Why the Holocaust Matters
The Holocaust is a topic that everyone knows something about. It’s a topic that none of us can avoid, like it or not. The reason for this is the fact that it is the single most-influential historical topic of the modern world. For sure, other modern-day genocides happened, and most people can probably name a few. But unless your country or ethnic group has been either a victim or a perpetrator of that genocide, these other, foreign genocides basically never play a role in domestic daily politics or social interactions. Most of them will never make it beyond a brief mention on a school’s syllabus, if at all, and hardly any of them have dedicated museums and memorials. No one cares if we remember, forget, ignore or even deny these foreign events, or whether we pay tribute to their victims or disrespect them.
However, no one in any position of societal or political prominence can afford to ignore, disrespect or “deny” the Holocaust. If they did, they would not be prominent much longer. In fact, anyone can lose their job if violating this last taboo of Western societies. Many countries have made “denying the Holocaust” a crime, which means you can even end up in prison. Only one genocide in the history of mankind ever reached such prominence that it has a worldwide memorial day dedicated to it: January 27, which the United Nations has declared as the world’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Therefore, the Holocaust matters. That being so, it is important that we understand what it was, and what it was not, lest we might be manipulated by people who want to take advantage of our ignorance. This includes extremists on both sides of the spectrum: those who deny what has been solidly demonstrated to be true, and those who want us to believe that which has been proven to be untrue.
If a topic has huge importance in society, then it is hugely important to understand it. The purpose of the present encyclopedia is to assist the reader in better understanding what exactly the Holocaust was. It is meant to serve as a reference book for all those who do not wish to search through stacks of books just to find one small piece of the larger puzzle.
Why an Encyclopedia on the Holocaust Matters
Nearly everyone knows something about this topic, and yet everyone’s knowledge is also partial and incomplete. This is inevitable, given that the Holocaust is such a vast topic. It stretches over many years, encompasses almost an entire continent, and includes hundreds, if not thousands of individual locations and events, involving millions of people – perpetrators, victims and bystanders.
Even experts on this subject can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available. The mere act of constructing an encyclopedia is a daunting task, requiring the combined expertise of many individuals. Then, the huge body of information has to be partitioned, edited, and simplified: What is important, and why? What can be left out? What can be relegated to notes or bibliographies? How much space should be allocated to each topic? And so on. Many difficult editorial decisions must be made.
But once done, the result is well worth the effort. Such a book captures the essential features of a major historical event, as we understand them at a given point in time. Certainly, things will change in the future; new information will come to light, new theories will be debated, and views will shift. But capturing and condensing so much research in a single volume as this provides an invaluable service for present and future researchers.
Other Holocaust Encyclopedias
This, of course, is not the first Holocaust encyclopedia that has been published. The first to appear was the huge 1,900-page, four-volume work titled Encyclopedia of the Holocaust published in 1990 by the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Authority Yad Vashem, with Israeli scholar Israel Gutman as the lead editor. This was followed up ten years later by a 528-page, condensed, one-volume version. It has the same title, was edited by Robert Rozett and Shmuel Spector (two of Gutman’s contributors), and was also published by Yad Vashem.
A year later, in 2001, Walter Laqueur and Judith Baumel-Schwartz published a 765-page volume titled The Holocaust Encyclopedia, which was in direct competition with the volume by Rozett and Spector. Had the two teams communicated, this double effort could have been avoided, and a combined, much-improved version could have been published instead.
A somewhat different approach was taken by Paul Bartrop and Michael Dickerman, who, in 2017, released a 1,440-page, four-volume work titled The Holocaust: An Encyclopedia and Document Collection. The first two volumes of this set, with their A-to-Z entries, resemble in style and content the other works mentioned. However, the third volume contains memoirs and testimonies of survivors and resistors, while the fourth volume contains reproductions of several documents pertinent to the topic.
All these encyclopedias have a central flaw: they compel the reader to adopt the conventional narrative. But we do not get a glimpse behind the scenes as to how this narrative came about. What kind of evidence is it based upon? Has the narrative changed over the decades, and if so, how, and why? Such questions are not even asked, let alone addressed. Even the basic question of evidence – what it is, and what makes it valid – is missing from these volumes.
