The Roots of Denial

*Although the starting point of this post is a tad dated, Dashiell’s insight is dead on, and it deserves to be read again.

Speaking of our Homie Dash, he’s currently on hiatus due to a family emergency.

I hope everyone will pay him a visit (After reading this here post), and wish him well. It’s easy to forget in Blogtopia that we, at least most of us, are actual human beings.



Holocaust denial is in the news again, thanks (but no thanks) to the President of Iran. Ahmadinejad’s opinions have elicited the usual indignation, but what are we to make, finally, of Holocaust denial itself? There is no question that the “final solution” is among the most well-documented events in history. The Germans kept very precise records—not to mention the countless testimonies from survivors and perpetrators, along with all the other supporting evidence. That anyone would even attempt to deny the Holocaust has always puzzled me. Yet it’s been going on for at least forty years.

Sometimes the denial manifests as a critique of the extent or nature of Nazi persecution of the Jews, as for example in claims that the gas chambers were a myth. I don’t think it makes any difference whether a revisionist denies the Holocaust outright, or just the extent of it, or the means employed. None of it withstands critical scrutiny.

It seems to me that the question as to why such denial is being advanced has two related answers, one of them obvious, the other not as much. First, the obvious one: antisemitism. Hatred of Jews has a long tradition. The ambivalent relationship between Christianity and Judaism, in which organized Christian power incorporated the Jewish scriptures while claiming to usurp the Jews’ “chosen” place within the biblical story, has been one of the most tragic aspects of European history. The 19th century, however, saw racism as a cultural construct give way to an ideological racism. The mythical position of the Jew as scapegoat became a lightning rod for those using fear and resentment to wield a new kind of power that we’ve come to know as “totalitarian.”

When the magnitude of the Nazi regime’s crimes became widely known, the world shuddered. A supposedly “civilized” nation demonstrated to what depths human beings can go, and they were deeper and more frightening than anyone had dreamed. The post-war revelations concerning the death camps were a repudiation of ideological antisemitism. As the cause, so the effect: the end of antisemitic rhetoric was mass murder.

Rather than boldly attempt to justify the “final solution,” therefore, the antisemite of today seeks instead to deny that it existed. If there were no Holocaust, then anti-Jewish ideology can pretend once more to have a case. Holocaust denial, then, is an attempt to regain access to the destructive energy of the old Jew-as-scapegoat mythos, a time-honored source of power. Of course there are other scapegoats available (the right wing is currently using gay people for that end) but none of them have the history or the potency of the Jewish scapegoat.

I believe, however, that there is a second reason for Holocaust denial, related to the first but more subtle. That the Third Reich was really a rightist state is a fact that must be secretly embarrassing to right wingers. During the Cold War, the American right was fond of raising the specter of Munich and “appeasement” when attacking the left as being soft on Communism. This obscured the fact that it was the right that opposed entry into World War II, it was the right that was isolationist, and what support there was for Hitler in this country came exclusively from the right. During the McCarthy era, anticommunism and antisemitism went hand-in-hand, and this was no different in essence from Hitler’s own political views. A number of Congressmen were on record as believing that America had been duped into supporting the “wrong” side in the war by a “Jewish-Bolshevist” conspiracy.

As a symptom, then, of this largely unexpressed embarrassment, we witness the appearance, on society’s fringes, of Holocaust denial. For if the Holocaust didn’t happen, or even if it wasn’t as severe as we’ve been told, then Nazi Germany was just another regime that waged an unfortunate war and lost, rather than a massive criminal enterprise. And if the fascist state was not beyond the ken, then the fascist project for the future is given a new lease on life. I don’t believe the issue at stake is whether or not the denial is supported by the facts. The motive is to sow the seeds of doubt in the public mind. A gradual erosion of faith in the historical record advances the fascist cause. Most of this is unconscious, of course, just as all such ideological systems are an expression of an unconscious drive to power.

In the case of Ahmadinejad and other Holocaust deniers from Muslim countries, I think it’s primarily a symptom of their hatred of Israel. A sane perspective is to consider Israel as a state among other states, which means that one can oppose the policies of an Israeli government without being anti-Jewish, contrary to what many reflexive defenders of Israeli policies may say. Conferring a “special” status on a particular country is just as delusional as giving it a “hated” status. To do neither is not only a prerequisite for sane political discussion, but for respect as well. But both are apparently in short supply. So we have the spectacle of a Muslim leader spouting off about the “myth” of the Holocaust. No matter what the motive may be, the negation of the historical record reveals an insidious prejudice.

