Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial and Distortion: How to identify it and challenge the narrative
2 July 2019
This week, CST’s Dr Dave Rich spoke to the Holocaust Education Trust’s Ambassadors Conference, addressing the issue of Holocaust denial as a form of antisemitism. Here is his speech:
My organisation, the Community Security Trust, is a charity that provides security for the Jewish community and supports victims of antisemitism – or anti-Jewish racism. We research antisemitism so we can understand it better and we try to educate people to help them recognise it when it appears.
I’m going to start by talking about Holocaust Denial – the bizarre and outrageous phenomenon whereby people deny that the Holocaust even happened.
YouTube videos saying “Holohoax – no Gas Chambers” or “The Jewish Holocaust Hoax”. Facebook videos about “Holohoax survivors who actually tell the truth!”
It’s nasty, twisted stuff. You have all studied the Holocaust at school. All, or most, of you have been on the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ programme, heard first-hand testimony from survivors and visited Auschwitz itself. You know the Holocaust happened. So how can anyone tweet things like this:
How can anyone deny it, and why would they want to?
The answer to these questions teaches us a lot about antisemitism.
The original Holocaust deniers were the Nazis themselves. They used code-words like “resettlement” and “deportation” to mask their plans to murder millions of Jews. They forced Jews who were being sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and other extermination camps, to write postcards home saying that they were safe and well. And in the last year of the war, they tried to destroy the physical evidence of their crime by blowing up crematoria and dismantling the fences and other buildings as they retreated from the areas of Poland where the bulk of the Holocaust took place.
After the war, as the evidence of the Holocaust became widely known and publicised, Nazis and their sympathisers built a sophisticated and detailed wall of lies to claim that this evidence was all faked, and that stories of genocide were invented. They published books claiming the Holocaust was a myth, such as ‘Did six million really die?’, ‘The Leuchter Report’ and ‘Debunking the Genocide myth.’
And they publish books claiming that Anne Frank’s Diary was a forgery. They claimed to be using scientific evidence – The Leuchter Report calls itself a “forensic examination” of Auschwitz. Deniers even set up an Institute in California, called the Institute for Historical Review, that published an academic-style journal. All to encourage people to question whether six million Jews were, in fact, murdered by the Nazis. They claimed that they were the truth-tellers, and that the story everyone else believed to be true, was, in fact, a lie.
It’s all nonsense, of course. Cynical, deceitful nonsense masquerading as the truth. You’ve heard of ‘fake news’? Here it is, well before the internet was invented.
Why did they do it? What was the point and what were they trying to achieve?
For some, it was to try to make Nazism and fascism acceptable once again. Neo-Nazis after the war knew that the Holocaust made Nazism uniquely abhorrent. This was the greatest, most horrific crime in history and Nazism was to blame. So, in order to still believe in their ideology, and to hope to persuade others to do so, they had to deny that the Holocaust ever happened.
But for others, it is not about making Nazism more popular, but about Jews making Jews less popular – and this is where we learn about antisemitism. Because when we think about racism, we tend to think about discrimination – people being treated unfairly or unequally because of their skin colour, their ethnicity or their religion. We think of insults and racist swear words, for example about Jews being mean or stingy – like this:
Antisemitism has all of this, but it also has something else: a conspiracy theory about the Jews. Antisemitism claims that Jews are incredibly powerful, greedy, manipulative, immoral, and always plotting. That Jews conspire to control Governments, with rich Jewish bankers behind it all. That when you ask, “Who’s really in control?” – of the media, Hollywood, banks, politics, law or the internet – the answer, for antisemites, is always Jews.
At the heart of antisemitism is the basic idea that Jews must always be up to something, that you can never really trust them. Whatever they say, they always have a hidden agenda and it usually involves getting more money or power for themselves.
This is what Holocaust Denial does.
Think about it - if the Holocaust didn’t happen, then the whole world has been fooled. It’s all a big con, a massive lie to make everyone feel guilty. This means the people behind the lie – in other words, the Jews – must be incredibly powerful to be able to fool everyone, and fundamentally dishonest to want to. They must be really twisted and sick to want to lie about their own mass murder and they must be really manipulative and untrustworthy.
This is the point about Holocaust denial – it isn’t just a wrong opinion about history or a harmless conspiracy theory. It’s a way to get people to hate Jews. And when people today tweet or post something saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, they aren’t just getting it wrong or being stupid – they are taking part in a campaign that was originally meant to help Nazism and is wholly antisemitic.
