The Holocaust Historiography Project

Michael Shermer’s ‘Jumping Together’ argument

by Lyle Burkhead

This page is an analysis of Michael Shermer’s attempt to prove that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps. I am not a historian. Neither is he. I am primarily concerned with the logical framework of the discussion. He says that is also his main concern. This page isn’t about history per se, it’s about epistemology.

Dr. Shermer says “I do not intend to prove the Holocaust so much as to demonstrate how the Holocaust is proven.” So, what kind of proof does he use? — a “jumping together” argument.

The epistemological question is whether a jumping together argument can ever be a valid proof of anything. Is this logic, or is it something else?

I don’t understand why this topic isn’t used as a case study in philosophy classes. There is plenty of material here. This is the mother lode of fallacies (ad hominem is just the most blatant). There are not many subjects where logic, epistemology, ethics and politics all come together in such a neat package. Obviously they aren’t going to discuss this in the history department, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be discussed in the philosophy department. No reason, that is, except for the physical danger involved (remember what happened to David Cole and other revisionists). Physical courage is not a quality one normally associates with philosophy, but sometimes that’s what it takes. As Thomas Aquinas said, Without the virtue of fortitude, other virtues cannot exist except by accident.

Dr. Shermer’s argument originally appeared as an article in the Pseudohistory issue of Skeptic magazine in 1995, and then, in a revised form, as chapter 14 of Why People Believe Weird Things. The article was called “Proving the Holocaust.” In the book, chapter 14 is called “How We Know the Holocaust Happened: Debunking the Deniers.” They aren’t quite the same, but they cover more or less the same ground. The book does not supersede the article, and some of my remarks below refer to parts of the article which were not carried over into the book.

I bought the magazine and read the article in the spring of 1995. I looked through it but didn’t read it attentively. Not yet. At the time I read it the way it was meant to be read — quickly. I got the impression that the revisionists didn’t need to be taken seriously, since they were crackpots, creationists, UFOlogists, etc. The purpose of the article, and later the book, is to create exactly that impression, and it works, as long as you just skim over it.

In the summer of 1995, after going to the “meta-debate” between Michael Shermer and Mark Weber, I went back and started reading “Proving the Holocaust” closely, in focus, the same way I would read a mathematical proof, or the same way a judge would listen to the arguments in an important case.

That’s the only way to understand this subject. It has to be studied carefully, and slowly. Michael’s article is designed to be read quickly. If you just skim over it, as I did when I first bought the magazine, his conclusion does seem to “jump together.” As with most illusions produced by magical tricks, timing is essential. If you slow down and look carefully at the logic, his “jumping together” illusion doesn’t work. Instead, a very different picture emerges.

The starting point

On the Six Reasons page, I began by delimiting the subject: we aren’t talking about the Holocaust in general, we are talking about the gas chambers.

Michael Shermer doesn’t delimit the subject. On the contrary, he says (page 214 of the book, page 41 of the magazine)

The Holocaust was not a single event. The Holocaust was thousands of events in tens of thousands of places and is proved by millions of bits of data that converge on one conclusion. The Holocaust cannot be disproved by minor errors or inconsistencies here and there, for the simple reason that it was never proved by these lone bits of data in the first place.

As with many things in life, you have to keep your eye on the ball. As soon as you let yourself get drawn into an argument about whether “it” happened, where “it” has no definite meaning, all is lost.

The point at issue between the revisionists and other historians is not whether the Holocaust happened. If the Holocaust is “thousands of events,” then yes, obviously, some of it happened. Dr. Shermer tries to pretend that the revisionists are “deniers” who “deny the Holocaust” as a general phenomenon. In fact, as he knows perfectly well, no one denies the Holocaust as a general phenomenon. Of course the Nazis rounded up Jews and sent them to concentration camps, where many of them died. That doesn’t need to be proved, since it is obvious and acknowledged by everyone. Of course “it” happened, in that sense. The point at issue is how much of the Holocaust story is true.

The fact that some of it is true doesn’t imply that all of it is true.

The only way to get anywhere with this investigation is to focus on one well-defined question, preferably a simple question about physical facts, and stay focused on that question until it is settled. The question that suggests itself for this purpose is: Were there gas chambers? There is nothing subjective or nebulous about this. “Whether there were gas chambers” isn’t ten thousand things, it’s one thing. This is a straightforward Aristotelian situation: either there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and the other camps, or there were not. We aren’t talking about Schroedinger’s cat. This is a simple thing.

If we define the subject to be “whether there were gas chambers,” then we have a question that can be decided by the same rules of evidence and logic that apply in any other historical discussion, or in a courtroom.

But Michael Shermer doesn’t want a straightforward Aristotelian situation. That would pull the rug out from under his whole approach, so he defines the subject as “The Holocaust,” which was “not a single event.”

I can’t overemphasize the importance of this first step. The specification of the subject sets the stage for everything else. Dr. Shermer has set up his argument in such a way that the ordinary methods of logic don’t apply.

As I said above, the only way to understand this is to slow down. This is like a shell game or cups and balls game: you have to watch what he’s doing. But you have to start watching soon enough. There’s no use watching carefully as a magician pulls pigeons out of his sleeve. By then it’s too late. You should have been watching carefully several minutes earlier when he put them there.

Let’s pause here and look at his statement again:

The Holocaust cannot be disproved by minor errors and inconsistencies here and there, for the simple reason that it was never proved by these lone bits of data in the first place.

