HCH 19 / November 2017
The Twin Denials of Anti-Semitism, by Jared Sorhaindo
The Jews are constantly assaulted by their haters with twin denials – the denial that the Holocaust ever took place and the denial of any Jewish connection with the land of Israel and particularly Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism toward which Jews pray. The driving force behind both, of course, is anti-Semitism, a paralyzing disease that has crippled, and continues to cripple, the mental faculties of otherwise healthy adults around the world.
The phenomenon of Holocaust denial, with which I have grappled intellectually for years, is beyond infuriating. The very concept – that the murder of six million Jews was somehow concocted to facilitate the creation of Israel, or to bamboozle Europe, or whatever other evil design the Jews have in mind – is almost too ludicrous to utter aloud or to write, let alone to engage. Indeed, Holocaust scholars debate among themselves whether it is better to take denial square on, or to not even give it the dignity of a response, but rather ignore it and let it rot in the fever swamps of the extreme right and the extreme left. Some fear that to engage the deniers is to be seen to take their arguments seriously.
Essentially, if the scholar is to engage with the denier, he or she has to prove that the Nazi mass murder of the Jews was a thing that actually happened, not the masturbatory fantasy of conspiratorial Zionists. He or she has to prove that Hitler in particular was a murderous anti-Semite – something that should be blindingly obvious to even the least-educated individual. He or she has to prove that Auschwitz-Birkenau was not merely a labor camp, that there were homicidal gas chambers that were not merely intended to fumigate clothing, that Zyklon B was used to murder human beings. He or she has to prove that, yes, there were in fact death camps at the remote sites of Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, and that more than 1.5 million Jews were killed in them. He or she has to prove that the Jews of the teeming Warsaw Ghetto did not just vanish into thin air, or into the forests of eastern Poland, or rescued by extraterrestrial Zionists and plunked into the Negev Desert. It would be as if a scholar of the French Revolution had to scream until he was blue in the face that the Bastille had indeed been stormed and ransacked, or a scholar of the American Civil War was forced to tear his hair out in frustration to prove that the Confederate surrender took place at Appomattox.
Deniers are not convinced by the mounds of documentary and photographic evidence, by testimony from survivors, bystanders and perpetrators alike, by the longstanding murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party, as if National Socialism’s very essence was not the destruction of the Jews – political, cultural, economic, and, ultimately, physical. The Holocaust denier believes every jot and tittle of the Nazis’ euphemistic language – “special treatment,” “evacuated,” – but refuses to believe those same Nazis when they talk about homicidal gas chambers or of hundreds of thousands of Jews shot in the occupied Soviet Union (information on the latter was delivered to the Führer on the explicit orders of Heinrich Müller, the chief of the Gestapo). The Nazis were “gotten to” by some nefarious actor – Jews, obviously. The memoirs of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss are casually disregarded as written under torture. But Höss wrote his ghoulish autobiography after he had been sentenced to death by a Polish court in Warsaw; in other words, he had nothing to lose or to gain by going into detail about the machinery of extermination whose operation he had supervised, and that is precisely what he did. Höss was also blunt about the human atrocities committed at Auschwitz when he testified before the International Military Tribunal, when he had every motive to save his own neck.
The main question to be posited to Holocaust deniers, if one chooses to engage them (and I generally have mixed feelings about doing so, but will cast aside my usual doubts for the time being) is: where did all of the Jews go? Millions of Jews had lived in Europe, especially in Poland and the then-Soviet Union. Jews constituted one-third of the population of Warsaw, the city with the second-largest Jewish population in the world, behind only New York. Similar percentages could be found in Białystok, Częstochowa, Kraków, Łódź, Lublin, Lwów, Radom, and so on. In smaller cities and towns, like Chełm (which figures prominently in Yiddish literature and jokes) and Buczacz (the hometown of the Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon), Jews represented the majority of the population, most famously in the fabled shtetlakh. The Jews had come to these lands from Germany beginning in the 14th century to escape discrimination and set up world-famous (among Jews, anyway) yeshivot. Where are they? Where are their descendants? Why do dust and cobwebs cover the interior of now-defunct synagogues? Why do crumbling Jewish tombstones lie scarcely visibly among the proliferation of weeds? Where are the serious students of the yeshivot and the laughing children of the chederim? The kosher butcher shops and Yiddish theaters and bulletins? Where are the Jews of Josefov, of Kazimierz, of Muranów, of Stanisławów, of Zamość? Where are they?
