Category Archive: American Gathering News

Holocaust Denial on Trial

Film

The infamous Lipstadt-Irving libel battle gets a trim new David Hare film adaptation starring Rachel Weisz—just in time for the rise of Trump

By James Kirchick

Denial starring Rachel Weisz as acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Photo by Laurie Sparham on Bleecker Street Media )

Denial starring Rachel Weisz as acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Photo by Laurie Sparham on Bleecker Street Media )

Near the end of Denial, the boyfriend of a young defense lawyer awakens in the middle of the night to find his beloved laboring hard on her case. She is serving on the defense team of Deborah Lipstadt, the Emory University historian whom the British author David Irving sued for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier. Beseeching her to come to bed, the man states that he cannot understand her “obsession” with an event that took place so many decades prior. “At some point, isn’t everyone going to have to let go?” he asks.

Anyone remotely interested in the Holocaust has likely been confronted, in some form or another, with this charge of “obsession.” Occasionally, as in the aforementioned scene, the accusation is the product of nothing more objectionable than historical ignorance and naiveté. For how is it possible not to be “obsessed” with an event so enormous as the unprecedently systematic industrial-scale extermination of 6 million people due solely to their ethnic origin? (Indeed, even using such a word—“event”—to describe the Shoah seems cruelly inadequate.) If anything, we are not transfixed enough by the Holocaust.

More often, however, the allegation of “obsession” is a sinister one, meant to slander its targets as opportunists. In this construal, Jews “exploit” the Holocaust to earn sympathy points, or, more perversely, as a means of bilking restitution money or diplomatic cover for the state of Israel, itself perpetrator of the very sorts of crimes Jews accuse the Germans of having committed.

It was the latter, wholly cynical meaning of “obsession” that Irving imputed to world Jewry. Noxious as this assertion may be, it still accepts the Shoah’s authenticity. What rightfully earned Irving the label of “denier” was his contention that the Holocaust as we’ve come to understand it—the deliberate, methodical attempt on the part of the Nazi leadership to annihilate every last Jewish man, woman, and child from the face of the Earth—is itself a massive lie, from the claimed number of Jewish victims (“of the order of 100,000 or more”) to the causes of their death (not, in the main, premeditated murder but diseases such as typhus). It wasn’t until 1988, however, relatively late in his long career as an amateur historian, that Irving would become a full-blown denier with his embrace of the notion that the Nazi gas chambers did not exist. “More women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz,” he once declared in his trademark caustic style.

What distinguished Irving from most other run-of-the-mill cranks and fascists who deny the Holocaust is that he had once been a mildly respectable military historian, if one curiously charitable to Adolf Hitler. In the book that spurred Irving’s libel suit, Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt chronicles how Irving went from being an author with unconventional views about World War II to an outright falsifier of history. The key event in his transformation, she wrote, was his embrace of the pseudoscientific “report” by a self-proclaimed American execution expert named Fred A. Leuchter claiming that the gassing facilities at Auschwitz had been used not to kill human beings but lice. (Leuchter was the subject of an eerily fascinating 1999 Errol Morris documentary, Mr. Death.) Though refuting the actual purpose of the gas chambers definitively established him as a Holocaust denier, Irving’s prior “revisionism” was hardly more historically sound.

Simply for calling him what he was, Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin, were hit with a libel lawsuit by Irving in 1996. In one of Denial’s early scenes, Lipstadt, portrayed by Rachel Weisz, reacts with disbelief as her solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), explains the intricacies of British libel law. Because it puts the burden proof on the defendant, Lipstadt, if she opted to contest the case, would have to, in effect, prove the truth of the Holocaust in order to validate her contention that Irving was denying established fact. Considering how Lipstadt, on principle, refuses to debate Holocaust deniers, Irving’s decision to bring suit against her was a cruel yet clever way of forcing her to engage with him. Stuck with the choice of letting Irving claim victory or exposing his calumnies, Lipstadt—who proudly tells Julius that her parents named her after the biblical female warrior—chooses to fight.