This is where he puts the pigeons in his coat. He will pull them out later. He will keep pulling them out for the next 20 pages.

At this point we have already left the realm of logic and entered another realm, where he can invoke his “jumping together” maneuver.

When you leave logic behind …

On page 54 of his article, Michael Shermer quotes one of David Cole’s questions:

At Mauthausen, the gas chamber has no locks on the doors, no holes or fittings where locks may once have been. The doors can be opened from inside or outside. How could you kill people here? Wouldn’t they storm the door and push it open?

On the next page, Michael comments:

When one has overwhelming evidence from many different sources about mass homicides at a death camp, one may not notice what kind of door handle is on one gas chamber. Unless, of course, one goes there in search of problems in order to support a particular thesis…

I will return to this amazing statement later. For the moment I just want to present it for the reader to ponder.

Michael Shermer tries to make it appear that David Cole is somehow in the wrong just because he went there, looked at the evidence, and tried to draw a conclusion from it. This is a repudiation of logic itself, the very principle that makes science (or jurisprudence) possible.

For some reason (Why, Michael?) this passage only occurs in the magazine article, and was not carried over into the book. But the same idea, i.e. the idea that the revisionists are somehow in the wrong because they look at the evidence, also occurs in the book, on page 212:

They concentrate on their opponents’ weak points, while rarely saying anything definite about their own position. Deniers emphasize the inconsistencies between eyewitness accounts, for example.

What on earth is wrong with looking for inconsistencies? What kind of epistemology is this? In any other context, pointing out inconsistencies is admirable. But when the revisionists do it, it’s just one more proof that they are “deniers.” What kind of logic is this?

There is no use asking that question, because we already left logic behind in the previous step. We have entered an upside-down world where looking at the evidence and pointing out inconsistencies are ipso facto indications of irrationality.

The form of the ‘18 bits’ argument

On page 215 of Why People Believe Weird Things (page 42 of the magazine), Michael Shermer writes,

Let us examine how the convergence of evidence works to prove the Holocaust, and how deniers select or twist the data to support their claims. We have an account by a survivor who says he heard about the gassing of Jews while he was at Auschwitz. The denier says that survivors exaggerate and that their memories are unsound…

The first thing to notice about this is that he does not examine how revisionists select or twist the data to support their claims, because he doesn’t examine anything they say. In the 18 bits argument he never quotes any statement made by Rassinier, Faurisson, Weber, Butz, or any other revisionist. He makes up things for his imaginary opponent to say. Not only that, even his imaginary interlocutor doesn’t select or twist data. As usual, we have to slow down and watch what he’s doing. Let’s look at it again:

We have an account by a survivor who says he heard about the gassing of Jews while he was at Auschwitz. The denier says that survivors exaggerate and that their memories are unsound …

Is this selecting or twisting data? No, it isn’t, nor is it a statement made by any actual revisionist. But he says it’s an example of a denier selecting or twisting data, and not one reader in a thousand will stop and consider whether that’s what it is.

This is another magician’s technique which he uses very effectively. An excellent way to misdirect people’s attention is to tell them you are doing one thing, when in fact you are doing something else. When he says “Let us examine … how deniers select or twist the data,” most people will just accept that that is what he is doing, and never notice that he is doing something else.

Before proceeding with this discussion I think it’s important to demonstrate how an actual revisionist (as opposed to an imaginary revisionist) would reply to the content of his “18 bits” argument. I have put my reply on a separate page: Michael Shermer’s 18 bits of evidence. Now, back to my examination of the form of the argument:

Dr. Shermer sets up an imaginary dialogue in which he presents some evidence, and the revisionists (or “deniers,” as he insists on calling them) find fault with it; he presents another piece of evidence, and they give an explanation for it; and this goes on and on, with him getting more and more exasperated, and the revisionists looking more and more foolish, in his eyes at least. But what about this witness? But what about all these other witnesses? But what about the Zyklon B? But what about the missing Jews? In this dialogue Michael’s imaginary opponent automatically denies everything, because he is defending his belief system at all costs.

The Shermer Principle: If A can put forth 18 bits of evidence for his thesis, and B denies them all, and A can describe this in such a way that it appears that B is going to absurd lengths to cling to his belief system, then A must be right.

Someone who wants to prove the existence of UFOs could proceed in exactly the same way. Let us set up an imaginary dialogue between a UFO advocate and Michael Shermer, the denier.

The UFO advocate starts out by listing the types of evidence for UFOs. There are hundreds of thousands of documents, letters, government reports, magazine articles, and newspaper clippings describing UFOs. There are many photographs. There are eyewitnesses from all walks of life, including many responsible people. The UFO advocate describes this evidence in a tone which suggests it is too obvious to argue about; anyone who doesn’t accept it is just out of touch with reality. Of course, UFOs exist. Everybody knows that.

Then he says: Let us examine how the convergence of evidence works to prove the existence of UFOs, and how deniers select or twist the data to support their claims. We have an account by a man who says he heard about UFOs from his neighbor, who saw one. The denier says that people exaggerate and that their memories are unsound. Another man tells another story different in details but with the core similarity that there was a UFO in the sky. The denier claims that rumors were floating around and many people incorporated them into their memories.

