This is where we begin.
To choose the title of a twenty-five-year-old essay by Tim Mason to headline the first post of this blog might at first glance seem obscure. But although Mason was writing a quarter of a century ago, his exposition of the debate been the rival intentionalist and structuralist or functionalist schools of interpretation of the Third Reich retains a power and impact which has rarely been bettered since. Moreover, this essay, to be found in the collection Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class, Cambridge, 1996, was one of the few occasions in which the leading historian of Nazi Germany of his era tackled the subject of the mass murder of European Jewry, the Holocaust. Like many historians of the 1960s generation that began to study the Third Reich intensively, Mason concentrated his efforts on the period leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He openly admitted that he was psychologically incapable of confronting the horrors of Nazism at war; a psychic block which some of his friends believe may have contributed to his tragic decision to take his own life in 1990.
Holocaust deniers would only snort at this tragedy. How could anyone be so affected by atrocities that never happened? To the doyens of 'historical revisionism', Mason's personal tragedy would become transmogrified into a far-right morality tale: look, see, the psychic damage that is being done because of this incessant propaganda about the Holocaust!
Yet they have reckoned without two things. The first is that the study of the Third Reich consists of much more than the forensics of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. I would almost wager that few leading 'revisionists' other than David Irving would even be aware of Mason's existence, let alone his writings. Holocaust denial fails not only as an account of the Holocaust, but of the Hitler era as a whole; it is a curious, stunted, impoverished freak-show of a history that has nothing to do with the rich historiography of Nazi Germany.
The second omission that 'historical revisionists' have made is to abstract their obsessions with the gas-chambers from the surrounding context of Nazi persecution and mass-murder of European Jews. They proffer interpretations of the death-camps and, more rarely, of Nazi Judenpolitik, that bear no resemblance to the reality of wie es eigentlich gewesen war, how it really happened. Time and time again one hears a litany from Holocaust deniers - it is alleged that six million Jews died in the gas chambers. Wrong. They confuse the 'Hollycaust' of media myth with the grubby reality of genocide; a reality that encompassed deliberately-induced starvation, epidemic diseases incubated inside ghettos and concentration camps; mass executions by rifles, machine-guns and the Genickschuss.
As a practising historian of the Third Reich and Stalinist Russia at war, I hope to dedicate some of my postings to this collective blog to discussing the genuine revisionist controversies that make my chosen profession and field so exciting. All historiography barring the first draft of history - the newspapers of the day - is by its very nature revisionist, challenging our previous interpretations of the past, and in the process hopefully forcing us to think through the events afresh. Since long before I began researching in this field, the study of the Third Reich and the Holocaust has proven especially controversial. Perhaps beginning with Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem in the 1960s, these controversies have come thicker and faster. From the intentionalist-functionalist debate of the late 1970s, the field moved on to disputing the tasks of the Einsatzgruppen five years later, and soon after to the Historikersteit of 1987. Before the end of the Cold War, German historians were tearing into Götz Aly and Susanne Heim for daring to highlight 'The Economics of the Final Solution'. They did so again after unification when Aly and Heim published Vordenker der Vernichtung in 1991, since translated into English as Architects of Annihilation. Five years later came the turn of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Hitler's Willing Executioners. This in turn generated a follow-on controversy over Norman Finkelstein's critique and subsequent publication of The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein himself then intervened into the latest controversy, over Jan Tomas Gross's Neighbours and the pogrom of Jedwabne in eastern Poland scant weeks after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Holocaust Controversies was set up in part to discuss these debates between historians as well as news related to them. Since both myself and some of my fellow contributors have interests in similar controversies over the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, we will from time to time also discuss these debates, which offer so many remarkable parallels and sharp contrasts with the historiography of Nazi Germany.
But this blog has an additional, perhaps more important purpose, namely to confront the arguments of Holocaust Revisionism and 'historical revisionism' in general. It may come as no surprise to learn that professional, mainstream historians have paid relatively little attention to what they regard as the ramblings of cranks. I can testify to meeting expert witnesses for the defense in the David Irving libel trial, world-famous professors, who have never heard of the leading Italian Holocaust denier Carlo Mattogno.
