Trivializing the Shoah and Fabricating an African ‘Holocaust’

Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel.  He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton.  He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about the Hamas  and Jewish Enablers of the War against Israel.


907014-holocaust-survivorIn recent decades a new trend of Holocaust trivialization has developed.  While not quite as obscene as Holocaust Deniers claiming that the Holocaust was all some sort of hoax, these fabricators are morally the next best thing.  They claim that the Holocaust of Jews by the Nazis may have been quite horrific but it pales in magnitude when compared with the “other Holocausts” of even greater dimensions.  And increasingly the “other Holocaust” to which they point is the “genocide” of Africans in the slave trade. 

After all, argue the “other Holocaust” propagandists, in World War II there were “only” six million Jews murdered, but a far larger number of Africans were murdered as part and parcel of the slave trade.  Such pseudo-historic nonsense has been repeated so often that it is finding its way into mainstream textbooks and media.  Even Israeli leftist columnists are citing the “African Holocaust,” illustrated by one column I cited earlier this week by a radical hater of his own country.

The “African Holocaust Lobby” likes to toss out numbers purportedly estimating the population killed during the African slave trade, starting at around 10 million and often going as high as 60 million.  This allows the Holocaust trivializers to dismiss demands that the Jewish Shoah be commemorated, since it was “only one sixth” the magnitude of the “African genocide.”    

The “60 million” number appears to have been originally invented by American Afrofascists, militant black racists and race hucksters.  The number however has been repeated so often that it is showing up in books and media.  Consider “Critical Pedagogy and Cognition: An Introduction to a Postformal Educational Psychology,” written by a psychologist, Curry Malott, Springer Publishers, 2011.  Malott is no historian and certainly no demographer, yet he speaks about 60 million Africans killed in the “slave trade genocide.”  A more widely cited book referring to the “60 million” is one by a pseudo-historian at the University of Hawaii, one David Stannard, Professor of American Studies,  in his book American Holocaust (published 1992 by Oxford University Press).  He estimates a 75-80% mortality rate in slave trade transit to come up with his number.

So what are we to make of all this?  Let us begin by pointing out how absurd the claims about a 60 million victim African genocide are.  The number not only exceeds the total number of Africans enslaved (not just those sold in the American colonies and then the US) by a factor of six.  Indeed, the 60 million number exceeds the entire population of sub-Sahara Africa in the 18th century, when the slave trade was at its height.  In Concise Economic History of the World by R. Cameron, it is estimated that the entire population of the African continent in 1800 was about 90 million people, but a large portion of those were non-black people living in the Arab areas of North Africa.  That leaves the entire sub-Saharan population at less than the fictional 60 million “genocide victims” supposedly murdered in the slave trade.

So while it is simple poppycock to toss around numbers like 60 million as estimates of the human cost of the slave trade, just how many Africans were really intentionally murdered as part of the slave trade?   The answer is – almost none.

Now nothing here is meant to diminish the suffering and human tragedy of slavery in the era of slave trading.   I have no desire to excuse or minimize the horrors of trafficking in and ownership of slaves, nor of the commodification of humans as chattel and property.    

All I am demanding is the use of common sense.  Once a human has been turned into property, then all of the incentives and economic behavior associated with all forms of property ownership kick in.  The simple fact of the matter is that once an African was enslaved, and no doubt some violence was involved in the capture of those slaves in Africa, then that African became property, an asset, something of pecuniary value, something worth preserving.  The owners of that property, and this includes the slave traders and shippers, had enormous motivation to preserve and protect the value of that property!  Ironically, this is what saved the lives of those slaves.  A live slave could be worth a fortune, while a dead slave was worth nothing.  While slave owners hardly had reason to treat their slaves with respect and dignity, neither did they have any reason to see their slaves maimed or killed.  Such injury and death represented a tremendous capital loss!  

Slave ship owners had as much motive to preserve intact their cargoes of human property as they would for any other cargo.  No ship owner would intentionally allow cargoes of gold, silver, whale oil, molasses, or tobacco to be damaged or harmed, and the same selfish property preservation motivation operated for slaves.  Once purchased in slave auctions, the slave represented a capital investment, one whose loss would impose financial losses on its owners. 

This is not to say that no slaves at all died during the transit from Africa to the Americas.  Cross-oceanic voyages were dangerous during the era of the slave trade, and deaths during those voyages were a clear and present danger for all, and not just the slaves.  Free persons immigrating to the Americans from Europe were also at risk during the voyages.  If anything, ship owners had more motivation to protect the bodies and health of the slave cargo than they did for simple ticket-holding passengers.