The UFO advocate presents a witness who actually saw a UFO. He has plenty to choose from. There must be a hundred thousand people who have “seen a UFO” at some time in the last fifty years. The denier (you, Michael!) says he saw swamp gas. The UFO advocate presents another witness. You say he saw the planet Venus. He presents another witness. You say this one saw a weather balloon. Another witness — Venus again. Another witness — this sighting is a hoax, the witness is simply lying. The UFO advocate goes though enough witnesses to create the impression that you are grasping at straws. No matter what he says, you will automatically find some far-fetched “explanation.”

He presents a witness who was abducted. Here, he says, you have someone who not only saw a UFO, he was in one. What about him?! You say this person is unfortunately deluded. He comments mockingly:

“No one knows why people confess to ridiculous episodes,” explains the denier, “but they do.”

Then the UFO advocate goes on: He presents a photograph of a UFO. It’s fake, you say. He presents another photograph. It’s fake too, you say. A whole collection of photographs. All fake. Ah, these deniers! They cling to their belief system no matter what. But, he goes on: what about this picture of a dead alien, being kept in a secret military base? It’s fake too, you say. What about President Eisenhower’s treaty with the aliens? It’s fake too, you say, looking more and more desperate …

Now, he says, triumphantly, the denier must rationalize no less than 14 different bits of evidence that “jump together” to a specific conclusion.

But our convergence continues. If all those people were not abducted, where did they go? They are still here, you reply, lamely. What about crop circles? You say the crop circles are hoaxes. What about all those pilots who have seen UFOs on their radar? Equipment malfunctions sometimes. What about the mutilated cattle? The cattle, you say, were mutilated by coyotes with very sharp teeth. Yeah, right, he says. You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you? Coyotes with sharp teeth! Very precise coyotes.

We are now up to 18 proofs all converging toward one conclusion. The denier is desperately swinging away at them all, steadfastly determined not to give up his belief system …

I could go through this same routine again, and use the Shermer Principle to “prove” the existence of psi phenomena. There are many types of evidence. Witnesses: any number of people will testify that they have had psychic experiences of some kind. Physical evidence: spoons bent by Uri Geller, vases broken by poltergeists, etc. Scientific experiments: several different kinds of experiments conducted by Rhine, Soal, Tart, and others. And so forth. I could easily come up with 18 bits of evidence for psi phenomena, and if you found fault with each one, I could make it appear that you were grasping at straws. I could invent a dialogue in which I am a normal person presenting evidence that “jumps together” to an obvious conclusion, and you are a fanatic desperately searching for any explanation, no matter how far-fetched, to defend your belief system.

Does the fact that I could invent such a dialogue imply that psi phenomena are real? Obviously not.

The Shermer Principle is not logic. It’s flim-flam. This form of argument could be used to “prove” anything.

Revisionism and the Skeptic movement

When asked to define revisionism, Carlo Mattogno replied

Revisionism is essentially a methodology of writing history; it is the method of writing history normally used by historians in all branches of history, with the sole exception of the topic of the Holocaust.

While I agree with the intent of this statement, I have to point out that it is an incomplete characterization of revisionist methodology. Before doing what historians normally do, revisionists have to go through a preliminary step. If revisionists could just go ahead and do what historians normally do, then there would be no need for revisionism!

A historian who is writing about the history of agriculture in Japan can just go ahead and describe what happened. He doesn’t have to deal with deliberate obfuscation. A historian writing about what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany faces a different kind of task, and he has to proceed in a different way. The revisionist has to use the same methodology used by those who debunk false belief systems.

In ESP: A Scientific Evaluation, C. E. M. Hansel undertook the task of refuting the evidence for ESP. One immediately wonders how he could possibly do this. ESP is not one thing, it is thousands of things in tens of thousands of places (as Michael Shermer would say). How is Hansel going to disprove the whole thing, in one finite book?

He proceeds as follows: He looks at some of J. B. Rhine’s “experiments,” and keeps looking at them until they are in focus, at which point they fall apart. When you zoom in on them, it becomes obvious that they are not really experiments, they are set-ups designed to produce a desired result. The implication is, if you look at other experiments with the same scrutiny, they will also fall apart. Thus he can discredit a whole class of evidence.

By going through several classes of evidence in this manner, he can discredit the whole field of psychic research.

Hansel tells a story about a judge in Singapore. The judge said that one night, after he was in bed, an acquaintance of his appeared in his room. The next morning he heard that the man died that night, about the time the apparition appeared. His wife confirmed this. As you read this story, you see no reason whatever to doubt what is being said - except for the obvious implausibility of the idea itself. The story is told by a man of high integrity - a judge! - and he appears to be quite sincere, and has no motive for lying.

But then, just as you have started to entertain the idea that this might really be true, Hansel pulls the rug out from under you: it turns out that the story could not have taken place as described. The judge wasn’t even married at the time, the man who died did so in the morning after a good night’s sleep… it just could not have happened as described. This whole thing is presented very skillfully, so when you finally come to the revelation that the story is false, it is a surprise, almost a shock.

Now, why did he tell this story? He wanted to suggest that all such stories, no matter how plausible, must be regarded with suspicion. You can have any number of ghost stories, but they do not “corroborate” each other and prove the existence of ghosts.

Of course, he has not proved that all ghost stories are false. That would be impossible. Strictly speaking, the fact that one story is false does not imply anything about other stories. But he has discredited the whole class of stories. He has raised a question in the reader’s mind, and aroused suspicion that will carry over to all such stories.