So, what kind of information do we find in them, then? We have analyzed Gutman’s and Rozett/Spector’s works to find an answer to this question. Here, we only present the results for the more-complete Gutman version, but by and large it also applies to the trimmed-down, only slightly updated Rozett/Spector edition.
|Total Entries||Holocaust||Hagiolatry||Gentile-bashing||Other Historical Topics||BS||non-Holocaust-Related Cities, Towns, Regions||non-Holocaust-Related Camps, Prisons, Ghettos|
Gutman’s encyclopedia consists of 898 entries. They can be divided into the following groups (with some entries falling into more than one group, hence the sum is larger than 898 entries or 100%):
- 214 entries (23.8%) are (usually short) biographies of Jewish individuals who were of some importance, either because they were prominent wartime figures, resistant fighters, chroniclers or martyrs.
- 75 entries (8.4%) are short biographies of gentiles who helped Jews in one way or another, many of them officially recognized by Israel as “righteous among the nations.”
- 81 entries (9%) include descriptions of German organizations, individuals, concepts or terms that had nothing to do with the Holocaust, but get a negative mention anyway because during those years they played some role. For instance, German physicist Dr. Philipp Lenard had some peculiar views on “Jewish physics” versus “German physics,” but had nothing to do whatsoever with the Holocaust. Or take Hans-Ulrich Rudel, a highly successful German fighter pilot who, after the war, voiced dissenting views on Third-Reich history, but had absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust.
- 63 entries (7%) include descriptions of non-German organizations and individuals who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, but also get a negative mention because they were somehow aligned with, or supportive of, the Third Reich and its policies in general.
- 118 entries (13.1%) concern other historical topics or historical personalities having no bearing on the Holocaust. Take, for example, the Czechoslovakian Government in Exile or the British Home Army. They may be interesting historical topics, but they have no bearing on the Holocaust whatsoever.
- 85 entries (9.5%) concern locations such as cities, towns, regions and entire countries that have hardly any relationship to the Holocaust, if at all. For instance, take Katyn, Rome, Iraq or South Africa. None of them have any connection to the Holocaust.
- 35 entries (3.9%) are on camps, ghettos and prisons that have no connection with any Jewish extermination activities. If every kind of ghetto, prison or camp were listed where, at some point, a Jew or political dissident was incarcerated during the war, then this would result in an encyclopedia of camps, ghettos and prisons. But that is not what this encyclopedia is about. In fact, there are dedicated encyclopedias that attempt to list all camps and ghettos.
- 55 entries (6.1%) are just plain nonsense. Take, for example, the entries on Austria’s unification with Germany in 1938, or on the term Blitzkrieg, on Albert Einstein, on Hitlerjugend, on Lebensraum, Ernst Röhm, Horst Wessel Song, Third Reich, Wehrmacht, World War II, Wehrwolf (misspelled as Werwolf), Parteitage, Anthropology, Mauritius, Munich Conference, Nazi Party, Nazi-Soviet Pact, Prisoners of War. Why do they have an entry in an encyclopedia of the Holocaust?
- Finally, 282 entries (31.4%), hence not even a third, address topics related to the Holocaust in a strict sense.
Hence, roughly one third of this encyclopedia serves its declared purpose, another third is a celebration of the saints, heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust, while the last third is generally worthless. In other words, this Encyclopedia of the Holocaust is to no small degree a Hagiography of the Holocaust, meaning an uncritical, glorifying biography of the saints and martyrs of the Holocaust. Looking at the roster of more than 200 contributing authors, most of whom are Jews, and given the publishing organization (Yad Vashem), this probably had to be expected. Nevertheless, their book is designed more to lecture readers about the Holocaust than to help them understand it.
The trimmed-down version by Rozett and Spector deleted many of the less-relevant entries, but it also has several new entries, which show a stunning lack of good judgment. Of the 17 new entries, more than half should not be included in an encyclopedia on the Holocaust. For example:
- Heil Hitler
- Olympic Games 1936
- Leni Riefenstahl
- Doenitz (=Dönitz), Karl
- Priebke Trial
- Stauffenberg, Claus Schenk von
A Respectable Encyclopedia
If these sobering results disappoint us, the question to ask next is: What should we expect to find in an encyclopedia of the Holocaust?
We should find entries that tell us, first, how we know what we know, and then, what it is that we know. The “how” of our knowledge is based on one thing: evidence. We know, because we found material traces telling a story, or documents making clear statements, or someone claiming to be a witness who told us so. After all, we are dealing with one of the greatest murder cases in human history. To learn about and understand a murder case, you need to look at the evidence: the murder weapon (or traces thereof), the victims’ bodies (or traces thereof), and traces of the perpetrators and the deed itself. This is standard procedure for every murder case. We should expect that the same standard applies here as well.