What follows, as Lipstadt journeys to London, is a fish-out-of-water legal drama wherein a brash, Jewish American history professor from New York must navigate her way through staid and forbidding British institutions. While Julius (a prominent British Jew who successfully won Princess Diana her generous divorce settlement and has since gone on to publish an acclaimed history of anti-Semitism in England) prepares the case behind the scenes, arguing before the judge is barrister Richard Rampton (the outstanding Tom Wilkinson), a classic British eccentric who keeps sandwiches in his cupboard and masters German within a year so that he can read the original Nazi documents Irving distorts. Throughout the film, Lipstadt’s forthright personal style rushes up against the wall of her lawyers’ conservative, risk-averse legal strategy. She is a passionate, outspoken woman who wants to scream obvious truths to the world (the Holocaust happened, David Irving is a lying bigot) but must defer to the prerogatives of British understatement. When Lipstadt’s lawyers inform her that she will not take the stand (as doing so would distract from the heart of the case—her written words), she is dejected. Lipstadt is similarly crestfallen when told that no survivors will testify, though that initial sense of outrage dissipates once the stomach-churning image of Irving’s potential cross-examination takes root.

Written by the British playwright David Hare (who also adapted the Holocaust-themed novel The Reader for the screen), Denial occasionally veers into didacticism, perhaps inevitable given the technicality of the subject matter. Though Hare is one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary dramatic writers, his greatest skill here is editing. The film’s best scenes are those that take place in the courtroom, where Hare crafted dialogue completely verbatim from the hundreds of hours of trial transcripts and where Irving—an egotist who, like most frauds, suffers from delusions of grandeur—represented himself. If the character of Irving (bravely played by Timothy Spall as an ultimately pathetic, rather than purely evil, villain) and his motives remain obscure, it’s entirely intentional. Hare, according to the film’s publicity materials, was not interested in writing “a portrait of an anti-Semite,” and Irving is therefore seen entirely from the perspective of Lipstadt and her allies.

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Denial arrives at an important time. While the sort of historical mendacity that consigned the likes of David Irving to permanent ignominy (and a jail sentence in Austria) is not widely believed in the West, it’s alive and well in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where a theocratic regime denies the Holocaust while promising another. Across the Arab world, where any conspiracy theory about Jewish perfidy is guaranteed to earn widespread acceptance, only 8 percent of people believe that the Holocaust has been “accurately described by history” (the same poll that reported this result, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014, also found that just over half the world’s population had even heard of the Holocaust). Whereas Holocaust denial is a crime in some Western European countries, in Turkey it is conversely the assertion of the 1915-1917 Armenian genocide that risks one a jail sentence. Indeed, it was the widespread ignorance and denial of this crime that inspired Hitler’s own campaigns of mass murder some two-and-a-half decades later. In a 1939 speech delivered on the eve of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, a fateful event that would make possible the extermination of millions of Jews in the old Pale of Settlement, the führer infamously asked his generals, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

But there’s more to this film than just an exploration of Holocaust denial, a depraved pursuit that, in the West at least, remains the exclusive preserve of racists and anti-Semitic crackpots. Denial is ultimately a movie about the power of lies. Why do people believe patent falsehoods and find the men who utter them so seductive? Though Hare, Lipstadt, and the rest of the film’s production team could never have imagined it, their film—depicting a titanic battle between good and evil, truth versus deceit—resonates disturbingly in the age of Donald Trump, a man whose cascade of false assertions and authoritarian braggadocio is unprecedented among the ranks of major American presidential nominees and echo that of a despotic state propagandist. As did Irving, Trump lies about things relatively immaterial (like whether he once impersonated his own publicist) and monstrous (that the first black president of the United States is not a natural-born citizen). While a complacent political class abetted Hitler’s rise in the erroneous belief that the nascent dictator and his brownshirts could be controlled, so too has Trump been normalized by legions of ostensibly responsible people who know better.

“I have a terrible fear that if I’d been asked to draw up those plans, I might have agreed. Out of sheer weakness,” Rampton tells Lipstadt when she asks how a research trip to Auschwitz affected him. “The world is full of cowards, and I’m one of them.” And like Trump—the Queens boy eternally striving for recognition in Manhattan, whose entire presidential campaign appears to be a giant middle finger directed at the political and media establishment provoked by a richly deserved, 5-year-old act of humiliation meted out to him by the president of the United States at a black-tie Washington rubber chicken dinner—Irving constantly sought validation from the British elite he simultaneously despised. After the verdict is read in Lipstadt’s favor, Irving cheerily approaches Rampton with hand outstretched as if the two had just played a friendly match of tennis. (Rampton brusquely, and appropriately, rebuffs him).

