No. 121, 27 Adar 5778
- The ongoing abuse of the Holocaust is increasing at an alarming rate, permeating additional quarters of mainstream society.
- Manipulation of the truth may become a substantial part of the debate on the Holocaust. This will be even more possible when all surviving Holocaust victims are very old. It is difficult to comprehend how, in an increasingly chaotic world, this trend can be halted.
- In order to study this subject in a more detailed and systematic way, the forms of Holocaust abuse need to be categorized. The analysis presented here employs the same categories defined by this author in his book on the subject.
- It is recommended that Holocaust memorial institutions establish a comprehensive system to monitor the ongoing abuses in their respective countries and categorize them accordingly.
The abuse and distortion of the Holocaust have many facets. This author’s 2009 book The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses1 offers a basic analysis of the phenomenon, grouping events, statements, and incidents into eight main categories. Over the past few years, however, the number of incidents has greatly increased, and unless systematic, ongoing monitoring is put in place by an institution, it will be impossible to professionally oversee the entire area. This means that salient developments have also become partly obscured.
An additional aspect of this situation is that manipulation of the truth may become a substantial part of the debate on the Holocaust. This will be even more possible when, within 10 years or so, any surviving Holocaust victims will be very old.
In order to study this subject in a more detailed and systematic way, the forms of Holocaust abuse need to be categorized. The analysis presented here employs the same categories defined by this author in his book on the subject.
Eight such categories were suggested: justification of the Holocaust or promoting a new one, Holocaust denial or its minimization, deflection or whitewashing of guilt, Holocaust de-Judaization in part through its universalization, Holocaust equivalence, Holocaust inversion, Holocaust trivialization, and obliterating Holocaust memory.
The newer developments involve an increasing mixing of categories. Chinese tourists were arrested in August 2017 after they photographed themselves making the Hitler salute outside the Reichstag in Berlin. One might categorize them as indirect Holocaust promoters of a primitive kind, or equally as indirect trivializers of the Holocaust.2 Or just as fools. One would have to know more about them to understand in which category they best belong.
In addition, categories tend to fragment while new types of abuse have emerged. Some fall clearly within the earlier-defined categories, others not. The research for this essay has thus identified structural changes in the general phenomenon. The examples presented are taken mainly, but not exclusively, from the period since the original book was published.
Why Does the Holocaust Not Fade Away?
Why is it that the memory of the Holocaust does not fade away in time? That is the nature of historical events in general. Why is the opposite happening with the Holocaust and several related World War II events and aspects? Why do they draw increasing attention?
Even though one cannot quantify the phenomenon, the qualitative indications of the increase of Holocaust abuse are often evident. It is only when one starts researching it that one begins to realize how frequent and diverse this phenomenon is.
When looking for reasons, a number of disparate possible causes emerge. One is a trend toward increasing chaos in the world. A second is the increased removal of barriers to what is acceptable in the public domain or in certain environments. A further source of increase in Holocaust distortion is the largely unregulated social media.
The exposure of anti-Semitism has greatly increased in recent years, together with a growth in incidents of hatred toward Jews. Holocaust abuse and distortion to some extent overlap with anti-Semitism. Their study has a natural place in post-Holocaust studies. Unfortunately, however, post-Holocaust studies is not yet an academic discipline.
Holocaust Promotion and Justification
The promotion of an additional Holocaust is not a distortion category in the strictest sense of the word. Yet it has to be included here because it is often discussed in the framework of the other categories of Holocaust abuse.
The promotion of a second Holocaust has many gradations. Some forms are explicit. In the 1960s, George Lincoln Rockwell was head of the American Nazi Party. He said that “if he came to power he would execute Jews who were traitors. He furthermore stated that 90% of American Jews were traitors.”3
Nowadays, threats of genocide against Jews come mainly from parts of the Muslim world. Iran and Hamas are two of the best-known examples.
Other cases are of an indirect and far more limited nature. Neo-Nazi movements can be direct or indirect promoters of a new Holocaust. Much international publicity was given to a march by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Arms were outstretched in Hitler salutes. Some participants bore tattoos of swastikas. There were also chants of the Nazi slogan “blood and soil.”
All this is documented in photos and video footage. The demonstration quickly turned violent, as white supremacists intimidated and attacked counter-protesters. A car driven by a white supremacist man, reportedly anti-Semitic, rammed into counter-protesters, resulting in the death of a woman.4
In September 2017 the British police announced that as part of an investigation of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action, three men in the UK had been charged with terror offenses. Two of the suspects were serving soldiers.5
Other aspects involve a mix of hooligan behavior and neo-Nazism. In September 2017, when the German soccer team played against the Czech Republic in Prague, tens of German soccer fans shouted Nazi slogans. There were also calls of “Sieg Heil.” In bars, fascist music was played at the request of these Nazi supporters.6
The South African COSATU Case (2017)
A lengthy case in South Africa concerning the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) resulted in the Equality Court unequivocally upholding a South African Rights Commission ruling that international relations spokesman Bongani Masuku had been guilty of anti-Semitic hate speech, for which he had to apologize to the Jewish community.
