This Saturday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the date Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated after WWII. And it comes at a time when we are seeing a new kind of Holocaust denial: 32 percent of my peers deny that Hamas’s attack against Israel on October 7 even happened.
This despite the fact the terrorist group filmed its own murder spree. Journalists worldwide have watched and reported on a 45-minute film of Hamas’s invasion that shows burned babies, bloodied corpses, and indiscriminate death.
I recently spoke to Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, as he made a trip to the U.S. in the wake of Hamas’s rampage. I started our conversation by asking him about what the past can teach us about the present.
What parallels are you seeing between the Holocaust and today?
We are already seeing people denying the atrocities of October 7. . . although they are quite well documented by the perpetrators themselves.
Antisemitism is again becoming a terrible scourge. So I came here to speak with college administrators, especially with Ivy League college presidents and provosts, to alert them. And also to meet with students, to encourage them. Antisemitism is a phenomenon that, if it is not confronted when it starts, can develop into a monstrosity. Empirically, it is the most lethal, the most deadly, form of racism humanity ever knew.
It’s time to ring the bells. It is time to say, especially to academics, that institutions have crossed the line, that it is becoming very dangerous. If antisemitism is not reined in, not defeated on campus, it will be bad for the Jews, but it will be disastrous for the university. It will ruin academia in this country. It will become, instead of a source of pride, a source of shame.
Yad Vashem’s aim is to archive, in every way possible, proof of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. Can you describe the lengths you go to?
We are approaching, unfortunately but inevitably, the post-survivors era. Even those that are alive today were children during the shoah. I’m quite sure that when that point in time arrives, when there are no survivors, that will be the “happy hour” of the deniers and the distortionists.
We are in a race against the calendar to take more and more testimonies—and we have tens of thousands of testimonies. But I never forget for a moment that there were six million Jews that never had the privilege of being seated in front of a camera or a tape recorder or a typewriter, and so the documents we can find about them are their memories. The Nazis took the persona away from the Jews. By collecting or registering the evidence about every aspect of life of the victims, we get them back.
Have you seen how you’ve been able to change people’s minds as a result of your work?
One of the relatively good pieces of news is that outright Holocaust denial is not on the rise. On the contrary, it is diminishing. In the ’80s and the ’90s, there were pseudo-intellectuals that denied the Holocaust. I think that today, except for leaders in Iran and probably a few other places, no serious person will deny that the Holocaust happened.
But I think the very serious problem today is Holocaust distortion and trivialization, much more than outright denial. Holocaust distortion is so dangerous because in most cases it is promoted either by governments or by very strong political and social forces. And it goes like this: “Of course the Holocaust happened, and it was terrible, but in my country the entire population helped the Jews.” And obviously that’s a fallacy.
That is why we invest so much in registering the names of the victims. You can’t imagine how painstaking the process was to register almost five million individual names of victims of the Holocaust. Only half of them come from full pages of testimony. But the other half comes from research, from searching archives all over the world, from taking precarious aircrafts to remote Russian archives to find two more names and things like that. That’s the way you confront denial.
The way to confront denialism is by showing the facts. There is no magic.
Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on Twitter (now X) @FrancescaABlock.
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