Trump’s mendacity, in totality, may not be as morally hideous as Irving’s. His impulsive, indiscriminate lies are expressed not in the service of any discernable ideological agenda but rather his own personal advancement. Irving, meanwhile, carefully and painstakingly strung together a series of small, deceptively innocuous lies to advance a broad, wicked one: a conspiracy theory exonerating the most ruthless and depraved regime in human history. But if Trump’s lies are less heinous than those of Irving, he makes up for it with influence and power. Irving, after all, was widely discredited by the time he decided to sue Lipstadt, unable to find a publisher for his books, and reduced to delivering lectures at the Tampa Bay Best Western. Donald Trump is just a few mediocre debate performances and a financial crisis away from becoming the most powerful man on Earth.

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75 years after Babi Yar massacre, Ukraine reexamines its dark history

In 1941 nearly 34,000 Jews were gunned down by Nazis and local police in a Kiev ravine. Today, the former Soviet republic is opening up about its role in the Holocaust

BABI YAR, Ukraine — Seventy-five years after Nazi forces and their local Ukrainian collaborators executed nearly 34,000 Jews in a Kiev ravine, Ukraine has begun to open up about its Holocaust-era history and reckon with the role it played in perpetrating one of the worst Nazi massacres of World War II.

The mass shooting, which took place on September 29-30, 1941, was unprecedented in its scope — even by Nazi standards — and has been a source of controversy in Ukraine over the participation of local collaborators.

Historians estimate that nearly one million Jews were killed in the territory that is now Ukraine during World War II. The Soviets for the most part ignored the explicitly genocidal nature of Germany’s killing of Jews during the Holocaust, and officially referred to Nazi victims as “Soviet citizens” or simply “civilians.”

menorahThe memorial site at Babi Yar was no exception. The site of perhaps the largest shooting massacre during the Holocaust was not officially recognized until 1976, when a memorial was erected at the site to honor the “citizens of Kiev” killed there. It wasn’t until 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, that a menorah-shaped monument to the Jewish victims of the Babi Yar massacres was allowed to be erected at the site that is now home to a city park.

But like many former Soviet nations seeking closer ties with the West, Ukraine in recent years has sought to commemorate its all but eradicated Jewish heritage as a way of documenting its own history, while also disproving Russian accusations of rising fascism.

This trend is particularly evident in the memorial of the September 1941 massacre at Babi Yar, where 33,771 Jews were gunned down by SS troops and Ukrainian police in the course of just two days.

Just 29 people managed to escape the execution by either by falling into the ravine before they were shot, lying on top of the thousands of corpses and later escaping, or wearing crosses to hide their true identity.

Victims of other massacres at Babi Yar during the course of the war included Soviet prisoners of war, communists, Ukrainian nationalists and Roma. Historians estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed at the ravine during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.

Last week, Ukraine embarked on a series of memorial events — including musical performances, lectures, ceremonial speeches and an official state ceremony — to commemorate the 1941 massacre. Jointly organized by the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter and the World Jewish Congress, the weeklong events showed just how far the country has come to terms with the darker chapters of its history.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held his own memorial in honor of the 75th anniversary, and hosted Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in an official state visit who traveled to Ukraine to attend some of the events.

The memorials, however, were not without controversy. In his address to the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday, Rivlin did not shy away from telling lawmakers in Kiev that “many of the crimes were committed by Ukrainians” during the Holocaust.

“The fighters of UPA were especially prominent,” Rivlin said of members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who initially collaborated with Hitler because they felt the Nazis could help them break free from the Soviet Union.

“They victimized the Jews, killed them, and in many cases reported them to the Nazis,” he said at a special parliamentary session dedicated to the anniversary of the Babi Yar killings.

rivlinRivlin’s remarks come at a sensitive time for the conflict-ridden state as its deadly dispute with Russia over the annexation of Crimea has sparked a rising tide of nationalism that has seen the veneration of some nationalist groups linked to war-time crimes against Jews.

Though Rivlin also noted the actions of the thousands of Ukrainian non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, his singling out of the nationalist group hit a nerve, and sparked a backlash from nationalist politicians and other key figures in Ukraine.

“What Rivlin did can unambiguously be interpreted as spitting in the face of Ukrainians” at a time when the people he accused of perpetrating crimes are no longer alive to defend themselves, said Bogdan Chervak, the first deputy chairman on the State Committee for Television and Radio of Ukraine.

