Thursday, December 21, 2006

David Irving and the N word

NOTE: December 26. We are experiencing some problems posting to this blog, because of the migration to the new blogger. Please go to to view new posts.

[Posted on Saturday night 12/23 from Limmud UK]

David Irving’s return to the UK was headline news in this country. It received more press than Ahmadinejad’s gathering.

Some reporters – who are not renown for having particularly long memories -- were beginning to wonder whether his claims should not be taken seriously.

[I pointed the BBC reporter who asked me that question to Judge Gray’s findings. See and go to part XIII of the Judgment.]

Then Mr. Irving held a news conference.

He boasted to the press that he had once been rich enough to walk into a Rolls Royce dealership and, using cash, buy a n*****brown color car. Suffice it to say that it’s the same word that got Michael Richards [Kramer] into so much trouble [and rightfully so].

Then he went on to say that, though he is not anti-Semitic, Mel Gibson was right.

Maybe I am being a wee bit optimistic, but if he keeps talking like that he will soon lose any of the credibility the press was still willing to accord to him.

Remember this is the same man who said he feels queasy when he sees Blacks playing for the English cricket team and thinks Black newscasters should be relegated to reading news of criminals and drug busts.

And this is the man who edited David Duke’s book. [Go to and put David Duke into the search engine.]

So I say: give David Irving enough rope and he will proceed to “hang himself.”

In less than 24 hours back in the UK he’s off to a good start.

As for me, I am going back to enjoy events at Limmud.

New York Times on Irving release

From the New York Times:

December 21, 2006
Austria Frees Holocaust Denier From Jail

FRANKFURT, Dec. 20 —

The decision drew pointed criticism, with some Austrian commentators noting that the court’s presiding judge, Ernest Maurer, was widely known to have close ties to the Freedom Party, a far-right organization with a history of appealing to anti-foreign and anti-Jewish sentiment.


Mr. Irving’s books were on conspicuous display last week at a conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran organized by the Iranian government. Among the speakers was Robert Faurisson, a French academic and outspoken Holocaust denier, who prodded Mr. Irving during the 1980s to be more open about his doubts about the mass killing of Jews.


In Austria, though, some people argued that however noxious Mr. Irving’s views, he should be allowed to express them. Others said the law was necessary because, as Hans Rauscher, a columnist at the Vienna paper Der Standard, put it, “Denial of the Holocaust is not an opinion, it is a political act which tries to bring Nazi thought into the mainstream.”

Mr. Rauscher .... was troubled by the involvement of Judge Maurer, a conservative jurist who Mr. Rauscher said “is known for very lenient opinions toward right-wing extremism.”

In several cases Mr. Maurer ruled in favor of Jörg Haider, the founder of the Freedom Party, after he sued journalists and academics who accused him of trying to rationalize Nazism.

In 2000 Mr. Maurer was the choice of the Freedom Party to serve on a board that oversees the Austrian public broadcasting network, ORF. He is not a member of the party, and he has always said in the Austrian press that he decides cases based on the legal facts.

Even some of Mr. Irving’s fiercest foes opposed the decision to jail him. Deborah Lipstadt, a historian at Emory University in Atlanta who won a libel suit that Mr. Irving filed against her in 1998, said in an interview, “I don’t believe that history should be adjudicated in a courtroom.”

Professor Lipstadt said Mr. Irving’s imprisonment risked turning him into a martyr. “He’s got the best of both worlds,” she said. “He’s now a martyr to free speech, and he’s free to talk about it.”

More on the Judge in Irving's Austrian case

The Austrian daily, Standard and other Austrian media outlets have provided some additional details about the judge. For those who are championing Irving's release as an act of free speech triumphant, pay attention to the judge's background. It is not irrelevant that the presiding judge was Ernest Maurer who is a sympathizer of the right wing who has had some of his decisions overturned by the European Court for Human Rights because they unlawfully restricted freedom of the press. Apparently Maurer had ruled for Jorg Haider, leader of Austria's right wing, when he sued newspapers and commentators who criticized him. The Standard quotes from a decision by the judge in which he express classic Nazi ideologies including Rassereinheit (purity of race).

As I said in my previous post: this is not a simple matter of freedom of speech.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My views on Irving's release: summarized

Since I have been inundated with questions about what I think of all this let me summarize:

1. In principle I am against laws outlawing Holocaust denial.
2. I have a strange affection for the 1st Amendment
3. Furthermore, I don't think they are efficacious -- they tend to make a denier into a martyr for free speech.
4. They suggest that the evidence to prove that deniers are liars does not exist [it exists in droves]

Having said that:
1. Remember that David Irving went to Austria despite the fact that there was a warrant out for his arrest.
2. He announced that he was going. Seems to me he was "taunting" the Austrians or "asking for it."
3. In Austria, as the previous post notes, Holocaust denial has a different resonance than it does in the USA or other countries which are not directly linked to the Holocaust.
4. In a place such as Austria it is a political act that could be said to have incendiary implications and be close to incitement.

