Category Archive: Holocaust Denial

Indonesian museum removes Nazi-themed exhibit after outrage

Display featured a life size wax sculpture of Hitler standing in front of a huge photo of the gates of Auschwitz

This photograph taken on November 10, 2017 shows an Indonesian family preparing to take a photograph with a life-size wax sculpture of Adolf Hitler at a museum in Yogyakarta (AFP / HENRYANTO)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian museum that allowed visitors to take selfies with a life-size wax sculpture of Hitler against a backdrop of Auschwitz concentration camp has removed the exhibit following international outrage, the manager said Saturday.

De ARCA Statue Art Museum in the Javanese city of Jogjakarta drew swift condemnation from rights groups after details of the controversial display were published in foreign media.

The exhibit features a sure-footed Hitler standing in front of a huge photo of the gates of Auschwitz — the largest Nazi concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people were killed.

The museum’s operations manager, Jamie Misbah, said the the wax sculpture had been removed after the building was alerted to criticism from prominent Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We don’t want to attract outrage,” Misbah told AFP.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photo, a visitor uses her mobile phone to take a photo of the wax figure of Adolf Hitler displayed against the backdrop of an image of Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau at De Mata Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

“Our purpose to display the Hitler figure in the museum is to educate.”

The Hitler sculpture is one of about 80 figures, including world leaders and celebrities, at the wax and visual effects center.

The Nazi-themed exhibit was a popular attraction for visitors to take selfies, and photos circulating on social media show customers — including children — posing with Hitler and in some cases using the Nazi salute.

Misbah said he thought it was “normal” for visitors to take photos in front of displays, but said the museum respected the exhibit had upset people from around the world.

Historians have blamed poor schooling for the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the Holocaust in Indonesia, which is home to the world’s biggest Muslim population and a small number of Jews.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photo, a visitor walks past the wax figure of Adolf Hitler displayed against the backdrop of an image of Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau next to Star Wars character Darth Vader, right, at De Mata Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

In January, a controversial Nazi-themed cafe in the western Javanese city of Bandung closed.

The venue, which featured swastika-bearing walls and photos of Hitler, sparked global uproar when reports about the unusual venue surfaced several years ago.



After a wave of criticism, including from the head of the Munich Jewish community, the “documenta 14” cultural center in the German city of Kassel canceled on Tuesday a performance exhibition likening the plight of refugees making their way to Europe by sea to Auschwitz.

In a statement on the exhibit titled “Auschwitz on the Beach,” the documenta 14 center wrote that in “reaction to the number of complaints and accusations which we received over the last weeks, we have decided to cancel the planned performance from Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. We respect those who feel attacked by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s poem. We do not want to add pain to their sorrow.”

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “It is a very problematic tendency to compare all sorts of tragedies and plights of different people to Auschwitz. And very rarely are these comparisons worthy and accurate. Despite whatever sympathy we feel for the plight of refugees, their plight is not reminiscent of the plight of the Jews ordered to death camps and should not be compared.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of Munich’s Jewish community, said on Friday about the exhibit: “What is planned here is a grotesque production.” While it is important to highlight the fate of refugees and the partial failure of the EU and international community to address the current crisis, it is “unacceptable and intolerable” to use the interests of refugees to “relativize the Holocaust,” she said.

The installation was slated to run in Kassel – with a population of nearly 198,000 in the state of Hesse – beginning on Thursday for three days.

The documenta 14 center claims it is the world’s largest exhibitor of modern art, with 160 artists from across the globe currently represented there.

According to the “Auschwitz on the Beach” production text, the author wrote, “The Europeans build on their territory concentration camps and pay their gauleiter [head of a district annexed by Nazi Germany] in Turkey, Libya and Egypt to carry out the dirty work along the coast of the Mediterranean where salt water has replaced Zyklon B.”

Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust in hiding in Bavaria, termed the text “obscene” and “absolutely blind to history.”

Berardi, who was born in Bologna in 1949, is an Italian Marxist. His poem, a soundtrack and pictures make up the “Auschwitz on the Beach” installation.

Kassel Mayor Christian Geselle told the HNA news outlet on Monday the exhibit is “an outrageous provocation.”

The city’s cultural official Boris Rhein told news outlet the same day: “Freedom of art is highly valued,” but slammed comparisons between the Shoah and the refugee crisis, saying “the crimes of the Nazis were unique.”

