The Holocaust3 was a programme of systematic, state-organised genocide against European Jewry, which also extended to North African Jews (Gilbert, 1985; Hilberg, 1985; Longerich, 2010; Yahil, 1990). Of the 9 million Jews who resided in Europe, over 6 million were murdered, which almost wiped out the Jewish population of Europe. For the vast majority of human beings, the Holocaust represents an unthinkable crime against humanity, which must be learned about and remembered in future generations so that it can never reoccur. This is exemplified by the number of Holocaust museums and memorials established in the world, as well as the widespread support for Holocaust Memorial Days (Ben-Amos and BetEl, 1999) and for Holocaust education in schools and colleges (Salmons, 2003; Short, 1994). Jews, both within Israel (Lazar, Litvak-Hirsch and Chaitin, 2008) and in the Diaspora (Blumner, 2006), have been said to regard the Holocaust in terms of a “cultural trauma”, which demonstrates its symbolic, psychological and cultural importance for many Jews.
Yet, the ways in which many non-Jewish communities around the world are thinking and feeling about the Holocaust appear to be changing over time
– cultural, national and religious identities, pressures and values may distort perceptions of the Holocaust and induce perceptual and affective changes (Rosenfeld, 2011). Holocaust “revisionism” in its various guises – from outright denial to subtle re-construal – has emerged as a cruel weapon of antisemitism in the modern world, designed to delegitimise both the Jewish people and the Jewish State (Lipstadt, 1993). Holocaust revisionism may legitimately be regarded as a form of antisemitism, since this “distorts and denies Jewish history and deprives the Jews of their human dignity by presenting their worst tragedy as a scam”, while charging “the Jews with unscrupulous machinations in order to achieve illegitimate and immoral goals, mainly financial extortion” (Litvak, 2006, p. 281). Moreover, Cohen-Almagor (2009) has legitimately referred to Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech.
People tend to associate the Holocaust with human depravity and the human capacity for evil and cruelty (Zimbardo, 2008). Accordingly, Holocaust denial is generally deplored by most rational people and is even illegal in several European
3 Although the Holocaust is mainly linked to the genocide of European Jewry, other minority groups, including the Romani people, Slavs, Poles, homosexuals, and the disabled and mentally ill, were also targeted by the Nazi regime (Berenbaum, 1990). countries (Bazyler, 2006). Yet, Holocaust denial persists. Holocaust “revisionism” (a euphemism for what amounts to Holocaust denial) is manifested in many different forms and just some of its variants are summarised in this chapter. Some people categorically deny that the Holocaust ever occurred, while others reconstrue, trivialise or attempt to justify it (Lipstadt, 1993).
A prominent theme in Holocaust revisionism has concerned the death toll in the Holocaust – revisionists have questioned the generally accepted figure of 6 million Jewish victims, claiming that this figure is “exaggerated” or even “impossible” (Litvak and Webman, 2009). The Holocaust may also be used to delegitimise and dehumanise the Jews and the Jewish State by associating them with deception – some revisionists have accused Jews of concocting the “myth” of the Holocaust which serves to construct Jews as an immoral and manipulative people (Rubenstein, 2009). One of the most common accusations in the revisionist repertoire is that the Holocaust was invented in order to justify the creation of the State of Israel, which, in the eyes of some antisemites, dismantles Israel's raison d'être (Perry and Schweitzer, 2002). Similarly, there have even been accusations that Zionist Jews collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust in order to create the Jewish State, which serves only to conflate the Jews with their worst tormentors in history. Since the First Palestinian Intifada (uprising), some people have compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews and suggested that Israel too is engaged in a programme of genocide against the Palestinians (Litvak and Webman, 2009). This argument can be considered an aspect of Holocaust revisionism because it is intended to reduce the significance of the Nazi Holocaust vis-à-vis Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and to argue that Jews are more evil than the Nazis.
