The Holocaust – the murder of about six million Jews by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945 – is the best-documented genocide in history. Although there is no single document which lists all Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, there is conclusive evidence that about six million were killed. There is also conclusive evidence that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Operation Reinhard extermination camps, and in gas vans, and that there was a systematic plan by the Nazi leadership to murder them.
Evidence for the Holocaust comes in four main varieties:
- Contemporary documents, including a wide variety of "letters, memos, blueprints, orders, bills, speeches," Holocaust train schedules, statistical summaries generated by the SS and photographs, including official photographs, clandestine photographs by survivors, aerial photographs, and film footage of the liberation of the camps. More than 3,000 tons of records were collected for the Nuremberg trials.
- Later testimony from tens of thousands of eyewitnesses, such as survivors including Sonderkommandos who directly witnessed the extermination process, perpetrators such as Nazi leaders, SS guards and commandants, and local townspeople. Virtually none of the perpetrators put on trial denied the reality of the systematic murder.
- Material evidence in the form of concentration and extermination camps, which still exist with various amounts of the original structure preserved, and thousands of mass graves containing the corpses of Holocaust victims.
- Circumstantial evidence: during World War II the population of Jews in German-occupied Europe was reduced by about six million. About 2.7 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kulmhof extermination camp, and the Operation Reinhard camps never to be seen or heard from again.
The perpetrators attempted to avoid creating explicit evidence and tried to destroy the documentary and material evidence of their crimes before the German defeat. Nevertheless, much of the evidence was preserved and collected by Allied investigators during and after the war. Collectively, the evidence refutes the arguments of Holocaust deniers that the Holocaust did not occur as described in historical scholarship.
Historians, including Ian Kershaw, Raul Hilberg, and Martin Broszat, indicate that no document exists showing that Hitler ordered the Holocaust. However, other evidence makes clear that Hitler knew about and ordered the genocide. Statements from Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler also indicate that Hitler orchestrated the Holocaust and statements from Hitler himself reveal his genocidal intentions toward Jewry.
Order and responsibility
In a draft of an internal memorandum, dated 18 September 1942, Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler wrote that "in principle the Fuehrer's time is no longer to be burdened with these matters"; the memorandum goes on to outline Himmler's vision, including "The delivery of anti-social elements from the execution of their sentences to the Reich Fuehrer of SS to be worked to death. Persons under protective arrest, Jews, Gypsies, Russians and Ukrainians, Poles with more than 3-year sentences, Czechs and Germans with more than 8-year sentences according to the judgement of the Minister of Justice [Thierack]. First of all, the worst anti-social elements amongst those just mentioned are to be handed over; I shall inform the Fuhrer of this through Reichsleiter Bormann."
Nevertheless, and in contrast to the T4 euthanasia program, no document written or signed by Hitler ordering the Holocaust has ever been found. Deniers have claimed that this lack of order shows genocide was not Nazi policy.
During David Irving's unsuccessful libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, he indicated that he considered a document signed by Hitler ordering the 'Final Solution' would be the only convincing proof of Hitler's responsibility. He was, however, described as content to accuse Winston Churchill of responsibility for ordering the assassination of General Sikorski, despite having no documentary evidence to support his claim. Mr Justice Gray concluded that this was a double standard.
Historians have documented evidence that as Germany's defeat became imminent and the Nazi leaders realized they would most likely be captured and brought to trial, great effort was made to destroy all evidence of mass extermination. In the spring of 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered all traces of murdered Russian Jews and prisoners of war to be removed from occupied territories of the Soviet Union. As one of many examples, the bodies of the 25,000 mostly Latvian Jews whom Friedrich Jeckeln and the soldiers under his command had shot at Rumbula (near Riga) in late 1941 were dug up and burned in 1943.
In mid-1942, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, through SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Mueller, Chief of the Gestapo, ordered SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel in Sonderaktion 1005 to remove all traces of the mass executions in the East carried out by the Einsatzgruppen. After Blobel and his staff developed a special incineration process, destruction of evidence at Belzec and Sobibor followed in late 1942. In February 1943, Heinrich Himmler personally visited Treblinka and ordered the commandants to destroy records, crematoria, and other signs of mass extermination.
