In the Shadow Vaguely

IT IS SOMEHOW depressingly predictable to see that a French election here and now, and one of such importance to the future of France and Europe (to say nothing of the mere European Union), should hinge somehow on historical events in a different nation, which transpired seventy years ago. It has recently come to light that Jean-François Jalkh, interim head of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, made a remark in an interview, some seventeen years ago, expressing skepticism as to the practical possibilities of mass murder via Zyklon B, the agent used in Nazi concentration camps.
      I would ask a question of all of this, whether such a question on my part is licit or not. My question is a simple one: is there any other kind of comment in all the world which could rise from the grave twenty years after the fact, to instantaneously ruin a man’s present and future reputation in the minds of hundreds of thousands of individuals who hitherto have never even heard of him before? Is there not something patently absurd about this?
      But Mr. Jalkh’s fate is likely to be decided on the basis of this single remark—and not only his fate. For he has dared touch upon the untouchable: he has dared dispute the conventional history surrounding the Holocaust.
      An artice of Vox submits these most interesting comments:

At the time, Jalkh told the interviewer that his own questioning of the details of the Holocaust was not out of “deliberate will to harm anyone,” and explained that on things like Zyklon B, “I believe we should be able to discuss this issue.”
      Such questioning, though, is a hallmark of Holocaust revisionists — what scholar Deborah Lipstadt refers to as “soft-core” Holocaust denialism. As Lipstadt wrote in the Atlantic earlier this year, such denialism “does not deny the facts, but it minimizes them.”

If history and historical work means anything at all, this is total nonsense. One must be wary of questioning these things, because then one falls necessarily into the camp of the dreaded Holocaust revisionists? Then one evidently should not be able to discuss this issue. Presumably, this prohibition includes laymen and historians alike. Surrounding this single issue, there must remain an impenetrable, quasi-sacred veil of silence, which we must never dare to lift.
      Note the nice turn at the end: “such denialism ‘does not deny the facts, but minimizes them.’ ” Doesn’t deny, only minimizes. Merely minimizing the claims of the Holocaust is morally equivalent to denying it altogether. In what other field of historical research would this distinction ever stand as a convincing refutation, per se, of any historical argument? Such a statement presupposes that the “facts” are known with such lucidity that any statement remotely questioning them is not only unnecessary, but also surely perverse. In what other aspect of history, in what other single historical event, is such certainty ever assumed by competent historians? If a book comes out which disputes, in accord with the standards of historical research, the figures of how many people Stalin murdered, who would ever accuse its author of “minimizing the facts” or of “Great Terror denial”? (The latter expression does not even exist!) If an historical work proposes a lower estimate than is commonly granted for the number of Native Americans who died on the Trail of Tears, would such a person therefore be held in immediate moral contempt, simply because his figure is not generally accepted? Never. Such works might be controversial; they might be disputed: they are never rejected out of hand.
      Here is the logic underlying the specific obscurantism surrounding the Holocaust:

      1.) Any questioning of the conventionally received opinions regarding the Holocaust, is equivalent to an attack on the dignity of the victims, the horror of the events, and the moral crime of the perpetrators.

      2.) Anyone who so questions, therefore, cannot have anything but questionable motives.

      3.) Permitting these motives to voice themselves is equivalent to risking that the events of the Holocaust, as they have been conventionally received, should repeat themselves.

      4.) Ergo, questioning the Holocaust in any of its particular features, or permitting such questioning without vicious moral backlash, is morally reprehensible, hazardous in the extreme, and vigorously to be opposed.

Need I point out that not a single step of this logic is indisputable?
      Mr. Jalkh fervently denies having ever made any remarks regarding the Holocaust. One doubts, however, that his mere repudiation of these accusations will be near sufficient to wash away the stains of indignation and suspicion which the merest hint of “Holocaust denial” has doubtlessly already cast on his name. The power of the emotions elicited by the Holocaust even today is demonstrated most clearly in this: it is not only his reputation which will be influenced by them. From this single remark, two decades ago, it may well be that the French presidential race here and now is decided.
      In case the utterly distorting historical animus surrounding this issue might befuddle my readers, let me state clearly: I am unsympathetic with the Nazi apologists, or those who wish to make of Hitler a saint and to vindicate his name to the historybooks; such apologists seem to me to suffer from a remarkable degree of buried shame. But still less can I tolerate those who weaponize Hitler, who make of him the be-all and end-all of evil itself, and who make of his name a club with which to cudgel every idea, policy, or human being they disagree with. One wants a little moderate light shined on these matters for once, lest in the resultant darkness we risk being led about blindly, in matters of essential importance to us.
      Or shall we rather persist in living under this shadow of the past, the merest outlines of which we are not even permitted to attempt to discern?

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