Likewise, he has not proved that all ESP experiments are bogus. But when he describes an experiment that seems to prove something, and then shows that the experiment was set up in such a way as to allow cheating, the reader will never again take any such experiment at face value. Hansel has aroused suspicion that will carry over to all such experiments.

The problem of disproving the gas chambers is similar to the problem Hansel set himself. Given a large number of eyewitness reports testifying that something happened, how can one prove it didn’t happen? The best way to proceed is to do what Hansel did. Take an eyewitness report, show it to be absurd, and thus raise doubts in the reader’s mind about all such reports.

Actually the revisionists have a much easier problem, because unlike ESP the gas chambers were a finite, localized phenomenon, and there are only a few witnesses. A few, that is, compared with the number of witnesses who report having psychic experiences, or seeing ghosts or UFOs. I don’t know how many gas chamber witnesses there are altogether, but I keep seeing the same ones quoted over and over: Nyiszli, Hoess, Gerstein, Broad, and Eichmann. It always seems to be assumed that there are thousands of others, but one never sees references to them. I get the impression that the total number of SS guards and sonderkommandos who described the gassing operation is small enough so that it would be possible to go through the whole list and scrutinize each one. If this hasn’t been done, it should be done.

Nevertheless, Hansel’s procedure is the best way to start. If the revisionist can show some plausible-sounding reports of gassing to be absurd, then all such stories will be regarded with extreme suspicion from then on. The whole collection of such stories will no longer seem “overwhelming.” Then, when one demonstrates that the stories are in conflict with physical evidence, this demonstration will have much more force.

That’s why I said, on the Six Reasons page, that a newcomer to revisionism should start with the Nyiszli book, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account. This is what the “overwhelming evidence” looks like.

Now, let’s connect this discussion to “Proving the Holocaust.” Let’s consider another aspect of Hansel’s book. How did he demonstrate that Rhine’s experiments were not really experiments?

Hansel approached Rhine’s work with the assumption that there had to be a flaw somewhere, no matter how obscure, no matter how subtle. Hansel started with the working hypothesis that ESP does not exist; therefore, if you scrutinize one of Rhine’s experiments carefully enough, there had to be a way to cheat.

This is how the revisionists look at the gas chamber story. They assume that reports of gassing, no matter how plausible, will turn out to be false if you scrutinize them carefully enough. When Hansel does this, it’s a valid procedure. When Philip Klass does the same thing with UFO stories, that’s all right too. But it’s not all right for the revisionists to do the same thing. They are (gasp!) defending their belief system.

How, specifically, did Hansel argue his case? He used logic. He went to the room where the experiments were conducted, and looked for ways to cheat. He noticed, for example, that there was a transom over the door of the room, so that someone could stand on a chair and look into the room, and see the cards. This is exactly comparable to what David Cole did at Mauthausen.

As Michael Shermer would say,

When one has overwhelming evidence from many different sources about the existence of ESP, one may not notice what kind of door is on one experimental room. Unless, of course, one goes there in search of problems in order to support a particular thesis …

Yes, of course Hansel went there in search of problems to support his thesis. That’s how science works. One formulates a thesis, and then one looks for evidence to support it.

Hansel’s thesis was that Rhine’s experiments were bogus. He looked at the evidence and drew a logical conclusion: since this door has a transom through which the experimenters could look at the cards, the “experiment” didn’t prove anything about ESP.

David Cole’s thesis was that the gas chamber story is bogus. He went to Mauthausen and looked at the room that is supposed to have been a gas chamber, and drew a logical conclusion: since the “gas chamber” has no locks on the doors, no holes or fittings where locks may once have been, and the doors can be opened from inside or outside, you couldn’t kill people there.

But Michael Shermer objects to this procedure!!!

Let’s look at this statement once again:

When one has overwhelming evidence from many different sources about mass homicides at a death camp, one may not notice what kind of door handle is on one gas chamber. Unless, of course, one goes there in search of problems in order to support a particular thesis…

That’s exactly the kind of thing Hansel would notice — a door handle — some little discrepancy that reveals what’s really going on. Exactly the kind of thing Randi would notice when watching Uri Geller. The same thing Sherlock Holmes would call a clue — one fact that can light up a whole landscape.

That’s how science works. Without the ability to look at physical reality and draw logical conclusions, experimental science would be impossible (not to mention history and jurisprudence).

And yet Michael Shermer has meetings at Caltech, of all places, and no one protests.

Not yet.

What does corroborate mean?

On pages 52 -53 of “Proving the Holocaust” there are two photographs showing crowds of people on the unloading platform at Auschwitz. The caption of the second one says:

These two photos serve as evidence that corroborate eyewitness accounts of the arrival of a train of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz and the sorting of them into groups of men and women, where they were then further subdivided and sent toward either the gas chambers or the camp barracks.

There are two assertions,

  1. trainloads of Jews arrived and were sorted into groups,
  2. they were then further subdivided and sent toward either the gas chambers or the camp barracks.

These pictures corroborate the first assertion (which doesn’t need to be corroborated, since it is obvious and acknowledged by everyone). The pictures do not corroborate the second assertion, which is what needs to be proved.

Ignoratio elenchi: the fallacy of offering proof irrelevant to the proposition in question. A simpler term for this is flim-flam.

