27/01/2017 17:58 GMT | Updated 28/01/2017 12:58 GMT

Holocaust Memorial Day: Why Denouncing Deniers Is More Important Than Ever

WARNING: Contains graphic images.

(L) Jews wearing Star of David badges in the Lodz Ghetto in German-occupied Poland, (C) a promotional poster for Denial and (R) David Irving.

“Today, we have people in the highest, most powerful offices of the world who say ‘facts don’t matter’,” says Professor Deborah Lipstadt, noting the parallel with the Holocaust deniers she has fought for decades.

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President Donald Trump hosts a reception for House and Senate leaders in the the State Dining Room of the White House.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) marked the release of Denial, the big-screen adaption of a landmark 1996 legal case that put racism, anti-Semitism and questions of free speech on trial.

Prof Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz in the film, is an American historian who was sued for libel by the Holocaust denier, David Irving.

Irving lost four years later in 2000 but despite the verdict, which pored over and reconfirmed the factual details of events from over 70 years ago, there are still those today who believe six million Jews and five million other “undesirables”, did not die at the hands of the Nazis.

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Frightened Jewish families surrender to Nazi soldiers at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

Social Media and Holocaust denial in a ‘post-truth’ world

Below the Denial trailer itself on YouTube, many of the top-rated comments are from accounts saying the Holocaust is no more than a myth invented by nefarious and all-powerful Jews.

Gregorio Borgia/AP
Deborah Lipstadt poses on the red carpet at the screening of Denial at the Rome Film festival in October 2016.

While Holocaust denial is highlighted every year on HMD (Friday), the underlying psychology that creates a stubborn refusal to acknowledge facts, has now leaked outside the world of conspiracy theorists and into mainstream political discourse.

Brexit, the US election campaign and President Donald Trump’s first few days in office have all been dominated by debates about “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

Prof Lipstadt told The Huffington Post UK: “Certainly during the Brexit campaign there were all sorts of claims made when, after the campaign, people said: ‘Hey, is all that money that was going to Brussels now going to go to the NHS?’ And the people who said it said: ‘Oh we didn’t really mean it.’

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Execution of Kiev Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivangorod Ukraine 1942.

“In the recent presidential campaign people were admonished not to take Trump seriously or not take what he says as literally true, I mean people are now very loose with facts and and there are certain things that are true.”

President Trump has taken a number of positions that fly in the face of established facts (questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth and alleging massive election fraud are but two examples) and sent out his press spokesman to lie about the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration last week, giving birth to the term “alternative facts”.

More and more people are beginning to ask what lessons the ‘post-truth’ world can learn from the Holocaust denier movement.

Lipstadt says: “I have to tell you, when the producers first optioned my book and began to work on the film Denial a year ago, none of us thought there would be as much of a contemporary parallel. There was climate change denial, there was the anti-vaccine movement and so on but today we have people in the highest, most powerful offices of the world who say ‘facts don’t matter’.

“We have a spokesman for now-President Trump saying ‘I now believe in alternative facts.’

“There’s another word for alternative facts - ‘lies’.” 

Lisptadt says: “Well there’s no evidence for that and even Republican leaders are telling him to stop it. You create a lack of faith in democracy. People end up saying they don’t believe in the system and they don’t believe that votes work, the system is manipulated. 

“I think it’s very dangerous. It creates a world where people can make up their own stories and facts. It creates disbelief, it creates doubt.”

Lipstadt’s fears have been echoed on Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent British historian, Simon Schama, who warned of parallels between today’s political climate and 1930s Germany.

Lisptadt concludes: “[Holocaust Memorial Day] is not about just remembering something that was done to a particular group at a particular time, it’s a metaphor.

“It’s a painful metaphor for what happens when people are willing to follow a demagogue, when people are willing to accept untruths, when people are willing to overlook prejudice, to overlook hatred, to overlook attacks on groups that are weaker.”

Galerie Bilderwelt via Getty Images
The arrival of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland, June 1944.

Debunking Three Common Holocaust Denier Arguments

Dr Nicholas Terry, is an expert on the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at the University of Exeter and founder of the anti-denial blog Holocaust Controversies, that takes on the deniers.