We begin by looking for a definition of the term “evidence.” However, none of the encyclopedias discussed here have an entry on “evidence,” so we are immediately at a loss.
Next, we turn to a certain subchapter of this murder case and want to learn:
- What material traces have been found and analyzed?
- What do documents tell us?
- What have witnesses said about it?
If we visit any entry in Gutman’s encyclopedia that deals with an actual murder scene, such as an extermination camp or a mass-execution site, we find only a summary of the narrative as it has been published in more-or-less recent textbooks. In other words, we get a pre-packaged fast-food meal dished out. This entry does not include any information on how we know. We learn nothing about the evidence these claims rest on: no results of forensic investigations, no summary of the documented history, and also no hint regarding which witness testimonies were used.
There is also no entry explaining the basics of the murder weapons: What did the gas chambers, the gas vans, the crematoria and the huge outdoor pyres look like? And how did they work?
To make matters worse, the huge space allocated in these encyclopedias to celebrate Jewish martyrs, resistance fighters and survivors could have been used to give those among them who were “there” and have seen “it” an opportunity to testify. It should be expected that the testimonies of the most-important witnesses of the Holocaust are at least summarized in their respective entries.
But that is not what we find. Gutman’s tome has only 21 entries on witnesses. Five of them are famous survivors, the rest are high-profile SS functionaries. However, all these entries are merely biographic in nature. None of them summarize their testimonies, let alone discuss them.
The situation is essentially the same with all the other encyclopedias mentioned. While it is true that the one by Bartrop and Dickerman features an entire volume with long excerpts from numerous witness accounts, and another volume with document reproductions, this does not really help anyone to understand the issues at hand. First, such excerpts are always cherry-picked, raising the suspicion that we are fed a skewed version of history. Next, it is not the task of an encyclopedia to reprint entire collections of testimonies or documents. If a Holocaust encyclopedia wanted to reprint all testimonies ever made by the 300 most important witnesses, this would result in hundreds of volumes of text, much of which has been published already elsewhere. This is not helpful.
It is even worse with documents. Take the documents available from just one office of just one camp of the Third Reich, the Central Construction Office of the Auschwitz Camp. It has some 80,000 pages of documents. Imagine how many documents there are, if we cover all Auschwitz camp offices, and then all Third-Reich camps, and then all Third-Reich authorities dealing with these camps; there are literally millions of pages. So, what insight does the reader get from having a few randomly selected document reproductions thrown at them in a separate volume?
An encyclopedia needs to summarize and explain, using selected or representative information that is of greatest relevance, and not simply reiterate cherry-picked items that support a pre-established narrative.
There is a good reason why Gutman, Rozett/Spector, Laqueur/Baumel-Schwartz and Bartrop/Dickerman obscure essential issues from their readers, while flooding them with a celebration of Jewish and gentile martyrs, resisters, survivors and heroes. The “truth” that all these encyclopedias offer us has been sanitized, streamlined and cleansed of all inconvenient inconsistencies. They are hiding the evidence from us, rather than making it accessible and explaining it. But why would they do that?
If we could see with our own eyes the full picture of that which they call “evidence,” we would understand their motives. This complete historical record consists of a huge amount of contradictory and, in many regards, physically impossible testimonies; documents that tell a completely different story than what witnesses claim; and forensic research results that, to some degree or another, collide with the versions spread by survivors. Add to this the trail of exaggerated or completely invented atrocity propaganda running like a red thread through the history of reporting about the Holocaust, and you end up with a historical concoction with almost no intellectual credibility. It is, in fact, an insult to serious and rational historiography.
But a true and honest encyclopedia will address all these issues. The Holocaust is not a straight-forward, simple event in history, as these other works want to make us believe. The actual story is much more contorted, conflicted and obfuscated than most people would ever have believed.
The Present Encyclopedia
This is where the present work comes in. We, the editors, hereby terminate the long history of bamboozling audiences into believing that Holocaust scholars have it all figured out. All we can do is lay bare the facts, provide some basic but essential explanations, and then let the readers make up their own mind.
First, we all ought to stop pretending to know what exactly the Holocaust is (or rather, was). No one knows for sure. Anyone claiming otherwise is either a fool or an impostor.
