Friday, May 05, 2006

THE HOLOCAUST ON TRIAL

Chanced upon Deborah Lipstadt's blog. Lipstadt is Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology division and History department at Emory University. She has had a pretty unique career, having come into the limelight recently, when she came into conflict with the (in)famous British historian David Irving.

David Irving has penned magisterial, if somewhat controversial, histories and biographies of World War 2 characters and events. And yet this brilliant man is amongst that bizarre group of people who, I cannot for the life of me understand why, deny the Holocaust. A couple of months ago, Irving finally met his fate, when he was sentenced to imprisonment in Europe for his consistent views about the matter.
How could such intelligent, informed, and publicly visible men and women deny something that is a foregone conclusion? Is it simply to be rebels without a cause? Their point is either that the Holocaust did not happen at all, something which is absurd to the point of being worthy of neglect in the face of irrefutable evidence, or that it's magnitude was much 'lesser'. According to these esteemed scholars, rather than the pretty well accepted figure of six million, 'only', say one or two million Jews died in Hitler's factories of death. First of all, the Holocaust was of such epic proportions in both its magnitude and execution (pun intended) that it does not make a difference to me if six million died in it or one million. The fact that human beings could murder other human beings in the millions, and go about it as nonchalantly as they were butchering chickens for meat packaging, is really beyond comprehension. It is really curious and unsettling to see hundreds of well-known people denying the Holocaust even now. In fact, to make sure that nobody would accuse the Allies of having 'invented' the Holocaust, it is said that Eisenhower paraded common Germans, including small children, in front of the emaciated skeletons of both living and dead Jews in the concentration camps and in front of the gas chambers. Maybe he should also have paraded some celebrities from his own side.

The French writer Robert Faurisson was one of those who came under fire for such an outrageous belief, and dragged Noam Chomsky into the snafu, when he cited Chomsky's quips about freedom of speech as his book's introduction. The public accused Chomsky of supporting Faurisson's views. The distinction was simple. Chomsky never supported the man's views, only his right to express them. After all, nonsense about matters mundane and profound has long been spoken and accepted in society. People who utter publicly perceived nonsense also pay for it in one way or the other, and Faurisson has also been seriously physically assaulted a few times for his beliefs. Believe as I do in civil liberties, I agree that it is an extremely sensitive issue for holocaust survivors to be surrounded by holocaust deniers, and conflicts are inevitable.
Be that as may, the fact that public opinion in France and elsewhere still rained down on Chomsky reflects how, rightfully, people are extremely emotional when it comes to any discussion of the incalculable Nazi atrocity. Fifty years after it happened, I don't think there is a single human being who can still emotionally fathom the depravity of those years. So the scars will live on.

Deborah Lipstadt came to Irving's attention when she criticized him for his views in her book and called him a Holocaust denier. Quite surprisingly, Irving had the gall to file a case against her in court. Lipstadt's fight against Irving, which basically became a highly publicised, representative crusade of sorts against Holocaust deniers, has been well-documented in 'The Holocaust on Trial'. Gratifyingly, Lipstadt won the case and became well-known, while Irving lost both his reputation and a lot of money he had spent on the case.

The fact that internationally known scholars like Irving can not only be Holocaust deniers, but can also sue historians like Lipstadt for character defemation, shows how even our most foregone conclusions can be challenged and insulted. Lipstadt remains a commendable protagonist of historical truth. But human beings will always remain complicated.

2 Comments:

Blogger Saket said...

Good post. Yeah Holocaust denial seems to me like just a means to achieve fame for these people more than any real conviction.

Fact is most historical facts or news stories for that matter have to be believed mostly at face value based on a trust in the system overall. So the press does have an important role in shaping these public opinion... Not all are trustworthy, like Ellsworth Toohey from the Fountainhead. Power corrupts... hence some big time bloggers suffer from megalomania as well. :)

11:16 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, especially the non-mainstream media (like bloggers?)
I have still not read The Fountainhead :(

9:42 AM  

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