1. While I am opposed to such laws
2. I can understand the Austrian perspective.
3. Imagine if Ahamdinejad had decided to hold his conference in Vienna to save having to pay for Duke, the ridiculous rabbis et. al to fly all the way to Iran. There would have been a world outcry of unbelievable proportions.

1. I think David Irving should not be the poster child for Free Speech.
2. Remember that six weeks before my trial he offered to settle with me if I agree to pulp all my books and apologize to him. In essence he was denying my right to free speech.
3. The judge who freed him has a very dicey record [see previous post] when it comes to protecting free speech in Austria.

It's not simple.

From the International Herald Tribune: Perspectives on Irving's release

From the International Herald Tribune:

British author who denied Holocaust freed from jail

By Mark Landler
Published: December 20, 2006


In Austria, though, some people argued that, however noxious Irving's views, he should be allowed to express them. Others said the law was necessary, because, as Hans Rauscher, a columnist at the Vienna paper Der Standard, put it, "denial of the Holocaust is not an opinion, it is a political act which tries to bring Nazi thought into the mainstream."

Rauscher said he believed 13 months in jail was sufficient punishment for Irving. But he said he was troubled by the involvement of Maurer, a conservative jurist whom Rauscher said, "is known for very lenient opinions towards right-wing extremism."

In several cases, Maurer ruled in favor of Jörg Haider, founder of the Freedom Party, after he sued journalists and academics that accused him of trying to rationalize Nazism.

In 2000, Maurer was the choice of the Freedom Party to serve on a board that oversees the public broadcasting network ORF. Maurer is not a party member, and he has always told the press that he decides cases based on the legal facts.

Even some of Irving's fiercest foes opposed the decision to jail him. Deborah Lipstadt, a historian at Emory University in Atlanta who won a libel suit filed against her by Irving in 1998, said in an interview, "I don't believe that history should be adjudicated in a courtroom."


Judges in Irving's probation hearing

Irving case was heard by a three judge panel. The chief judge was a man named Ernest Maurer. According to people with whom I have spoken in Vienna [this has been reported on the Austrian media] he is a follower or sympathizer of the Jorg Haider's right wing party the FPÖ. Some of the decisions of his decision have been overturned by the European Court for Human Rights for unlawful restriction of the freedom of the press.

The Austrian daily "Standard" quotes from a book where Maurer expressed Nazi-like ideologies including "Rassereinheit" (purity of race) for an "idealistic view" (Idealvorstellung).

So for all those who are rejoicing about a putative victory for freedom of speech, note that neither the judge nor the defendant are believers in such a notion. Remember, Irving offered to drop the case against me if I apologized to him and agreed to have all my books pulped.

Not exactly the actions of a paragon of freedom of speech.....

Irving given probation

David Irving has been given probation by an Austrian judge. According to the NY Times bureau chief for Germany, the Judge apparently has ties to Haider, the leader of the right wing in Austria. I am told that many left of center journalists in Austria are very distressed by this intrusion of pure politics into the judicial process. More as the story develops

Emory U to translate HDOT into Arabic, Farsi, etc

AP reports that Emory University, which hosts the HDOT website, is creating a $2 million endowment to translate the site documents into "Arabic, Farsi, Russian and other languages":

Emory rendering Holocaust site in Arabic


Emory University is planning to translate a professor's Web site on Holocaust denial into Arabic, Farsi and other languages common to countries where anti-Semitic views are widespread.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who runs the site Holocaust Denial on Trial (, said she hopes the translations will provide resources to people who have no historical accounts of the Holocaust in their native tongue.

"I'm convinced that there are people in predominantly Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, who are being inundated with Holocaust deniers' claims and don't know that the deniers are fabricating and distorting," she said in a news release.

She pointed to last week's gathering of Holocaust deniers in Iran - an event supported by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - as evidence that such viewpoints are gaining strength throughout the Muslim world.


The university will use scholars in its various foreign language departments to do the translation.

The Web site provides the legal and historical documents from the trial where right-wing British historian David Irving sued Lipstadt for libeling him in her book 1994 book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." In a highly publicized 2000 decision, a British court ruled in Lipstadt's favor and declared Irving a Holocaust denier and racist.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Lipstadt letter to New York Times

Some of you might be interested in a letter I had in the New York Times last week:

To the Editor:

Your Dec. 13 report about the Holocaust-denial conference in Iran quoted Germany’s chancellor referring to the attendees as “revisionists,” and France’s foreign minister criticized “the resurgence of revisionist ideas” regarding the Holocaust.

