The modern method of source criticism was developed in the mid-1800s by German historian Leopold von Ranke, but it is in general applicable to all fields of academic inquiry. More generally expressed, it should be called “evidence criticism.” It is based on the observation that evidence needs to be evaluated as to its reliability, accuracy and authenticity, and those who created, maintained or interpreted the evidence need to be evaluated for their trustworthiness.
This criterion concerns documents and material evidence. The question to ask is: Is this piece of evidence really what it appears to be? The aim is to expose outright forgeries and items that have been tampered with. The tools to assess this are mostly forensic in nature, but for written documents, linguistics is also important. Experts are required to accurately interpret forensic testing results, or to do linguistic assessments.
The trustworthiness of an expert witness depends on his skills, on his track record, and on any potential bias that may lead to unconscious or deliberate misinterpretation of data. This is true for any witness. Describing an event accurately is a skill not equally shared by all; reporting only some facts but hiding others – or telling outright lies – in pursuit of some aim, plagues most witness accounts on politically or emotionally loaded issues. If such behavior can be demonstrated, it seriously undermines a witness’s trustworthiness, and hence the credibility of anything he or she may claim.
Ability to Know
The first question to ask about any witness claim is: Was the witness in a position to know? Many Holocaust survivors reported deportation figures, mass-grave contents, cremation capacities and total death tolls, although very few, if any, were ever in a position to know. Answering this pivotal question can serve to expose witnesses who claim to report first-hand knowledge, but instead are dishonest conveyors of hearsay or rumors.
Claims must adhere to basic logical rules. This includes that a person cannot be in several places at the same time, and that events cannot unfold anachronistically (that is, out of proper time sequence). For example, a witness cannot be truthful who describes a homicidal gassing by giving information that would have required him to have observed it at once from outside the gassing building, from inside the gassing building, and even from inside the gas chamber. Other witnesses claimed to have experienced events at times when they simply could not have happened, such as encountering Josef Mengele at Auschwitz when he wasn’t yet deployed there. (See the entry on Mengele.)
Any claim that is physically impossible cannot be true. In the present case, this includes for instance physically impossible packing densities of people jammed into alleged gas chambers; claims of bodies burning without fuel; flames shooting out of chimneys; blood geysers; and liquid fat collected from burning bodies, to name but a few. (See the respective entries.)
Internal and External Consistency
A true account cannot contain self-contradicting claims. It also cannot contradict facts established otherwise, especially those established by evidence of higher credibility. For example, if hundreds of witnesses claim that sick people were murdered at the Auschwitz Camp, but hundreds of wartime camp documents demonstrate that huge healthcare efforts were made for all inmates, who were systematically treated and cured, then the documents take precedent over the testimonies, unless it can be otherwise demonstrated that the documents’ contents are wrong. (See the section on “Auschwitz” of the entry on “Healthcare.”)
Or take the claim by many witnesses that huge pyres were constantly burning at Auschwitz-Birkenau in the spring and summer of 1944. One single air photo taken at the claimed peak of this alleged activity suffices to refute all witnesses. (See the section on “Auschwitz” of the entry on “Air Photos.”)
A claim usually becomes more credible, the more sources confirm it. This requires, however, that all these sources report it from first-hand knowledge and without any other influence. However, if many sources converge in claims that can be demonstrated to be false, then this proves that these reports cannot be based on first-hand experience. It reveals that all these sources were exposed to identical or similar false information, and hence are not independent. Furthermore, such a convergence on untrue claims demonstrates that none of these witnesses are trustworthy reporters of actual events. (See the entry on “Convergence of Evidence.”)
When scrutinizing evidence in this sense, it is critically important to apply objective criteria consistently. This is necessary to avoid introducing a bias that can lead to the rejection or acceptance of evidence not based on their objective value, but on the subjective value for the agenda of the person assessing the evidence.