I understand that there are Holocaust deniers on the left as well. Delusion is not the sole property of the right. But if I were to believe what the right wing noise machine tells me, liberals and leftists are natural allies of Islamic fundamentalists, although the fundamentalists oppose homosexuality, abortion, women’s rights, and just about everything else that the American right opposes. The Orwellian state of public discourse is such that indignation about Holocaust denial can be expressed by those who haven’t learned anything from the Holocaust. The mortal danger of extremist ideology, whether we label it “right” or “left,” is not something in a museum. It’s still very much with us.


~ by cdash on January 2, 2008.

4 Responses to “The Roots of Denial”

  1. This is a really good post. Do you think that on the left, we see more of Holocaust minimization than outright denial? (Minimization strikes me as a more insidious approach than the extreme position of outright denial.)

    Again, nice work here.

  2. This topic is, unfortunately, always timely. Dashiell has made some very excellent observations in this post.

    At the core of fascism are hate and control. Control is power. The most effective method by which to control people and events is to control information. Sure you can use force; but history has shown that if you rely only on force, eventually enough people will join together to rise up against you with even greater force. When a state can control information, it holds power over people’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. Propaganda combines the information and emotion. Real power is having the people on your side. Give them a common enemy. That’s why scapegoating has often been utilized as a very effective tool of control. Holocaust denial is an attempt to control historical information in order to influence current events. Those who use hate as a tool to control others must also themselves feel that hate. I think hate is both the chicken and the egg, if that makes sense.

  3. Writing as an atheist, left-wing, American Jew living in exile in Panama, let me tell you a couple of things that don’t mean shit: 1) The “views” of Ahminejad 2) Left-Wing Holocaust denial.

    Ahminejad is a nobody. He’s a second rate poltiician with a title but no portfolio. He decided that Holocaust-denial was a convenient way to build up some hard-core Muslim support and trade on a conflict he’s got no role in. A garden-variety politician. It just so happened this tactic allowed America’s Jewish Right to take another hit of their artificial “post 9/11” power.

    Left-Wing Holocaust denial is even more ridiculous. They, too, are frustrated at having no power and at not being heard. So, they act out like crybabies, conflating the government of “America” which frustrates them with said government’s ally, the GOVERNMENT of the state of Israel, looking for a soft-spot, a way to get attention from Mommy and Daddy. Yeah, there’s fucked-up shit going on in Israel with regard to the settlements and the territories. A devil’s bargain has indeed been struck between Ohmert’s Israel, Bush’s America and the Christian Fundamentalist Right and it surely doesn’t work to the Palestinian’s advantage to say the least. What left-wing holocaust deniers forget to do, just like Republicans and Fundies is ASK ISRAELI PEOPLE WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT ALL OF THESE ISSUES FROM THE SETTLEMENTS TO GITMO. If they did, they’d be in for the shock of their lives. They’d find 75-80% of Israelis would be considererd rather “left-wing” or even “socialist” by American standards. And your left-wing goyish Holocaust denier would then work back from a deal which made fellow-Semites pay for the sins of European Whites and your left-wing Holocaust deniers wouldn’t be Holocaust deniers anymore.

    No shit, the fascist elements of the United States — the Republicans, the Clergy, the Press, the Archer-Daniels-Midland Corporation — find much to like in the way Adolf Hitler organized his state. That’s See Dick Run stuff. What’s depressing is how many American Jews don’t think of Gitmo or warrantless wiretapping or the shoe bullshit at the airport and get reminded of another time and another place. I surely don’t see a tremendous difference between Gitmo and Treblinka.

    Frankly, I think it’s time for a lot of American Jews to wake up and realize what our brethren and sistren in Israel have known for years: the Muslims may be our OPPONENTS, but the WHITE FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS ARE OUR ENEMIES.

  4. I’m now reading Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” which talks to this very point. It scary how “flash in the pan” sensationalism can turn into the type of “othering” that leads to whole groups of people becoming refugees, or worse still, exterminated. But as we talk of holocausts and genocides, please, let’s remember what Pol Pot did in Cambodia and what Pinochet did in Chile or what Milosovec in Kosovo. Let’s not forget the dead in Rawanda, Sudan, Darfur and now Kenya. Because if we do, then we are just as guilty of being in denial.

    Dash, my best to you and yours. Hope it all turns out well.

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