The hate speech, written a number of years ago against Jews (including South African Jews), stated that Hitler was their friend. Masuku added that those Jews whom he defined as Zionists should be “forced out of South Africa.” He also threatened violence “with immediate effect against families in South Africa whose children had moved to Israel and served in the army.”7
Anti-Semites know that saying to Jews “Hitler should have killed you” is an extreme insult. It is mainly used in the Arab and Muslim world, and the original Hamas charter stated explicitly: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.” The revised charter still aims at the same target.8910
There are also slightly less evident ways of expressing the same genocidal aim. For instance, Palestinian and other Arab sources present maps of the territory in which Israel does not appear. This can only be achieved through genocide, which usually is not said.
Once largely confined to the world of neo-Nazis and the extreme right, this genocidal talk can now also be found in mainstream environments. In 2015, Stefan Grech, a Maltese European Union official, was accused of shouting anti-Semitic hate speech and assaulting a [gentile] EU employee. Grech allegedly hit her over the head with a plaque of dictator Benito Mussolini, while calling her a “dirty Jew” and saying, “Hitler should have finished off the Jews.” He also reportedly had made comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A complaint was filed and it has taken two years for this case to come to trial.111213
In the Dutch Soccer Stadiums and the Public Domain
One of the peculiar aspects of the mix of hooliganism and Holocaust promotion is the recurring shouts in Dutch soccer stadiums of: “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”14
It has a bizarre origin because originally it was directed against the Amsterdam soccer team Ajax, whose fanatic gentile supporters call themselves “Jews.” These hate songs went on unabated for a long time. In recent years, more attention has been given to the matter. While the songs were initially sung in the stadiums, from there they spilled over into society at large.
Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, head of the Dutch Orthodox rabbinate, says, “If something happens in Israel, people shout at me ‘Israel’ or ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.’”15
Non-Jewish Dutch journalist Matthijs Smits tells how a few years ago he went by tram to a Passover Seder. In the tram car were supporters of the Eindhoven PSV soccer team, who shouted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”16
In an anti-Israeli demonstration in 2009, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” was sung by some participants in the streets of Amsterdam. Two parliamentarians of the left-wing socialist party SP, Harry van Bommel and Sadet Karabulut, marched in that demonstration. They claimed afterward that they had not heard the songs. Van Bommel can be seen on YouTube calling for an intifada for Palestine.17
Expressing Admiration for Hitler
An indirect form of Holocaust promotion is expressing admiration for Hitler. In its 2013 list of the 10 leading anti-Semitic/anti-Israeli slurs of the year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center noted:
Lebanese singer Najwa Karam is a superstar with 50 million records sold. She was the Arab “face” of L’Oreal and serves as a judge on the wildly popular version of American Idol, Arabs Got Talent. The pan-Arab series is as dynamic as the U.S. franchise and reaches millions of homes. Unfortunately, Najwa Karam is also an open admirer of Hitler. Asked on Lebanese TV’s Talk of the Town to choose attributes from six famous men to create the “ideal man,” she chose Hitler for his “persuasive” speaking ability. There never was an apology—or even a clarification.18
Chief Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs says that at a memorial meeting for Dutch Holocaust victims, Dutch youngsters shouted “Heil Hitler” during his speech.19
Identification with Hitler
Expressions of identification with Hitler abound. The reference to gas in relation to Jews is also recurrent. In June 2017 Hitler graffiti was found in a school in northern California. The police refused to classify it as a hate crime.20
Anti-Semitic slurs fall under various categories. One example involves both Holocaust promotion and denial. Pro-Islamic State, Holocaust-denying, Hitler-praising, anti-Semitic graffiti was painted at the Jewish cemetery in Sochaczew, Poland, in December 2015. Vandals are reported to have destroyed the Ohel Tzadik memorial and monuments dedicated to the Sochaczew Jews murdered by the Germans during the Nazi occupation. The desecrations included “Allah Bless Hitler,” “Islamic State Was Here,” and “Islam Will Dominate.”21
“Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was painted on a sidewalk at the University of California, Berkeley.22
Social media messages aimed at University of Chicago students urged, “Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.”23
In the Netherlands, Utrecht soccer-club fans taunted their counterparts from Ajax Amsterdam, chanting, “My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS. Together they burned Jews, because Jews burn best.” Amsterdam is viewed by many as a “Jewish city” because it is the center of whatever remains of Jewish life in the country.24
During a 2015 meeting of the Poznan City Council to consider new names for streets, Professor Janusz Kaspuscinski suggested naming the street leading to a major garbage incinerator “Oswiecimska [Auschwitz] Street.”25
Holocaust denial can be defined as the rejection of one or more of the main facts of the extermination of the Jews in World War II. After Holocaust distorter David Irving lost his court case in 2000 against scholar Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Publishers, there were hopes that Holocaust denial would largely fade away.2627
A main actor in reviving Holocaust denial has been Iran.28 In Western societies, Holocaust denial also seems to be on the rise; a report by British researcher David Collier (in association with Jewish Human Rights Watch) studied the activities of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), focusing on social media. The report, which was titled “Jew Hate and Holocaust Denial in Scotland,”29 concluded that the organization promoted hardcore hatred of Jews, anti-Semitic global conspiracy theory, and Holocaust denial.
