I hate to be so topical, but sometimes -- well, you know the feeling.
In this case, "someone" is Jewish American political commentator Dennis Prager and his recent article "If Holocaust Deniers Don't Go to Hell, There Is No God," which I recommend reading in full simply because it must be seen to be believed.
But first, lest I run afoul of the hate police, let me state very clearly at the outset that this post is not about "whether the Holocaust really happened" -- that is, about the extent to which the various mandatory beliefs about the Holocaust are historically true. It is about whether dissent from those beliefs is morally evil. Obviously, no meaningful discussion of the historical facts of the matter is possible so long as that position is maintained.
Mr. Prager throws down the gauntlet right at the start. Questioning the Holocaust isn't just "morally wrong" the way, say, cheating on your taxes is morally wrong; it's evil, like Jeffrey Dahmer level evil. In fact, denying the Holocaust may even be more evil than carrying out the Holocaust.
It is a central tenet of moral theology that there are gradations of sin. To argue that God views stealing a towel from a hotel and raping a child as moral equivalents renders God a moral fool. . . . In the pantheon of evils, among the worst is Holocaust denial.
The clear implication is that questioning the Holocaust is roughly as bad as forcibly sodomizing a child, and probably worst. Deniers don't just go to hell, they go to the tenth circle.
That's a very bold thesis! Now let's see how he backs it up.
Given the murder of 6 million Jews and the unspeakable amount of suffering they and Jewish survivors underwent at the hands of the Nazis, it takes a particularly vile individual to say this never happened. Think of how we would regard anyone who denied thousands of Americans were murdered on 9/11.
We would regard these hypothetical people who deny 9/11 as delusional, because the concrete evidence that it did happen is so obvious and overwhelming. I mean, what are these imaginary "9/11 deniers" going to say? That the Twin Towers are still standing? That they never existed at all? That they were empty when they came down? I guess they could in theory deny "thousands of Americans were murdered" by disputing the specific death toll -- saying, for example, that there were only a few hundred people in the building at the time. (People who say significantly fewer that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust are considered to be "deniers," after all.) Okay, that would be an eccentric view, and one that I would want to see evidence for, but I wouldn't consider it to be a moral outrage. I would never cross my mind to say that anyone proposing such a revisionist view was the moral equivalent of Joseph Rosenbaum.
I don't think this little thought experiment leads us where Mr. Prager wants it to.
Mr. Prager goes on for a few paragraphs about how the Holocaust very definitely happened, calling it possibly the most documented event in all history (!), but this is not relevant to our present purpose, which is not to assess the evidence for various historical claims, but to address the claim that to dispute those claims is wicked. He eventually circles back to this point:
Yet, some people, including an American named Nick Fuentes, aggressively deny the Holocaust, asserting that a few hundred thousand Jews, not millions, were killed. It is important to understand why this is evil.
Yes, this is what we want to know: Why is it evil? Mr. Prager gives three reasons.
First, it is a Big Lie. Big Lies inevitably lead to violence and can even destroy civilizations.
If the Holocaust never happened, why would Germany maintain that it did?
That's all he has to say about the first point, and the second paragraph (another argument that the Holocaust did in fact happen) is irrelevant, so it's not entirely clear what he's getting at. Lying is morally wrong, obviously, but the expression of an incorrect belief is not a lie. It is only a lie if you assert something which you know or believe to be untrue, and it is not at all clear that this is the case with Holocaust deniers. Do all or most of them secretly believe the official version of events but lie and say they disbelieve them? Given the enormous social stigma -- and, in some countries, political persecution -- Holocaust denial brings upon the denier, it is hard to see what could motivate anyone to pretend to doubt the Holocaust.
In capitalizing Big Lie, Mr. Prager is presumably alluding to Mein Kampf, where Hitler accused the Jews and Marxists of taking advantage of the fact that the masses
more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
Hitler's point is that a "big lie" -- a gross inversion of the truth -- is effective because it lies outside people's normal experience and is thus difficult for them to process. Even after it has been proven false, people are left with a lingering feeling that, where there had been so much smoke, there must after all have been some fire. Thats it -- it's just a particularly effective lying technique. I'm not sure where Mr. Prager gets the idea that big lies "inevitably lead to violence," and it is hard to think offhand of any civilization that was destroyed by such a lie -- the lie that the conquistadors were the returning gods of the natives, perhaps?
Anyway, this argument -- "Your position is false. Therefore you're lying. Therefore you're evil." -- could be applied to any disagreement, and people have disagreed about much "bigger" things than the details of 20th-century European history.