While these leaders are well intentioned and their condemnations of the Tehran conference are most welcome, we take issue with their use of the term “revisionists” when referring to those who deny the Holocaust.

The deniers prefer to be called “revisionists” because they believe that the term gives them legitimacy, hearkening back to post-World War I historians who disputed conventional portrayals of various aspects of that war.

Typically, those 1920s revisionists were well-regarded scholars offering legitimate alternative interpretations of historical facts. By contrast, the “Holocaust revisionists” are bigots whose denial of the Holocaust is merely a new mask for old-fashioned anti-Semitism, a fact confirmed by last year’s United States government report on anti-Semitism around the world, which pointedly included manifestations of Holocaust denial as examples of anti-Semitism.

Deborah E. Lipstadt

Rafael Medoff

Washington, Dec. 13, 2006

Review of Robert Satloff's AMONG THE RIGHTEOUS

From the Washington Post:

The Schindlers of the Middle East

Can learning that some Arabs saved Jews from genocide in the 1940s heal wounds today?

Reviewed by Deborah Lipstadt
Sunday, December 10, 2006; BW05


Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands

By Robert Satloff

PublicAffairs. 251 pp. $26

Robert Satloff is a man with a mission. He believes that if contemporary Arabs knew about Arabs who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, they would reject the Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism that are now so prevalent in the Arab/Muslim world. This book tells of his quest to track down the history of those Arabs' deeds.

Satloff begins by relating the oft-ignored story of how Nazi Germany, Vichy France and fascist Italy exported their anti-Semitic policies to North Africa. They deprived Jews of their civil rights, confiscated their property, forced them to do slave labor and established concentration camps across the Sahara. Had Germany prevailed, North African Jews would have been annihilated.

Many Arabs willingly -- and, according to survivors, gleefully -- played an essential role in this persecution, serving as camp guards, clerks, policemen, foremen, overseers and torturers. Some assisted Germans as they went door to door hunting Jews. One Arab volunteer military unit, after being flown to Berlin for training, fought with the Germans in Tunisia. Some Arabs were so closely aligned with the Nazis that they fled to Germany when the Allies landed.

But Satloff has discovered "noble, selfless deeds" by Arabs. In normal times, such acts would have been routine, but during World War II, routine kindness was in short supply. When Vichy officials offered Algerian Arabs windfall profits if they took over Jewish property, not a single Arab in Algiers participated. (Vichy had no trouble finding willing Frenchmen.) On a Friday in 1941, religious leaders throughout Algiers delivered sermons warning Muslims against participation in schemes to strip Jews of their property. Some Jews were able to get false identity papers at the Grand Mosque in Paris. In 1940, two months after the Germans entered Paris, the Germans warned the head of the mosque to cease assisting Jews. In short, Arabs behaved like many Europeans during the Holocaust: Some helped Jews; others persecuted them or benefited from their persecution; the majority looked the other way.

The most interesting aspect of this story is the reluctance of contemporary Arabs to acknowledge noble past acts. Satloff speculates that Arab attitudes toward Jews are now so hostile that to acknowledge the help given Jews by preceding generations would inflame Middle Eastern passions. It would run counter to the prevailing myths in the Arab world about the Holocaust, which range from crude Holocaust celebration (in which Hitler is a hero) to Holocaust denial.

As Satloff notes, the Holocaust has become part of the high-stakes battle against Israel -- a battle in which history itself has been turned into a weapon. Some of the most virulent Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism today emanate from mainstream figures in the Muslim world. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, alas, is not alone. Typical of the anti-Semitic invective that has become so common in the Arab world was a 2002 article by the editor of Egypt's state-owned al-Ahram, the largest newspaper in the Arab world, entitled "Jewish Matza Is Made from Arab Blood." In popular Arab culture, Satloff observes, Zionism is a more heinous crime than Nazism.

Satloff believes that if Jews and Arabs were less reluctant to address the history of Arabs and the Holocaust, relations could be improved. He faults the custodians of Yad Vashem, the Israeli national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, for not being more energetic in seeking out Arab rescuers. Jews from Arab lands have also been strangely reluctant to address their experiences -- positive and negative -- during the Holocaust.

But Satloff is being a bit naive here. It is strange that the highly respected executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a well-trained historian should have convinced himself that history could serve as an antidote to irrational hatred. Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitic prejudice. The etymology of the word "prejudice" illustrates the futility of Satloff's mission: Prejudice means pre-judging. It amounts to saying, "Don't confuse me with the facts; forget evidence; I have already made up my mind."

