5.1 Relativising the Holocaust?
Relativising the Holocaust has been one of the classic techniques of some of those engaged in Holocaust denial; they have sought to minimise Nazi atrocities by listing them alongside the British concentration camps of the Boer War, the terror bombing of German cities during World War II and, perhaps most effectively, the purges and Gulags of the Soviet Union under Stalin. When, during the 1980s, the eminent German historian Ernst Nolte suggested that the Third Reich was a symbiotic product of Soviet terror and that the atrocities it perpetrated might be typical of certain modern states experiencing massive internal reconstruction and expansion, he unleashed an international furore. Yet Nolte never denied the events of the Holocaust, as some individuals on the political right have sought to do, and, as in the high-profile case of David Irving, with the trappings of academic history. The Nolte incident can be situated in the context of German historians trying to come to terms with the enormities of the Nazi regime and confronting the problem of how to interpret the course of modern German history – where did it all go wrong? But interpreting events – questioning why the Nazis came to power and why the Holocaust happened – is quite different from denying that those events ever happened or arguing that the events themselves are merely interpretations.