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Changing the Story

May 2, 2000

Jewish organizations and commentators are greatly agitated about “Holocaust denial” — in America, in Europe, and in the Arab world. Thanks to Jewish pressure, several countries have made denying the Holocaust a crime; no doubt it would be illegal here too if not for the First Amendment. Even the Israeli government pitches in against accused Holocaust deniers in other countries.

As the Israeli writer Amos Elon has observed, it’s extremely odd for a democracy to criminalize an opinion about historical events. You expect it in a Communist country, but not in the free world.

Why is so much more importance attached to the Holocaust than to, say, the far more murderous Soviet system, which, in peacetime, set a record for mass extermination that the Nazis never approached during a world war?

Many secularized Jews define themselves less by Jewish religion and tradition than by persecution. As the historian Peter Novick points out in his thoughtful book The Holocaust in American Life, the Holocaust appears to such Jews the only thing Jews really have in common, the only sure warrant of shared identity. It takes the place of religion in their minds, and they find denial of it deeply unsettling — a form of heresy.

Moreover, the state of Israel has made a large investment in the Holocaust, staking its very legitimacy on the Nazi era, which it says shows the necessity of Israel as a refuge from persecution. This implies that if the Holocaust were proved to be a myth, the Jews would have no right to the Holy Land, since most of them no longer believe that God gave the land to Moses and the ancient Hebrews.

The Arabs are quick to grasp this implication. The official Syrian newspaper recently said that “Zionists created the Holocaust myth to blackmail and terrorize the world’s intellectuals and politicians.” True or not, the Holocaust story has become a political weapon, and Arabs have the same stake in denying the story that the Israelis have in maintaining it.

Though the standard story is probably broadly true, its exploitation is bound to create resentment, and changes in its details are bound to create suspicion. Few still believe that the Nazis made soap and lampshades out of Jewish corpses; even Jewish scholars now say the number of Jews who perished at Auschwitz is closer to one million than to four million.

There has been another change too. During World War II, Novick reminds us, Jewish spokesmen were anxious to convince Christians in America, many of whom opposed getting into the war, that Hitler wasn’t just persecuting Jews; he was everyone’s enemy, they stressed, and he was persecuting Christians too, particularly Polish Catholics. After the war Jewish leaders thanked and praised Pope Pius XII for his efforts to save Jews from the Nazis.

[Breaker quote: The 
Holocaust as political weapon]Today it’s quite literally a different story. Jewish leaders now say in effect that Pius XII and the Catholic Church were on the side of the Nazis. Pius maintained a culpable “silence” about the Holocaust, they insist, and the Catholic Church was responsible for the anti- Semitism that motivated the Nazis. The Anti-Defamation League (ironic name!) now says the Holocaust was essentially a Catholic operation: the current Pope, complains ADL director Abraham Foxman, has failed to apologize for “specific Catholic wrongs against the Jewish people, especially the Holocaust”!

Now they tell us! Gee, thanks, Mr. Foxman. Why, when the war was raging, didn’t you and your brethren inform those Catholic boys who were being sent to fight Hitler that, as far as you were concerned, their Church was really on Hitler’s side? Why mislead Christians into believing that Nazism and Christianity were polar opposites? Did you fear that if you told them what you really thought of their religion, they might not see that war as a cause for which Christians should shed their blood?

Talk about Holocaust revisionism! Imagine the reaction of Christians in 1941 if they had heard Jews blaming Hitler on Christianity. They would probably have said: “All right then. If the Jews want Hitler beaten, let them fight him themselves, and for heaven’s sake keep our sons out of it!”

No wonder so many people are weary of the Holocaust obsession, even to the point of wanting to deny that it happened at all.

Joseph Sobran

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