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Month: December 2007

Denying the Holocaust

[1] When she started to study the topic, Deborah Lipstadt writes in the Preface to Denying the Holocaust, few people thought the effort was warranted; the idea that somebody would take holocaust deniers seriously obviously seemed strange to them.

To me that was, in a way, the most surprising thing in the whole book. Holocaust denial and antisemitism have been from the very start a part of post-war german culture. Writer Erich Kästner observed how germans during the reeducation period would insist that the pictures of emaciated corpses taken in liberated concentration camps were merely “allied propaganda”. In his book Notabene 45 Kästner quoted an american officer who said “Of course we will rebuild the country with the help of former nazis collaborators.” [2]. The officer added something to the effect of “who else is there”.

Who else, indeed. Heinrich Lübke, head of the west german state from ’59 to ’69 had worked during the “Third Reich” for the company that built the facilities at Peenemünde (and used KZ inmates as workforce) [3]. At the end of the sixties, during the time of the first “Grand Coalition” between social democrats and conservaties the FRG was governed by the odd couple of Willy Brandt, a Nazi opponent and Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who had been during the Nazi era a propagandist in the foreign office under Ribbentrop [4]. Kiesinger eventually resigned after the German Democratic Republic published its “Black Book” with records of some 5000 high ranking politicans, judges, industry leaders and other public figures who had started their respective careers under Adolf Hitler. The Blackbook was quickly denounced as communist propaganda – which it was, only it was still correct, and it exposed a large number of politicans, jurists, industrial leaders etc as Nazi supporters and former members of the NSDAP. Later there was the Bitburg Affair, Historians debate, these days we have Neo-Nazist partys in some state parliaments and in between there has been hardly a year in which nobody either denied or justified the holocaust in public. Since not even the democratic insitutions could extricate themselves from their Nazi roots it would have never occured to me that holocaust deniers could be looked at merely as “kooks” who could be easily ignored.

However “Denying the holocaust” is a book about the USA and for an american audience. Deborah Lipstadt traces holocaust denial back to it’s origins from World War I revisionism- originally a school of thought by serious historians who would have preferred a isolationist position for the US in the war, but was quickly annexed by people who sought to exonerate Germany (which in the treaty of Versailles was considered to be solely culpable for the war) and maintained that the allied forces had committed far greater war crimes than the germans. When in the late 1930s and the 1940s the US again faced a choice if they should join a war in distant europe this radical brand of revisionists added antisemitism to their repertoire, either based on homegrown products like Henry Fords antijewish brochures or on stuff that had been fed to them by the Nazi propaganda machine; it portraited jews as members of a vast international conspiracy that employed both capitalism and communism to subjugate the world under jewish rule and more specifically to drive to USA to war against Germany.

From these beginnings – or so it would seem from the way Lipstadt presents her facts – holocaust denial after World War 2 was inevitable. When the self styled revisionists tried to exonerate Germany from the – horribile dictu – comparatively small infraction of starting WW I they could hardly sit by as it was brought to trial for the much greater crime of genocide against the jewish population of europe. Since they were already convinced that Germany was innocent victim of jewish machinations they now contended that no jews had been killed or at least the number of deaths had been greatly exaggerated and that those killed had been legaly executed for espionage, sabotage or treason.

Ideologically the worldview of holocaust deniers was by now pretty much complete. What followed was a shift in emphasis, as antisemitism became the goal and exonoration of germany the means, and a change in tactics. Holocaust Denial tried to move away from the fringe of self-publishing rabble rousers into the mainstream of academics and mass media. They gave themselves fancy names – but the name alone does not make a reputable “Institute” (sc. “for Historic Review”). Their publications emulated serious publications – but this was all appearances, no real substance. They claim to use historicals sources, but their quotes are either taken out of context, or misquoted, or they are complete fabrications. Their biggest success however was to establish holocaust denial as the legitimate “other side” in public discourse. Allowing holocaust deniers to disseminate their claims through newspapers, radio shows and tv programmes suddenly became a matter of “free speech”, as if the right for free speech had ever included a right to be published in all relevant media, even those with specific anti-discrimation policies (which inexplicably never seem to cover antisemitism). More important than a deep commitment to civils rights was perhaps that right wing antisemitism met with antizionism from the left. To claim that the holocaust had been somehow invented by the jews to blackmail the germans serves both sides, so ideology could not work as a safeguard (it used to be the case that right wingers and lefties disagreed with each other as a matter of principle, so you had usually one faction that was correct).

The book includes too much detail to be easily summarized in a review – which is a good thing of course, it means Deborah Lipstadt did a good and thorough job. However I have one “but”, but I think that’s a big one: Holocaust denial in Germany, and/or by Germans would have deserved much broader coverage. There’s a small chapter about the “Historikerstreit” (historians debate) but there’s no mention of, for example, Hennecke Kardel (who contented that Hitler and all leading Nazis were jews who arranged the Holocaust to discredit National Socialism) [5], Ingrid Weckert (who perpetuated in Feuerzeichen the myth of a “jewish declaration of war” against germany), the very versatile Germar Rudolf [6], who authored one of the countless bogus reports on the unfeasibility of murder in gas chambers [7] and others (it should be not suprising that the german holocaust denial scene is large and diverse, since it were germans who perpetrated the holocaust in the first place). Given the neo-nazis curious penchant for internationalism I would be surprised if the german denial scene hasn’t had some influence on it’s american counterpart.

