I’m starting today’s piece, in which there will be no shade of irony or satire but only a serious point to make, with a deliberately provocative question as the heading. Many knees will jerk simply because I dare to make a heading out of it at all, many assumptions will be jumped to before some people even start to read any further. I ask for patience – all will be made clear.
It is right to question history. New research brings new facts to light, which enlarge our view of what happened in the past. It is right to challenge the way that history is narrated, or propagandised, or subsumed into our National Myths. I challenge national myths all the time – American, British, Scottish, and so on – because ultimately they are harmful. It is right, and healthy, and constructive, and sane, and necessary to subject our assumptions about history to critical review, and to challenge accepted detail. It is lazy and deceitful to shirk this intellectual rigour. History has been lied about, time and time again.
However, that rigour, that necessity, that healthiness runs out when a questioner starts his or her enquiry from the position that a major, observable, and well-documented historical event never took place. That constructiveness, that rightness, that sanity runs out when they try to persuade others, by propagandising the opposite.
It has recently been pointed out that if you Google the question “Did the Holocaust really happen?’ – in fact if you put in “Did the Hol” and leave it at that – what will come up in your results is site after site after site that claims “No it didn’t”, and go on to claim that the whole account of the Holocaust is the result of a conspiracy. These days, probably partly as a reaction to the way that the Holocaust has been narrated and propagandised, many people are all too ready to swallow that.
Let me be plain: the Holocaust happened. I will now present two basic principles which make denying it pointless.
1] The most successful conspiracies are the ones that involve the fewest people. If you increase the number of people involved in a conspiracy, you increase the risk of the inclusion of a weak link. A conspiracy large enough to construct the Holocaust out of nothing would have to have involved millions more people than actually died, in order to sustain it, and that very fact would make it unwieldy and impossible from the word go. People who insist on Holocaust denial would have simply pushed over the whole edifice by now. The fact that they haven’t is proof enough that their denial is fruitless.
2] The Holocaust is woven so tightly into the history of the 20th Century, that if it were not factual, the whole of that history would unravel. Nothing would make sense any more. The deniers would find themselves having to deny just about everything else that has happened.
When I look at Central Europe in the early 21st Century, and in particular at the rise of the new Right, I wonder if anyone does actually bother to study history. But then I realise something important. It is that the combination of the Holocaust and the general devastation of war actually did bring about what Hitler was trying to achieve. Whole layers of cultural and societal diversity were obliterated. Anyone brought up since the War would have been brought up in a much more mono-ethnic, mono-cultural environment than existed before the War. Combine that with the suppression of information and dissent, particularly in the Eastern half of Europe, and the result is a dangerous level of ignorance. I can understand why, from within a modern, millennial generation, squads of youngsters with fourteen-eyelet boots and black or drab MA-1 jackets tramp around the streets with old, imperial flags held aloft. They know no better.
But it’s time they did. It’s time they went home and learned some history. I’ve studied history, and I known how uncomfortable it can be. Myths of nation and race tend to become less sure, heroes have flaws and sometimes feet of clay, basic trends and facts may be fairly stable but peripheral details become questionable and the overall picture may change hue. Large facts, however, are unavoidable. In the early mid-20th Century, millions of people were sent to specific places to be slaughtered. That is a large fact.