September 16, 2019

Debunking the Deniers

All evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down. – “Moby Dick”

Before a rapt audience, author Michael Shermer read a passage from Herman Melville’s metaphor-laden classic, but this was not a discourse on classic literature. The venue was the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and Shermer was using the excerpt to illustrate the psychology of the anti-Semite, as he does in his new book, co-written with Alex Grobman: “Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?” (University of California Press).

“The deniers need the Jews as much as Captain Ahab needed the white whale,” the authors write.Published with grants channeled through the Holocaust Museum, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, “Denying History” strives to debunk Holocaust revisionists such as the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) and acolytes Mark Weber, David Irving, Robert Faurisson, Ernst Zun-del and David Cole, the last a Holocaust denier of Jewish descent.

“Denying History” explores the motivations of men perpetrating manipulative and erroneous information; a tradition going back to the influential revisionist Paul Rassinier, a French socialist who made the transition from helping World War II Jews to refuting death-toll numbers. In the process, the book dismantles the arguments of “historians” who would like people to believe that no organized policy resembling the Endlosung (“Final Solution of the Jewish Question”) existed among the Nazis; that gas chambers and crematoria were not employed in genocide but were used for delousing clothing and the disposal of bodies felled by disease, respectively; and that the well-corroborated estimate of 6 million Jewish deaths has been inflated from a figure closer to 300,000 to 2 million.

From the Pasadena offices of Skeptic magazine, which he edits, Shermer told The Journal that “people like David Irving, they’re not fringe nuts. They know their stuff. They’ve studied the Holocaust, they’re very bright, they know how to make their arguments.” And that kind of command over information makes them especially dangerous, as they are equally convincing when manipulating facts.

Perhaps the most edifying part of co-writing “Denying History” for Shermer has been learning “how ideologues operate. How they distort, how you can take one little factoid and subvert the truth.” The author admits that he doesn’t believe “Denying History” will convert any Holocaust deniers. But it’s “that vast middle ground” of people unarmed with knowledge of the Holocaust and susceptible to gullibility that Shermer is worried about. And “the Internet feeds that like crazy,” he says.

“The deeper message of our book is that history can be a science,” says Shermer. “It should be conducted vigorously.”