Commentary Magazine


Holocaust Denial

To the Editor:

Edward Alexander’s review of Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust [Books in Review, November 1993] will be of no slight interest to future cultural historians. He writes that the book deals with “the most highly publicized form of travesty to which the Holocaust has been made subject in our day,” but that is not correct. Lipstadt keeps to fringe figures who probably relish the publicity afforded them by their critics, and would otherwise remain in deserved obscurity. But she ignores others, including “the most highly publicized” apologist for Nazi crimes, namely, the author of the review, who [elsewhere] dismisse[d] the Holocaust with derision as an “exploded fiction”—and to make sure that no one mistakes his values, add[ed] that nothing more than “oppression” was suffered by (in the words of John Quincy Adams) “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty,” and by those who endured the pleasures of the Atlantic passage and slavery. On Mr. Alexander’s efforts to evade the meaning of what he wrote, once exposed, see the Nation, August 17, 1992 and February 15, 1993.

Lipstadt writes (in a letter to the New York Times, November 8, 1993) that “a comprehensive analysis of the deniers was necessary.” Perhaps, but she has been careful not to provide it.

Mr. Alexander, of course, [was] not referring to the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, rather of the Gypsies—in a similar manner, at the same time, though like his fellow-negationists he denies the facts. I do not want to suggest that the two forms of negationism are morally on a par; denial of the Holocaust of the Gypsies is, plainly, far worse. Jews have defenders; those who deny the crimes against them are universally reviled. Gypsies have few defenders; those who contemptuously dismiss the Nazi crimes against them are considered quite respectable. Furthermore, Gypsies are still being subjected to terror and repression. Germany—Germany!—is sending them back to Romania, to pogroms and violence, right now. Denial of Nazi crimes against the Gypsies has immediate and appalling human consequences.

Naturally, I am honored to be targeted by such authors, both of whom compile impressive fabrications about the “Faurisson affair” and my role in it—all conscious deceit, surely, since every invention has been refuted in print innumerable times, as they know. They also know very well my own views on the matter, expressed in the introduction to my first book of political essays in 1969, and endlessly repeated since: by even agreeing to enter the arena of debate with apologists who claim that “Jews are a cancer eating away at the vitality of the German people” and who attempt to diminish or deny Nazi crimes, “one has already lost one’s humanity,” though it is sometimes necessary to undertake such degrading tasks.

Both Mr. Alexander and Lipstadt extract a few words from this passage, offering them as proof that I deny freedom of speech to views I do not like—by unwillingness to debate! Both naturally suppress the topic I address—clearly, explicitly, unambiguously, in the words that immediately precede the sentence they maliciously distort for their purposes. In their hands, by expressing my distaste for even debating Holocaust deniers, I am supporting them and denying freedom of speech. These comments of mine “constitute the most accurate assessment” of my behavior, Lipstadt writes; correctly, once we replace fabrication by fact. And this colossal example of lies and stupidity, which would have impressed Goebbels himself, is a typical example of her practice, and of her reviewer’s, from whom she borrowed this particular gem.

I will not waste my time, or your space, by once again pursuing Mr. Alexander through the morass of deceit he concocts, though the interested reader will notice his utter contempt for freedom of speech as he repeats with approval a position that one might expect from some mullah in Qom. Rather, I will keep to my own advice of 25 years ago. If any honest reader is interested in the matter, I will be glad to provide details, once again. I would also urge some attention to the wise words of Nahum Goldmann, shortly before he died: it “is a kind of hillul haShem, a banalization of the sacred tragedy of the Shoah,” to “misuse it” for power interests—or career interests, or others.

Noam Chomsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

. . . Edward Alexander maliciously smears Noam Chomsky for his supposed “immaculate agnosticism” regarding whether the Holocaust occurred, as well as other allegedly bizarre revisionisms construed by Mr. Alexander as support for blatantly anti-Semitic positions. Of course, nowhere does Mr. Alexander make his accusations explicit; innuendo is the tactic of choice. . . .

Unfortunately, in an early chapter of her book, Deborah Lipstadt repeats Mr. Alexander’s twelve-year-old lies about Chomsky’s supposed Vietnam-era attempts to suppress free speech. These lies now seem to occupy a prominent place in the conventional wisdom of some. Liptstadt’s treatment of Chomsky’s alleged role in “supporting” Holocaust denial—as a fact rather than as a mattter of free speech and academic freedom—certainly calls into question her professional competence. A responsible reviewer would have tasked her for getting this business wrong; Mr. Alexander chides her for smearing Noam Chomsky too little. . . .

