“The person we hate fills our mind far more than the person we love.” Jacob Klatzkin, 19th century writer and philosopher.
Sixty-five years ago the International Military Tribunal convened in Nuremberg. Previous international agreements had attempted to outlaw slavery and mass murder. (The Hague and Geneva Conventions, Kellog-Briand Pact, League of Nations Charter and Locarno Pact.) Nuremberg served as a benchmark in international law by firmly establishing Crimes Against the Peace, Waging An Aggressive War and Crimes Against Humanity as acts that would not be tolerated by the international community.
An important byproduct of these proceedings was the massive documentation compiled and presented by the prosecution. The Nazi regime’s program of racism and genocide was clearly established. Several high-ranking Nazis camp forward and further substantiated the Final Solution including: Rudolf Hoess, camp commandant at Auschwitz; Hans Frank, Generalgouvernor of Poland; and, Dieter Wisliceny, top aid to Adolf Eichmann instrumental in the destruction of Slovakian, Greek and Hungarian Jewry.
However, a cottage industry of Holocaust denial and dilution continues to garner media attention.
We live in an era when overstating the most outrageous accusations makes you worthy of CNN. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that questioning the “reality” of the Holocaust propels you onto “60 Minutes” or Phil Donahue. The irony is striking as David Rieff observed in “Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West.” Rieff postulated: “Had their been cameras in Auschwitz, the world might very well have done as little as it did in the pre- television age…”
Unfortunately, academics, the media and the public at-large have ceded credibility to Holocaust deniers by referring to them as “revisionists.” Revising history based on new information, more concise data and the passing of time allows for more objective and empirical evaluation of historical events. Revising history is an essential component of historiography. Without it, Joseph McCarthy’s name would be plastered on public schools and Harry Truman would be grouped with Warren Harding.
Holocaust deniers have successfully adopted the mantle of “revisionism” for the purpose of gross historical distortion. Not surprisingly, the Institute for Historical Review gained widespread media attention when it offered $50,000 for anyone who could prove Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
Mel Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor, sued, submitted proof and was awarded $50,000 and $40,000 for pain suffering. (He established a museum to increase awareness of the Holocaust with the proceeds.) The incident propelled Holocaust “revisionism” into the “main stream.”
During the trial of Ernest Zundel in Canada (1988,) the foremost Holocaust denier, Fred Leuchter falsified his credentials as an engineer with an expertise in execution apparatus. He was financed by Zundel to travel to Auschwitz and Majdanek. “The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chamber at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, Poland” asserted no homicidal gassings took place.
The Judge found Leuchter’s methodology “preposterous” and his expertise nonexistent. But the “revisionist” strategy paid off and Zundel and Leuchter are frequently featured on media outlets throughout North America.
Far more dangerous than anti-Semites or neo-Nazis masquerading as academics, are historical relativists who seek to dilute or diminish the Holocaust by comparing it to “similar” historical events.
The most notable practitioner of this theory is prominent German historian Ernst Nolte. In “Forever in the Shadow of Hitler?” (1986), Nolte argued that genocide is a common human event and the Nazis extermination polices were not unusual. Nolte justified Hitler’s extermination measures in light of Chaim Weizmann’s statement, “That in this war the Jews of all the world would fight on England’s side.” (September, 1939.)
There is clearly a movement afoot to combine relativism and “revisionism” to normalize the Third Reich and its policies. As Deborah Lipstadt pointed out, “Denial aims to reshape history in order to rehabilitate the perpetrators and demonize the victims.”
There is a line between freedom of the press and freedom to inflict pain and suffering. Whether relativist or “revisionist”, those who try to destroy the memory and reality of the Holocaust are in fact “paper” Eichmanns. “Indeed, denial may be thought of as the last stage of genocide, one that continues to the present. A kind of double killing takes place: first the physical deed, followed by the destruction of the remembrance of the deed.” (Smith, Markusen and Lifton, 1995.)
The Holocaust is the most documented crime in history. Those who call into question the murder of 6 million Jews also deny the murder of 3.5 million Soviet POWs, 3 million Polish Catholics, 215,000 Roma and Sinti (Gypsies),70,000 physically and mentally disabled Germans and countless others persecuted due to their political, social, ethnic or sexual affiliation.
We must confront hate mongers head on. Otherwise we risk realizing Voltaire’s axiom: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Eric Joseph Epstein was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities at PSU-Harrisburg , and co-authored the Dictionary of the Holocaust, which was released by Greenwood Press (1997).
Powered by Facebook Comments