Holocaust denial in the news: Lipstadt, Irving…and Ward Churchill

Over 200 historians at colleges nationwide have sent a petition to C-SPAN to protest its plan to accompany coverage of a lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, with a speech by David Irving, the notorious Holocaust revisionist. Irving, author of Hitler’s War and several other books, sued Lipstadt in his native UK after she called him out as a revisionist in her own book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, but the British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed the suit in April 2000, finding that Irving deliberately misrepresented historical evidence. Lipstadt’s book on the case, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, has just been published.

Read the petition, circulated by the David. S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies: "Falsifiers of history cannot ‘balance’ historians. Falsehoods cannot ‘balance’ the truth… If C-SPAN broadcasts a lecture by David Irving, it will provide publicity and legitimacy to Holocaust-denial, which is nothing more than a mask for anti-Jewish bigotry." (NYT, AP, March 18)

In a 1991 speech, Irving told his audience that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz." The line is recalled in a recent article on Irving’s own web site, Real History.

In Lipstadt’s own blog, History on Trial, she notes that another one of her prominent critics is supposed American Indian scholar Ward Churchill, and links to a Feb. 18 story in New York’s conservative Jewish Week recalling that in an essay a few years back Churchill hurled his favorite "Eichmann" epithet at Lipstadt.

The paper predictably failed to quote the original essay beyond this one incendiary word, or provide the context of Churchill’s argument. The essay, "Forbidding the ‘G-Word’," attacked the notion of "Jewish exclusivism," and especially the denial of the term "genocide" to describe the extermination of Native American peoples. Churchill wrote that "exclusivists" like Lipstadt engage in their own form of genocide denial, and are part of a propaganda system that legitimizes ongoing genocide against native peoples: "Denial of genocide, insofar as it plainly facilitates continuation of the crime, amounts to complicity in it… There is no difference in this sense between…a Deborah Lipstadt and an Adolf Eichmann." (Other Voices, Feb. 2000)

What makes this all complicated is that Churchill’s overall point here is an absolutely valid one. But by going radically overboard and calling Lipstadt an "Eichmann" (as if every writer who suffers from some racist illusions is the equivalent of the architect of industrial mass murder), Churchill allows his own valid critique to be dismissed as the ravings of a nut. The recognition that the destruction of indigenous lands and culture by corporate pillage in the western hemisphere constitutes genocide (as legally defined under international law) can be lumped in with the ravings of an Irvingā€”or (more to the point) Churchill’s own witless apologias for mass murder in the 9-11 attacks.

And Churchill (perhaps merely through shabby scholarship) engages in his own revisionism in the "G-Word" essay. He protests that in the "exclusivist" worldview, "the fates of the Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and others at the hands of the Nazis are routinely minimized and consigned to the ambiguous category of ‘non-genocidal suffering.’" In fact, the Jews and the Roma ("Gypsies") were the only two groups explicitly targeted for extermination by the Nazis. Poles and Czechs suffered horribly under the Nazis of course, but historical accuracy is not served by conflating their experience with that of the Jews.

And the "exclusivist" portrayal of the Holocaust as "phenomenologically unique" does have its limited validity. It was not "phenomenologically unique" in being genocide, but in the application of industrial methods to the task. It was also "phenomenologically unique" in the irrational motives underlying the hyper-rational methodology: the Nazi genocide was not (as in the case of the American Indians) about appropriating land and resources, but about purifying the German nation, and actually drained resources from the critical war effort.

Of course industry also comes into play when oil and mineral companies destroy traditional hunting lands of Indian peoples, leaving them in desperate poverty, a toxic environment, communities broken by alcoholism and suicideā€”and we shouldn’t dismiss this echo of Nazi industrial extermination glibly. But the aim here is extraction of resources, not mass murder, and a simple conflation with the Nazi Holocaust is also glib.

So a nuanced sense of history is called for to really make sense of these issues. But don’t hold your breath for that in the current atmosphere polluted by cynicism and degraded by fealty to shallow sound-bites.

Meanwhile, if C-SPAN capitulates and drops the Irving segment, it will merely confirm the perception of the Jew-haters that "the Jews" control the media. This ghastly affair is a lose/lose no matter how you slice it. 

See our last post on the Churchill affair.

  1. Irving
    I wonder if Irving will recite the following ditty on C-Span:

    I am a Baby Aryan
    Not Jewish or Sectarian
    I have no plans to marry an
    Ape or Rastafarian.

    This is a poem he used to sing to his daughter while pushing her about in her baby carriage. He wrote it in his diary, and it emerged as evidence during his suit against Lipstadt.

