The White House in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day engaged in Holocaust denial. Then they doubled down on the action and via Reince Priebus on Meet the Press expressed no regret about the wording which had no mention of the Jews in their supposed “remembrance”. This has been criticized from both ends of the political spectrum, from John Podhoretz in Commentary Magazine (a Reagan speechwriter and conservative columnist) to Tim Kaine characterizing it, correctly, as Holocaust denial.
You may ask, why is this denial? Is this hyperbole? You may even find the administration excuse that they are trying to be more “inclusive” of all the others who were victimized in the Holocaust plausible. And to the uninitiated it probably seems reasonable, and so the administration will likely get away with it.
But the reality is, this is part of a long history of Holocaust denial, in which the experience, memory, and truth of Jewish survivors and victims is diminished and denied. The first step of Holocaust denial isn’t an outright denial of the Holocaust, the deniers have become more subtle in the decades since Paul Rassinier outright denied its existence in the aftermath of WWII. Holocaust deniers instead start with the exact kind of minimization and distraction that the White House engaged in with this statement. They say, “well, the Holocaust was about so many other groups, not just the Jews.” This argument seems to have a patina of credibility, but on any real inspection it is foolish.
The Holocaust was a deliberate, systematic attempt by the Nazis to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth. That other groups such as homosexuals, dissidents, and others despised by Nazis were also targeted does not change or diminish the fact the primary intent was to destroy the Jewish people.
These distracting arguments undercut the truth about the purpose of the Final Solution and are thus a denial of history and truth. They are the same as the arguments that diminish the numbers of victims, that suggest the Nazis weren’t specifically targeting Jews, or inevitably, the crimes of the allies (such as the bombing of Dresden) were just as bad.
Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book Denying the Holocaust: The growing assault on truth and memory that is as relevant today as two decades ago. It a major influence on my writing about denialism because Lipstadt systematically exposes the tactics deniers used to subvert legitimate scholarship and scientific fact, which, it turns out, are pretty universal to denialist movements. One of the key points she makes is that denial doesn’t have to start with dismissal of the entire horror of the Holocaust, but rather is a chain of lies that begins with the kind of minimization of the Holocaust such as the White House espoused on Remembrance Day. Lipstadt is now the focus of a film entitled “Denial” about a libel case brought against her by the Holocaust denier David Irving. Irving, like most deniers did not like being called a denier, even though it was true. Deniers know that to be a Holocaust denier is bad, and makes them bad people, so they like to pretend they’re not Holocaust deniers even while they deny the Holocaust. Spoiler alert, she won, because Holocaust deniers are lying liars who lie.
Finally, you may ask, what proof was there this was purposeful? Should intent be included in the accusation of Holocaust denial rather than mere incompetence? Well, for one thing, when this was pointed out to the White House they defended the language twice – both Hope Hicks and Reince Preibus expressed this specific language excluding Jews was purposeful and a lack of regret that it specifically leaves Jews out of Holocaust remembrance. They deny that it was Holocaust denial but Holocaust deniers usually lie and say they’re not denying the Holocaust. Second, we have seen a pattern from this administration of courting and hiring white nationalists, including Steve Bannon (also an alleged anti-Semite), and repeating propaganda from white supremacists (eg whitegenocide) and neo-nazis repeatedly during the campaign (anyone remember the “Sheriff’s Star”?).
To summarize, this is classic Holocaust denial from an administration that (1) has been documented courting racists and neo-Nazis, (2) has a known white nationalist as a political advisor to the president, (3) has admitted the exclusion of the Jews from the statement was purposeful, (4) has expressed no regret about excluding Jews from the statement, and (5) received acclaim from neo-Nazis for the use of this language.
This is a clear-cut case of deliberate Holocaust denial presented on a day that was meant for remembrance of this specific history. It was accompanied by an attack on refugees, many of whom are fleeing murder and oppression, based on religion, which is horrifically reminiscent of this period of history. This will surely represent a low point in the history of our own country, and will forever stain the politicians and leaders who fail to speak out against this denial of history and human decency.