Yes, The Holocaust Really Happened


I just got an email from TPM Reader AM on the story of the Holocaust denial school assignment in Rialto, California. As he says, not only is the Holocaust one of the best documented atrocities in the entirety of human history. It is one of the best documented atrocities by the perpetrators themselves. Here’s TPM Reader AM followed by some personal reflections of my own …

Your coverage of that California school flirting with Holocaust denial is necessary, fascinating and appalling. Thank you. Until I became a Yahoo user I had no idea how pervasive Holocaust denial is, still to this day. So I’ve seen these “arguments” before. It’s standard, modern Holocaust denial. Of course they start with a lie, “Though six million Jews supposedly died in the gas chambers” – is hardly true and never claimed as such.

As many were shot in the killing pits of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia as were gassed. The current best estimate is 5.7 million Jews, with 300,000 murdered by Romania, so the German count is around 5.4 million. But beyond the horrific numbers, not only is the Holocaust one of the most documented events in human history, it is one of the most documented events by the perpetrators themselves, who kept meticulous records.

The first real scholarly work on the Holocaust was done by Raul Hilberg, and his book The Destruction of the European Jews (first edition 1960) still stands as a landmark – and he used the German’s own records. The best recent work is of course Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands. You probably know that. His work using declassified Soviet documents is one reason. But he shifts our focus to the East, which is a long overdue correction.

In any event, thank you for highlighting this appalling scene. I’m sure we’ll be hearing quite a bit more in the coming days.

Some of you will remember this post I wrote last August about one of my own family’s ties to the Holocaust. In recent years, great troves of the documentation of the Holocaust has been ported online. So whereas in the past you had to trek to Jerusalem or Poland or Washington, DC and innumerable sign posts of horror across Eastern Europe to find details on the fates of individual people, now quite a lot of it is available on the web.

And that’s where my wife’s family’s story comes in. For 70 years it’s been accepted in her family that her great-grandfather was shot by the nazis when they came and began corralling Jews in his small town in Poland. It’s important to remember that the precise fates of many, in family histories, have been based on hearsay and reports from survivors. In any case, that’s not true according to documents my wife found online last year. Rather than dying in 1939, Chaim Breslauer lived until the end of 1942 when he died at Auschwitz.

You can read the story here.

The German state was highly bureaucratic. So they kept records. Lots of them. Indeed, the same turns out to be true of many of the South American juntas and their death squads in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s hard to act on a vast scale without fairly assiduous record-keeping.

A side note on the Rialto story to conclude. I continue to think there’s more of a story here. In part that’s because the closer you look at what happened here the less it looks like a very clumsy and ill-advised way to stimulate critical thinking. The effort to suggest the Holocaust might be an epic fraud just seems too direct. But there’s a second reason. This did not happen just anywhere. The particular area. Rialto, Fontana next door, and Riverside down to the south – and less overwhelmingly, much of what is called Southern California’s “Inland Empire.” These were the epicenters of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist revival in the 70s through the 90s. I know this in part because I’ve studied a lot about far right fringe groups. But I also know because it’s right near where I grew up. Hardcore racism and Jew hatred were part of the landscape there.

I’m not totally surprised.