Sunday April 20, 2014
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20.04.2014
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Rabbi Avraham Krieger

Preserve the truth of the Holocaust

When one of the most renowned Holocaust scholars and historians, Professor Israel Gutman, passed away recently, he left it to us to stand up against modern Holocaust deniers.

Anti-Semitism can have many varieties. In recent years, though, one can notice new phenomena in the Holocaust denial landscape. These new developments are ostensibly unrelated to anti-Semitism and are not part of the larger historical context, but they nevertheless constitute Holocaust denial.

In some cases, they take the form of flat-out denial of certain Holocaust facts, in the hope of belittling various events and make them disappear altogether. In other cases, the focus is on relegating the Holocaust to just one of many events that took place in a greater context. In any event, Holocaust denial has tried to evolve into new varieties.

One of the manifestations of modern Holocaust denial involves a new narrative-oriented discourse that seeks to create a new perception. To further this end, the deniers use unimportant facts that are fed to the public and give rise to new narratives. For example, the Polish historian who heads the State Museum at Majdanek claims that the death camp was never used for large-scale, deliberate extermination of the Jews with gas. He insists that Majdanek was a concentration and labor camp where Jews and Poles died because of the various hardships of the ongoing war all around them. The Poles were quick to embrace this narrative, because it expunges a large part of their collective record, a record marred by their decision not to lift a finger when the camp was active.

Until recently, such claims would have been dismissed out of hand. But during the recent "renovations" in the museum, the plaques that detailed the activity of gas chambers in a certain area were removed. Instead, the signs now indicate the area was used to do the laundry. Similarly, the explanations in a certain section of the museum where gas chambers were used now say they were built only in 1943, when the camp no longer had Jews. Such examples lead directly to the denial of any extermination activity in the chamber. Those who visit the "renovated" museum, among them many Israelis, learn about this new narrative without even talking about how the changes in the museum attempted to change reality. Auschwitz-Birkenau has seen similar "modifications," although those are more subtle.

Another manifestation of the modern-day denial involves a comparative approach to the Holocaust that lessens the unique nature of the Jewish genocide. An example of that is the recent study that compared the second generation of Holocaust survivors to the second generation of those who experienced the Nakba ("Catastrophe," the term used by the Palestinians to describe the establishment of the State of Israel).

The Nakba is important, as is the Armenian genocide and the genocides in Africa. That said, there is no basis for the comparison. It goes against the grain of accepted norms of empirical research. Similarly, such a comparison should not even be explored for academic purposes.

Such studies serve only one purpose -- a political one -- and result in modern-day Holocaust denial. But the Holocaust is not universal. It would be unacceptable to have it serve as an offering on the altar of a universal community of nations. It cannot be compared to other events in history.

The Babylonian siege on Jerusalem began on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which this year falls on Friday. Jews are supposed to recite the Kaddish mourner's prayer on that date, in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and whose exact yahrzeit is unknown. This important day should see historians and other professionals forge a united front to tell and spread the Jewish people's narrative and counter this harsh reality.

We must act, lest we wake up one day and find out that the story of the Holocaust being told around the world diverges significantly from the facts we know and the story we tell.

Rabbi Avraham Krieger is the head of the Shem Olam Faith and Holocaust Institute for Education, Documentation and Research.

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