Holocaust, the

The word holocaust originates from the two Greek words hólos (whole) and kaustós (burnt). It used to refer to a religious sacrifice whereby an animal carcass is completely consumed by fire (burnt offering).

Starting in 1903, the term was occasionally used in articles of the New York Times referring to the persecution of Jews in Czarist Russia (16 May 1903), and they even started capitalizing the term (20 May 1930). The term reappeared in a 1943 edition of that same newspaper with reference to the alleged mass murder of Jews by National-Socialist Germany (13 December 1943, p. 21):

“The slaughter of a third of the Jewish population in Hitler’s domain and the threatened slaughter of all is a holocaust without parallel.”

The term “the Holocaust,” with a capital H and the definitive article, became universally accepted as referring to the claimed National-Socialist mass-murder of Europe’s Jews after the tremendous success of the U.S. TV mini-series Holocaust in 1978.

A common definition of the Holocaust consists of three main characteristics (see for instance Shermer/​Grobman 2000, p. xv; Berenbaum 1993, p. 1):

  1. An intention and plan to commit the crime.
  2. The tools with which the crime was committed.
  3. The type and number of victims: Six Million Jews.

Another feature commonly attributed to the Holocaust is its alleged uniqueness; that it is “without parallel.” Pogroms and persecutorial measures against Jews in the past were never based on an overall plan designed to comprehensively kill every Jew within reach. But this is said to be exactly what happened during the Holocaust, moreover with the sophisticated technical and logistical means at the disposal of a highly industrialized nation. This sets this event apart from anything else in the history of mankind.

From this perspective of a singular event, there are aspects of the National-Socialists’ actions against the Jews which are not unique at all, and which, as such, are not part of the unique Holocaust in its more-narrowly defined sense:

  • Discrimination against Jews, such as the Nuremberg Laws or other measures implemented later by the Third Reich, are not unique in Jewish history or the history of mankind. We need only recall the biblical Exodus, which is said to have occurred around 1200 BC.
  • Ghettos for Jews were a frequent feature of many European societies in ancient and medieval time, and in Eastern Europe even up to the dawn of the 20th Century. For example, the famous Venetian ghetto was created in 1516.
  • Wholesale incarceration of Jewish civilians. Concentration camps for the wanton wholesale incarceration of civilian populations were set up by the Spanish, the British, the Americans and the Soviets since the late 1800s.
  • Occasional massacres, even widespread excesses of violence, have accompanied Jews throughout European history, for instance during the crusades. Perhaps the first major massacre was of the Jews in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.

Therefore, for an event to qualify as part of the Holocaust in the strict sense, it needs to be part of a plan to wholesale kill all Jews reachable, with the sophisticated technical and logistical means at Germany’s and her allies’ disposal.

Following the above common definition, an ana­lysis of the Holocaust can be divided into four major units: (1) intentionality, (2) instruments of murder, (3) number of victims, and (4) manipulation. See the chart. The following text will briefly address each of these four areas. This entry closes with a short look at the concept of evidence.

1. Intentionality

For any crime, intention matters. In this case, we are dealing with a hierarchical state where opinions were formed, decisions were made, and orders flowed strictly from the top to the bottom, or so we are told. The entries in the present work on the top officials of the National-Socialist government – Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring – as well as lower-ranking officials in charge of dealing with Jewish issues – Reinhardt Heydrich, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hans Frank, Oswald Pohl, Richard Glücks, Rudolf Höss, Adolf Eichmann, Odilo Globocnik – lay out which opinions they voiced prior to and during the war as to how they intended to treat the Jews.

Since opinions and intentions do not always translate into concrete plans and actions, it is important to look at a wide range of documents produced during the war dealing with Jewish issues. They show which plans were conceived, and what orders were issued or received to implement these plans. In this regard, see the entries on emigration and resettlement.

Ultimately, the story starts at the very top, so the issue of whether Hitler ever issued an order to murder Europe’s Jews is at the center of this debate. (See the entries on Adolf Hitler himself and on the debate around the Hitler Order.)

