This post comes to you on the heels of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—a day when the world comes together to acknowledge the vicious state-sponsored genocidal extermination of an estimated six million Jews and millions more “racially inferior” and politically dissident Europeans and Soviets POWs. Typically, providing a citation for that claim would be unnecessary, as these facts are deeply rooted into our collective historical memory, and yet, there are some who doubt them.
For this growing minority, modern tributes to the victims of the Holocaust do not serve to help heal old wounds or learn from the past; rather they mark a grand institutionalized manipulation reaching across all social, academic, and political spheres. According to these self-described “Holocaust Revisionists,” the world has fallen pray to a malicious and highly elaborate lie. Holocaust Denial—as it is more commonly called—is the belief that the Holocaust never really happened, or that the “facts” of the Holocaust are deeply flawed. Through decades of “research,” this political subculture has collected a vast library of information around which they view a legitimate field of study has been established. They are quick to assert what they see as an objective basis to their viewpoint, not an ideology or belief system, but an indisputable scientific reality to which the rest of the world is naively unaware.
I started my quest to pinpoint the social, psychological, and religious backstory to this belief system a few weeks ago. A close friend (let’s call him “Rick”) expressed the he had been dealing with a great deal of emotional distress and insomnia following a disturbing revelation from a childhood friend (whom let’s call “Paul”). During a heated conversation about politics, Paul confessed that he did not believe the Holocaust happened. Rick said he was in shock, and wasn’t really sure how to respond. He asked his longtime friend for more details about how he came to this conclusion. Paul told him that he had been researching it for many months; he had read information on the Internet, including sitting through hours of YouTube videos, and he had come to the conclusion that the Holocaust narrative as we know it is a complete hoax.
That same day, an article was published by the Guardian, titled, “New online generation takes up Holocaust denial.” The piece reports on research by historian Dr. Nicholas Terry, the UK’s “foremost academic on the subject” of Holocaust denial. Dr. Terry claims that denial is currently enjoying a period of growth thanks to “‘gateway’ conspiracy theories,” confusion stemming from a thriving divergent news market, anti-Semitism, and the Internet “free-for-all” that naturally gravitates users toward far right ideas.
I decided this couldn’t be a coincidence. Rick’s story seemed to confirm Dr. Terry’s claim that Holocaust denial was on the rise, and based on the online origins of Paul’s “evidence,” and what I know of Paul’s online presence prior to his introduction to Holocaust Revisionism (he’s a heavy 4chan user), I decided that there must be something to this theory. After all, I routinely forage the dark depths of the Internet for xenophobic lies to debunk. In its ability to bring together like-minded people in complete anonymity, I have come to view the web as the ultimate emboldening instrument for hateful ideologies.
I ended up posting a question on a forum for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), which was founded in 1990 by Bradley Smith, known as a “principal architect” of American Holocaust denial. As of today, I have received replies from eight different individuals sharing their experiences with and motivations for entering into this belief, and how it has impacted other lives. In the commentary that follows, I will quote these individuals to provide some insight into how this movement recruits and sustains its membership.
This post is another deviation from fact checking; instead, I’ll be profiling a group of political extremists, whose dismissal of the historical trauma of an entire religious community represents its own odd system of belief. From a purely socio-psychological perspective, Holocaust Revisionism and post-World War II Judaism offer their adherents similar rewards. Both provide members with a solid community foundation, a bond that is strengthened by a feeling of collective persecution.