In the Posen speeches of October 1943, Himmler explicitly referred to the extermination of the Jews of Europe and further stated that the genocide must be permanently kept secret. On 4 October, he said:
I also want to refer here very frankly to a very difficult matter. We can now very openly talk about this among ourselves, and yet we will never discuss this publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30, 1934, to perform our duty as ordered and put comrades who had failed up against the wall and execute them, we also never spoke about it, nor will we ever speak about it. Let us thank God that we had within us enough self-evident fortitude never to discuss it among us, and we never talked about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one clearly understood that we would do it next time, when the order is given and when it becomes necessary.
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, to the extermination of the Jewish people.
Historian Peter Longerich states that Hitler "avoided giving a clear written order to exterminate Jewish civilians. Wide protest was evoked when Hitler's authorisation of the T4 program became public knowledge in Germany, and he was forced to put a halt to it as a result (nonetheless it continued discreetly). This made Hitler realise that such undertakings must be done secretly in order to avoid criticism. Critics also point out that if Hitler did sign such an order in the first place, it would have been one of the first documents to be destroyed."
Felix Kersten wrote in his memoirs that after a discussion with Himmler, the SS-Reichsführer revealed that the extermination of the Jews was Hitler's express order and had indeed been delegated to him by the Führer.
According to Nazis
Many statements from the Nazis from 1941 onwards addressed the imminent extermination of the Jews.
In a draft of an internal memorandum, dated 25 October 1941, Heinrich Himmler wrote:
As the affairs now stand, there are no objections against doing away with those Jews who are not able to work, with the Brack remedy.
Joseph Goebbels had frequent discussions with Hitler about the fate of the Jews, a subject which they discussed almost every time they met, and frequently wrote about it in his personal diary. In his personal diary he wrote:
- 14 February 1942: "The Führer once again expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies. We must hasten this process with cold ruthlessness."
- 27 March 1942: A judgment is being visited upon the Jews that, while barbaric, is fully deserved by them. The prophecy which the Führer made about them for having brought on a new world war is beginning to come true in a most terrible manner. One must not be sentimental in these matters. If we did not fight the Jews, they would destroy us. It's a life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus.
In November 1941, Goebbels published an article "The Jews are to blame" which returned to Hitler's prophecy of 1939 and stated that world Jewry was suffering a "gradual process of extermination".
On 13 March 1945, Goebbels wrote in his diary that the "rest of the world" should follow Germany's example in "destroying the Jews", he wrote also about how the Jews in Germany at that point had been almost totally destroyed. This diary contains numerous other references to the mass extermination of Jews, including how "tens of thousands of them are liquidated" in eastern occupied territory, and that "the greater the number of Jews liquidated, the more consolidated will the situation in Europe be after this war." When speaking about this document under oath, David Irving is quoted as saying "There is no explicit reference...to the liquidation of Jews" and critics of Holocaust denial consequently state that it is dishonest to say such a thing when it is entirely contradicted by the diary of one of Hitler's closest associates.
When questioned by interrogators if orders for the extermination of Jews were delegated in writing by Himmler, Adolf Eichmann states:
I never saw a written order, Herr Hauptmann. All I know is that Heydrich said to me: "The Führer has ordered the physical extermination of the Jews." He said that as clearly and surely as I'm repeating it now.
Critics state that Eichmann gives a virtually identical account of this in his memoirs, and state that it is also asserted that Eichmann never even asked for a written order, on the basis that "Hitler's wish as expressed through Himmler and Heydrich was good enough for him". Eichmann's memoirs were recorded by Willem Sassen before he was captured, and Eichmann's lawyer tried to prevent them from being presented as evidence to avoid any detriment against his case.
In a speech, David Irving states that Heydrich told Eichmann, "The Führer has given the order for the physical destruction of the Jews". Irving admits that this contradicts his view that "Hitler wasn't involved", but explains it by suggesting that a completely different meaning can be construed, i.e. "the extirpation of Judaism" as opposed to the physical destruction of Jews if one changes "just one or two words". Critics of this view state that historians should not change words if their documents contradict their claims, and consequently point out five instances where Eichmann unambiguously states "physical extermination" during his interrogation.
At a conference in 1941 discussing the Jewish Question, Alfred Rosenberg said:
Some six million Jews still live in the East, and this question can only be solved by a biological extermination of the whole of Jewry in Europe. The Jewish Question will only be solved for Germany when the last Jew has left German territory, and for Europe when not a single Jew stands on the European continent as far as the Urals... And to this end it is necessary to force them beyond the Urals or otherwise bring about their eradication.