    Ten years ago, C-Span’s choice might be more understandable, but how anyone can take Irving seriously after his suit against Lipstadt boggles the mind. I don’t think anyone will blame "the Jews" for controlling the media if he’s cancelled; only revisionists and, sadly, some birdbrain at C-Span, take his "scholarship" seriously anymore.

    Can it be argued that in fact the sterilization methods used against the Abenaki people of Vermont was an "application of industrial methods" employed in genocide? Also, the UVM professor responsible for it is someone who could actually qualify as a "little Eichmann." Did the Nazis learn anything about eugenics from him?

  2. Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust”
    Lipstadt’s "Denying the Holocaust" took the occasion of a surge in extreme-right Holocaust denial and right-revisionism not only to reinforce Holocaust "exclusivism" but 1) to lambast scholarly discourses which at the time were under acute attack by neoconservatives for "relativizing" (their) truth, and 2) to apologize for neoconservative U.S. foreign policy despite (and because of) its frequent racist and antisemitic articulations. The popular power of Lipstadt’s book was its ability to forward these ideological aims in the laudable name of Holocaust prevention.
    In particular, "Denying the Holocaust" critiques North American Holocaust historiography debates for their imbrication with the postmodern literary theory known as deconstruction. The book argues explicitly for a return to a more empirical historical practice that, by its requisite collection and specification of data, can, in Lipstadt’s view, offer a corrective to postmodern anitfoundationalism and the "relativism" with which, again in her view, it has served Holocaust denial and right-revisionism. At the same time, Lipstadt upholds the Holocaust and, by extension, Jews, as exemplars of North American manifest destiny, as she rehearses a theologically rooted transcription of that discourse onto contemporary U.S. foreign policy practices. In this regard, Lipstadt ironically appropriates the very deconstruction she has ostensibly rejected, selectively abandoning empriricism for rationalist abstraction, in turn downplaying the centrality of actual genocides of Native Americans and African-American slaves to North American "destiny." In the process, she dislocates the support she more explicitly offers the economic policies of Reagan and Bush from concomitant criticism of Reagan’s 1986 visit to the S.S. cemetery at Bitburg.
    The glaring contradictory quality of Lipstadt’s tacks is not resolved (indeed is only dissimulated) by a subsequent reference to Genesis: "God’s presence can be found in many different places and made manifest in a variety of ways."

  3. Holocaust

    I hope the discussion of bad history versus acceptable history continues.Ā 

    Nowhere in this short discussion are the first victims of Nazi genocidal policies mentioned.Ā  That would be those labelled mentally defective.

    I would appreciate if more Holocaust scholars and more activists in general would discuss thoseĀ human rights abusesĀ still occurring in the halls of Pilgrim State Psych facility, Bronx Psychiatric, Capital District Psychiatric Facility… and their myriad ilk.Ā  When patients die of untreated appendicitis while incarcerated involuntarily(Pilgrim State and also Napa, CA), or patients die of temperatures over 100 degrees when on drugs administred involuntarily whichĀ  result in increased susceptibility to heat or when a 7 year old child is asphixiated by being restrained by a 300 lb. guard, or a man suffers beatings and a broken arm administered while he was in restraints (St. Vincent’s Hospital) or an immigrant is given 40 ECT treatments involuntarily after his kidneys fail in response to involuntarily adminisered medications (Pilgrim State)Ā  and there is just about no media coverage and no movement solidarity to end the abuses, I think it’s fair to say that incarceration today bears some resemblance to the bad old days (at least for the unlucky patients).Ā  These are just a few of the well documented cases.Ā  The routine human rights abusesĀ remain largely uncatalogued.

    Remembering a population persecuted during the German genocidal era (remember that Cambodia had its era as well…..) who remain incarcerated without trial in a ghettoized legal system is long overdue.

    Here in New York State, it would be good for us to remember the lessons of the Nazi era as we face the likelihood of Kendra’s Law (a law expanding forced treatment and due process violations against people labelled with psychiatric disabilities) being voted by the state legislative into permanency.Ā 

    Knowledge of each other’s continuing struggle against human rights violations only enrich our understanding of history and the machinery of oppression.

    1. Somebody gets it, whaddaya know

      Thanks for that. I am totally with you on Kendra’s law, so please keep us posted on how that struggle fares. Very disappointing that the oft-heroic Elliot Spitzer is behind it–can anybody wake the guy up?

      The first grain of the Final Solution was Hitler’s "euthanasia" program that targeted the mentally and physically disabled and other "useless eaters" for forced sterilization. Eugenics-minded eggheads were carrying out coercive sterilization programs against American Indian groups and other undersirables in the USA in the same period. Sterilization abuse continues today throughout the western hemisphere–especially in conflicted areas of Latin America.

      As for Cambodia–lets not start listing every genocide that history has to offer or we’ll be here for weeks. Ever hear of Nagaland?