USA Today
March 8, 2001

Holocaust deniers spread their lies in Mideast

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

Veteran war reporter John Sack recently penned an Inside the Bunker account for Esquire magazine -- not of Adolf Hitler's last days, but of the lives of those who today deny that the Nazis ever intended to annihilate the Jews. Sack presents a sympathetic "insider's view" of a California convention of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), the organized front for Holocaust revisionists who deny the reality of Hitler's Final Solution.

Sack's prose is satirical, but his serious purpose is to score the Jewish critics of Holocaust deniers. Though not denying the Holocaust, Sack dismisses the deniers as no more dangerous than devotees of flying-saucer cults. Pictured as harmless Germanophiles, they emerge through Sack's prose as heroic martyrs to the cause of free speech, allegedly under assault by organized Jews.

Perhaps Sack and the editors of Esquire don't take Holocaust denial seriously, but the rest of the world views matters differently.

Many countries are concerned about the resurgence of Nazism and have made it a crime to defame the memory of the dead. Americans may not agree with these laws on free-speech grounds, but we all can applaud last year's declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, which encourages all European states to include the study of the Holocaust "in all its dimensions" in the curriculums of their schools.

Unfortunately, however, too many in the mainstream Arab and Muslim worlds teach their children just the opposite: that there was no Holocaust. This is why the supposedly harmless IHR has, for the first time, scheduled a gathering in the Middle East: a conference March 31 through April 3 in Beirut titled, "Revisionism and Zionism." The event is coordinated by Jürgen Graf, a professional bigot who fled Switzerland in 1998 for Tehran after being sentenced by a Swiss court for denying the Holocaust.

A frightening fusion

From Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Gaza to Cairo, the Holocaust-denial ideology has been fused with "holy war" gospel by those dedicated to delegitimatize the Jewish people and destroying the state of Israel. A few examples:

  • According to Palestinian intellectual Abdallah Horani, "instead of talking about the so-called Holocaust, (we) should have followed the doubts (about it) that are gaining momentum in the international arena and among leading European intellectuals."
  • Sheik Nafez Azzam of the "Palestinian Jihad" movement in Gaza insists that any "intention to teach the Holocaust in the Palestinian schools contradicts the natural order of the universe."
  • Columnist Anis Mansour, writing in Egypt's official Al-Ahram newspaper, says it should "become clear to the world that what happened to the Jews of Germany, Poland and Russia was justified."

Sustenance for haters

Such denial or dismissal of the Holocaust is devastating for the forces of moderation and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Haters are counting on society's collective lapsed memory to whitewash the crimes of the past and rehabilitate Hitler's legacy. Holocaust deniers, whatever their nationality or religion, are trying to complete the work of SS storm troopers who, according to Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, taunted death-camp inmates: "However this war may end, we have won the war against you; none of you will be left to bear witness; but even if someone were to survive, the world will not believe him."

Today's hate merchants and Holocaust deniers believe that they can reinvent history. Our obligation is to reject their "big lies" because, as philosopher George Santayana warned, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman is consultant on intergroup relations for the Museum of Tolerance.