The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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LAST Friday, testimony ended in a London courtroom in author David Irving's
libel suit against Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University and her
publisher, Penguin Books. The issue is whether Lipstadt was correct when she
labeled Irving -- who has been denounced as "Hitler's spin artist" -- as a
Holocaust denier. Although the evidence of Irving's decades-long historical
distortions is overwhelming, he may yet prevail in court, thanks to the
complexities of British libel law and his own clever wordplay. That would be
a devastating blow -- for Irving has been in the forefront of a sinister and
dangerous campaign that has allowed Holocaust denial to slowly, but surely,
creep into otherwise respectable institutions.

Irving, to be sure, has his admirers -- and from people who cannot be called
neo-Nazis or Holocaust revisionists. Although not a trained historian, he
has immersed himself in the facts and details of the Hitler era. Few
question the breadth of his factual knowledge -- it's what he does with it
that's open to question.

For Irving is the living embodiment of Shakespeare's line that "the Devil
can cite Scripture for his purpose." Indeed, his reputation is what makes
him so dangerous -- because it means that people who otherwise wouldn't
dream of crediting his outrageous theories are willing at least to listen to
his arguments.

And there's no mistaking what those arguments are: The Holocaust, he says,
was not a systematic attempt by Nazi Germany to annihilate European Jewry --
only a few hundred thousand Jews died in German camps, mostly through
disease and overwork. There were no gassings at Auschwitz and other Nazi
death camps -- says Irving, "More people died in the back seat of Sen.
Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz,"
which he claims were built by Polish communists after the war as a
"Disneyland" tourist attraction.

Because he admits that there was a Holocaust -- although he maintains that
the number of victims and the manner of their deaths has been vastly
exaggerated by "Zionists" -- Irving insists he cannot rightly be called a
Holocaust denier. Indeed, he and his supporters wrap themselves in the
mantle of free speech -- claiming that those who attack his work are engaged
in censorship and a refusal to accept legitimate historical reappraisal.

That, at least, was the way St. Martin's Press initially responded when it
came under fire for publishing Irving's 1996 biography of Nazi propaganda
chief Josef Goebbels (the book was later canceled; Irving published it
himself). Goebbels himself must be "laughing in hell," said St. Martin's
editor Thomas Dunne in an obscene analogy, since "he loved nothing better
than burning books."

Irving's ability to win such support is what makes him threatening. Despite
his penchant for pro-Hitler remarks (he claims the Nazi leader was totally
ignorant of the Holocaust) and his frequent appearances before neo-Nazi and
far-right-wing groups (he describes himself as a "moderate fascist"), Irving
is not your run-of-the-mill, foam-at-the-mouth Holocaust denier.

Which is why Lipstadt, who wrote a highly praised book about contemporary
U.S. press coverage of the Holocaust, chose to confront the growing success
of the revisionist movement in her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust." In
it, she accused Irving of distorting historical data to serve his own
ideological interests.

There's no denying that Irving doesn't approach the subject like the
dispassionate historian he claims to be. "It's baloney, it's a legend," he
tells audiences. "Once we admit the fact that [Auschwitz] was a brutal
slave-labor camp and large numbers of people did die -- as large numbers of
innocent people died elsewhere in the war -- why believe the rest of the

That is precisely what worries Lipstadt and others opposed to Irving. As
Holocaust survivors and those who liberated the camps die out -- ending the
availability of first-person testimony -- "it's going to be much easier to
deny it," Lipstadt told the Los Angeles Times last January. Or at least to
minimize the uniqueness and systematic nature of the Nazis' nefarious
genocide of the Jews.

Which is what Irving hopes will happen. "The Jewish community is trying to
make out that their suffering is unique in its grandeur and the methods
applied to achieve it," he says. "It was just one of the many barbarisms
committed under the cloak of war." In fact, he says, the Jews brought the
Holocaust on themselves by provoking Hitler.

As Lipstadt warns, Irving has opened up a dangerous door that must be
slammed firmly shut: The notion that there is "another side" to the
Holocaust. Yes, over the past 50 years, historians have revised some of
their understanding of what took place in the Holocaust thanks to intensive

But the fact that there was a campaign of genocide that systematically took
millions of Jewish lives is not a subject for debate. To attack his
ideologically driven crackpot theories is not censorship but a necessary
defense of historical truth. Make no mistake: Students in the
not-too-distant future will take Irving's work seriously because some
legitimate publishers and academics remain willing to lend him credibility.

If he wins in court -- and the legal onus is on Lipstadt and Penguin to
prove their accusations -- Irving and his revisionist soulmates will have
been handed a license to rewrite history and distort the truth.


Washington post 03.08.00

The Holocaust's Witnesses Must Be Heard

Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Now that the government of Israel has released Adolf Eichmann's memoirs,
they are certain to become an essential resource. He was, after all, one of
the masterminds of the Holocaust. Together with the autobiographies and
diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Albert Speer and other Nazi leaders, Eichmann's
opus will soon be required reading at colleges and universities throughout
the United States.

At the same time, Holocaust historians routinely ignore the memoirs of its
survivors, preferring instead to rely primarily on German sources. While the
personalities of Hitler, Himmler and Eichmann are studied in depth, their
victims are commonly depicted as two-dimensional figures whose sole purpose
on earth was to be marched into gas chambers.

Peter Novick, a retired professor of history at the University of Chicago,
has gone so far as to dismiss the survivors' memoirs as "not a very useful
historical source." As far as he is concerned, the survivors' memories serve
only for "evoking the Holocaust experience," rather than as reliable

"What many scholars have in common," novelist Thane Rosenbaum has observed,
"is an open and unapologetic disdain for those who were direct witnesses to
the atrocity." Having developed often facile theories about the Holocaust,
these self-anointed experts do not want inconvenient facts to get in their way.

European Jews during the Holocaust were far more than anonymous victims. In
Bergen-Belsen, my mother and a handful of other inmates of that
concentration camp kept 149 Jewish children alive from December 1944 until
their liberation by British troops on April 15, 1945. My father-in-law
survived as a partisan in the forests of Lithuania and Belarus, saving the
lives of his widowed mother and 8-year-old brother. Their experiences are
not recorded anywhere in German documents or Nazi autobiographies.

In September 1945 my mother was one of the principal witnesses for the
prosecution at the first trial of Nazi war criminals. In her testimony, my
mother told the British military tribunal at Lueneburg, Germany, how
countless Jews, including her parents, husband, sister and child, had been
sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and she described in detail
the Nazis' brutality and sadism. For the first time, the world was faced
with one who had been there, with a survivor.

On her second day on the witness stand, one of the court-appointed defense
attorneys suggested, according to a report published in the New York Times
on Sept. 23, 1945, that my mother's statement that she had seen Josef
Kramer, the commandant of Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, kick and beat the camp
inmates was "pure fabrication." "I would like to point out," my mother
replied, "I was present and not the defending counsel during those
conditions that I have described."

This incident might be dismissed as one lawyer's overzealous trial tactic
were it not for another news item published on the same page as the report
of my mother's testimony. There, Gen. George Patton, head of the U.S.
military government of Bavaria, is quoted as saying that "this Nazi thing is
just like a Democratic and Republican election fight." Fast-forward to
Patrick Buchanan, who wrote in his March 17, 1990, syndicated column that it
would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of the
Treblinka death camp.

Most survivors' memoirs are rejected out of hand as not commercially viable.
While some, such as Elie Wiesel's powerful "Night" and Alexander Donat's
"The Holocaust Kingdom," are recognized as classics, thousands remain
unpublished and, consequently, unread. These first-person testimonies must
be preserved, catalogued and made accessible to scholars and others. While
most will never be bestsellers, they are nevertheless critical elements of
Holocaust historiography.

The survivors deserve the dignity of a permanent historical presence not as
faceless objects but as individual protagonists with names and voices. The
collective body of their testimonies constitutes one of the most potent
antidotes to contemporary and future Holocaust deniers. A way must be found
to collect and publish as many of them as possible to ensure that the
darkest period in civilization will not be chronicled primarily through the
words and perspectives of Adolf Eichmann and his fellow murderers.

The writer, a lawyer, is the founding chairman of the International Network
of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

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