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Encountering Holocaust Denial & What You Can Do

June 15, 2017
Culture & History

Warning: Some of the content in this post may be upsetting or disturbing. I am not using graphic photos or descriptions but this is a terribly hard topic to discuss.

Please note that in this post, I am not saying that Jews were the only victims of the Holocaust. Homosexuals, Romani people, Poles, handicapped, and political prisoners were also persecuted and their suffering is no less than anyone else's. However, my experience is with the Jewish part of my family so I am going to focus on that.

holocaust

Regardless as to your opinions on the State of Israel,

and regardless who you voted for in the US election,

I think we can agree that Antisemitism is still festering in this world.

Especially after the election of Donald Trump (I won't state my feelings about this, but I think you can guess my position: Just because I think gays should be able to get married and adopt children, and that immigrants made this country, doesn't mean I don't like America) there has been a significant rise of hate crimes. Many people who had these prejudices before now feel it is acceptable to act on these as Trump and his thugs*COUGH* I mean fellow party members have made similar ignorant, racist, and prejudiced comments.

It has been especially true for Muslims and anyone that might just look like they were born in the Middle East or have a name that sounds foreign, regardless of whether or not you were born here. Hispanics have been targeted, people hurling insults and false claims that they are illegal immigrants. African Americans are suffering through the same prejudices they have long faced in this country.

People with Anti-Semitic views have also gotten bolder. I have a friend who is Jewish and I often accompany her to the synagogue or their community center. Earlier this year, it had to be evacuated due to a bomb threat. Swastikas and other forms of prejudice against Jews have cropped up as well.

My friend and I both received emails from a "Holohaox" address, sending us articles on how the Holocaust did not happen, and even if it did, the Jews deserved it. We were also assaulted by another person outside the synagogue. We were both, in their eyes, dirty Jews.

I personally, am not Jewish. I only recently discovered my German ancestry and their persecution during 1933-1945. I am interested in Judaism; through my research I have found it to be a beautiful religion, but I have not converted. Occasionally, I attend services and activities with some of my Jewish friends as I have done with my Christian, LDS, and Unitarian friends before. Prior to this revelation, I was interested in World War II and just how regular people could commit such atrocities. I simply thought that Holocaust deniers were stupid and silly. But it has changed now.

Thanks to the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross), I have initiated some tracing requests and already received some archival information and other resources I can use to track my family. Copies of records will be sent out in a few months. I have found digital copies of prisoner records with my family's name on it. Transport lists, survivors, in the death books. 

The big problem with Holocaust Denial is not only in the denial itself. Not only is it incredibly cruel and disrespectful to marginalize the suffering of any people, but it also perpetuates dangerous stereotypes that made the Holocaust possible. Hatred of Jews for a variety of (unfounded) reasons has existed for centuries. Jews are blamed for everything from famines, disease, poisoning wells, the terrible economy....the list goes on. This hatred did not start with the Holocaust or Adolf Hitler. The Nazi regime acted as the police, judge, jury, and hangman during 1933-1945 but the population of the occupied territories were not just spectators. While many did resist and work to save Jews and other undesirables, many did not.

Denial of the Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew) shows how the Holocaust came to be. The hatred of Jews isn't new. It was just mandated by government, carried out by police officers and soldiers, and blasted in classrooms.

The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers at Auschwitz. It began on your streets. It began in your hometown with people just like you and me. That is why denial is so dangerous.

Auschwitz
Israelis visiting the site of Auschwitz

Holocaust deniers are nothing more than conspiracy theorists that clutch onto any scrap of perceived misinformation and use it to tear down the whole idea of the Holocaust and tear down any Jews standing in their way.

Now, with everything I have learned about my family, I wish I could just take these damn deniers back in time. I'll take them to the streets of Germany where it all started, show them the people with the yellow star being harassed and beaten, the children that grew up not knowing any different. Put him in a cattle car and see if he can take the pressure of 100 people against him, unable to breathe or sit or move.

I had a cousin that was murdered at Sobibor. I could take him there and show him the pain of separated families and the systematic murder of thousands.

I had several family members at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps he would like to go there and see the squalid conditions, the starvation, deportations, and forced labor.

Or maybe we can accompany my cousin Siegbert to Auschwitz where he worked for two years under threat of death before he was transferred and murdered at Dachau.

Would he like to meet my great uncle that committed suicide after his wife and children were deported? 

Thanks to the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, I have the transport papers. I have the newspaper clippings: Was ist mit den Juden von Deutschland und Österreich passiert? What happened to the Jews of Germany and Austria? 

holocaust memorial
dachau memorial
Dachau
auschwitz
Exhibition at Auschwitz. Luggage from the victims.

11 million people were murdered in the Holocaust. Denying their suffering and death murders them again.

These so called Untermenschen (sub humans) were torn from their families, tortured, humiliated, dehumanized, mistreated, and murdered. Denying or marginalizing their suffering dishonors their memory and their families. This pervasive denial and sidestepping of responsibility does not allow all of society to atone for what they have done or any prejudices they might hold.

holocaust denial

What Can I Do? 