The report also found that on social media platforms (for instance, Facebook), the SPSC engages in comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, denial of the Holocaust, and other anti-Semitic slurs. An article in Algemeiner said that one of the SPSC activists, Steve Davies, used terms like “holohoax” to describe the Holocaust. The report also showed a picture of Davies wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh as he stood beside Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicholas Sturgeon.30
The Kevin Myers Case
In July 2017 the Irish edition of The Sunday Times published an article in which journalist Kevin Myers suggested that two female BBC presenters were well paid because they were Jewish. It became known that Myers had written in the Irish Independent: “There was no holocaust (or Holocaust, as my computer software insists) and six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich. These two statements of mine are irrefutable truths.”31
The Sunday Times issued an apology. If one seeks out the article in the Irish Independent online, one finds that it is no longer available on Google. The paper stated that the article of 2009 “does not comply with our editorial ethos and was removed on July 30, 2017.”32 Myers apologized in a very problematic way.33
The Jewish Representative Council of Ireland came to Myers’ defense, saying he had “inadvertently stumbled into an anti-Semitic trope.” They added: “More than any other Irish journalist, he has written columns about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades that would not otherwise have been known by a substantial Irish audience. It would be a shame if Kevin Myers’ voice was lost based on his mistake and other people’s misconceptions about his prior writings.”34
The British Labour Party
Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the British Labour Party, a large number of anti-Semitic incidents in the party have come to light. Corbyn has made many moves that are on the margins of anti-Semitism.35 One of these was frequently appearing with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen and even donating to his charity, “Deir Yassin Remembered.” Eisen wrote that Corbyn had “attended every single one of his charity’s annual events, and has even donated money to the group.”36
At the end of 2015, a non-Jewish parliamentarian of the UK Labour Party, Stella Creasy, posted images on Twitter of a Holocaust-denying Christmas card she had received in the mail. It showed a drawing of two people, one asking the other, “Do you still believe in Father Christmas?” The second person replied, “Do you still believe in the Holocaust?”37
Polish Holocaust Revisionism
This century has seen major new disclosures about crimes committed against Jews by Poles during the Holocaust. The main scholars who have focused on this subject are Jan Gross and Jan Grabowski. The former revealed that the Polish citizens of Jedwabne had murdered almost all the Jews of the city. Grabowski said his research showed that Poles killed 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust. The Polish government is trying to deny many of these facts.38
Attention should also be drawn to those who seek to facilitate Holocaust denial. One example is the Estonian politician Georg Kirsberg, who ran for a seat in the Conservative People’s Party in Estonia’s 2017 elections. The Estonian National Broadcasting Company quoted as him as saying, “We will decriminalize Holocaust denial and enter a correct teaching of the history of the Third Reich.” The leader of the party, Martin Helme, did not agree with him.39
It seems that the abuse of the Holocaust by Jews is also increasing. There is no more severe insult than for one Jew to accuse another Jew of being a Nazi. The Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem and former chief rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, said that Reform Jews were worse than Holocaust deniers.40
Holocaust Deflection and Whitewashing
Typical distortions of the Holocaust include various forms of whitewashing. One of its manifestations is deflection, whereby one acknowledges the Holocaust but disclaims one’s role in it. For decades, Austria presented itself as a victim of Nazism rather than as a perpetrator.
Another form of whitewashing is what might be called minimizing the Holocaust. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the previous leader of the National Front Party, called the “gas chambers to kill Jews” a “detail in history.”41
One ongoing topic in this category is American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s attitude toward the Jews persecuted by the Germans. Academics whitewash his shortcomings, and deflection occurs when other figures in his administration are blamed for his rigid attitude toward Jews.42
Holocaust Minimization in Genocide Research
Israel Charny, a leading genocide scholar, has claimed that Holocaust minimization occurs at the heart of genocide research. He accused the Journal for Genocide Research of publishing eight articles that in various ways diminished or de-Judaized the Holocaust.
