The Earth is flat. Dinosaurs lived alongside humans. Aliens built the Egyptian pyramids. Elvis is still alive on another planet. The Holocaust never happened.
All of the aforementioned statements are unequivocally false, conspiratorial pablum; still, some people in modern America believe each one of them. The most painful and despicable of these lies is the final one presented, that of the falsity of the Holocaust. True believers in the ‘Holocaust hoax’ conspiracy theory are, thankfully, few and far between, but the lack of Holocaust knowledge within the American population is stunningly high. According to a 2018 survey, “Nearly one-third of all Americans (31 percent) and more than 4-in-10 Millennials (41 percent) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust” and “While there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, almost half of Americans (45 percent) cannot name a single one – and this percentage is even higher amongst Millennials.” This lack of historical knowledge around the Holocaust plays directly into the hands of those who wish to deny it and provides an opening for denialist rhetoric and ‘information’ to fill the gaps.
One such attempt at Holocaust ‘revisionism’ is the infamous 1974 British pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die?, written by Richard Verrall (under the pseudonym Richard E. Harwood), who was “the editor of Spearhead, the publication of the British right-wing neofascist organization the National Front.” Verrall’s work was widely shared within the Holocaust denial community upon its publication and subsequently has been seen as a key work in the historiography of the Holocaust ‘revisionists’. It lays out some of the basic claims of the Holocaust deniers, from the idea that gas chambers simply never existed to the claim that far fewer than six million Jews perished during the Second World War – mostly, according to Verrall, from “disease and starvation in the final months of the war.” Far more interesting than these bogus claims, however, are the rhetorical tricks used to push and support them.
There are four major categories of rhetorical manipulation that Holocaust deniers, including Verrall, use to ‘prove’ their point that six million Jews did not indeed perish in the Holocaust: ignoring contrary evidence and manipulating statistics, leaving out important historical context and erroneously interpreting matters of fact, cherry-picking sources that either support their claims or can be used as convenient strawmen, and using moral relativism and false equivalence to diminish the suffering of the Jews. First, Verrall makes frequent use of manipulated statistics and consistently ignores evidence which would contradict his assertions. Much of Verrall’s argument is based on the idea that the prewar Jewish population of Europe was far lower than most estimates contend, largely due to unaccounted-for emigration. He claims that the prewar Jewish population of Europe was at most six-and-a-half million, that one-and-a-half million of these Jews left Europe before 1939, and that at least that number fled deep into Soviet territory and were inaccessible to the Reich; this would leave the Nazi-accessible Jewish population at a mere three million. Given this incredibly small number, it is literally impossible for the Holocaust death toll to have approached the six million commonly claimed. If one takes Verrall at face value, these calculations can seem reasonable, but they are in fact quite false. All mainstream estimates of the Nazi-accessible Jewish population in 1939 come in at around eleven million or more people, from those used at the Nuremberg trials to figures accepted by later trials of Holocaust deniers. The evidence most directly contradictory to Verrall’s thesis comes straight from the metaphorical horse’s mouth – the estimates of European Jewish populations made by the Nazis themselves at the notorious Wannsee Conference. That gathering of high-powered Reich officials to plan the ‘Final Solution’ contended that there were “approximately eleven million Jews” in Europe, and broke the populations down in detail by territory. Given Verrall’s taking of Nazi officials at their word in other contexts, it is perhaps surprising that he ignores this clear evidence. Verrall also contends that the Nazi obsession with documentation would mean that there must have been some written order for the extermination of the Jews, whereas historians claim these orders must have been verbal given the lack of physical documentary evidence. Verrall believes this too ‘convenient’, yet completely elides the negative experience the Reich had with physical documentation of the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. That program, which sterilized and murdered hundreds of thousands of German citizens deemed ‘unfit’ to reproduce or live, was meticulously documented – including official authorization given by Hitler himself – and repulsed the German public when the program was revealed. These revelations led to the largest internal mass protests against Reich policy up to that point and especially outraged the religious communities of Germany; the Holy See itself called the program antithetical to Catholic doctrine. Perhaps the Nazis thought twice about documenting their planned extermination of the Jews given this negative prior experience?
The second major ‘trick’ Verrall uses is the choice to leave out important historical context that aids the reader in questioning the author’s claims. This is evidenced by the aforementioned omission of the Aktion T4 program, as well as being seen in Verrall’s discussion of the Jews of Hungary. He claims that Hungarian Jews were allowed to emigrate throughout the war, “Even after the replacement of the Horthy Government in 1944 (following its attempted armistice with the Soviet Union) with a government more dependent on German authority.” This passage leaves out the incredibly important context that Horthy, the Nazi-allied leader of Hungary, refused to deport Jews in accordance with German policy and was replaced after a Nazi invasion, subsequent to which the Jews of Hungary were rapidly deported for annihilation at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The deliberate exclusion of evidence which would disprove his thesis is a hallmark of Verrall’s and of the denialist cohort in general. He also interprets evidence in a manner which would serve his perspective; for instance, Verrall states that “Jewish witnesses who resented their deportation and internment in prison camps tended to greatly exaggerate the rigours of their condition, whereas other nationals interned for political reasons, such as those cited above, generally presented a more balanced picture.” Verrall’s interpretation of the fact that Jews and other prisoners had different experiences in the camps is to blame the Jews for exaggerating; in reality, it is far more likely that Jews were treated worse because the Nazis were engaged in systematic genocide of their population.
