Holocaust Discourse and the Moral High Ground
The Jewish Holocaust occupies a unique position in modern Western society, in that questioning the facts of the Holocaust is suppressed and vilified on a global scale as no other topic of human history. Why is research into the Holocaust so problematic? Why is it that serious research by scientists, historians and other academics is rejected out of hand as immoral? Why is the suppression of research into ANY aspect of history acceptable?
At present there are 14 countries that criminalise ‘Holocaust denial’, i.e. publicly questioning, or disseminating research that questions, any aspect of the approved Holocaust narrative: Canada plus 13 European countries including Germany, Austria and France. In many of these countries legislation was passed decades after the end of WWII, in France only in 1990. As recently as 2015 a German court convicted 87 year old Ursula Haverbeck of ‘Holocaust denial’ and sentenced her to 10 months prison. Other revisionists who have served jail sentences include the German publisher Ernst Zündel and the British historian David Irving, who was arrested, sentenced and imprisoned in Austria in 2005. Academic Robert Faurisson was convicted in France of holocaust denial in 2006 and given a three month suspended sentence. In Germany convictions are rising steadily: in 2000 there were more than 2,666 violations of the Holocaust denial law STGB 130, as compared with 437 in 1987.
Even where Holocaust revision is legal, those who are involved in it or support it in any way are liable to be vilified, persecuted and generally treated as lepers. British academics like Irving and Nicholas Kollerstrom saw their careers destroyed, and every effort is made to deny revisionists any sort of platform; it goes without saying that they are subjected to vindictive trolling on social media. Some, like Faurisson and Zündel, have been physically assaulted on more than one occasion. After pro-Palestine activist Paul Eisen wrote an article ‘The Holocaust Wars’ in which he suggested there were questions to answer about the Holocaust, he experienced an extraordinary campaign of vilification and ostracism, especially from the pro-Palestine movement he had given so much to. That he was Jewish himself was no defence against the charge of antisemitism. As Eisen himself says, ‘I had metamorphosed into that lowest of animal life forms, the maggot at the bottom of the food chain – a Holocaust denier’.
Paul Eisen saw an unexpected rise in his profile during the 2015 campaign for election of the leader of the UK Labour Party. It was discovered that Jeremy Corbyn had had some links with Eisen in the past, including appearing on the same platform as him. The media, who had hardly been supportive of Corbyn’s candidature, had a field day accusing Corbyn of associating with a Holocaust denier. Jeremy Corbyn’s response to accusations of an association with Eisen was unequivocal : ‘had I known he was a Holocaust denier I would have had nothing to do with him […]. Obviously Holocaust denial is vile and wrong’. (From 2.47 mins in the following)
There are two principle assumptions relating to the Holocaust, both implicit in Corbyn’s denial of Paul Eisen:
- It is an an indisputable fact that Adolf Hitler planned to exterminate the Jews of Europe, that he did so by gassing them with cyanide in specially constructed gas chambers, and that he was thus responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews
- People who question any of these premises, do so ONLY because they are neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who wish to conceal the crimes of the Nazis while at the same time sharing their ideology. They are ‘Holocaust deniers’, and all Holocaust deniers are of necessity antisemitic.
The immutability of these two premises leads to another, that anyone who questions any aspect of the Holocaust or who supports the right of others to question the Holocaust, is at best morally compromised, and probably downright evil, deserving responses ranging from suspicion, condemnation, vilification, isolation, hate mail, through to arrest and imprisonment, sometimes for many years. Those who accept unreservedly the two premises are automatically morally superior to anyone who smells a rat.
In 2012 Piers Morgan interviewed the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and asked him about his attitude to the Holocaust. I say ‘asked’, but Morgan puts his own position very clearly.
Morgan states that ‘it is an indisputable fact’ that over 6 million Jews were annihilated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. ‘Do you dispute that 6 million Jews died or no.’ Although Ahmadinejad tries to voice his suspicions about the narrative, aroused principally because so much effort goes into suppressing research, Morgan is unmovable: the Holocaust is a fact: either you believe in it or not (subtext: and if you don’t it’s because you choose to, because you are a bad person).
The biologist Richard Dawkins sees Holocaust debate in precisely the same terms as Piers Morgan:
So according to Richard Dawkins, too, the Holocaust’ is an immutable fact, and those who question it are intellectually on a par with people who think the earth is flat, and morally on a par with racists. Again, the Holocaust is presented as just one fact, a single package – you either believe in it or you don’t.
What is particularly interesting about Dawkins’ position is that he is one of the leaders of the New Atheist movement, ostensibly dedicated to pointing out all that’s wrong with religion. One might have thought he would be sensitive to the features of the Holocaust narrative and the protectors of its memory that are evocative of the most intolerant religions, for example Catholicism in medieval times. Criminalising Holocaust denial is like burning Bruno Giordano at the stake for claiming that the earth goes round the sun.