Oh, right, they just packed up and went to Israel, to the U.S., to Russia (of course Russia, because what are Jews if not dirty Commies?)
The phenomenon of Holocaust denial speaks volumes about the pathologies of the deniers. In the anti-Semitic worldview, Jews make up an international conspiracy whereby they control banking, media, entertainment, and even entire governments. The Jews are shadowy parasites who are behind every event in the world: the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the two world wars, and, to some anti-Semites, the Holocaust itself (the Jews “antagonized” the Germans into mistreating and then killing them, or Zionists actually perpetrated it to make a greater case for the existence of Israel). They control the weather. They produce films to brainwash children with filthy progressive values. They control the birds of the air and beasts of the sea. They created AIDS. They poison wells. They created ISIS. In other words, the Jews are a malevolent, omniscient, omnipotent force. How can that be squared away with the Holocaust, in which six million of them were murdered? That is the question with which anti-Semites are confronted. Their answer, typically, is to deny that it ever happened or to minimize the death toll, which amount to the same thing. Either the Jews all magically vanished or they never existed at all. Perhaps the decaying tombstones are set designs provided by the Hollywood Jews? How deep does the conspiracy go?
The hatred that is displayed by Holocaust deniers is incalculable. By denying that it happened, they are calling Holocaust survivors liars and denying the trauma of their experiences – they had no experiences. They are telling Holocaust survivors that their parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters were never murdered, which is the same thing as saying they never existed at all. The cynicism and arrogance here is breathtaking.
If a young man saw his wife, children, and parents sent to the left on the Birkenau ramp, and then never saw them again, where did they go? To a forced labor camp? Why would children, the sick, the elderly, and pregnant women be sent to one? At least 500,000 Jews were sent to Bełżec, a tiny village in what is now eastern Poland, south of Zamość. They were not sent further east, as the Nazi euphemism suggested then and as Holocaust deniers argue now, because Galician Jews were also sent from the environs of Lwów westward to Bełżec. Jews came westward, from Białystok, to Treblinka as well. So where do they come in to the script? I thought the Jews were sent eastward across the Bug! And since Jews were not sent beyond these locales, where could you keep hundreds of thousands of Jews in tiny villages like Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór, places that couldn’t even have been found on a map those days? All these trains converged on three remote hamlets and only a handful of people ever emerged from them.
Jews who had survived these camps – which were all administered by Odilo Globocnik, headquartered in Lublin, and similar in layout and identical in purpose – had very similar things to report: masses of people were herded from trains down a narrow pathway and then crammed into gas chambers by Germans and Ukrainians, and then their corpses were dumped into mass graves. German and Ukrainian guards testified to the same thing. Polish civilians within the vicinity of the camps knew Jews were being killed, although they did not know the exact method of murder. Many of them later partook in macabre scavenger hunts, sifting through the bones and ashes for any valuables the murdered Jews might have left behind. The journals of the Polish Underground wrote explicitly, and frequently, about the murder of the Jews on Polish territory, and wondered if they, the non-Jewish Poles, would suffer the same fate once the Jews had all been eliminated. I guess the Elders of Zion got to all of them?
These facts are, literally, incontrovertible. The Holocaust denier must know this, deep down. The only response is to question inconsistencies in testimony as if the imperfections of human memory – were 600 or 800 people shoved into the chamber, did it take them 10 minutes or 30 to die, was the length of the fence 300 or 500 meters long – shatter the convergence of documentary and visual evidence. Jews and non-Jews alike witnessed, talked about, and wrote about the Nazis’ murderous policies from Paris to Dnepropetrovsk, from Belgrade to Copenhagen, from Salonika to Oslo. The denier will then resort to the Auschwitz gas chambers and crematoria and start ranting and raving about the ovens’ incineration capacities, the chemical properties of Zyklon B, etc – all meant to confuse average readers and listeners who are not typically expert in such matters. The facts staring them in the face are waved away and ignored, and any perceived inconsistency blown entirely out of proportion.