Report to Hitler detailing the executions of prisoners.
Congruent with the evidence that shows Hitler was responsible for the order to kill Jews, there is also evidence that shows he was made aware of the process. Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram on 2 August 1941, ordering that "especially interesting illustrative" material should be sent to Berlin because, "the Führer should be presented with continuous reports on the work of Einsatzgruppen in the East from here". At the end of December 1942 Hitler received a document from Himmler entitled, "Report to the Führer on Combating Partisans", stating that 363,211 Jews had been killed by the Einsatzgruppen in August–November 1942. This document was specifically printed in large font that Hitler could read without glasses and was marked "Shown to the Führer".
Himmler's speeches and "Ausrottung"
Critics of Holocaust denial state that the claim by deniers of no Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews is completely discredited by Himmler in a speech made on 4 October 1943 to a gathering of SS officers in Poznań, where he said:
Ich meine jetzt die "Judenevakuierung", die Ausrottung des jüdischen Volkes. Es gehört zu den Dingen, die man leicht ausspricht. – ‚Das jüdische Volk wird ausgerottet’, sagt ein jeder Parteigenosse‚ 'ganz klar, steht in unserem Programm, Ausschaltung der Juden, Ausrottung, machen wir.'
I am currently talking about the "evacuation of the Jews", the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things that is easily said. 'The Jewish people are being exterminated,' every Party member says, 'perfectly clear, it's written in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, and we do that.'
Use of gas chambers
Detail of a photograph taken at Auschwitz 9–11 February 1943, showing the gas chamber at Crematorium Complex II, then under construction. Some of the apertures through which Zyklon B was inserted into the gas chamber are visible.
No. 280 taken covertly, showing a cremation pit in use outside a gas chamber at Auschwitz
Despite the difficulty of finding traces of this material 50 years later, in February 1990, Professor Jan Markiewicz, Director of the Institute of Forensic Research in Kraków, redid the analysis. Markiewicz and his team used microdiffusion techniques to test for cyanide in samples from the suspected gas chambers, from delousing chambers, and from control areas elsewhere within Auschwitz. The control samples tested negative, while cyanide residue was found in high concentrations in the delousing chambers, and lower concentrations in the homicidal gas chambers. This is consistent with the amounts required to kill lice and humans.
The search for cyanide in the bricks of buildings said to be gas chambers was important, because the pesticide Zyklon B would generate such a residue. This was the gas most often cited as the instrument of death for prisoners in the gas chambers, supported by both testimony and evidence collected of Nazi policy.
Another claim made by Holocaust deniers is that there were no specially-constructed vents in the gas chambers through which Zyklon B could be released. The BBC offers a response showing that this requires disregard of much documentation:
Deniers have said for years that physical evidence is lacking because they have seen no holes in the roof of the Birkenau gas chamber where the Zyklon was poured in. (In some of the gas chambers the Zyklon B was poured in through the roof, while in others it was thrown in through the windows.) The roof was dynamited at war's end, and today lies broken in pieces, but three of the four original holes were positively identified in a recent paper. Their location in the concrete matches with eyewitness testimony, aerial photos from 1944, and a ground photo from 1943. The physical evidence shows unmistakably that the Zyklon holes were cast into the concrete when the building was constructed.
Cremation in the open at the Reinhard death camps (Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec) was discussed at Nuremberg on 7 April 1946 by Georg Konrad Morgen, SS judge and lawyer who investigated crimes committed in Nazi concentration camps. He stated: "The whole thing was like an assembly line. At the last stop they reached a big room, and were told that this was the bath. When the last one was in, the doors were shut and the gas was let into the room. As soon as death taken place in (sic), the ventilators were started. When the air was breathable, the doors were opened, and the Jewish workers removed the bodies. By means of a special process which Wirth had invented, they were burned in the open air without the use of fuel."
There is well-documented evidence that other ash was used as fertilizer in nearby fields. Photographs of Treblinka taken by the camp commandant show what looks to be ash piles being distributed by steam shovels.
