Response-K.Hamilton-Question 1

August 12, 2009 - 11:04 AM

In today's world where we have the software to alter photos and edit documents, how do we combat things like holocaust denial?  How do we give students any confidence in drawing conclusions about what happened in the past when evidence itself is vulnerable to tampering and alteration?

 Dr. Konrad Hamilton's Response

My answer consists of 3 general parts: technical; preponderance of evidence; motives.

Technical:  While it is true that photos and documents can be faked, it is the rare fake that can stand up to forensic scrutiny.  Alterations usually leave visual, chemical, physical, or other traces that are detectable by experts.

Preponderance of evidence:  Historians never rely upon one document or upon a series of documents from one source.  One photo from the Israeli defense ministry might be suspect.  But if its content is confirmed by different photos from USSR, French, British, US, and German sources, it's harder to argue that all of these photos were doctored.  If we also have German documents (and we do) to back up the content of the photos, then a massive conspiracy to fake every single piece of available evidence becomes less likely.

Motives:  What motive would those who control the documents on the Holocaust have to fake the event?  What could unite friends and foes of Jews, uncooperative nations, survivors and government officials, etc. to all collaborate in an intricate cover up of the truth?  Now ask what motive Holocaust deniers have to charge that the Holocaust is not true. 

Finally, I would use the various court cases and academic debates that have shown the Holocaust to be authentic to talk about the history of Holocaust denial as its own subject.
Variations on the above can also be used to refute those who deny slavery, Native American genocide, etc.

Dr. Hamilton is Associate Professor of History at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. 

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