The deniers' arguments are a tissue of lies. This was the finding of Judge Charles Gray of England's High Court of Justice, who presided when Holocaust denier David Irving sued this reviewer for libel. He concluded that deniers' claims are "unreal," a "travesty," and "unjustified." Deniers, he found, "pervert" and "distort" history. Rationally telling stories of Arab rescuers, however admirable, will not change the minds of those whose views of history are rooted in unreasoning bigotry.

To be sure, Satloff's efforts to tell the story of Arab behavior -- both complicity and heroism -- during the Holocaust are important. The stories of rescuers of all faiths and ethnicities should be told. Not only is their courage part of the history of the Holocaust, but it also gives the lie to bystanders' claims that nothing could have been done. But these stories should be uncovered for the sake of history, not for the purpose of changing irrational attitudes. Satloff has told an important story and told it well, but he has done so for noble but misguided reasons. ?

Deborah Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Her most recent book is "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving."

Three Monkey's Interview

An online publication, Three Monkeys , recently interviewed me. In the interview -- which took place prior to the Iran conference -- I address related issues.

Defending History - Deborah E. Lipstadt and Holocaust Denial

Author: Three Monkeys Online
Date: November 2006

When Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt first decided to study and write about the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, in the late 1980s, many of her colleagues counselled her against her decision. Holocaust denial was, in their eyes a fringe movement of no-importance, akin to the Flat Earth Society. She was, in short, warned against taking 'these kooks' seriously.

Almost twenty-years later, and Lipstadt's concern seems prophetic. The development of the world wide web has meant that global publishing has never been easier or more economic, a fact that applies equally to those who publish racist, neo-nazi propoganda.

Lipstadt is, perhaps, best known as the historian whom David Irving sued for libel. Lipstadt had referred to Irving, author of Hitler's War as a Holocaust denier in her authoratitive work Denying the Holocaust - The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. A British court, in a landmark ruling, found in favour of Lipstadt, judging that Irving was an "active Holocaust denier".

Professor Lipstadt was kind enough to agree to an interview with Three Monkeys Online, to discuss Holocaust denial

For the benefit of those who haven’t read Denying the Holocaust, how has Holocaust denial evolved since 1945?

It began almost immediately after the war when some fringe intellectuals tried to denigrate the Jews’ suffering at the hand of Nazi Germany. They spread the notion that the Holocaust had been a myth. Their attempts gained little traction until the mid-1970s when the Institute for Historical Review was founded in Southern California. The IHR claimed that it was interested in “revising” mistakes in history. Interestingly enough, virtually the only “mistakes” they addressed related to the Holocaust. They insisted on calling themselves “revisionists.”

With the establishment of the IHR deniers changed their tactics. Instead of engaging in overt anti-Semitic attacks, they adopted the modus operandi of scholars and academics. They gave their publications the look of academic journals. They made their conferences appear to be academic gatherings.

Rather than marching wearing swastika laden clothing and carrying neo-Nazi flags and looking like skinheads, they tried to appear as if they were respectable folks with a sincere academic interest whose intent it was to fix historical mistakes.

It was telling, of course, that the only mistakes in which they were interested were the Holocaust and other matters which were designed to portray the Allies as aggressors, the Germans as victims, and the Jews deserving of whatever was done to them. As one pundit observed, when you read the material published by the deniers you were left with the impression that “the Jews were not killed but they were so awful they should have been.” [By the way, I fully expect some denier – possibly David Irving – to take that last sentence out of context and use it in some article on web posting.]

Three Monkeys Online recently published an interview with A.C.Grayling, whose latest book addresses the issue of whether the Allied bombing of Germany and Japan in 1945 constituted a war crime. Unfortunately this is a topic also close to the hearts of Holocaust deniers, as you point out in Denying the Holocaust. It poses a problem for Academics like Grayling, and magazines like Three Monkeys Online. Should we steer clear of valid historical questions like these for fear of unwittingly providing material that can be used/abused by neo-Nazis?

We should NEVER avoid valid historical questions. For example, when historians realized that the death tolls for Auschwitz/Birkenau were too high, they recalculated and lowered them. They did not hesitate to do so, even though some people feared – correctly so – that it would “give comfort to deniers.” Instead, serious historians welcomed the corrected information.

Another example of correcting a mistaken notion relates to the accusation that the Nazis rendered Jewish corpses into soap during the Holocaust. During the war and afterwards many people said that the Germans made Jews into soap. No one knows the precise origins of this rumor, but it persisted after the war. Survivors who arrived in Israel were sometimes called: ‘Sabonim’ [Soaps]. In fact, there is no proof that the Germans regularly processed Jews into soap. They may have and probably did experiment in doing so, but we have no indication that it was ever done on a mass basis. Many historians, myself included, have regularly talked and written about this, despite the fact that there are those who argue that it “plays into” deniers’ hands.

