The Holocaust Historiography Project

Michael Shermer's 18 bits of evidence — for something

The context for this page: In my original reply to Michael Shermer, I discussed his imaginary dialogue, in which he presented 18 bits of evidence, and a hypothetical revisionist denied them one by one, "desperately swinging away at them all."

On this page I am going to demonstrate how a non-imaginary revisionist would actually reply to his 18 bits.

Let's begin by listing them. On pages 41-42 of "Proving the Holocaust" (page 214 of Why People Believe Weird Things), Dr. Shermer lists five "bits" and numbers them:

  1. Written documents — hundreds of thousands of letters, memos, blueprints, orders, bills, speeches, articles, memoirs, and confessions. One immediately wonders: is this a bit of evidence? The same question must be asked for each of the next four "bits."
  2. Eyewitness testimony — accounts from survivors, Kapos, Sonder-kommandos, SS guards, commandants, local townspeople, and even upper-echelon Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust.
  3. Photographs — official military and press photographs, civilian photographs, secret photographs taken by survivors, aerial photographs, German and Allied film footage, etc.
  4. The camps themselves — many concentration camps, work camps, and death camps are still extant in varying degrees of originality and reconstruction.
  5. Negative evidence — if five to six million Jews were not killed, where did all those people go? (The remaining "bits" are not numbered in his article, but I will list them and number them here:)
  6. An eyewitness account by a survivor who says he heard about gassing Jews while he was at Auschwitz. [This is already included under bit #2.]
  7. Another survivor tells another story different in details but with the core similarity that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. [same as #2]
  8. An SS guard confesses after the war that he actually saw people being gassed and cremated. [same as #2]
  9. A Sonderkommando says he not only heard about it, and not only saw it happening, he actually participated in the process. [same as #2]
  10. What about the camp commandant, who confessed after the war that he not only heard, saw, and participated in the process, but that he orchestrated it!? [same as #2]
  11. We have the blueprints for both the gas chambers and the crematoria — huge structures built for processing large numbers of bodies. [This is already included under bit #1.]
  12. What about the huge orders of Zyklon B gas?
  13. What about those speeches by Hitler, Himmler, Frank, and Goebbels talking about the "extermination" of the Jews? [same as #1 — speeches]
  14. What about Eichmann's confession at his trial? [same as #2]
  15. If six million Jews did not die, where did they go? [same as #5]
  16. But why can't they find each other? [same as #5]
  17. What about those photos and newsreels of the liberation of the camps with all those dead bodies and starving/dying inmates? [same as #3]
  18. What about all those accounts by prisoners of the brutality of the Nazis?

So now we have seen his 18 "bits."

After #14, Dr. Shermer says "Now the revisionist must rationalize no less than 14 different bits of evidence that 'jump together' to a specific conclusion." The "jumping together" maneuver is discussed in my original reply to Michael Shermer and I won't go into it here. At the end of his argument (if you can call it an argument), he says "We are now up to 18 proofs all converging toward one conclusion." Suddenly we have gone from "bits" to "proofs."

In the book he says "18 sets of evidence" instead of "18 bits." But then his list still doesn't make sense. Most of the items listed are not sets. There are not 18 sets of evidence, there are five sets, or categories, and an indeterminate number of items which fall under those categories.

Unlike Dr. Shermer's imaginary interlocutor, an actual revisionist does not reply to each bit of evidence, "desperately swinging away at them all." An actual revisionist proceeds in three steps.

The first step is to organize the discussion, which I have already started doing as I presented the "bits."

The revisionist begins by pointing out that the first five items in this list are not bits of evidence, they are categories of evidence, and most of the other "bits" fall under these categories.

Items #6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 14 are eyewitness testimony. This falls under the category listed as bit #2. It makes no sense to say that you have seven bits of evidence here. You have one category, under which any number of instances could be mentioned. Six witnesses are listed, but there were many others.

Items #11 and 13 fall under the category listed as #1, Written Documents, which includes blueprints and speeches. Again, Dr. Shermer's enumeration of "bits" is nonsensical. Bit #13 by itself includes an indeterminate number of speeches.

