Steven Windmueller
Is it Good for the Jews?

Reinventing the Past: Challenging Holocaust Revisionism

Holocaust Revisionism seeks to alter the intention and meaning of the Nazi campaign against European Jewry.  Arguing that the Holocaust is a hoax, deniers label the Shoah a deliberate Jewish conspiracy designed only to advance the interests of Jews and the State of Israel at the expense of other nations and peoples.

Revisionists today in a number of European countries are actively denying the participation of their own nationals in aiding in the destruction and murder of Jews and others. Over the past several decades, this organized effort to deny or minimize the established history of Nazi genocide against Jews has expanded beyond theoretic revisionist journals and writers. Today, it has become part of government policy and practice in such countries as Poland, Hungary and Lithuania as a way to cleanse the record of the perpetrators and their accomplices while reconstructing their own national histories.

Following the Second World War, many of those who collaborated with the Nazis were identified as national heroes in their home countries. The rewriting of history is constructed around the rejection of core facts and events in an effort to remove any responsibility or obligation of these Eastern European states or their leaders in connection with the atrocities committed against Jews.

This strategy has a three-fold purpose:

  • Alter the historical record involving the roles played these individual “heroes” and to remove any responsibility on the part of these nations in connection with Nazi atrocities.
  • Seek to place the Final Solution as an exclusive German initiative, carried out exclusively by the Nazis without the support or involvement of foreign nationals.
  • Acknowledge that those war time leaders who have been charged with such crimes were in fact true patriots.

The bottom line on the part of these nationalist regimes is to reconstruct their historical narrative.  Each of these countries is seeking to create a false scenario of their national story. In the process of making their assertions, these regimes are seeking to demean, threaten and isolate those journalists, historians and archivists who are seeking to reclaim the truth.

In failing to challenge Holocaust revisionist practices, the world risks the danger of repeating these false claims and thereby allows the blurring of the lines between truth and falsehoods. We need to ensure that the international community affirms the historic facts in connection with this genocide and call out those seeking to rewrite these nationalistic narratives.

If such distortions are allowed to stand, an “alternative history” surrounding the events, 1933-1945, will have been constructed, designed to serve the new revisionist and nationalistic expressions emerging in Eastern Europe.

In Debra Lipstadt’s words:

“For Holocaust deniers to be right, who would have to be wrong? The victims,the survivors, the bystanders …”

The international community must fully understand the implications of Holocaust denial and revisionist practice. As part of the strategy of historical revisionism, there is a renewed effort by some to use this moment to rehabilitate the Nazi case against Jews, with the intent of re-introducing the ideology of national socialism to new audiences.

Second, those who promote these revisionist models are seeking as well to advance conspiracy theories about Jewish-controlled governments and media. According to the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center, holocaust deniers provide the ideological foundation for much of the anti-Semitism permeating the radical right at this time.

Third, deniers and revisionists have also attempted to misrepresent anti-hate campaigns and legislation as evidence that Jews control the mainstream media.

How have these voices been challenged?

We should note that Holocaust deniers have been successfully prosecuted by Western European and British courts under racial defamation and hate crime laws. These efforts must be continuously supported and affirmed.

With this in mind, it is essential that Israel the United States, and other nations bring pressure to bear on these efforts to falsely reconstruct history. Those  European regimes that are today embracing these ideas by adopting such revisionist messages must be held accountable.

The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth. Memory is crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society.  Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record ultimately threatens our collective ability to safeguard democracy and the affirmation of truth.

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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