The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition
The future of denial
DEBORAH E. LIPSTADT, THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 27, 2005
Standing in the biting cold of Auschwitz-Birkenau, surrounded by aging Holocaust survivors, it struck me that such a gathering will not be possible much longer. We, who have grown up surrounded by survivors - as teachers, neighbors, and friends' parents - can easily forget how important their personal testimony is.
When today's children are old enough to really understand this momentous event, there will be virtually no one around to speak in the first person singular and to say "This is my story, this is what happened to me."
Many people worry that when the voice of the witness is lost, Holocaust deniers will find it easier to spread their lies. This fear suggests that without the survivors, there will not be enough evidence to "prove" what happened at Auschwitz. Though a survivor can speak with the unique voice of the eyewitness, this fear is unfounded.
This was brought into stark relief during my legal battle in the UK when I was compelled to defend myself against charges of libel brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. Without relying on survivors as witnesses, we amassed a massive cache of documentary, testimonial, and material evidence about Auschwitz.
With the assistance of a gifted team of expert historians, my legal team proved that Irving's and, by extension, other deniers' claims about Auschwitz were a tissue of lies. Judge Charles Gray of the High Court of Justice emphasized this in his 355-page judgment. He said that the evidence conclusively demonstrated that Irving's claims that Auschwitz-Birkenau was not a death camp fell far short of the standard to be expected of a conscientious historian.
Gray declared that the "cumulative effect" of the documentary evidence for the genocidal operation of the gas chambers at Auschwitz was "considerable," "mutually corroborative," and "striking[ly]... consistent." He concluded that "no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt" the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. The four different judges who heard Irving's appeals agreed.
As a result of this lawsuit - brought against me by this man whom the court declared a denier, anti-Semite, and racist - virtually all denial arguments as they stood until July 2001, the date of the final appeal, were exposed as completely bogus.
This sweeping and unrelenting dismissal constituted a serious setback for the deniers. In the Western world, this blatant form of Holocaust denial has currently been relegated, by and large, to fringes of the political spectrum.
Other forms of denial - declaring President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be Hitler's equivalent or denouncing Israeli soldiers as Nazis - are still prevalent. These charges are a form of Holocaust denial because, irrespective of how one feels about the United States' or Israel's policies, comparing them to the actions of the Third Reich is a complete distortion of the truth.
THERE IS, however, a region of the world where David Irving-style wholesale denial is alive and kicking: the Arab world. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who served as the "general commander" of Hamas until his assassination in April 2004, expressed his outrage at the Zionists' success in spreading the propaganda of the "false Holocaust" and claimed that that no one has clarified how the "false gas chambers worked." Maintaining a consistent level of historical accuracy, Rantisi decried the fact that David Irving "was sued" because of his Holocaust denial.
In August 2004 Muhammad Al-Zurqani, the former editor-in-chief of Al-Liwaa Al-Islami, the Egyptian government daily, declared on Egyptian television that "the Holocaust is a big lie." Author Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad, who had written an article in the daily, entitled "The Lie about the Burning of the Jews," was appearing on the same show. As soon as Al-Zurqani made his claim, he chimed in, "Of course."
Though the Egyptian information minister denounced such views, the Egyptian Journalists Association defended them as being based on "historical research."
In his recent book The Lost Territories of the Republic, Georges Bensoussan describes the current situation in many French schools attended by large numbers of Muslims. These students frequently dismiss their teachers' attempts to teach about the Holocaust with the declaration: "This is an invention." In response, some French teachers have reportedly backed off from teaching about the Holocaust.
There has been a tendency to dismiss this phenomenon as of matter of lesser concern because it comes from "disaffected" Muslim and Arab youth. Most of these students, however, are the French-born children or grandchildren of immigrants.
Holocaust denial is not the only form of false history that is gaining ground in the Arab and Muslim world. Increasingly, the myths of the blood libel and of world Jewish domination have spread.
In 2003, the manuscript museum at the famed Alexandria Library briefly exhibited The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (it withdrew them in response to world protests). The Egyptian weekly Al-Usbu interviewed Dr. Yousef Ziedan, the director of manuscripts at the library, in conjunction with the exhibition.
Regarding the Holocaust, the weekly quoted the museum official as saying, "An analysis of samples from the purported gas chambers has proven that these were sterilization chambers, without a sufficient quantity of cyanide to kill." He also declared that "Had Hitler wanted to annihilate the Jews of Europe, he would have." Strikingly, fundamentalist Muslims have adopted the traditional anti-Semitic imagery of the Christian world.
While there are those Arab intellectuals who have decried Holocaust denial by their fellow Arabs, their views do not seem to be in the ascendancy. The phenomenon of Arab and Muslim Holocaust denial cannot be ignored or dismissed as "simply" an expression of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These attacks are not found only at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. Moreover, it is hard to erase these notions once they have taken root, particularly in a generation of young people.
The prevalence of Arab Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are a stark indication that despite the fact that a myriad of heads of state and their delegations gathered yesterday at Birkenau, history - particularly inconvenient history - remains a battleground.
The writer, a member of the official American delegation to the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, is author most recently of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.