For neo-Nazis, persuading people the Holocaust didn’t happen has two benefits: it cleanses Nazism of its unique crime, and it spreads antisemitism.
But this isn’t limited to the far right.
Because when people who deny the Holocaust try to explain why, in their twisted world, they think Jews would invent such a story, they say that Jews did it to make everyone feel guilty: firstly, to get money from Germany and other countries in the form of reparation payments after the war; and secondly, to get political support for Israel. And this is where Holocaust denial, distortion and minimisation appeals to the far left as well as the far right.
Here you have a tweet from the ‘White Genocide Information Network’ – a far right account – and a post in the ‘Stand With Palestine’ Facebook Group, both making the same argument: that Jews invented the story of the Holocaust to get sympathy and support for Israel.
Now, without getting into the politics of the Israel/Palestine conflict, it’s necessary to get this history straight. In 1947, two years after the Holocaust, the United Nations decided to create a Jewish state in Israel partly in response to the need to find somewhere for Jewish refugees in post-war Europe – hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors – to live, and Israel declared its independence the following year. But this isn’t the only, or even the main, reason why Israel exists. Zionism – the movement that campaigned for the creation of a Jewish homeland or state – had its first congress in 1897 and there was already a large Jewish presence and organised society in the territory that is now Israel well before the Holocaust.
However, the widespread assumption that Israel was created as a direct result of the Holocaust leads some people to make the bizarre, grotesque assumption that, if Israel was created as a result of the Holocaust, then that means the Jews did pretty well out of the Holocaust, because they got a state. Further, some people then assume that in order to campaign against Israel, if that is your politics, you have to break that link – to undermine the guilt that the world feels over the Holocaust. Of course this isn’t necessary, and it results in a form of politics that, apart from anything else, degrades the Palestinian cause, but some people do it anyway.
Maybe they do it by arguing that the leaders of the political movement that created Israel – Zionism – collaborated with Nazism. Lots of people do it by claiming that Israel behaves just like Nazi Germany. This is not just untrue, and not just offensive – it is another antisemitic slander. It’s not about criticizing things Israel does – anyone can do that, but this is something entirely different. It is a comparison that is only made because Israel is, by some definition or other, Jewish. It is a way of pointing a finger at Jews and saying, “we don’t have to feel guilty about the Holocaust anymore, because you are just as bad as the Nazis were”. The message is: “Israel shouldn’t even exist – it was only created out of guilt over the Holocaust, but now you are just as bad.” It is an incredibly hurtful comparison for Jews, and, crucially, it plays on their Jewish identity and heritage in order to cause the maximum hurt. It is also a way of denying Jews the right to remember the Holocaust.
Then you get some who go the whole way and use explicit Holocaust denial to make their point. This Holocaust Denial post is from the Facebook page of Alan Bull, who was due to stand as a Labour Party council candidate in Peterborough last year until this and other antisemitic Facebook posts were exposed.
Ultimately it all comes back to conspiracy theories. The Nazis believed that there was a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world and destroy Germany. They thought all the major world powers – Britain, USA, Soviet Union, France and others – were controlled or manipulated by the Jews. They thought Hollywood and the stock market were run by Jews for the same reason. They read and published books that spread this conspiracy theory – the most infamous was called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – and they made their own propaganda with this claim.
Nowadays, you get similar conspiracy theories about Jews, or Zionists, or Israel, or Rothschilds, or Freemasons, or Soros – the names change but the way of thinking is the same. It is a racist conspiracy theory that blames Jews for everything bad in the world. This was the basis of the Holocaust, it is the basis of Holocaust denial, and it is the core belief of antisemitism.
Conspiracy theories are popular right now. Some of them seem harmless. Stuff on YouTube about the Illuminati, or whether the moon landings were faked, or whether the vapour trails you see coming out of airplane engines as the fly across the sky are really filled with chemicals to control our brains. Silly but harmless, right?
Wrong. Because as soon as you start asking why conspiracies like that could happen and who is behind them, and how they have remained hidden for so long, you will, sooner or later, end up at a website, or a YouTube video, or a Facebook page, that says it is all down to the Jews. So, in order to recognise and oppose antisemitism, you need to be able to spot a conspiracy theory. You need to understand that when people start talking about hidden powers pulling the strings, or about a small secretive group using money and influence to control world events – an alarm bell should go off in your heads.
This is my final point, and my plea to all of you today: you are here because you believe in education and in the power of the truth. It is fantastic that you are all ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust, but I am going to take the liberty of asking you to do something else: you need to be ambassadors for the basic idea that facts, knowledge and truth have the power to overcome prejudice and hate.