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Kingston Daily Freeman, Sunday, April 5, 1998
Why we must remember -- in spite of the Holocaust Deniers
John J. Neumaier
April Jews and non-Jews renew their remembrance of the millions of people
who were brutally murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. The solemn act of
commemoration helps strengthen our resolve to stem the genocide, oppression,
and violence that are still being perpetrated, and no country, including
ours, can claim innocence. So it is nothing less than shocking, especially
to survivors, to learn that there are individuals and organizations whose
avowed purpose is to deny that millions of Jewish human beings were systematically
murdered by shooting, gassing, beating, starvation, or in other cruel ways
as a direct result of the anti-Semitism that was central to Adolf Hitler’s
fascist ideology. Of the more than eleven million victims of the Holocaust,
close to six million were Jewish. They had constituted approximately one
third of the world’s Jews and two thirds of the Jewish population
of Europe. Their murder was planned as the Nazis’ Endlösung -
the Final Solution.
The spectrum of Deniers ranges widely - from those who deny the Holocaust altogether to those who deny that they are Deniers, even while asserting that no one was murdered by gassing. They also seek to minimize the number of Jews who were killed, some claiming that at most a few hundred thousand Jews died, many due to wartime hardship. Another Denier tactic is their attempt to downplay Nazi war crimes by stressing, in comparison, what was done by the Allied powers to Germans.
Whenever the vicious propaganda of the small but worldwide Denier movement succeeds in casting doubt on the Holocaust or its dimensions, it weakens the remembrance of the millions of victims whose killers denied them their very humanity. Not surprisingly the Deniers do not remind their often uninformed audiences of how the Nazis laid the foundation for the Holocaust, fostering German anti-Semitism with hideous portrayals of Jews as sub-humans in newspapers like “Der Stuermer” (“The Stormtrooper”), and in movies like the obscene German propaganda film of 1940 “The Eternal Jew” which pictorially likened Jews to slimy vermin and rats.
Over the years, the propaganda techniques of the Deniers have varied substantially and in fact have evolved and changed in response to their critics. This is described in the penetrating study of the Denier movement undertaken by Deborah Lipstadt in the 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”. The author gives a detailed account of the people and groups engaged in the systematic effort to deny or minimize the Holocaust. The majority consists of rabid anti-Semites, but with the passage of time some Deniers have become more subtle. In addition to outright Fascists and Neo-Nazis, the Denial movement has attracted a small number of academics, who seek to legitimize Holocaust denial with what they call “Historical Revisionism”, challenging the long-established documentation of historians and the eyewitness accounts of Holocaust survivors
Inevitably the findings and judgments that have emerged from historical research provide different perspectives on the significance and lessons to be drawn from the mass murder and the atrocities that go under the name of Holocaust. These differences are magnified and exploited by Deniers in their announced “revisionary” mission and in their eagerness to subject the tragedy of the Holocaust to debate, in search of prima facie legitimacy for their hateful propaganda.
My own perspective has undoubtedly been influenced by the murder of my mother at the Majdanek death camp and of my Jewish German and Austrian relatives, including my two Viennese girl cousins. Why even draw attention to the ludicrous attempt to deny or minimize their deaths and the slaughter of so many millions of others? The answer is that the Deniers are putting their pernicious allegations before a growing number of people, especially young people on college campuses and on talk-shows, people who may not be acquainted with 20th century history. The Deniers’ claims are frequently accompanied by open or disguised anti-Semitism. This in turn feeds the hate propaganda that is growing exponentially on the airwaves and in cyberspace. The World Wide Web now has163 web sites sponsored by 81 racial hate groups, including 21 Ku Klux Klan and 12 Neo-Nazi groups (Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Winter 1998).
Looking back, one can see that Holocaust Denial was already present during World War II even as the Final Solution was being implemented. The German government was zealous in its attempt to keep the world from knowing about the mass murder of Jews and of what was happening at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, and other death camps. My own experience with Denial occurred first in 1945 after the Allies liberated survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. As a U.S. soldier on duty at a Prisoner of War camp at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, I was present when German prisoners were shown gruesome newsreels of the gas chambers, the ovens, and the open ditches piled high with dead naked bodies. I will never forget the reaction of the German prisoners’ spokesman named Huehnmoerder. When he saw a photograph of emaciated prisoners peering out of their wooden bunks, he insisted that these were not pictures of Jews, but of concentration camp inmates in India, incarcerated by British imperialists.
The placement last November of an ad in the New Paltz College newspaper by the “Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust” illustrates the freedom of speech approach which Deniers have utilized to get campus newspapers to present their propaganda. The ad offered $50,000 to anyone arranging the showing on national network TV of the Deniers’ “documentary” on Auschwitz, modestly called “Video of the Century”. Of course, neither academic freedom nor freedom of speech obligates a student-financed newspaper to accept every advertisement or point of view that is put before its editorial board, as both the student editor and the College President (who does not have jurisdiction over student publications) readily acknowledged. It was explained that an editorial slip-up had occurred, and fortunately in this case there have been letters to the editor which recognized the ad for what it was.
Typical Denier publications go under such titles as “The Hoax of the 20th Century”, “The Six Million Swindle”, and “Anne Frank’s Diary: A Hoax”. With the help of self-described “experts”, the so-called revisionists continue to deny the existence of gas chambers at various death camps, though the opposite has long been proven (see for example the authoritative 1990 book “Truth Prevails: Demolishing Holocaust Denial”).
Seeking to equate Nazi crimes with human rights violations by the wartime Allies, the Deniers compare the terrible and unjust internment of loyal Japanese-Americans in the U.S. to the atrocities committed in Nazi death camps. An example of the incredibly crude attempts at humor and irony of which Deniers are capable is a question in one of their propaganda pieces; it asks - what’s the difference between six million Jews and 300,000 Jews? Their answer is that the difference is “5,700,000". How can one make light of the mass murder of one’s fellow human beings?
Another favored Denial method is to bring up the diversionary issue of Israel in connection with the Holocaust. Of course this ignores the fact that neither Jews in Israel nor outside of it are of one mind regarding Israeli government policies, Zionism, religion, or attitudes toward the rights of the Palestinian people. In any case, issues involving Israel do not in any way change the facts of the bloody history of the death camps and the genocide against Jews.
We must not let the Holocaust Denial movement weaken our struggle against the killing of innocent people, whatever their ethnic, racial or religious background, and for that matter whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, Iraqis or Iranians, Germans or Russians, Gypsies or Tibetans, North or Latin Americans, Asians or Africans. What matters is that they are our fellow human beings.
|Poughkeepsie resident Dr. John J. Neumaier was president of SUNY New Paltz from 1968-1972 and of Moorhead (Minn.) State University from 1958-1968. He is philosophy professor emeritus of Empire State College, New York City. His column appears in the first Sunday Freeman of each month, and is broadcast by short-wave station Radio for Peace International.|