The following day, Poroshenko tried to clear the air by stressing that “there have been those (in Ukraine) for which one felt shame. And this, too, cannot be erased from our collective memory.

“No Ukrainian has the right to forget this tragedy,” he said at Thursday’s official state ceremony attended by 1,600 dignitaries, at least half a dozen heads of state and religious leaders.

“The lesson of Babi Yar is a reminder of the terrible price of political and moral shortsightedness. This is the remembrance of the fact that condoning aggression only inflames his appetite,” Poroshenko said in a likely reference to its territorial dispute with Russia.

Thursday’s official state memorial included delegations from Israel, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the US, as well as representatives from the World Jewish Congress and leading members of Kiev’s clergy.

Rivlin was in Ukraine earlier in the week for the memorial, but cut his trip short due to the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres on Wednesday.

Never forget


In his address, European Council President Donald Tusk urged nations to “remember that it is our daily duty to cry out at the top of our lungs, and to act when innocent people are killed, when the strong attack the weak, when children become the target of warplanes and rockets.”

WJC chief Robert Singer also called for “all the countries involved, not just Ukraine, (to) take responsibility for their actions during that dark time.”

He pointed to the 500,000 civilians killed in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, and the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur as recent examples of the costly human price of bystanderism in the face of evil.

“When whole populations of Christians disappear in the Middle East, we don’t want to hear ‘Never Again’, because it is happening again,” Singer said. “ The world was silent 75 years ago. And it is silent now.”

The week of memorial events also saw the annual Andrei Sheptytsky medal awarded to Ukrainian writer and dissident Ivan Dziuba, who 50 years ago publicly denounced anti-Semitism and bravely called on the Soviet government to acknowledge the Jewish victims of the Babi Yar massacre.

The scope of the mass shootings that unfolded behind the Iron Curtain remains poorly understood by many Ukrainians, despite the fact that 2.7 million — nearly half of the Holocaust’s victims — perished there.

Some of the last week’s events throughout Ukraine aimed to tackle exactly that.

A UJE sponsored symposium on Babi Yar included special programming for Ukrainian young people, presentations by prominent Holocaust historians, including Timothy Snyder, film screenings and theater productions — all geared in part to address the most painful subject of local collaboration with the Nazi regime.

In a lecture contextualizing the massacre within the wider context of the war, Snyder urged Ukrainians to memorialize its largest mass grave by confronting their past.

“Without accepting responsibility, [Ukraine] risks erasing its own history,” he warned. “No nation can have a healthy grasp of it own history, without grappling with the darker chapters of its own past.”

In a long-overdue gesture, Poroshenko last week announced plans to build a multi-million dollar holocaust museum dedicated to the victims of the Babi Yar massacres in Kiev.

“The creation of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center is very significant for the whole of humanity,” the president said of the museum that is slated to open in 2021. “This tragedy wasn’t just national, but global, in scope. Such a tragedy must never happen again.”

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Auschwitz war criminals targeted with help of virtual reality

“The advantage the model offers is that I get a better overview of the camp and can recreate the perspective of a suspect.”

death-campGerman prosecutors and police have begun using virtual reality headsets in their quest to bring the last remaining Auschwitz war criminals to justice, AFP reported Sunday.

Using the blueprints of the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, Bavarian state crime office digital imaging expert Ralf Breker has created a virtual reality model of Auschwitz which allows judges and prosecutors to mimic moving around the camp as it stood during the Holocaust.

“It has often been the case that suspects say they worked at Auschwitz but didn’t really know what was going on,” Jens Rommel, head of the federal office investigating Nazi war crimes, told AFP.

“Legally, the question is about intent: must a suspect have known that people were being taken to the gas chambers or shot? This model is a very good and very modern tool for the investigation because it can help answer that question,” Rommel added.

“The advantage the model offers is that I get a better overview of the camp and can recreate the perspective of a suspect, for example in a watchtower,” Breker said.

According to Rommel, the model could help prosecute “a double-digit” number of suspects who are still alive.

In addition to blueprints from the Auschwitz archives, Breker used photographs from the period and visited Auschwitz himself in 2013 in order to construct the model.

German authorities have said that the model could potentially be lent to Yad Vashem after all of the criminal cases are closed, AFP reported.

