The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Friday, January 28, 2000

The Growing Assault on the Truth of Absolute Evil
Those who would deny it twist testimony, disbelieve
evidence and dismiss the obvious.


In a London courtroom, British writer David Irving is suing Deborah
Lipstadt, author of "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and
Memory," for calling him a Holocaust denier.

"I do not deny the Holocaust," he said. "I merely redefine it." Irving's
"redefinition" includes that there was no killing of Jews in gas chambers
and that Adolf Hitler did not order, and perhaps for a time did not know of,
the "Jewish problem's" Final Solution--the Nazi name for the Holocaust.

How could this happen?

After all, documentation of the Holocaust is vast. The killers have never
denied the crime. The Germans kept meticulous records, and massive
documentation exists in the archives of many countries. Aerial surveillance,
photographic evidence, intelligence intercepts and even the archeological
remains of the sites reinforce the documents.

They all tell the story of the evolution of Nazi genocide, from the infamous
Nuremberg laws to the introduction of segregation, economic confiscation and
apartheid, to the mobile killing units that killed bullet by bullet, person
by person, and ultimately to the gas chambers at death camps such as
Auschwitz and Treblinka--assembly-line death factories.

Throughout the years, survivors of the Holocaust have bore witness in
memoirs, audio and video testimony and at trials. The Survivors of the Shoah
Visual History Foundation has videotaped more than 50,000 survivors in 33
languages in 57 countries. These eyewitnesses reiterate the story of the
Holocaust, testimony by testimony. The perpetrators, too, have told their
stories in diaries and letters, memoirs and trial testimony.

Yet how, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, can the
Holocaust be denied? A series of techniques are employed:

* If there is any conflict in testimony, the entire testimony is negated,
not just the issue in dispute. So, for instance, if there are discrepancies
between survivors' accounts, or minor factual errors, all testimony is
discarded as worthless. To deniers, perpetrator testimony is equally
worthless, the fruits of coercion.

* If historians dispute information, then all positions in the debate are
equally credible. Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust historians, has
conservatively estimated the Jewish dead at 5.1 million. The eminent German
historian, Wolfgang Benz, has argued that 6.1 million Jews were killed. If
two such eminent historians can be at odds, then a figure of less than 1
million Jewish dead can also be put forward as credible.

* Documents are taken out of context, misread, misinterpreted or
mistranslated. An example from the Lipstadt trial: Irving had claimed that
he discovered irrefutable documentary proof that Hitler had ordered a halt
to the murder of Jews. Under cross-examination it became clear that the
document in question was an order given by SS chief Heinrich Himmler to halt
the killing of one trainload of Jews from Berlin. Half-truths are stretched
to cover a myriad of falsehoods.

* Dubious experts draw conclusions with bizarre methods. A new "definitive
test" is made, and the conclusion reduces all previous knowledge to rubble.
Thus, the "definitive scientific tests" of the gas chamber walls for the
residue of the gas Zyklon B are bandied about as proof that no gassing took
place in the gas chambers. A recent documentary film, "Mr. Death," has
exposed the test as unscientific and the expert as a fraud.

There is soft-core and hard-core denial. Soft-core denial is the refusal to
face the evil of the Holocaust, the search for the happy ending or the good
that can mitigate the overwhelming evil of the what took place and thus
protect us from the difficult fact that educated, cultured and civilized
people can commit the most heinous crimes.

The Holocaust forces a confrontation with absolute evil. It denies the
consolation of triumphant goodness. It is about atrocity, not tragedy. In
the end, what we will learn will never be equal to the price that was paid
for such knowledge.

Hard-core denial is more pernicious, more evil. The motivation of some
survivors is political. Hitler gave fascism a bad name. If the magnitude of
the crime can be diminished, then fascism can enjoy new prominence.

Other deniers are anti-Semitic. If the Holocaust is a hoax, then the most
outrageous fantasies of the anti-Semites are true. Jews could be seen as
controlling the archives of many countries, the judiciary, the media, the
Swiss banks and German corporations, and Italian insurance companies that
have come forward to settle past claims. The leaders of more than a score of
countries will gather in Stockholm this week to advocate education about the
Holocaust as an antidote to racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance and as a
tool for teaching the values of human dignity, not just history. They, too,
must be under Jewish control.

How serious is the problem?

A Roper Poll that found that 20% of Americans believe it is possible that
the Holocaust did not happen was withdrawn as unscientific. Its question was
ambiguous. A new Roper Poll indicated that 8% of all Americans are prone to
Holocaust denial, a far more marginal phenomenon but still of considerable
concern. For if the Holocaust is denied while the eyewitnesses are among us,
what will happen after they are no longer?

Ignorance of the Holocaust is more pervasive and the challenge of education
and documentation is more important. Thus, the outcome of the conference in
Stockholm will overshadow whatever occurs in the London courtroom.

- - -

Michael Berenbaum Is the Former President of the Survivors of the Shoah
Visual History Foundation and Director of the Research Institute of the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


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