Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

The Holocaust, or holocausts?

By Eliahu Salpeter

Holocaust-denial has traditionally been one of the central instruments of anti-Semites and neo-Nazis in the West.The verdict handed down last year by a court in London against historian David Irving in his libel suit against another historian, Deborah Lipstadt, who had accused him of denying the Holocaust has dealt a severe blow to all the attempts that have been made in recent years to extend legitimacy, if not reputability, to a "moderate" form of Holocaust-denial. Instead of denying the Holocaust altogether, the proponents of this approach spread arguments designed to erode the credibility of facts related to the Holocaust. Thus, 6 million Jews were not exterminated; "only" 1 million were. Or, there were no gas chambers; the Jews who perished were victims of disease or famine. Or, there was no "industrialization" of the mass extermination process; there were "only" pogroms and mass executions.

In the Arab world, the Irving trial has had less impact than it has had in any other segment of the international community. In Arab propaganda, the Holocaust continues to figure as a major tool used against Israel; however, its employment betrays a central paradox. On the one hand, the propagandists continue to stress that the Palestinians are victims of the Western world's feelings of guilt over the Holocaust. On the other hand, however, there has been an ever-increasing attempt in recent years to deny Israel's right to exist by denying the Holocaust.

Thus, for example, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's deputy, Abu Mazen, has written that Zionism wanted to inflate the number of Holocaust victims in order to arouse the conscience of the Arab world. One Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat al-Jadidah, last year defined Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a "Jewish center for the preservation of the memory of both the Holocaust and the lies."

Last November 29, on the day commemorating the 1947 decision of the UN General Assembly to partition British Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation aired a lecture that recounted, inter alia, the "untruthful arguments about Jews murdered in the Holocaust." According to the lecturer, "All these lies are completely groundless. There was never a Chelmno or a Dachau or an Auschwitz. These were delousing centers."

Newspapers in many Arab states are not lagging behind the Palestinian media in denying the Holocaust.

In effect, even the "universalization" of the Holocaust, a process that has gained considerable ground over the past few years and which can be observed in circles that can certainly not be labeled anti-Semitic, is being used not just to deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust but also, and indirectly, to reduce the credibility of facts concerning the Holocaust - as if the Holocaust were a phenomenon that is not rare by any standards in human history.

This process was referred to last month by Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior in connection with the preparations being made for the United Nations' World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, scheduled to open in Durban, South Africa on August 31.

In their background papers, the conference's organizers have introduced a number of terminological "amendments." They have erased the definite article in "The Holocaust" (thus replacing the latter term with "Holocaust") and are writing the word "Holocaust" with a small "h" instead of a capital "H." In order to eliminate any doubt about their intentions, they have added to the word "holocaust" the letter "s" to convey the message that the Jewish holocaust was only one of many holocausts that have taken place in human history.

"Instead of condemning the greatest crime ever committed against humanity, they are engaged in trivialization," notes Rabbi Melchior. "They are saying that there have been many holocausts and that our holocaust was just one of them."

Lack of information on the Holocaust can serve as fertile ground for its denial altogether. About three months ago, the American Jewish Committee conducted a special survey on attitudes toward the Holocaust among Austrians. For comparison's sake, AJC has attached to the findings of this survey findings from similar surveys conducted in recent years in other European countries, in the United States and in Argentina.

As can be seen from the comparison, there is no clear correlation between lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. In some countries there is a blatant and direct correlation between the two, while in some countries there is an inverse relationship.

In the AJC surveys, respondents were asked to choose, among various possible definitions of the term "the Holocaust," the definition they considered to be the most accurate. In view of the prolonged grappling of the German educational system with the Holocaust, it is not surprising to learn that, in Germany, the percentage of respondents who correctly defined the term was higher than in any other country: 81 percent of the German respondents said that the Holocaust was the extermination, murder or persecution of the Jews. The lowest percentage of respondents able to correctly define this term was in Russia - 6 percent - while the corresponding figures for Sweden were 21 percent and 32 percent for both the Czech Republic and Switzerland. In contrast, 67 percent of the Austrian respondents and 59 percent of the American respondents gave the correct definition. In both the U.S. and Austria the percentage of respondents who correctly defined the term was significantly higher than it was in all other countries surveyed.

On the other hand, the percentage of respondents who felt that there was the possibility that the Holocaust never occurred was extremely low in all the AJC surveys. In the U.S., Switzerland, Sweden and Poland respectively, only 1 percent of the respondents gave an affirmative answer (that is, they considered it possible that there never was a Holocaust). In Sweden, Switzerland, the U.S. and France respectively, most of the respondents knew that the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust was 6 million. In Germany, 36 percent of the respondents cited the correct figure.

To compare personal attitudes toward anti-Semitism, the AJC survey presented responses to "classical" measurable questions: First of all, a willingness to have Jews living in a neighboring apartment or house; second, the respondents' opinion concerning the extent of Jewish influence in their own country. The greatest opposition to having a Jewish neighbor was expressed by respondents in Poland (30 percent). In Austria, 26 percent of the respondents were against having a Jewish neighbor, while in Russia and Germany the corresponding figures were 24 percent and 22 percent. Little opposition to the idea of Jewish neighbors was found among the respondents in Sweden (2 percent), the U.S. (5 percent) and Switzerland (8 percent).

The highest percentages of respondents who believed that Jews exerted too much influence were recorded for Argentina (25 percent) and Germany (22 percent). The lowest percentages were in Sweden (2 percent) and the Czech Republic (8 percent). The highest percentages of respondents who believed that Jews exerted too little influence were recorded for the Czech Republic (34 percent) and - surprisingly, considering that country's anti-Semitic past - Slovakia (25 percent).

These responses do not permit the formation of any uniform conclusions concerning the link between the various indices of anti-Semitism. However, it does appear that the percentage of Holocaust-deniers in the countries surveyed by AJC is low and that it is quite possible to be an anti-Semite without denying the Holocaust

©2001 - Ha'aretz

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