BECAUSE THE MOON IS MADE OF WHITE CHEESE
Countering Holocaust denial will be a rising moral challenge for us in the years ahead
Lecturers at the International School of Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem were explicit in their observation to a lecture theatre ten years ago. It is for Jewish people to decide whether continental Europe is a safe place for Jewish populations to live in. Blithe assumptions about their security in modern day Europe are not for others to make. And Europe still did not feel safe for many Jewish people.
It was difficult to make out what people thought of this, as an attendee myself. Europe at the time looked safe and the scourge of Nazism a long way in the past. But then the audience was not Jewish. And since 2009, there have been critical developments. The emerging global economic crisis was making many redundant and dispossessing them of their homes. Yet few were thinking about the way it would roll out in the longer term.
The subsequent, irresistible, rise of populism and nationalism has yet to abate. Implacable politicians who speak readily about enemies of the people are in power across the world and in important places. Elites are derided, often by people with the wealth and connections that most could only dream of. Rootless, cosmopolitan types with no loyalty to the nations they live in are scapegoated.
Rootless, cosmopolitan types with no loyalty to the nations they live in is, of course, the description Hitler gave to the Jewish populations of twentieth century Europe before he murdered them. Many flirt with the language of antisemitism without realising it. But a large number are happy to own it now.
In the UK, not normally the first European country to be associated with antisemitism, the Community Security Trust has recorded antisemitic incidents at a record high for the third successive year. At the same time, polling carried out for the Holocaust Memorial Trust has revealed some disturbing figures.
One in twenty British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened; almost half of those questioned said they did not know the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust and one in five said that fewer than two million perished. To take another finding from France, twenty percent of those aged 18 – 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust.
These results may say something about the paucity of education around the issue, but such ignorance is highly susceptible to the many lies being propagated on social media. Almost all people, when they come across Holocaust denial for the first time, are rendered speechless at its mendacity. But it refuses to be put to bed and is finding its feet at the most critical moment as the last survivors begin to die off and lies are shamelessly passed off as truth online.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, a leading Holocaust historian, has said it is pointless arguing with deniers, as hopeless as with those who say the moon is made of white cheese. He might have said as meaningless as arguing with those who believe the world is flat. Except, as you may have noticed, the numbers believing it is flat has spiked in recent years.
I am not so sure, though I have nothing of Bauer’s grasp of the topic. As the Holocaust generation, still eloquently bearing witness, fades away and virulent antisemitism rears its spiteful head, the need for proper education, painstaking rebuttal and the sharing of a new written tradition in the next one is paramount.
I was privileged to meet and talk with Eva Schloss, survivor of Auschwitz and childhood friend of Anne Frank and the interview can be found on this website. Her honesty and humanity shine brightly. She would like to know where the deniers think she got her tattooed number from in an era without tattoo parlours. I expect those who lie would have an answer for that. Which is precisely why we must counter them. Again and again.
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