Now that I’m back from my trip and have more or less adjusted to being home, we shall hopefully return to our regularly scheduled program. 😉
On my flight from Denver to Orlando about two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch a movie I’d been really wanting to see. (This is quite a rarity, as I hardly ever watch movies these days. Who has time?!) The movie is called Denial, and it’s a dramatization of the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt. Here’s the trailer:
The truth is, I was fairly disappointed with the movie. I found Rachel Weisz’s performance as Deborah Lipstadt unconvincing, the script clumsy and stilted, and the drama somewhat forced. And I felt that its exploration of the very complex questions it raised was too superficial.
Still, I’m glad I saw it, and had the opportunity to think those questions:
- How do we strike a balance between free speech and our responsibility to stop the spread of hateful and dangerous lies?
- Is it better not to dignify the opinions of Holocaust deniers and antisemites with a response? Or should we engage with them openly, to keep the public informed and inoculated against the lies?
- Should this kind of discussion be allowed to take place in a court of law?
- What if making it a discussion at all gives the impression that the existence of the Holocaust is a “two-sided issue” and not indisputable historical fact?
- Should Holocaust survivors be given the chance to testify in a trial like this, even if they might be re-traumatized by the prosecution and ultimately harm the defense?
All very good questions, and the answers aren’t simple.
One of them came up again last week when I discovered the following comment (on my previous post) awaiting my moderation:
Tell me something.
Well. That escalated quickly.
Nothing good is ever going to follow the words, “I’m not a Nazi, but…”
When I informed you about the comment, I considered asking you whether you think, in your vast experience :-/ it’s worth engaging with such people. Can they be reasoned with? Is this kind of antisemitic drivel the result of ignorance, and if so, can it be corrected with information? But I decided that there is no way to reason someone out of the belief that Jewish bankers control the world. It’s like trying to tell an anti-vaxxer that vaccines don’t cause autism, a climate change denier that global warming exists, or a flat-earther that the world is round. No amount of evidence will sway these people from their opinion.
You agreed with my unspoken conclusion in your e-mail the next day: “As someone said long ago: Do not argue with fools. They’ll drag you to their turf and beat you with experience.”
So then I asked myself: if it’s not worth engaging this particular person, maybe it’s worth discussing the comment publicly and responding to some of the points.
Which brings me back to Denial. Ignore, or engage?
Each option has costs.
The cost of ignoring comments like these is that we (the targets) feel silenced and helpless, and the perpetrators get away with doing or saying whatever they want. It feels unjust, a betrayal of the truth. And there’s always the risk that your remaining silent will empower them, making them think you’re not responding because you can’t.
The cost of engaging with antisemites, however, is that in so doing, we grant them a platform. Treating their ideas as something worth discussing may seem to legitimize them in a way. At very least, it shows that their words had an impact. This can empower them, too.
So, the last part of the comment is not worth discussing. It’s just pure, classic antisemitic myth, and I already elaborated on that in my Great Post of Jewish Conspiracies.
The first part, though, I decided to address, because in isolation, it’s a pretty fair question.
Why Is the Holocaust Considered a Uniquely Jewish Catastrophe when Millions of Non-Jews Were Also Killed by the Nazis?
I think this question stems from a basic lack of knowledge regarding the Nazi regime and its ideology.
Yes, the Nazis were racists. Yes, they believed that homosexuals, Romanies, Slavs, and blacks were inferior to them and therefore unworthy of any rights.
Jews, on the other hand, were not just believed to be inferior. We were believed to be evil.
This was a central tenet of Nazi ideology. Jews–not gays, Gypsies, or Poles–were held uniquely responsible for all the world’s ills. Therefore, “solving the Jewish problem” meant annihilating every last Jew.
They did not believe this about other groups. According to their beliefs, their purpose in the world as a “supreme race” was to dominate other races, not destroy them. They saw “lesser” races and other “defective” humans as undesirable, and killed them when they were a nuisance. There was never any organized plan to seek out people from those groups and exterminate them.
The Poles and Ukrainians, for example, were sitting on fertile land that the Nazis wanted, so they killed them to get them out of the way. Their plan was to enslave the rest. Individuals who caused trouble were sent to the death camps–but those camps were built with the express purpose of exterminating Jews.