An example: there is an in-ground pool on the grounds of the Auschwitz main camp. This is, to deniers, somehow proof that Auschwitz was not an extermination camp. This is moronic on at least two layers: a) the pool is on the grounds of the Auschwitz main camp, which did not house the extermination facilities (although there was a gas chamber there); b) the pool was for the SS, the men who ran the camp; how is its presence indicative that the Auschwitz main camp was not an extermination camp, if it hypothetically had been? There was a zoo in Treblinka for the SS men’s pleasure. So what?
Another example: Rudolf Höss said in submitted testimony at the Nuremberg Trials that there were three death camps in the east: Bełżec, Treblinka, and Wolzek. There was, of course, no such site as Wolzek. Any intellectually ingenuous person should be able to understand that the three camps of Aktion Reinhard did not operate under Höss’s control, lay hundreds of miles away and outside of the Reich (where Auschwitz was located), and that the “W” in “Wolzek” could have been confused with the town of Włodawa, which lies very near to Sobibór, a camp that Höss never visited. Höss even got Sobibór’s location, near Chełm, correct. Holocaust deniers, of course, are not intellectually honest. “There was no Wolzek! You see! He forgot the script! It’s all made up!” No, it couldn’t have been a mistake about a top-secret facility, distant from Höss’s own fiefdom, under the jealous control of Globocnik and his administration in Lublin – it’s a cover-up, you see, because the death camp at Sobibór never existed, despite the recollections of Jews, Germans, Ukrainians, and Poles alike. “Wolzek” proves it.
There is a reason why the people who witnessed the extermination of the Jews most directly, the Poles, did not deny what happened and would never have thought of doing so – because the horrors happened right in front of them, and their country continues to suffer from a severe complex because of it. They saw the ghettos, the shootings, and the deportations, if not what happened in the death camps themselves. As for the Nazis, the likes of Hermann Göring, Hans Frank, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner did not deny German crimes against the Jews, but rather sought to distance themselves from the dirty deeds. When Adolf Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem, he tried to make himself out to be but a cog in the Nazi death machine who did not make real decisions, but he did not pretend that the death machine did not exist. These were all men who were arguing for their lives.
The Holocaust deniers put the Jews in a situation such that they, the Jews, are not only to be denied their rights and their very lives, but also the very ability to memorialize the dead, or even to remember them. Their hatred makes Holocaust memorial sites require some of the heaviest security of anywhere on earth: the Holocaust museum in Budapest has the third tightest security presence in any site throughout all of Hungary and a security guard was shot at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. by a Holocaust denier in 2009. It is not enough that the Jews were murdered. No: they have to be mocked and punished for their catastrophe’s alleged fakeness, and are thus subject to violence up to the present day. Their memories and their mourning of the dead must be murdered as well.
The member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is the UN’s cultural arm, passed a resolution last September that denies any connection between Jews and the Temple Mount which is, as mentioned above, the holiest site in Judaism. It was the site of both the First and Second Temples, the latter of which was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 CE and looted. The Arch of Titus in Rome bears an engraving depicting the Romans carrying off spoils from the Temple, including a very obvious menorah. The member states of UNESCO, however, would have you believe that the Temple Mount is only revered by Muslims (the resolution does not even mention Christians, even though one of the most famous episodes of the New Testament is of Jesus, a Jew, overturning the tables of the moneylenders at the Temple).
