The Origins of Holocaust Denial

A Map depicting Nazi concentration camps.

We are only a few weeks away from International Holocaust Remembrance Day: January 27. If you will remember, last year the Trump administration marked the day without mentioning that Jews were special victims of the Nazi regime and called the critics of of its silence asinine and and pathetic. To my knowledge, the administration has never apologized for this or amended what they said. Who knows what kind of insulting statement is in store for this year.

In anticipation of that fateful day, it might be worthwhile to explore the origins of Holocaust denial in the United States. Who was the first American to deny that the Nazis exterminated six million Jews and what was the basis for their denial?

If we go back to the two decades following World War II we find little mention of “The Holocaust” of the European Jews by the Nazis; the name only emerged slowly. The difficulty to name the horror we now know as “the Holocaust” came from two different directions. On the one hand, the war destroyed many lives and many, many people were categorized as “Displaced Persons” by the war. Millions lost their lives and homes. It took a while for the nature and extent of the losses to come fully into focus. On the other hand, the horror of the camps and the magnitude of the Jewish deaths at the hand of the Nazis simply was indescribable. Deborah Lipstadt explains that:

Even those tho had access to the broadest array of evidence found it hard to fully comprehend the extent of the tragedy…. Even some intellectuals, many of whom had lost much of their immediate family in the Final Solution, found themselves at a loss of how to describe this event they believed was a singular evil , something separate and apart from the general devastation wrought by the Germans during World War II (p. 7).

In this confusion and chaos, those who remained committed to the idea of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy attempted deny what was becoming increasingly obvious: that the Nazis systematically slaughtered six million Jews for no other reason other than that they were Jews. To see how they did so sheds some light on the current tactics of today’s Holocaust deniers since the tactics haven’t changed much.

The opening salvo by an American was in 1948 by Francis Parker Yockey:

This propaganda announced that 6,000,000 members of the Jewish Culture-Nation-State-Church-People-Race had been killed in European camps, as well as an indeterminate number of other people. The propaganda was on a worldwide scale, and was of a mendacity that was perhaps adapted to a uniformized mass, but was simply disgusting to discriminating Europeans. The propaganda was technically quite complete. “Photographs” were supplied in millions of copies. Thousands of the people who had been killed published accounts of their experiences in these camps. Hundreds of thousands more made fortunes in post-war black-markets. “Gas-chambers” that did not exist were photographed, and a “gasmobile” was invented to titillate the mechanically-minded (p. 533).

Your reaction to this passage should be: WTF?  WTF, in this case, stands for Where’s The Footnote? Yockey doesn’t supply any source for his claim that the “propaganda” of 6,000,000 is false, he simply asserts it. The antisemitic right always describes Yockey as writing this book while in “exile” at Brittas Bay, Ireland. They paint a picture of this solitary genius, working alone and always without notes. I guess they say this to give the impression that Yockey was a towering genius who had a vast command of facts in his head. I think it probably signals that he was making shit up. Either way, Yockey didn’t really have an argument here, since an argument is a claim supported with evidence and he had no evidence. Other’s following in Yockey’s footsteps would try to do better.

The Common Sense of Conde McGinley

Common Sense was an antisemitic newspaper run by publisher Conde McGinley (1890-1963) and his son. Its vicious antisemitism caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954 which found that “Beginning in 1948…Common Sense became increasingly outspoken in its statements of a pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic nature. It was soon almost exclusively a vehicle for the exploitation of ignorance, prejudice, and fear” (p. 11). For example, McGinley published one of the earliest arguments by an American denying the Holocaust in 1950 in an article with this calm and staid headline:

Common Sense headline reading:

McGinley later expanded the few sentences in this article to a mailer published by his “Christian Educational Association.” There we find this startling headline: “New York Times Debunks Slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews.” Wow! The prestigious New York Times declared the Holocaust a lie! Let’s investigate. Here’s what McGinley wrote:

In the year 1948 the New York Times stated that the world’s population in 1948 of persons professing Judaism amounted to “15,000,000 to 18,000,000 Jews” in addition to the “600,000 to 700,000 in Palestine.” The New York Times at that time spared no effort to establish the exact world’s population of persons professing Judaism. They are very expert in this field.

These figures can be accepted without hesitancy by even the most skeptical Zionist. The New York Times is owned and operated by two outstanding Americans professing Judaism. They would not permit their paper to publish untrue statistics on that subject for any consideration.

But that isn’t the end of the story. You see, McGinley pointed out that comparing this figure from the NYT to the figure he found in the 1938 World Almanac which listed the identical number in the  Jewish population in the world, he has proven that the Nazis couldn’t possibly have killed 6,000,000 Jews. “Based upon those figures from sources which cannot be challenged the disappearance of 6,000,000 during that period can only be regarded as political propaganda.”

Well, I went back and found the NYT article McGinley cited as his authoritative source. For those of you playing at home it is:

  • Baldwin, Hanson W. 1948. “Armies for Palestine.” New York Times, February 22, 1948.

Hmm….. The headline of the NYT piece isn’t what we should expect from reading McGinley. Nothing there about “debunking” the Nazi slaughter of the Jews. In fact, reading the article, there is no mention of the Nazis at all. The article is, as the headline indicates, an article about whether or not the United Nations will need to send in troops to establish the partitioning of Palestine to help create the state of Israel, which came into  being about three months after this article was published. The article spends a time discussing relative strength of troops for the Zionists and the Arabs who opposed them. The only place the world’s Jewish population is discussed is in this paragraph:

The Jewish areas of Palestine are an enclave surrounded by Arabs. There are 650,000 to 700,000 Jews in Palestine and about 1,250,000 Arabs. Another 500,000 Jews inhabit other Arab countries in the Middle East. The Arab population of these states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq. Yemen and Trans-Jordan, is more than 30,000,000. In these countries the Jews are tied by bonds of religion to the rest of the fifteen to eighteen million Jews of the world and most of the Arab inhabitants share their religion with the rest of the world's 221,000,000 Moslems, who are concentrated in Turkey, the Middle East, India and the Orient.

The article is not really a research article that, as McGinley claimed, “spared no effort to establish the exact world’s population of persons professing Judaism.”  Indeed, the article is about a different topic altogether and mentions the world’s Jewish population in passing. It is hardly the damning article McGinley claimed.

McGinley’s clumsy 1950s piece might be the first piece of Holocaust denial published in the United States, but it was hardly the last. As Lipstadt shows, “the holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best-documented genocide in the world (p. 131). But it is still denied by antisemitic crackpots. As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day let’s not let our country, under Trump’s leadership, join the ranks of the deniers again.

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4 thoughts on “The Origins of Holocaust Denial

  1. Pingback: On the Prehistory of Holocaust Denial | Fardels Bear

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