A number of writers have in fact analysed the parallels between the Holocaust and religion, most notably the Israeli writers Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Shraga Elam, Gilad Atzmon, and Yoshua Shalev. Their arguments have been summarised as follows: Most Jews today are either atheists or shun the religion of Judaism. Therefore, the Jewish people had to adopt belief in the ‘Holocaust’ as their new religion. They have spread this religion all over the world. ‘Holocaust’ museums are the new houses of worship and are present in most major cities. The new religion has its commandments, its decrees, its prophets, its high priests, its circle of saints, its rituals and its pilgrimages. It knows neither mercy, nor forgiveness, nor clemency but only the duty of vengeance. The Holocaust religion is coherent enough to define the new ‘antichrists’ (the Deniers) and it is powerful enough to persecute them (Holocaust denial laws).
The ‘Ten Commandments’ of this ‘Holocaust Religion’ have been enunciated as follows:
- Remember what Amalek (the Non-Jews) has done to thee.
- Thou shalt never compare THE HOLOCAUST with any other Genocide.
- Thou shalt never compare the Nazi crimes with those of Israel.
- Thou shalt never doubt the number of 6 million Jewish victims.
- Thou shalt never doubt that the majority of them died in gas chambers.
- Thou shalt not doubt the central role of SATAN Hitler in the extermination of the Jews.
- Thou shalt never doubt the right of Israel to exist as the Jewish state.
- Thou shalt not criticize the leading Jewish organizations and the Israeli government.
- Thou must never criticize Jewish organizations and the Zionist leadership for abandoning the European Jewry in the Nazi era
- Thou shalt take these commandments literally and never shew mercy to them that doubt!
So what if you question this Holocaust religion? There is an almost universal assumption that if you don’t believe in the Holocaust it is not because you have an inquiring mind, it’s because you are innately evil. The belief underlying the draconian legislation relating to Holocaust denial would seem to be that the Holocaust is only questioned by neonazis, whose ‘denial’ is motivated by hate and so they should be locked up before they contaminate anyone else.
I have to confess that when I recently learned of the existence of Ursula Haverbeck and her prison sentence for ‘Holocaust denial’, in a European country in the 21st century, for carrying out, as I saw it, serious research into history, I was shocked to the core. I mentioned this to various acquaintances here in Wellington, who were equally horrified, not at the imprisonment of Ursula Haverbeck, but at the thought that I appeared to be questioning the Holocaust narrative. I was quickly made to understand that if I thought there was something worrying, something odd about this punitive response to historical research, it indicated a moral flaw in my makeup.
Soon after I had a twitter exchange with one Daniel Finkelstein, peer of the British realm, ex-editor of The Times. I came across his savage indictment of a prolific tweeter, who had defended David Irving, the notorious ‘Holocaust denier’. When I commented that the said person ‘opposes land theft (in Palestine), ethnic cleansing and child abuse – what’s not to like? Finkelstein, twitter handle ‘Dannythefink’, responded by asking me what I thought of the Holocaust. The exchange continued as follows:
It comes as no surprise that Daniel Finkelstein, who is in total support of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and cruelty in Palestine, assumes morally superiority to me, since I have spoken in defense of a man who has spoken in defense of a man who does research into a field of history. And of course I have refused to commit myself to the undeniability of the Holocaust package …
One can assume that all these experts on the Holocaust, who know enough to be confident of the immutable truth of the Holocaust narrative, whether it be Piers Morgan, Dawkins, or Daniel Finkelstein, would also know another immutable truth about the Holocaust, that the Director of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss was tortured for three days and three nights, and that his testicles were smashed beyond repair,as happened to 137 out of 139 Germans ‘interrogated’ before the Nuremberg trials. One can assume that this makes no difference to their perception of the Holocaust narrative, and they will remain confident of their moral superiority to those of us who are distressed and alarmed by the knowledge that German witness statements at Nuremberg were obtained under the most brutal torture. (From Höss’s confession was derived the figure of 4 million deaths at Auschwitz; the figure was later revised down to 1 million.)
‘Holocaust denial’ is generally conflated with antisemitism, ‘Jew hate’ or racism, and so automatically deserving of vilification. However, even if revisionism is considered to be intrinsically antisemitic, protectors of the Holocaust narrative like to bolster their case by pointing to more general indicators of racism in the culprit.
To the uninitiated the best-known Holocaust revisionist is probably the British historian David Irving, who was convicted of Holocaust denial in an Austrian court and sentenced to three years in prison. Irving was interviewed by Tim Sebastian on the BBC’s Hardtalk in 2000. The programme’s style is intended to be aggressive, but when I watched the programme in 2000, knowing nothing about either Irving or Holocaust denial, I was repelled by Sebastian’s overt hostility to Irving, and I believe that any other impartial person would be too. (Sebastian underlined his antagonism by refraining from shaking Irving’s hand at the end of the interview.)