Historical chronicles and archaeology, as well as thousands of years of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim reverence for the site, have taken a back seat to the contemporary political priorities of the Palestinians and their international backers, which is to attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel by refuting any link whatsoever between the Jewish people and Israel. After all, if Jews have no historical ties to the land, then what makes them different from any other colonializing power, such as the Italians in Libya, the British in Egypt, and the French in Algeria? And thus were born the absurd notions that Jesus was a Palestinian or that the Palestinians are the descendants of the Canaanites – this latter is particularly important in the delegitimization campaign, because the Canaanites predated the Jews in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories: if the Palestinians are Canaanites, then they came first, and the land is theirs, and the Jews are usurpers, which is precisely the case the Palestinians are making to the international community. Yasser Arafat told an incredulous President Bill Clinton that there had been no Temple, or if there had been, it was in Nablus, not Jerusalem. Several Palestinian officials have since repeated the same nonsense.
Ironically, this grotesque Temple denial is actually a slap in the face to Islam itself. Muhammad was profoundly influenced by Judaism when he was developing Islam. Islam is, in many ways, Judaism made universal: whereas the Jews are only interested in living in one land, which was denied to them for two millennia and from which their enemies hope to displace them today, Islam, on the other hand, seeks to hold sway over the entire world. But the Muslim Sharia derives from the Jewish Halakha, and halal from kashrut. It is not accidental that Muslims do not eat pork, as their Jewish antecedents did not and do not. They are both religions profoundly influenced by their desert surroundings and by the desire to rise above petty tribal, idolatrist and animist “Others.” Jews do not seethe kids in their mothers’ milk because such was a magical ritual of the Canaanites, and the ancient Hebrews sought to differentiate themselves from the other local tribes. Muslims sought to supersede the tribal animosities in the Arabian Peninsula, to harness that energy and focus it outward, to sing the praises of Allah and the prophet Muhammad and to take that message to the ends of the earth. Muhammad was stung by the Jews’ refusal to accept Muhammad as God’s last, and true, prophet, just as they had rejected that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God. In fact, it stung him so much that he changed the Muslim mihrab (direction of prayer) toward Mecca, the place of the revelation from the archangel Gabriel, from its original site: namely, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. When the Umayyad dynasty of Damascus was seeking political and religious legitimacy in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, it built two magnificent structures atop that very same plateau in Jerusalem: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Here I must digress and dive into the historical context of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Aqsa literally means “the farthest” in Arabic, and derives from the Qur’anic verse (17:1), “Glory to (Allah) Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque” (min al-Masjid al-Haram ila al-Masjid al-Aqsa). The context is the “night journey” of Muhammad, which was both physical and spiritual (Muhammad took this journey on the back of a winged steed, al-Buraq, which is why the UNESCO resolution in question refers to the Western Wall as the al-Buraq wall and puts Western Wall in quotation marks, as if this name is an absurdity that it feels it must recognize, albeit through clenched teeth). The “Sacred Mosque” is typically identified as the Great Mosque of Mecca, the birthplace of Islam. The latter was interpreted during the time of the Umayyad dynasty as Jerusalem; there was no Al-Aqsa Mosque there, however, during the time of Muhammad.
The Ummayads built the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the early 8th century to confer retroactive sanctity to the Temple Mount for Muslims, which was of significant political benefit to the Ummayads, as it lay within their area of control. For brief historical context: At the time, there was considerable tension between the Ummayads, based in Damascus, and a man named Abdallah ibn Zubayr, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Ummayads and, after building up support in Mecca, was later killed in an attempted revolt. The construction of both sacred buildings atop the Temple Mount by the Ummayads in this time period was likely for the purpose of legitimizing and shoring up their own rule. The important thing, however, is the why: why did the Umayyads erect these buildings on the Temple Mount of all places? The answer is simple: because they took it for granted that it was a holy site, that it had been the site of the Temple, and had been a site of reverence, indeed the site of reverence, for Muslims as an Abrahamic religion and as religious descendants of Judaism.
The very Arabic name for Jerusalem, al-Quds, derives originally from Beit al-Maqdis, which is a direct translation of the Hebrew Beit HaMikdash, which was the Hebrew name for the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Until the arrival of Palestinian nationalism in the 20th century, it was accepted that Jerusalem was holy for the Jews, and that two Jewish Temples had stood on Mount Moriah, the first being destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and the latter by the Roman legions in 70 CE. The Arabic name for the city was literally taken directly from the Hebrew name for the Jewish Temple, the same Jewish Temple that Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas deny ever existed.
