As a general rule, I’m pretty much all about presenting diverse and alternative perspectives. I think that no story can be told from a single side, that everything is complicated, and that the more information you get, the more likely you are to make a balanced and informed decision about it. You need information to form conclusions, you need to challenge yourself to think critically about everything, from a headline in the newspaper to a historical event.
But, some things? I don’t need to hear.
I’m thinking about Holocaust denial here, because, for some reason, this topic has come up a number of times with various people lately. A few weeks ago, I was horrified to hear NPR actually giving Holocaust denials airtime, and it seemed to snowball from there. Everywhere I go, these days, the topic comes up (not, I am glad to say, in the context of “holy crap, someone I know is a Holocaust denier!”).
Here’s the thing about the Holocaust: It happened.
Straight up. This is not a topic of debate. There are reams of evidence from Holocaust survivors, testimony from people who liberated the camps, physical evidence in the form of the camps themselves and their contents. There’s even detailed documentation ranging from punch cards to written records. You cannot argue that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Many of us have even had access to first hand sources: I know that I have talked to Holocaust survivors about their experiences and seen relics from their time in the camps, and I’ve also talked with people who liberated the camps and seen their gruesome photographs and other mementos.
Now, I have some problems with how the Holocaust is addressed when it comes up. I don’t like that queers, political prisoners, gypsies/Roma, Communists, and so forth have been effectively erased, turning the Holocaust into an exclusively Jewish experience, for example. I don’t like that we abuse Germany and Germans for their actions during the Holocaust and rarely talk about the Japanese internment camps in the United States (all of which were literally erased from the landscape, unlike some of the concentration camps, which have been preserved). I don’t like that evidence that some Americans and some American companies supported the Holocaust is left out of American textbooks; we should be talking about the fact that we turned boatloads of refugees asking for asylum away, and why we did that, and what happened to those refugees.
But I’m not going to even pretend to humour arguments that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Or that it wasn’t as severe as it was. Again, ample documentation clearly demonstrates what happened, who it happened to, and how many people were involved. Yes, there probably are some errors in the numbers, but these are minor errors, statistically speaking, not major ones. To say that the Holocaust didn’t happen or that it wasn’t as severe as is commonly reported is, in my mind, like saying that the Second World War did not occur.
I think it’s good to consider history from multiple perspectives. I think it’s good to talk about the Holocaust, as an experience, to talk about why it happened and the conditions which allowed it to occur and who was involved. And I think that the Holocaust is an important part of the Jewish identity (although I wish that some people wouldn’t use it as an excuse to absolve Israel of all crimes). I also think that it’s a huge part of German and European identity in general. It was a horrific event and it was a complicated event and there’s a lot of information to take in. I also think it’s probably important to reference Holocaust denial and talk about the motivations behind it, to contextualize it, but not to give it credence.
Some things about history cannot be disputed. To pretend otherwise is just grossly offensive. We can argue about some details, but the basic fact are undeniable. I personally find Holocaust denial repulsive, foul, and totally offensive. It reeks of antisemitism and is, quite frankly, ludicrous in the extreme.
Holocaust denial is part of a larger pattern of ugliness which disturbs me. Very few people, primarily on the radical fringes, even engage in Holocaust denial (or “Holocaust revisionism,” as they like to call it). And, in my usual quest to gather information, I have watched documentaries about these people and I have read their screeds, even as the content makes me so angry that I actually start shaking. I’ve read their arguments, and I reject them.
I can’t understand why NPR thought it was appropriate to air a Holocaust denier’s views on All Things Considered. They might as well air interviews with people who think that the moon landings were faked, who believe that Elvis is alive, who think that they are Anastasia Romanov. Some things, we don’t need to hear. Some things are, quite frankly, not worthy of airtime.
And I know that NPR was trying to make a point, was trying to talk about extremism, but it could have been done simply by saying “Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier.” Why NPR was interviewing someone who isn’t even a rightful head of state and referring to him as one was beyond me, but their decision to repeat his commentary, largely without criticism, was just fucking offensive. And so are the decisions from all media sources to report Holocaust denial as though it was fact, without any discussion or contextualization. There are some things that do not belong in the press, beyond an acknowledgment that they happened/are happening.
There are some things that we don’t need to hear.