Sebastian suggests that to deny the gas chambers is hurtful and tasteless (Holocaust denial is immoral per se). But like many others he feels the need to shore up this assumption by showing that there is other evidence that David Irving is a racist, and though he has few examples to work with he is relentless on this point. Irving’s suggestion that he is no more racist than millions of other people is brushed aside with the rather strange claim from the interviewer that there is no evidence for this whatsoever (so only Holocaust deniers are racist). Furthermore, it would appear that honest but naive David Irving confessed in an interview with the Independent that he once called someone a ‘nigger’, something he immediately regretted and remained bitterly ashamed of. As someone put it in the comments below the YouTube video, David Irving is probably the most honest person on the planet.
Another protector of the Holocaust narrative is Max Blumenthal, an American Jew who has a profile as a supporter of the rights of Palestinians. Blumenthal has attracted criticism from some pro-Palestine activists, who see him as an ‘antizionist’ zionist (AZZ), or gatekeeper, due to his attacks on other activists such as Alison Weir and Gilad Atzmon, his opposition to criticism of Jewish power, his prioritising of antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and his peddling of the NATO narrative on Syria; Gilad Atzmon sees him as racist, agressive and supremacist. In 2008 Blumenthal attended a meeting by David Irving when he was touring the States, and created this video:
The video is interesting for several reason. Blumenthal has interspersed his footage with clips from old German propaganda films promoting Germans superiority – of course if you question the Holocaust you must be a Nazi and white supremacist. Like Piers Morgan he presents the question of the Holocaust in bald holistic terms, with no allowance for individual aspects, or degrees of doubt. ‘Are you a Holocaust denier’, he asks, pretty much as one might ask ‘are you a paedophile?’
And as Holocaust denial is such a heinous crime, Blumenthal is justified in first finding out the location of the meeting (given freely to him by David Irving), and then outing Irving to the Vicar of the church hosting the meeting as a ‘Holocaust denier’. The smugness, the self-satisfaction of Blumenthal are palpable; he clearly sees himself as a hero, where others might just see a manipulative sneak. In any case we are left in no doubt that Max Blumenthal, the anti-German racist, the Palestine activist who along with Israel promotes the destruction of Syria, is morally superior to the ‘Holocaust denier’ David Irving, regardless of the latter’s transparent integrity.
The claim that ‘Holocaust denial’ is innately antisemitic was blown out of the water when Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, took into his head to declare that the Holocaust was the brainchild of the Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Husseini (so not Hitler afterall), that Hitler only wanted to expel the Jews, not exterminate them (thereby breaking Commandment 6, see above). There was anger and ridicule in Israel and amongst Jews abroad and Netanyahu was forced to climb down. Although Netanyahu was in general accused of ‘playing into the hands of Holocaust deniers’, he was actually guilty of Holocaust denial as it is defined, ie questioning an aspect of the Holocaust discourse – any German who made Netanyahu’s claim would be arrested. If one accepts the ruling that says ‘Holocaust denial’ is antisemitic, Netanyahu must be antisemitic. Which is clearly nonsense – Netanyahu’s racism does not lie in antisemitism, but in an overweening belief in Jewish exceptionalism.
It could be that those protecting the approved version of the Holocaust with such intolerance, aggression, and hate are absolutely right, that 6 million Jews died, in gas chambers, according to a plan drawn up by Adolf Hitler. I wouldn’t know – I haven’t done the research necessary for me to form an opinion.
However it is manifestly clear that those who question or deny the Holocaust are not united by a common neo-Nazi philosophy, of a type that on the one hand insists that Hitler was not guilty of the crimes attributed to him and on the other claims ‘Hitler was right’ to commit these crimes. Mainstream Holocaust revisionists are academics, philosophers, German patriots or Palestine activists. They do not necessarily support the far-right – many of them probably vote for left of centre parties. Some of them are notable for their immense compassion, such as Paul Eisen, who has always been a strong advocate of justice for Palestine. All of them have shown great courage and integrity, and are prepared to look for the truth and to speak it as they see it.
Regardless of the facts of the matter, criminalisation of responsible research into the Holocaust, and the vilification and isolation of those who carry it out, or even those who simply support their right to do so, is an outrageous denial of academic endeavour and historiography as a discipline. Anyone who supports such criminalisation, vilification and isolation is NOT morally superior but in fact morally and intellectually compromised. Furthermore, any honourable person with a modicum of intelligence and a modicum of courage will fight for the right of all people to carry out research into any branch of history, without treating one particular aspect as sacred and therefore exempt from scrutiny.