Correcting mistakes does not, in any way, lessen the Germans’ crimes. The Germans’ actions were horrendous enough that there is no need to support myths in lieu of facts or to fear the facts.

By the same token, if the Allies did things wrong, then we should address it and acknowledge it. I have no doubts that they did some terrible things. Nothing, however, that they did can compare to the Nazis’ crimes which include the Holocaust, the T-4 [euthanasia program], medical experiments on prisoners, and so much else.

To return to the heart of your question: historians do not need to fear the truth. Deniers, it should be stressed, as was demonstrated in my trial and affirmed by five different judges, are not proposing an iconoclastic version of history. They twist the truth and lie about the facts. As Judge Charles Gray, the presiding judge in my trial, wrote in his decision, “Irving had “significantly misrepresented what the evidence, objectively examined, reveals.” Judge Gray’s choice of words to describe Irving’s writings about the Holocaust were unambiguous: “perverts,” “distorts,” “misleading,” “unjustified,” “travesty,” and “unreal.” And, the Judge further stressed, these were not mistakes. Irving’s “falsification of the historical record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence.” [see Part XIII of the judgment]

Sixty-six years after the liberation of the death camps, we’re approaching the point where there are no living witnesses to the Holocaust. What implications does that have both for the teaching of the Holocaust, and for Holocaust denial?

I used to worry a great deal about this. There is a unique power possessed by the person who can say: “This is my story. This is what happened to me.” But the tyranny of time guarantees that we will only have those voices for a few more years. In fact, I concluded my book, Holocaust Denial: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, with this very concern.

Yet during my trial my fears were assuaged about what will happen when the survivors are gone. My defense team chose not to use survivors as witnesses because we did not perceive of this trial as being about proving that the Holocaust happened. We saw our job as having to prove that I told the truth when I called David Irving a Holocaust denier. In other words, we were not proving precisely what happened. We were proving that what Irving claimed happened did not. It is a distinction with a difference. Survivors would have been, in the view of the court, “witnesses of fact.” We did not think we needed witnesses of fact. [see Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, (Ecco 2005)]

Furthermore, Irving was representing himself and we did not want to ask elderly survivors to stand in the witness box to be cross examined by a man whose objective, we feared, might well be to humiliate and confuse them. Instead we relied on first rate historians and on documents. Some of the historians relied on testimony given by survivors. However, the testimony on which they relied was all given in the years immediately following the war. In other words, it was written documents.

Relying only on written documents and transcripts of testimony, we nonetheless achieved a stunning victory. As our lead historical expert, Richard Evans, wrote after the trial: “The trial demonstrated triumphantly the ability of historical scholarship to reach reasoned conclusions about the Nazi extermination of the Jews on the basis of a careful examination of the written evidence.” [Evans, Lying About Hitler, p. 266]

In an article in the Jerusalem Post you wrote: “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." To compare torture in Abu Ghraib with Nazi interrogation methods, or Israel's often-used policy of collective punishment with tactics deployed by Nazi troops against partisans are charges that are not without some historical merit. There are differences and similarities that deserve to be discussed - if only to prove clearly that there are important differences. To label these charges as forms of Holocaust denial surely plays into deniers hands, seeming to be a political usage of the Holocaust designed to prevent criticism of either the US or Israel.

I do not think my criticism plays into deniers’ hands. One simply cannot compare what the Germans did and what the Americans or Israelis are doing.

The Germans attempted to murder an entire people in Europe and beyond, e.g. North Africa. The Germans were intent on murdering every Jew on which they could lay their hands. They were so committed to this objective that in May 1944, two weeks before the Allies reached Rome, the Germans were engaged in deporting Jews from Rome. One might have assumed that they would be focused on repelling the enemy.

Similarly, in July 1944, a month after the landing at Normandy and over a month after the liberation of Rome, they took ships to the island of Rhodes in order to round up the members of that Jewish community, most of whom traced their roots on the island back over two thousand years, and take them to Auschwitz to be murdered. Of the thousands who were taken, only 151 Jews survived. One might have assumed that with the Allies on the European continent and the Russians steadily advancing on the eastern front, the Germans would have focused all their energies and military resources on fighting the Allies. Instead they were intent on tracking down every Jew they could find in order to kill them.

When the Russians were on the outskirts of Auschwitz the Germans gathered up the remaining Jews in the camps and took them on a horrendous “death march” back to Germany. They did not want to allow live Jews to fall into the hands of the Russians.

Whatever you think of Israel’s policies or of those of the United States in Iraq, the objective is not to murder all the Iraqis or Palestinians. To make such comparisons is to engage in “soft-core” denial.

What difference, if any, has 9/11 had on the Holocaust denial movement?

