How much can we forget? On Holocaust Denial

Written by Irina Krasteva |

The hunger and thirst for knowledge are forgotten. Sometimes, our generation is comfortably blind to what had happened less than a hundred years ago. On the 27th of January 2019, the Holocaust Memorial Day, The Guardian wrote that one in 20 Brits do not believe that the Holocaust happened. The shocking poll was commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

The entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Words mean: “Work sets you free.”

A sensible reaction to people questioning the genocide would be anger and I have to admit that I experienced it. I blamed the deniers for their lack of empathy. I could not believe that it is possible for somebody to question such events, but we should not allow our frustration to transform itself in hate otherwise the history may repeat itself.

“The Holocaust was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. From the time they assumed power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis used propaganda, persecution, and legislation to deny human and civil rights to German Jews. They used centuries of antisemitism as their foundation.”

– from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

A Holocaust Memorial in San Francisco. Photo by Wally Gobetz.

If we think of the most vulnerable groups in our society, those which are more likely to be manipulated, we would say that those are the “outsiders”; people who live on the edge, people who can be easily influenced by radical ideas. We won’t ever think that some of “us” can be so easily misled, yet here we are, not knowing what the Holocaust means, afraid to admit that we do not have enough information, convincing ourselves that everything is at a click’s distance and there is no such thing as fake news.

We are trying to forget the catastrophes of yesterday in order to build a brighter future. Unfortunately, we do not realize the mistake we are making by doing so.

The Dachau concentration camp.

On 29th November 2018, The New York Times published an article about spray-painted swastikas in Jewish professor’s office in Columbia University. Fifteen days later the same newspaper reported that 37 tombstones of Holocaust victims in France had been defaced with swastikas.

Unfortunately, those are not the only attempts of Neo-Nazis disrespecting and spreading hate. They are organizing protests and events in which they are trying to attract new people. It sounds outrageous and impossible but with the current political state of Europe and USA, it is easier than ever for the far-right groups to convince others that people with certain ethnic backgrounds are the ones to blame for all mistakes and insecurities.

The flag of the National Socialist Movement, a US neo-Nazi party. Photo by John Kittelsrud.

Education is what we need to prevent such misinformation. Obviously, school lessons are not quite enough to persuade young minds of the necessity of knowledge and to develop the ability to process the information we receive correctly. What we need is to be open about such delicate subjects and to pay attention to each other’s personal experiences. There are still survivors who remind us what had happened. Steven Frank, one of the only 93 children who survived the Theresienstadt camp, said:

“At one of my talks, I met someone who said the Holocaust didn’t happen. The only way to fight this kind of denial and antisemitism is with the truth – I tell people what happened, what I saw and experienced. If we ignore the past, I fear history will repeat itself.”

I cannot help but ask: shall we go down the same path we once did, or do we finally learn and grow out of our misjudgements?

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1 thought on “How much can we forget? On Holocaust Denial

  1. I’m not sure why your writer labels ‘Holocaust denial’ as anti-semitic, however more of that in a minute. In the meantime, I will share with you a rough idea of the content of a book I read (or part-read) a few years ago. It was by a Jewish author who approached the genocide from an unusual direction. He suggested that actually no country in the West (including the UK and US) could, or can, avoid a measure of guilt for the fate of the Jews in Europe. He postulated that these western countries and states, fully aware of what was happening, could have done more to help Jews escape from the gathering storm. He argued that each one imposed ‘quotas’ and that once these were reached further Jews were prevented from seeking asylum. The result was that once those who could manage it and ‘afford it’, or indeed had ‘strings to pull’, had got out the remaining Jews (including those too poor to escape anyway) became trapped, and that this sealed their fate once the NASDP ran out of ideas on what to do with them (e.g. one ill-fated proposal from Hitler was that they should all be ‘relocated’ to Madagascar). Abuse had first become rife in the mid 1930’s, culminating in the draconian anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws, followed by firstly the German defeat of most of Europe, then wholesale deportations of Jews to the conquered eastern territories. However it was not until the Wansee Conference of January 1942 that the leading elements of the ‘National Socialist German Workers Party’ (or NASDP, better known as Nazis) and SS, decided as a matter of (unwritten) policy that the only alternative ‘Final Solution’ for dealing with the Jews was to make them disappear entirely, i.e. consciously exterminate them. Therefore this author calculated that had all western countries (and we could extend that to ALL countries in the world) opened their door wholeheartedly to Jewish refugees, and indeed helped with their emigration, the Holocaust need never have happened. Well, I for one cannot fault his arguments, so that means we must all accept that the various governments and citizens of the time bear some (variable) measure of culpability for the fate of the Jews. And in the current prevailing climate of ‘apology for the sins of our grand- and great-grandfathers (and grandmothers)’, we must look inwards to ourselves and what we have inherited. Yes, there are ‘degrees’ of culpability, but we cannot heap it ALL at the door of the Nazis (and, not to forget, the German ‘einzatzgruppen’, or special extermination squads who roamed the eastern territories, recruited local ‘auxiliaries’ and ‘militia’ in places like Ukraine who contributed their own SS battalions, Hungary, Poland, and even, yes, France). Neither should we forget that anti-semitism was commonplace in most European countries (the UK not exempt, e.g. our Blackshirts) in the 1920’s and 30’s. And finally, perhaps the biggest ‘not to forget’ of all, the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism in Germany was directly attributable to the actions of the Allied Powers (USA, Britain and France) in applying draconian punishment and sanctions against Germany which led to starvation, disease, resentment, riots, and finally civil-war. In short, the Germans wanted someone to blame for their serious problems, and the ‘Reds’ and the Jews were prime targets as they ended up on the losing side in the civil-war!! So, there you have it…we’re all to blame for the Holocaust one way or another, so let’s not forget it!!