The life of a slave was one of misery and suffering.  But once in slavery in the Americas, the property value of the slave continued to protect him from death and serious injury.   In the books by Thomas Sowell, it is described how plantation owners and other owners of slaves would employ Irish day laborers to do the really dangerous tasks, preferring not to risk their “property” in the form of African slaves. 

From the perspective of the 21th century, none of this takes away any of our sense of horror at the sufferings of slaves during the era of the slave trade.   Some Africans were no doubt murdered in the process of capturing slaves, controlling slaves, and others died as a result of the hazards of oceanic shipment.  Medical knowledge and technology were of the most primitive form, and on-ship conditions were quite miserable.  Death was common for all aboard ships, and I have seen estimates that in some of the more famous exploration trips, over a third of the crews died of disease and starvation.

But genocide?  An African “Holocaust”?   There was no such thing.    

The fabricators of the fictional “African slave-trade Holocaust” may be driven by an urge to exaggerate the sufferings of the slave era in order to make a moral or political point.   A bit like the myriad forms of “advocacy statistics” that plague the modern world regarding so many other “causes” and issues.  But the truly malignant effect of the fabricators is to serve to trivialize the only real Holocaust.

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  • Arthur Goldly
  • Lanna

    The sad fact, and history proves it, is that people are lied to in many countries, leading to starvation and death by dictatorial governments who want control over their lives. There have multiple archive films showing millions of bodies in death camps, just after the end of World War II.. The German people were appalled and knew they were lied to by the Nazis, as they viewed these death camps, actual footage in Black and White!

    • ahad_ha_amoratsim

      The German people were appalled that they got caught.
      And that they lost the war.

  • Mark Goldberg

    The usually precise and to the point, Steven Plaut is actually inaccurate and essentially incorrect here, though his point is correct if stated accurately
    The african slave trade is estimated to have brought some 11 millions of black peoples to the americas, north and south. And the misery in the boats was not anywhere equal for sailors and slaves. The slaves lived in the holes of the ship and many died on the way over, since there was no way to control them and thus I would imagine there was perhaps at least hundreds of thousands who died on those voyages.
    However- the muslim slave trade for 900 yrs brought some 19 millions to arab lands and in fact it is estimated that some 90-110 millions were killed in capturing those 19 millions! And slavery is still accepted and cidiied by Koranic and shariah, only stopping on paper due to the weakness of the muslims and the insistence of the west, in stupidly thinking that peddling human rights and giving the muslims their oil developed by the west would make a gentler more even world.
    The muslim slaughter of 90-110 millions was a holocaust. The slaughter continues and the numbers are some 275 millions and counting since Mohammed declared war against ‘all others’, and this is what deserves to be remembered and considered.
    However the race baiters actually enjoy the thrill of power, and join with muslims who coddle them into joining their own world submitting cause and black and leftist race baiters are quite comfortable forgetting the 90-110 millions slaughtered by the religion of pieces, but the otherwise erudite Mr Plaut should not.

    • ebonystone

      Well said, sir. I was still composing my own remarks when your comments were made. When I entered mine, the “new comment above” tag appeared, and I found your comment.

    • tickletik

      Proof. Sources. Where are they? The total estimated population of Africa in the 1600 is put at around 2-3 million. And you are claiming 90-100 million people killed over a 900 year period?

      You may as well go for broke and say the Arab slave traders killed 90-100 Billion africans in their trade.

      No. Back up your assertions if you want them to be taken seriously.

  • Elliott

    The tremendous loss of life that Arab- / Muslim- captured black slaves underwent, in terms of numbers, cannot be 90-110 million dead if a total of 19 million were brought to arab lands.
    More important, of course, is that although the arabs/muslims never had a positive feeling in their bones for a single african slave, they DID NOT plan, establish and activate a killing process, designed to WIPE OUT ALL THE AFRICANS.

    This is the point that Professor Plaut is making: the 20th Century Holocaust enacted against the Jews WAS INTENDED TO WIPE THEM OUT. It has very little (if anything) to do with absolute numbers – it has everything to do with the Nazis intention: to solve “THE JEWISH PROBLEM”.

    The arabs/muslims ‘problem’ was “not enough people to do their menial tasks”; they did NOT intend to wipe them out, only to enslave them. Slaves throughout the centuries have died because they were seen as replaceable; but never because their owner WISHED to see them dead.