I don’t think it has had a tremendous impact in Europe and North America. It has energized denial in the Arab/Moslem world, as exemplified by Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Holocaust denial has become an increasingly widespread phenomenon in the Arab world in countries like Egypt that have close economic and diplomatic ties with both the European Union and the US. Do you think that it’s time that official pressure was brought to bear, for example limiting foreign aid to countries that turn a blind eye or encourage Holocaust denial?

One would have hoped that intelligent and responsible people in these countries would have put an end – through public criticism – to these efforts. One might have expected that there would be a recognition of the fact that the active denial so prevalent in the Arab/Muslim world makes those who express these views look silly at best and nefarious at worst. This has not happened.

I have not seriously considered the notion that denial should be linked to foreign aid. I am not sure this is the best direction to take. I would certainly argue that any country which encourages Holocaust denial and fails to condemn those who engage in it, would be a questionable ally at best.

Prominent Holocaust deniers like Ernst Zundel and David Irving have been quick to take to the net, taking advantage of its cheap and fast ability to publish worldwide. The net seems, unfortunately, precisely because it’s cheap and accessible, to be the perfect place for disseminating hate literature. I would suggest that serious academics have been slow off the mark to use internet publishing and blogs constructively, leaving a dangerous vacuum for the likes of Zundel to fill. Would you agree, and what was the thinking behind the setting up of your blog?

I agree wholeheartedly. The internet has given deniers a new lease on life. They use it energetically. Whereas in the 1990s, before the explosion of use of the internet, a number of countries, Germany prominently among them, were limiting the activities of deniers by stopping them from shipping denial materials through the mail. That, of course, is obsolete today. No one need rely on the mail.

I also agree that most scholars have been incredibly slow in utilizing the internet and blogs as a means of responding to deniers. In fact, after my trial, for a short while, the only place one could retrieve the transcripts of the trial was on deniers’ websites. That is why Emory University, where I teach, created , a website devoted to the trial. On this site one can find not only transcripts, the judgment, and the expert reports but also increasing numbers of documents which were used in the trial. We have also put up the materials related to the various appeals Irving submitted to the court.

The site is being used in university and law school classes and by law enforcement officers in their attempt to educate themselves about deniers and their arguments.

[In preparing this interview and particularly my comments about the rumor of making Jews into soap, I used Google to see what it brought up. I entered soap + Jews + Holocaust + Nazis. The first 4-5 sites were deniers’ sites.]

The dilemma for historians with regard to Holocaust denial, as you pointed out in Denying the Holocaust, is whether to challenge the falsehoods face-on, or to try to starve them of the oxygen of publicity. Six years on from your successful defense against the libel case brought by David Irving, what do you think the best method to counter Holocaust denial is? Your vindication in the courts, for example, should have been a clear victory and yet it’s not uncommon to hear the misrepresentation that it was you who initiated the court proceedings rather than Irving (thus presenting him as a persecuted figure). In the face of such a protean ability to twist the facts around, is it naive to believe that historical facts are enough to counter Holocaust denial?

This is a tough question. In certain respects you are right. Historical facts are not enough alone to counter denial. They are, however, our most important weapon. They certainly are a far better weapon than laws which outlaw Holocaust denial. I am an opponent of such laws. I don’t agree with them in part because of my advocacy of free speech. I also think that they have the potential of making the denier appear to be, as you put it, the “persecuted figure” or martyr. Moreover, such laws suggest that we cannot rely on historical documentation to make the case.

Rather than law, there is another “weapon” in our arsenal. That is the quick and forceful condemnation by scholars, political and religious leaders, and other people of stature of denial and deniers. There must be condemnation of both “hard-core” and “soft-core” denial.

In a recent controversy in Italy, provoked by the publication of a paid for ‘information notice’, the Minister for the Interior spoke of shared values necessary for all participants in the recently established dialogue body between the Italian government and representatives of the Islamic community. Affirming recognition of the Holocaust as an essential value, he described the Holocaust as “incomparable to any other event in our time”. What do you think of the argument that the Holocaust was a unique event, and more importantly that it should remain incomparable to other events?

There are many aspects of the Holocaust which might be called unique or, to use a more efficacious term, unprecedented. Unlike other genocidal events, the Holocaust was not a civil war with two warring factions going after one another. It was not, as was the case in Cambodia, the imposition of terrible treatment – including torture and murder -- by the regime of a country on its own citizens. The Khmer Rogue, unlike the Third Reich, did not try to enslave Cambodians who lived in countries outside the country’s borders.

The Armenian genocide comes the closest to the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, on ordering his military commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, dismissed objections by saying `[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' and thus set the stage for the Holocaust. What it suggests that, had the world remembered the Armenian genocide, then the Holocaust might not have been possible. There are, of course, stark differences between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. An Armenian living in Paris or Brussels or possibly even in Istanbul was safe from the perpetrators’ murderous reach. A Jew in the 1940s who was on the European continent or even in North Africa was not safe from Germany’s intention to find them and deport them. Armenian children were often taken – kidnapped – and raised as Moslems. Jewish children were murdered.

