5X5 Episode 43

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5X5 Episode 43
Holocaust Denial
29th October 2008

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5X5 42 5X5 44
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Holocaust Denial[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5X5 and tonight we're talking about Holocaust denial, and by "the Holocaust" I refer specifically to the Jewish holocaust of World War II, which some groups and political factions insist never happened. In essence, they deny the historical fact of the Holocaust.

R: It's kind amazing when you consider that one of the biggest events of human history is what they picked to deny, when it's so completely undeniable that it happened and reading over their arguments is just... I mean, it's a lesson in logical fallacy after logical fallacy.

J: Especially something that has so much physical evidence.

S: Right, but they do that simply by casting doubt on every piece of evidence. They don't have a cohesive story to tell themselves, but, for example, they will throw out facts that seem to cast doubt on elements of the Holocaust even when they don't when you then drill down a little bit deeper. One of my favorites is noting that there was higher concentrations of cyanide found in delousing chambers—chambers to get lice off of clothes and things like that—than on the remains of the alleged, you know, showers where cyanide was used for mass killings in some of the camps. But what they don't tell you is that it takes a thousand times the cyanide to kill a louse than a human.

E: Right.

S: So that's why the concentrations were much higher. Or there may be walls left over from those buildings that don't have any cyanide residue on them. But that's because the ones that were exposed to the elements for twenty or thirty years, the cyanide was essentially washed away. But the ones that are intact have the amount of cyanide still on them that you would expect to have if they were used to kill people. So that's one strategy of deniers: throw out these partial facts that seem to cast doubt on the story, when in fact they don't.

E: The other thing they do is, they concentrate on the numbers and that there has been over the course of history some back and forth about the actual numbers of people that had perished, and they've kind of latched on to that by saying, "Oh, well, they don't know what the actual facts are; they don't know what the actual numbers are, so how are we really supposed to know that this mass murder of Jews and other people actually took place, when the historians themselves can't even agree on the numbers?"

S: Yeah, they—exactly. They say, "Oh look, this guy says it was 6 million; the other guy says it was 5 million. Maybe it was zero."

R: And it's the same thing that evolution deniers and other people who are fighting against science bring up: "Oh scientists can't agree, therefore it must all be wrong." That is not correct at all.

B: That's a good comparison with evolution, Rebecca, because in a way, in many ways the techniques of denial are very similar. They try to pull one or two threads out of this tapestry and the tapestry is not going to collapse when you pull one or two threads. There's so much converging evidence with the Holocaust and as in evolution—there's so many converging lines of evidence that the mountain of evidence you would need to actually seriously discredit it—It's just so huge that people don't realize what it would actually take to cast serious doubt on something like this.

J: They want to classify the Holocaust denial as just a typical historical revisionism, which basically means you're reviewing evidence or new evidence of history and then changing what the status quo of that historical time period is, but the fact of the matter is that Holocaust denials are anti-Semitic and that's where the basis of it is from.

S: Yeah, in fact, one of their major points is they dismiss any eye-witness testimony from the survivors—from Jewish survivors of the Holocaust—simply by saying that it's a well-known fact that all Jews are liars. So that's, they use that basically their own anti-Semitism to justify their Holocaust denial.

R: Another common argument they use is to claim that there was never any order to exterminate the Jews, and this kind of goes back to what Bob, what you were saying about how pulling out one thread does not destroy the whole tapestry, because the only thing that they can come up with to prove "that there was no liquidation of the Jews" comes from a telephone note that Heinrich Himmler wrote in 1941 that just said "Jewish transport from Berlin, no liquidation." They have interpreted that to mean that there were no Jews liquidated ever, which of course is ridiculous because of the mountain of evidence that goes against that. For instance, Adolf Hitler publicly stated many times that he wanted the Jews exterminated, saying things that, it's not at all cruel to shoot them if they wouldn't or couldn't do work, that they were no more than louse and vermin. So, I mean, they've got this mountain of evidence and they pull out this one little note that they think will prove their point but it simply doesn't.

S: Right, that's exactly right. So they just set the bar of evidence higher than can be met and will always forever move that bar—the moving goalpost fallacy. So they say, "where's the order specifically signed by Hitler that says, you know, exterminate all the Jews in Germany and in Europe, unequivocally?" And that of course doesn't exist but when you put together all the pieces like Hitler saying—using the word ausrottung, we will ausrotten the Jews from Europe, which means "to pull out by the roots" and the Germans knew exactly what that word meant. You don't use that word unless you are talking about extermination.

There's other threads of evidence; for example, Nazi officials giving the order to stop the gassing at Auschwitz—how could you stop something that was never ordered to begin in the first place? So again, you put all those pieces together and you have the big picture but then the deniers can always look towards apparent contradictions or they can say, "well, what's the one piece of evidence that we don't have? Ha, without that one piece of evidence you can't prove that the Holocaust happened."

R: And of course we could go on all day. There's tons of arguments and plenty of refutation but I'd recommend that people who are interested check out Michael Shermer's book called Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? Shermer and Alex Grobman wrote that. And it's a good primer on these arguments.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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