Holocaust revisionism has gained acceptance in some social and political contexts partly because of its expression in pseudo-scientific terms by academics, such as Robert Faurrison, a French professor of literature; Arthur Butz, a US professor of electrical engineering; David Irving, a British journalist and historian and others. Moreover, as discussed in Chapter 3, prominent politicians in the Middle East, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have publicly denied the Holocaust. Although Holocaust denial in Europe is generally associated with far-right groups on the fringes of politics (Lipstadt, 1993), its distribution in the Islamic world is far greater and the Holocaust is habitually denied in both public and political discourses. Holocaust denial in the Islamic world is often associated with the delegitimisation of the State of Israel in particular (see Chapter 3). In many respects, Holocaust denial evokes some of the antisemitic myths and representations that have been outlined in this chapter. Denial of the Holocaust (and the implicit charge that Jews fabricated this “myth”) connects with representations of the Jews as evil, destructive, manipulative, and relentlessly seeking to usurp the world and its resources utilising whatever means necessary. As Porat (1999, p. 325) notes, “denial of the Holocaust depicts the Jews as a sophisticated and powerful organization, capable of talking the entire world into believing a hoax which they invented”. Holocaust denial
serves to engender a fear that the world and its history are controlled by Jews, echoing the themes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and thereby fanning the flames of antisemitism. In terms of the “continuities and discontinuities” of antisemitism, Holocaust denial may constitute a relatively novel means of delegitimising the Jews but it reiterates, and performs precisely the same function as, other antisemitic myths and representations that preceded it.
There have been attempts to understand the social and psychological motivations underlying Holocaust revisionism. Holocaust revisionism may be gaining ground in public consciousness partly because it reduces public uncertainty amid suspicion regarding the veracity of the Holocaust narrative and builds upon existing antisemitic prejudice (Benz, 1999). Social psychologists have identified a human need for deriving meaning amid uncertainty (McAdams, 2001) and Holocaust revisionism may constitute a heuristic, sense-making strategy in antisemitic contexts, such as in the many Middle Eastern societies that endorse it. In the case of Germany and other countries that collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust, there may be a psychological incentive to deny the Holocaust because of wounded national pride and the desire to deflect negativity from the national and ethnic ingroups. Schönbach (1961) coined the term “secondary antisemitism” which refers to the notion that the very presence of Jews reminds non-Jews of the Holocaust and thereby evokes feelings of guilt about it. It is argued that this in turn induces negative feelings and emotions towards Jews, as a form of defence mechanism (Bergmann, 2006). Indeed, there has been some empirical research into secondary antisemitism, which confirms this prediction (Imhoff and Banse, 2009). In recent research into perceptions of the Holocaust among Muslim minorities in Europe (Jikeli and Allouche-Benayoun, 2013), it has been suggested that the Holocaust may be denied to varying degrees because it provides a means of delegitimising Israel which many young Muslims oppose due to its perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians.
In his insightful essay on the relationship between social fantasies of Jews and violence against Jews, Baum (2009b) highlights a number of powerful antisemitic legends that have stood the test of time and crystallised in both the West and the Islamic world:
1. The representation of Jews as eternal wanderers
2. The blood libel representation
3. The representation of a conspiratorial planetary takeover
4. The representation of Jews as money usurers
5. The representation of Jews as devil/ chimera/ subhuman/ biologically determined manifesting a magic/ moral weakness
Theseantisemitic representations converge inconstructing Jewish distinctiveness as inherently destructive to non-Jews. At a basic level, these mythical representations of Jews, which construct them as subhuman and demonic, have served to create negative intergroup attitudes towards Jews in diverse contexts. However, in some
contexts, they have done much more than this – they engendered and rationalised an action orientation which permitted unthinkable cruelty towards Jews, including exclusion, pogroms and systematic genocide. Clearly, theory and research need to provide an understanding of the continuities and discontinuities of antisemitism, and its underlying social and psychological mechanisms.