Verrall also uses a tried-and-true method of argumentation to bolster his points: cherry-picking friendly sources that he can use to support his case or ones that are so absurd as to be easy strawmen to defeat. In the first category, Holocaust ‘revisionists’ are an incestuous bunch, citing each other constantly to claim a broad consensus among so-called experts. Verrall often cites Paul Rassinier, a Frenchman widely considered one of the ‘fathers’ of the Holocaust denial movement, as well as Harry Elmer Barnes, an early American denier, to support his contentions. He also leans on testimony of sketchy sources like Dr. Russell Barton – a British psychiatrist who spent all of one month at Belsen after the war ended in 1945 – as proof of his contentions, while simultaneously denigrating all survivor testimony and much of what was confessed by Nazis themselves in various post-war trials. More egregious, however, is Verrall’s cherry-picking of sources which make the mainstream Holocaust position seem outlandish. For example, the author quotes one Kurt Gerstein, a man who claimed that “no less than forty million concentration camp internees had been gassed,” before downgrading that to twenty-five million, and then to figures “closer to the six million preferred at the Nuremberg Trials.” Verrall uses Gerstein’s clearly absurd figures to impugn all of the more reasonable and factually-based estimates of actual historians and statisticians; this tactic is repeated by Holocaust deniers in much of their literature. Finally, Did Six Million Really Die? is chock-full of moral relativism and false equivalence used to diminish the unique aspects of the Holocaust and acquit the Germans of responsibility for the atrocities which they committed. Verrall justifies the detention of all Jews given that “world Jewry declared itself to be a belligerent party in the Second World War,” and thus they could properly be considered hostile forces. He follows this up with a reminder that “the United States and Canada had already interned all Japanese aliens and citizens of Japanese descent in detention camps before the Germans applied the same security measures against the Jews of Europe,” a clear instance of false equivalence. Throughout the work, Verrall favorably compares the Nazi concentration camps to the Soviet Gulag, and claims that far more Jews were killed by the Soviets than by the Reich. The Gulag killed millions of people over the course of the Soviet Union’s political life – mainly through slave labor, starvation, and exposure to the brutal weather conditions of northern Russia – but the organization, methods, and planning involved in Nazi death camps sets that system apart. As horrifying as the Gulag system was – and it was horrific and atrocious – it paled in comparison to the deliberate extermination centers built by the Nazis at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, and the like.
These rhetorical stratagems are clearly meant to mislead and can actually serve their purpose if one does not have a solid background in logic, statistics, or European history. As stated earlier, much of the American population could fall into that category of susceptibility, even if they consider genocide evil and harbor no antisemitic feelings. It is therefore necessary for those who do have this educational background to forcefully debunk these false and malicious claims. Verrall meant his pamphlet’s title as a rhetorical question, but it has a clear answer.
Did six million really die? The answer is an unambiguous yes.
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. “New Survey by Claims Conference Finds Significant Lack of Holocaust Knowledge in the United States.” Claims Conference, October 5, 2020. http://www.claimscon.org/study/.
Höss, Rudolph. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. Edited by Steven Paskuly. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Plume Publishing, 1994.
Verrall, Richard. (writing as Richard E. Harwood). Did Six Million Really Die? London: Historical Review Press, 1974. Accessed at https://www.ihr.org/books/harwood/dsmrd01.html.
Yad Vashem. “Murder of Hungarian Jewry.” Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Accessed October 20, 2020. https://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/hungary.html.
 Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, “New Survey by Claims Conference Finds Significant Lack of Holocaust Knowledge in the United States,” Claims Conference, October 5, 2020, http://www.claimscon.org/study/.
 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Plume Publishing, 1994), 104.
 Richard Verrall (pseudonymous as Richard E. Harwood), Did Six Million Really Die? (London: Historical Review Press, 1974), Chapter 8.
 Verrall, Chapter 3.
 Rudolph Höss, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, ed. Steven Paskuly (New York: Da Capo Press, 1996), 375.
 Verrall, Chapter 9.
 Yad Vashem, “Murder of Hungarian Jewry,” (Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center), accessed October 20, 2020, https://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/fate-of-jews/hungary.html.
 Verrall, Chapter 8.
 Verrall, Chapter 4.
 Verrall, Chapter 2.
 Verrall, Chapter 2.