For a detailed analysis of the intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate in Holocaust historiography, see my essay about the Nazis’ Madagascar Plan.
A Hollywood conservative has been outed as a Holocaust revisionist from the ’90s. He had changed his name from David Cole to David Stein to cover up his unsavory past, but after he and a friend had had a falling out, this friend approached the media with the revelation. David Cole, a Jew, still holds his revisionist reviews even while he, as David Stein, has produced respected documentaries on the Holocaust. He cynically explains that he produced these documentaries because the public wanted them and because he needed an income. Other Hollywood conservatives who had fraternized with Stein have since abandoned him. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/03/david-stein-cole-holocaust-revisionist)
However, this Guardian article should have taken better care in summarizing Cole’s positions, as it manages to associate a valid historiographical interpretation of the Holocaust with Cole’s revisionist views. Specifically, reporting on Cole’s views, the article states “that there was no overarching, genocidal plan, but an evolving, morphing policy which claimed perhaps 4 million, rather than 6 million, Jewish lives.” Cole’s reworking of the death toll is in fact a common revisionist tactic that reeks of pseudo-scholarly analysis; but certain Holocaust historians, called functionalists, have subjected primary source material to rigorous scholarly analysis to conclude that the Holocaust resulted from the evolving policies implemented by Nazi bureaucrats who had continually failed to solve the Jewish Question in Europe by other means, such as forced emigration and mass resettlement. Other historians, called intentionalists, disagree with the functionalist notion that the genocide resulted from the compounding failures of the Nazi bureaucracy. Intentionalists instead maintain that the genocide was a top-down affair implemented in accord with Hitler’s absolute will.
I would be willing to bet that most people who reflect upon the Holocaust understand it in intentionalist terms (even while they’ve never heard of intentionalism). Networks such as the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, when they cover the Holocaust specifically and World War II in general, focus on the personalities of Hitler, Himmler, Goering, and Goebbels, a focus which thereby conditions people to approach the Holocaust from a perspective that is positively intentionalist. The functionalist view, because it de-emphasizes ideology and analyzes the Nazi bureaucrats motivated by banal careerism, does not lend itself to the sensationalism that ratings-based television demands.
It seems then that functionalism is academic to a fault, whereas intentionalism, notwithstanding its theoretical merits and its basis in scholarship, lends itself more readily to popular audiences who have a hard time appreciating arguments and conclusions that do not focus exclusively on Hitler, his so-called henchmen, and their impetuses. In fact, if others do not likewise focus exclusively on the same personalities and on the same causal factors behind the Final Solution, then they must be in the business of apologizing for National Socialism and its ideological underpinnings. So goes the logic.
At the risk of being presumptuous, I suspect that the Guardian article’s writer, having no exposure to the nuanced historiographical interpretations surrounding the Holocaust, has been conditioned by this pervasive intentionalist position and tends to view anything short of this position as revisionist. Otherwise, he would have taken care to explain that while the revisionist David Cole in part promulgates a functionalist view of the Holocaust, this functionalist view is not a species of revisionism.