Charny submitted the articles to 76 scholars and Holocaust students. The majority supported his argument about the distortion of the Holocaust. Many of those polled said the articles were anti-Israeli and a substantial minority said they were anti-Semitic.43
One of the articles exposed by Charny claimed that the Wannsee Conference was not specifically directed at the Jews.44
2017: The French Extreme Right and Left Distort the Past
Severe whitewashing of France’s responsibility for its Vichy past took place both before and after the French presidential elections. The French admissions of Holocaust guilt and responsibility for the Vichy regime’s actions came many decades too late.
In 2017 two extremist candidates in the presidential elections, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, denied the truth that contemporary France is the legal successor of the Vichy regime. Right-wing Le Pen gained 21.3 percent of the votes in the first round and 33 percent in the second. After the elections the extreme-left Melenchon made even more distorted statements. He won 19.6 percent of the vote in the first round.
It took until 1995 before French right-of-center President Jacques Chirac admitted that the Vichy regime – which collaborated with the Germans – came to power in a legitimate way.45 His admission made it clear that contemporary France must assume responsibility for this regime’s extreme anti-Semitic measures, which sometimes even preceded Germany’s actions. Chirac’s statement was the more important because his Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand, had refused to admit this truth. Mitterrand had been a Vichy civil servant until he joined the Resistance in 1942.
In April 2017 Marine Le Pen said, “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vél d’Hiv. [This was the Paris bicycle racing stadium where the Jewish victims of the first razzia by French policemen were gathered]. I think that, generally speaking, if there are persons responsible it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France.” She added, “Children in France had been taught reasons to criticize [the country] and to only see perhaps the darkest aspects of our history…so I want them to be proud of being French again.”46
What this means is that for French children to be proud of their country, one has to lie about France’s anti-Semitic past and resulting responsibility. The center-right candidate in the presidential elections, former Prime Minister François Fillon, responded, “The truth is that what happened at the Vél d’Hiv is a crime committed by the French state.” He added, “The National Front still has many members who are nostalgic about the Vichy government.” Fillon made his views even clearer by saying, “Vichy was the official France, even though there was another France, that of de Gaulle in London.”47
Melenchon, leader of the extreme-left France Unsubmitted Party, had initially reacted to Le Pen’s distorted remarks by saying that the French police had organized the arrest of the Jews. He added, “The French Republic is not guilty, but France is.” After French President Macron’s speech in line with Chirac’s admission, Melenchon radically changed his attitude. He wrote, “France is nothing but its republic, which was abolished on July 10, 1940.” He added, “The French Republic had been transplanted to London with General de Gaulle in order to organize the resistance.” He further asserted that Vichy was not France.48
Holocaust de-Judaization involves a number of distortions of Holocaust memory.49 One of the most common is to take the Holocaust out of its specific context. A typical instance of this distortion is presenting Anne Frank as a universal victim without stressing her Jewish character.50
This received a new twist in the publicity strategy of a small American nonprofit organization, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. In an article in The Atlantic, Emma Green wrote that “the newly reinvented center is using Anne Frank’s name for moral credibility and historical authority, which many news organizations have taken at face value over the last several months. It’s also associating Anne Frank with specific political statements – ones that are stridently partisan.”51
Green concluded, “Because it talks a big game and wields the name of Anne Frank, the media has awarded it authority it never earned.” Another author, Daniel Greenfield, noted in an article titled “Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect not a Jewish or Holocaust Organization,” “The Anne Frank Center…no longer sees itself this way. [Peter] Rapaport, the organization’s new board chair, said it is neither a Jewish organization nor a Holocaust organization.”52 Its director, Steven Goldstein, regularly attacks Donald Trump, which of course he is entitled to do. Doing so in the name of the Anne Frank Center, however, is abuse on an entirely different level. The deceased cannot defend herself. This is one of many diverse instances in which the name of Anne Frank is instrumentalized.
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam has in the past also abused her name for political purposes that had nothing to do with honoring her memory. In the late 1980s, the then-head of the Anne Frank House did not permit Dutch filmmaker Willy Lindwer to film in the house for his movie The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, which deals with her suffering in the concentration camps and her death in Bergen-Belsen. Lindwer said the director had told him, “Anne Frank is a symbol. Symbols should not be shown dying in a concentration camp.”53
Holocaust equivalence has three different components, the essentials of which have been analyzed elsewhere. One component is that German genocidal behavior during World War II was similar to that of other nations before and during the war. Another concerns the similarities between communist rule and the Nazis.54 These categories will not be referred to here.
The only category addressed here is the general, post-World War II variant of Holocaust equivalence. This variant posits that some events in today’s society are similar in nature or equivalent to those caused by Germany under Hitler’s rule. Another claim of postwar Holocaust equivalence is that some contemporary organizations or individuals have the same character traits or attitudes as the Nazis. Many, but not all of these comparisons refer to what Germany did to the Jews.
American Presidents Equal Hitler
The main form of postwar Holocaust equivalence involves comparing certain people to Nazi perpetrators. A frequent instance is that of equating successive American presidents with Hitler. There is a long record of this phenomenon. It started with Richard Nixon; at the time the practice still sparked strong reactions.
