Thursday, February 23, 2006

Nazi Popes and historical revisionism

The corporate media and blogosphere have spewed forth a mass of Irving-related prose since his guilty verdict. By and large, the commentary has been quite formulaic

1. Irving is a disgraceful human being

2. Anyone who denies that the Holocaust happened is mad or wicked, or both

3. However, locking him up for a thought crime makes a nonsense of all that crap we were saying about the right to publish those Danish cartoons a couple of weeks ago

All of which is reasonable.

Five minutes spent on Irving’s web site is enough to prove to anyone that he is a rabid anti-Semite. We’re not talking, say, of any confusion between a concern over the actions of the Israeli government and Jewish people as whole here. Irving is the real deal. He hates the lot.

And the Holocaust did happen. Even the most ardent Holocaust Revisionist does not deny the existence of the network of concentration camps, the deportations, or the Einsatzgruppen extermination squads that roamed Nazi occupied territories. I personally know far too many people whose families fled persecution from Europe in the 1930s to believe that this business could sanely be considered a hoax.

But yes, jailing someone for stating an opinion that in itself does not represent a call for violence or hatred does run counter to our supposed Western values.

And there, most commentaries stop. Arguably because that is all that needs to be said but also because people have real concerns when it comes to discussing the Holocaust.

They might get locked up.


My personal issues with prosecuting people for Holocaust Denial or any other form of historical revisionism are as much practical as based on any notion of free speech…

History gets revised all the time

And that includes the Holocaust

There is undoubtedly an impressive body of eyewitness and documentary evidence of what went on during the Holocaust.

However, when you speak with veterans of wars or other historical events, one of the things that often strikes you is how little they knew about what really was going on outside their field of view. They sat in their foxholes or were herded onto a train quite unknowing of the larger picture.

It is the job of the historian to gather those individual accounts and fit them into a larger story. And to do that they turn to the testimony of people as high up the chain as possible and also to documentary or other physical evidence.

Even with an event that took place sixty or seventy years ago, fresh material still comes to light. In the case of the Holocaust we now have declassified ‘Ultra’ decrypted communications and the collapse of the Soviet Union brought a surge of material previously unseen by Western historians. Those same Western historians also discovered that the Soviets had not been above fabricating and circulating fake historical material after the war. On top of all that there is still material in government archives that won’t be declassified for another 40 years or more. Right now, there’s a debate raging about whether to make a huge German archive of concentration camp documentation available to the public for the first time.

All of this new material means that Holocaust Revisionism is a fact of life.

And even if you feel sure you have access to all the relevant facts, there’s still the thorny matter of interpretation.

One facet of the Holocaust story I am personally uncomfortable with is a growing tendency by some polemicists to suggest that, somehow, in a manner reminiscent of the Christian notion of original sin, we are all responsible for the Holocaust. I’ve seen work by researchers who have gone to great efforts to prove that the Allies knew about the Holocaust almost immediately, that they should have done more to stop it and are therefore complicit in what happened.


I live in a country that bankrupted itself fighting Fascism. It didn’t back down even when it was facing what seemed to be almost certain defeat. And accusing Britain of complicity in the Holocaust is spitting on the graves of the people who died in that fight.

Even before the war started, Britain was a haven for people seeking refuge from Nazi persecution. When Black Shirts tried marching through the East End of my home town they got their teeth kicked in.

Should we have taken more refugees? With hindsight certainly but hindsight is one of the cheapest tricks in a historian’s armoury. Should we have bombed Auschwitz? Again, there's a big dollop of hindsight required and the Germans would have had the place up a running again in a few days anyway. We gave them lots of practice at that sort thing.

Similar charges have been made against Pope Pius XII. While there’s no denying that he and the Catholic Church went to some efforts to save persecuted Jews, some commentators claim that he should have done more. This claimed lack of action has been spun over the last few decades to a point where some people even seem to believe that Pius was virtually assisting Hitler.

I’m not buying that one either. This was the same Pope who gave haven to 2-3,000 Jews in Castel Gandolfo, crammed in so tight they were sleeping on staircases. Deportations of Jews from Italy were hampered to a point of ineffectiveness. The vast majority of Italian Jews survived the War. Catholic priests from across Europe died in the same camps as the Jews did. I have seen as much evidence of those historical events as I have of the Holocaust.

As with the British complicity thing, I see the attack on Pius as politically inspired revisionism. No one was thinking or talking like this in the 1950s or 1960s.

Some people’s opinions have changed, and I question their motivations as much as I do Irving's.

But these people are as entitled to their opinions, bollocks as they are, as I am to mine.

Now, getting back to the Irving thing and whether it is hypocritical for locking him up for expressing an opinion…

Who gets to decide what the official version of an historical event is and what truths are set in stone? Is someone unconvinced by the notion of the Nazi Pope a Holocaust Denier? Who gets to decide what the official interpretation of history is? An Austrian judge?


DE said...

While I'm not much interested by his recent exposure (Irving has been in the denial business for decades) it is worth remembering that only totalarian regimes need "Official History".

