This educational module aims to help students think more deeply about what it means to be an outsider. Using material from the Museum’s Voices on Antisemitism, the module:
- Illustrates the existence and broad impact of contemporary antisemitism;
- Demonstrates the ongoing relevance of the Holocaust to law, faith, the arts, and other areas;
- Introduces, punctuates, or ends sections of study; as homework or in-class listening.
The module is divided into six sections:
- Episodes from the Museum’s Voices on Antisemitism series relevant to being an outsider;
- Rationale, which explains why this theme is important today;
- History section, which connects the Holocaust to the theme;
- Questions for Discussion or Writing;
- Activities for students; and
- Resources for further information and material.
Following an international meeting of Holocaust deniers in Tehran in 2006, Iranian exile Ladan Boroumand published a statement deploring the fact that denial of the Holocaust has become a propaganda tool for Iran's leaders today. Learn more
When Holocaust denier David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court, she experienced what she called "the world of difference between reading about antisemitism and hearing it up close and personal." Learn more
In his book Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, Frank Meeink describes with brutal honesty his descent into bigotry and violence as a teenage neo-Nazi. Through some surprising personal encounters, Meeink came to reject his beliefs and become an advocate for tolerance and diversity. Learn more
Errol Morris makes documentaries that investigate the past, focusing on small details and questioning why people do what they do. In his film Mr. Death, Morris looks closely at Fred Leuchter, an engineer who became an expert witness to Holocaust deniers. Learn more
As Germany's Justice Minister, Brigitte Zypries is responsible for upholding justice, rights, and democracy in her country. Zypries explains why her government passed a law making Holocaust denial a criminal offense and why that law is important. Learn more
Holocaust deniers want to debate the very existence of the Holocaust as a historical event and want to be seen as legitimate scholars arguing a historical point. Because legitimate scholars do not doubt that the Holocaust happened, such assertions play no role in historical debates. Although deniers insist that the Holocaust as myth is a reasonable topic of discussion, it is clear in light of the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust happened that the debate the deniers proffer is more about antisemitism and hate politics than it is about history. Scholars, survivors, activists, and leaders around the world work to combat Holocaust denial, and some are included in the Voices on Antisemitism podcast series. Voices on Antisemitism is designed to bring together a variety of distinguished leaders of different backgrounds to comment on why antisemitism and hatred matters today. Featured podcasts include Deborah Lipstadt, who won a notable court case against David Irving, a convicted Holocaust denier; Errol Morris, who made a documentary looking closely at Fred Leuchter, an engineer who became an expert witness to Holocaust deniers; and Brigitte Zypries, who explains why her government passed a law making Holocaust denial a criminal offense and why that law is important.
Holocaust denial and minimization or distortion of the facts of the Holocaust is a form of antisemitism. Holocaust deniers ignore the overwhelming evidence of the event and insist that the Holocaust is a myth invented by the Allies, the Soviet communists, and the Jews for their own ends. According to the deniers’ “logic” the Allies needed the “Holocaust myth” to justify their occupation of Germany in 1945 and the “harsh” persecution of Nazi defendants.
Holocaust deniers assert that if they can discredit one fact about the Holocaust, the whole history of the event can be discredited as well. They ignore the evidence of the historical event and make arguments that they say negate the reality of the Holocaust in its entirety. Some Holocaust deniers argue that, since there is neither a single document that outlines the Holocaust nor a signed document from Hitler ordering the Holocaust, the Holocaust itself is a hoax.
Holocaust denial on the Internet is especially a problem because of the ease and speed with which such misinformation can be disseminated. In the United States, where the First Amendment to the Constitution ensures freedom of speech, it is not against the law to deny the Holocaust or to propagate Nazi and antisemitic hate speech. European countries such as Germany and France have criminalized denial of the Holocaust and have banned Nazi and neo-Nazi publications. The Internet is now the chief source of Holocaust denial and the chief means of recruiting for Holocaust denial organizations.
