Fake news is big news at the moment and in the press a lot. They have even been suggestions that it helped ‘The Donald’ get into the White House. Today I’m going to talk about a truth that is, shocking as it may seem, disputed.
As I’m sure you are all aware The Holocaust, was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. The victims included 1.5 million children and represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe. Some definitions of the Holocaust include the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to about 11 million.
Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was last Friday and for those of you who are unaware it is a national commemoration day in the United Kingdom dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It was first held in January 2001 and has been on the same date every year since. The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945, the date also chosen for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2016 over 5,590 local activities took place in the UK for Holocaust Memorial Day and an even larger number happened last Friday.
As terrible as it may seem to you and I there are those that continue to say the holocaust didn’t happen, that it was made up. This includes claims that Nazi Germany’s Final Solution was aimed only at deporting Jews from the Reich, but that it did not include the extermination of Jews; that Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas chambers to mass murder Jews.
The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.”
“…in a few years’ time no one will believe this particular legend anymore”
“The alleged gas chambers and the alleged genocide of the Jews form one and the same historical lie”
These are the devastating, poisonous words of Holocaust deniers who continue, even today, to inflict the most searing pain upon survivors, their families, the Jewish community and anyone who cares about peace in our fragile world.
The scourge of these kind of falsehoods is depicted in the release of the movie ‘Denial’ which opened in the UK last Friday, to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day. The film is Hollywood’s take on the book, by American academic Deborah Lipstadt, in which she recounts her legal battle with David Irving, who sued her for libel when she labelled him a Holocaust denier. Since English libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant, she was faced with an unusual challenge: she knew with every fibre of her being that the Holocaust was a matter of historical fact, but could she rise to the challenge of effectively having to prove it in a court of law?
Thankfully, most of us will never have to prove the integrity of what we know to be true before a High Court Judge, but the very idea that falsehood will reign unless we find the conviction to challenge it, represents the kind of powerful wakeup call that our divided world badly needs.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis stated last week that he thought it fascinating that Jewish tradition goes beyond a straightforward prohibition against lying. The verse in the Book of Exodus states, “Distance yourself from falsehood”. In other words, it is not enough to simply be truthful. We have a responsibility to create an environment in which there is no tolerance for falsehood.
Given that political commentary around the world is now saturated with references to ‘post-truth’, there is no more poignant time than around that of Holocaust Memorial Day to recognise that falsehood is not a clever political device. Falsehood is what drives division and fuels hatred.
A man once said, “It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned, that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they cloth ideas and disguise.” That man was Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda.
Whilst we can remain in no doubt that the Holocaust did indeed happen I think it is important for us within our RHS community to remember that telling the truth is important. We should ensure that we all conduct ourselves with integrity and honesty and that without this, our school community is less robust, less secure and a less enjoyable place to be.
Thank you have a great day.