These twin denials perfectly encapsulate the most essential feature of anti-Semitism: irrationality. The deniers reject truths so obvious that it is, for this writer, impossible to contemplate that the denier actually believes what he or she is saying. The meaning is not to express some “truth”, but to unleash psychological pain on the Jews. There is something about the denial of something that is so manifestly true that cuts much more deeply, much more viscerally and hatefully, than simply shouting ethnic slurs. It is a thought-out, purposeful, and smirking way of seeking to undercut the Jewish identity at its very core. The sophistication and relentlessness of some deniers, and the evident care with which they make their asinine arguments, as compared to the lazy shouting of “kike!”, speaks to a deep hatred that has been carefully nurtured for some time and seriously thought through. This is much more alarming, and much more dangerous, than even the nastiest of invectives.
The Jewish presence in and reverence of the land of Israel for thousands of years is not just attested to in the Bible, but in Greek, Roman, and, yes, Arab sources. The Jewish presence in Israel was the cradle for Christianity, which, with the democratic traditions of Athens, forms the civilizational backbone of the West. To deny the Jewish connection to Israel, and particularly Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Temple (or even the existence of the Temple) is to deny the very historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, because the stories of the New Testament become utterly nonsensical derived of any Jewish context. The central event in Western history, the crucifixion of Jesus, is rendered inexplicable.
The Nazis’ Final Solution is arguably the most amply documented event of the 20th century, despite the Germans’ destruction of much of their archives and the absence of an explicit Hitler order (any historian of National Socialism knows Hitler’s leadership style of making utterances, having his subordinates jockey for position to present the most radical policy to implement those utterances, and then giving a green light to that policy – as Ian Kershaw has coined it, “working toward the Führer”). Nazi Germany went to war on an explicitly anti-Semitic platform and its barbarities are attested to by a variety of sources.
The centrality of Jerusalem is the pillar of Jewish identity. The establishment of the State of Israel, and the reunification of Jerusalem 19 years later, is the most significant moment in modern Jewish history. The Holocaust, which ended three years before Israel’s creation, was a rupture in Western civilization so severe that it arguably destroyed any meaning of that term whatsoever. To the extent that the Palestinian political leadership today recognizes that the Holocaust was an historical event, it is their interpretation that Israel would not exist had it not been for the Holocaust, and that the Palestinians are being made to pay for a European crime. This plays on European guilt for the Holocaust, which is profound and decidedly still present.
It should come as no surprise that in addition to Temple denial, many Palestinians (and Arabs at large) also deny the Holocaust, because if the Holocaust never happened, then there is no crime against the Jews that needs to be atoned for, only one committed against the Palestinians: the nakba of 1948. The Jews are a European people carrying out a European colonial project, and earning laurels in the process by bamboozling the world with lurid stories of a European crime (in a twist, some argue that, to the extent there was a Holocaust, it was carried out at Zionist direction or with Zionist collusion). This is obviously an absurd, ahistorical, and hateful argument, but it does have its own demented logic. During and after the Second World War, the Muslim world, unfortunately, imported much of the virulent anti-Semitism that has largely been expunged from European public life since the fall of Berlin.
Those who engage in Temple denial seek to strip the Jews of their identity in toto, for who are the Jews without Jerusalem and the Temple? They tell the Jews they have no roots in the region, it’s all made up, so they need to get the hell out of Palestine and return to their ancestors’ homes in Poland. Holocaust deniers mock the Jews’ tragedy by putting them, the Jews, in the dock for the murder of their own families and the destruction of their own communities, or by patting them on the back and assuring them that no such thing happened at all, it was just a bad dream. There can be nothing more calculatedly malicious under the sun.
Just as anti-Semites today tell the Jews to get the hell out of Palestine and return to Europe, the anti-Semites of Poland in the 1930s once told the Jews to get the hell out of their country and go back to Palestine. It has come full circle.
It appears that the common denominator is: Juden sind hier unerwünscht.
Jared Sorhaindo, Washington D.C., April 23, 2017
Originally published on Al-Zilzal on April 23, 2017