The term Holocaust itself is usually reserved for the one event, which wasn't one event. The statistics and the efficiency are what seperate it out from other war atrocities.

I think fighting a war against a nation is a fairly strong statement that you don't agree with them. Well, it used to be.

Wolfie said...

Good post.

I dated an American Jew a few years back. One day she starts telling me that all Europeans are anti-Semites and that Britain was complicit or didn't do enough to help the European Jews; I became quite close to belting her as my Father fought in WW2, he still had nightmares in his 80s. Truth is Britain could never have defended the bombing of a camp and besides people overestimate the technical feasibility, only 30% of factory bombings were successful (they are much larger targets) and such a raid would require an all-night return flight across occupied territory with enemy air-superiority. Hitting railway lines as some suggest is a fantasy scenario. My Father was a professional soldier and I was brought up with military history and an extensive home library. I find it disturbing that many people seem to be re-writing history with a new political slant and nobody is noticing.

Bridget said...

I can't help but think of the repression of Jim Allen's play 'Perdition' at the Royal Court back in 1987.

By the time Perdition was scheduled to open all tickets had been sold, yet 36 hours before opening the play was axed by Max Stafford-Clark, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre. The actors and the Director, Ken Loach, were informed just as they were preparing for the dress rehearsal. Jim Allen was in Manchester when Stafford-Clark's phone call came:

"I am pulling the play. Not because it contains any inaccuracies, or is in any way anti-Semitic, but because it might cause distress among some members of the Jewish community "(personal notes). Ken Loach appropriately points out that the stated reason for the ban ('going ahead would cause great distress to sections of the community') was quite inadequate:

Plays about fascism have caused distress in Germany, but does that mean they should be censored? Stafford-Clark himself staged a play about the Falklands war in Plymouth despite local objections about 'distress'. Of course, he was not fighting such powerful opposition there (Ken Loach & Andrew Homung, 'Censorship & Perdition', New Statesman, 20 February 1987).

The play was based on Lenni Brenners book 'Zionism in the Age of the Dictators', an historical investigation into the role of the Zionist leaders and their complicity in the Holocaust.

Zionism convicts itself. On June 21, 1933, the German Zionist Federation sent a secret memorandum to the Nazis:

"Zionism has no illusions about the difficulty of the Jewish condition, which consists above all in an abnormal occupational pattern and in the fault of an intellectual and moral posture not rooted in one's own tradition. Zionism recognized decades ago that as a result of the assimilationist trend, symptoms of deterioration were bound to appear, which it seeks to overcome by carrying out its challenge to transform Jewish life completely.

"It is our opinion that an answer to the Jewish question truly satisfying to the national state can be brought about only with the collaboration of the Jewish movement that aims at a social, cultural and moral renewal of Jewry--indeed, that such a national renewal must first create the decisive social and spiritual premises for all solutions.

"Zionism believes that a rebirth of national life, such as is occurring in German life through adhesion to Christian and national values, must also take place in the Jewish national group. For the Jew, too, origin, religion, community of fate and group consciousness must be of decisive significance in the shaping of his life. This means that the egotistic individualism which arose in the liberal era must be overcome by public spiritedness and by willingness to accept responsibility."

Zionist factions competed for the honor of allying to Hitler. By 1940-41, the "Stern Gang," among them Yitzhak Shamir, later Prime Minister of Israel, presented the Nazis with the "Fundamental Features of the Proposal of the National Military Organization in Palestine (Irgun Zvai Leumi) Concerning the Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe and the Participation of the NMO in the War on the Side of Germany."

Avraham Stern and his followers announced that

"The NMO, which is well-acquainted with the goodwill of the German Reich government and its authorities towards Zionist activity inside Germany and towards Zionist emigration plans, is of the opinion that:

1. Common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO.

2. Cooperation between the new Germany and a renewed folkish-national Hebraium would be possible and,

3. The establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.

Proceeding from these considerations, the NMO in Palestine, under the condition the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Israeli freedom movement are recognized on the side of the German Reich, offers to actively take part in the war on Germany's side."

Makes me think how History is always the history of the Victors and how little we know of what really went on, then as well as now.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so you don't think the Pope was involved in the events in Germany or connected to the Nazi party. What about the special mass the Pope said for Hitler when he was reportedly dead? Oh, that. And what about the Nazis who travelled to the United States (Project Paper Clip) and other countries on Vatican passports? Minor details. Probably he was not implicit.

Kathy Beuthin
Monterey CA
Mar 3 2007

Stef said...

re. the supposed mass - it was a mass proposed for all dead Germans who died in the war, not just Hitler, was never held and wasn't proposed by Pius anyway

re. Project Paperclip - that was post Holocaust, when everyone in the West decided that Communism was the greatest evil and that's one for the US Government to answer and no I'm not impressed that the US gave a home to scientists like von Braun who worked very hard at flattening my home city with their rockets, Gentiles and Jews alike

re. complicity with Nazis - this crowd has a lot more to answer for than the Vatican...

Stef Zucconi
London Mar 4, 2007