A classic case occurred when German Minister Herta Daübler-Gmelin referred to Hitler, saying that, “President George W. Bush was exploiting the possibility of a war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in order to diminish his domestic problems.” Then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder did not include Daübler-Gmelin in the new cabinet that he formed a few weeks later.55
The use of “Hitler” and “Nazi” in name-calling has become increasingly common. Such insults, which are used to attract attention, are now mainstream and are even used by national leaders. Three Mexican presidents, including the current one, Enrique Peña Nieto, compared Trump to Hitler.56 The earlier-mentioned Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect posted on Twitter a list of what seemed to be alleged similarities between Trump and Hitler.57
Among the politicians outside the United States who have been compared to Nazis is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her visit to the Czech Republic in August 2016 sparked massive protests against her approach to the migrant crisis. Protesters waved placards depicting the German chancellor as Hitler.58
Comparison to Victims
Yet another category of equivalence does not compare people to the perpetrators but to the victims. A typical example took place at the Krakow meeting of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, when a moment of silence was held for Holocaust victims and then again for the Palestinians.
Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama Hacohen said that it was even more outrageous because it took place in Krakow, so close to where so many Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust. He added, “We are assembled here, next to the largest mass grave of the Jewish people – but it is also the deepest, darkest grave into which humanity had ever descended. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the blood, and the horror that occurred here in the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau were not confined to the camp’s electrified fences. Indeed, under the right weather conditions, the smells of the crematorium maybe reached the very place where we are now seated.”59
One of the most evil comparisons was made by Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature winner José Saramago, who likened Ramallah to Auschwitz.60 The more time passes, the more one sees how evil his statements were. Visitors report that Ramallah is one of the economically better performing cities under Palestinian rule. Auschwitz was a large factory of immediate and delayed murder.
In 2016 a new variant of Holocaust equivalence occurred when Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte compared himself to Hitler. He said that Hitler had massacred three million Jews (an incorrect figure; the real figure was six million) while he wanted to kill three million drug addicts in the Philippines.61
Holocaust Inversion: The Portraying of Israel and Jews as Nazis
The false accusation of Holocaust inversion portrays Israel, Israelis, and Jews as Nazis. Those who apply this anti-Semitic notion claim, for instance, that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians as Germany did toward the Jews in World War II. Holocaust inversion is part of the broader distortion category of Holocaust equivalence. By shifting the moral responsibility for genocide, Holocaust inversion also contains elements of Holocaust denial.
Many Holocaust inverters have a Muslim background; many others are on the extreme left in the West. Even some mainstream Western politicians have made statements likening Israel to a Nazi state. Holocaust inversion sometimes appears together with the promotion of “Jewish conspiracy” theories.
Although Holocaust denial is often considered the worst category of Holocaust abuse, Holocaust inversion is more dangerous. Opinion polls show that a large percentage of the European population believes that Israel behaves like Nazis toward the Palestinians, or alternatively that Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians.
Holocaust inversion is widespread in the European Union. At least 150 million citizens aged 16 and older adhere to it. Proof of this comes from a study published in 2011 by the University of Bielefeld. It was carried out on behalf of the German Socialist Friedrich Ebert Foundation.62
The study was undertaken in seven European countries. Researchers polled 1,000 people per country aged 16 and older in fall 2008. One of the questions asked was whether they agreed with the assertion that Israel was carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. The lowest percentages of those who agreed were in Italy and the Netherlands, with 38 percent and 39 percent respectively. Other figures were: Hungary 41 percent, United Kingdom 42 percent, Germany 48 percent, and Portugal 49 percent. In Poland the figure was 63 percent.63
Of particular interest is the data for Germany. Seven studies from 2004 to 2015, carried out respectively by the University of Bielefeld and the Bertelsmann Foundation, investigated the percentage of Germans who agreed that Israel behaved toward the Palestinians like the Nazis behaved toward the Jews. In the 2004 poll, 51 percent agreed; by 2015 the percentage was 41 percent. German media has played a key role in this demonization of Israel. More than 70 years since the Holocaust, there are sufficient indications that contemporary German democracy still has huge dark spots.64
A Few Examples of Inversion
A recurrent motif of Holocaust inversion is that Israel inflicts atrocities on Palestinians that are more or less reminiscent of what the Nazis did to the Jews. At a UN Security Council meeting in May 2016, Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Ramirez told council members that they should ask themselves, “What does Israel plan to do with the Palestinians? Will they be disappeared? Is Israel trying to impose a ‘final solution’ on the Palestinians in the West Bank?”65 Later the ambassador apologized for his comments.
