Why do so many people still deny the Holocaust?
As you might expect, the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an answer to your question. I’ll let the USHMM weigh in, and then I’ll share a thought or two of my own:
Holocaust denial, distortion, and misuse are strategies to reduce perceived public sympathy to Jews, to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel—which some believe was created as compensation for Jewish suffering during the Holocaust—to plant seeds of doubt about Jews and the Holocaust, and to draw attention to particular issues or viewpoints. The Internet, because of its ease of access and dissemination, seeming anonymity, and perceived authority, is now the chief conduit of Holocaust denial.
Holocaust survivor Marthe Cohn visited Spokane recently to give an autobiographical talk. Prior to her visit and presentation, anti-Semites emerged from the darker corners of the internet to troll the Facebook event page with Holocaust denial and other forms of hate speech. This development even made the local news.
I took a look at some of the comments. One thing that caught my attention was commenters’ repeated use of the phrase “6 gorillion.” This turns out to be a form of alt-right (read: neo-Nazi) mockery, previously unfamiliar to me. It’s meant to suggest that either the claim that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust is an exaggeration or, at the very least, that contemporary Jews fixate too much on the enormity of the Holocaust’s death toll. It’s a hateful way of rebuffing the widely used Holocaust remembrance slogan “Never forget.”
I think some people deny the Holocaust because such denial fits their overall worldview, which is likely characterized by anti-Semitism and God knows what other forms of bigotry. Maybe some deny the Holocaust not so much because they’re foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semites but more because they’re conspiracy theory nuts of the kind who believe, as Infowars’ Alex Jones professes to, that even the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
Finally, I bet some online trolls spout Holocaust denial because they’re trying to get some cheap yuks out of being outrageous. They’re baiting people, Jewish and otherwise, who get offended, furious, or even scared when they see such statements. Nihilism, hatred, and ignorance — individually or in some combination — probably fuel most of the Holocaust denial you’ll see.
A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane’s Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.