Patrick O’Hayer
Libertyville, Illinois

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To the Editor:

Edward Alexander devotes a good deal of attention to Noam Chomsky’s defense of the French Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson. In fact, Chomsky went so far as to write an introduction to Faurisson’s book, though he claims that he was merely defending free speech. One wonders, however, whether he has launched similar crusades on behalf of specific writers in countries like North Vietnam or Cuba.

A clue to Chomsky’s real motive might lie in a little-noticed article he wrote with Edward S. Herman that was published in the Nation (June 25, 1977). In that article, he engaged in his own Holocaust denial: denial of Khmer Rouge genocide against the Cambodian people; he also denounced the many reports of mass murder that had already appeared by that time.

I have read much Holocaust-denial literature over the years, and immediately noticed the striking parallels between the deniers and Chomsky’s approach. For example:

• Deniers seem to blame Roosevelt and Churchill for the outbreak of World War II and assign no blame to Hitler. They also argue that German concentration camps were not death camps but benign places of detention. Similarly, Chomsky in his article lays the blame for Cambodia’s problems on the United States while ignoring the role of the Khmer Rouge. He approvingly cites a book published by the far-Left Monthly Review Press, saying it presents

a carefully documented study of the destructive American impact on Cambodia and the success of the Cambodian revolutionaries [Khmer Rouge] in overcoming it, giving a very favorable picture of their programs and policies. . . .

• Deniers argue that the “truth” about the Holocaust has been covered up by the Zionist-controlled media, which have exaggerated German atrocities. In fact, media coverup is a constant theme of denier literature, and in his article Chomsky argues that the media were covering up America’s destructive influence on Cambodia while maintaining “the illusion of an open press and society.” He also dismisses reports of Khmer Rouge atrocities.

• Deniers argue in terms of moral equivalencies—that is, while there were atrocities, they occurred on both sides, and the deplorable conditions in German concentration camps occurred as a result of Allied bombings. Chomsky argues that “specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available” conclude that the Khmer executions

numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing. . . . [Emphasis added]

At the time Noam Chomsky wrote the Nation article, there was sufficient information about Khmer policies to know what was really happening in Cambodia. Yet he was so blinded by his anti-Americanism that he deliberately ignored the massive evidence and denied it. . . .

John C. Zimmerman
University of Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada

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To the Editor:

I thoroughly agree that the Shoah, or Holocaust, most certainly occurred, and only a blind idiot or liar would attempt to deny it. All those I have known personally who attempted to deny the Holocaust fit into the first category; I will not speculate as to their motives, but none were Palestinian or particularly pro-Palestinian. One may legitimately argue as to whether five million or six million is nearer to the exact number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust (of course, if one were to include non-Jewish victims, the figure would be much higher than six million), but there is no way that I could honestly say that the Shoah, or Holocaust, never occurred.

However, equally undeniable is the Palestinian Nakba, or “Catastrophe,” of 1948, which today would be called “ethnic cleansing.” To deny the Nakba is to be guilty of the same willful blindness, stupidity, and dishonesty as to deny the Holocaust.

Edward Alexander says: “Although it may be impolite to say so these days, articles denying the Holocaust have long been a staple of publications of the PLO.” While I cannot categorically state that this is untrue, as I have not read all PLO publications, I do have reason to doubt its veracity. First, I have read a number of PLO publications and have never encountered any such thing. Second, I have known a considerable number of Palestinians; not one of them denied that the Holocaust occurred, though they considered it to be a monstrous injustice that Palestinians should be punished for German crimes, a sentiment with which I concur. Assuming that articles denying the Holocaust have appeared in PLO publications (which I seriously doubt), I would say that this is both dishonest and a tactical error, because it damages the Palestinian cause by associating it with liars and willfully blind idiots.

The point is this: while the “ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinian Nakba, or Catastrophe, of 1948 is not a crime of the same type or on the same scale as the Holocaust, it is nevertheless a gigantic, monstrous crime and injustice. Those who persistently deny the Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948 have no grounds for criticizing those who deny the Holocaust, since both are guilty of the same sort of lies and dishonesty. Some day someone is going to write a book entitled Denying the Nakba.

Michael McClain
Middletown, Ohio

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Edward Alexander writes:

The passage of time has done nothing to diminish those qualities of mind and character, that unique blend of propagandist’s tricks and low cunning, which led Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in the March 1969 issue of COMMENTARY, to label Noam Chomsky (who had been forced to confess faking “quotations” from Harry Truman) “an intellectual crook.” Only the third sentence of Mr. Chomsky’s letter refers to anything I wrote in my review of Deborah Lipstadt’s book; but I can readily understand his eagerness to avoid the subject of his lengthy collaboration with the neo-Nazis by ponderous ironies about my alleged campaign against Gypsies, American Indians, and black slaves.

