Ironically, and regardless of the good intentions, the EU’s pushing of member states to prosecute individuals for Holocaust denial has opened the prosecutorial floodgate for ”defamation against the state”.
Flemming Rose, the former culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten in Helsinki:
And these laws criminalizing Holocaust denial, they are now being copied and have inspired other kinds of laws in other parts of the world where they do not have the same good intentions. If you take Eastern Europe, in Eastern Europe the crimes of Communism seem far more present than the Holocaust, so Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries, they have passed laws criminalizing denial of the crimes of communism.
If you take the Ukraine, this Spring, passed four new laws, two of them criminalizing insult to the freedom fighters of Ukraine during the 20th century, which in fact also implies two groups that took part in the Holocaust. So when Western historians write critically about these two groups they may risk being arrested when they travel to Kiev.
The most far-reaching law in this respect was passed in Russia last year, and it is interesting that it was passed with the same reference to the Nuremberg trial after the Second World War as all the other anti-Holocaust denial laws in Europe. The Russian law basically says that it is a criminal offense to criticize the actions of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
Now we see the Polish government seemingly taking a page right out of the Russian’s playbook, and while the Polish state ceased to exist during the Nazi German occupation, many Poles acted with great enthusiasm in helping the Germans murder the Jews. That said, there were also a number of Poles who went through great sacrifice in saving Jews as well. I recommend reading the piece by the JTA’s Canaan Liphshiz “Poland wants to ban the term ‘Polish death camps.’ There are historical inaccuracies on both sides of the debate.”
The rapid increase of Holocaust abuse
Over the past decades, the abuse of the Holocaust has gradually increased. Rather unnoticed in the last year or two, however, the number of these distortions has grown at a far more rapid rate. Holocaust abuse has also permeated several additional areas of mainstream society.
Manipulation of the truth may well become a substantial part of the Holocaust discourse. This is increasingly likely to occur as surviving Holocaust victims are aging. In an increasingly chaotic world it is difficult to see how this trend can be halted.
As the abuse of the Holocaust is not systematically monitored, hardly anyone realizes that the number of incidents has greatly increased. When I wrote The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses in 2009, it was still possible to categorize almost all distortions within eight distinct categories.
Before that time, the focus in the media and the public domain had been on Holocaust denial. This is not the most extreme category of Holocaust abuse. Holocaust inversion is a more devious category. A major slogan used in this category is that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians like the Nazis behaved toward the Jews.
Since 2009, not only the borders between categories of Holocaust abuse have diffused. There are also new variations. A particular devious one has been pointed out by Israeli genocide scholar Israel Charny.
He has illustrated how Holocaust research departments at various universities, including Israeli ones, contain “a good number of scholars who indulge in Holocaust denials or minimization and are entirely bona fide according to all the rules and conventions of academia.”
Charny called the University of Sussex in the UK a “center of Holocaust distortion.” One scholar there published an article claiming that Hitler did not specifically target the Jews but “it was part of a larger program that disposed those who stood in the way of expanding German living space.” The distortion at universities also shows itself in far more primitive ways: “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was painted on a sidewalk at the University of California campus at Berkeley.
At the European Union in 2015, an official from Malta was accused of antisemitic hate speech and assault of an EU employee. He praised Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in a rant and attempted to strangle the woman whom he mistakenly assumed was Jewish. He said, “Dirty Jew… Hitler should have exterminated all the Jews, just as they today are exterminating the Palestinians.”
Chief Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs, the head of the Dutch Orthodox Rabbinate, says that when something happens in Israel, people shout at him, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”
He also says that Dutch youngsters shouted “Heil Hitler” during one of his speeches at the memorial meeting for Dutch Holocaust victims.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party for the past two years, has frequently appeared publicly with Holocaust-denier Paul Eisen. The latter wrote that Corbyn has “attended every single one of his charity’s annual events and has even donated money to the group.”
A MAJOR Holocaust-distortion issue concerns Polish Holocaust revisionism.
Since the beginning of this century, there have been major disclosures about massive crimes committed by Poles against Jews during the Holocaust. The two main scholars who have pointed this out are Jan Gross and Jan Grabowski. Grabowski states that his research shows that 200,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust by Poles. The Polish government is trying to deny these facts.
Nor should one look away from the abuse of the Holocaust by Jews, which also seems to be on the increase. One of the most severe insults for a Jew is to accuse another Jew of being a Nazi. The Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem and former chief rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, said that Reform Jews are worse than Holocaust deniers.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of additional examples of Holocaust abuse in recent years can be found. Even before the expansion of social media it was already difficult to obtain a full overview of Holocaust abuse. The fragmentation of collective memory in the Western world has further facilitated Holocaust distortion. At the same time in the growing historical vacuum, mentions of the Holocaust seem to be increasing instead of fading away, as usually happens with events of the past.
The number of incidences is so large nowadays that even trends may go unnoticed. The issue is sufficiently worrisome to warrant far more attention. The next step should be for Holocaust memorial institutions to start to systematically and professionally monitor such abuse within their country and categorize it. On an international basis, Yad Vashem seems the logical choice to initiate and coordinate such a move.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.