Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, by Deborah Lipstadt. New York: Free Press, 1993. Hardcover. 278 pages. Notes. Index. $22.95. ISBN: 0-02-919235-8.
Deborah Lipstadt occupies the Dorot Chair in Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. Denying the Holocaust has been put forth as a serious work of scholarship, and is now considered to be the leading study on the growing and controversial phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism. While Ms. Lipstadt does inform the reader of the history of Holocaust denial, she does so in a very biased manner. Mainly, she functions as a propagandist who is furthering her own political agendas. In very unscholarly fashion, Ms. Lipstadt:
- insists that those whom she personally attacks in her book, and those whose opinions she criticizes, not be allowed any forum whatsoever to answer her criticism or her charges;
- advocates the total suppression of all opposing viewpoints;
- levies ad hominem attacks on virtually everyone who disagrees with her, and is vicious in these attacks, calling her detractors dirty political names such as neo- nazi, antisemite and racist;
- views her subject matter as a "problem" and advocates "solutions" to the "problem"
- employs a style and approach which are those of advocacy of political opinions and agendas rather than those of detached scholarship.
The major thrust of this book is an attempt to deny the American people the opportunity to learn about and consider the arguments and positions of Holocaust revisionist theory. Ms. Lipstadt openly and shamelessly tries to convince the reader that Holocaust deniers should never, under any conditions, be given an academic or public forum or access to the media of mass communication to present their viewpoint. To accomplish this she puts forth essentially two arguments which are woven throughout the entire fabric of this insidious work.
The first argument has it that Holocaust revisionists are evil and demonic people who have a secret agenda. She claims that the deniers are Nazis, antisemites and racists, and what they are really after is to attack and disparage Jews in order to achieve their evil, political ends. In order to accomplish this, she claims that they fabricated the Holocaust revisionist viewpoint. Consequently, revisionist comments cannot even be considered to be "ideas" or "positions" or "arguments," and these "non-ideas" should never be acknowledged or given any forum whatsoever for their expression.
This Bolshevik-like argument is accompanied by another rather appalling argument in which Ms. Lipstadt shows her contempt for the principles of democracy and of freedom of speech. A fundamental assumption of freedom of speech is that in a free society all ideas pertaining to political and social issues should be allowed to be expressed. When there is the free competition of ideas and fee debate and all ideas are exposed to the "light of day," the best ideas regarding truth and justice will win out in the end. But when only some ideas and topics are allowed free expression and debate and others are not, then we do not have freedom of speech. Reflecting her belief that her logic and reasoning are superior to that of all others and should be imposed on the others, including national media people as well as the professors and students of our best institutions of higher learning, Ms. Lipstadt, on pages 207 and 208, states:
It was naive to believe that the 'light of day' can dispel lies, especially when they play on familiar stereotypes. Victims of racism, sexism, antisemitism, and a host of other prejudices know of light's limited ability to discredit falsehood. Light is barely an antidote when people are unable, as was often the case in this investigation, to differentiate between reasoned arguments and blatant falsehoods. Most sobering was the failure of many of these student leaders and opinion makers to recognize Holocaust denial for what it was.
It is most sobering to read this passage. It is decidedly untrue that the topics of racism, sexism and antisemitism are presently being exposed to the "light of day." Fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years ago, people could express widely divergent opinions on these topics, but today, these three subjects are so intensely politically loaded that only the dominant establishment viewpoint on them can be expressed. Any whisper of an opposing viewpoint is summarily crushed. It is because of the lack of exposure to the "light of day" that these problems are not being honestly and sensibly addressed. Then, on pages 219 and 220, Ms. Lipstadt states:
There are those who believe that the courtroom is the place to fight the deniers. This is where Austria, Germany, France, and Canada have mounted their efforts. The legislation that has been adopted takes different forms. Some bills criminalize incitement to hatred, discrimination, or violence on racial, ethnic, or religious grounds. Others ban the dissemination of views based on racial superiority for one sector of the population and expression of contempt toward a group implying its racial inferiority.
The problem with such legal maneuvers is that they are often difficult to sustain or carry through. Ms. Lipstadt does not seem to be the least bit horrified at the prospect of people being thrown in jail for disseminating their views, or for expressing how they feel about some group. She is only worried about the practical problems of executing such laws. She goes on:
An even greater difficulty arises when the court is asked to render a decision not on a point of law, but on a point of history, It transforms the legal arena into a historical forum. When historical disputes become lawsuits, the outcome is unpredictable.
Again she is worried about practical considerations. Here she reveals her fears that revisionist historical arguments may be judged to be correct in a court of law. Today, in debates at major American universities and in the law schools at these universities, there is a growing school of thought which would broaden and criminalize the concept of "hate speech."
Essentially, what seems to be going on is that the prevailing world view which has been imposed on us Americans (and the entire Western World) over the past fifty years is causing havoc in our society and is presently being challenged. Feeling this challenge to their world view and a potential threat to their dominant position, the people of the establishment stand ready to defend themselves at all costs. If this means sacrificing freedom of speech as we have known it, they are ready to do it. There are grave dangers ahead for democracy and for our freedoms. Deborah Lipstadt makes no bones about it. She stands ready to defend the Holocaust myth through the total suppression of all opposing viewpoints.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Ms. Lipstadt's methodology is that she personally does what she accuses others of doing, and she proceeds to do precisely those things which she advises others not to do. While she tells people that revisionist "non-arguments' should never be addressed, she goes ahead and addresses several of them in her book. She accuses others of having secret political agendas, when she, quite obviously, has her own. She claims that her opponents are guilty of lying and of being insincere, when her entire book is a monument to the lies and deceptions of the Holocaust myth. She accuses her opponents of being fascists and neo-nazis, while she comes down like the worst kind of authoritarian on the questions of freedom of speech and thought. She claims that her opponents are not really scholarly or intellectually respectable, while her own arguments and methods approximate those of a third rate political propagandist rather than those of a scholar. And finally, she accuses her detractors of being mentally unsound conspiracy theorists, while she tries to convince us that all revisionists are involved in a grand conspiracy to promote some evil political agenda.
It is beyond the scope of this review to elaborate on the specific falsehoods in Deborah Lipstadt's book. Holocaust revisionist scholars will most certainly analyze it in detail from cover to cover. But it is doubtful that any negative comment will ever appear in any regular scholarly source or in the media. The only place to find an honest and scholarly critique of this book will probably be in the writings and publications of the Holocaust revisionists.
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|Title:||Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, A Review|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1995, 7 p.m.|