The mind of the propagandist is very much like the spider in Swift’s fable, “which by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but fly-band and cobweb.” Those who are morbidly curious about how Mr. Chomsky weaves his cobweb may wish to contemplate the following:

In the May/June 1990 issue of Congress Monthly I referred, in the midst of a literary review and with no further elaboration, to “every exploded fiction about the Holocaust—ranging from the notion that not only Jews but also Poles, Gypsies, Communists, and homosexuals were chosen by the Nazis for annihilation.” Here, thought Mr. Chomsky, was meat and drink to batten on at last—the opportunity to project one’s own intentions upon the enemy and to claim, as he has done repeatedly since then, that I am the author of “pro-Nazi apologetics.”

For the benefit of readers who may find Mr. Chomsky’s oracular intuitions here a bit murky, I will volunteer my services as logician-in-ordinary to the sage of MIT, who appears to be saying this: “You people who claim that the Jews alone were singled out by the Nazis for total destruction are the true Nazi apologists, because a genuine anti-Nazi would insist [erroneously, of course] that Hitler planned to annihilate all identifiable national groups except ethnic Germans.” There is a kind of logic here, but it is of the sort that Pierre Vidal-Naquet, in his book, Assassins of Memory, imputes to Mr. Chomsky: “When logic has no other end than self-defense, it goes mad.”

Mr. Chomsky, of course, does not value truth for its own sake, but has now become a champion of the Gypsies in order, so he thinks, to épater les Juifs by making Hitler into an equal-opportunity destroyer. Yet neither in the article mentioned above nor anywhere else have I denied Nazi persecution, sometimes extending to murder, of Gypsies (as well as of Poles and homosexuals).

In the case of the Gypsies (Romani), the word “genocide,” in the sense defined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943—humiliation, dehumanization, forcible, even murderous denationalization of a group—may be appropriate. Nazi policies toward the Gypsies were unclear and inconsistent. In Germany itself the Nazis murdered the so-called “mixed” or “impure” Gypsies (“pure” Gypsies being thought of as an originally Aryan racial group); in the rest of Europe, the Nazis murdered wandering Gypsy bands but generally left sedentary Gypsies unscathed. Some Gypsy tribes were protected; individual Gypsies living among the rest of the population were not hunted down; Himmler’s order of November 15, 1943 for occupied Soviet areas stipulated that “sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be treated as citizens of the country”; and many Gypsies served, albeit in the most horrifically dangerous assignments, in the Wehrmacht. Because of all this, most scholars have distinguished between the Nazi campaign against the Gypsies, an indescribable tragedy, and the Holocaust, the campaign to murder every single Jewish person. The scholarly journal published by Oxford University Press, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, recognizes this distinction in its title.

But distinctions are not the business of propagandists like Noam Chomsky. For him, everything must be reduced to pellets of ideology small enough to be ingested by—if I may be allowed to change the metaphor I used above—a discursive mouse. One may see this process at work in his construal of a passage in another article of mine which has set his febrile imagination ablaze.

The passage, as any ordinarily attentive sixth-grader reading it would have recognized, was a paraphrase of a statement by Professor Ali Mazrui of SUNY, and read as follows:

He [Mazrui] argues that the term “holocaust” should not be reserved to describe the Nazi murder of European Jewry but should “remain a general metaphor” embracing the oppression of American Indians and black slaves as well.

From this Mr. Chomsky infers (or pretends to) that by using the word “oppression,” I was somehow denying the existence of black slavery and the persecution of American Indians. One might be tempted to say of this “interpretation” that no human being ever went lower for a proof, but in fact Mr. Chomsky’s crony, the English dilettante Alexander Cockburn, in the August 17-24, 1992 issue of the Nation, expressed identical outrage at my use of the word “oppressed.”

Whether Mr. Chomsky is indebted to Cockburn or Cockburn to Mr. Chomsky for this contemptible piece of flummery, I cannot say; but the two working in concert remind me of nothing so much as the Yiddish expression tsvey meysim geyen tantsn (two corpses are going to dance) to describe two persons of equal incompetence joining their talents in an enterprise for which they are entirely unsuited. (I did suggest to Cockburn, in a letter that the Nation printed after six months of resistance, that he take up—and this as soon as possible—his complaint about my [and Mazrui’s] use of the word “oppression” with the authors of the old Negro spiritual that epitomizes the experience of slavery in the words, “oppressed so hard they could not stand.”)

