic, although instead of misrepresenting the punctualist Stephen J. Gould, they try to exploit the Holocaust historian Arno Meyer. Similarly to the “punctualism versus gradualism” there is a similar, legitimate discussion within Holocaust history about the exact mechanisms. This debate is usually termed the intentionalist versus functionalist controversy and deals with questions such as “to what degree has the Holocaust planned in advance and to what extent was it a continent historical outcome?”. None of the historians in this discussion denies the Holocaust. They all accept that there was intentionality for genocide, that a highly technical extermination program was implemented using e. g. gas chambers and that roughly 5-6 million Jews where killed. So, in other words, Holocaust deniers misrepresent this legitimate historic discussion as if functionalist historians support Holocaust denial. They do not.
Let us check how Holocaust deniers, such as Germar Rudolf, quote historian Arno Mayer out of context. Read more of this post