In other words: the Nazis were horrible, inhumane, and murderous towards all other people who they defined as being inferior to them. But the genocide, the efforts and resources poured into the systematic and complete annihilation of every man, woman, and child–that was specifically directed towards Jews. We were, by an order of magnitude, their primary and most important target.
Look; this isn’t the Victimhood Olympics. No one wins a gold medal for having suffered the most. The fact that Jews were the primary target of the Nazi genocide does not and should not minimize or marginalize the devastating losses sustained by other groups. But when you claim that there is no difference between the treatment of the Jews and that of the Poles, you are denying history.
And as Deborah Lipstadt’s lawyers ultimately showed in court, when you deliberately deny history with the intention of glossing over Jewish suffering… you are an antisemite.
…Which our friend here promptly proved at the end of his comment.
Here’s hoping I will be able to go back to writing about things OTHER than Nazis and antisemites soon. *grumblegrumble*
6 thoughts on “Responding to Antisemites: Was the Holocaust a Uniquely Jewish Catastrophe?”
I wish I was wrong, but those idiots will never go away. For some reason people love to be irrational & ignorant. I can have a rational discussion with rational people that thing different of me. Because I know that I do not hold all the truth. Actually, I am probably wrong more than 50% of the time. But I hate when people instead of giving a rational argunemt and exposing their opinions in a respectful manner, start with a “I am not a Nazi, but…” Anyone that starts a sentence like that, is an idiot at least
I prefer to believe that people don’t choose to be irrational or ignorant. I think they are doing the best they can with what they have.
And what a lot of people have is lack of information, a lot of fear, and a human tendency to look for explanations for things, to make order in the chaos of the world.
I don’t think it’s a matter of intelligence. Hitler was extremely intelligent, and many other very smart people have held very unfortunate views. Conspiracy theories have always been popular not because people are stupid, but because they are scared and confused and looking for meaning. They’ve been blaming the Jews for everything since time immemorial because that’s easier than admitting that the world is chaotic and complex and that the terrible things in it don’t have a neat explanation. It’s human nature, and no one has taught them to think critically about it.
But then, I think I have more faith in people than you do. 😉 Or maybe I am more naive. Either way, I find it easier to move through life believing that everyone is doing the best they can.
Very astute commentary. Also besides being scared &/ or confused they are in need of a security blanket. Much like Linus they wrap themselves in their ideas to be warm and SAFE.
Eitan and I had a really interesting discussion about this idea–“everyone is doing the best they can”–after I posted that comment. He said he is not entirely comfortable with the idea because in a way it negates our agency and responsibility. If we’re all doing the best we can, how can we do better?
I think we can have compassion and try to understand where someone is coming from and why they made the choices they did, while also believing that they have free choice and responsibility to do better. Several Biblical commentators raise the question: Why did God punish the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews, if He had orchestrated the whole thing anyway? How can we hold the Egyptians morally responsible for doing something that God specifically “recruited” them to do?
If I recall correctly, it is Maimonides who answers that God would not have punished them if they’d filled only their minimum requirements for His plan. But He gave them free will, and they chose to be exceptionally cruel to the Hebrews, more cruel than was necessary.
I think what Maimonides is trying to say is that we really have limited options available to us because of our circumstances, the beliefs we are raised with, the access we have to certain ideas, the tendencies of our personality, etc. But within that narrow range, God holds us responsible for making the right choices.
So while I can understand the circumstances that lead someone to subscribe to antisemitic beliefs, I still hold him responsible for choosing to maintain them.
But the responsibility for making the RIGHT choices by a person wrapped
in his security blanket is not always possible…..thus we have the enigmatic question of does it then become OUR responsibility to teach them the right choices …….and who determines the RIGHT choices?? G
Well, then we get into the question of morality and what is it and who decides what right and wrong are. And *that* is definitely beyond the scope of our discussion here!
I think it is always possible to make the right choice, even under the worst conditions. But I would not dare to judge someone who made the wrong choice under extreme circumstances, because I don’t assume I’m any better than him. I haven’t been in his shoes, and can’t know for sure if I would be able to do better under the same conditions. Only God can judge him. My job is to be kind and do what I can to make the information available for people who are open to it. You can lead a horse to water, etc. That’s what I think.