For everyone, there are always aspects of the Holocaust that we don’t know or have never heard about before. For one thing, this is because we don’t find much, if anything, about these “exotic” issues in the standard textbooks and encyclopedias. But they are important parts of the overall picture, and they need to be mentioned and explained in order to understand how today’s narrative was shaped.
On the other hand, this topic is simply too huge to be grasped completely, even by the experts. There are simply too many details, too many sources, and too many technical matters to be sorted through, that no one person can be expected to grasp all the issues. Furthermore, we constantly forget, hence we are in constant need of reminders, and of easy access to them. This encyclopedia provides just such an assistance.
One option for the reader is to begin with the entry “Holocaust, the.” It explains the many moving parts that make up the whole. From there, the reader can follow the various references to other entries, giving deeper insights into the relevant subtopics. This entry also has a flow chart explaining visually how the Holocaust narrative is organized – something not to be found in any other encyclopedia. This entry also has a text section explaining the main types of pertinent evidence forming the basis of our knowledge, and a chart explaining visually how this evidence is organized. The reader will find references pointing to entries dealing with the three major types of evidence:
- Physical evidence, such as murder weapons and victims, technologies and forensic investigations.
- Documents of a certain type, or pertaining to specific subchapters of the Holocaust.
- Testimonies, organized by crime scene and by commonly made false claims, plus entries discussing factors influencing witnesses.
In contrast to the encyclopedias discussed earlier, which do not summarize and discuss witness testimonies at all, the present encyclopedia has nearly 300 entries dedicated to Holocaust witnesses. Each of these begins with only the most important biographic data, where available, but then summarizes and analyzes each person’s statement(s). These testimonies are the bedrock upon which the Holocaust narrative rests. They are the core of the story. Any work on the Holocaust ignoring them has failed its mission.
The entry on “Witnesses” lists all the witnesses whose statements are summarized and discussed in this encyclopedia. In fact, this entry has numerous witness names listed which have not (yet) made it to an entry in this work. This demonstrates the necessary incompleteness of the issue; with millions of Holocaust survivors alive and kicking after the war, many thousands of testimonies must be expected to exist. However, we have tried to focus on the most essential witnesses: those who testified or deposited their memories early on, when memories were still fresh, and those who made detailed statements that can be verified or refuted.
These entries of critically reviewed witness testimony provide some of the most revealing truths about the Holocaust – in part because of their revelations, but often simply because of the contradictory, false or even absurd nature of the claims reviewed. Some false claims run like a red thread through many witness accounts. To help the reader locate witnesses who have chimed into commonly made false assertions, we have compiled entries that focus on these untrue claims. They summarize a claim, explain why it is untrue, and provide a list of the names of witnesses who claimed it. These entries include:
- Flames shooting out of chimneys.
- Fat extracted from burning corpses.
- Geysers of blood erupting from mass graves.
- Self-immolating bodies in cremation furnaces or on pyres, in need of no fuel.
- Explosives used to murder people, or to destroy their corpses.
- Soap, towels, and even toothbrushes issued to victims when walking into a gas chamber.
- Impossible packing densities of people squeezed into gas chambers.
- Dead gassing victims standing upright in the gas chamber.
- Escape stories from gas chambers.
- The many ways poison gas is said to have been introduced into Auschwitz gas chambers.
- Exaggerated claims about cremation capacities.
- Unrealistic claims about the magnitude of outdoor corpse cremations on pyres, primarily revealed by their need for gigantic amounts of firewood.
- And last but not least an entry listing false witnesses, meaning persons who were caught having invented their entire wartime experiences.
This work moreover contains several entries dealing with forces that have an influence on how witnesses testified, and on how we perceive the Holocaust narrative today:
- Religion: in Western societies, the Holocaust has many features of a religion.
- False Memory Syndrome: explaining the many forces at work manipulating witness memory.
- Torture: demonstrating the systematic nature of third-degree interrogation methods used on arrested German officials by Allied investigators after the war.
- Witch trials: revealing the shocking similarities between medieval witch trials and postwar trials against alleged Holocaust perpetrators.
- Show Trials: defining the nature of a show trial, and revealing how this label fits for almost all postwar trials staged against alleged Holocaust perpetrators.
Finally, there are some nuggets of information that don’t quite fit into any pattern, such as entries on on convergence of evidence, on criminal traces, on censorship to suppress what you are reading here, on Holocaust indoctrination of postwar generations, on propaganda activities of many governments, and on motives of all side involved (the Holocaust perpetrator, the dogmatists, the skeptic, and the denier). We think they will prove enlightening and instructive.
