Holocaust denial, an insidious form of anti-Semitism, has moved from the margins to the mainstream, gaining unthinkable acceptance in politics and social media. In the US, a Holocaust denier and former head of the American Nazi Party, Arthur Jones, has won the Republican nomination in Illinois for the state’s Third Congressional District. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour party, was an active member of a Facebook group which contained Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, according to published reports. He has since deleted his personal Facebook page.
In France, where an 85-year old Holocaust survivor was murdered recently in what police called a hate crime, a court upheld the Holocaust denial conviction of Jean Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right National Front party. Le Pen was convicted of racial incitement against Jews when, in 2015, he called the Holocaust “a detail of World War II.”
In Poland, a recent and controversial law makes it a criminal offense to mention Polish complicity for the Holocaust. In Lithuania, the Museum of Genocide in Vilnius all but ignores the Holocaust and the destruction of most of its Jewish community.
Holocaust denial takes different forms, from denying that the genocide of six million Jews took place, arguing that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz and other camps, to trivializing the destruction of European Jewry. The purpose is to exploit the pain of Jewish suffering, challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and to garner further support for anti-Semitic adherents.
The internet is now the main source of Holocaust denial, dissemination and recruitment. The use of anti-Semitic symbols and posts denying the Holocaust increased dramatically on social media, over 30 percent in 2018 from previous year, according to a study commissioned for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis, historically on the fringes of public discourse, have taken to Facebook, chat rooms and trafficking in Holocaust denial on the internet, bringing their anti-Semitic screeds to an unimaginable wider audience. Often, these take the form of historical arguments, using the cloak of seemingly respectable names to disguise their hate.
Despite these disturbing trends, there has been significant pushback in the US and UK against Holocaust denial. Civic, political and public opinion leaders have spoken out against Holocaust denial, recognizing it as a form of anti-Semitism. When hate speech is brought to attention of social media companies, the response has been swift and effective.
Holocaust denial is prohibited by law in several European countries. In the US, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and right for neo-Nazi organizations to exist and disseminate their hateful propaganda, so long as it does not provoke incitement to violence.
We believe that education is vital to stamping out noxious views of hate merchants, anti-Semites and racists. “Never Again” begins in the classroom. Our mission is to teach to the Holocaust and draw upon its lessons to prevent other genocides and to strengthen social justice and human rights.
Holocaust education is an essential response to the purveyors of hate and distortion. As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 12, we should support our teachers and schools with the tools necessary not only to rebut Holocaust denial and to push back against hate.
David A. Field is the Chairman and Mark Berez the President of the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights