To the individual observer, reality is never perfectly clear. On Holocaust Memorial Day (Sunday January 27th) we are left again asking how modern society could ever have witnessed the worst events of the Second World War. Unless, of course, you believe that it never happened at all.
As the last remaining survivors of the Holocaust pass away, so a link to the recorded past is weakened. I worry that the falling numbers of witnesses to the mass slaughter of the Nazi death camps may embolden the Holocaust deniers, or ‘revisionists’, as some prefer to be called. It’s hard to dismiss their particular conspiracy theory as harmless.
It’s not only the Iranian president who’s been brainwashed. Three years ago I was sitting in my A level history class, defending established fact against another boy who was having a worrying amount of success convincing his fellow students that six million dead was an exaggeration. The trouble is that without having done the research, a Holocaust denier can convince you that questions remain unanswered.
We should, of course, always learn to be critical. Aside from the friends we make and the resistance to alcohol that we build up, the chief benefit of a university education should be the ability to evaluate; to challenge previous assumptions and not swallow everything we’re told.
It is right, therefore, that we should examine events such as the Holocaust with a critical eye and continue to question existing beliefs. New evidence and theories from the past sixty years of historical analysis have continually revised our understanding of how, why, and in what circumstances the mass killing of Jews and other minorities was able to take place.
It is, however, this very critical reasoning that should steer us away from ‘Holocaust revisionist’ theories that reverse proper methodology and seek to offer a complete and unequivocal explanation of history. The problem with Holocaust deniers like David Irving is that, unlike historians, they do not accept that their results may differ from their hypotheses. They begin with a belief that the extermination of Jews did not take place; they then search for evidence and will defend their conclusion whether or not the facts support their case.
Because all the facts points to mass extermination, Holocaust deniers must find a way to dismiss the evidence. Their denial rests on one main assumption: that the Western powers and ‘world Jewry’ conspired to fabricate the Holocaust in order to justify their war against Hitler, establish a Jewish state, or even take over the world. This is when it all starts getting a bit silly.
Always ask yourself about the motives. Holocaust denial is not about objectively establishing the facts of history. It’s no coincidence that many deniers are neo-fascists. With the end of the Second World War, Nazism was exposed as a political ideology that allowed brutality on a massive scale. The fascists had lost power and credibility. If the Holocaust could be shown as a hoax, then, for some, fascism may be that much less repulsive.
Ironically, the existence of deniers may reassure the rest of us that on January 27 we remember a real atrocity. We should surely be concerned if history were always presented as a clear-cut sequence of events devoid of debate and discussion. Always keep a critical and open mind. Challenge established belief and practice. Don’t, however, lose sight of reality.Luke Pearce - Compass Youth
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2008 Anti-Fascist Magazine Searchlight has produced a 16-page special on Genocides. It looks at the background of the worst atrocities over the last 100 years and asks whether the phrase ‘Never Again’ is anything more than empty rhetoric. Searchlight has also set up a campaign to pressurise the Government to do more to seek an international settlement in Dafur. To support the campaign and get a free 16-page special on genocides click here