Witness Statement of Deborah E. Lipstadt: Electronic Edition, by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Table of Contents
The Purpose of the Book >>

Current Position

1.Family Background: I am a single woman born in New York City in 1947. My father came to the United States from Germany in the late 1920s and my mother emigrated with her family from Canada in the 1920s. Her parents had come to Canada from Poland during the first decade of the twentieth century. They originally settled in New York City but having decided that they could not properly raise their children there, moved to Toronto, Canada. My mother's father ran a small Jewish bookstore. Eventually they left Canada and moved to the United States for economic reasons. My mother, an honors student in Latin, had to prematurely end her education because of the Depression and the difficult economic circumstances in which her family found itself. Eventually she moved to New York City where she ran a Jewish youth organization in New York City. My mother, after staying home to raise three children, became a specialist in antique and rare Jewish ritual art. She was invited to many different cities in the United States to lecture on the topic.
2.My father, who was descended from a prominent family of rabbis and teachers in Germany and Central Europe, left Germany in the late 1920s because he could not find work there. When he first came to the United States he worked as a traveling salesman in order to support himself. Subsequently he started his own business in New York City which he ran until he died at the age of 66 in 1972. During the era of the Third Reich, my father attempted to bring his five sisters from Germany to the United States. Despite his efforts he could not do so. However, they survived in other countries and he succeeded in bringing four of them to the United States in the post-war period.
3.Though my parents placed a great premium on education, neither was able to finish college because of financial reasons. Consequently, ensuring that their children received the best education possible was exceptionally important to them. They also wanted their children to be knowledgeable and literate Jews. All three of their children attended private Jewish schools for their primary and high school education. All of us continued for post-graduate education after receiving our Baccalaureate degrees. My sister received her Ph.D. in Architectural History from the Sorbonne in Paris and my brother received his M.A. in Business Administration from Columbia University in New York City. Books filled our house and we were greatly encouraged to expand our intellectual horizons.
4.The home in which I was raised was a traditional Jewish home. My parents were active volunteers in the community and, in that capacity, they worked for their synagogue, the schools their children attended, and various welfare and charity organizations both secular and religious. They were cited on a number of different occasions for their work on behalf of charitable institutions. .
5.Educational Background: I attended the City College of New York for my B.A. In my third year of college, I traveled to Jerusalem for a year of study at the Hebrew University. I was there during the 1967 war and worked as a volunteer in an orphan home. I decided to remain there for another year so that I could continue my work in Contemporary Jewish Studies. During this period I took a number of courses on the history of the Third Reich and on the Holocaust. Upon my return to the United States, I continued for a M.A. and Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. I concentrated on modern Jewish history. It was at this point that I began to intensively study the history of the Holocaust. While I was in graduate school I helped pay for my education by directing a Jewish youth organization administered by the Reform [Liberal] movement in the United States.
6.Work Experience: Prior to completing my Ph.D. I was hired by the University of Washington as an Assistant Professor in the History Department with a joint appointment to the Program in Comparative Religion. I was the first professor at that university to specialize in Jewish Studies and was responsible for laying the foundation for the university's Jewish Studies program. I began teaching courses on the history of the Holocaust during my second year at the University of Washington (1976) and have been teaching such courses ever since. I subsequently left the University of Washington for a position at UCLA [University of California at Los Angles]. From there I moved to Occidental College, a small private college, in Los Angeles. At UCLA I taught courses in modern Jewish history including a number of seminars on the Holocaust. At Occidental virtually all my courses related in one way or another to the Holocaust.
7.My Current Professional Position: Background on Emory University: From Occidental I moved to Emory University in January 1993. Emory, founded in 1836, is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) a group of the sixty-two most productive and accomplished research universities in the United States. It is an international teaching and research university with a most selective admission policy. It has 11,300 students and 2,500 faculty members. In addition to Emory College, the University encompasses nine schools and divisions, including a graduate school of arts and sciences, professional schools of medicine, theology, law, nursing, public health, and business. There is a distinct difference between Emory's Department of Religion and its Candler School of Theology. The latter is a professional school which ordains Ministers in the Methodist Church and teaches religious education. The Department of Religion, of which I am a member, is responsible for the scientific and critical study of the history of religions.
