I'm a bit surprised and sad this post is even necessary, but a visitor pushed Holocaust denial in a thread at BH, and though we addressed it there, it seemed wise to address it in its own post as well. What exactly does one say to a Holocaust denier, assuming he or she is even remotely sincere and not merely a provocateur? I was thinking it might be akin to talking to someone who holds a geocentric view of our solar system, but even that falls woefully short, because it doesn't encompass the bigotry, the rejection of overwhelming documentary evidence, and the potential real world impact. Holocaust denial may be the ultimate combination of intellectual dishonesty, willful ignorance and irrational rage.
As Columbia University President Lee Bollinger put it to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (emphasis added):
In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a “fabricated” “legend.” One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.
For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.
For people who care about accurate history, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. presents a mountain of material and is one of the best ways to learn about the subject. If you can't go to the museum itself, there's plenty of resources they have online. In our case, that includes "Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of The Holocaust Presented at Nuremberg." Some of the related films are online as well.
There's more graphic documentary footage elsewhere, and YouTube users HolocaustShoah and Lokulotes have compiled a fair amount of relevant films.
What exactly is the pitch here, by deniers? Guess the United States and other Allied governments, and their militaries, who filmed the ovens and skeletal survivors at liberated concentration camps, were all in on the conspiracy, huh? Those emaciated men fasted up to the point of starvation and organ failure just to make the Nazis look bad. They also thought pretending to be dead and being flung into a mass graves on camera would be the perfect payback.
What exactly is the political upside of Holocaust denial? It's not as if it has any credibility. Based on what I've read to date, it seems these people believe that Israel claims greater moral authority due to the Holocaust, and thus denying key elements of one of the worst atrocities in human history will undercut that supposed authority. But why do they even view this as necessary? No nation is completely virtuous, most aren't even close, and all deserve healthy criticism. Criticizing policies of Israel hardly makes one anti-Semitic by itself, of course. It is sad that charges of anti-Semitism can be tossed around quite recklessly, mainly but not exclusively by right-wingers. However, as Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, a "New poll reveals how unrepresentative neocon Jewish groups are," and there are definitely venues where adult discussion can be had. Personally, I dislike reflexive, false charges of anti-Semitism because I feel it cheapens the term and diminishes a very real problem to a rhetorical bullying move. All of that said, I really don't see how one can be a Holocaust denier and not be anti-Semitic. Perhaps it's theoretically possible, but in practice, it sure doesn't seem to be the case. The Holocaust did target homosexuals, Slavs, the Roma (or gypsies), and all totalitarian regimes persecute political activists and intellectuals. But of course Jews were the main target, by far the largest group affected, and as plenty of the Nazis' own films and documents attest, their persecution of Jews was not exactly a big secret. I suspect for many a Holocaust denier, if he or she articulated their true feelings, it would be, "How dare you try to make me feel guilty for hating Jews!"
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also hosts a series or related articles and links on the subject of Holocaust denial. As "Combating Holocaust Denial: Holocaust Deniers and Public Misinformation" notes:
Holocaust deniers naively assert that if they can discredit one fact about the Holocaust, the whole history of the event can be discredited as well. They ignore most of the evidence of the historical event and focus on three specific arguments that they say negate the reality of the Holocaust in its entirety.
Of course, the truth will continue to be lost on the "brazenly provocative," "astonishingly uneducated" and ferociously bigoted.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)