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Holocaust distortion and antisemitism: Two sides of the same coin

On the 1st of April, news came out that Germany had sent a 93-year-old notorious Holocaust denier, Ursula Haverbeck, to jail for another term. Also referred to as the “Nazi Grandma” by the German media, Haverbeck refuses to acknowledge the murder of over a million Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Neo-Nazi woman had been previously sent to prison in 2017 and 2020 and has been fined for hate speech numerous times.

A post related to this news shared on a Pakistani Facebook group (mostly a social venue for intellectual and news-related conversations) caught my attention. The post sarcastically captioned “freedom of speech and compassion in Europe” and indirectly lent support to the Neo-Nazi woman.

“Why don’t they have a blanket law that would criminalize the denial of any genocide? Do they have laws that prosecute the deniers of the Rwandan genocide or what about the Cambodian genocide?” read one of the comments under the post.

While it is vital to condemn genocide and rights violations everywhere, it is equal to doing injustice and disservice to the victims when genocides are compared, especially when the argument is based on one’s preconceived notions, beliefs and comes from a place of a “victim mindset.” The argument made, to question stance on some other genocides while that particular news story/post dealt with the Holocaust in specific, shows the commentator had little or no respect and remorse for the victims of the Holocaust in the first place. This is the mindset of many, especially in countries like Pakistan, where Israel is not seen as a friend.

Another comment read:  “And while the judge has called her a Nazi in his judgment, these sort of measures where people are punished for thought crime is nothing less than fascism itself.”

The trivialization of the worst crime in human history, the Holocaust, entrenched in “whataboutism” and deeply-rooted antisemitism, is also evident in such rhetoric and conversations. It also displays a general disconnect from the happenings of World War 2 and particularly the atrocities committed during that time against the Jewish people. The trivialization is also a form of distortion in an attempt to downplay the role and impact of it on countless lives, even generations.

The penalty and punishments against hate crimes, genocidal rhetoric or an endorsement and denial of crimes, especially when it is related to the Holocaust — the bloodiest and most heinous crime of the world’s modern history — cannot be called fascism under any circumstances. Besides, Neo-Nazis and xenophobic bigots, coming from a place of power and superiority,  don’t view other marginalized groups and minorities, people of color and diverse religions or ethnic backgrounds any differently. Those questioning legal action taken against Neo-Nazis and hate preachers need to do soul-searching.

According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), it is much more difficult to understand Holocaust distortion compared to Holocaust denial. Where the latter seeks to erase the Holocaust history and, in a way, justifies antisemitism and Nazism, the former, primarily, “acknowledges aspects of the Holocaust as factual. It nevertheless excuses, minimizes, or misrepresents the Holocaust in a variety of ways and through various media.”

It further states: “To assert that the Holocaust is not relevant to a nation’s history because it was perpetrated by Nazi Germany could be a form of distortion because such an argument a) ignores the roles played by local collaborators or members of the Axis in the crimes of the Holocaust and b) suggests that the legacies of the Holocaust did not influence postwar international norms and institutions.”

A Holocaust survivor and human rights campaigner, Elie Wiesel,  rightly said:“To forget the Holocaust is to kill twice.” In countries where the Holocaust is distorted and downplayed, whether online or offline, it is essential to counter such narratives with facts and evidence, especially when tonnes of it are available on this historical tragedy. Crucially to mention, actual change is only possible when antisemitism is called out and dealt with like any hate crime.

The rhetoric that trivializes the Holocaust, as also evident in the aforementioned examples, comes from a place of bias and antisemitism. What remains appalling is to see how difficult it is for some people to have compassion and remorse for the 6 million (even more according to a few statistics) Jewish and other valuable lives lost.

About the Author
The writer is a journalist from Pakistan, mostly covering social issues and women's rights, and an Erasmus Mundus scholar currently based in Prague.
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