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NY Met sued for return of $100-million Picasso sold by German Jew before WWII

Complaint says Paul Leffmann sold ‘The Actor’ under duress in 1938 to fund escape to Switzerland; museum argues it has ‘indisputable title’ to piece

picasso-theactor-e1475274025500-635x357The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan is facing a $100 million lawsuit for the return of a Pablo Picasso painting owned by a German Jewish industrialist living in Italy which he sold under duress in 1938 on the brink of World War II.

A great-grandniece of Paul Leffmann, who owned “The Actor,” from Picasso’s Rose Period in 1904 and 1905, filed the suit at the Manhattan Federal Court Friday.

Laurel Zuckerman, who handles the estate of Leffmann’s widow Alice, said he sold the painting for $12,000 to two art dealers in June 1938 while in Italy, where he and wife wife were living after fleeing Germany a year earlier. The money was to fund an escape to Switzerland from the Nazi-allied Mussolini regime.

The Leffmans settled in Zurich after the war and died in the city, the complaint noted.

The Met acquired “The Actor” in 1952 and said in a statement that it had an “indisputable title” to the painting and will defend its rights to it.

The suit claims that the Met failed for decades to investigate the origins of the piece, after in 2011 finally acknowledging Leffmann’s ownership and sale of the artwork.

Zuckerman had learned of the artwork in 2010 and demanded its return.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan is facing a $100 million lawsuit for the return of a Pablo Picasso painting owned by a German Jewish industrialist living in Italy which he sold under duress in 1938 on the brink of World War II.

A great-grandniece of Paul Leffmann, who owned “The Actor,” from Picasso’s Rose Period in 1904 and 1905, filed the suit at the Manhattan Federal Court Friday.

Laurel Zuckerman, who handles the estate of Leffmann’s widow Alice, said he sold the painting for $12,000 to two art dealers in June 1938 while in Italy, where he and wife wife were living after fleeing Germany a year earlier. The money was to fund an escape to Switzerland from the Nazi-allied Mussolini regime.

The Leffmans settled in Zurich after the war and died in the city, the complaint noted.

actorThe Met acquired “The Actor” in 1952 and said in a statement that it had an “indisputable title” to the painting and will defend its rights to it.

The suit claims that the Met failed for decades to investigate the origins of the piece, after in 2011 finally acknowledging Leffmann’s ownership and sale of the artwork.

Zuckerman had learned of the artwork in 2010 and demanded its return.

“We believe the painting is tainted by the history of the Holocaust, and the Leffmanns, given the circumstances under which they sold it, never lost title,” a lawyer for Zuckerman said in a statement to Reuters. The suit seeks the return of the painting or $100 million in compensation.

The Met said that while it “understands and sympathizes deeply with the losses that Paul and Alice Leffmann endured during the Nazi era, it firmly believes that this painting was not among them,” arguing that Nazi persecution was not a factor in the sale.

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Targeting students, Holocaust deniers up their game online

As disputers of the Shoah attract new adherents, historians such as ‘Denial’ protagonist Deborah Lipstadt warn against implementing European-style laws

german-memorialAfter every genocide, there comes a stage of denial. Embedded within genocidal programs enacted by some of last century’s most notorious regimes, the phenomenon of denial is not unique to the Holocaust, according to Gregory H. Stanton, a former US State Department official and founder of Genocide Watch.

“The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses,” wrote Stanton. “They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile,” he wrote.

This paradigm fits the actions of Nazi Germany, as well as regimes led by — for instance — Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and the Khmer Rouge, claimed Stanton, who outlined a ten-stage timeline of genocide that ends in denial. Far from being innocuous, denying that a genocide took place is “among the surest indicators of future genocidal massacres,” according to Stanton.

Research conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) suggests that as many as one-fifth of Americans possess “some indifference toward the remembrance of the Holocaust and negative attitudes toward Jews in relation to the Holocaust.” In addition to claiming that “knowledge of the Holocaust in the US is quite low relative to European countries,” the museum regularly warns about the explosive growth of Shoah denial on the Internet.

corpses-burnedThe seeds of denial were sown by the Nazis early on, most notably with “Special Action 1005.” Starting in early 1942, prisoners dug up and incinerated the corpses of three-million Jews murdered by SS-Einsatzgruppen squads or in death camps. At Treblinka, Babi Yar, and elsewhere, techniques were developed to destroy as many corpses as quickly as possible.

