JUSTICE - No. 68

3 Summer 2022 was asked to talk about a topic of my own choosing, but one that took into consideration the ethical, religious, or moral dimensions of the aftermath of the Holocaust. After much thought, I decided to focus on Holocaust denial and distortion. The passage of the UN General Assembly resolution on combating Holocaust denial and distortion on January 20, 2022, is evidence of the importance of this issue. It seems incredible that more than 75 years after the end of World War II and the Holocaust, people still deny and distort the facts of the genocide, one of the best-documented mass atrocities in human history. We have mountains of evidence, extensive survivor testimonies, and eyewitness accounts from those who liberated the concentration and death camps. Yet Holocaust denial and distortion persist. Indeed, one could say they have gone viral. Modern-day Holocaust distortion and denial have been further exacerbated, and amplified, through the use of digital tools and the ease with which misinformation and disinformation can be spread on social media platforms. This is shocking. The Holocaust is fact; the evidence is overwhelming. So, what is going on, why does it matter, and what can we do about it? First, some definitions. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, “Holocaust denial seeks to erase the history of the Holocaust. In doing so, it seeks to legitimize Nazism and antisemitism.” “Holocaust distortion acknowledges aspects of the Holocaust as factual. It nevertheless excuses, minimizes, or misrepresents the Holocaust in a variety of ways and through various media.” The United States, alongside the Netherlands, is a proud member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA; and I want to acknowledge the excellent work that IHRA has done in identifying and countering Holocaust denial and distortion. Indeed, IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism – which the United States embraces and encourages other countries to embrace – identifies Holocaust denial and distortion as forms of antisemitism, and their increase is particularly relevant in the context of rapidly rising antisemitism around the world. I have drawn extensively on IHRA’s work for this talk, and I want to especially thank Dr. Robert Williams and other members of the U.S. delegation to IHRA for their invaluable help and suggestions. In Malmo, Sweden, I attended the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism held in October 2021. Holocaust survivor Tobias Rawet talked there about how hearing a Holocaust denier made him realize he had to bear witness to what had happened. He said that when he was 56, he heard a Holocaust denier on television, and it felt as if that person was saying that Mr. Rawet’s life was a lie – as if his cousins and other family members had never lived and had never been murdered during the Holocaust. He therefore decided that he had to speak up and share his experience of the Holocaust. Born in Poland, Mr. Rawet was taken to the Łodz ghetto with his parents when he was three years old and then deported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. He and his parents survived, but much of his extended family was murdered. Mr. Rawet’s story of why he decided to bear public witness to the Holocaust was incredibly moving, and it showed us in a few words how Holocaust denial tries to erase the suffering of Holocaust survivors and tries to wipe out the historical reality of the murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Professor Deborah Lipstadt, an eminent historian of the Holocaust, said it clearly: “The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best documented genocide in the world. For deniers to be right, all survivors would have to be wrong.” Holocaust distortion is a more recent threat, especially in our social media age. One example of Holocaust distortion is the rehabilitation of people who played roles in committing the crimes of the Holocaust. Some, like Jonas Noreika in Lithuania and Roman Shukhevych in Ukraine, are considered national heroes because they fought against Soviet tyranny, but they also collaborated with the Nazis. Some countries have named sport stadiums after Nazi collaborators. All countries, the United States The Danger of Holocaust Denial and Distortion* I EllenGermain * Remarks for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, The Hague, January 31, 2022. The author thanks Rabbi Shmuel Katzman and The Centre for Yiddishkeit (CHAJ), the Municipality of The Hague, and the Israeli Embassy for organizing this commemoration.