    As for the book, well, read it by all means, but be warned, the author amassed a staggering amount of evidence, and each bit is painstakingly presented in what is quite a tome, but if you’ve got the time, go ahead – I never finished it, but got the clear message!
    Another book for bedtime reading (maybe not!) is “Police Battalion 101”, a painstaking and sometimes painful narrative of a battalion of ‘special constables’ (i.e. reserve police) from Hamburg who were drafted in as part of the Einzatzgruppen, and contains harrowing descriptions of mass-executions’!

    Anyway, back to ‘Holocaust-Denial’: The expression is nonsensical! No-one with half a brain can ignore the clear and copious evidence of the extent of Nazi anti-semitism, the death-camps, concentration-camps in general, nor the clear evidence of brutality and cruelty. However, and it’s a not-insignificant ‘however’, the Holocaust should not be taken out of context (which it frequently is!), and the context is the entirety of the worldwide conflict amongst which the Holocaust developed. The official death toll of Jewish people in Europe (mainly mass-gassings, mass-shootings, but also brutality, working-to-death, starvation, and disease as well) varies from 4-6 million. However according to Wikipedia, the overall TOTAL death-toll for the entire WW2 was between 70-80 million people (50-55 million civilians), and amongst that total let’s not forget that the Russians lost 26.6 million combatants and civilians alone, and Japan lost 200,000 just from the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of German civilian deaths during USAAF and RAF bombing campaigns is estimated at 600,000 (men, women, children, babies), 45,000 alone in a single night of firestorm that swept Hamburg.

    So, all-in-all, where do 4-6 million civilian deaths figure amongst 50-55 million total in WW2? Well, the simple answer is that, based on figures found on-line, the Holocaust accounted for (very approximately) just 10% of all civilian deaths in WW2. But what that statistic hides is the less-than-simple-to-understand sheer breath-taking horror of the slow, brutal, and cruel nature of life and death in the concentration camps. But don’t let’s forget that in those camps there were also communists and other Nazi opposition members, gypsies, resistance prisoners, homosexuals, and other ‘undesirables. Yes, Jews were the overwhelming victims, but the others suffered the same cruel barbarity and the same agonising deaths. Let’s not forget, either, the NAZI euthanasia program (Aktion T4) which, starting at the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, sought to ‘eliminate’ all children and adults with disabilities that the Nazis deemed ‘unredeemable’ (i.e. useless).

    So, in conclusion, ‘Holocaust-denial’ is not in itself ‘anti-semitic’, unless it is aimed at trying to discredit Jews for racist or political ends. But we really must stop looking at the Holocaust in isolation, and start looking at it realistically, i.e. against the backdrop of a worldwide conflict which claimed the lives of 70-80 million people of all races, ages, nationalities, and creeds.

    Also, if you want a debating point, look clinically at the grim statistics: Assuming the lowest estimate of 4 million holocaust deaths from January 1942 to April 1945, this equates to 3,370 every single day, or 140 every hour working round the clock non-stop day and night for 3 years 3 months. ….Feasible? I haven’t a clue! But there are analyses of before-and-after population figures available, and that is at least one way of measuring.

    But if anyone gets a chance, visit one of the concentration camps; the most infamous, of course, is Auschwitz in southern Poland, but nearer home there are three in Germany itself: Belsen (north of Hannover), Buchenwald (near Weimar) (where some captured members of Special Operations Executive were ‘executed’, several by lethal-injection), and Dachau (outside Munich) which was the first to be built (in the 1930’s) to house ‘political internees’, mainly communists at the time.

    If you go…….Stand, gaze, imagine, think…. the enormity of Nazi atrocity hits home….but most of all hopefully the realisation that it all happened, and probably over 8 million Russians died miserable deaths during Stalin’s dictatorship, plus between 1.5-3.0 million Kampucheans died during Pol Pot’s regime, so it could all happen again so very easily!! How can we make sure it doesn’t? Now THAT is the REAL debate.

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