I carry the history of the Holocaust in my name.
My Hebrew name is Yosef, I am named for Joseph Lowenstein, or “Papa Joseph,” my paternal great-grandfather and the patriarch of that side of the family.
In 2004, I visited John and Maike Guntermann in the Essen-Steele area where our family had lived for generations.
John’s father owned a print shop and had been Papa Joseph’s patient for many years. In addition to showing me a notebook full of correspondence between our families for more than 60 years, starting with a death notice his father had created for my great-grandmother, John’s wife Maike read a letter her father-in-law had written that described Papa Joseph’s desperate efforts to leave Germany after the war had begun.
Shunned by many of the people who he had cared for for decades, Papa Joseph carried around an English dictionary as part of his efforts to learn the language to help him adjust to life in America, should he get out.
He never did.
Instead, he was deported first to Theresienstadt, and, from there, to the Auschwitz death camp. There, he and more than 1 million other people, were murdered by the Nazi regime and the workers who carried out the killing.
In between his stops in Cairo, Egypt and Normandy, France, Obama called the camp the “ultimate rebuke” to those who would deny the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, there are many who would do so.
Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University has written a powerful book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, created a blog and been featured on a web site that seeks to expose and counter Holocaust denial.
In the book, Lipstadt breaks down the range of tactics that deniers use. While some are open and avowed anti-Semites, others take more sophisticated and thereby disturbing tactics. This second group starts from the seemingly reasonable premise that war is a terrible experience for all people before starting to nibble around the edges of the numbers, the gas chambers, survivors’ memory, the role of disease, the absence of written commands from Hitler ordering the genocide, and so on.
The cumulative effect is to say that the death of about 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews did not occur.
Venerable historian Richard Hovannisian has written about how the similar tactics employed by deniers of the Armenian genocide-an event that to this day is still denied by the Turkish government-and the Holocaust.
Within this part of the book, she has an interesting section about Noam Chomsky, who had a back-and-forth position about Faurisson’s right to speak at certain forums and air his views that is captured in part in the documentary film, Manufacturing Consent. A current denier site, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, cloaks itself in the mantle of what in America is called the First Amendment.
She also explains the shift in tactics by the deniers, who have created “revisionist” pseudo-scholarly journals in which they peddle their hate.
Lipstadt has always refused to appear on the same stage as Holocaust deniers because she says to do so would confer legitimacy to their lies and imply that there is an argument when, in fact, there is none.
She has paid a price for her scholarship.
In 1996, she was sued by David Irving, one of the major deniers, for libel in a British court. Three courts found for Lipstadt, but the struggle continues, both because of the vast reservoir of information on the Internet-a Google search of her name and the book’s title instantly produced a denier’s “review” of the book that called it “vile”-and because of powerful leaders like Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly has denied the Holocaust.
Obama called out Ahmadinejad by name at Buchenwald, making it clear that he stands on the side of truth.
Still, the struggle continues, especially as survivors continue to age and die, leaving us to pass on the reality about what happened to the next generation.
1. Have you seen any denial web sites? What tactics do they use?
2. How do you best counter a lie about history?
3. Why are so many people silent when Ahmadinejad issues these odious statements?