What is Holocaust denial and distortion?
According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, “Holocaust denial is discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II, known as the Holocaust or the Shoah. Holocaust denial refers specifically to any attempt to claim that the Holocaust/Shoah did not take place.”
In short, it is an attempt to negate the facts of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people—a belief that the Holocaust did not happen or was greatly exaggerated.
Distortion of the Holocaust refers to:
- Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany.
- Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources.
- Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide.
- Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of antisemitism. They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
- Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups.
In other words, Holocaust distortion does not outright deny the Holocaust took place, but rather rewrites the narrative of World War II and the annihilation of European Jewry, often for political purposes. It minimizes the role of the aggressors, trivializes the harm done and shifts blame to the victims.
Contrary to historical facts, deniers and distorters often spread the false claim that Jews invented or exaggerated the Holocaust.
What are some examples of Holocaust denial and distortion?
Some examples include:
- The Einsatzgruppen exaggerated the number of victims in their reports to impress the high Nazi leaders and therefore significantly fewer than six million Jew died during the Holocaust.
- Six million Jews weren’t murdered during the Holocaust, as many died of disease and other circumstances.
- Gas chambers were not used to kill Jews during the Holocaust.
- Hitler did not order, and did not know about, the extermination of the Jews.
- Anne Frank’s Diary contains improbabilities that prove it is a fake or is not written by Anne Frank.
- Accusing Jews for either exaggerating or creating the Shoah for political or financial gain
Why it’s antisemitic:
For Holocaust deniers to be correct in their assertion that the Holocaust did not happen, all Holocaust survivors would have to be wrong; other non-Jewish bystanders who have testified that they saw Jews being marched to the outskirts of their towns would have to be lying; historians who have studied the history of the Holocaust would have to be a part of a conspiracy or completely wrong; and the perpetrators themselves—those who actually admitted their guilt—would have to be wrong or lying.
The only way to truly believe this would be to believe that Jews are controlling the world. President Biden's nominee for the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, historian Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, has explained, "As should be obvious, Holocaust denial is, quite plainly, a form of antisemitism. It is not about history. It is about attacking, discrediting, and demonizing Jews.”
In truth, Holocaust denial is an effort to exonerate Nazis for responsibility in the genocide of the Jewish people. The only reason to deny the Holocaust is to inculcate and spread antisemitism, including anti-Zionism.
Antisemitism is a complex, multifaceted hatred. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is considered the gold standard of understanding antisemitism and has been used by governments and institutions to identify and monitor the phenomenon.
The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism states:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The definition includes a list of eleven reference examples to aid the identification of antisemitism, but most relevant are the following:
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g., gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
What are its modern-day manifestations?
Modern day manifestations include:
- Many social media posts denying the Holocaust use the term “holohoax.” Mostly disseminated in the United States, it is used by Holocaust deniers across the political spectrum, including but not limited to the extreme-right, or anti-Zionist groups who question whether the Holocaust occurred.
- Claiming that the State of Israel behaves towards Palestinians as the Nazis did against Jews.
- Comparing the Gaza Strip, which is run by the internationally recognized terrorist group Hamas, to the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews were confined by the Nazis before being transported to death camps.
- Comparing the Israeli Defense Forces to SS officers or their actions.
- Comparing current restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus to the discriminatory practices of the Third Reich. This includes comparing experts and virologists such as Dr. Fauci (USA) or Dr. Drosten (Germany) to Josef Mengele, notorious for the torturous medical experiments he performed on prisoners in concentration camps.
- Likening recent protests against anti-social distancing measures related to the coronavirus in democratic countries to the resistance against the Nazi state. This includes wearing of “yellow stars” with the term “unvaccinated” – a reference to the yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear.
- Claiming that Jews are responsible for the start of the second World War. This claim often states either that Hitler himself was secretly Jewish or that Hitler had discovered a secret Jewish plot to ruin Germany and was thus acting only in self-defense.
- Claiming that Jews have unfairly profited from the Holocaust, for example by way of reparations payments or the foundation of the State of Israel.
What the WJC is doing about it:
The WJC is committed to combat all manifestations of Holocaust denial, trivialization, or minimization, or any distortion, falsification, or misrepresentation of Holocaust history. This dimension of preserving and protecting the authentic history of the Shoah is especially important at a time when efforts are being made, especially in different parts of Eastern and Central Europe, to misrepresent the facts of the Holocaust as part of a political or social agenda.
The World Jewish Congress and Facebook announced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021 that they were working together to prompt Facebook users searching for Holocaust related terms to learn more at AboutHolocaust.org, a comprehensive website containing authoritative information about the attempt to exterminate European Jewry. AboutHolocaust.org is an educational resource developed jointly by WJC and UNESCO that was made possible thanks to the support of Roman Abramovich and Chelsea Football Club’s Say No to Antisemitism campaign.
The WJC’s partnership with Facebook is the product of a long period of cooperation and a testament to the social media company’s receptiveness to ensuring that its users don’t fall victim to the purveyors of hate and ignorance. It came just a few months after Facebook credited WJC with helping the company expand its hate speech policy to remove content related to the Holocaust.
In line with these efforts, WJC has also worked to ensure that content and literature denying the Holocaust is neither featured nor sold by online retailers, such as Amazon.
The WJC and its affiliate, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, worked directly with Amazon to remove 92 works of Holocaust denial content from its platform.
In addition, the WJC also worked closely with Israel’s Ministry of the Diaspora Affairs to provide Amazon with an extensive list of nearly 700 pieces of online content denying the Holocaust. After extensive engagement with the WJC, one of the biggest book retailers operating in Germany and Austria, Thalia, removed over 300 books denying the Holocaust. In Latin America, after extensive engagement with the WJC, the largest online retailer in Latin America, Mercado Libre, also agreed to remove online listings of literature that promote hateful and antisemitic content.
A resolution during the WJC Governing Board meeting in Ottawa, Canada in May 2019 entitled “The Value of Holocaust Education and the Need to Combat Holocaust Denial through Education,” called on all states to:
- Adopt the Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in full.
- Monitor, combat, and legislate against hate speech and Holocaust denial and distortion online and to put in place effective measures to facilitate the prevention and removal of such content.
- Enact proper legislation to punish instances of Holocaust denial and Nazi glorification, including the promotion and use of Nazi symbols as well as the sale of Nazi memorabilia.