Even so – I’m not too god a lavish praise, so I just say it’s a must-read if your at all interested in the topic. Plus it’s much more useful than History on trial, since it is a comprehensive history of a political “idea” rather than a report of a tiresome court case brought forth by a disgruntled holocaust denier.

  1. After I wrote about History on trial a commenter asked for a review of Denying the Holocaus, since the former is more or less a consequence of the latter. So, here’s the review. I planned to amend this with a few of my own musings about holocaust denial in germany, but I guess I’ll save this for a later blog post. So here we go.
  2. Kästner, Erich, Notabene 45 p.299 in: Kästner für Erwachsene, Zürich 1983. “Collaborator” might be a bit sharper than the german original “[Leute] die mit Hitler zusammengearbeitet haben”
  3. http://www.zeit.de/2007/30/Heinrich-Luebke?page=all
  4. Enzyklopädie des Holocaust, Benz/Graml/Weiß (ed.), München 1997, p. 852
  5. Kardel, Hennecke “Adolf Hitler, Begründer Israels”, Geneva 1974
  6. Rudolf habitually assumes different personalities with different “qualifications”, sometimes even within the same text where he quotes his own pen names as authorities to bolster his own argument
  7. while the “Rudolf-Report” was written in 1991 as “expert” testimony for Otto Ernst Remer, a holocaust denier (see http://h-ref.de/personen/rudolf-germar/rudolf-report.php), it seems that it wasn’t published as a book before 1994, so maybe the document wasn’t well known when Listadt published her book in 1993

The Darth Vader Problem

George Lukas’ movie The Return of the Jedi has one of the strangest redemption scenes ever to be shown in cinema: Inmidst of a battle in which thousands die, a man who has supposedly killed billions of sentinent beings and subjugated the survivors to tyranny gets his absolutions after he helps his offspring to defeat the vicious emporer (completly pointless btw. because the subsequent events would have killed the emporer in any case). Yes, I’m perfectly aware that Darth Vader is a fictional character, but emotional images like a scene of forgivness to the father by the son transports a message to to audience, an in this case the message is any kind of crime is ok as long as you say you’re really, really sorry.

But is it, really? Can any crime be forgiven? And who is to grant forgiveness, is it the victims? And in that case is it okay when one victim forgives or do we need to round up a majority of them or all of them to arrange an orgy of absolution?

Exodus International is a christian organisation aims to “cure” gay/lesbian christians from homosexuality. The name is probably meant to be some kind of allegory, like, Exodus will lead you from the barren desert of homosexualty to the promised land of post-maritial heterosexual sex for the purpose of procreation. The choice of name, while not inappropriate, is a bit strange given that the man who led the tribes through the desert never was allowed to enter the promised land himself.

Exodus International cannot possibly “cure” homosexuality because homosexualty is not a disease. Exodus Internationals attempt to “cure” homosexuality is really an exercise in destroying peoples personalities by applying social pressure (we wash your brain so you can come clean, that kind of thing). And while their long term conversion rate from queer to straight is zero, Exodus leaves in it’s wake a visible trail of wrecked lives, and a couple of deaths.

Beyond Ex-Gay an online community for the survivors of ex-gay expericences – has a reprinted letter and video statements from some former Exodus leaders who stood down from their conviction that homosexuality needs cure and apologized for the damage they had done. Especially the video messages are emotionally powerful – these are a commited, no-nonsense type of people who underwent a significant change for the better. So, their redemption is at hand, or is it.

One thing that puzzles me is that these people still cling to their christian faith. I usually do not like the more notorious atheists because, willfully confusing correlation and causation, they attribute every possible crime to faith if there is a chance that the perpetrator has been exposed to religion at some time of his life (as most people have been). But in this case there is no weasling out or dodging the issue: Almost every religion has instituted some insane policy toward sexuality, and when it comes to gay sex the idea to kill by cure is, horribile dictu, one of the more benevolent approaches. The only way to be a gay christ is to start, for all intents and purposes, your own christian sect that allows for “homosexual tendencys”. What is this religion thing, some kind of buffet where you can pick and choose (“I want some of that heavenly father and a pinch of bodily resurrection, but please hold the hellfire for sodomites”) ? And by the way what’s wrong with saying “gay and lesbian” – do I say I have a “heterosexual tendency”?

