A older person stands in Holocaust memorial site.
Image Source: Ricardo Gomez Angel / Unsplash

Amid Rising Antisemitic Attacks, Holocaust Denial Spreads

After incidences of vandalism at synagogues, dissemination of antisemitic text by the FBI, and a hostage standoff at a Texas synagogue, Jewish advocates are concerned about the “growing crisis for the country” (CNN, Anti-Defamation League). While antisemitism, a hostility to or prejudice against Jewish people, is not new, the recent surge in antisemitic events in the past few months align with a diminishing lack of Holocaust knowledge in the United States. And as book bans and conspiracy theories propagate throughout the country, fueling Holocaust denial and distortion, antisemitism continues to be a growing assault on truth and memory.

In 2021, there were 2,717 antisemitic incidences in the U.S., the highest recorded since the ADL started tracking in 1979 (ADL). An “average of more than seven incidents per day,” ranging from assault, vandalism, and harassment. A majority of the incidences were verbal or written harassment issues that often took the form of antisemitic slurs, stereotypes, or conspiracy theories. The latter has been co-opted by Holocaust deniers and distortionists who have been using the tactic to try and erase history and legitimize Nazism and antisemitism. 

TAKE ACTION

• Read the stories shared via the #ItStartedWithWords and #NoDenyingIt campaigns on Twitter and Facebook made to counter antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

• Demand your state representatives and school board officials to implement Holocaust education curriculum in schools. 

• Sign the Stop Hate for Profit petition to hold social media companies, specifically Facebook, accountable for hate and misinformation on their platforms.

• Read Understanding Antisemitism by JFREJ and The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere by April Rosenblum.

• Subscribe to platforms that write about Jewish culture like Alma, Deep Shtetl, and The Forward.

Holocaust denial attempts to discredit the documented state-sponsored genocide of Jewish people by the Nazi regime. It is a crime in many countries, including Germany and France, with Canada currently in the process of passing similar legislation (Toronto Sun). Legally, the United States doesn’t prohibit Holocaust denial or the promotion of Nazi ideology. 

In the United States, the campaign was initially only wielded by white supremacists and other extremist right groups interested in absolving Hitler. However, Holocaust denial in the states is no longer a fringe ideology of the extremist right but a “phenomenon across the ideological spectrum” (ADL). As a result, in 2018, 11 people were murdered in a synagogue by a gunman who expressed antisemitic views on social media and frequented sites that shared Holocaust denial rhetoric (AP News).

“Holocaust denial and distortion generally claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests. These views perpetuate long-standing antisemitic stereotypes, hateful beliefs that helped lay the groundwork for the Holocaust” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).

With fewer survivors remaining to be living testimony and eyewitnesses to the systematic persecution and murder of millions, the legacy of the Holocaust is increasingly under threat the further we become generationally removed from the event. A 2020 survey found that 63% of respondents were unaware that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, while 48% could not name one of more than 40,000 camps and ghettos. Additionally, they found that almost 11% of Millennials and Gen Zers felt the Jews caused the Holocaust (The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany). 

Holocaust education in the U.S. is only required in 20 states, with Arkansas passing a law last year requiring the curriculum to be added for kids in grades 5-12 (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, KNWA). However, state mandates vary from remembrance weeks to textbook studies. 

In some cases, like in Oregon and Arkansas, the move to add Holocaust history to the curriculum was to counter Holocaust denial claims like there were “no gas chambers capable of killing humans” and “Soviet propaganda created the Nazi’ death camp’ myth” and to prevent future acts of anti-Semitic violence (Pew Trusts).

The lack of basic knowledge, particularly amongst young people, fuels misconceptions and feeds into antisemitism when historical facts are blurred and obfuscated by individual perceptions. 

Earlier this year, actress and host of The View, Whoopi Goldberg, inaccurately claimed that the Holocaust was merely “man’s inhumanity to man” and “not about race” [The ARD]. Although she publicly apologized, her comments were dangerous as they minimized the Holocaust to being about “mere differences in perspective,” erasing “the horror that has been inflicted based on false perceptions of race, not just on Jewish people but communities around the world.” In doing so, she added fodder to Holocaust denial and distortion claims that circulate on social media. 

Holocaust denial is a significant problem on social platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, which have been hubs for misinformation campaigns (Washington Post). Facebook received backlash in 2020 after it was discovered that it not only hosted pages and groups dedicated to denying the Holocaust happened but that the algorithm was “actively promoting” this material, pushing users further into dangerous, antisemitic conspiracy (ISD Global). The company addressed the situation by classifying Holocaust denial as hate speech instead of misinformation, removing groups dedicated to Holocaust denial. It even redirected a popular anti-Holocaust search term with information on the Holocaust. However, antisemitism and anti-Holocaust beliefs are still being peddled and endorsed on the site (ADL). 

Holocaust denial is antisemitism. It aims to threaten Jewish communities globally, and society as a whole, by distorting the public record of truth to accommodate white supremacy’s revisionist history. It allows the revictimizing of remaining survivors and the upholding of systemic and racist ideologies to prevail. It is vital to preserve the memory and lessons of the Holocaust for future generations to prevent further violence and ensure that those who commit such atrocities don’t get to bow out quietly and disappear from retribution.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

• Antisemitic incidences were at an all-time high in 2021.

• Holocaust deniers utilize antisemitic stereotypes by claiming that the Holocaust was a plot by the Jews to gain sympathy and advance their interests.

• Holocaust denial is antisemitism.

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