Martin Sehmisch, the head of an organization fighting Antisemitism (Informationsstelle Antisemitismus Kassel) in the city, called the announcement of the installation a “statement of political and moral bankruptcy from those in charge” at documenta 14.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Under Trump, a new job for Holocaust scholars

For those of us who teach and research the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, the Trump administration’s refusal to mention Jews in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been both horrifying and confusing. It has been horrifying because the failure to acknowledge that Jews were the overwhelming victims of Germany’s genocidal campaign is unquestionably a form of Holocaust denial. It has been confusing because we haven’t been able to understand why the administration would choose to engage in Holocaust denial nor begin to grasp the implications for the American Jewish community.

There had been warning signs throughout the 2016 campaign. In three years of teaching a course on America and the Holocaust at Northeastern University in Boston, I have always treated American anti-Semitism as mostly a remnant of a darker time in American history that only manifested itself now on the extreme left or the extreme right of American politics. As I taught the course this fall, however, I had to confront Facebook memes depicting Trump critics in concentration camp uniforms behind Auschwitz’ gates and Stars of David superimposed on Hillary Clinton’s face in front of piles of money. I had to read the stories of Jewish journalists, who received a steady stream of vicious anti-Semitic messages delivered to their email inboxes, Twitter accounts, and even front steps.

Still, I assumed that the problem was that Trump and his minions weren’t doing enough to rein in their more vociferous supporters. Even after Trump chose Steve Bannon, the executive chair of the far right and white supremacist affiliated site, Breitbart News, to run his campaign, I still assumed that Holocaust denial and the anti-Semitism inevitably associated with it, weren’t important to Trump.

After all, he has a Jewish son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren.

Then came the Holocaust statement that didn’t mention Jews.

As Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust and several other important books on the Holocaust, recounted in an article in The Atlantic, she initially assumed the failure to mention Jews was a rookie mistake, an oversight during the chaotic first days of a new administration. It quickly became apparent that this was no mistake. Trump’s key spokespeople defended the omission, explaining that Trump officials deliberated overlooked Jews because “We are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Of course no one denies that other groups suffered horribly at the hands of Nazi Germany but as Elie Wiesel famously stated, ‘Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

The White House press secretary attacked those who criticized the statement as “ridiculous,” “pathetic,” and “nitpicking,” and explained how much “the president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.” Politico recently reported that the State Department had drafted a statement mentioning Jewish victims, similar to ones issued by Presidents Bush and Obama, but that the Trump White House refused to use it. The administration also seemed to defend that statement by releasing the nugget that it had been written by a Jewish advisor.

In the days following the offensive statement, those who study the Holocaust responded quickly and fiercely. Led by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, they asserted the undeniable historical record of Jewish targeting and Jewish suffering, and condemned those who tried to obfuscate it. Indeed, Holocaust scholars have done a good job tackling what was horrifying in what Trump said.

But we haven’t faced what was confusing. Why would the President of the United States in a public statement on a most solemn of days choose to identify with Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism? What was he, and frankly Bannon, trying to say and to whom? Were they speaking to the white supremacists and anti-Semites among Trump’s followers who clearly got the message? Was it just another example of this administration’s intent to defy all societal norms, even seemingly the most sensitive and nearly universal ones surrounding Holocaust remembrance? Did they relish the fact that they could get away with it? Was it a sinister threat aimed at liberal Jews who retain powerful positions, particularly in the media and entertainment industry? Did it reflect the administration’s adoption of the Russian perspective on this as on so many things, leading it to parrot the old Soviet-line that many people were “innocent victims” of the Nazis? Was it a signal to everyone in society that nothing, not even the murder of six million people, is sacred?

I don’t know the answer or answers. But those of us who research and teach this most important and most profound of topics should not just condemn the deeply demoralizing statement but also begin to probe its meaning and ramifications. That means we need to do what makes us profoundly uncomfortable — establish clearly and publicly the connections between the history we understand and the reality we are experiencing. Of course, we must do it with the scholar’s mindset, pointing out the differences as well as the similarities, rejecting overstatement and emotionalism. We also need to encourage the journalism that seeks to reveal the administration’s motivation and operation and then be willing to analyze the disclosures through our unique lens. We need to jump into the public arena in a way we never have before. Right now that may be the most important work as scholars, as Jews, as citizens, that we can possibly do.


Minimizing the Holocaust at the “New Yorker”

In a brief review of the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy’s recent The Genius of Judaism, an unnamed author at the New Yorker points to the “real contradiction” between Lévy’s insistence that the Holocaust was a “crime without parallel” and his objection to the recent fad of “competitive victimhood.” James Kirchick assails the shoddy and “sinister” thinking behind this comment:

The New Yorker has it backwards. The competition for victimhood wasn’t started by Jews but in reaction to them. The issue is not minimizing other historical tragedies in relation to the Holocaust but minimizing the Holocaust in relation to other historical tragedies. This is not just the realm of Holocaust deniers, but increasingly of progressives who, whether through conscious malice or sheer naiveté, speak of the Holocaust (when they’re not speaking of “holocausts”) as but one unfortunate episode among many, not a world-historical crime that singled out Jews first and foremost. . . .

