Antisemitism and Jewish Survival

Is the Holocaust best understood through fiction? That was the theme of a recent revue of Ruth Franklin’s novel, Higher Truth appearing on the Jewish internet journal Tablet. The revue provided a setting for an unlikely week-long exchange between Holocaust denier Michael Santomauro and me. I contacted Michael before submitting this article and he agreed to allow his name to appear but asked, “please reference me as a Holocaust Revisionist -and an amateur one at that.” A degree of humility that likely allowed for our extended discussion.

Continue reading

The French anti-revisionist law

The French anti-revisionist law dates from July 13, 1990. It is known by various names: “Gayssot law,” “Fabius-Gayssot law,” “Faurisson law,” “lex Faurissonia,” or “article 24bis” (of the law of July 29, 1881, on press freedom). It provides for a prison sentence of up to a year as well as a maximum fine of €45,000 for anyone who publicly disputes the reality of one or more “crimes against humanity” as defined and ruled on, essentially, by the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg in 1945-1946. In addition to the prison sentence and fine there can be an order to pay damages to Jewish or other associations as well as the heavy costs of having the decision published in the media: finally, the courts may order the confiscation of any work material, along with books and papers, seized by the police.
Continue reading

The Great Pretenders

In April 1998, the cover of The Jewish Journal featured the person who called himself Binjamin Wilkomirski. Naomi Pfefferman (“Memories of a Holocaust Childhood,” April 24, 1998) compared his writing — his one and only book, called “Fragments” — to that of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. During an emotionally filled performance at a Beverly Boulevard synagogue, Wilkomirski was accompanied by a lady who called herself Laura Grabowski. Both claimed to be soul mates who, at long last, were reunited survivors of Dr. Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz.

Continue reading

Denial Denial

“Senior editors at … publishing houses still welcome me warmly as a friend, invite me to lunch in expensive New York restaurants and then lament that if they were to sign a contract with me on a new book, there would always be somebody in their publishing house who would object.” Thus the English historian David Irving, famous for his histories of Nazi Germany. He made these remarks last week in the opening statement to the lawsuit that he has brought against Penguin Books and Prof. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University.

Continue reading

Crimes of the Holocaustologians

In 1977, the Israeli scholar Yehuda Bauer offered a heartfelt warning “against the creation of ‘Holocaustology’ and the careerism of ‘Holocaustologians.”‘ At first glance, Bauer’s warning seems peculiar. After all, what could be more honorable and more important than the study of the systematic murder of 6 million Jews — a study undertaken for the purpose of preventing such an act in the future? In the past 20 years, Holocaust studies has become a glamorous and exciting field for American academics, as money from Steven Spielberg and others earmarked for Holocaust studies is flowing like cheap wine all across the world. The Holocaust, the most unspeakable event of the modern age, has become a career for some folks — the source of their livelihoods.

Now Bauer’s fears are being realized, because Holocaustologians have decided they are beyond reproach and that anyone who dares utter a word of criticism against them is essentially guilty of an intellectual crime against humanity.

The crime I speak of is Holocaust denial — the disgusting field of pseudo-scholarship dedicated to “proving” that the murder of the 6 million did not take place. Now, one of the founders of the Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches has accused the Jewish writer Gabriel Schoenfeld of “a subtle form of Holocaust denial.” The perpetrator of this assault on taste and reason is Franklin Littell, 81, who proves that you can spend 81 years on this earth and still be a damned fool.

In a series of brilliant articles last year, Schoenfeld took on the controversial topic of Holocaust scholarship and its inevitable descent into academic politicking. Far from denying the reality of the Holocaust, Schoenfeld argues that the Holocaust was the singular calamity of the modern age — and therefore that trying to use the Shoah to draw universal lessons about hatred and oppression is ignorant at best and intellectually corrupt at worst.

And yet the effort to draw comparisons between the Holocaust and other events is what motivates most Holocaustologians. Schoenfeld quotes a scholar named Joan Ringelheim as saying: “Women and minorities, the working class and the poor, prior to and after the Holocaust, have often lived in conditions similar in kind (although not always in degree) to those in the Holocaust.”

The conditions of the Holocaust were these: gigantic camps designed explicitly for the purpose of mass-murdering millions of people. Ringelheim knows this. But she cannot help comparing the plight of the working class to those consigned to the gas chambers.

This sort of thinking ought to have seen Ringelheim shunned by her fellow scholars. Instead, she runs the education department of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Today, not only are academic careers built on the Holocaust, but research into it has also been thoroughly academicized,” Schoenfeld wrote in Commentary, the monthly magazine where he works as executive editor (and which was edited by my father for 35 years). “The very language in which the murder of 6 million Jews is discussed has become in no way distinguishable from the language of agricultural macroeconomics or the sociology of chimpanzees — which is to say that even at its best, it is often full of the most egregious professional jargon.”

Outside the universities, the Holocaust has become the ultimate real-world horror-show that the whole family can enjoy. Schoenfeld writes of a list of “40 Fun Things To Do” offered to visitors in St. Petersburg, Fla. Number 11 is “Remember the Holocaust,” which you can do by visiting the city’s Holocaust museum — “where for $39.95 [you] can purchase a scale-model replica of a Polish boxcar used by the Nazis to transport Jews and others to the concentration camps.”

As a result, says Schoenfeld, “much of what goes by the name of Holocaust remembrance today … drains the nightmare of its horror, treating the most shattering event in modern history as a banality, or worse, an entertainment.”

With words like these, you would think the last thing people could accuse Schoenfeld of is Holocaust denial. But Littell, the 81-year-old fool, explicitly compares Schoenfeld with David Irving and Raymond Robert Faurisson, the world’s two leading Holocaust deniers. They are “vulgarians,” to be sure, whereas Schoenfeld is “more subtle” — but the impulse is the same, Littell says.

Another Holocaustologian, Stephen Feinstein of the University of Minnesota, says that Schoenfeld “has done as much damage as deniers.”

What can these men possibly mean? Simple: They now equate the field of Holocaust studies with the Holocaust itself. Thus, any effort to question Holocaust studies is itself a form of Holocaust denial in their eyes.

This was exactly what Yehuda Bauer feared when he expressed his concern with the rise of Holocaust studies — that the academics would confuse the scholarship with the Holocaust itself. That the effort to come to grips with an unimaginable horror would be replaced, in time, by the mundanities of academic life — careerism, corruption, naked ambition, and the thin-skinned inability to accept criticism.

Nobody would gainsay the inestimable value of the seminal scholarship about the Holocaust done by Raul Hilberg, Dorothy Rabinowitz and others. But they were not working in the field of Holocaust studies — they were historians trying to determine what happened and ensure that what happened would not be forgotten.

There is something indefinably questionable about making a permanent career out of the murder of 6 million people — especially when they themselves want to believe that they and their field of study are both beyond criticism.


John Podhoretz

New York Post, April 21, 1999