Suppose you have two photographs of crowds of people in a large room, with the caption “These photographs corroborate testimony that people go to Eugenio the Psychic Surgeon, wait in his waiting room, and then go into his office and have tumors removed by psychic surgery.” Obviously, the photographs only corroborate the fact that they wait in the waiting room; they do not corroborate what needs to be proved, namely, that the patients have tumors removed by psychic surgery.

Suppose you are on trial for murder. The prosecutor introduces as evidence two photographs of boys in your living room, and says “These photographs corroborate the testimony of the witnesses who said the defendant lured boys to his home, then took them downstairs to the basement and killed them.”

What would you want your lawyer to say at this point?

To corroborate testimony about gassings, you need to have photographs of gassings, not something else. If we had photographs showing the whole sequence of events, including piles of bodies in gas chambers, that would corroborate the gas chamber story.

Pery Broad said:

After about two minutes the shrieks die down and change to a low moaning. Most of the men have already lost consciousness. After a further two minutes … it is all over. Deadly quiet reigns … The corpses are piled together, their mouths stretched open … It is difficult to heave the interlaced corpses out of the chamber as the gas is stiffening all their limbs.

Of course, we have all heard about this. We all have this image of the sonderkommandos disentangling a mass of bodies. But it occurs to me that this is just a mental image I have acquired over the years. I have never actually seen a photograph of this famous scene. And that’s odd. This must have happened many, many times. If millions of people were gassed, this scene must have been repeated thousands of times. And people do like to take photos. Some people will always find a way to take photos of anything, no matter how forbidden or obscure, especially if there are naked women involved.

The Nazis were not shy about killing people. There are pictures of all kinds of atrocities. When they destroyed the Warsaw ghetto, they even made movies of it. On page 106 of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, Arthur Butz shows a picture of a mass grave at Belsen (which everyone should look at, as a reality check). If Butz found a picture of interlaced corpses in one of the gas chambers at Birkenau, he would print it. So would Michael Shermer. So would everybody. But there are no such photographs.

The problem here is that the evidence does not converge. The mosaic-like pieces don’t give us a complete picture of the crime. We have a series of pictures which approach the gas chambers from both directions, before and after. They approach but they do not meet in the middle. We have pictures of prisoners arriving at the camp, and pictures of bodies being cremated, but nothing in between. There are no photographs of the gassing operation itself. That part of the mosaic is missing, so the series does not converge.

Convergence of Evidence

As a general principle, the idea of convergence is not a point of contention between the revisionists and the conventional historians. As a general principle, it is accepted by everyone. The disagreement is about (1) what convergence means, and (2) whether the evidence does in fact converge to the conclusion that gas chambers were used to exterminate millions of Jews.

Arthur Butz writes (The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, page 360),

On the basis of my engineering experiences, it seems quite out of the question to suppress all normal historical records of engineering projects of the scope that could have produced the great “gas chambers.” Documents must not only be produced, but also distributed to the great number of individuals charged with specific details; there is no other way to achieve coordination. Even if major documents are closely controlled (as is supposed to happen with “classified” material in the USA) the various individuals would later be able, one way or another, to supply details that, taken together, would cohere credibly.

He also quotes with approval what one of the judges said about the war-crimes trials (page 187):

“… we must call to mind only once what endless detail work is performed in a murder trial in our days — how out of small mosaic-like pieces the picture of the true occurrences at the moment of the murder is put together. There is available for the court’s deliberations above all the corpse, the record of the post-mortem examination, the expert opinions of specialists on the causes of death and the day on which the deed must have occurred, and the manner in which the death occurred. There is available the murder weapon and finger prints to identify the perpetrator; there are footprints he left behind as the entered the house of the slain, and many more details at hand which provide absolute proof to the court that this person was done to death by a definite perpetrator of the deed.

“All this was missing in this trial …“

Butz accepts the principle of convergence. He is asking the prosecution to produce evidence that converges.

Everyone acknowledges that the Nazis destroyed the Warsaw ghetto. Why? Because the ghetto is no longer there; and because there are genuine eyewitness accounts, documents, photographs, even movies of what happened. This evidence does stand up under examination, and it does cohere into a consistent story (i.e. it “converges”), so everyone believes it.

Everyone acknowledges that the Röhm purge of June 30, 1934 occurred. Why? Well, why not? What happened, happened. The evidence speaks for itself. The “Night of the Long Knives” was a relatively minor event. It lasted one day, not several years, and it involved hundreds of people, not millions. It was something the Nazis weren’t particularly proud of, and they might have been expected to cover it up, if they cared about covering up their actions. But they didn’t try to cover it up, and they couldn’t have if they had tried. Even this small event left an unmistakable paper trail.

Historians normally don’t argue about whether something happened. They argue about interpretations, not about the events themselves. When one is discussing real historical events, the question “Did it really happen?” does not arise.

For any large scale event, there is always an unmistakable paper trail. The evidence always converges. This applies to the Holocaust as much as anything else. That part of it which happened, obviously happened, and everyone acknowledges that it happened. If millions of Jews had been killed in gas chambers, that too would be obvious, and that too would be acknowledged by everyone.

Everyone acknowledges that the Nazis murdered a large number of Jews. David Irving writes:

In early 1941, Speer and Goebbels, each for reasons of his own, together started this campaign to drive the Jews from the city. Goebbels, who was Gauleiter of Berlin, wanted to have his city “free of Jews,” and Speer wanted to clear out those 24,000 apartments so that he could rebuild Berlin.

