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HMDT Blog: Denial – A reminder that we need more than commemoration

5 June 2017 sees the UK release of the film Denial on DVD. The film tells the story of the legal battle between Deborah Lipstadt and Holocaust denier David Irving.

In this blog, HMDT Trustee Dr Joe Mulhall reflects on the contemporary relevance of the film and the importance in combatting Holocaust denial in our society today. Joe is a Senior Researcher at the anti-racism and anti-fascism advocacy group, Hope Not Hate.

For most people the notion that the Holocaust was an enormous hoax is nonsensical. How is it possible to see the newsreels from barbed wire-encircled camps full of emaciated and withered bodies in piles or mass graves and not be filled with horror, shock and sympathy? With such definitive evidence how can one still not believe? The answers to these questions are complex, important and hold contemporary relevance. As long as there have been reports of Nazi crimes there have been people determined to deny and undermine them.

Next week will see the DVD release of Denial, the film dramatization of the Irving v Penguin Books Ltd case in which the American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt was sued by the British Holocaust denier David Irving for libel. Staring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving the drama follows the defence preparation and the trial at which Irving, representing himself, sought to discredit evidence of gas chambers at Auschwitz by claiming there was no holes in roof for the introduction of the fatal Zyklon B gas; ‘no holes, no Holocaust’.

Of course, Lipstadt won and the judge famously confirmed that Irving was indeed an antisemitic Holocaust denier and a racist, and both Irving’s scholarly reputation and finances were thrown into crisis. Even knowing the ending doesn’t halt the feeling of relief and jubilation as the film draws to an end and a defiant and vindicated Lipstadt leaves the court victorious.

Unfortunately, it is important to remember that the victory as depicted in Denial was neither the end of Holocaust denial nor the end of David Irving. Worryingly, Irving himself claims that things have got better for him in recent years, stating:

Interest in my work has risen exponentially in the last two or three years. And it’s mostly young people. I’m getting messages from 14, 15, 16-year-olds in America. They find me on YouTube. […] I’m getting up to 300 to 400 emails a day. And I answer them all. I build a relationship with them.

It is true that some of Irving’s online videos have hundreds of thousands of views and his recent speech about the film Denial, delivered to an audience of fascists, Holocaust deniers and antisemites at the extreme-right London Forum, has already received over 25,000 views. While a much-diminished figure thanks to this important trial – with zero traction in the mainstream – Irving still hawks his brand of Holocaust denial around to small crowds of far-right activists and his online audience.

Irving is by no means alone but rather is part of a thriving international Holocaust denial scene of which British deniers and publishers continue to play a significant role. Barely a month goes by without prominent Holocaust deniers speaking in London alone. Internationally America remains a powerhouse of the movement and so, of course, do the Middle East and Iran.

So, while Denial is a wonderful depiction of an important victory over Holocaust denial it also serves as an invaluable reminder that the struggle to protect the truth in the face of falsifiers and deniers goes on. Whether it emanates from the antisemitic far right, parts of the Muslim world or the left, we must always be vigilant and ready to challenge denial.

However, we must also continue our efforts to educate and inform about the Holocaust. A revealing 2014 survey (53,000 people in over 100 countries) by the Anti-Defamation League (of America) found that 35% of the world’s population has never heard of the Holocaust and that only a third of the world’s population believe the genocide has been accurately described in historical accounts.

Ignorance is a breeding ground for denial, so while it is imperative and right to memorialise the millions of victims and the terrible events we must never be complacent and always strive to inform and educate ever more people about the unique tragedy that is the Holocaust. As we approach a time when the last eye witnesses to Nazi barbarism pass away, this obligation to commemorate, remember and educate is possibly more important than ever and the DVD release of Denial is an important reminder of this.

Find out more:

Explore the work of Hope Not Hate here.

The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.