2. Instruments of Extermination

Instruments of extermination can be divided into two groups: organizational instruments, which include institutions and organizations, and physical instruments or tools, which includes the actual murder weapon and tools to erase any traces of murder.

a. Organizational Instruments

Camps and Ghettos

Since neither the establishment of Jewish ghettos nor of concentration camps is a unique feature of the Holocaust, they will not be considered as a tool here, unless it is claimed that measures or facilities were put in place in a ghetto or camp to accomplish a planned mass extermination. Such claims are made by the orthodoxy for many camps, but not for any ghettos. Camps which, according to the orthodox narrative, had at least some features of an extermination camp, can be divided into three categories (see the entry on extermination camps for details):

  1. Pure extermination camps, set up for the exclu­sive purpose of killing all arriving deportees, if we follow the orthodox narrative.
  2. Mixed-purpose camps, where some inmates were allegedly killed on arrival, while the rest was – at least temporarily – spared to perform slave-labor tasks. This includes a wide variety of camps. It ranges from those where murder is said to have been the main purpose, while slave labor was only a side show (Auschwitz), to those where mass murder only is said to have been planned, but not implemented (Dachau), and anything in between.
  3. Phantom extermination camps, which are camps for which extermination activities have been claimed, but which are universally rejected by all historians as erroneous or fraudulent. Since they are important to understand the trustworthiness of witness accounts, these cases deserve to be discussed.


The Ein­satz­grup­pen were a task force set up by Germany to “pacify” the territories conquered in the east. According to the mainstream narrative, the main goal of these units was the mass murder of Jewish civilians in the temporarily German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union. This mass murder is said to have been implemented mainly by mass shootings, and to a smaller degree also by way of asphyxiation in so-called gas vans.

Once the German armed forces were retreating out of the Soviet Union, the Ein­satz­grup­pen are said to have organized a grand scheme to exhume all the bodies in thousands of mass graves scattered throughout the occupied Soviet territories, and to burn the remains on pyres in order to erase the traces of these crimes. The Holocaust orthodoxy refers to these activities as “Aktion 1005.”

b. Physical Instruments, or Tools

Murder Weapons

The primary physical instruments or tools of the Ho­lo­caust were the actual weapons presumably used. While bullets used during executions of the Ein­satz­grup­pen and associated units hardly need any discussion as to their mode of operation, other weapons deserve a lot of attention, as some of them are themselves unique to the Holocaust, while others have technical features often misunderstood or misrepresented.

The murder weapons fall into four main categories:

  1. Bullets
  2. Gas Vans
  3. Execution chambers. These come with a wide variety of claimed murder methods, such as engine-exhaust gases, vacuum, chlorine, high-voltage electricity, and of course Zyklon B, to name a few. This variety points at a random, chaotic approach, rather than central coordination and planning.
  4. Finally, there are “exotic weapons,” most of which are not seriously considered to be true by most historians, such as pneumatic hammers, explosives or quick lime. These claims reinforce the impression of chaos rather than a plan.

For details, see the entry on Tools, of Mass Murder.

Tools to Erase Murder Traces

Secondary physical instruments of the Holocaust are tools and methods used to erase any traces of mass murder, meaning primarily the destruction of the victims’ bodies. The tools to erase the traces of the crime come in three flavors:

  1. Cremation furnaces. These should be expected to have existed foremost at the pure extermination camps, but none of them had any crematoria.
  2. Open-air incineration on pyres. These were allegedly used virtually at every location, for which large numbers of victims are claimed, including during the Einsatz­gruppen’s Aktion 1005.
  3. Explosives. This method was primarily claimed by Rudolf Höss; Vladimir Davydov made related claims.

Hence, especially regarding the tools to commit and afterwards hide the murder, we find chaos and anarchy rather than a plan and a systematic approach.

For more details on the murder weapons allegedly used, and the tools to erase claimed murder traces, see the entry Tools, of Mass Murder.

