Some Things, I Don’t Need To Hear

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 someĀ  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.

15 Replies to “Some Things, I Don’t Need To Hear”

  1. Just to let you know, there’s a fairly good sized component of Rroma folk out there that find the G~ word intensely offensive. Might be wise to put it in parentheses like so, “…Rroma (commonly referred to by the racial slur gypsy)…” or something like that.

  2. Thanks for the heads up; I wasn’t clear on the appropriate terminology (and I believe, but may be wrong, that while some Roma/Rroma do not like “gypsy,” there are people who identify as gypsies who do not refer to themselves as Roma). Perhaps “travelers” would be a better word to use if I want to address all of those issues (avoiding a slur, yet also including people who do not identify as Roma who are persecuted because they are nomads).

  3. I hope this isn’t a derail (and please don’t let it out of mod if it is) but I thought Travelers were an Irish nomadic ethnic group distinct from the Roma on the continent? They get burdened with a lot of the same stereotypes and oppressions from more settled folks from what I understand, though.

    Can I say I loathe the use of the pink and black triangles as gay and lesbian pride symbols? This is where they came from and while I think it’s important to know our history — people like us died in the camps and for the same reasons: to purify the Master Race — and I support the reclamation of some words and symbols from those who would use them to oppress us, some things should be left where they are. The triangles fall into that category. I don’t think anybody is interested in making flaming crosses or pointed hoods into anti-racist activism symbols.

    One symbol I personally would like to see get some reclamation though would be the broken-armed cross. It was and remains a holy symbol (with a huge variety of forms) throughout south Asia, and the Nazi’s misuse of it (for all of what, fifteen years?) to symbolize their bullshit racial supremacy probably shouldn’t get to outweigh thousands of years of history.

  4. I read a piece from a Holocaust scholar awhile back and she refuses to share the stage, so to speak, with deniers. TV presenters have tried to “guilt” her into appearing, asking her if she believes in freedom of speech and “shouldn’t we get to hear the other side?” and her response is always “THE OTHER SIDE TO WHAT??”

    I’m actually working on a blog post right now about how focused Holocaust study doesn’t have to diminish the other victim and survivor groups, but I do feel that, while the Holocaust was largely anti-semetic in focus and nature, as that anti-semetism extended so far back in not only Germany’s history, but in all of Europe’s history, a lot of the other important stories are lost in the shuffle. I’m glad that places like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and USC’s Shoah Foundation include the other groups, but I think there’s still a lot of room for growth in terms of examination. I’m currently working in terms of women vs. men (in general), but the same applies to gays, lesbians, political prisoners, the disabled, the Sinti & Rroma (I had no idea it was a double ‘r’! Brb going back and fixing my life-long error).

  5. I tend to be more forgiving of derails when they concern language use, and this is a thorny example of language use. I want to avoid using the G-word in an offensive context, but I am not comfortable with using “Roma” when I’m referring to nomadic populations larger than the Roma. It’s not just the Roma who were persecuted in the Nazi era. And, of course, “traveler” is used in a number of different ways too; it definitely has that context in England/Ireland but other nomadic peoples identify as travelers. And saying “nomad” isn’t the greatest word choice either in this context because nomads in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East were not targeted in the concentration camps.

    The appropriation of the crosses disturbs me as well, kaninchenzero. I don’t wear/use the triangle and I wish other people didn’t either, since it’s a symbol of oppression. Unlike the broken-armed cross, which does indeed have a long history. Damn Nazis, ruining things for everyone.

  6. @meloukhia

    I might be off on this (not being Rroma myself) but I’m fairly certain from those I’ve talked to that the G~ word is pretty much entirely a slur for the Rroma and wasn’t really applied to many others unless they were actually mistakenly (or purposefully) thought of as Rroma. That people calling themselves gypsies is actually a bit of racial appropriation by other ethnic groups.

    If you give me a little bit, I can talk to a few of the Rroma folk I know, maybe put together some resources and then email them to you or something so that the comments can get back on topic about the Holocaust deniers and whatnot.

    Sound good?

  7. No no, you don’t need to do my homework for me! I’m capable of doing that on my own. Thanks for the offer, though.

  8. Writer Writing — I think you’re right. I personally try to use Shoah and Final Solution when talking about what was done to the Judaic diaspora specifically and the German words Konzentrationslagern and Vernichtungslagern to describe the network of labor and extinction camps themselves, and to refer to targeted groups directly. Holocaust feels a bit generic. But not everyone has my neuroatypicality issues around precision of word use.

    And I try to subvert decades of USian exceptionalism and point out that Auschwitz-Birkenau was on the Eastern front and liberated by the Soviet army, not us. (So was most of the war won by the Soviet army, but I had to learn that on my own later; I was taught the war on the Eastern front was bad weather and Hitler’s poor judgment and the actual Soviet people just sort of hung around starving and getting shot. Meanwhile on the Western front it was all American grit and pluck and know-how. Americans wonder why we’re not universally adored.)

  9. I actually have trouble with the word “Holocaust” because its origins trouble me; I’m not really comfortable with referring to human beings as burnt offerings.

  10. Just a small addition to the comments on the G-word. I live in an area with a pretty sizeable Irish traveler (that is the term they ascribe to themselves) population, but the G-word is ubiquitously used to describe them, though they are not Roma. Despite that latter fact, however, it is still considered a slur, albeit a (sadly) socially acceptable one in this area.

  11. Ok, now back to Holocaust denial. Truly. Don’t make me bring out the derailment stick here, people, because this here train is seriously off track.

  12. All I know is, my great-uncle participated in liberating the camps. He did what he needed to do, vomited, and never spoke again for the remainder of his long life.

    A friend’s mother was incarcerated in Auschwitz). Her mother, then in her early 20’s, was one of the survivors, and had been incarcerated in the camp for more than a year, surviving by her considerable wit and intelligence.

    While working in the camp’s munitions factory, she managed to make two little charms out of lead: one a four-leaf clover, and one a little book, engraved with a tulip. These are now my friend’s most precious possessions. They survived, along with her mother, and are a reminder both of that terrible time and of her mother’s strength, faith, and spirit.

    A fake? I think not.

  13. Yeah, this, exactly, Suzy. Holocaust deniers infuriate me because they deny the experiences of REAL PEOPLE. Obviously I did not survive the camps, but I have interacted with people who did, and I have seen things they managed to bring out. I’ve also interacted with people involved in liberation, and seen things like records which they smuggled out as souvenirs. Clearly, this is something that, you know, actually happened.

  14. Holocaust denial just kind of baffles me. Mainstream attention to it even more so. Pictures, survivors, papers, massive piles of stolen possessions…. I don’t get how people can decide it was all a MASSIVE CONPIRACY!!!!. Sigh.

    Incidentally, the everybody who wasn’t Jewish getting ignored in discussion of the Holocaust is a huge pet peeve of mine, glad to see I’m not the only one. Five million murdered people being ignored always puts my hackles up. (Incidentally, you didn’t mention, but I seen to recall the mentally ill were persecuted as well. And the forced sterilization of PWD. Ah, eugenics.)

  15. Yes! You are absolutely right, I managed to leave out a huge category of people; people with developmental disabilities, people with mental illness, and people with any kind of disability which meant that they did not fit in with the perfection needed from members of the “master race.” Many of these individuals were also subjected to horrific experimentation in the camps.

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