Items #15 and #16 are the same as item #5. It makes no sense to count this as three "bits."

Item #17 falls under the category listed as item #3, photographs.

So how many bits of evidence are there? Certainly more than eighteen. The first item in Dr. Shermer's list already includes "hundreds of thousands" of documents, each of which should be counted as one bit. If you include all the photographs and everything else relating to the Holocaust, you get a very large number.

The number of bits depends on the level of granularity you want to use. When a Jew was arrested in Amsterdam, put on a train, and sent to a concentration camp, that could be considered as one event, or it could be broken down into many elementary events. When his neighbor saw him getting on the train, that was a bit of evidence; when his employer noticed that he had disappeared, that was a bit of evidence; and so forth. If you count any fact about the Holocaust as a bit of evidence, there must be millions or even tens of millions.

The number of "bits" is indeterminate. In any case we shouldn't be talking about bits, but about categories of evidence.

The evidence can be organized into five categories: the remains of the camps, specifically the gas chambers; written documents, including transcripts of speeches; photographs; eyewitness testimony and confessions; and the missing Jews. There are also a couple of leftover miscellaneous items (#12 and #18).

The revisionist's second step is to ask the crucial question: evidence for what?

What do these categories of evidence imply about gas chambers? The existence of hundreds of thousands of documents may be evidence for something, but it isn't evidence that there were gas chambers. Since none of those documents mentions gas chambers, this mass of material is evidence that there were not gas chambers. Likewise for the other categories of evidence. Since none of the photographs show people being gassed, this is evidence that there were not gas chambers. Since there is no mention of gassing in the speeches of Hitler, Himmler, etc, this is evidence that there were not gas chambers. And so forth.

This step is essential. The revisionist grants that most of the evidence cited (but not all of it) does in fact exist. The revisionist also grants that most of the evidence does in fact show that the Holocaust happened. But that's not the right question to ask. The question is not "Did the Holocaust happen?" Of course it did. Contrary to what Michael Shermer and his associates claim, revisionists do not deny that the Holocaust, as a general phenomenon, happened. The right question to ask is: "Were there gas chambers?" Shifting the subject from "Did it happen?" to "How much of it happened?" makes all the difference. I have gone into this at great length in the original reply to Michael Shermer.

The revisionist's third step is to construct an argument which implies a conclusion, as follows.

Category #1: The remains of the camps, specifically the gas chambers

The fact that the remains of the camps still exist, and the rooms that are supposed to be gas chambers are not gas chambers, is a very strong argument for revisionism (but not, by itself, a conclusive argument). If you haven't read the Six Reasons page, you can click here to see pictures of the room that is supposed to be the gas chamber at Auschwitz. The fact that this room is obviously not a gas chamber is the first and most fundamental step in my argument.

Category #2: written documents

The fact that there are no letters, memos, speeches, or any other contemporary Nazi documents which mention gas chambers is a very strong argument for revisionism (but not, by itself, a conclusive argument).

Bit #11 falls into this category. According to Dr. Shermer, "We have the blueprints for both the gas chambers and the crematoria — huge structures built for processing large numbers of bodies." This is not true. We have blueprints for the crematoria, but not for gas chambers. That's the whole problem.

The room at Auschwitz that is supposed to be a gas chamber isn't a gas chamber. This by itself is not conclusive, since there could have been gas chambers which were destroyed. If someone produced a paper trail for the construction of gas chambers (i.e. the same kinds of plans we have for everything else, and the same kind of correspondence with the contractor), then there would be no such thing as revisionism. But no one has produced such plans or correspondence.

Supposedly the gas chambers were so secret that all such correspondence was destroyed (or was never committed to writing in the first place).

This leads to bit #13: "What about those speeches by Hitler, Himmler, Frank, and Goebbels talking about the 'extermination' of the Jews?" Two points need to be made here:

  1. There is no mention of gassing in any of those speeches.
  2. The fact that Hitler and the other Nazis declared their intentions openly argues against the idea that they covered up their actions.