In no other genocide do we see a government throwing all its resources into the annihilation of a people; not just those within its borders but in every area to which it had access.

Nor can the Holocaust be compared to America’s treatment of the Native Americans. America’s unspeakable treatment of the Native Americans – which remains a blot on my country’s history -- was prompted, in great measure, by the fact that the Native Americans occupied land that the American government wanted for its people. There was perverse logic – however totally immoral and terribly cruel it might have been – to the perpetrators’ actions. It might be more exact to say, rather than logic, there was something for the perpetrators to gain by their annihilation of the Native Americans.

In contrast, though the Nazis gained immeasurable amounts of material goods, real estate, and art work from Jews, this was not the prime motivation of the massacres. All Jews – rich and poor, those with a great cache of wealth and those with none – were in danger. The Jews did not “occupy” land that the Germans wanted. They murdered Jews who were serving important tasks as slave laborers. There was no ostensible “logic” to the murder of the Jews.

The Third Reich did not assault only those of a military age. Instead, it went after men, women, and children of all ages. This government chased down everyone of those it deemed an enemy, even when it was to its own detriment to do so.

While there were unprecedented aspects to the Holocaust, I – together with most other historians -- reject the notion that it was uniquely unique, i.e. that it was an event which cannot be compared to any other event. First of all, there is no historical event which is sui generis. Every event can be compared and contrasted with another event. If it does somehow stand alone, then there is little we can learn from it. Moreover, from the perspective of the educator if something is unique unto itself, it is very hard – if not impossible – to teach to students.

I would argue that we banish the term “unique” to the dust bin and adopt “unprecedented.” Unique means something which stands alone. Unprecedented means that when it happened there were no other examples of such a thing. But unprecedented does not preclude the fact that there might be other examples which follow in the wake of the Holocaust.

The field of "Holocaust studies" has traditionally existed in a tension between introversion, stressing the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide of Jews, and extroversion, applying the ethical stance and expertise of the field to other cases of genocide and "ethnic cleansing," past and present. Introversion may have been a useful strategy for the early years of the field. Over the years, however, Holocaust studies have greatly advanced and developed a wide array of resources and it would be a pity not to put them to use also for the research, documentation and help in other relevant cases.

Like Women's Studies or African-American Studies, Jewish Studies were developed as a satellite field that was supposed to fill in the gaps left in "general" disciplines when it came to minority matters. As a satellite field, Jewish studies were merely expected to flesh out a theoretical skeleton developed in the "general" disciplines with Jewish-related subject matter. But Holocaust studies is one of the rare instances, where Jewish studies actually has a theoretical and methodological edge over "general" disciplines, and it is here that we can for once offer to reciprocate the theory stream.

Leading Holocaust deniers like Ernst Zundel embrace with vigor campaigns for freedom of speech, suggesting that they’re victims of censorship. Does the fact that Holocaust denial is a crime in certain jurisdictions support their claims? The argument goes that no other historical fact is protected by law – if someone wishes to say that World War II didn’t happen, while obviously wrong they don’t face prosecution. Why is the Holocaust different?

As I said earlier, I don’t believe that Holocaust denial should be outlawed. However, if one looks closely at some of the statements made by deniers they, on occasion, go beyond simple historical deception and enter into the realm of hate speech and incitement. That kind of talk, incitement to violence in particular, should be outlawed.

By the way, it is not only Holocaust denial which is outlawed. France recently passed a law outlawing Armenian genocide denial.

Does the continued underground existence of Holocaust denial, despite the overwhelming historical evidence, suggest that there’s a problem with how we teach history, or is it simply unfortunate proof that anti-Semitism still has strong roots in our culture? To put it another way, are there any lessons for us to learn from the continued survival of Holocaust denial?

Hmm, I think it may be a reflection in small measure of how badly history is taught. However, in the main it is really proof of the fact that anti-Semitism [which I prefer to spell as one word, antisemitism] has very deep roots. At its heart, Holocaust denial is naught but a form of antisemitism. And antisemitism is a form of prejudice. Like any other form of prejudice it is an irrational sentiment. [Think about the etymology of the word prejudice, pre-judge, i.e. “don’t confuse me with the facts, I have already made up my mind about this person or this group.”] Therefore, to imagine that one can thwart it with rational arguments is wrong.

One should not discount the impact of Irving v. Penguin and Lipstadt, even deniers acknowledge that it was one of the worst mistakes they ever made. Virtually every argument that they had in their arsenal was shown to be a “tissue of lies.” Five different judges and three courts emphatically agreed.

