Holocaust Denial: Assaults on Collective Memory Becloud Europe's Future

No crime in the annals of history has been as well documented as Nazi Germany's Final Solution. Against this backdrop, how do we account for the growing phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism and denial?
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Simon Wiesenthal said the history of mankind is a history of crimes. No crime in the annals of history has been as well documented -- by the perpetrators, bystanders, interveners and victims -- as Nazi Germany's Final Solution, the state-sponsored genocide that systematically murdered 6 million European Jews. Against this backdrop, along with the proliferation of Holocaust museums, memorials, books and films, how do we account for the growing phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism and denial? Let's look briefly at the breadth and depth of this crime against memory and decency:
  • Speaking in an interview on the Mega TV network, Nikolaos Michaloliakos -- head of the neo-Nazi "Golden Dawn" party, winner of 21 seats in the new Greek Parliament -- declares: "There were no ovens. This is a lie. I believe that it is a lie," said Michaloliakos. "There were no gas chambers either."
  • In Germany, where a Stern magazine poll shows that 21 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds do not know that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp and nearly a third are unaware that it is located in Poland, Nobel Literature Laureate Günter Grass -- a teenage SS member who's now reverted to form -- draws applause for condemning Israel's genocidal plot against Iran (!) while retrospectively positioning his own generation's "willing executioners" as innocent victims of the Second World War.
  • In Hungary, Márton Gyöngyösi, Hungarian MP and leader in the far-right Jobbik party, during an interview with the London Jewish Chronicle, asked whether Jews "have the right to talk about what happened during the Second World War," given Israel's "Nazi system." When asked about the 400,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz, Gyöngyösi exploded: "Me, should I say sorry for this when 70 years later, I am still reminded on the hour, every hour about it? Let's get over it, for Christ's sake," adding, "It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around with the numbers" of dead Jews. As for Holocaust survivors seeking restitution for their families' stolen property, he retorted, "This money-searching is playing with fire in Hungary."
Given the growing mainstream clout of three-piece neo-Nazis, it should come as no surprise that Nazi war criminal Dr. Sandor Kepiro -- facing trial after his return to Budapest from Buenos Aires for the massacre of 1,200 Jews, Serbs and Gypsies -- sued Simon Wiesenthal Center's Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff for libel with the support of Hungary's growing fascist movement.
  • In Lithuania, where more than 93 percent of the country's Jewish citizens were murdered during the Holocaust, former Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas, categorized the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, with which many Lithuanians collaborated, as "a respite from the Communists while the Nazis were in control." This year, on Lithuanian Independence Day, 300 neo-Nazis marched through the Center of Kaunas. They were addressed by five Parliament members, including three belonging to Lithuania's ruling Homeland Union party.
  • Iran's Mullahtocracy continues to make Holocaust Denial-and-Inversion (the Holocaust didn't happen and Israelis are today's Nazis) the centerpiece of their soon-to-be-nuclear regime's "wipe Israel from the map" statecraft. So far, no western democracy -- not Germany, where Holocaust denial is illegal, not France, Great Britain, nor even the United States -- has deigned to challenge Tehran's pre-genocidal bigotry at the U.N. or any other international venue.
While economists ponder the fate of the Euro, political extremism is fast becoming the European Union's new common currency. In a time of increasing social and economic dislocation, many Europeans are once again in search of a convenient scapegoat to blame for their troubles. Already, the line is blurring between the insane margins and the sensible mainstream, while Europe's historic culture seems to be giving up trying to integrate the continent's growing, disaffected Muslim minorities. This is a crisis of confidence that goes beyond politics and economics to threaten the soul of a civilization and the spirit of tolerance. The last barrier to respectability and empowerment for Europe's xenophobic extremists is the dimming collective memory of what Nazism wrought upon humankind a generation ago. Holocaust denial is no longer merely the domain of pseudo-intellectuals, assorted Jew-haters and Middle East tyrants; it is the key to deconstructing the last barrier to rehabilitation and political power for Hitler's heirs. It is estimated that more than 10,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel alone are passing away each year. Their dwindling ranks are forced to witness the rehabilitation in Europe as well as the Middle East of fascism and other forms of extremism, based on the denial of their suffering and the martyrdom of their loved ones. In our time, it is the younger generations, not yesterday's victims, who have to take up the daunting challenge to thwart genocidal fanatics in Tehran, racist thugs and election-winning bigots across Europe. The collective assault on historic truth is underway, one that extends from the parliaments of Budapest and Athens to the online domains of Facebook and YouTube. Should that assault be successful, it could set the stage for future atrocities -- and not only against Jews.

Historian Dr. Harold Brackman contributed to this essay.

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