Most people don’t go to Holocaust Education Week. It’s too depressing, they already know enough, they’re busy, it’s November… There’s a lot of reasons, some better than others. There are some events, though, people should go to, if only to remember how much work there’s still left to do.
Monday night’s event was called “Multiple Narratives, Not All of Them True,” organized by Hillel Halifax; specifically by Shael Brown, Yasmin Mucher and Ashley Promislow, under the supervision of Arielle Branitsky. The subject was Holocaust denial.
There were plenty of cookies at the event, from Rainbow Chipits to those awesome pink wafer cookies (and that’s their name, don’t try to tell me otherwise). This was a nice touch, because what we were discussing wasn’t sweet at all.
The attendees broke into two groups of about fifteen people, and received handouts of different sources about Holocaust denial. The group explained what the deniers do and read some excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary. The group talked about what could cause someone to be a Holocaust denier; the two main reasons we picked out were ignorance and racial hatred manifesting as anti-Semitism.
The group also talked about Anne Frank, considering that her diary is one of the main targets of denier “scholarship.” It was humbling to read parts of the diary of a girl trapped in an attic and fearing for her life and see that she could still write with such optimism and hope for the future. It’s this quality that makes her a unique and valuable writer, but the deniers attack this as unrealistic. They must be very miserable people.
After a break for more cookies, Philip Riteman came in to speak to us. Many people have heard of him or heard him speak; he is a Holocaust survivor who has been speaking about his experiences since 1989. It was a powerful decision to ask him to come speak at this particular event; to see him standing at the front of the room with his Auschwitz tattoo really brought into focus the evil of the deniers.
And yes, I will use the word evil. It is one thing to be racist, and quite another to say that a tragedy that took millions of lives through senseless cruelty was devised to gain sympathy as a cover for their world domination plan.
Riteman was fairly calm about the whole process. When asked what he thought about Holocaust deniers, he simply said, “You’re always going to have a few imbeciles.” He’s never met one face to face, and cannot understand why and how they can deny what happened.
I am glad that this event happened, although I do wish the discussion had gone on longer. Holocaust denial is not easy to talk about, and most people don’t want to talk about it. They think that it gives the deniers too much credit, and that if we ignore them they’ll go away. They haven’t gone away. They’re still talking, and what’s worse, people are still listening. The only viable strategy has to be discussion and yes, even debate with the deniers themselves, if only to knock down their flawed historiography and false fronts of social concern. Events like these are a good place to start. It’s no longer a question of giving them power; through silence, they get the impression that they are untouchable. I say we disabuse them of this notion.