    • De Doc

      “My genocide was worse than yours! Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!” Talk about trivializing the deaths of so many innocents…

  • De Doc

    This article reads a bit like Abe Foxman, who bristled at the idea that there could have been an Armenian Holocaust (genocide). Foxman seemingly was under the impression that the word ‘holocaust’ (a Greek construct) was somehow a copyright of the Jewish people and not worthy of use by any other ethnic group. My guess is that old Abe was more fearful that such admission would be too much competition for the Jewish Holocaust that occurred during WW2.

    I find it strange how this author could minimize and trivialize the Atlantic slave trade of African folks. Let us not forget that the Arab Muslims conducted slave trade expeditions into Africa long before Europe and likely resulted in far more deaths. We may never know the true numbers of dead, but even if they are lower as Plaut asserts, does that make these wretched events of the past any more palatable? Is Plaut seriously trying to tell us that it wasn’t that bad? What a repugnant view!

    History is replete with examples of genocides many of which will never get the attention of today’s glitzy genocide mongering industry. Plaut parrots Foxman in that some ethnic groups are more deserving of holocaust designation than others. That view of course trivializes the Shoah and denigrates humanity as a whole by elevating a few specific groups above others that suffered similarly.

    • Lightbringer

      You wrote: “I find it strange how this author could minimize and trivialize the Atlantic slave trade of African folks.” I must respectfully disagree with your reading of the article. The author went out of his way in a number of places to say that the enslavement of Africans was a really, really bad thing and that nothing excuses it. But I do agree with your remark on Abe Foxman. He rather gets on my nerves, and I take vociferous exception when my fellow Jews find holocaust commemorations more important than obeying the Lord and His Torah in their day-to-day lives, which is what our religion is all about.

  • Joe The Gentile

    I am sympathetic with the author’s disagreement with the use of the Holocaust label for the deaths in the African slave trade. But I don’t think he’s approaching his case in the right way.

    Numbers aren’t really the point, are they? The African slave trade lasted a long time, *centuries* actually. At any given rate of deaths per year in the African slave trade, there is some number of years it ^could^ in principle have lasted that make the numbers of deaths exceed the number of deaths in the Shoah. If it lasted long enough in practice to exceed the number of deaths in the Shoah, is it the same as the Shoah? No.

    I think it is better to distinguish the holocaust in *nature*, rather than in quantity of deaths, from the African slave trade. One major distinction with the Holocaust is that it occurred well into the 20th century, a time when we Europeans were presumably civilized. Another is that it was a systematic genocide, carried out for the purpose of killing people because of their ethnicity. The African slave trade was neither systematic genocide, nor 20th century European. These are the differences to focus on.

  • Lightbringer

    And almost nobody enjoyed a long, healthy, well-fed existence anywhere in the world until well into the twentieth century. Our own grandparents and might have been free, but their material situation was not much better than that of slaves.

  • theoprinse

    Tnx for the artilcle mr. Plaut. It is always difficult to compare historical events. Chloé Simone Valdary compares the situation of Afro Americans with that of the jews.
    However no archeological proof has been found that the Jews where enslaved in Egypt neither has proof found of the existence of king David as described in the Tanakh. The Pharaos enslaved Africans.
    Jews like the Romans had slaves too.
    It was and always have been the Africans themselves who enslaved their people from the backwoods and sold them on the East African coast to the Arabic slavetraders.
    The 16th century europeans bought African slaves from these century old African slavetraders on the west coast of Africa.
    I read a comment pointing to a black slaveowner in North America in the 17th century going to court over a dispute with a slave and won the case.
    It were the North Europeans ending the crime of slavery.
    It were Afro American slaves going back to Liberia picking up their former trade of slavery.
    The Arabs under Islam went on with enslaving Africans up to 1950 in Kenya. Islam – according to Thomas Sowell – murdered 270 milion people in 1400 years.

  • Ameer

    This may surprise many frontpagemag readers but as a muslim I actually sympathize with people’s frustration here in the West over all the self-hate regarding culture, history and identity. The problem is this fairness you lot care for is somehow missing when it comes to assessing intra-muslim issues; take the example of honor killings, which even hardcore salafi websites like IslamQA condemn as a crime. Will we expect all these facts to be laid out over here?
    Not a chance.
    So while I may sympathize with the proud patriots of the west, I cant say the same about the writers of frontpagemag.