In its top 10 anti-Semitic/anti-Israeli slurs for 2013, the Simon Wiesenthal Center included Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, for alleging that Israel may be planning a Nazi-like Holocaust.66
At an academic conference in Cork, Ireland, in April 2017, Ghada Karmi – who teaches at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom – compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. She also said that the term Untermensch, which the Nazis used to brand Jews and others as subhuman, could be used to describe Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians.67
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Argentina in 2017, anti-Semites hung posters depicting him wearing a Nazi uniform and having a Hitler-like haircut.68
Before the 2017 UK parliamentary elections, then-Liberal Democrat leader Timothy James Farron suspended David Ward, his party’s candidate in Bradford (a town with a large Muslim population). One of this former MP’s anti-Israeli comments was: “Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”69
One bizarre case of Holocaust inversion was a sermon in 2005 by a Dutch Protestant preacher, Kees Mos, in a respectable church in the upscale Dutch town of Wassenaar. He stated, “The Jew in us is a traitor, according to the Gospel of Matthew.” Mos added, “The sin of the Jew is that he refuses to be human.” He went on to say, “We have painted Hitler in the past decades as a monster, but monsters do not exist.”
Thereafter, the preacher said, “But, the Jew we do not recognize. He is a silent killer.” The Dutch Protestant umbrella organization PKN, of which Mos’ church is a member, did not react. After criticism initiated by Dutch Jews, it took one and a half years before Mos distanced himself from his sermon.70
Trivialization of the Holocaust is perhaps the most disparate category of Holocaust abuse, as it manifests itself in so many different ways. One of these is as a tool for ideologically or politically motivated activists to metaphorically compare phenomena they oppose to the industrial-scale destruction of the Jews in World War II. Examples include environmental problems, abortion, the slaughter of animals, the use of tobacco, and human rights abuses.
In 2017 the Dutch liberal daily NRC Handelsblad, which considers itself a quality publication, titled an article “It is not so strange to compare the bio industry with the Holocaust.” The author, Professor Roos Vonk, teaches social psychology at Radboud University in Nijmegen. She wrote that “animals are being treated as production goods without feeling and without individuality as slaves and Jews once were. In that sense, we live in a giant industrial Holocaust.” Vonk also remarked that “if animal rights activists compare industrial halls of thousands of pigs between metal and concrete with concentration camps they run the risk of being considered an anti-Semite and racist.”71
The university administration asked Vonk to withdraw the comparison. This was, however, a marginal move after it had been published in the widely read daily. Journalist Frits Barend objected to the comparison, which was buttressed by Vonk’s status as professor. He remarked that Vonk had turned his “murdered grandparents into fattened-up pigs” and “commercial products.”72
A few further examples will illustrate just how diverse Holocaust trivialization is. The U.S. company KA Design produced a line of T-shirts and sweatshirts with Nazi swastikas in various colors. The logo was an exact replica of the swastikas the Nazis produced. It carried, however, the words “PEACE, LOVE, and ZEN.”73 After protests, the company dropped the line.
American Congressman Clay Higgins made a video of his visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camps in May 2017. He posted the video on YouTube, where he described the crimes committed there. He also wrote, “This is why our military must be invincible.” The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum reacted by saying that the building should not be used as a stage. The congressman thereafter apologized for causing pain to people he respected.74
In July 2017, a Scottish man appeared in court. He had taught his girlfriend’s dog to do the Nazi salute when prompted by statements such as “Heil Hitler” and “Gas the Jews.” He posted the story on YouTube, where it was viewed more than 2.8 million times. The man later apologized to the Jewish community. He said in court that he “had done so to annoy his girlfriend, who had said that her dog was so cute.”75
The American Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman is quoted as mentioning how her niece referred to “60 million” who died in the Holocaust. Silverman corrects her, saying that the actual number is “6 million.” When the niece asks what the difference is, Silverman replies, “Because 60 million would have been unforgivable, young lady.”76
Cartoons and Comics
Holocaust hate cartoons can be considered a form of trivialization. Often, though, they belong to other categories of distortion. In 2016, officials in Tehran announced a Holocaust Cartoon Contest, expected to draw entries from 50 countries. The first contest, held in 2006, trivialized the crimes of Nazi Germany and cast doubt on Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. The new contest highlighted the “hypocrisy of the West,” where debate on the Holocaust was allegedly restricted despite traditions of free speech.77
One dubious activity is the increasing publication of comic books on the Holocaust. It often involves an aspect of desensitization to the atrocities. In 2017, an exhibition of Holocaust comics was presented at the Paris Shoah Memorial Museum.78
Some artists attempt to increase understanding of the Holocaust. An upcoming comic-book version of The Diary of Anne Frank was authorized by the Basel-based Anne Frank Foundation.79
Obliterating Holocaust Memory
The category of “obliterating Holocaust memory” also encompasses disparate abuses and distortions of Holocaust history. Collective memory is attacked directly and indirectly. One type of the former phenomenon is the besmirching and destruction of memorials. Another is the disruption of Holocaust ceremonies. Still another is attempting to turn such public ceremonies into events that also — and sometimes even only — memorialize other historical events. There are many other forms of obliterating Holocaust memory.
