The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Copyright 2000 Copley News Service  
Copley News Service, April 14, 2000

"TO BE EQUAL: There's no denying history," by Hugh B. Price   

   "Leaving things out because they do not fit is writing 
fiction, not history." So wrote the eminent historian, Barbara W.
Tuchman, in an essay for her 1991 book, "Practicing History: 
Selected Essays."

She might have added that distorting fact and circumstance to 
make them "fit" a particular, ideologically driven interpretation of
history is writing fiction, not history, too and also the rankest 

Tuchman's insight remains as compelling today as when freshly 

Indeed, its truth was dramatically illustrated recently when a 
British court judge ruled that British historian, David Irving, who
has focused in numerous books on World War II and Nazi Germany, 
was an "active Holocaust denier," whose distortions of
fact and manipulation of evidence about the Holocaust were often 
"perverse and egregious."

Irving has claimed, among other things, that Hitler never ordered 
the Nazis to try to wipe out European Jewry and that he didn't
even know of the mass killings at the concentration camps of the 
Third Reich until late in the war. Judge Charles Gray declared
in a scathing decision that this was nonsense. 

"Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently 
misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence," the judge 
wrote. "For the same reasons, he has portrayed Hitler in an 
unwarrantedly favorable light, particularly in relation to his 
attitude toward and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews."

The judge's ruling ended a libel suit Irving himself had brought 
against Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and
Holocaust studies at Atlanta's Emory University. 

Lipstadt had written in a book that Irving, once a respected 
historian, had become "one of the most dangerous spokespersons
for Holocaust denial," and that "he is at his most facile at 
taking accurate information and shaping it to conform to his

Irving filed a libel suit against her in Britain because British 
law, unlike American law, places the burden on the defendants 
here, Lipstadt to prove that their claims are correct. 

Her attorneys did just that with an array of Holocaust historians 
whose testimony shredded Irving's claims. 

At first thought, it is difficult to believe that any sane person 
could claim or give any credit to the assertion that the Holocaust 
never occurred, or that Hitler was blameless, or any of the rest 
of the ideology of Holocaust denial and neo-Nazism. 

And, yet, various private groups, as well as government agencies 
in the United States and Europe, have tracked a clear growth
of groups and individuals making such assertions. 

Ironically, Lipstadt's book, which provoked Irving to file suit, 
was titled "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth
and Memory."

As resounding and welcome as Gray's ruling and withering language 
is regarding the perverse attempts to deny that the
Holocaust happened, I can't help but think that it has an even 
larger significance. 

One facet of that lies in the ironic and tragic coincidence that 
the attempt to deny the reality of the Jewish Holocaust of 50 
years ago comes amid our current, years-long plague of genocidal wars 
and guerrilla conflicts in black Africa, parts of the Asian
subcontinent and in the Balkans; figuratively, in the very heart 
of Europe where the Nazis unleashed their barbaric "final
solution" a half century ago. 

Surely, this is a devastating comment on how thin the veneer of 
civilization remains among developed as well as
underdeveloped countries. 

Second, in reading some of the fantastical claims of Irving and 
other Holocaust-deniers that Hitler and the Nazis have been
misunderstood and that the things we know happened did not happen, 
I couldn't help but think of other efforts to deny other
great wrongs. 

I've thought of how some in Japan denied the fact of the Japanese 
army's savage overrunning of Nanking in 1937, and its
forced prostitution of Korean women during World War II. 

I've thought of the efforts of the right wing in Chile and 
Argentina to deny the murderous repression that occurred in those
countries in the 1970s and 1980s. 

And I've thought of the attempt in the United States of some to 
deny that the Confederacy was not what it was: an attempt to
ground a nation in a monstrous evil racial slavery. 

In this controversy, as in the efforts to whitewash the reality 
of the Third Reich and the other great wrongs, there is the same
unwillingness to face indisputable facts here, of the damning 
language about slavery in the Confederate Constitution of 1861, 
for example. 

There is the same taking refuge in asserting the "honor" of the 
individual Confederate soldiers and sailors, as if individual 
valor can cover up and purify the stench of a perverse cause. 

And, when all else fails, there is the same clenched-jaw 
assertion that the great wrong really wasn't so bad anyway. 

So, for me, as resounding and welcome as Gray's ruling against 
Nazi sympathizer David Irving is, it also underscores the point
that the struggle against those who would distort history in 
order to justify the great wrongs of the past is, for the 
foreseeable future, never-ending. 

Hugh B. Price is president of the National Urban League.  

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