During an exceptionally rude introduction of President Ahmadinejad of Iran, a university president announced that the holocaust was the most documented event in history. While this overstatement was in keeping with most of his remarks, it provokes a question: exactly what do we mean when we say “the holocaust”?
When someone is called a “holocaust denier”, what is being denied? Confusion over those words is being used to cloud minds and threaten another war in the middle east, once again for reasons that cannot be substantiated in the material world but are simply political excuses to commit mass murder.
Those who express doubt about some key aspects of the story of nazi persecution of Jews in Europe during the second world war are often imprisoned or face threats to their very lives. We witnessed the spectacle of a head of state invited to speak at an American university and introduced with the most scurrilous language imaginable, all provoked by that leader’s alleged “denial” of the holocaust, along with his supposed existential threat to the Jewish state of Israel. And when speaking of one, the other must be addressed, since there is no rationale for the Jewish state of Israel without “the holocaust”.
There is no question about the dreadful treatment of European Jews by the nazis, their racist persecution , their deportation from homelands to concentration and labor camps where tens of thousands died under the most deplorable conditions . Nor is there any question that many suffered massacres outside of camps , whether conducted by Germans or others acting under their rule. These things, as the crude academic claimed, are well documented. And there is little doubt about them, except for honest questions about the actual death toll.
But critics wonder about the centrally organized and secret plan to annihilate all the Jews of europe, and the use of mass extermination gas chambers to murder hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people. No such devices were ever found, and verification of their existence depends entirely on stories told by traumatized survivors , confessions made under severe stress if not outright torture, and photographs of empty buildings or reconstructed ruins said to have once been used as gas chambers.
Consider whether we would uncritically accept the reality of America’s ugly racist history of lynching, with no more evidence than hearing stories of the horror told by miraculous survivors, and seeing photos of trees alleged to have once had bodies hanging from them.
Any critical person can wonder, but millions of us have been so shocked at films of the terrible conditions of the liberated camps, and especially the piles of emaciated dead bodies, that little thought is given to asking how those terrible scenes of suffering and death could have had anything to do with gas chambers, let alone crematoria. And if a plan was afoot to secretly murder millions and cremate their bodies to remove evidence, why and how could so many have been left plainly exposed to public view?
The near total physical breakdown of Germany near the war’s end never seems to enter consciousness as possible reason for some of the drastic scenes revealed at those camps. While many German cities were devastated by bombing, with their citizens reduced to homeless refugees often near starvation, should we imagine that under such conditions prison camps, which were dreadful places to begin with, would somehow be able to furnish adequate food, shelter and medical care to all inmates?
When President Ahmadinejad referred to myth surrounding the story, he was not denying that Jews suffered, anymore than holocaust revisionists - who are slurred as “deniers” - make such a charge. But they, and he, and thousands the world over who have read critical works that barely see the light of day in the west, join in questioning vital aspects of that story. Bigots who smear them with nasty labels are playing with words, and in lethal fashion.
Anyone who would deny the racial madness of the Nazi ethnic cleansing of European Jews might be an idiot, or simply consumed by hate. But those who deny the right to question the existence of gas chambers or other details of the story, and vilify those who dare to do so are either ignorant, or more likely, driven by a more dangerous hate. Anything forbidden to be questioned must be held suspect by thinking people, and the more that criticism is suppressed, the more dangerous the possibilities for the world, and not just the suppressors.
Ahmadinejad repeatedly says that whatever crime Europeans committed against Jews is no reason for the terrible persecution and suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians, who were guilty of nothing. Most of the world agrees with him, as do many in the west, though hardly anyone in American politics will risk stating that obvious fact. The power exerted by the Israel lobby is such that even when a former president, or establishment scholars site the moral injustice and the threat to our nation posed by one sided policies in the middle east, they are slandered as anti Semites , the way that revisionists are smeared as deniers.
While thousands of Jews in Iran are apparently living without fear, thousands of Jews in America have been led to believe that Ahmadinejad threatens them with another holocaust. That is not just irrational , but dangerous for all humanity. This situation is being used to help provoke a further bloody war in the middle east, but reason must prevail over fanatic beliefs and psychotic fears or all of us will suffer . The war over these words and their clear meaning must not be allowed to perpetuate more injustice, and worse, threaten a global disaster .
Copyright (c) 2007 by Frank Scott. All rights reserved.
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