Never again. Nie Wieder. לעולם לא עוד

So many lives were cut short and the dreams of children extinguished. The least you can do, is not forget them or what they had to go through.

-Don't forget

-Don't marginalize

-Remember it wasn't only Jews

-Know that it could happen again (and it has happened)

-Assist minorities and others that are being persecuted, discriminated against, or are otherwise marginalized or in danger

-Be kind

You can do more. If you encounter a discussion of Holocaust denial, there are some simple refutes to their common arguments. If you see a person who is being assaulted, step in or call emergency services.

holocaust denial
Memorial in Budapest for murdered Jews.
holocaust memorial

Common Arguments of Holocaust Deniers

All the testimony is from biased Jews! How are we going to believe that?/It's a Jewish conspiracy

Okay, if you are just going to be a jerk, there isn't much I can do to make you not hate Jews. If you choose to disregard victim and survivor testimony despite the overwhelming evidence, why do you ignore the testimony of thousands of villagers who were not involved whatsoever, soldiers, SS, and many others. The Soviets recalled and even testified that they had seen the horrors of these camps. British, French, and Americans did as well. There were separate trials across Europe from different governments or reigning bodies spanning over years. You can't tell me that was organized together. Denying one argument does not make all other void.

The Germans were tortured to giving false confessions

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was beaten by British soldiers and as a result gave some conflicting evidence. The deniers are relying on only shreds of "evidence"-that he was tortured and told to give a certain story

-A book by Rupert Butler that states the commandant was beaten-there was no mention of the story he was supposedly "fed"

They also claim that the soldiers were Jews that stole British uniforms. Really? You think they could get past some tough security after WWII? No. But the book by Butler also does not mention that the Jews were wearing a British uniform and interrogating him.

There were cases of mistreatment by the Allies, of this there is no doubt. It is not humane, but it is a human reaction to the horror these soldiers were exposed to. Even if fragments of conflicting evidence were given, why do you not believe the hundreds, even thousands that corroborated their story? 

How could this program be kept secret?/If the Jews knew, why didn't they fight? 

This program was indeed kept very secretive for some time before news began to leak out. Of course, people talk and hear of massacres of civilians. In Lithuania, civilians heard the gunshots for days in the Ponary Forest. Countless other massacres had witnesses that were not Jewish or Nazis and therefore (generally) "unbiased". In some places, people knew. In others, it was a well guarded secret. Just because some knew in certain areas, does not mean that all Jews knew.

But the Nazis did keep the method of murder and the idea of death camps a secret. Anyone who saw the gas chambers, were on their way to die. Those that were selected for work, were trapped in the camp and couldn't always escape to tell the story of the gas chambers. Photos were forbidden in most of the camps. There were rumors of death and stories floated back from survivors and rescuers.

The Jews were told they were being relocated for work. They had been moved before to the ghettos, so there wasn't a particular reason they wouldn't believe this. If you resisted the transport, you would be shot onsite. Would you rather guarantee your death by fighting a mob of SS or take your chances and see if you really are being relocated? 

Many people did fight back. Many people went into hiding. The Dutch Resistance, the French Resistance, the White Rose movement, Armia Krajowa, the Czech Resistance, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Treblinka Death Camp Revolt, resistance at Auschwitz, Sobibor, and in the ghettos and towns of Bialystok, Vilinus, Mir, Lachwa, Kremenets, Czestochowa, Nesvizh, Sosnowiec, and Tarnow, and so many others.

The Jews control the government/media/world so none of this happened. It's all lies by the Jewish media

The Nazis considered Jews Bolsheviks (basically Communist). Granted, many Jews lived in the territories of the Soviet Union, but many did not. In the German propaganda machine, Jews were labeled as Bolsheviks and were trying to take over. They declared that Bolshevism and Jewry were the same...but Judaism is a religion and Bolshevism a political movement. But just because you are a Jew, doesn't mean you are a Bolshevik. Many of the Jews were ethnic Germans or Poles.

The whole "Jews control the world" thing really confuses me. This is based on typical contradictory assumptions of Jews. During WWII, Jews were considered as useless and annoying as a flea (Göbbels) and they were perceived to be cowardly but also aggressive. Jews were classified as bacteria and subhuman but they were also so powerful they caused all of Germany's problems. Jews were seen as feminists and also restrictors of women. They were portrayed as rich, greedy capitalists but as mentioned before, they were seen as communists. Because Jews have stuck to their traditions, they are seen as conservative and traditional but also as dangerous revolutionaries. They are criticized for their beliefs, but also for being atheist.

These are all just excuses. None of these make sense together and there is no proof.

Ok so maybe it happened. But 6 million didn't die. There were more Jews in 1945 than 1939.