So, trainload by trainload, Jews were shipped out of Berlin to anywhere — nobody really cared …

Here I want to mention something that I’m always very adamant about. Although we revisionists say that gas chambers didn’t exist, and that the “factories of death” didn’t exist, there is no doubt in my mind that on the Eastern front large numbers of Jews were massacred, by criminals with guns — SS men, Ukranians, Lithuanians, whatever — to get rid of them. They were made to line up next to pits or ditches, and then shot. The eyewitness accounts I’ve seen of this are genuine and reliable.

[Journal of Historical Review, January/February 1995, pages 15 - 16.]

The revisionists believe what the evidence compels them to believe. They do not dogmatically reject eyewitness reports of atrocities. If they really were “deniers,” they would deny all Nazi atrocities. But they don’t. The evidence converges to the conclusion that “large numbers of Jews were massacred,” and the revisionists accept that conclusion, just like everyone else accepts it.

If the prosecution can produce

1. either
(a) gas chambers at Auschwitz/Birkenau which look like the gas chambers used in American prisons, but on a much larger scale;

or, assuming the original gas chambers were destroyed,
(b) documents which describe the construction of the gas chambers, comparable to the documents describing the construction of the ovens,

2. contemporary records of the gassing operation, i.e. the paper trail that one would expect to find for an operation involving millions of people,

3. photographs of the gassing operation,

4. statements from witnesses who are not obviously lying,

then everyone will acknowledge that the evidence converges to the conclusion that there were gas chambers.

If we had the same kind of evidence for the gassing operation that we have for the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, or the purge of 1934, or any other historical event that actually happened, then everyone would acknowledge that the gassing happened. The problem is that the evidence for gassing does not converge. There are gaps in it.

But Dr. Shermer says the gaps don’t matter, because of the “jumping together” phenomenon. What he means by convergence is not what everybody else means. In fact, it’s the opposite of what everybody else means.

The ‘Jumping Together’ Argument

Dr. Shermer asserts that proving “the Holocaust” is similar to proving evolution. He says (page 214),

Evolution, for example, is proved by the convergence of evidence from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, herpetology, entomology, biogeography… No one piece of evidence from these diverse fields says “evolution” on it. A fossil is a snapshot. But when a fossil in a geological bed is studied along with other fossils of the same and different species, compared to species in other strata, contrasted to modern organisms, juxtaposed with species in other parts of the world, past and present, and so on, it turns from a snapshot into a motion picture. Evidence from each field jumps together to a grand conclusion — evolution.

I have read On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. When I started reading books for grownups, in the 9th grade, that was the book I started with. I know for a fact that Darwin never used a “jumping together” argument. Darwin used a chain of logical reasoning to arrive at his conclusion. This is also true of all other scientists who have written about evolution. I challenge anyone to show me a “jumping together” argument in the works of Alfred Russel Wallace, T. H. Huxley, William Bateson, J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, George Gaylord Simpson, Otto Schindewolf, Richard Goldschmidt, Thomas Hunt Morgan, T. Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Kauffman, or Jeffrey Schwartz. Scientists don’t use jumping together arguments.

Neither do historians.

Neither do the creationists, as far as I know. I’m certainly not an expert on Creationism, but I get the impression that the creationists at least try to use logical inferences. They may not succeed, but they try. As far as the form of the argument is concerned — and form is what we are talking about here — Dr. Walt Brown is more scientific than Dr. Shermer.

Coming back to Darwin for a moment: Darwin didn’t engage in “meta-debates” with his opponents. When someone called his attention to a fact that raised a difficulty for his theory, he wrote it down immediately so he wouldn’t forget it, and then he returned to it later and dealt with it as best he could. It would never cross his mind to discuss the question of who presented him with an awkward fact, and their motives for doing so, instead of dealing with the fact itself. It is preposterous for Michael Shermer, of all people, to invoke Darwin’s name. His approach is the very antithesis of Darwin’s.

In any case, evolution is a red herring. There is a better analogy for the gas chambers. Apart from Dr. Shermer’s 18 bits argument, there is only one other place where I have seen a “jumping together” argument invoked. I have seen people argue that even though any piece of evidence for psi phenomena may be questionable, nevertheless the body of evidence as a whole jumps together to the conclusion that psi phenomena exist.

Consider the difference between convergence of evidence applied to evolution and convergence of evidence applied to psi phenomena.

In the case of evolution, we have a complex theory that touches the physical world at many points, and we have to have a piece of evidence for each of those points. There is no question about the validity of each piece of evidence. If fossil after fossil turned out to be a fraud, that would be a different situation. But this does not happen. Paleontologists do not routinely lie about their work. Fossils are what they are represented to be, and likewise for geological formations, laboratory experiments establishing the properties of Carbon 14, and so forth. Each piece of evidence will stand up under examination. Each piece needs support from other pieces only because many pieces are required to construct a complete picture.

The case of psi phenomena is just the opposite. Here there are many pieces of evidence, any one of which would suffice to establish the existence of some kind of paranormal phenomenon. The problem is that none of it stands up under examination. People do lie about psychic phenomena, for various reasons, and even when they are not consciously lying, it can always (presumably) be demonstrated that they are hallucinating, or mis-remembering what happened, or being misled by slight of hand, etc.

