Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Rejecting the Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Raul Hilberg

Like creationists, Holocaust deniers love to take the word of historians out of context in their feeble attempts to demonstrate their position. I dissected one such example in my article about a quote from functionalist historian Arno Mayer, but there are apparently many more such quotations out of context.

Raul Hilberg was considered the most respected Holocaust historian ever lived, especially since he wrote a huge book on the subject called The Destruction of the European Jews back in the early 60s.

Here is the butchered quote that is often presented:

There was a Holocaust, which is, by the way, more easily said than demonstrated.

Holocaust deniers like to use this quote in an effort to show how leading Holocaust historians believe that the Holocaust is an historical reality based on nothing but faith, since they cannot demonstrate it. The quote is from an interview called Is There a New Anti-Semitism? A Conversation with Raul Hilberg in the Logos journal. Now, lets read the context of the quote, which shows something quite different:

Q: There was the revisionist conference in Iran several months ago. How worried should scholars and the general public be about the capacity of this kind of revisionism to engender anti-Semitism?

Hilberg: This revisionism began in the 1960s. It is not new. I boycotted Germany for quite a while, but when I passed through a while back Munich I went to a kiosk and bought a local right wing paper, a German paper, I found to my great astonishment that I was mentioned on the title page as a Zionist leader. Now, that was a big surprise to me, but the headline was: “The Lie of the Holocaust”. So, Germany in the sixties had adherence to this belief, even though there they should have known better than anywhere else. There was a Frenchman who was already in print in the 1960s. Half of his book was devoted to me. It was a neo-Nazi publication. As soon as my book, The Destruction of the European Jews, was out in 1961, I became a target of these groups.

To me, the later developments in Holocaust denial were just a very slow spread, not even a growth, but a spread from France/Germany to the United States to Canada and ultimately picked up by the Arab world. The Arab world is very disoriented when it comes to Europe anyway. They are as confused about the West as we are about them. Even so, the conference in Iran did not even succeed in Iran – it was needless difficulty and trouble. There were Iranians who publicly denounced this conference. So, I am not terribly worried about it even though at the time that that conference took place last December I was asked by the German government to take part in a counter-conference as the keynote speaker that was held the same day in Berlin. I ordinarily do not engage in debates with Holocaust revisionists. I did not do so at the Berlin conference either, but the essence of my talk was that, yes, there was a Holocaust, which is, by the way, more easily said than demonstrated. I demonstrated this and people did come to it. Nevertheless, the German papers did not publicize the counter-conference in Berlin because they could not resist publishing the faces of the Rabbis who had gone to Iran.

I have come to the conclusion, not once but several times, that, as far as I am concerned, I do not agree with legislation that makes it illegal to utter pronouncements claiming that there was no Holocaust. I do not want to muzzle any of this because it is a sign of weakness not of strength when you try to shut somebody up. Yes, there is always a risk. Nothing in life is without risk, but you have to make rational decisions about everything.

So in other words, Hilberg took part in a counter-conference in Berlin where he provided historical evidence for the Holocaust. The context makes clear that Hilberg does not think that the evidence for the Holocaust is weak.

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