3. The Victims: Six Million Jews

a. History

The claim that six million Jews are threatened with extermination, are dying or have died, was spread for the first time in the 1890s by The New York Times in reaction to anti-Jewish measures of Czarist Russia. Ever since, the theme of Six Million Jews in danger, dying or dead has run like a red thread through the media. It became a standard feature during and right after the First World War, when Jewish organizations in the U.S. were raising funds to support Jewish communities and projects in Eastern Europe, in particular in the fledgling Soviet Union. The number became popular again in the years running up to World War Two, although this time levied against Germa­ny. The Six-Million claim really took off during the final years of the war, and was firmly implemented in the public mind as well as in court proceedings right afterwards.

b. Controversy

Six Million, however, is not the only figure claimed. Right after the end of World War Two, claims of more than six million victims of NS persecution were published – 9, 15, 20, even 25 million victims. These figures include Jews and non-Jews. The controversies these higher death-toll claims have triggered shed a revealing light on some political issues involved in “creating” victim numbers. (For details on the history and controversy of that figure, see the entry on Six Million.)

While “the Holocaust” is exclusively about the Jews, there are other victim groups who have been portrayed by orthodox scholars as having been the target of systematic extermination as well. These include Gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also Slavs in general and Poles in particular. While these aspects of claimed National-Socialist persecution are not part of the Holocaust in the narrow sense, the way scholars, media and the public at large have dealt with these often-controversial side topics is very instructive to the overarching topic. For this reason, these issues are covered to some degree in the respective entries.

c. Demography

The actual Jewish death toll of World War Two requires a thorough study of demographic developments on a worldwide scale, starting in the pre-war years and ending many years after the war. In the present work, an entry on demography gives an overview of the challenges involved, and the studies published so far. Furthermore, each entry on a country where Jews are said to have been murdered within the Holocaust contains a section on demo­graphy and/or on the fate of the Jews deported from that country. Central to our understanding of what happened during those years is the fate of the Jews in mainly four countries: The Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and France.

4. Manipulation

One major aspect of what we today consider to be the Holocaust, but which is never mentioned by orthodox Holocaust scholars, is the manipulation of public discourse by various means:

a. Propaganda

Truth is always the first victim of any war, and the victors never write an unbiased history of any war. The same is true for World War Two, of which the Holocaust is an integral part. There was never a war where propaganda and psychological warfare have played such an important role. To believe that propaganda had no effect on our concept of “the Holocaust” is naïve at best.

For this reason, the propaganda activities of all major nations involved in the writing of Ho­lo­caust history are dealt with in sections of the entry on Pro­pa­ganda:

Jewish contributions do not fit into that national pattern, yet still, they have their own section.

b. Indoctrination

While adults can choose which media products to consume or refuse to consume, students in a growing number of countries around the globe are forced to learn the orthodox Holocaust narrative, with no option or encouragement to demonstrate critical thinking. This way, impressionable young minds are taught that dictatorial intolerance and suppression of opposing views is acceptable. More about this ultimate tool to breed totalitarian societies can be found in the entry on Indoctrination.

c. Censorship

In many nations around the globe, anyone voi­cing views deviating from the orthodox Holocaust narrative is maligned, excluded from public discourse, and censored on both societal and legal levels. Today, censorship laws prohibit the public dissemination of such dissenting views under threat of incarceration in most Western countries. Read more about this ultimate tool of oppression in the entry on Censorship.

5. Evidence

The most important question to ask about any topic of deliberation is: How do we know? Knowledge is based on evidence. There are various types of evidence, which vary with regard to their reliability. For a more detail discussion of the theory of evidence in general, see the entry dedicated to this. As for any historical topic, we are concerned mainly with three types of evidence:

  1. Physical evidence
  2. Documents
  3. Testimonies

a. Physical Evidence

This includes material traces of an object or the object itself. In a murder case, this primarily includes the bodies of the victims and the murder weapon – or parts or traces of them – as well as any physical trace a perpetrator may have left behind. It also includes scientific methods to analyze and correctly interpret such traces.

Each crime scene of the Holocaust must have had a weapon and victims, and some if not most had some way of disposing of the victims’ bodies. Just as any other murder investigation, investigations into Holocaust crime scenes also must primarily concern themselves with finding and assessing material evidence of weapon and victim.

In the present work, several entries address the material and technical aspects of claimed murder weapons – homicidal gas chambers, gas vans, diesel exhaust, carbon monoxide, producer gasZyklon B and hydrogen cyanide, Zyklon-B introduction devices, Iron Blue, gastight doors, ventilation, morgues, and explosives. Other entries address tools to erase the crime’s traces – crematoria, cremation propaganda, open-air incinerations, groundwater level, lumberjacks, and again explosives.

