DAVID IRVING SUFFERED a humiliating defeat in a London court last week, but the judge who pronounced him "an active Holocaust denier" and "pro-Nazi polemicist" who "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" said nothing about the writer that others hadn't already said.
Holocaust-denier David Irving's libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt was thrown out.
In 1989, the British House of Commons branded Irving "a Nazi propagandist and longtime Hitler apologist." The Times of London condemned him as "a man for whom Hitler is something of a hero and almost . . . an innocent, and for whom Auschwitz is a Jewish deception." The renowned historian Hugh Trevor-Roper described him as a willful distorter of facts, one who "seizes on a small and dubious particle of 'evidence' " in order to brush aside much more significant evidence that disproves his claims.
Irving himself, in speeches to Holocaust-denial groups, had described Hitler as "the biggest friend the Jews had in the Third Reich." The gas chambers of Auschwitz, he wrote in the foreword to a book denying their existence, were a figment of wartime PR, a hoax concocted by the Allies.
So it is hard to fathom how Irving thought he was going to prevail in his libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, the Emory University scholar whose 1993 book Denying the Holocaust called him "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." That book, he said in court, had generated "waves of hatred" against him, causing publishers to shun him. And then the man who claimed it was a lie to label him a falsifier of history told the judge this:
"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It's baloney, it's a legend. . . . There are so many Auschwitz survivors going around, in fact the number increases as the years go past, which is biologically very odd to say the least. I'm going to form an association of Auschwitz Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust, and Other Liars, or ASSHOLS."
It is tempting to say that anyone who would deny that the Nazis planned and carried out the murder of 6 million European Jews — the most exhaustively researched, documented, and attested-to genocide in history — must be deranged or diseased. But the Holocaust-deniers are neither crazy nor sick. They know what they are doing.
Holocaust denial is above all an assault on modern Jewish history. "The central assertion for the deniers," Lipstadt writes, "is that Jews are not victims but victimizers. They 'stole' billions in reparations, destroyed Germany's good name by spreading the 'myth' of the Holocaust, and won international sympathy because of what they claimed had been done to them."
The deniers' objective is to strip the survivors of the Holocaust — not only the emaciated skeletons still alive in the death camps in the spring of 1945, but the surviving remnant of the Jewish people — of their moral authority. If the Holocaust was nothing but propaganda, then far from deserving sympathy or the safety of their own homeland, the Jews deserve only scorn.
In short, Holocaust denial offers a rationale for anti-Semitism. That explains why the deniers and the anti-Semites are usually one. Aryan Nations, the Liberty Lobby, the Institute for Historical Review, and neo-Nazis like David Duke all traffic both in Jew-hatred and denial of the Holocaust. And because de-victimizing the Jews helps delegitimize Israel, Holocaust-denial has flourished among the Arabs.
In a 1999 survey of Arab public opinion, Hilal Khashan of the American University of Beirut asked 1,600 respondents whether they empathized with Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Of the 82 percent that answered no, 53 percent said the Holocaust never occurred. Another 32 percent said the Jews had plotted against Germany. Arab newspapers and television regularly label the Holocaust a Jewish hoax. The extent to which this is taken is almost comical. In a crossword puzzle in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official daily of the Palestinian Authority, one answer was "Yad Vashem." The clue? "Jewish center for eternalizing the Holocaust and the lies."
What makes Holocaust-denial truly insidious, though, is not its popularity with bigots and haters, but the effect it can produce on people who are simply uninformed.
Lipstadt writes in her book about one TV talk show that decided to take up the issue. "When the show aired in April 1992, deniers were given the bulk of the time to speak their piece," she relates. "Then Holocaust survivors were brought on to try to 'refute' their comments. Before the commercial break, the host, Montel Williams, urged viewers to stay tuned so that they could learn whether the Holocaust is a 'myth or is it truth.' " Time and again, Lipstadt says, her refusal to debate Holocaust deniers drew the same objection: Shouldn't we hear their point of view? What's wrong with airing the other side of the issue?
That is what the deniers are aiming at: Acceptance of the idea that their hateful falsehoods are a legitimate "other side" of Holocaust history. The more they repeat that the Final Solution never happened, the more some people wonder: Well, did it? Each new seed of doubt grants Adolf Hitler a posthumous victory and makes the destruction of the Six Million a little more complete.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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