Questions for Discussion or Writing
- Explain what Deborah Lipstadt means when she says “to claim to be neutral is to participate in the evil” in respect to Holocaust denial.
- Ladan Boroumand discusses the use of Holocaust denial as a propaganda tool.
- Discuss the dangers of using state-sanctioned teaching of contempt and hatred.
- Why would someone who wanted to gain support from a large population use Holocaust denial as a propaganda tool?
- Former skinhead Frank Meeink talks about his past and how he came to reject bigotry and violence. What does it take to let go of hate?
- Brigitte Zypries, on the other hand, states: “In Germany, freedom of expression is a central basic right, same as in the United States. And it’s protected by the German Constitution as well. But however this basic right is not granted without restriction. Our Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the ban on Holocaust denial does not violate this basic right of freedom of expression.”
- Discuss the benefits and implications of having laws in place that make the denial of the Holocaust illegal.
- Do you agree with Zypries’ views? Why?
- Would curbing free speech prevent or curb genocide or violence?
- Errol Morris presents several thought-provoking questions in his interview. Discuss the following:
- “How else do you describe a man [Leuchter] like this but to describe him as an antisemite? I found it interesting to try to ask the question: okay he’s an antisemite, but what do we mean by that? … what does it mean? What does it mean when we talk about the Germans as being antisemitic? Were they all the same? What were the differences?”
- In his interview, Morris raises another important concept: the need to re-examine history in a responsible, non-political, and academically sound manner to advance scholarship. He states:
“…part of as I conceive history is rediscovering history again and again and again and again. There is no historical subject so sacrosanct—and that includes the Holocaust—that it should not be examined, re-examined. History should never be considered as some kind of recitation of dead facts. It, for all of us, should be a process of endless discovery and rediscovery. Properly considered history is an investigation, a personal investigation as well as an investigation that involves many, many, many people. …I think it’s absolutely essential for us to understand history, and to look at history, and to think about history.”
- How would you “rediscover” history in a responsible, non-political, and academically sound manner?
- Is it acceptable to re-examine the Holocaust in this way? Does this process imply denial of the Holocaust? Could examination of the Holocaust from different perspectives (for example, gender) have the power to offend?
- How does ongoing scholarly examination of the Holocaust help us to better understand it?
- Why is it important to continue to do historical research?
Create your own podcast interview: Students discuss how hate speech has affected them or how to combat Holocaust denial.
Group Activity: In groups, students examine in-depth what the individuals in the Voices on Antisemitism episodes are doing to combat Holocaust denial and hate speech.
Photo Activity: Using quotations from the podcast series, students portray their thoughts and feelings about that quotation through photographs selected from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Photo Archive database.
Press Conference Activity: Students simulate a press conference in which they present what the person assigned to them is doing to fight Holocaust denial and hate speech.
- Past Revisited: Reflections on the Study of the Holocaust and Contemporary Antisemitism (Steven Zipperstein’s study of antisemitism and the Holocaust within the context of modern Jewish history.)
Holocaust Encyclopedia articles:
- Evidence from the Holocaust
- Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of the Holocaust presented at Nuremberg
- Combating Holocaust Denial: Origins of Holocaust Denial
- Holocaust Deniers and Public Misinformation
- Incitement to Genocide in International Law
Additional Online Resources Related to Holocaust Denial and Hate Speech
- Anti-Defamation League (Fights antisemitism and all forms of bigotry in the US)
- “Denying the Holocaust” (Deborah Lipstadt discusses how misinformation and false claims are used to question the Holocaust.)
- Holocaust Denial on Trial (Website devoted to combating Holocaust denial; hosted by Emory University.)
- Holocaust on Trial (PBS) (Companion site to a PBS documentary on the David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt trial.)
- Nizkor Project (An Internet project dedicated to countering Holocaust denial.)
- President Barack Obama rebukes Holocaust denial in a speech at Buchewald, June 5, 2009
- Southern Poverty Law Center (Internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists, and its tracking of hate groups.)
- Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research Statement on Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust Denial
- UN General Assembly resolution condemning Holocaust denial