This is analogous to the case of the gas chambers: there are numerous witness statements, any one of which would suffice to establish that there were gas chambers. There are numerous rooms that are supposed to have been gas chambers, and if any of them actually was a gas chamber, that would be enough right there. If we had a set of photographs covering the whole sequence of events, that would be enough to establish that people were gassed at least once.

There are literally millions of people who will testify that they have had some kind of psychic experience. Their accounts have a common core, namely the idea that “something happened which cannot happen according to any rational, scientific understanding of how nature works.” Nevertheless they do not “converge” to this conclusion. They don’t converge at all.

I have heard people say that even though each of J. B. Rhine’s experiments may be questionable, and any other piece of evidence for ESP may be questionable, nevertheless the mass of evidence taken as a whole proves that ESP exists. No, it doesn’t. The mass of evidence taken as a whole may “jump together” to the conclusion that ESP exists, but it doesn’t imply that ESP exists.

Two pieces of false or irrelevant evidence do not “corroborate” each other. It doesn’t matter if they are two pieces of the same type, or different types. There could be a million witnesses and a million photographs: if each piece of evidence is false or irrelevant, then the whole mass of them is no better than any individual piece. This applies equally to ESP, UFOs, and gas chambers.

This is the heart of the matter.

Michael Shermer presents eyewitness reports, each of which is questionable. This is the only evidence for the gas chambers. To “corroborate” this testimony, Dr. Shermer presents many other pieces of evidence which prove conclusively that Hitler and the other Nazis hated the Jews enough to kill them, that concentration camps existed, and that many Jews died in the camps and were cremated. But none of this evidence corroborates what the witnesses said about the gas chambers. Dr. Shermer gives us photographs which do not show gas chambers, documents which do not mention gas chambers, reports of brutal treatment of prisoners, and so forth: the “18 bits of evidence.” This whole mass of evidence taken together is supposed to prove that there were gas chambers. No, it doesn’t.

According to Dr. Shermer, this is how “convergence” works: First you construct a picture of the whole thing, the Holocaust — the menacing speeches, the trains, the unloading platforms, the gas chambers, the ovens, the burning pits, the mass graves, the starving prisoners in the camps at the end of the war. Then you say that any evidence for any part of this picture is a “proof” of the whole thing; and if you have 18 “proofs,” they “converge” to the conclusion that the whole picture is true, even if you don’t have a proof of every part.

This is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, except that it isn’t necessary to cover the whole picture. If you can cover most of it, the rest “jumps together.”

As I said above, this is the opposite of what everyone else understands convergence to mean. Most people would say that if some of the pieces are missing, then they don’t converge. But in Michael Shermer’s epistemology, the gap doesn’t matter. The picture still jumps together.

This is not logic. This is the opposite of logic. It’s flim-flam.

Back at the beginning of this page, I said that the point at issue between the revisionists and other historians is not whether “it” happened. The point at issue is how much of the Holocaust story is true. The fact that some of it is true doesn’t imply that all of it is true. This is where the jumping together argument comes in: that’s the only way to get from “some of it happened” to “it happened.”

The “jumping together” phenomenon is how illusionists produce their illusions. This is exactly what skeptics are supposed to be skeptical of.

What is missing here is the concept of implication.

Michael Shermer keeps talking about “jumping together” to avoid having to construct an argument which implies that there were gas chambers. If you are going to prove something, at some point the word therefore has to occur. First you establish your premises, then you demonstrate that the premises imply the conclusion.

What if we try to construct such an argument? How about this:

We have

  1. speeches and documents in which Hitler and other Nazis spoke of the Ausrottung of the Jews (but said nothing about gassing in connection with the Ausrottung),
  2. records of the construction of the ovens (but not the gas chambers),
  3. photographs of prisoners arriving at the camp,
  4. photographs of the mass burnings of bodies in pits and fields,
  5. photographs of starving prisoners at the end of the war;

therefore there were gas chambers.

No, it doesn’t follow.

Let’s try again:

We have

  1. the Nyiszli book,
  2. the Hoess statement,
  3. the Pery Broad statement,
  4. the Gerstein statement,
  5. … other such statements;

therefore there were gas chambers.

That doesn’t follow, either.

What about this? —

We have

  1. speeches and documents in which Hitler and other Nazis spoke of the Ausrottung of the Jews (but said nothing about gassing in connection with the Ausrottung),
  2. records of the construction of the ovens (but not the gas chambers),
  3. photographs of prisoners arriving at the camp,
  4. photographs of the mass burnings of bodies in pits and fields,
  5. photographs of starving prisoners at the end of the war;

therefore the statements of Nyiszli, Hoess, Broad, and the other witnesses are true.

No, this implication is not valid.

What about this? —

We have 18 bits of evidence, including

1. speeches and documents in which Hitler and other Nazis spoke of the Ausrottung of the Jews (but said nothing about gassing in connection with the Ausrottung),

2. records of the construction of the ovens (but not the gas chambers),

3. photographs of prisoners arriving at the camp,

4. photographs of the mass burnings of bodies in pits and fields,

5. photographs of starving prisoners at the end of the war,

6. the Nyiszli book,

7. the Pery Broad statement,

… (many other such statements),

18. the Hoess statement;

therefore there were gas chambers.

No. There is no such implication.

