The Many Faces Of Holocaust Denial
Wernher von Braun (tenth from left) and his rocket development team, pictured in 1959 at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which became part of NASA the following year. Most had been recruited by the US in "Operation Paperclip", including Arthur Rudolph (eighth from left) (image: NASA)
The moving, high-profile ceremonies held in Poland and many other countries to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, would make it appear that the battle for memory of the Holocaust has been well and truly won.
Since I was among those freed by the Russians from the Budapest ghetto, also in January 1945, I was included in an extraordinary reception for Holocaust survivors held at Central Hall, Westminster, before the main public programme of remembrance. In view of their advancing ages, the set-up was rather like a Women's Institute tea party. The survivors and their families were seated at small tables where they could relax and chat over tea and sandwiches. Some of my closest and most admired friends who had been through the horrors of Auschwitz such as Trude Levi, Rudy Kennedy and Roman Halter were not there. Together with an increasing number of those who experienced the death camps, slave labour factories, and ghettoes, they have died in the past few years. Some extraordinary people were present and still very much alive to tell the world and, in particular, the next generation. Some of their stories were featured in a set of wonderful television documentaries broadcast during the week of the commemoration.
At the Westminster gathering, a series of VIP guests went gradually from table to table. Their presence demonstrated an exceptional degree of support, commitment and kindness. Among them were the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the leaders of the main political parties, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, the Director General of the BBC together with David Dimbleby, whose father Richard had made a famous broadcast describing the conditions at Bergen-Belsen when the camp was liberated by British troops. During the public commemoration which followed the party, the Prime Minister announced a commitment by the government, with cross-party agreement, to provide £50 million towards a large new Holocaust memorial and educational endowment in London.
Subsequent reports in the national press put something of a damper on the anniversary events by stressing that they had taken place against a background of Islamism, together with a new anti-Semitism associated with criticism of Israel. The extent of this danger is open to debate. There is a shortage of reliable evidence. In any case, the current panic about reportedly burgeoning anti-Semitism should not provide a diversion from an arguably greater danger: namely, that there still remain crucial gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the history of the Holocaust.
Though the basic facts about the Nazi murder of some six million Jews and millions of non-Jews are widely known (albeit still not widely enough), and though outright Holocaust denial is generally limited to the far Right and to much of the Arab world, there remains a major problem of Holocaust "greywashing" or "soft-core" denial. Universities in particular tend to ignore or, if not to ignore, to misinterpret the Holocaust in favour of a narrative of subsequent European union. The problem dates back to the 1940s and the Cold War. Nazi Germany's political triumph in 1945 was almost as spectacular as its military defeat. The consequences of that triumph continue to affect and to damage Europe today.
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