During an October 1943 speech given to SS generals in Poland, SS chief Heinrich Himmler referred to “the extermination of the Jewish people” and the need for continued silence. Similar to the murderous purge of Hitler’s political enemies in 1934, the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to the Jewish question was to be an unwritten page of German history, intoned Himmler.

‘Freedom for offensive people to be offensive’


According to Holocaust deniers, the Nazis had no formal policy to eliminate Europe’s Jews, and the number of Jews who died during the war is an order of magnitude lower than six million. As a specific point of contention, deniers claim that gassing installations were not used to mass-murder Jews.
While some historians choose to ignore these claims, others refute the deniers’ assertions head-on. A third group fights fire with fire and focuses on delegitimizing the deniers and their methods, including by shedding light on their motivations.

In the new film “Denial,” the delegitimization approach is used by historian Deborah Lipstadt and her legal team in a British court. Following Lipstadt’s labeling of historian David Irving as a falsifier of history in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust,” Irving brought a libel suit against Lipstadt and her publisher. As portrayed in the film, the defense team’s strategy was to expose Irving’s bigotry, bias, and falsifications of evidence.

“We need not waste time or effort answering the deniers’ contentions,” Lipstadt has said. “Their commitment is to an ideology and their ‘findings’ are shaped to support it.”

Denying the Holocaust is illegal in many European countries and Israel. In Hungary, for instance, a court blocked almost two-dozen Holocaust denial websites this month. More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered with collaboration from the government and many Hungarians, yet Holocaust denial is rampant in that country, home to 50,000 Jews today.

‘I am convinced that freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive’

In the US, more than a few academic institutions harbor Holocaust deniers who teach students their beliefs. Some of these faculty members are monitored by anti-hate groups seeking to combat Holocaust denial on campus. With barely half of the world’s population having heard of the Nazis’ genocide of European Jewry, these “academic” deniers have a built-in audience, including among international students.

Although Holocaust denial might be expanding in cyberspace and some far-left corners of academia, most historians and Jewish leaders are against the passage of European-style laws against genocide denial.

“I am convinced that freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive,” said Lipstadt during an Oxford Union Society debate in January.

“We who are offended by [Holocaust deniers], must accept that, as a cost of living in a free society,” said Lipstadt, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta.

‘How much is false about the Holocaust?’


With no laws against Holocaust denial to impede them, Americans are free to say the Holocaust did not occur in any forum they choose.

A prominent early Holocaust denier was the founder of the America First Party, Gerald L.K. Smith. In his “Cross and Flag” magazine, the one-time presidential candidate claimed that six million Shoah victims actually immigrated to the US, and were not killed in Europe. He frequently railed against Jews and Israel, deploying anti-Semitic trope after trope.

“If the reader wants to know what the organized Jew in power would do to the United States if he came to absolute control, all he needs to do is to study the morality of the Zionist Jew in the Middle East in which these Christ-hating tyrants have violated all the rules of decency, all established civilized precedent, and all ethics having to do with the relationship of one man to another,” wrote Smith in 1959.

A seminal moment for Holocaust denial came in 1976, when a Northwestern University electrical engineering professor named Arthur R. Butz published a book calling the Shoah “the hoax of the century.” Cloaked in the illusion of academic rigor, the book encouraged deniers to publish materials and organize groups like the California-based Institute for Historical Review, a leading convener of deniers for decades.

Since 1987, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust has paid for denial ads in campus newspapers, including at Harvard University. Placed by committee head Bradley R. Smith, these “How much is false about the Holocaust?” ads have been rejected by some newspapers, but the committee has had success placing them online.

The most recognizable American Holocaust denier might be white supremacist David Duke, who sold denial literature out of his legislative office in Louisiana. Duke’s anti-Semitism has long garnered headlines, including this summer, when the Ku Klux Klan icon endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.

Duke’s statements about Jews, blacks and other minorities are intended to dehumanize those groups. This “dehumanization” stage is required for genocide to take place, according to Stanton’s ten-stage timeline. However, claimed the Genocide Watch founder, in democratic societies where free speech is permitted — even dehumanizing hate speech — a march toward genocide is unlikely to occur.

“In combating dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech,” wrote Stanton. “Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies.

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Mournful Ukraine marks 75 years since Babi Yar massacre

President tells ceremony in Kiev that country cannot forget 1941 slaying of 34,000 Jews by Nazis, aided by locals, at edge of ravin

ukrain-presKIEV — Ukraine on Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of the single largest single mass shooting by Nazi forces during the Holocaust in a somber ceremony attended by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other world leaders.