If those like the New Yorker’s anonymous book critic believe that Lévy is engaging in unseemly “competitive victimhood” simply by claiming that the Holocaust, in both nature and degree, was worse than any other crime in human history, that’s because [the critic] falsely interprets such claims as entries into a victim competition—when, in fact, it is those challenging the singularity of the Holocaust who are responsible for creating this obscene contest. . . .

The review’s sinister element comes in its accusation that Jews like Lévy are responsible for corrupting the commemoration of history and not, say, the Muslim propagandists who frequently invoke the Holocaust to equate Israelis with Nazis or the British student activists who voted against recognizing Holocaust Remembrance Day because doing so “prioritizes some lives over others.” As the British sociologist David Hirsch observes, “When people get competitive about the Holocaust, they do it by accusing the Jews of being competitive.” Not even in talking about something so grave as the Holocaust can the Jews avoid being pushy, it seems.


White House defends omission of Jews from Holocaust statement

The omission drew ire from American Jewish groups.

ShowImageThe Trump administration defended its decision to omit any mention of Jews or antisemitism from its statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, noting that Jews were not the only victims of Nazi slaughter.

“Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hope Hicks, a communications aide for the president, said in a comment to CNN. In his statement, Donald Trump vowed to stand up against the forces of evil as president.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the US president said in the statement.

“It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

The omission drew ire from the Anti-Defamation League, whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that it was “Puzzling and troubling @WhiteHouse #Holocaust- MemorialDaystmt has no mention of Jews. GOP and Dem. presidents have done so in the past.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, however, criticized that statement, saying “It does no honor to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust to play politics with their memory.”

Lauder said that any “fair reading” of the White House statement would find that it “appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history.

“There are enough real antisemitism and true threats facing the Jewish people today. Our community gains nothing if we reach a point where manufactured outrages reduce public sensitivity to the real dangers we confront,” Lauder said.

In a interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that the Trump administration “obviously” recognizes and abhors what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

But “I don’t regret the words” used in the statement, Priebus added.

Tim Kaine, a Democratic senator from Virginia and former vice presidential running mate to Hillary Clinton, said it was “not a coincidence” that Trump’s aides dabbled in “Holocaust denial” on the same day that it issued a “religious test” at America’s borders.

“All of these things are happening together,” Kaine said. “When you have the chief political adviser in the White House, Steve Bannon, who is connected with a news organization that traffics in white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and they put out a Holocaust statement that omits any mention of Jews.”


New online generation takes up Holocaust denial

Conspiracy theorists are flocking to outlandish websites, warns lecturer

3000A new generation of Holocaust deniers is emerging through a clutch of popular “gateway” conspiracy theories, according to one of the UK’s leading experts on the subject.

As Denial, a film about the disgraced historian and notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, hits cinemas later this month, attention is focusing on the ageing generation of deniers who emerged with Irving at its vanguard and are now dying out. But it appears that Holocaust denial has found new momentum in the digital age.

The UK’s foremost academic on the subject claims a new internet-based generation is embracing denial, having been drawn to it out of antisemitism or a belief in conspiracy theories.

Dr Nicholas Terry, a history lecturer at Exeter University, estimates that there are now thousands of “low-commitment” Holocaust deniers online. Rather than recruiting from established far-right denial forums, they are attracting followers drawn to outlandish theories such as those surrounding the assassination of JFK, 9/11, the moon landing and the Sandy Hook school massacre.

“In one sense, the internet means Holocaust deniers have got a lot of competition,” Terry said. “On the other, in this more free-form world, deniers have been able to attract a certain minority from the world of conspiracy theories. There’s a sense of disorientation taking place when it comes to where people are getting their news from.

“This kind of free-for-all on the internet creates a milieu that has seen people who would normally identify along the left of the political spectrum gravitate towards ideas that are more at home on the far right.”

The release of Denial – which centres on the libel trial brought by Irving against the Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt – follows the controversy that erupted when it emerged Google’s algorithms were recommending antisemitic, white nationalist and Holocaust denier websites for searches of the question: “Did the Holocaust happen?” The film has already been attacked by the new generation of deniers on YouTube, Reddit and Twitter.

Terry, who has monitored Holocaust denial online for 10 years and is co-editing a forthcoming book, Holocaust and Genocide Denial: A Contextual Perspective, has personal experience of their tactics, having been trolled online. He founded the anti-denial blog, Holocaust Controversies, to “debunk” their claims.