Yet one only needs type in a concentration camp-related Google search to be met with a barrage of hits to 'Revisionist' websites. In this sense, professional historians have left the internet wide open for colonisation by deniers. Valiant efforts have been made by many, starting with the 1990s Nizkor project and the flame wars on alt.revisionism, to battle deniers online. We have linked to many such organisations, not least the explicit anti-denier site The Holocaust History Project as well as the implicit rebuttal of many a denier argument, the Aktion Reinhard Camps website. Some of the contributors to Holocaust Controversies are members of both organisations, yet this blog is independent of them both, and remains the expression of our personal views, not those of any corporate body.
The contributors here met online at the RODOH forum, the only place on the internet where there is Real Open Debate On the Holocaust. Other internet forums have either censored denial, or censor its rebuttal, but RODOH has allowed deniers and anti-deniers to argue with each other freely and openly.
The decision to set up Holocaust Controversies was a simple one: a blog allows forms of expression which a forum cannot; by its very nature, it demands more from the writers than even the best php-ed bulletin board can ever do. We are not, then, fleeing a denier onslaught; we can still be found hanging out over at RODOH. Rather, we hope that the medium of a blog will allow us to hone, refine and develop our arguments, and to present material that falls in between the quickfire postings of a forum, and longer essays that might find homes elsewhere.
In engaging with denier arguments, some might charge that we pay them too much respect. Yet this reckons without the insidiousness of what are otherwise absurd debating-points. Like it or not, Holocaust Denial must be confronted. In spite of the work done by web projects and academics to demolish Holocaust Denier arguments, 'revisionist' literature is mushrooming yearly and by no means all arguments have been deconstructed and exposed. We therefore will from time to time post reviews, critiques and ongoing debates about the 'classics' of 'Revisionist' literature, which we hope readers may find instructive, even perhaps enlightening as to the inadequacies of 'Revisionist' argumentation.
Yet we also intend to have fun here. So much of what is posted on the internet as 'Revisionism' is so ludicrously absurd that we will also respond with laughter. In part, we were compelled to set up this blog in order to maintain a record of the illogicalities, inanities and insanities to be found on the heavily censored, hyper-moderated circle-jerk known as The Revisionist Forum over at the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust website. That we informally call this The Cesspit will persist so long as this forum remains censored and inaccessible for us. Most contributors here have either been banned from CODOH forum or have not even bothered trying to post there, knowing full well they would not survive much longer than.... well, you can probably guess.
'Revisionists' might charge that the playing-field is not level; that 'Revisionist' writers are hampered in their research efforts, persecuted, prosecuted and thrown into jail. Let it be stated from the outset that we do not endorse censorship of any kind; nor are we in favour of anti-Holocaust Denial laws being passed in Britain or the United States. We would prefer that continental countries such as Germany, Austria and France did not make martyrs out of Deniers. Yet it should not be forgotten that Holocaust Deniers are convicted and sentenced for hate-speech, not for 'revising history'. No functionalists can be found in jail, as much as some within my profession might like to lock up mavericks like Christian Gerlach or Götz Aly.
In Britain, the bar for incitement is set relatively high; as it should be. We will show no compunction or mercy towards revisionists who express what we feel are racist or antisemitic views; we will accuse and criticise them accordingly. It is however up to others to decide whether their racism has breached the laws of the land in question. As far as we are concerned, it is beyond proven that David Irving, for example, is a racist antisemite; yet he would not be convicted in a British court.
Therefore, we will state the following: we are paying Holocaust Denial the respect of engaging its arguments on a scientific, historiographical basis. No others. If we discuss history, comments from readers are welcome on the history, from all viewpoints. Should readers post tired old saws about how many 'revisionists' are jailed in their comments on history posts, their posts will be edited or deleted at the administrators' whim. This is editing and moderating, not censorship.
We will, however, also discuss the politics of Holocaust controversies and Holocaust Denial. Readers are welcome to comment on the proprieties of censorship, jail sentences and the International Conspiracy in response to those posts.
In similar fashion, we reserve the right to use the terms Holocaust Denial and 'Revisionism' interchangeably. This is our blog, after all.
With that, let the blogging begin.