The massacre of nearly 34,000 Jews on September 29-30, 1941 in Kiev’s Babi Yar ravine was unprecedented in its scope — even for Nazi Germany’s notoriously brutal genocide of European Jewry — and has been a source of controversy over the participation of local Ukrainian collaborators in the mass killing.

At the ceremony, Poroshenko addressed the sensitive issue, saying “there have been those [in Ukraine] for which one felt shame. And this, too, cannot be erased from our collective memory.

“No Ukrainian has the right to forget this tragedy,” he said.

Earlier, Poroshenko tweeted that “we Ukrainians very well understand the grief of the Jews and take it as our own.”

German President Joachim Gauck told the thousands gathered at the site on Thursday evening that the Nazis “even used nationalist Ukrainians as assistant police.”

“But we also admit that not only special fences [of death camps], but ordinary Wehrmacht [soldiers] were involved in these crimes,” Gauck said. “Germans have to approach the Babi Yar massacres with unspeakable guilt.”

In his address, World Jewish Congress chief Robert Singer also urged for “all the countries involved, not just Ukraine, (to) take responsibility for their actions during that dark time.”

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin was in Ukraine earlier in the week to attend a number of memorial events, but cut short his visit to attend the funeral of his predecessor Shimon Peres. Poroshenko himself will travel to Israel to attend Friday’s funeral of Peres.

Rivlin’s ‘undiplomatic’ comments


Rivlin, before leaving Ukraine, drew criticism for making “undiplomatic” comments about Ukrainians’ role in the massacre.

Rivlin on Tuesday told lawmakers in Kiev that “many of the crimes were committed by Ukrainians” during the Holocaust. “They victimized the Jews, killed them, and in many cases reported them to the Nazis,” he said at the Ukrainian parliament.

In September 1941, as Hitler’s forces advanced toward Moscow on the eastern front, 33,771 Jews were gunned down over the course of just two days. Along with locally recruited Ukrainian policemen, SS troops brought Jewish men, women and children to the Babi Yar ravine where they forced to strip naked and lined up at the edge of the ravine and shot in the back.

Just 29 people managed to escape the execution by either falling into the mass grave before being shot or by wearing crosses to hide their identities.

“We heard the shooting behind us, but (my) granny — she kept holding me — did not look back and kept running until she fell exhausted among the graves in a nearby cemetery,” said Raisa Maistrenko, the last survivor of the tragedy still alive in Kiev.

Rivlin’s statement caused an uproar among nationalist politicians and other key figures in Ukraine.

“What Rivlin did can unambiguously be interpreted as spitting in the face of Ukrainians” at a time when the people he accused of perpetrating crimes are no longer alive to defend themselves, said Bogdan Chervak, the first deputy chairman on the State Committee for Television and Radio of Ukraine.

Rivlin also noted the actions of Ukrainian non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Israel’s Holocaust commemoration authority, Yad Vashem, has awarded 2,544 Ukrainians with the title of Righteous among the Nations for such actions. Ukraine has the fourth largest number of righteous gentiles, as they are called, after Poland, the Netherlands and France.

Poroshenko on Friday called on the international community to financially support the creation of the Holocaust memorial museum in Babi Yar.

“I urge the Ukrainian and world community to join this initiative,” he said during the presentation of the film about the massacre.

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Holocaust survivor, 90, fights off purse snatcher

Gina Zuckerman, attacked near Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, says she would have shared the $10 she had in cash, if only the robber had asked

gina-zuckerman-635x357JTA – Don’t mess with this bubbe. Gina Zuckerman, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland, was pushing her shopping cart near New York’s Washington Square Park on Tuesday when she was jumped by a large woman. The attacker, who was trying to steal her purse, dug her nails deeply into Zuckerman’s arm, causing her to bleed and bruising her.

The assailant tried to convince passers-by that she was Zuckerman’s aide, and the nonagenarian was eventually thrown to the ground, according to reports in DNAinfo and The New York Post.

But Zuckerman didn’t give in. She escaped — purse and all.

“I wouldn’t give it to her. I fought her off. I was stronger than her,” she told the Post. “No woman is going to attack me!”

She only had $10 in her purse and said she would have given the woman five of them if she “needed it badly.”

