Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt

Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory by Deborah Lipstadt is one of those books I avoid reading but want to read. I avoid reading the book because I know it will leave me feeling angry and frustrated. I want to read it because there are some things about which we should be angry. When I closed the book I was just tired, exhausted, and grateful. Grateful I had not read it at a different time in my emotional life. Grateful to Lipstadt for her conviction and clarity in wanting to communicate her position. There are those who deny the Holocaust, who claim that there was no organized genocide of the Jewish community in Germany and the nations that Germany invaded during World War II. I was not ignorant of this. What I did not understand is how anyone could choose to be so willfully ignorant of the truth. Lipstadt presents both the ludicrous assumptions these people make as well as the more insidious manipulation of the truth. Ultimately, they win because most people are unable or unwilling to verify the information. Nobody has the time to look up each and every reference to confirm that quotes are not taken out of context. Most people probably wouldn’t have access or even be able to read the primary resources if they cared to so. Lipstadt contends that there is no room for debate. By debating with those who would deny the Holocaust, academia, the media, et al give the argument a legitimacy it does not merit. One does not debate the reality of history. One revises the interpretation of history. In other words, how and why the Holocaust occurred may be open to interpretation but that it happened is not. Period. End of story. There is no justification, therefore, for college newspapers to allow Holocaust deniers to receive a forum through either an op ed piece or paid advertising. In defending the first amendment rights of free speech, they ignore the right of free assembly. When I opened the book, I was rather on the fence. I did not appreciate the purpose of debating with these people and after reading the book I realize that what I could not define is that, as Lipstadt argues, to do so allows these people a forum they simply do not deserve. Our Constitution allows them to assemble and discuss their beliefs. It also allows them to print and disseminate their beliefs. It also allows me to say I am not interested and too narrow minded to discuss it with anyone. If you want to debate it, go ahead. I prefer to discuss reality, to debate the merits of dog ownership over cat ownership and what’s a fashion statement versus what’s merely a fad. I want to debate something that matters—because debating whether or not The Diary of Anne Frank is a legitimate document, worthy of discussion, is not debatable. It is both legitimate and worthy. No explanation necessary.

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