Scientific research shows that even mildly manipulative interviewing techniques, repeated multiple times, succeed in implanting false memories into roughly one third of all average adults, making them firmly believe that they experienced events that never happened (Loftus 1994, 1997, 2003). It has also been demonstrated that the human memory is more easily manipulated when questioning takes place under more emotional circumstances and when the alleged experiences are more emotional. Even emotional media reporting can lead to massive distortion of memory. It is therefore possible to make people “remember” traumatic events that never occurred, such as sexual abuse during childhood, abduction by extra-terrestrials, etc. (Cf. Bjorklund 2000, Dineen 1996, Goldstein/Farmer 1993, Ofshe 1996.)
Furthermore, it has been proven that it is easier to manipulate memory if the event that you want to insert or distort includes aspects that the subject actually does remember; these aspects thus act as an anchor point for the untrue implant.
Memories about events allegedly experienced by former inmates of German wartime camps are particularly prone to be false, for numerous reasons:
- They are usually recalled many years or even decades after the claimed event, when human memory inevitably has deteriorated.
- They concern events that happened in a framework of traumatic persecution and oppression, and of emotional distress, and the claimed horrors increase these sensations to an extreme degree, even years after the claimed events.
- Stories surrounding the (alleged) misdeeds of Germans against the Jews during World War II have been spread through all possible channels of society for decades: schools, colleges and universities, judiciary, politics and all media. In fact, there has never been a propaganda campaign on a historical issue so intense, so long-lasting, and so one-sided as with the Holocaust. Many memes have become clichés that many survivors then “recall” and repeat.
- Witnesses are under enormous pressure to “remember” what everyone expects them to – gas chambers, piles of dead bodies, evil Germans, and so on. Witnesses who cannot remember certain details may be accused of betrayal, denial and even anti-Semitism. Therefore, many witnesses “recall” incidents that they read or heard from others, rather than things they personally experienced. Loyalty to their fellow survivors is often given precedence over honesty and truthfulness.
- Failing to confirm certain events or clichés about the Holocaust can not only lead to societal persecution, but even to legal prosecution in many countries. (See the entry on censorship.) Not since the time of the medieval witch trials has there been a topic where entire societies dogmatically enforce certain facts and versions of history, using all means at their disposal.
Therefore, there has never been an event in history where more false memories may be expected to occur, from many or even most witnesses. Outright deceit was likely most pervasive right after the war, when actual memories were fresh but anti-German sentiments were still raw. In more recent times, however, legitimate memories have been systematically rewritten and replaced by a relentless, media-driven form of propaganda. Holocaust skepticism, therefore, serves as an important corrective to the many false memories that witnesses may honestly believe and continue to promote. (Cf. Rudolf 2023, pp. 363-374.)