More thoughts on Holocaust Denial

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Question everything… but then listen to the answers.

Recently I've come across a few vague Holocaust denials. Rather than explicitly state that the Holocaust did not happen, they simply "raise questions" about the "accepted versions" about what happened. When outrage ensues, they do the intellectual equivalent of shrugging innocently and say, "What's wrong with asking questions?"

Questions come in several types. There are leading questions, designed to steer the thinking of the listener in a specific direction, or elicit a specific response. These are typically "Yes or no" questions, as in, "Did you not, on the night of…." And then here are open-ended questions, questions to which the asker does not know the answer. They can be stated as a first step to seeking knowledge, or they can be posed to convey that you don't know something ("Why does anyone do anything?")

The problem with "questioning the Holocaust" is not that someone is seeking knowledge. Seeking knowledge is a good thing. Rather the "questioning" is a form of leading question, designed to guide the thinking of the listener into doubt. Then comes the usual intellectual bait-and-switch: if minor fact x can be shown to be mistaken, then dismiss every other related fact as well.<

If you want to understand the Holocaust, ask questions, but then look for answers. With the Holocaust you are dealing with a fairly recent historical event. There are still eyewitnesses living. There are mountains of written eyewitness testimony (and an eyewitness video library at USC in Los Angeles with close to 6000 video testimonials). And of course there are the Nazi archives, with 10's of millions of records. That Germany is finally opening the largest to the public after 60 years recently made headlines. It contains 60 million documents, with names, addresses, relationships, serial numbers, and dates of execution for millions. In short, there is simply too much evidence for any sort of reasonable doubt.

Therefore, to me anyone who denies the Holocaust is both profoundly uneducated and unwilling to seek the truth: there is simply too much evidence in all forms - eyewitness, forensic, and written - to even begin to question it. Granted, the most important question - WHY? - is basically unanswered to this day. But if you want to doubt the existence of the Holocaust, you might as well argue that Denmark doesn't exist - its purported existence was fabricated by the Dutch so they would have a better marketing campaign for their cheese - it is simply preposterous.

That is, unless you come from a country where antisemitism is endemic, namely Russia. Then perhaps you won't think it so unusual to question the Holocaust, and wonder what the bid deal is when people react strongly. This may seem a bit of an extreme statement. However, the history of antisemitism in Russia is long – it was on of the few things to survive unmodified from Czarist into Soviet times, and it continues to this day. Periodically it will make the news, such as the front-page article in the New York Times last year. Certainly antisemitism in Russia is milder now than in the days of the Pogroms. But to Western sensibilities the degree is still shocking. In such an environment, perhaps "questioning" the Holocaust is not such a big deal; it's done all the time. But in the West, it simply doesn't play well.

Daniel Hindes


Sources on Russian antisemitism:

And the list goes on (just use google). What these reports don't readily capture is the social climate in which disparaging Jews is just simply accepted and normal, kind of the way that racism lives in America.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Hindes published on June 5, 2006 2:12 PM.

On Willy Lochmann and Bondarev was the previous entry in this blog.

Eric P. Wijnants and the problem of pseudo-scholarly writing without footnotes is the next entry in this blog.

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