About 6 million Jews and about 5 million other "undesireables" died. Denying this does not cause them to cease to exist or bring them back to life. We know this because of transport records, camp and labor records, orders from superiors, testimonies from not only victims or Nazis, but unbiased witnesses. The Germans are a practical, methodical people and took down notes and records of everything. You can see the declarations of the Baltics being Judenfrei or Free of Jews.

We will likely never know the exact number.

So yes, there are some discrepancies in numbers. The Germans tried to destroy records and evidence as they retreated. In cases like Treblinka, they were successful (except for most transport records). In cases like Bergen-Belsen, they were not. Many people who were sent directly to gas chambers during selection were not cataloged. There could even be more unaccounted deaths pushing to the total loss in the Holocaust to over 11 million.

They weren't Jews that were murdered, it was ethnic Germans. Millions of ethnic Germans were killed by the Jews during WWII.

Oh dear. Where do I begin? 

Point 1: Jews are not really a race. It is a difficult distinction but because of their faith, followers of Judaism have been ostracized and even sent out of their communities by opposing religions. Throughout history, there have been several persecutions and exoduses of Jews. Because of this diaspora, these Jews leave the country or city together to avoid persecution and continue their life. They settle together in communities and continue to grow their community. This is how many of them have similar characteristics, even as more come to the area or non-Jews arrive. Because of genetics and the close community, there are a lot of similarities in appearance in these groups.

Jews also accept Jewish converts as Jews. So it is not all about whether you are descended from Jews or not. (Though for some it matters).

There are many groups. Some of the largest are the Ashkenazi Jews that resided in Europe, having traveled their during the 11th century in small groups and eventually grew into the largest group of Jews. Shephardi Jews originated from North Africa and the Iberian peninsula around the year 1000. Many of these Jews were expelled from Spain in the late 1400s and populated North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe. Mizrahi Jews are descended from Jewish communities in the Middle East.

Because they were separate from larger society, these communities eventually became more genetically homogeneous. So, they may have evolved into a distinct community and have similar genes but not all Jewish people consider it to be a race. There is no set agreement, really.

Point 2: What is your definition of an 'ethnic German'? In 55 BC, Germany was split into two parts: the Celtic controlled south and the "German" controlled north. The Germans consisted of nomadic tribes and southern Scandinavians. Are Celts German? 

Germany did not become Christian dominated until the Roman Empire began to exhibit some control of Germania (as it was called) in 12 BC. Would it ruin your idea of "ethnic German" to say that they may have been Roman? Or poly-theistic believers? There were 5 tribes, each speaking a different kind of German. So, which is the "right" one? The Roman Empire further pushed Germany to expand and absorbed some Slavic and Baltic territories (ie Prussia, Moravia) until the 14th century. So if your family lived in one of these territories that was considered Germany but is now Lithuania, are they ethnic Germans? Germany wasn't even a unified country until the 1860s.

How long have ethnic Germans lived in Germany? Where is your stopping point? My family lived in Bavaria starting in the 1600s. Are they not ethnic Germans because they were Jews? How long has anyone really been anywhere? 

And if you still believe that it was "ethnic Germans" that suffered the greatest in WWII, why are there so many speeches about the Jewish problem? Why were people discouraged from shopping at Jewish stores? Why did people in the concentration camps have patches that marked them as a Jew? Why were the people being beaten or herded into cattle cars wearing a Star of David? Why is the hatred of Jews so pervasive in Nazi believes and in their agenda? 

Why is there traces of Zyklon B (the gas used to murder the victims) on mattresses and linens but not the gas chambers? It's proof it didn't happen.

Because science.

When you do a bug bomb in your house you still have the smell after a few days even if you aired out your house. Why? Because odors, liquids, and gasses can be absorbed by things like carpet, clothes, mattresses, linens, and other fabric materials. These take much longer to dissipate because they are being held within the material.

The gas chambers were built for ventilation. That is why the people who removed the bodies could enter reasonably quickly after the gassing (immediately as some wore gas masks). The walls, floors, and ceiling were cement or stone only. The Zyklon B was not absorbed.

It was also used as a delousing agent and used on victims' clothes, beds, linens, and cabins to get rid of vermin, hence the presence of this compound on the various linens and fabrics of the camp.

holocaust memorial

Final Thoughts

Believe me, I wish I could agree with you that the Holocaust never happened. I wish it never had. But I can't cling to that fantasy because,the names of my lost family members float in my head like a painful reminder of lives that could have been, smiles they could have shared, and children that never grew up. Dreams of children that were never realized and brokenhearted parents seeing their destroyed families, people being subjected to some of the most brutal and assembly-line style cruelty. I cannot imagine the pain of being separated form your parents, your spouse, your children, your siblings...nothing. It is far too painful to think about, much less to realize they were my family. You cannot marginalize what happened to the Jews, Poles, Romani, handicapped, homosexuals, communists...and any other "undesirables".

These names are on countless lists and they are not just a number or some "dirty Jew". They were people. My people.

holocaust israel

You can see more on my journey of discovery in the posts below: 

The Riga Ghetto Memorial

On Being German

holocaust denial

Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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