The US and the Holocaust Project Group

Holocaust Denial in the United States

Carly Wolf examined America’s response to the Holocaust concerning their specific attitude of denial.  She based her factual information on the work of Deborah Lipstadt in Beyond Belief and Robert Abzug in America Views the Holocaust, 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History.

Stories began to circulate…

“The Nazi party does what?”

People began to talk…

“The Nazi party killed how many?”

Their conscience would take over…

“What will be done to help them?”

They chose to look the other way…

“I just can’t believe that this actually happens over there”

It has been questioned why America failed to intercept activities of the Holocaust prior to 1941.  Many would say they did not know, but newspaper articles, radio recordings and many people from that time period would disagree.  While it can be understood that the Nazi Party treated “the mass murder program quite differently from the other anti-Semetic campaigns”, there was information available to the American government (Lipstadt 136). 

Confusing the American Public

The Nazis used a variety of ways to keep the real “Final Solution” a secret, but they did give some information about what was going on in Eastern Europe.  Victims were told that they were being sent to work camps in order to resettle in a new area.  The information which was released by the Nazi party created confusion for those who sought to understand the situation.  In the book Beyond Belief, Deborah Lipstadt asserts that, “the Germans did more than try to keep things a secret; they released all kinds of information designed to obfuscate” (136).  With the Nazi’s confusing the public, American was unsure of what to believe or who was telling the truth.   

The US Intent to Act with Caution

“Americans … intent on not falling prey, once again, to such ‘propaganda’ ” (Lipstadt 137)

During World War I many stories were spread about slaughter, killing and violence which were later proved to be false.  With media frenzies not so long ago, people failed to believe many of the stories out of distrust for the media and its propaganda.  Many believed that the media would tell such stories in order to influence neutral opinion and this consequently lead to disbelief for many Americans.  As stories were exposed many journalist argued that after World War I, “a great many of the atrocity stories which were so well attested and so strenuously told, so indignantly believed and so commonly repeated, were found to be absolute fakes”.  With people scared of falling into the traps of the media’s propaganda, many chose to disbelieve.  As well, with a plan so large in scale as “The Final Solution” people believed the plan to be inhuman and sadistic.  How were human beings capable of brutally killing thousands of people on a daily basis?  With a plan so large in cope and so immoral in thought, many chose to disbelieve. 

“In a certain respect these were healthy doubts-the mind’s rebellion against believing that human beings were capable of sinking to such levels of depravity-but they made it easier for the perpetrator’s to camouflage their plan” (142)

What to do with this kind of News?

“The news was not a secret, but it faced so many obstacles that it was almost more rational to dismiss it as untrustworthy than to accept it as true”   (139)

With reporters unsure of whether they themselves believed the events that were being reported, its place in the news became weary.  Placed in the middle of the paper or filled with doubt by the writer, readers were unsure of the intensity or even whether any of this news was true.  Believing that it actually wasn’t happening provided Americans with the opportunity to place more invested interest into American problems rather than world problems.   Also, if Americans admitted that this was actually happening then they would have a moral responsibility to get involved in the War.  (Link to Picture Page)  

Where to go from there?

Many believe that it could not ever happen, but other just wanted to believe it was impossible.  Denial served as a way for Americans to look the other way in order to avoid complication or involvement.  Hopefully in future situations America will respond to such accusations quicker and always uphold the moral obligation to help those who are not as powerful as we are. 

“…a fairly accurate picture of the situation was available first to government officials and then to the public, long before the end of the war.  Often it was not believed.  In order to understand how this was so, it is critical that we ask not when news was available but how it was made available” (136)

History 33D course Homepage;

index of projects

US during the Holocaust project main page

Anti-Semitism Page

Ignorance Page

Denial Page

links and bibliography;
research process;

Created by Carly Wolf, Dec. 2003