Lipstadt Deborah Esther - Denying the holocaust

Author : Lipstadt Deborah Esther
Title : Denying the holocaust The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory With a new Preface by the Author
Year : 1993

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In April 1993, in conjunction with the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Roper Organization conducted a poll to determine the extent of Americans' knowledge of the Holocaust. Neither the Roper Organization nor the American Jewish Committee, which sponsored the poll, expected any startling results. But they were surprised by the response to one of the questions. When asked "Do you think it possible or impossible that the Holocaust did not happen?" 22 percent of American adults and 20 percent of American high school students answered, yes, it was possible.* The response shocked many people who had long dismissed Holocaust denial as a wacky phenomenon of no more validity than the claim that the earth is regularly visited by alien beings. The poll's results, coupled with the deniers' recent forays onto college campuses in order to publish ads in campus newspapers denying the Holocaust, convinced many people that Holocaust denial constituted a clear and present danger. When Denying the Holocaust appeared but a few weeks after the Roper poll, many of these former skeptics hailed me for having realized long before virtually anyone else that this was a serious threat. Some reviews of the book made particular note of the fact that when I began investigating the Holocaust denial phenomenon in 1987 xii I had been subjected by colleagues and friends to some friendly and not so friendly skepticism for "taking these kooks seriously." Among the most contrite were those who had been most vigorous in their assaults on me for believing the deniers worthy of serious scholarship. In a public mea maxima culpa, one reviewer identified himself as one who had taken me to task for wasting my time on this topic. Admitting his mistake, he declared the book a work of "stunning relevance." Ironically, I counseled and continue to counsel a more cautious, certainly not benign, reaction to the Roper statistic. It is true that when a similar question was asked in Britain and France, doubters numbered less than 7 percent. But the 22 percent response must be considered within the American social context. A significant number of Americans, when asked if the most outlandish situation is possible or impossible, are prone to answer yes. ** Second, the question was awkwardly constructed, with a double negative embedded within it. Even the Roper organization acknowledged that it could have been worded more clearly. (The same double negative did not, however, appear to confuse those who were polled in other countries.) There is also the possibility that respondents interpreted the question in a more colloquial sense and that it was simply hard for them to believe that the Holocaust might have happened. My suspicions about the Roper poll were confirmed recently by a Gallup poll which posed the same question but without the double negative. The results were markedly different: 83% said the Holocaust definitely happened, 13% said it probably happened and 4% said it did not or had no opinion. These results indicate that the deniers have not made great inroads into public opinion. When this particular question is analyzed together with the responses to the sixteen other questions on the poll there is cause for alarm, but not about the deniers. The other responses indicate an appalling American ignorance of the most basic facts of the Holocaust. Thirty-eight percent of adults and 53 percent of high school students either "don't know" or incorrectly explain what is meant by "the Holocaust." Twentytwo percent of adults and 24 percent of students do not know that it occurred after the Nazis came to power in Germany. The poll demonstrates what will be possible in years to come if the deniers' methodology and agenda are not exposed now and, more important, if basic education about the Holocaust is not improved. It was this fear and not prescience that prompted me to address this xiii subject years ago. And it is this fear about the potential impact of the deniers that prompts my continued interest in this topic. The deniers' window of opportunity will be enhanced in years to come. The public, particularly the uneducated public, will be increasingly susceptible to Holocaust denial as survivors die. The dramatic difference between hearing a story directly from one who has experienced it and hearing it second- or third-hand has long been illustrated for me by my cousins' experience. Approximately fifteen years older than I, they grew up in Cincinnati. Their father employed an elderly African American gentleman, Charlie Washington, who had been born a slave on a plantation. My cousins heard stories of slavery from him and some of his friends who had also been slaves. For my cousins the Civil War and slavery are not events of the distant American past. They occupy primary places in the storehouse of their childhood memories. In contrast, though I recognize them as exceptionally important aspects of our nation's history, they are for me part of nineteenth-century America. So too with the Holocaust. Future generations will not hear the story from people who can say "this is what happened to me. This is my story." For them it will be part of the distant past and, consequently, more susceptible to revision and denial. The results of the Roper poll have also elicited challenges to my steadfast refusal to debate deniers. Since the book's appearance I have received numerous invitations to appear on television talk shows aired nationally in the United States. Whenever the plans include inviting a denier I categorically decline to appear. As I make clear in these pages the deniers want to be thought of as the "other side." Simply appearing with them on the same stage accords them that status. Those who have challenged me to reconsider this policy fear that when I refuse, the deniers are left free to posit their claims with no one to challenge them. In fact, whenever I refused an invitation to appear on such a show, the producers abandoned the idea for the show shortly thereafter. Refusal to debate the deniers thwarts their desire to enter the conversation as a legitimate point of view. ...

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