Of course denial persists, but not in the same overt manner that it did before [with the primary exception of the Arab/Moslem world.]

I think that the primary lesson to be learned from the fact that it exists at all – after all, it really is absurd -- is that the haters don’t go away and that those who are willing to challenge them must continue to do so. It’s not an easy task but if you cannot abide prejudice and hatred, you have no choice.


Before I turn to Holocaust denial, here are some thoughts about Borat. [This was originally written for the Wexner Foundation Newsletter.]

I saw Borat on a Saturday night in November. The movie had only opened the previous night. I laughed uproariously at Sasha Baron Cohen’s antics.

When we emerged after the film, the lobby of the New York theatre was filled with people waiting for the next show. I saw some friends. As I approached them to say hello, one of them said, only partially in jest, to his friends: “Whew, it’s ok to see Borat. Deborah Lipstadt just did.” When I praised the film one said: “So it’s not anti-Semitic?”

The only other time I had been used to give a hechser to a film was The Passion of the Christ. [I hated this film in which the filmmaker seemed to consciously choose every possible way in which to depict Jews negatively. I told people that if they really wanted to see it, they should go to a multiplex, buy a ticket to another film and sneak into the Passion.]

Borat antisemitic? Heck no. If anything the film shows the ludicrousness of prejudice. Borat’s antisemitism as well as that of the people he skewers [admittedly, some were unfairly taken advantage of] is depicted as just plain stupid.

Since that exchange in the lobby of the theatre, I have been struck by the passion with which some people and organizations have condemned this film. Have they never heard of sarcasm and irony? I acknowledge that there may be some people who will use the film to validate their negative feelings about Jews. But anyone whose anti-Semitism is reinforced by this film did not need the film to give expression to his or her Jew hatred.

I am writing this from Washington were I have come to meet with approximately fifteen other scholars and journalists to discuss the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism. In Iran the conference on the Holocaust convened by Iranian President Ahmadinejad has just opened. Despite depicting itself as a scholarly gathering, it is nothing but a forum for deniers and antisemites.

Throughout the Arab/Muslim world Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are growth industries. It is expressed there in a way that shocks those who live in the “Western” world where, since the Holocaust, expressions of unambiguous antisemitism are considered unacceptable in polite circles.

That does not mean, of course, that anti-Semitism has disappeared in the Western world. It is expressed in far more subtle and, consequently, insidious ways. When Israel’s actions are described as “Nazi” like or Israeli soldiers are called storm troopers, this is anti-Semitism. [Whatever one may think of Israel’s policies, to compare it to Nazism is to reveal not only a deep animus towards Jews but a failure to understand what Nazism was all about.] Some people would even say that someone who uses “Apartheid” in the title of a book about Israel is suffering from, at the very least, from a streak of antisemitism.

What then about Borat? One could say that it is just a very funny movie made by an incredibly talented person. Actually, I think it is more than just that.

Sasha Baron Cohen seems intent on demonstrating just how stupid anti-Semitism is. Ultimately, anti-Semitism is a form of prejudice and prejudice is itself irrational. As I recently wrote in the Washington Post [ ]“Prejudice means pre-judging. It amounts to saying, ‘Don't confuse me with the facts; forget evidence; I have already made up my mind.’”

When I teach about anti-Semitism I tell my students the joke about the Jew and the Chinese man who were sitting in a bar getting drunk. Suddenly the Jew knocked the Chinese man off his stool. As the man struggled to his feet he asked “What was that for?” “THAT,” the Jew emphatically replied, “was for Pearl Harbor.” “PEARL HARBOR??!!,” the Chinese man responded incredulously, “Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.” “Chinese….Japanese,” the Jews responded, “It’s all the same. Let’s drink to it.” After a few more drinks the Chinese man knocked the Jew off his stool. As the Jew struggled to his feet, he asked “What was that for?” “THAT,” the Chinese man responded, “was for the Titanic.” “THE TITANIC??!!,” the Jew replied, “that was an iceberg.” “Iceberg… Goldberg,” the Chinese man responded, “it’s all the same. Let’s drink to it.”

Prejudice and anti-Semitism are irrational. Borat knows that. Sasha Borat Cohen makes us laugh at the stupidity of anti-Semitism and those who would indulge in it. He does so without in any way diminishing its importance or threat.

If you are one of those who worries about hatred of Jews and its implications and works to try to combat it, go see this film. For 85 minutes you will have a bit of a respite. And, God knows, you deserve it.


After a long hiatus I have decided to start blogging again. I have been inundated with questions about what I think about the Iran Holocaust denial conference, Ahmadinejad, and a host of other things. I decided that the best way of answering is to begin blogging. I shall start by posting some of the things I have written recently and then I shall get to recent events in Teheran.

Sorry for the long absence.