This week British politics has returned to the subject of antisemitism with the Chief Rabbi expressing his concerns about Labour.
That has caused me to dwell a little on my (fortunately very brief) spell as a young man when I believed a strand of holocaust denial.
This may be a fleeting feeling I will later regret, but I feel right now that telling this story may help people understand how it happens and thus, maybe, how it can be overcome.
What I Believed
Despite the term “holocaust denial” I never was seduced by the theory that the Holocaust did not happen. I was knowledgeable enough to know it had and as a child had even visited Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, so had seen infrastructure involved.
What I was led to believe, however, by people I thought were cleverer than me, was the strand of holocaust denial that suggests it simply wasn’t as big as everyone makes out.
This strand of holocaust denial refutes the claim that six million Jews were killed and even suggests the figure is exaggerated for political reasons – often to serve insipid Jewish agendas.
What Started Me Believing It?
I was raised to question everything. The six million figure was ubiquitous but was thus also part of “everything”, so I was open to questioning it. I was also something of contrarian in regards to authority, which probably made me an open goal for certain kinds of people.
One day, discussing things I can’t remember but that were probably anti-authoritarian, someone started to talk about Wilhelm Hottl. He was a member of the SS who, in prison immediately after the war, was (so I was told) the origin of the six million figure.
The story was that he said six million Jews had died because he wished to win favour and clemency from the allies by helping to convict others of his ilk. His claim became part of court cases and thus become accepted doctrine.
I read up on this because that’s what I’m like. And there is truth in it. Indeed, the six million figure would have seemed a “pleasing” figure to offer the allies because many reports prior to the war or during it suggested six million Jews were under threat.
What Happened Next
The people who propogate these things are clever. They didn’t hold my hand and lead me down a path. They just pointed me towards one that I self-studied.
The path they pointed me towards was compelling. Governments were lying to their people, oppression was being masked or justified, and there were no end of reports detailing quite convincingly how the number simply couldn’t be true because of population data.
There is something very fulfilling about thinking you have discovered a truth that was hidden from you. I was armed with new knowledge and when people suggested I was wrong, it was remarkable how few could explain how I was wrong. They simply didn’t know why the figure was six million, thus reasserting to me that it wasn’t.
Even now that last factor is frighteningly common. Ask someone how they know six million Jews were murdered, and most simply don’t know any of the evidence for the figure.
The Cross Road
As I said before, I was raised to question everything. So I naturally questioned why the “fake” six million figure was ubiquitous (among governments, museums, universities, etc).
I firmly believe it is this point in the journey at which the prospective antisemite is won or lost to whatever movement is recruiting.
The reason for that is that there can be only two paths from this question. One path leads into anti-Semitic conspiracy, and the other leads back to six millions murdered Jews.
The only explanation for governments made up of endlessly changing parties, across multiple democracies and dictatorships, peddling such a “grand lie” as the six million figure, is anti-Semitic conspiracy. Every explanation has to involve Jews being “in control” by some mechanism or another.
If that were not the case, governments would from time to time simply see electoral or geopolitical self-interest in breaking from the six million lie.
Why I Went The Other Way
The conspiracies aligned rather closely with, and were supported by, organisations that didn’t just question the number. They denied things like the gas chambers too (like the Institute for Historical Review)
And I knew they were wrong about that stuff. I’d been to one of the transport camps and seen it for myself. So I was trusting untrustworthy people.
That, along with all those governments setting self interest aside, made me suspicious.
Once suspicion asserted itself the whole thing came tumbling down quickly.
While enjoying my “insider truth” I hadn’t seen it, but in plain sight was proof of the six million figure.
In the years that followed the Holocaust, and many years later too, various academics at different institutions, in different countries, and using different methodologies, had undertaken different models of study to establish the numbers. And collectively they all found figures of a little below, or a little above six million.
That is incredibly compelling evidence when set alongside, ironically, an SS prisoner stating from his own experience that it was six million.
There is plenty of other evidence too. But I cannot stress enough that visiting a camp, and learning about the real academic studies, were my inoculation to antisemitic conspiracy.
And I wonder today if more people would benefit from that combination.