Vandalizing Holocaust memorials is a recurring activity. For example, during the summer of 2017, the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized for a second time when a rock was thrown and shattered a panel of it.80
In July 2017, a Holocaust memorial in Lakewood, New Jersey, was defaced with a banner containing anti-Semitic language. The banner had links to a white nationalist group.81
In March 2017, Nazi symbols were painted on a Holocaust monument near the Ukrainian city of Ternopil. On the Hebrew section of the monument, a swastika was drawn; on the English section an “SS” symbol.82
In July 2017, Nazi symbols were placed on a Holocaust monument in the village of P’yatydni in the Ukraine.83 Near that village, the Germans killed 20,000 Jews.
In 2016, several Holocaust memorials in Germany were vandalized, including in Berlin, Hanover, and Kröpelin, near Rostock.84
Constructing on Jewish Cemeteries
The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki was partly built on the city’s large Jewish cemetery. The city was a major center of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years. During the German occupation of Greece, the Nazis destroyed this cemetery and used the grave markers for construction material.
A small monument was finally erected on the university lawns, and a ceremony was attended by Greek political leaders. David Saltiel, president of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, called for more work to be done to “investigate, document, and present clearly to the public the instigators and executors of this destruction….”85
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Vilna contains hundreds, if not thousands, of remains of Jews, including some of Vilna’s greatest rabbis, Jewish martyrs, and pious women. It is above these human remains that plans to build a convention center have been unveiled, for which the majority of the funding has been allocated by the European Union. This cemetery was already desecrated between 1948 and 1955 and currently houses an unused, derelict soccer stadium.86
A prewar cemetery in the Czechoslovakian town of Prostejov is being rehabilitated. To date, 34 headstones have been recovered in and around Prostejov. One family discovered that their entire backyard had been paved with marble tombstones, yet they were reluctant to part with them.
Tomas Jelinek, former head of Prague’s Jewish community, told the BBC, “Prostejov had a very bad history in relationship to the Jews. It was famous for its anti-Semitism in the 19th century and it is still in the population. You can hear it on the street, and you can also see that they reinvent things which people thought would disappear forever after the Second World War.” In 1943, Prostejov’s ethnic German mayor purchased the town’s Jewish cemetery, which contained 1,924 graves, from the Reich authorities.
The article notes: “High quality marble was sold, lesser quality stone was handed out free to the locals. People today remember playing there as children, some even remember unearthing bones. Today, the cemetery is a small park, surrounded by houses and a school. Plans to rehabilitate and restore it have caused a major uproar.” Deputy Mayor Zdenek Fiser told Jelinek that “the rights of the living must take precedence over the rights of the dead.”87
Attacking the Showing of History
A bestselling German historian, Rolf Peter Sieferle, has heavily criticized the German postwar culture of Holocaust memory, claiming that it is “like a religion.” The German magazine Der Spiegel has described his position as “the Germans are the new Jews.” When his work was denounced as extremist, sales of his book increased greatly. A reviewer for the New York Times wrote that readers “pulled out their wallets and said, ‘That must be the book for me.’”88
One of the key figures of the German right-wing AfD Party, Björn Höcke, has called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a monument of shame. He also denied that Hitler was absolute evil. He added, “We know that there is no black and no white in history.” Although Höcke’s position was attacked by several other AfD members, he is not the only one in the party to have made remarks constituting Holocaust abuse.89
Marek Olszewski, head of the Polish National Tourist Organization, said he wanted to remove the Auschwitz Memorial – and a Jewish history museum – from tours for foreign journalists. Consequently he was dismissed by Polish Tourism Minister Witold Banka.90
One of the aspects related to Holocaust memory is the besmirching of Holocaust memorials. Sometimes this is done without specific reference to the Holocaust; on other occasions it relates to it explicitly.
Objections to Teaching the Holocaust
In many countries, Holocaust education is offered, and the Holocaust is referred to, for instance, in history lessons. It is reported from various countries that teachers have difficulty teaching about the Holocaust because children of Muslim immigrants oppose it. Some of these children say it has no meaning for them because the Holocaust did not take place in the countries that their parents or grandparents came from.
This reflects a much larger problem not directly related to this subject: the adamant refusal of a substantial segment of the immigrant population to integrate into their host country’s culture, where the Holocaust is an integral part of their adopted country’s history.