For instance, ever since the end of World War Two, judicial authorities have always only looked for evidence supporting the prevailing Holocaust narrative. Witness accounts and documents were only superficially assessed for their authenticity and credibility. This “source criticism” merely aimed at weeding out (and hiding) the blatantly absurd and impossible. The main focus, however, was on finding seemingly credible evidence that confirmed a preordained narrative. (See the entries on the International Military Tribunal, on Auschwitz Trials, Belzec Trial, Bergen-Belsen Trials, Majdanek Trials, Show Trials, John Demjanjuk, Gottfried Weise and Karl Wolff.)
Mainstream historians also tend to pick those passages from selected documents and witness testimony that support their narrative, while failing to evaluate all pertinent pieces of evidence in their totality, and according to all rules laid out above. (See Mattogno 2016e, 2019, 2020, 2021c for examples.)
Importance of Source Criticism
In the context of the Holocaust, most evidence adduced to prove claims of mass murder is anecdotal in nature, which includes witness accounts of alleged victims, bystanders and perpetrators. Moreover, many of these accounts were made in an atmosphere of war and postwar propaganda bordering at times on mass hysteria, and leading to various degrees of witness duress. While the hysterical atmosphere subsided as time passed, duress has only shifted in nature – away from massive physical threats and abuses (see the entry on torture) to threats of societal persecution and criminal prosecution.
This was accompanied by a wide variety of incentives for any witness willing to confirm what judicial authorities and sensationalistic media wanted to hear, no matter whether it was true or not.
In other words, there has never been a case in history in which giving false testimony was more tempting and more rewarding than with the Holocaust. Correspondingly, there has also never been a case for which source criticism was more important than this one.
Outlawing Source Criticism
In Western societies, critically assessing the value of survivor testimony is considered a sacrilege, as the survivors are perceived by many as saints and martyrs. (See the entry on “Religion, Holocaust as.”) In many countries, foremost in Europe, it can even be a crime to expose as unreliable, inaccurate or untrue the story of a survivor – or any other evidence adduced to support the orthodox Holocaust narrative. Such an act is said to denigrate the commemoration of those who died in the Holocaust, and it presumably incites to hatred against the Holocaust’s victim groups. (See the entry on “Censorship.”)
In consequence, the very act of source criticism itself is threatened with criminal prosecution in those countries. However, without source criticism, the writing of history becomes impossible, and deteriorates to the writing of mere historical novels.
Repercussions of Source Criticism
The devastating effect of the orthodoxy’s failure to apply uncompromising source criticism to the evidentiary basis of the orthodox Holocaust narrative can be gleaned from almost every entry in this work. Already in 1988, when skeptical scholars had only begun evaluating the historical record, French mainstream historian and camp survivor Michel de Boüard realized that professional source criticism would ultimately spell doom for the orthodox Holocaust narrative. (See the entry on him.) French mainstream historian Jean-Claude Pressac expressed it similarly some 10 years later (Igounet 2000, pp. 651f.):
“On the one hand, resentment and vindictiveness [of the survivors] have gained the upper hand over reconciliation, and therefore memory the upper hand over history. On the other hand, the communist stranglehold on the most important leadership positions in the camps, the formation of associations after the liberation under communist control, as well as the fifty-year-long creation of a ‘people’s democratic’ [=communist] history of the camps has led to […] the clumsy anti-fascist language. Shoddiness, exaggeration, omission and lies are the hallmarks of most accounts from this era. The unanimous and irrevocable discrediting which has afflicted the communist writings must inevitably have consequences for the depiction of life in the concentration camps, which is spoiled by the communist idea, and thus must finish it off.
Can this development be reverted? It is too late. A general correction is factually and humanely impossible. […] And new documents will unavoidably turn up and will overthrow the official certainties more and more. The current view of the world of the [National-Socialist] camps, though triumphant, is doomed. What of it can be salvaged? Only little. Puffing up the universe of the concentration camps amounts to squaring the circle and to turning black into white. […T]he pain has been exploited and turned into hard cash: decorations, pensions, careers, political influence. […]
Of all these events, […] only those will prevail whose reality is ascertained [by source criticism]. The others are assigned to the trash can of history.”
(See also the entry on Evidence.)