One thing this encyclopedia does not have is a chronology of events. Other encyclopedias have one, typically including lots of political and war-related events unrelated to the Holocaust. This makes such chronologies impressive, but also inflated.
We, as editors, rarely consult these chronologies because they are typically deceptive, in that they also list events that are either entirely fictitious, or for which a precise date is unknown. In other words, such lists can be highly misleading. In order to explain this, consider the table we have reproduced below, taken from our entry on the “Final Solution,” listing key events of the Holocaust. It has two chronological columns: One real and documented, and the other undocumented and fictional. Unfortunately, when there is a conflict between the two, as is clearly the case in these juxtaposed examples, orthodox encyclopedias will only list the undocumented events; clearly there is some bias at work.
|Documented Fact||Undocumented Claim|
|25 Jan. 1942: Heinrich Himmler writes to Richard Glücks that the camps must prepare to accommodate up to 150,000 Jews; large-scale economic tasks would be assigned to them.||20 Jan. 1942: The total extermination of all Jews in the German sphere of influence is organized at the Wannsee Conference.*|
|30 April 1942: Oswald Pohl writes to H. Himmler that the main purpose of all camps would now be the use of inmate labor.||Feb. 1942: Beginning of mass gassings at Auschwitz-Birkenau. March 1942: Beginning of mass gassings at Belzec. May 1942: Beginning of mass gassings at Sobibór.|
|21 Aug. 1942: Martin Luther writes that the number of transported Jews would be inadequate to cover the shortage of labor, so that the German government asked the Slovakian government to supply 20,000 Slovakian Jews for labor.||23 July 1942: Beginning of mass gassings at Treblinka. August 1942: Beginning of gassings at Majdanek.|
|28 Dec. 1942: R. Glücks writes to all camp commandants that Himmler has ordered to reduce death rates in all camps by all means. The inmates have to receive better food.||End of 1942: Six “extermination” camps are active.|
|27 April 1943: R. Glücks writes to all camp commandants that Himmler has ordered all inmates physically unfit for work – even cripples, TBC patients and bedridden patients – to be kept alive and, whenever possible, assigned to do light work. “Bedridden prisoners should be assigned work that they can perform in bed.”||March-June 1943: the new crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau become operational (fact); mass extermination of Jews unfit for labor unfolds inside them (undocumented claim).|
|26 Oct. 1943: Circular letter by O. Pohl to all camp commandants: All measures of the commanders must focus on the health and productivity of the inmates.||3 Nov. 1943: Some 42,000 Jewish factory workers are shot in Majdanek and several of its satellite camps. (Operation “Harvest Festival”)|
|11 May 1944: Hitler orders the deployment of 200,000 Jews in the construction of fighter airplanes.||16 May 1944: Beginning of mass murder of several hundred thousand Jews from Hungary at Auschwitz-Birkenau.|
|* This claim is not confirmed by the protocol of this conference.|
We think, however, that all entries ought to be listed, and in cases of conflict explained. But this would quickly become unwieldy and almost useless. The orthodox Holocaust narrative simply isn’t a straight-forward chronological series of events that can be squeezed into a calendar. Therefore, the reader will find no chronology here.
This encyclopedia also exists as an online version at www.HolocaustEncyclopedia.com, which is accessible free of charge. In addition to the written text and the illustrations contained in the printed version, the online edition has all entries rendered as sound files, so you can listen to them rather than read them. A few entries also come with a video file, which presents the contents of an entry in a brief video documentary. We strive to produce more of these videos, but this will take some time.
This encyclopedia is a work in progress, and any progress made will be posted in real time online. The printed edition will expand and update with each new edition issued.
Now, the world finally has all the relevant information at its fingertips; no one can claim that they “could not know.”
 In alphabetical order (survivors in italics): Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski (SS), Kurt Becher (SS), Paul Blobel (SS), Hans Frank (German politician), Kurt Gerstein (SS), Amon Göth (SS), Ernst Kaltenbrunner (SS), Jan Karski, Richard Korherr (SS), Josef Kramer (SS), Primo Levi, Arthur Liebehenschel (SS), Otto Ohlendorf (SS), Alexander Pechersky, Oswald Pohl (SS), Walter Rauff (SS), Alfred Rosenberg (German politician), Franz Stangl (SS), Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Dieter Wisliceny (SS).