“Complacency will make us complicit” — winning back the Holocaust debate
Concerning and rising numbers of people either deny the Holocaust ever happened or the extent to which it destroyed the lives it sought to end. I, for one, have always taken the security of our liberal world order for granted, but when we see figures suggesting that only a third of the global population believe that the Holocaust has been reported accurately, it is hard to ignore.
We must seek to win back the debate over the Holocaust once more, to ensure that anti-Semitism and racism in all forms never return to dominance in our society. In that vein, we must answer the question: How do we know that the Holocaust happened?
That is probably a question to which very few people know the answer, and far fewer will know why we know the figure for Jewish deaths is 6 million, or why the total figure is in excess of 10 million. Without evidence, the ominous cloud of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism will grow over our society.
After all, to adapt a rather famous quote:
You lose 100% of the arguments you don’t make.
Right now, Holocaust deniers or revisionists are making the arguments that we don’t know how many people died, suggesting much lower figures, or that the Holocaust wasn’t a Nazi policy at all, and actually just the SS gone mad.
They are winning those arguments — maybe not in much of the supposedly sane Western world, but in poorer and less developed regions, in countries like Poland and Hungary which are succumbing to far-right nationalism, and in the deeply anti-Semitic communities of parts of the Muslim world. And, although I say the West is resisting these arguments, the picture is changing.
There is an ever-growing sense within the deprived communities of Europe and the racist outbacks of America and Australia that Jewish people exaggerate the Holocaust, complain about it too much, and actually embody the very stereotypes used to justify the “Final Solution” policy in Nazi Germany.
We mustn’t continue to report the Holocaust and talk about it in such a way as to dismiss dissenting views. We’d perhaps like to, of course. But when views which are counter to the ones we would wish to prevail exist, and are growing, we must address them and dismantle them.
Here’s how, then, to dismantle the main arguments of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.
“How do we know that the Holocaust happened?”
This argument should be the simplest — and it is. The Nazis wrote and spoke extensively about their own crimes, how they would carry them out and so on, in great and horrific detail. The American prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials submitted 3000 tons of documents written by the German government itself — and these are indisputable.
Furthermore, none of the perpetrators ever denied the Holocaust at the trials. They knew they couldn’t, such was the evidence. Not a single person tried to deny the Holocaust until fairly recently — because with time comes ignorance, and with ignorance comes questioning. Don’t attack Holocaust deniers for stupidity or racism, but rather explain why they question and deny — because this will collapse their entire argument, and probably have a greater effect.
“How do we know that the figure is six million?”
This one is much trickier to prove, because the estimate is multi-factorial. Perhaps the best piece of evidence is the fact that the Jewish worldwide population dropped from 16.5 million to 11.2 million from the start of the war to the end of the 1940s. However, citing Adolf Eichmann’s estimation of 6 million should suffice, or that most historians place the estimate between 5 and 7 million, based on, once more, Nazi records of killings.
There is even a database of the names of everyone killed in the Holocaust, with a figure (that is still in progress) of 4 million. And yet again, the argument about time, ignorance, and questioning should be one of the most important when trying to win the debate about the Holocaust.
“How do we know that the Nazis committed the Holocaust?”
I mentioned earlier that every defendant at the post-war trials tried and failed to deflect blame. The reason they couldn’t deflect blame was that they were not just complicit or on the sidelines in the Holocaust, but rather the engineers of the whole operation. Goering, Eichmann, et al didn’t just allow it to happen, but came up with and masterminded the killing of over 10 million “undesirables”.
If we don’t start proactively making these arguments once more, anti-semitism will cease to be a shadow and become a reality. We cannot pretend they don’t exist, or dismiss them without evidence, because that will foster an environment ripe for racism, revolution, and genocide.
Above all, we certainly cannot think that atrocities like the Holocaust are just a thing of the past. Complacency will mean the deaths of millions of Jews and other minorities in the future. What’s more, complacency will make us complicit in those very deaths.
As I write on Holocaust memorial day, I hope that, in the future, we never have to mourn another mass killing of any religious, ethnic, or racial group on such a lamentable and tremendous scale.