The Nizkor Project and other sources have stated that the minimal concentration of Zyklon-B to be explosive is 56,000 parts per million, while the amount used to kill a human is 300 parts per million, as is evidenced in "The Merck Index" and the "CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics". In fact, the Nazis' own documentation stated "Danger of explosion: 75 grams of HCN in 1 cubic meter of air. Normal application approx. 8–10 grams per cubic meter, therefore not explosive."
The Institute for Historical Review publicly offered a reward of $50,000 for verifiable "proof that gas chambers for the purpose of killing human beings existed at or in Auschwitz." Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of Auschwitz, submitted his own testimony as proof but it was ignored. He then sued IHR in the United States and the case was subsequently settled for $50,000, plus $40,000 in damages for personal suffering. The court declared the statement that "Jews were gassed to death at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during the summer of 1944" was a fact.
The vast majority of scholars, institutions, and Nazi officials estimate between five and six million Jews perished during the Holocaust, With approximately 4.5 million Jewish victims' names collected by Yad Vashem, numerous documents and archives discovered after the war gave meticulous accounts of the exterminations that took place at the death camps (such as Auschwitz and Treblinka).
The 1932 American Jewish Yearbook estimates the total number of Jews in the world at 15,192,218, of whom 9,418,248 resided in Europe. However, the 1947 yearbook states: "Estimates of the world Jewish population have been assembled by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (except for the United States and Canada) and are probably the most authentic available at the present time. The figures reveal that the total Jewish population of the world has decreased by one-third from about 16,600,000 in 1939 to about 11,000,000 in 1946 as the result of the annihilation by the Nazis of more than five and a half million European Jews. In Europe only an estimated 3,642,000 remain of the total Jewish pre-war population of approximately 9,740,000." These numbers are also consistent with the findings of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Appendix III, in 1946.
The Nazis used figures of between 9 and 11 million for the Jewish population of Europe, as evidenced in the notes of the Wannsee Conference. In fact, the Nazis methodically recorded the ongoing reduction of the Jewish population, as in the Korherr Report, which gave the status of the Final Solution through December 1942. The Höfle Telegram was sent by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle on 11 January 1943 to SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann in Berlin and detailed the number of deaths of Jews in the concentration camps. In the year 1942 alone, the telegram lists 1,274,166 Jews were exterminated in the four camps of Aktion Reinhard.
The Korherr Report compiled by an SS statistician, gave a conservative total of 2,454,000 Jews deported to extermination camps or killed by the Einsatzgruppen. The complete status reports of the Einsatzgruppen death squads were found in the archives of the Gestapo when it was searched by the U.S. Army, and the accuracy attested to by the former Einsatzgruppen members who testified during war crime trials and at other times. These reports alone list an additional 1,500,000 or so murders during mass shootings, the vast majority of these victims were Jews. Further, surviving Nazi documentation spells out their plans to murder the Jews of Europe (see the Wannsee Conference), recorded the trains arriving at various death camps, and included photographs and films of many atrocities.
There are voluminous amounts of testimony from tens of thousands of survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the testimony of captured Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials and other times. Höss's testimony did not consist of merely a signed confession; while in jail he also wrote two volumes of memoirs and gave extensive testimony outside of the Nuremberg proceedings. Further, his testimony agrees with that of other contemporary written accounts by Auschwitz officials, such as Pery Broad, an SS man stationed at Auschwitz while Höss was the commandant and the diary kept by SS physician at Auschwitz Johann Kremer, as well as the testimony of hundreds of camp guards and victims. In addition, former SS personnel have criticised Holocaust denial. SS-Oberscharführer Josef Klehr said that anyone who maintains that nobody was gassed at Auschwitz must be "crazy or on the wrong". SS-Unterscharführer Oswald Kaduk stated that he did not consider those who maintain such a thing as normal people. Hearing about Holocaust denial compelled former SS-Rottenführer Oskar Gröning to publicly speak about what he witnessed at Auschwitz, and denounce Holocaust deniers, stating:
I would like you to believe me. I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria. I saw the open fires. I was on the ramp when the selections took place. I would like you to believe that these atrocities happened because I was there.
Sonderkommandos provide another key piece of testimony. There were Jewish prisoners who helped march Jews to the gas chambers, and later dragged the bodies to the crematoria. Since they witnessed the entire process, their testimony is vital in confirming that the gas chambers were used for murderous purposes and the scale to which they were used.