But the more important question is the question of forgiveness. To say “I’m sorry” might work for tyrannical galactic overlords, but in real life we expect people to suffer punishment for their crimes before they are allowed to re-enter society (feeling very bad does not actually count as punishment). And most of them seem to have renounced their faith in Exodus when they fell in love with members of the same sex, so things get even worse when you muster a little cynicism and look at their motives: It seems they had little qualms about wrecking other peoples lives up to the point where they wanted to get laid themselves.

I probably shouldn’t get upset about all of this. Some of the victims of anti-gay treatment have in their various blogs signalled forgivness to the penitents. I myself am neither gay nor religious. All this happened in a foreign country, and while most germans would claim to be religious very few would bother to actually do anything about it. But then I think of a friend, how she shook her fist in helpless anger at the TV screen when, just after a particularly nasty child rape scandal within the church, a catholic official declared that homosexuality is a sin. The church that could not even enforce enough self-restraint among it’s employees to spare children from sexual assault now denounced her sexuality as a lesbian? This whole idea that homosexuality needs a cure is a direct attack on people I love.

To stay within in the Star Wars-metaphor from the first paragraph I now should write something on the nature of forgiveness and perhaps conclude with a quip about the death-star of Bethlehem and how it will eventually explode – but then, what would be the point (since it won’t, anyway). So believe whatever you like or even be anti-gay how much you like (this is, after all, free speech territory), but for what little it’s worth, if you go after my friends it’ll take a lot more than to say “I’m sorry” to make me stop being angry at you.

    History on Trial

    Deborah Lipstadt is one of those people whom I admire for their competence and tenacity but cannot quite bring myself to like because I’m still a bit of a lefty and they, well, they are not. However the feeling is quite arbitrary and in any case her work is quite important to one of my own interests; in my spare time I work for a non-profit called shoa.de that provides information about the Holocaust and the “Third Reich” and arguments against those who still (or again) claim that the destruction of the european jews by the nazis did not happen. Deborah Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta. In 1993 she published Denying the Holocaust – The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Among those who bend the truth she counted David Irving who is mentioned on multiple occasions in the book.

    David Irving is an english writer who for some 40 years covered mostly historical topics in his books. Some renowned historians hold him in high regard, although it is unclear why they would do so; from his first book on Irving made regularly claims that are either unsupported by evidence or supported only by evidence that has been purposefully manipulated and that try to exonerate Hitler and other leading Nazis. Also Irving regularly suggested that it was in fact Nazi Germany that showed restraint during WW II and that instead it were the Allied factions that had committed war crimes.

    Lipstadts Denying the Holocaust was not primarily a book about Irving, but naturally she had to mention his wrong conclusions, distortions and lies. Although David Irving had denied the holocaust quite unambiguously (what with tasteless aperçus like more people “died in Kennedys car than in a gas chamber in Auschwitz”) in 1996 he still decided to sue Lipstadt. The case came under british libel law, which not only meant that Professor Lipstadt had to prove that Irving indeed was a holocaust denier, she also had to prove that his denial was done on purpose and not a result of mis-interpretation of evidence on his part. And the evidence had to be presented not to a jury of fellow scientists, but to a judge who was an expert on british law, not german history, and who could have easily given in to the temptation to render a “balanced” judgement when in fact a bias toward the truth was called for. Still, in the end Irving suffered a crushing defeat and his attempt to curtail Lipstadts right of freedom of speech failed.

    This is a quite important bit. It is important because Holocaust Deniers now claim that it was Lipstadt who tried to silence Irving. So remember: It was Irving who sued Lipstadt and he lost, because she was right and he was wrong.

    History on trial (Harper Perennial 2006) is Lipstadts account of the trial – a trial that took four years and millions of dollars in funds to prepare. The book demonstrates why it’s so hard to win against holocaust deniers. A denier can make up a lie in the spur of the moment. But if you want to prove him wrong you have to find the source he allegedly quotes, check the text, establish the proper context … and after you have refuted the lie the denier simply shrugs and tells another lie. And so it goes on, again and again, for some 300 pages.

    Of course there are some benefits from the trial: The Holocaust Denial on Trial – Website has published the testimonials of the expert witnesses, that’s an interesting read, and there are also quite interesting fact sheets that refute some of the more notorious denial claims. And these days nobody could claim that he is a holocaust denier due to innocent errors or a lack of information – the trial presented the evidence not only to the judge but to the world at large.

    On the other hand, after I had read the book I couldn’t help to think, what a waste of time and ressources. After some five years of preparation and in court we know exactly as much as before (to wit, the Holocaust really happened and David Irving is a liar). Professor Lipstadt could have done a lot more to further our understanding of the Holocaust had she had opportunity to proceed with her regular research instead of having to fight that twit. I would recommend to buy History on Trial to show support for the cause, but unless you want, through Deborahs Lipstadts eyes, a study on how the mind of a holocaust denier works (not something a sane person would want to witness from close up) it makes a somewhat depressing read. But at least there was a happy end.

      In case you wondered

      A picture of the earth globe with its tilted axis featuring the slogan: The reason for the season

      (Source: The slumbering lungfish )

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