understanding Holocaust denial

WHAT WAS THE HOLOCAUST?

The Holocaust (known to Jewish People as the “Shoah” and Roma People as the “Porajmos”) was the genocide of 6 million Jewish People and 1-1.5 million Roma People during World War II at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. 

While the Nazis targeted various groups — such as the Disabled, LGBTQ folks, Slavs, and more — only Jewish and Roma People were targeted for complete extermination. 

The Holocaust decimated Europe’s Jewish population. It’s estimated that around 60% of Europe’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. In countries such as Poland and Lithuania, over 90% of the Jewish population was murdered. Over 25% of Europe’s Roma were also murdered in the Holocaust. 

 

GENOCIDE DENIAL 

Historians widely agree that genocide denial is an integral part — and the final step — of genocide. Denial occurs both during and after the event. Examples include secret planning, propaganda, and destruction of evidence. 

Many people think “genocide denial” refers to an outright denial of the existence of the genocide (i.e. saying things like “the Holocaust never happened”), but in reality that’s not how it usually works. Instead, denial is much more insidious. Examples include minimization, altering of facts, casting doubts on eyewitness testimony, and offering alternative histories. 

A common “alternative history” regarding the Holocaust is that “Zionists” perpetrated the Holocaust in order to “obtain” Israel (a conspiracy theory promoted in 1984 by current Palestinian Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas*). 

*Just as Jewish People and Israelis shouldn’t be punished collectively for the actions of the Israeli government, neither should Palestinians. Don’t try that on my page or you will get blocked. 

 

IN THE AFTERMATH  

Before the Holocaust was even over, German authorities already had plans to destroy or conceal the evidence of the genocide. As soon as it became obvious that the Nazis would lose the war, Heinrich Himmler instructed all concentration and death camp commandants to destroy the crematoria, records, and other signs of mass extermination. Bodies were burned and some death camps, such as Treblinka, were essentially fully destroyed. 

Other countries that had collaborated with the Nazis — most notably, France — also participated in burying evidence. 

Immediately following the war, the Soviet Union promoted a narrative of Holocaust denial, negating that the Nazis had specifically targeted Jews. 

 

MODERN HOLOCAUST DENIAL 

Modern Holocaust denial takes various forms and is not exclusive to a specific political ideology. It’s a narrative that is present in the far right, alt-right, various pockets of the far left, and common in Arab-majority and Muslim-majority countries. Holocaust denial is also a driving force behind neo-Nazism. 

In 1978, a far-right activist founded the Institute for Historical Review, an influential Holocaust denial organization for both neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers in the Arab and Muslim worlds. 

Among the left and extremists in the Middle East, Holocaust denial is often shrouded in “anti-Zionist” conspiracies.  

 

“SOFT” HOLOCAUST DENIAL 

“Soft” Holocaust denial is an insidious form of Holocaust denial. Instead of outright denying the existence of the Holocaust, soft Holocaust denial minimizes it. 

Some examples include de-centering Jews from the narrative of the Holocaust, deflecting discussions of the Holocaust by invoking Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating false equivalencies (for example, calling Jews or Israelis “the new Nazis”), victim-blaming, or shifting blame away from perpetrators (for example, many countries, such as Poland, Lithuania, or Austria, that have refused to take accountability for their role in the Holocaust). 

 

PORAJMOS DENIAL

Thank you @romaniuprising for helping me with this section. 

For over 75 years, Roma People have fought an uphill battle to gain recognition as Holocaust victims and combat Porajmos denial. Some examples of Porajmos denial include:

(1) no true recognition at the Nuremberg Trials. No Roma or Sinti victims were called to testify. 

(2) as early as 1946, German authorities shifted to victim-blaming, insinuating that Roma were targeted because their crime rate was “extremely high”

(3) the exclusion to this day of Roma and Sinti from reparations agreements 

(4) to this day, non-Romani historians vastly underestimate the number of Roma victims, despite the fact that Roma historians know the number of victims was significantly higher 

(5) the US Holocaust Memorial Museum only recognized the Porajmos in 1994. Germany didn’t recognize the Porajmos until 1982. 

(6) the classification of Romani victims as “other,” even though they, like Jews, were targeted by the Final Solution 

(7) many Jewish People (including an esteemed Israeli professor) opposing the construction of a memorial dedicated to Roma and Sinti victims in Berlin

 

COMBATING HOLOCAUST DENIAL 

The Holocaust is perhaps the most well-documented genocide in history. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence, eyewitness testimony, and more. And yet, Holocaust ignorance and denial is an increasing and alarming trend. In fact, 1 out of every 10 Americans under 40 don't know about the Holocaust. So how do you combat it?

(1) education. 2/3 young Americans don’t know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

(2) recording eyewitness testimony. Holocaust survivors are dying. We must make sure their stories don’t die with them (at the same time, no Holocaust survivor should be obligated to tell their story if they don’t want to). 

(3) understand that Holocaust denial doesn’t often look like outright denial. Instead it’s more insidious, casting doubt on widely agreed upon facts. Learning antisemitic tropes is imperative to combatting Holocaust denial. 

(4) uplift Romani voices, who are so often excluded from the narrative altogether.