Like his hero, Noam Chomsky, Patrick O’Hayer prefers to deal with a non-issue—Deborah Lipstadt does not ever say that Chomsky supports Holocaust denial “as a fact”—rather than with the scandal of Chomsky’s promotion of a petition riddled with falsehoods and his collaboration with Robert Faurisson and other anti-Semites and Nazis. When Pierre Vidal-Naquet learned, in 1979, that Chomsky was writing a preface to Faurisson’s Mémoire en Defense, he warned his fellow leftist that Faurisson was a long-time, well-known anti-Semite. This did not prevent Chomsky from going ahead with his preface or from affixing to Faurisson the inane label: “a sort of apolitical liberal.” When he was taken to task for referring in the petition to the “findings” that resulted from Faurisson’s “historical research,” Chomsky had the gall to claim that Frenchmen with imperfect English did not understand that “findings” means “conclusions” rather than “discoveries.”

As I remarked in my review, Faurisson’s right to teach was not withdrawn; neither was he, as the petition falsely claimed, denied access to public libraries and archives. The only important sense in which Chomsky’s involvement with the Nazis concerns free speech is that, as everybody knows, Chomsky has a nasty habit of labeling all who disagree with him as enemies of freedom or (in my case) “some mullah of Qom.” Vidal-Naquet suggests in his book that Chomsky’s zeal on behalf of Faurisson is unlikely to cool until the French republic passes a law requiring that Faurisson’s works be read in public schools and advertised and sold at the entrance to synagogues.

John C. Zimmerman’s point about the similarity between Chomsky’s apologetics for Pol Pot and the methods of the Holocaust deniers may remind us of a controversy of 1984 that sheds light on Chomsky’s idiosyncratic idea of free speech. In an article in the New Criterion (October 1984), the British linguist (and political radical) Geoffrey Sampson recounted what had happened after he wrote in the English Biographical Companion to Modern Thought that Chomsky had “forfeited authority as a political commentator by a series of actions widely regarded as ill-judged (repeated polemics minimizing the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia; endorsement of a book . . . that denied the historical reality of the Jewish Holocaust).” Sampson was subsequently informed by the book’s editors that Chomsky had threatened the publisher, Harper & Row, with a libel action if these words appeared in their American paperback edition of the book. When Sampson refused to mutilate his text, his entry was replaced by one which said only that Noam Chomsky “continued to be involved in controversy” (on unspecified issues).

By way of explaining how this act of censorship comported with his passionate devotion to the free speech of Nazis, Chomsky averred that “With regard to a book, readers can form their own conclusions. But an entry in a reference work is something quite different.” As Werner Cohn, whose 1988 pamphlet on Chomsky is an indispensable complement to Lipstadt and Vidal-Naquet, acidly remarks: “Chomsky does not revoke his principle of absolute freedom of expression for everyone. It’s just a matter of a little exception that he finds necessary.” The little exception being, of course, the truth about himself.

I am greatly relieved that Michael McClain, after mental struggle, has concluded that he could not “honestly say that the . . . Holocaust never occurred.” If he “seriously doubts” that Holocaust denial appears in PLO publications, let him consider the following: in 1990, the PLO weekly, El Istiqlal, published a series of articles denying the Holocaust. One declared that “the burning of the Jews in the Nazi chambers is the lie of the 20th century . . . the gas chambers would have had to operate for 1,300 years in order to burn six million Jews.” In the same year, Balsam, the publication of the PLO-affiliated Palestinian Red Crescent, called the existence of Nazi gas chambers “a Jewish hoax to bilk money for Israel from Germany.” I leave it to Mr. McClain to decide whether the Palestinian cause has now been tainted by “liars and willfully blind idiots.”

Mr. McClain’s translation of the word “nakba” as “ethnic cleansing” is, of course, incorrect; it has been used by Arabs to refer to the complex of events in 1948 that includes the establishment of the state of Israel, the failure of their armies to destroy that state, and the resultant refugee problem. But never mind. Since the Palestinian Arabs have long aspired to usurp the role of Jews and to appropriate Jewish symbols and Jewish history—the Arab “diaspora,” the PLO “covenant,” the Arab Exodus ship, the United Palestine Appeal—how could they possibly do without a Holocaust, even a second-class one involving refugee status, not death? Mr. McClain may want to suggest to the conjectural scholar who writes Denying the Nakba that he ask the Arab nations who brought about the Palestinian-Arab “Catastrophe” of 1948 to underwrite his research as a small act of contrition.

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