Should we ignore the Holocaust deniers?

Published: 1994-04-29

Show a Jew a silver lining, it's been said, and he'll show you a cloud.

Indeed, a case could be made that we Jews thrive on seeing ourselves as victims – the result of centuries of persecution and anti-Semitism – even though, objectively, in the 20th-century America we have become increasingly affluent and accepted.

Others may see us as having made it, but in our own eyes we're still swimming upstream, against the current. Is it paranoia that leads us to respond to the wild ravings of a Nation of Islam speaker when not a peep is heard from, say, the Catholic community, though their pope was described with derision? And why do we seem to obsess on a few Holocaust deniers who claim Hitler never murdered millions of Jews? Aren't we seeing a renewed interest in the facts of the Holocaust through the huge success of the film "Schindler's List" and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington?

One answer is that we Jews are particularly sensitive to racism and bigotry. Perhaps we have a higher of calibration to such writings and ravings so that a whisper of hate sounds like a roar in our ears. And we are right to speak out, even if others don't, be cause we have learned well the lesson that when hatred is spoken about one group, eventually it will spread. It often starts with the Jews, but no one is immune.

There is a legitimate debate within our own community as to whether it is best to ignore or respond to the charges that Hitler did not exterminate millions of Jews. Some say that we should restrain ourselves and say nothing because even to refute the charges is to give them legitimacy. Others argue that it is futile to remain silent and hope the deniers go away-better to bury them in an avalanche of facts and statistics proving the accuracy of the Holocaust.

One things is certain: No amount of proof will silence the deniers. This was demonstrated several weeks ago on a "60 Minutes" segment in which Mike Wallace confronted Ernst Zundel, a Holocaust denier in Canada, with a barrage of facts. All lies and distortions, responded Zundel.

Even when Wallace presented Zundel with the written and spoken words of one of Hitler's top henchmen proclaiming the Nazis' intention to exterminate the Jews, Zundel claimed it was all a forgery. Facts and Figures

But we should not throw our arms up in frustration, for when we cite facts and figures, we are making our case to the people of the world, not the Ernst Zundels who will go on denying history.

I interviewed an Ernst Zundel-type about 20 years ago. His name was Arthur Butz and he was a professor at Northwestern University. Although his field was electrical engineering, Butz was a self-professed expert on the Holocaust-or rather on the myth of the Holocaust-and he was making news at the time.

I happened to be in Chicago for a visit and, on a whim, I called Butz, identified myself as editor of a Jewish newspaper in Baltimore, and asked for an interview. He immediately agree, and I set off for the lovely suburb of Evanston. Polite theorist

I don't how what I expected him to be like in person – perhaps a goose-stepping lunatic with a thick German accent-but what I confronted instead was even more disturbing. For Butz was soft-spoken, articulate and polite as he spun his theory about how, at most, a few thousand Jews died of disease at the hands of the Nazis.

I had taped the interview and I remember the pounding in my head as, driving back, I listened to the tape and wondered what to do with all of this "information".

In the end, I decided not to publish a word of it, concluding that even to present and refute such lies was to give them unwarranted respectability.

I have learned since that Holocaust deniers thrive on the innate fairness of Americans in general, and the media in particular. We love to offer the other side of any given issue, in the interest of fairness. So if you say the Holocaust was a terrible tragedy, I can demand equal time to assert it never happened and surely somebody will hear me out. No regrets

When I interviewed Butz 20 years ago I thought it best to deny him the opportunity to make his case, one rule of thumb being to being to expose those racists who wish to remain in the dark and to ignore those who seek attention. But Butz and his ilk haven't gone away, while many Holocaust survivors are no longer alive to offer living testimony.

Did I do right by suppressing the interview with Butz? I'm still not sure. The journalist in me stales me that it's best to get the story out in the open and let the reader decide. But the Jew in me tells me that to give respectability to Holocaust denial is an obscenity.

There are no hard and fast rules here, and decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. There are no hard and fast rules here, and decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. There are times when we must speak out, in refutation of deniers, but in making facts known. But I've never regretted keeping the tape of Arthur Butz's gentle voice confined to a file cabinet in my basement.

Copyright © 1994, Greater Phoenix Jewish News.

Copyright © 1994, SoftLine Information Inc., all right reserved.

Title: COMMENTARY: Should we ignore the Holocaust deniers?
Summary: Show a Jew a silver lining, it's been said, and he'll show you a cloud.
Source: Greater Phoenix Jewish News; Ethnic News Watch
Date: 29-APR-1994
Regular Price: $3.00
Subscriber's Price: $3.00
Document Size: Short (up to 2 pages)
Document ID: GG19970827030038665
Citation Information: V.46; N.33; p. 9
Author(s): Rosenblatt, Gary
Document Type: Editorial & Commentary

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Gary Rosenblatt
Title: Should we ignore the Holocaust deniers?
Sources: Greater Phoenix Jewish News, 29-APR-1994, V.46; N.33; p. 9
Published: 1994-04-29
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1996, 7 p.m.
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