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
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
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