They did exactly what they said they were going to do: they got rid of the Jews, by shipping them off to the east, where many of them died. They declared their intention openly and then they did it openly. If they intended to kill the Jews with gas, instead of (or in addition to) bullets, disease, overwork, etc., they would have said so.

Point (2) is the crux of my argument. To prove that there were gas chambers, you would have to account for the fact that there are no records of gas chambers being constructed. Thus you have to assume that the Nazis went to very great lengths to conceal what they were doing. It wouldn't be easy to build something as complex as a gas chamber without leaving a paper trail. But since they had declared their intentions openly, and since they didn't conceal the rest of what they were doing (they massacred Jews in plain view at Warsaw, for example), it just doesn't make sense to suppose they went to such great lengths to keep the gas chambers secret.

We have considered two categories of evidence. Category #1 by itself isn't conclusive, and neither is category #2, but if you put them together you can arrive at a conclusion.

Here is the revisionist's reply to Dr. Shermer, in a nutshell:

There are no gas chambers in the extant camps, and there is no record of gas chambers ever having been constructed. Since the Nazis openly declared their intention to get rid of the Jews, and since they killed Jews in plain view, there is no reason to suppose that they destroyed the records of the construction of the gas chambers.

Therefore there were no gas chambers.

At this point the argument is finished. It only remains to point out that the other categories of evidence do not affect this conclusion.

Category #3: photographs

There are photographs of everything except the gassing operation.

For example, bit #17 in Dr. Shermer's list: "What about those photos and newsreels of the liberation of the camps with all those dead bodies and starving/dying inmates?"

Well, what about them? Everyone acknowledges the condition of the camps at liberation. The point at issue here is whether there were gas chambers. All those dead bodies and starving/dying prisoners imply nothing about gas chambers.

If there were photographs of people being gassed, Dr. Shermer would have exhibited them. The lack of such photographs is an argument for revisionism.

Category #4: eyewitness testimony and confessions

An archeologist examining the remains of the camps would never suspect that there were gas chambers. A historian examining the Nazi archives would never suspect that there were gas chambers. The witness statements are really the only evidence for gas chambers. This subject deserves a page of its own. For the moment let me just say that there are witnesses who testified to all kinds of things, such as gas chambers at Dachau, which are now universally admitted to be false. It should also be pointed out that there were some witnesses who said there were no gas chambers. In any case, witnesses by themselves don't prove anything.

As for the "confessions," I refer you to the David Cole page and "Confessions of SS Men who were at Auschwitz" by Robert Faurisson.

Category #5: the missing Jews

The number is in dispute, and in any case the fact that Jews were killed doesn't imply that they were killed in gas chambers.

6: miscellaneous items

There are two "bits" which don't fit into any of these categories, so in this case I do have to reply to them individually. They prove nothing one way or the other about gas chambers.

What about the huge orders of Zyklon B gas?

How much Zyklon B was used at other camps, where there were no gas chambers? Did Auschwitz use more Zyklon B than Buchenwald? Even mainstream historians say that most of the Zyklon B was used for disinfection. The fact that huge amounts of Zyklon B were used in the camps does not imply that there were gas chambers.

What about all those accounts by prisoners of the brutality of the Nazis?

What about them? Do you remember what you are trying to prove, Michael?


Now, suppose the reader is not happy with the outcome of this discussion. I would expect that most people who come to this page are not revisionists, and the existence of gas chambers is one of their most cherished beliefs. In that case, what could you do?

The answer is simple: go to the archives and find out who commissioned the gas chambers and paid for them (the SS, presumably). Find out who built them (i.e. the contractor). Find the correspondence between the SS and the contractor. Find the original contract. Find the engineering specifications for the gas chambers. Find the progress reports. Find the invoices. In other words, find the paper trail, and publish it.

This is what Pressac supposedly did, but if you examine his work carefully it turns out he found a paper trail for the construction of the ovens, but not the gas chambers. So, if you want to refute my argument, finish what Pressac started.

Of course there are easier ways to deal with this. If you control the media, you can create the impression that revisionists are "deniers" who "deny the Holocaust." You can make sure that very few people ever find out what our position actually is. Then there is no need to refute our arguments.


Pressac's footnotes

The Six Reasons page