Putting it in a general form: We have

  1. 1. photographs, speeches, documents, and so forth which cover the whole picture of the Holocaust, except the gas chambers,
  2. 2. eyewitnesses who said that there were gas chambers;

therefore there were gas chambers.

No. It doesn’t follow.

What if the defense tries to turn this argument around, and arrive at the opposite conclusion?

We have

  1. no physical evidence that there were gas chambers (i.e. the rooms which are supposed to be gas chambers obviously aren’t),
  2. no records of the construction of the gas chambers,
  3. no contemporary records of the gassing operation (i.e. the paper trail that one would expect to find for an operation involving millions of people),
  4. no photographs of people being gassed,
  5. no speeches or documents in which Hitler and other Nazis spoke of gassing in connection with the Ausrottung, and
  6. no witness testimony strong enough to outweigh the overwhelming lack of physical, documentary, and photographic evidence for gassing;

therefore there were no gas chambers.

Conclusion

The basic epistemological question is: how do we know? In this case, the question is: how do we know whether or not there were gas chambers? The short answer is: use your eyes.

The amazing thing about the gas chamber story is that the evidence is right there in plain view. The so-called gas chambers are not hidden. They are open to the public, and tens of thousands of tourists have seen them - but they don’t see them. This is similar to the emperor’s new clothes situation, but there is a difference: in the classic story, everybody saw that the emperor was naked, but didn’t dare to say so. When people look at one of the rooms that is supposed to be a gas chamber, they can’t even say in their own minds that it’s not a gas chamber. They don’t even allow themselves to see what’s right in front of them.

This raises questions about the nature of evidence. We can’t take perception for granted. Apparently something can interfere with perception to the point that people can’t look at a room and distinguish a gas chamber from a non-gas-chamber. Beliefs govern perceptions far more than anybody would have thought.

Of course it is possible that some people who make the trip to Auschwitz do see that the room is not a gas chamber, but are afraid to say so. This would be exactly comparable to the emperor’s new clothes situation.

On the agendas page, I wrote

Facts are facts. It doesn’t matter (or at least it shouldn’t matter) how anybody feels about the end of race. Whether or not there were gas chambers is a factual question that is independent of anybody’s agenda…

When I say that, I’m talking to the wind. Almost no one agrees with this. Judging from the feedback I have received, virtually everyone thinks you are supposed to start out with a general belief system about race — RACISM IS WRONG! (Except anti-white racism, of course.) And then, based on that, you decide how you feel about the Holocaust — It happened! Never mind the distinction between some of it and all of it. It happened because that’s which side I’m on, and I’m not going to listen to deniers who say it never happened. End of discussion.

How do we know there were gas chambers? The powers that be have their own short answer. Robert Faurisson said that it would be impossible to gas anyone in the so-called gas chambers. He was arrested. In court, the Judge said: “The Holocaust happened. Therefore it must have been possible.” End of discussion.

Of course this isn’t really the last word. Eventually the judge and the government he represents are going to run up against reality. (See below.)

This whole issue raises questions about the role of philosophy in society.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “skeptic” as “One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.” Michael Shermer publishes a magazine in which he defends generally accepted conclusions, and smirkingly calls it “Skeptic” magazine. Thus the very idea of skepticism is undermined.

The very people who claim to be defending science and logic use flagrantly anti-logical arguments. Philosophers should call them on this.

A generation of students have been taught that critical thinking means making up your mind in advance and not looking at the evidence, and logic means using “jumping together” arguments. Thus the very idea of logic is undermined. Philosophers should speak up about this.

When someone looks at the evidence and uses logical inferences to draw a conclusion, that’s “hate speech.” In many countries it is illegal to speak up about this. It is illegal to say what I have said on this page.

This is the most important philosophical issue of our time. The ethical aspect of it is even more important than the epistemological aspect. However, it isn’t being discussed in philosophy classes, not to mention philosophy journals.

To repeat what I wrote on the Why I am not a Nazi page:

George Orwell said ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ This is the only kind of revolution that makes sense, and it can only be done by philosophers, historians, writers, journalists, and teachers. Unfortunately, intellectuals have almost unanimously abandoned Orwell and gone over to the other side. Telling truth to power is the last thing on their minds.

Make no mistake, this is about power.

How do we know there were gas chambers? There is yet another short answer: if you say it didn’t happen, it might happen again.

As always, we have to look carefully at that little word “it.” What might happen again?

The Holocaust Memorial Center website defines the Holocaust as follows:

“The Holocaust (also called Shoah in Hebrew) refers to the period from January 30, 1933, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, to May 8, 1945 (V-E Day), when the war in Europe ended.”

I am not making this up. Check the link. That’s what it says. According to this definition, the Holocaust began in 1933, before Hitler had killed a single Jew. The mere fact that he established an independent government was the beginning of the Holocaust. If we question the gas chamber story, that is what might happen again. Many independent governments might be established, in Europe and elsewhere. That is what must not happen. Therefore, we are required to say that a non-gas-chamber is a gas chamber.

As far as I can tell, in every philosophy department in North America and Europe, it is taken as axiomatic that it is immoral to even discuss this subject.

Why?


the Six Reasons page

The Dead Footnote Society

home


In fact this is immoral and unjust, and it is immoral not to discuss it:

David Irving Arrested In Austria - November, 2005

New Zundel Letter Out Of Mannheim Prison - October 27, 2005

Siegfried Verbeke arrested in Amsterdam

Germar Rudolf arrested