Distortion of the Holocaust Mars Another Holocaust Remembrance Day
Many people equate Holocaust distortion exclusively with its denial and minimization. This is incorrect. The latter two examples are only one category of Holocaust distortion — and they aren’t even the most abusive. Indeed, Holocaust inversion is worse, because it claims that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians the same way that the Nazis did towards the Jews.
There are also a variety of other categories of Holocaust distortion that can only be mentioned briefly here. Holocaust justification refers to the claim that Jews were the cause of their enemies’ antisemitism, and bore responsibility for their own murder. Blaming Jews for the hatred against them is a common antisemitic theme to this day.
Another important distortion category is Holocaust deflection, which admits that the Holocaust happened, but denies the complicity or responsibility of specific groups or individuals. In this way, blame for the Holocaust can be placed on others. One example is Austria, which for many years portrayed itself as the first victim of the Nazis, while in reality it was a major Holocaust perpetrator.
Holocaust whitewashing consists of many techniques and requires profound understanding. It aims at cleansing individuals, groups of people, or nations from blame without necessarily accusing others. For decades in West Germany, false claims were made that the Wehrmacht — the German army — did not participate in the atrocities that took place. But at the end of the last century, the claims about the Wehrmacht’s involvement in mass killings of Jews became irrefutable.
Understanding whitewashing techniques of the Holocaust is important because they relate to many contemporary whitewashing techniques of antisemitism. A well-known case concerns the British Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Another Holocaust distortion category — de-Judaization — has several variants. For instance, one can broaden the term Holocaust in order to include people other than Jews who were murdered, but not part of the genocide.
A second type of de-Judaization is to avoid or minimize to a large extent the Jewish character of the victims. A major example of the de-Judaization of the Holocaust is the way in which Anne Frank’s life has been presented over the decades. In many places, she became a universal icon, and her Jewish identity was minimized.
The distortion category of Holocaust equivalence manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, pre-war and wartime Holocaust equivalence consists of claims that Germany did not do anything different from what other nations had done earlier. Post-war Holocaust equivalence alleges that certain actions or attitudes of others since the end of World War II are the same as those of the Germans during the war. This includes claims of the double genocide, which refers to the supposed symmetry between Nazi and communist crimes.
Holocaust trivialization is partly a tool for some ideologically or politically-motivated activists to metaphorically compare phenomena that they oppose to the industrial scale of the extermination of the Jews. Frequent examples are the “animal Holocaust,” referring to the mass slaughter of animals. Another is the “abortion Holocaust.” A very different type of trivialization happens in commercial activities. For instance, one sometimes finds images of Hitler used to promote companies or products.
Yet another category of distortion is the obliteration of Holocaust memories. This has many aspects. One facet is the destroying or besmirching of memorials. Another is disrupting memorial ceremonies. The Muslim Council of Britain tried to void the content of Holocaust ceremonies. In 2005, this organization wrote to a British minister that it would not attend the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz unless it included the “Holocaust” of the Palestinians.
Sunday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that occasion, we should also focus our attention on the many categories of Holocaust distortion.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.