Written by Arnold Ages
There have been four distinct kinds of Holocaust revisionism. The first is the obscene categorical denial version embraced by the Ernst Zundel crowd. The second features the more subtle approach endorsed by historian Ernst Nolte, who does not deny the factuality of the Nazi annihilation of Jews but who observes that the Communists murdered more people than the Nazis did, thus suggesting that the Holocaust be viewed in a wider moral perspective.
Saul Friedlander, the author of Memory Comes and a recent book on Jewish diaries and journals composed during the Holocaust, noted in a lecture at the University of Toronto two years ago that a third even more disconcerting revisionism is surfacing in Germany. In this incarnation some German scholars indeed take note of the magnitude of the Holocaust but assert that while this might be of special interest to Jews, Germany in World War II, was involved in a much wider agenda and it behooves German historians to concentrate on those other sectors of military activity.
There is no point wasting time arguing with the warped views of Holocaust deniers. The German scholars who seek to de-emphasize the Holocaust by alluding to the brutality of Communism or by enlarging the preoccupation with the Third Reich’s global war efforts – are engaged in a devious ethical game. Comparing the Nazis to Communists is a cheap ruse for excusing or minimizing, through the medium of relativism, the unspeakable crimes of Germany 1933-1945.
As for those who hold that Germany was involved in things other than the Holocaust during World War II, there is some truth to that, but the satanic “war against the Jews” was different from Germany’s other battles: the Jews were defenceless and were slaughtered after they had surrendered. There can be no hiding of this through recourse to Germany’s other involvements in the Second World War.
The fourth expression of Holocaust revisionism has now been thoroughly studied by Gild Margalit, a professor at the University of Haifa. It is perhaps the most powerful of revisionist pathologies because it has an appeal to patriotic Germans and because it does not deny the Holocaust. What it does is reduce the impact of the murder of six million Jews by pointing out that an almost equal number of Germans died in “defending” the homeland and that the immense suffering of the German people during the allied bombings as well as the deportation of millions of the Volksdeutsch after the war – amounted to a tragedy comparable to the Holocaust.
Margalit observes that in the immediate post-war period Germans did experience a profound guilt over the Holocaust once the facts became known but that feeling soon dissipated and was replaced by a wave of self-interrogation, which prompted even some anti-Nazis such as concentration camp Bishop Niemoller and later politicians Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt to reject the idea of collective guilt. As the decades passed, this idea gained more and more credence and support, especially when defenders of the German nation turned the spotlight on the allied bombing raids on Dresden and Hamburg.
Much of that feeling is seen all over Germany today in monuments, memorial statues, shrines and grottoes commemorating the German war dead. In the early days after World War II, it was the dead of World War I who were remembered almost exclusively; today, as President Ronald Reagan discovered during his visit to the cemetery in Bitburg, German soldiers, including those who were in the SS, are included.
Today, 65 years after World War II ended, equivalence is being drawn between the suffering of Germans and that of Jews during the war, as if that trade-off liberates Germany from any responsibility for the former.
This is perhaps the most disturbing of all the Holocaust revisionisms.
Arnold Ages is Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Waterloo, ON.