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We must end Holocaust distortion

We must end Holocaust distortion
4 min read

Today, we mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Seventy-seven years on from the liberation of the concentration and death camps, we remember the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in fields, ravines and purpose-built killing centres, all over Europe. We remember all those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, and those who have been killed in subsequent genocides.   

It is hard to believe that anyone would deny, denigrate, or distort the appalling facts of history, but in every decade since the liberation of the camps in 1945, we have faced new battles in ensuring that the integrity and truth of the past are preserved.  

Over 20 years ago, Holocaust denier David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel. The court case that ensued confronted Holocaust denial in the most powerful way possible – the case proved that the Holocaust happened, and that those who deny it are doing so maliciously.

David Irving, unintentionally of course, was part of the solution to the problem of Holocaust denial. He was discredited in front of the world and exposed for what he was, his reputation disgraced forever.

Anti-Semitism takes different guises, and we need to tackle each new and more insidious form as it arises

In the years since, Holocaust denial has been pushed further and further to the fringes of society. No respectable politician, journalist or academic would openly make remarks denying the Holocaust’s existence today, and if they did, they would rightly be roundly and loudly criticised.

Today though, the world faces a new and potentially more dangerous threat: Holocaust distortion. 

This new phenomenon has no natural home – it is heard in politics, in public protests, on social media, in the nationalist rhetoric of European countries, and even in football commentary. It is found across the political spectrum. It is used deliberately and maliciously, and it is used thoughtlessly and ignorantly.

But be of no doubt, wherever it is found and in whichever corners it lurks, the denial, distortion and denigration of the Holocaust all stems from the same place – not believing Jews, not trusting Jewish experiences, not seeing Jewish suffering as unique. Or to put it another way, it stems from anti-Semitism.  

In recent months we have seen discourse about the pandemic regularly fall into the territory of Holocaust distortion, from those who claim that the government is acting like the Nazis over restrictions, to those who shamefully wear the yellow star, attempting to co-opt the victimhood of the Jews of Europe.

We see Israel called Nazis, and the Gaza strip called the Warsaw Ghetto. We see the Havaara agreement described as being accepted by “Zionists… so they could share the economic spoils”, harking back to the myth that Hitler and the Jews worked together, making the vile insinuation that Jews sold out fellow Jews for economic gain.

We see the Holocaust being used as the punchline in online jokes, and we have even seen football commentators referring to a bad match as a “Holocaust”.

This distortion of the truth of the past is happening with the Holocaust in living memory. It is happening alongside Holocaust survivors sharing their stories in classrooms, on campuses and in workplaces the length and breadth of the country. It is happening about an event so well-documented, that to read everything about it would be an impossibility. It is happening while organisations like the one I run, the Holocaust Educational Trust, are working day in and day out to ensure that the next generation are educated about what happened during Europe’s darkest days.

It is happening - and as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, we need to find new strategies to tackle it.

Every decade has faced new battles, and this decade’s battle is the distortion of history, the abuse and misuse of the past, and the politicisation of the Holocaust.

It is not enough that outright Holocaust denial has been consigned to the fringes. We have to understand that anti-Semitism takes different guises, and we need to tackle each new and more insidious form as it arises.


Karen Pollock is the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

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