Other key testimony comes from non-Jewish survivors of the campsFrench Resistance member André Rogerie who was held in seven different camps, and who as a member of the Resistance was not targeted for extermination but for hard labor and survived. After the war Rogerie wrote and testified extensively about his experiences in the camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau where he viewed and produced the oldest contemporary sketch of a camp crematorium.
such as Catholic
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Arad, Yitzhak (1984). "Operation Reinhard: Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka" (PDF). Yad Vashem Studies. XVI: 205–239.
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- ^ Nizkor Project page on Himmler Posen speech Contains both the IMT original transcription of the speech in German, a corrected Nizkor project transcription, original IMT and corrected Nizkor project translation, recording and analysis of actual speech, and link to examples showing treatment of speech by Holocaust deniers.
- ^ Office of the United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality, ed. (1946). "Partial Translation Of Document 1919-PS Speech of the Reichsfuehrer—SS at the Meeting of SS Major-Generals at Posen, October 4th, 1943" (PDF). International Military Trials - Nurnberg - Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV. 4. Washington D.C.: US Government Printing Office. pp. 563–564. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
I also want to talk to you, quite frankly, on a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and yet we will never speak of it publicly. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and yet we will never speak of it publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30th, 1934 to do the duty we were bidden, and stand comrades who had lapsed, up against the wall and shoot them, so we have never spoken about it and will never speak of it. It was that tact which is a matter of course and which I am glad to say, is inherent in us, that made us never discuss it among ourselves, never to speak of it. It appalled everyone, and yet everyone was certain that he would do it the next time if such orders are issued and if it is necessary I mean the clearing out of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race. … Most of you must know what it means when 100 corpses are lying side by side, or 500 or 1,000…. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written…
- ^ Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution, UNC Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8078-4675-9, Google Print, ch.6
- ^ Felix Kersten The Kersten Memoirs, 1956, p. 162-163, cited in The Holocaust: 66 Questions and Answers
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- ^ Wilhelm Höttl, an SS officer and a Doctor of History, testified at the Nuremberg Trials and Eichmann's trial that at a meeting he had with Eichmann in Budapest in late August 1944, "Eichmann ... told me that, according to his information, some 6,000,000 (six million) Jews had perished until then – 4,000,000 (four million) in extermination camps and the remaining 2,000,000 (two million) through shooting by the Operations Units and other causes, such as disease, etc." "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) 
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"Responses to common Holocaust-denial claims". ADL. Archived from the original on 22 February 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
Martin Gilbert (2002). The Routledge atlas of the Holocaust, 3rd Ed. London: Routledge. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-415-28145-4.
By the most exact estimates of recent research, the number of Jews killed in Europe between September 1939 and May 1945 was nearly six million. This estimate is a minimum; the deaths shown opposite total just over 5,750,000, and are based on such country-by-country and region-by-region records as survive.
Dawidowicz, Lucy S. (1986). The war against the Jews, 1933–1945. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-34302-1.p. 403
- ^ "Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 1 November 2018. "As of November 2018 the Central Database includes four and a half million names".
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- ^ See for example here: Cataloguing and Indexing; ##USC Shoah Foundation Institute
- ^ Other Trials by the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
- ^ "Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz", by Rudolf Höss, Steven Paskuly, Foreword Primo Levi, Translated from German by Andrew Pollinger and "Commandant of Auschwitz : The Autobiography of Rudolf Höss" by Rudolf Höss, Constantine Fitzgibbon, Joachim Neugroschel, Introduction by Primo Levi
- ^ "How many People Died at Auschwitz" Archived 21 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, by Franciszek Piper, Article Review, Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, Note 24: Hoess testimony, 11 March 1947, The proceedings of the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw.
- ^ The United Nations War Crimes Commission (1948). "Case 38. Trial of Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess. Supreme National Tribunal of Poland 11th-29th March, 1947". Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals (PDF). VII. His Majesty's Stationery Office. p. 11. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
- ^ "KZ Auschwitz: Reminiscences of Pery Broad, SS man in the Auschwitz concentration camp", by Pery Broad]. See also "The Case for Auschwitz: evidence from the Irving trial" By Robert Jan Pelt, p. 224. and "People in Auschwitz" by Hermann Langbein, Henry Friedlander p. 59, 112
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