Furthermore, each major crime scene claimed for the Holocaust discusses material traces that were presumably found during forensic investigations, or if nothing else, it elaborates on physical traces that should be expected. These are discussed in the entries dedicated to the claimed extermination camps at Belzec, Chełmno, Semlin, Sobibór and Treblinka.

The entry on the Ein­satz­grup­pen has a section discussing forensic findings claimed by Soviet authorities about Einsatzgruppen massacres. The entry on Aktion 1005 has a similar section that discusses material claims made by witnesses in connection with large-scale outdoor corpse cremations.

Some of the evidence presumably gathered by Soviet investigators in this context were presented during the show trials at Krasnodar and Kharkov, and are discussed in these entries.

Two entries discuss forensic examinations conducted by Allied investigators in camps in western Germany and France. One is dedicated to Charles Larson, a U.S. pathologist who conducted autopsies of victims in camps liberated by U.S. forces, and the other looks into alleged gassing victims at the Natzweiler Camp.

Several entries discuss items that were allegedly manufactured from the dead bodies of murder victims, or property presumably taken from the victims:

Images of these items are used to this day to achieve the greatest possible horror effect. But are they genuine? And if so, what do they really prove?

b. Documents

From an evidentiary standpoint, a document is any information recorded in any way that contains data which can help us understand what happened. This includes photos, film footage, letters, diaries, bureaucratic documents, computer data, etc. The most reliable documents are generally those that are least prone to human manipulation and human error. Conversely, the more that human manipulation has an influence on the creation of a document, the less reliable it usually is.

Regarding the Holocaust, air photos are probably the most reliable documents, and are summarized in that very entry. These are followed closely by radio messages the SS sent through what they thought were secure channels, but which were secretly intercepted and deciphered by the British. See the entry on British Radio Intercepts for a summary. Another set of interesting documents are propaganda messages prepared by the Polish underground, and sent to the Polish Government in Exile in London. These are discussed in the entry on Polish Underground Reports.

Documents created by a wartime bureaucracy oblivious of their later historical significance are also quite trustworthy. This includes the vast extant documentation of various camp administrations, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, but also other camps of minor importance. However, for the claimed pure extermination camps, very few documents have survived the war, but some of them are very revealing. The documented history of each major camp is summarized in a specific section of its respective entry.

Documents on the activities of the Ein­satz­grup­pen are quite abundant, and they paint a disturbing picture. However, contradictions and inconsistencies raise issues that can be resolved only by forensic investigations.

In contrast to the killing activities of the Ein­satz­grup­pen, there is almost no documental trace of any attempt to erase the mass graves of these massacres, as is said to have happened during the so-called Aktion 1005. See that entry for details.

There are very few documents mentioning the existence of homicidal gas vans. They are summarized in an entry dedicated to these vehicles. A more thorough discussion is contained in the entry on the Gaubschat Company that presumably built these vehicles, and in entries of two individuals, who both are said to have written a letter mentioning gas vans: August Becker and Harald Turner.

c. Testimonies

In lieu of material traces of murder weapons and victims, and due to the scarcity of documents proving the existence and operation of mass-murder facilities such as gas chambers and gas vans, the orthodox Holocaust narrative mainly rests on witness testimonies. Witnesses are the evidentiary bedrock upon which the orthodox account rests.

In order to understand the historical and societal framework within which these testimonies were made, it is important to understand that testimonies are not given in an atmosphere of neutral objectivity. In fact, powerful forces were, and in some respects still are, at work that influence people’s memories, or at least what they are willing to testify. The entries on religion, false memory syndrome, torture, witch trials and show trials address some of these forces.

The present work contains more than two hundred entries on the most important witnesses who testified about pivotal aspects of the Holocaust. The vast majority of these testimonies were recorded during the war or in the first few years after the war, when memories were still fresh. These witness entries summarize a witness’s statement(s) and assess veracity and reliability. The entry on witnesses lists them all, sorted by the claimed crime complex about which a witness testified.

Several entries contain a discussion of verifiably untrue claims made by a series of witnesses on certain issues, as well as a list of witnesses who made claims to that effect. These entries are:

A separate entry on false witnesses deals with individuals who falsely claimed to have witnessed an event, when in fact they were not even present at the time of the claimed event.

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