Other Types of Holocaust Distortion
As time passes, additional manipulations of the Holocaust and/or distorting events occur that cannot easily be included in the abovementioned categories. A few examples follow:
In 2017, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York hosted an exhibition titled “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann.” New York Times art critic Jason Farago criticized “the final video” by asserting that “the legality of Eichmann’s abduction and judicial legacy of the trial were shortchanged. Eichmann, after all, was kidnapped from a sovereign nation without warning.”91
This is an absurd remark as there was a serious probability that in the Argentinian reality of those days, Eichmann would have been warned if Israel had officially informed the authorities there. Ira Stoll noted that Farago “manages to review an exhibit about the murderous Nazi Adolf Eichmann and fault it for being, of all things, insufficiently sympathetic to Eichmann.”92
Instrumentalizing the Holocaust
In June 2017 Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo appeared to defend her government’s anti-migrant policy during a speech at a ceremony in Auschwitz that commemorated the 77th anniversary of the first transport of prisoners. According to Reuters, Szydlo said that, “Auschwitz is a lesson showing that everything needs to be done to protect one’s citizens.”9394 It was partly an instrumentalization of the Holocaust.
Szydlo’s words first appeared in a Tweet by the largest party in the Polish parliament, PiS. Reuters noted that this Tweet has since been removed. Rafal Bochenek, the government’s spokesman, said that people should listen to the prime minister’s entire speech before making any judgment.95
Facebook’s policy toward Holocaust denial warrants much scrutiny. The Guardian reported that in Facebook internal documents, its moderators were instructed to remove Holocaust-denial content in most countries where it is illegal. The paper quoted a document that said Facebook would consider locking or hiding Holocaust-denial messages and photographs only if “we face the risk of getting blocked in a country or a legal risk.”96
The document furthermore showed that while Holocaust denial is outlawed in 14 countries, Facebook would only monitor it in four (France, Germany, Israel, and Austria).9798
In September 2017, Facebook again came under attack when it was found that its algorithms allowed advertisers to target fields such as “Jew hater” and people who had shown interest in topics such as “How to burn Jews” and “History of why Jews ruined the world.” After this became public, Facebook adopted new measures to prevent such targeting.
Facebook’s product-management director, Rob Leathern, gave the following statement:
We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook. Our community standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, and we prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes.
However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.99
Abuse not only keeps increasing at a rather rapid rate, but has also permeated several quarters of mainstream society. It is difficult to see how, in a more and more chaotic world, this trend could be halted. One might even sum up the situation as, “It is getting out of control.”
In previous analyses, this author has addressed various new developments concerning the Holocaust. The recent explosion of abuse of the Holocaust necessitates focusing exclusively on this area alone. As noted, due to the huge number of manipulations and incidents it has become impossible to keep systematic track of what is happening in this area without monitoring it regularly.
The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation has proposed a final selection of designs for a British National Holocaust Memorial. The foundation’s chairman, Sir Peter Bazalgette, said, “I have the impression that Holocaust denial may well grow in the next 20 years, rather than diminish.” Karen Pollack of the Holocaust Educational Trust said, “The discourse that we’re dealing with today in politics and in the media is a huge challenge for us. We need the next generation to be the people who carry the baton.”100
Even before the expansion of social media, it was already difficult to attain a full overview of Holocaust abuse. The huge number of incidents and their great variety mean that in this essay it has only been possible to expose the massive nature of the phenomenon. Some trends may, for the same reason, have gone unnoticed.
The next step should be that Holocaust memorial institutions will begin to systematically and professionally monitor abuse in their country and categorize it. Yad Vashem seems the logical institution to initiate and coordinate such a move at the international level.
Holocaust educators should be made aware of how Holocaust abuse permeates society. If, finally, post-Holocaust studies were to become an accepted field of academic study, the systematic analysis of Holocaust distortion could also be offered at universities.
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1 Manfred Gerstenfeld The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009), 23-28
14 http://jsantisemitism.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Antisemitism-and-the-Dutch-Soccer-Fields.pdf; www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2016/05/jewish-group-to-take-action-against-psv-fans-singing-anti-semitic-songs
15 Interview with Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, in Manfred Gerstenfeld, Het Verval (Amsterdam: Van Praag, 2010).
16 Mathijs Smits, personal communication.
19 Binyomin Jacobs, “Geef tolerantie plek in onderwijs,” Reformatorisch Dagblad, July 6, 2010.
34 www.jta.org/2017/08/01/news-opinion/world/irish-jewish-leaders-defend-columnist-fired-for-anti-semitic-references; www.irishtimes.com/opinion/jewish-stereotype-in-kevin-myers-s-
42 www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/21165; http://israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/14290
47 www.europe1.fr/politique/le-vel-dhiv-un-crime-de-letat-francais-affirme-francois-fillon-329055548 www.lefigaro.fr/politique/le-scan/2017/07/18/25001-20170718ARTFIG00260-sur-la-rafle-du-vel-d-hiv-les-contradictions-de-jean-luc-melenchon.php
49 Gerstenfeld, Abuse of Holocaust Memory, 79.
50 Ibid., 84-87/
53 Personal communication, Willy Lindwer.
54 Gerstenfeld, Abuse of Holocaust Memory, 93-95.
63 Ibid., 57.