Of course, Zuckerman has been tough for a long time. After the Nazis invaded her home country in 1939, she spent six years in a German labor camp. She has lived in New York for the past 60 years, currently in a studio apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood. She worked in the advertising industry for 28 years as a Girl Friday, as she called it.

“In those days, it was called a Girl Friday — a girl who had to have answers to everything, know everything,” she told DNAinfo.

At the hospital, Zuckerman needed five stitches and a tetanus shot.

“I have a pacemaker!” she added. “Can you imagine, I didn’t faint!”

Her secret tip for staying strong? Dancing and gymnastics, which she used to practice back in the day.

“I’m a fighter,” she said.

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Kiev’s last survivor of Nazi ‘path to death’ revisits Babi Yar 75 years on

Ahead of official memorials commemorating the murder of 34,00 Jews, Raisa Maistrenko recalls her slain family and her non-Jewish grandmother’s lifesaving bravery

 KIEV, Ukraine (AFP) — “We were gathered here, and sent along ‘the path to death,’” says Raisa Maistrenko, pointing to a Kiev ravine that 75 years ago witnessed one of the worst atrocities of World War II.

Maistrenko was only three when the Nazis, helped by local collaborators, slaughtered 34,000 Jews — mostly elderly, women and children — on September 29-30, 1941, as Hitler’s forces advanced toward Moscow on the eastern front.

Maistrenko is the Ukrainian capital’s last survivor of the 29 people who managed to escape execution, either by falling into the ravine before they were shot in the back, to lie on top of thousands of corpses and later flee, or wearing crosses to hide their true religion.

The 78-year-old’s 18 relatives never returned from Babi Yar — a site that unnervingly stands next to Kiev’s main TV tower and is rarely mentioned by modern locals.

Cart in hand


After entering Kiev, Nazi troops told the nearly 200,000 Jews who made up a quarter of the city’s population to pack up their documents, money and warm clothes and go to the ravine or face death.

“All the Jews decided to go because they thought they would be evacuated by train as the railway station was nearby. Nobody could possibly assume there would be a mass execution,” Maistrenko says in slow, hushed tones.

Her father had been drafted into the Soviet army and she lived with her mother in her grandparents’ apartment.

Her grandfather Meer decided that the family should follow the Nazis’ orders and led the death march to Babi Yar with his old cart packed with belongings in hand.

Maistrenko’s non-Jewish grandmother Tanya volunteered to accompany her granddaughter — and eventually saved her life.

Noise and horrible screams could be heard as the mournful procession approached the grave site that was tightly-cordoned by Nazi soldiers — after getting in, there was no way out.

Perhaps already knowing their fate in advance, “my mom and her sister still kept their mother going because she had sore legs,” Maistrenko says.

“But my granny, she held me firmly in her arms and did not let go,” Maistrenko recalled next to the Babi Yar Menorah, a sacred Jewish candelabrum that was installed at the site of executions.

‘Don’t look back’


“At some point, we found ourselves separated from the rest of the family. The troops were beating us with batons to drive us to the place where the shots were being fired,” Maistrenko says, her eyes welling with tears.

Furious and struck with horror, grandmother Tanya began shouting “I am Russian!” and clinging Maistrenko with both hands.

“A soldier tried to hit me with a rifle butt, but my granny shielded me with her shoulder and fell to the ground together with me,” Maistrenko recalls.

The grandmother then stood up, kept crossing herself and shouting “I am Russian” while pushing through the flood of future victims and the armed Nazis troops and Ukrainian auxiliaries.

“We heard the shooting behind us, but granny — she kept holding me — did not look back and kept running until she fell exhausted among the graves in a nearby cemetery.”

Maistrenko said they hid there until sunset before finding their way back home under the cover of darkness.

There, to their relief and eventual survival, no one reported them to the Nazis.

“There were two big houses in our courtyard filled with multi-national families, but all were very friendly to each other,” Maistrenko said.

“When the raids occurred, we took shelter in the basement,” she added, until the Soviet army retook Kiev in November 1943.

As part of events marking 75 years since the mass murders, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will meet his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at the administration building Tuesday, ahead of an official memorial at the site Thursday.

“Over this visit we will commemorate the past, but we will look to the future,” Rivlin said before departing on Monday.

Others attending will include the presidents of Germany, Hungary and the European Union’s Donald Tusk, as well as a 100-strong delegation from the World Jewish Congress in New York.

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