Sunday, May 21, 2006

"The peculiar persistence of Holocaust denial"

Today's issue of the Baltimore Sun has an article in which Prof. Lipstadt and the Irving trial are cited. Here are some excerpts:
The peculiar persistence of Holocaust denial

Holocaust denial flies in the face of overwhelming evidence. Yet, decades after the Nazis' crimes, it continues -- and the president of Iran is merely its latest, and highest-profile, advocate.

By Arthur Hirsch
Sun reporter

May 21, 2006

When a three-day conference in Tehran on the future of the Palestinians ended last month, the few hundred militant leaders and their backers had heard speeches condemning Israel and pledging support for Hamas - but not, as many anticipated, any experts challenging evidence of the Holocaust. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he'd stage a conference of Holocaust skeptics, right around the time he referred to the mass murder of European Jews during World War II as a "myth."

Ahmadinejad may be the first president of a country to challenge the Holocaust, allying himself with an array of claims viewed among serious historians in much the same light as the case for a flat Earth. He seemed to soften that a bit during the April meeting, referring to his "serious doubt" that the Nazis killed 5 million to 6 million Jews.

If the Iranian president does convene a conference challenging Holocaust evidence - a former Iranian foreign minister said it is still being planned - he'll step into what scholars describe as a parallel universe, an arena of minutiae and semantic gamesmanship where the weight of historical evidence is never so great that it cannot be dismissed with a fine point, even if the point has been willfully or innocently misconstrued.


Deborah E. Lipstadt, who teaches modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, published one of the early books on the phenomenon in 1993 only after overcoming strong impulses to ignore Irving and others, hoping they would go away. In Denying the Holocaust, she insists deniers are racist extremists who demand attention not for the merit of the ideas but "because of the fragility of reason and society's susceptibility of such farfetched notions. Many powerful movements have been founded by people living in similar irrational wonderlands, national socialism foremost among them."


The tendency to see the Holocaust as propaganda aiding Jewish causes has run through this form of extreme "revisionism" at least since the Frenchman Paul Rassinier published The Drama of European Jewry in 1964. The gas chambers, he said, were an invention of the "Zionist establishment."

When Ahmadinejad threatens Israel in one breath and in the next calls the Holocaust a "myth," he echoes a familiar song. How it's playing, and what his remarks do for the cause of the likes of Irving, is hard to say.

[IHR's Mark] Weber certainly does not seem enthusiastic about the remarks, saying Ahmadinejad is not a historian and should keep these thoughts to himself.

Next to the Irving trial outcome, Lipstadt says Ahmadinejad is the deniers' "worst nightmare ... I don't think it helps."

Ahmadinejad's intended audience is clearly not the world's academic historians, but Lipstadt figures that his remarks do say something significant about the leader of a country that apparently has serious nuclear aspirations.

"Some say he's crazy," says Lipstadt. "I say he's crazy like a fox."

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