According to Deborah Lipstadt, critical analysis of the facts is a Holocaust denier’s worst enemy.
The current professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University and former advisor to Secretary of State Madeline Albright on international religious persecution discussed the distressing variation on the classic themes of anti-Semitism in a lecture entitled “Holocaust Denial: The New Anti-Semitism” in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith last night. Her appearance was sponsored by numerous organizations, including the Jewish Student Union and Students for Tolerance, Awareness and Remembering Survivors (STARS). Allison Arotsky ‘09, co-president of Geiborot, Cornell’s Jewish Women’s Forum, introduced the speaker. Arotsky stressed the importance of Lipstadt’s work, saying, “Holocaust and genocide awareness in general are still very important issues, especially considering what’s going on in Darfur today.”
Ray Bai ‘07, the president of STARS, asked those present to sign a letter to Congress in support of the Weisenthal Holocaust Education Assistance Act, which would provide funding for Holocaust education.
“After this generation, there won’t be any Holocaust survivors left,” Bai said. “We need to make sure that Holocaust denial doesn’t become more prevalent.”
Over the course of her lecture, Lipstadt discussed the phenomenon of Holocaust denial in general and the particular cases she witnessed both through research for her books on the subject, most notably Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, and through her libel trial in England, opposite British far-right wing historian David Irving. Irving, who is according to Lipstadt “the world’s most dangerous denier,” sued Lipstadt in the British court system for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier working on faulty and manipulated evidence in her first book.
Lipstadt and her legal team did not view their goal as to prove that the Holocaust happened.
“The Holocaust has the dubious honor of being the best documented genocide in the world.” Lipstadt said. “All we did was follow [Irving’s] footnotes. Nobody ever documented how he twisted information.”
Irving referenced a communication from Hitler on Kristallnacht, a night in 1938 in which mass violence was committed against German Jews, as evidence that the central Nazi government did not organize violence against the Jews. But Lipstadt and her researchers, one of whom was Richard Evans, a noted University of Cambridge historian, found that Hitler ordered a halt to “arson,” which could damage German buildings, not to “outrages against Jewish property” as Irving alleged.
“The evidence does not hold up” Lipstadt said.
Anticipating a question, Lipstadt asked her audience, “How do we respond? What do we do?” Though Lipstadt could offer no overarching solution, she explained that she is currently taking evidence from her trial and posting it online to inform those who do not have the facts necessary to combat Holocaust denial. In order to combat what Lipstadt called the rampant Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world as underscored by comments made by the president of Iran, these pages will be translated into Arabic and Farsi.
“There are many people who have the sense that what they’re being told is not true, but they don’t have the sources to prove it,” Lipstadt said. Lipstadt also advised what people should not do: outlaw genocide denial.
“It’s counter-productive,” Lipstadt said. “It suggests that we don’t have the facts to answer the deniers.”
In discussing the Holocaust survivors who supported her at her trial, Lipstadt described her reason for fighting Holocaust denial.
“Taking care of the dead is the most genuine act of righteousness. With other acts of kindness, people can reciprocate,” Lipstadt said. “I had a chance to stand up for people who had died.”
Editor’s Note: This article was formerly titled “Anti-Semitics Deny Holocaust.”