by Rob Morrison
The recently released movie Denial, starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, and Timothy Spall, focuses on the challenge of telling the truth about the Holocaust. In 1995, British Holocaust denier, David Irving, brought a slander suit against Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books. Lipstadt had eviscerated Irving in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust, and Irving responded by bringing suit in the UK. A surprising tension was created in the movie as the judge rules that if Irving believed what he wrote, then Lipstadt had indeed slandered him by saying that he was deliberately lying. British libel law puts the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the plaintiff, so Lipstadt had the challenge of trying to prove that Irving knew that the Holocaust had occurred, and had lied in his speeches and written work.
Sadly, Denial was not my introduction to the small band of dangerous deniers of The Holocaust. During my junior year of high school a rumor began to emerge that a respected French teacher, Monsieur B., was a Holocaust denier. He had been born in France in 1927 and had finished school in Paris in 1947. He had moved to America in the 1950’s and had enjoyed a 20+ year career teaching high school French. He maintained his accent and a love for soccer, and he had a gravitas that made him much respected especially amongst his flock of upper school scholars. I laughed off the rumors, but then in history class I heard my classmates beginning to echo the questions deniers had been asking about: The use of the gas chambers (“Weren’t the showers used as delousing stations?) or the crematorium (“Weren’t the ovens used for burning bodies that arrived at the camp already dead?”). As students in the 70’s we had been taught to question everything, and a flicker of doubt was raised, for the whole idea of the Holocaust seemed ridiculous. The fundamental premise that the Holocaust occurred — and happened in my parents’ lifetime — was beyond belief. While it took a concerted effort by my school to counter the infectious appeal of Monsieur B.’s denial of the Holocaust, it wasn’t until his ideas were outwardly questioned by a first-hand witness to the Holocaust by the school psychologist. When Dr. S, an Austrian-German, told his story of survival, we were all riveted. Now 40 years later, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember who the target was, and that Monsieur B. quietly resigned, with no fanfare at the end of the school year.
Denial is a compelling movie, but it also highlights the need for continual vigilance against historical revisionism. The Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council has the honor each year to present a speaker at Town Hall to observe and remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. The voices of those who were first-hand witnesses to these events are slowly dying out, while the smoldering ugliness of fascism and neo-Nazism still creeps through society here and in Europe. Deniers of the Holocaust have emerged as political leaders in the wake of anti-immigration hatred. It is therefore crucial that we all bear witness to the stories that we heard from first-hand accounts retold in our lifetime. It is now the responsibility of the next generation to remember and retell the stories of the stories of the survivors. Supporting the annual Concord Holocaust Memorial Observance is one small step that we take to make sure that the warped ideas of David Irving and “Monsier B.” are disproven and rejected. We hope to see you at the Town House for our annual Holocaust Memorial Observance in April 2017.