Holocaust abuse

New developments in classic antisemitism include many examples that concern the Holocaust and its history. 

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld , | updated: 22:59

OpEds European and Jewish representatives attend Holocaust memorial event
European and Jewish representatives attend Holocaust memorial event
Manfred Gerstenfeld

Many contemporary themes are highly fragmented. This is a characteristic of our time, a period, which is often called post-modernity. In line with this, antisemitism has also splintered into many subthemes. Therefore it makes getting an overview of this hate-explosion far more difficult than in the past when classic antisemitism focused on the Jews as adherents of a religion and from the nineteenth century also as a people.  

Much contemporary antisemitism is directed against Israel. That does not mean, however, that there have been no new developments in classic antisemitism. Many major ones concern the Holocaust and its history. 

The distortion which has drawn most public attention is Holocaust denial. It can take different forms. One false claim is that the Germans did not use gas chambers to kill people. This statement is often accompanied by a second false claim that the majority of Jews died during the Second World War of illnesses contracted in camps. Holocaust minimization claims that far fewer Jews were murdered than 6 million.   

A distortion of a different kind is Holocaust deflection. Perpetrating nations or individuals may admit that the Holocaust happened yet deny their complicity or the responsibilities of specific groups of individuals.  In other words, they blame the Holocaust on others. For instance Polish authorities did not deny the Holocaust. Yet a tenacious public battle took place in the country against the claim that Poles killed many Jews, let alone that they killed more Jews than Germans in WWII. The town of Jedwabne where the locals murdered almost all Jews without the intervention of the Germans has become a major symbol of Polish participation in the Holocaust.


The actions against certain other groups did indeed have a genocidal character, yet did not aim at their systematic and total extermination.  
A different type of Holocaust distortion again is Holocaust de-Judaization.  This consists of a variety of manipulations of memory. This can be done for instance by minimizing the Jewish character of the victims. The Soviet Union made it a policy to de-Judaize the Holocaust by including Jewish victims among local ones. No attention was given to the fact that they had been murdered because they were Jewish. Another sub-category of this Holocaust distortion is the extension of the Holocaust to include many people other than Jews who were murdered or died in World War II.  The actions against certain other groups did indeed have a genocidal character, yet did not aim at their systematic and total extermination.  

A further distortion can best be called Holocaust equivalence. Pre-war and wartime Holocaust equivalence are based on the allegations that German genocidal behavior during WWII was similar to that of other nations before and during the war. The perpetrators of this distortion mainly aim to whitewash or diminish German crimes.  

The post-war variant of Holocaust equivalence is based on the claim that there are many events in the past decades that are similar in nature or equivalent to the crimes committed by Germany under Hitler’s rule. One aspect of this broad largely false claim is that Nazism and communism were interchangeable. One-line statements that may compare a person with Hitler also fall into this category. In the past decades extreme detractors have sometimes compared American presidents with the German leader. This is also true concerning President Donald Trump.

It is commonly thought that the worst type of Holocaust distortion is Holocaust denial. Yet there is an even more evil variant. It can best be called Holocaust inversion. This type of abuse is derived from Holocaust equivalence but specifically targets Jews and Israel. Holocaust invertors often claim that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians in the same way that Germans behaved toward the Jews during World War II. 

A poll carried out in a number of European Union countries asking if Israelis intended to exterminate the Palestinians found that more than 150 million EU adults out of 400 million answered in the affirmative.  These are rabid antisemitic opinions. It also demonstrates how the more than a millennium-old interwovenness of antisemitism with European culture manifests itself in a contemporary mutated form. The seemingly contradictory categories of Holocaust denial and Holocaust inversion can sometimes even be found together in the Arab world.  

One more type of Holocaust distortion is Holocaust trivialization. This is a tool for ideologically or politically motivated activists to make a comparison of phenomena they oppose with the industrial scale destruction of the Jews in WW II by the Germans and their allies. One frequently heard is the ‘animal holocaust.’ It compares the industrial slaughter of animals to the genocide of the Jews. Others are the ‘climate holocaust’, the ‘nuclear holocaust’, and the ‘abortion holocaust.’ 

Holocaust trivialization also manifests itself in its growing insertion into a large number of disparate events that have no connection to the genocide of the Jews.  Other trivializers operate out of commercial or artistic considerations or out of a desire to draw attention or even provoke. A recent case was when the left-wing Center for Political Beauty (ZPS) installed a column before the German parliament in Berlin. The initiators claimed that it contained the ashes of Holocaust victims.  

Another very general category of Holocaust distortion can best be named ‘obliterating Holocaust memory.’  It can include acts like the besmirching or destruction of memorials or disturbing Holocaust ceremonies. In January 2020, the Palestinian Authority daily newspaper 'Al-Hayat al-Jadida' published an opinion calling on readers to commit murders to halt the events of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Yet another obliterating activity is trying to turn Holocaust memorial ceremonies into general remembrance events. Another manifestation of trying to obliterate Holocaust memory is ‘Holocaust silencing.’ This consists of stating that Jews talk about the Holocaust too often.  Another form of this is claiming that Jews abuse the Holocaust for various purposes. There are also indirect attacks on Holocaust remembrance, which involve Jewish memorial sites. One example is the removal of Jewish cemeteries in various localities.

The great variety in the above list should teach us another seemingly unrelated lesson. There is a dire need for a huge expansion of antisemitism scholarship.  What has been pointed out above is just one area of the very multi-faceted hatred of Jews and Israel.




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