He said that many claiming that the Holocaust did not happen were often less intellectual than the earlier generation of deniers. They were an “international crowd – lots of Americans, British, Scandinavians, and west Europeans, as well as some Brits” – who made little attempt to justify their views with facts, resulting in what Terry termed a “Twitterification” of denial.

Several of the new generation of deniers have become well known online. Eva Lion, a Canadian nationalist on the extreme right, was banned from YouTube having amassed tens of thousands of followers. Reality-TV star Tila Tequila was thrown off Celebrity Big Brother after it emerged she had posted messages defending Hitler, as well as antisemitic and white nationalist comments.

While the majority of new deniers are young and hail largely from the “alt-right”, a significant number are middle-aged or older, Terry said.

“What I’ve observed in the last 10 years is that, while the majority of deniers one encounters are still rightwing and Nazis, they are always peppered with a number of unaffiliated individuals who would consider themselves to be liberal or leftwing and have arrived at their position having been anti-Zionist or anti-Israel.”

Their attraction to Holocaust denial, Terry said, had coincided with an upsurge in antisemitism on the internet. Many drawn to such beliefs, he suggested, were vulnerable to lies being peddled as truth.

“They are people who have reached their 40s or 50s and have embraced the internet as it has grown and new platforms have come along. They have moved away from quality newspaper-reading mentality; maybe they’re professionals, some may have degrees, but they are not skilled in assessing sources in history. When you interact with them, you realise that they have no clue as to how we know anything about the past, about how history works, what information is available. They are willing to go along with certain ideas that are summarised for them and simplified in web articles or videos.”

He added: “Lipstadt said that arguing with a denier was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. I would say it’s now like trying to nail smoke to a wall. There’s almost no substance.”


French candidate under fire for Holocaust comparison

Vincent Peillon, running in Socialist Party primaries ahead of elections, said Nazi persecution of Jews similar to situation of French Muslims today

Vincent_Peillon_Mutualité_11102-e1483584907819-635x357French Jews accused a left-wing presidential candidate of encouraging Holocaust denial following his comparison of the Nazi persecution of Jews to the situation of French Muslims today.

Vincent Peillon, who is running in the Socialist Party primaries ahead of the elections this year, made the analogy Tuesday during an interview aired by the France 2 television channel.

Peillon, a former education minister who has Jewish origins, was commenting on a question about France’s strict separation between state and religion, referred to in France as “laicite.”

“If some want to use laicite, as has been done in the past, against certain populations … Forty years ago it was the Jews who put on yellow stars. Today, some of our Muslim countrymen are often portrayed as radical Islamists. It is intolerable.”

In a statement Wednesday, CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, accused Peillon of making “statements that only serve those trying to rewrite history.”

Peillon neither retracted his remark nor apologized in a statement published Wednesday on his website, but said he would wanted to elaborate on what he meant in light of the controversy it provoked and to “refine my view, which may have been misrepresented because of brevity.”

Peillon wrote that he “clearly did not want to say that laicite was the origin of anti-Semitism of Vichy France,” which was the part of the country run by a pro-Nazi collaborationist government. He also wrote that “what the Jews experienced under Vichy should not be banalized in any way” and that he was committed to fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

“I wanted to denounce the strategy of the far right, which always used the words of the French Republic or social issues to turn them against the population. It is doing so today with laicite against the Muslims,” Peillon wrote.

But in its statement condemning Peillon’s remark, CRIF wrote that the history concerning the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews from France to concentration camps and death and the looting of their property, “as well as discriminatory laws such as the one about wearing yellow stars, should not be instrumentalized to create a false equivalence of suffering.”

CRIF “demands a clarification and immediate correction on the part of Vincent Peillon,” it said.

Peillon, a lawmaker in the European Parliament, announced his candidacy in December to succeed President Francois Hollande as party leader and run as its candidate in April. He was appointed education minister in 2012 and served for two years.

In the Socialist primaries, Peillon will face Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has strong support in the Jewish community. Peillon’s mother, Françoise Blum, is Jewish.

Peillon, who rarely talks about his Jewish roots publicly, signed a petition by the left-wing Jcall group, the European counterpart to J Street, supporting Palestinian statehood.

In 2009, he celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son Elie at a Paris synagogue. He has another son, Isaac. Peillon is married to Nathalie Bensahel, a journalist who has written about France’s anti-Semitism problem.

Peillon opposed the ban last summer on women wearing the burkini, the full-body swimsuit favored by some Muslims, on public beaches. Valls supported the ban, citing what he said was its use by radical Muslims to oppress women.


Holocaust Denial on Trial


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.


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.