Moving on to the second reason:
Second, Holocaust denial is not only a Big Lie; it is pure Jew-hatred, i.e., antisemitism. The proof that it emanates from antisemitism is that no other 20th-century genocide is denied (with the exception of the Turkish government's denial of the Turks' mass murder of Armenians during World War I). No one denies Stalin's mass murder of tens of millions of Soviet citizens in the Gulag Archipelago or his deliberate starvation of about five million Ukrainians (the Holodomor); or the Cambodian communists' murder of about one in every four Cambodians; or Mao's killing of about 60 million Chinese. The only genocide-denial is the genocide of the Jews.
Why is it antisemitism? What's the logical connection between "Far fewer that six million Jews died under the Nazis" and "I hate Jews"?
Mr. Prager's "proof" is that people only deny the genocide of the Jews (and Armenians), not those of other ethnic groups in the same time period. I think this is probably factually false, since Wikipedia has a whole article on "Holodomor denial," and the last of Gregory Stanton's ten stages of genocide -- a very mainstream model supposed to be of general applicability -- is "denial." If we branch out beyond the 20th century, the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs (strenuously denied by China) and the Israelite destruction of various Canaanite peoples (Wikipedia: "The prevailing scholarly view is that Joshua is not a factual account of historical events") come to mind.
But in order better to understand Mr. Prager's argument, let us grant for the sake of argument that the Holocaust is uniquely controversial among genocides in terms of how many people died, how they died, etc. The question then is why. What is different about the Nazi Holocaust that (ex hypothesi) makes so many people dispute it even though they don't dispute any other historical genocide? Prager's answer is that it is different because the victims were Jews, and some people hate Jews, whereas apparently no one hates any of the other groups that have been victims of genocide. Since only Jews are hated, and only the Jewish genocide is denied, it is reasonable to conclude that genocide denial is motivated by hatred for the genocide's purported victims.
It should be obvious that I find this reasoning unconvincing. But even if it were convincing, it would prove that Holocaust deniers are guilty of -- antipathy toward a particular ethnic group. This is a moral failing I suppose, but an extremely common one, surely closer to hotel-towel-stealing end of the scale of evil than to the child-raping end. "But it's antisemitic" just isn't a strong enough reason for the extreme moral condemnation on which Mr. Prager insists. The title of his essay, remember, is "If Holocaust Deniers Don't Go to Hell, There Is No God."
The third reason:
Third, the denial of this Nazi evil is a slap in the face of all the Americans who died fighting the Nazis. . . . If the Holocaust is a fabrication, Americans died fighting against nothing particularly evil.
Yes, this is the argument he's making, really! (The ellipsis is just an Eisenhower quote about how the Nazis were bad.) I feel embarrassed just reading it.
None of the Americans who died fighting the Nazis died fighting to stop or avenge the Holocaust -- for the simple reason that reports of a Holocaust didn't come out until the end of the war. Whatever motivated the Allied forces to fight, it wasn't that. Here's the Eisenhower quote I omitted: "We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against" -- now meaning April of 1945, when the horrific conditions in the concentration camps were discovered. They didn't know about it before. It's not why they were fighting. It's no slap in the face to say that.
Also, it should scarcely be necessary to point out that it's quite a leap from "the Nazis didn't actually gas six million Jews to death" to "the Nazis did nothing particularly evil" -- as if the official version of the Holocaust were the only crime serious enough to justify war! Almost all wars in the history of the world have been fought against enemies considerably less evil than the "Hitler" of popular imagination. Is it a slap in the face of all soldiers to say so?
And again, even if we grant everything Mr. Prager is saying here, is telling a war hero that his enemy wasn't actually as bad as all that the worst thing in the world? It may insensitive and ungrateful, but does it occupy a uniquely horrific place "in the pantheon of evils"? The hippies who (sometimes literally) spat on soldiers returning from Vietnam -- sure, they were assholes, but would anyone say that if they do not burn in hell there is no God?
Mr. Prager closes with this anecdote:
As a college student, I dated a woman whose parents were Holocaust survivors. She told me on a number of occasions how often she would hear her father scream in the middle of the night as he dreamed about watching his family be murdered. Unable to live with these memories, one night, her father hanged himself.
That man is one of millions of reasons Fuentes -- and those who ally themselves with him -- will go to hell. If there is a just God.
What did Mr. Fuentes ever do to these poor people? I guess Mr. Prager wants us to imagine him laughing at this devastated father and saying something like, "Come on, your family wasn't really murdered. The Holocaust is fake!" -- but recall what was said earlier in the essay:
Yet, some people, including an American named Nick Fuentes, aggressively deny the Holocaust, asserting that a few hundred thousand Jews, not millions, were killed.
So it seems the "denier" position in no way contradicts the fact that this man's family were among the hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims of the Nazis. "No!" comes the outraged reply. "Among the six million victims! Many of whom died in gas chambers!" But how is that relevant in the present context? How do questions about how many other people died, and how, disrespect this family or invalidate their pain?
If any of my readers happen to agree with Mr. Prager and have any better arguments to present, I'm all ears.