8.Emory is also home to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Archives and Library. President Carter is a member of the faculty. Emory College has consistently been ranked as one of the top twenty universities in the United States. (In 1997-98, it was ranked as number nine by the U.S. News and World Report Survey of American Colleges and Universities.) It has the fifth largest endowment of any university in the United States. Last year it had well over 10,000 applications for approximately 1,000 places in its entering class. Generally students who are accepted to Emory are in the top 10% of their high school classes, if not higher. Among its faculty members are Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize laureate in literature. Currently, Bishop Desmond Tutu is teaching at the university. Last year the Dalai Lama was in residence here and delivered the commencement address.
9.Teaching/Administrative Activities at Emory: I was hired by the Department of Religion to teach courses on the history of the modern Jewish experience with particular emphasis on the Holocaust. The Department of Religion has fifteen faculty members who teach an array of courses on the history, literature, anthropology, and theology of a wide array of religious traditions. Their fields of expertise include specific religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. They also teach comparative categories such as sacred texts, religion and ethnography, religion and violence, and gender and religion.
10.Shortly after my arrival at Emory, the University submitted a proposal to the Dorot Foundation, a major foundation which has endowed a number of positions at various universities throughout the United States. The proposal suggested a number of different ways the foundation might support Emory. The Foundation selected the most "costly " of these proposals and elected to endow a chair. They made a gift to the university of 1.25 million dollars. The President of the Foundation, the late Joy Ungerleider Mayerson, informed the university that it chose the option of the chair because I would be the occupant. In recognition of my areas of expertise, the Foundation named the chair the Dorot Chair in Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies.
11.At Emory I have served as chair of the Graduate Program in Jewish Studies since its inception. This program, which offers a Masters is designed to allow students to expand their knowledge of Jewish culture, society, and history, prior to entering the job market or continuing for their Ph.D. This program is four years old. It was recently evaluated by a external evaluating committee which was invited to the university by the Dean of Emory College. That committee was chaired by the former Provost of Brown University, an Ivy League university with the most selective admission's policy in the United States. He described the Jewish Studies graduate program as a "stunning success." As Chair of this program I am responsible for devising the budget and the recruiting program, monitoring student progress, and working with the central administration of the university to promote its growth and development.
12.I am currently coordinating the establishment by Emory University of an Institute for Jewish Studies. Such an Institute will encompass the various programs in Jewish Studies which are currently spread out across the campus. It will allow students to major in Jewish Studies and receive their Baccalaureate in the field. This effort demands coordinating the five or six departments which would be involved in the effort. It is an arduous and administratively complex effort which has stretched out over two years.
13.A significant portion of my teaching activities involve working with graduate students. I advise students in various graduate departments who are studying different aspects of the Holocaust. Among the graduate students with whom I work are Lissa Skitol, a Ph.D. student in Philosophy, who will write her dissertation on the use of philosophic tools to understand the Holocaust; Jonathan Lewis, a graduate student in the History Department, who is concentrating on America's response to the Holocaust, 1933-1945; and Maureen MacLaughlin, also of the History Department, who is working on the history of the Holocaust in Italy.
14.Teaching Awards: Since I arrived at Emory, I have received a number of teaching awards. In 1996, I was voted by the students as the professor with the highest ability to captivate students and make subject material interesting. In 1997, I received Emory's highest teaching award, the Emory Williams Teaching Award. This award is based on a vote by alumni who are asked to cite the teacher who has had the greatest impact on them. In 1998, my courses were cited by the students as among the most worthwhile on campus.
15.Administrative Responsibilities: At the university I serve on the Presidential Advisory Committee, a group of ten faculty members [one from each division or school at the university] who are personally selected by the president. It is our responsibility to advise the President of the University on all matters relating to faculty promotions and hiring. We are also used by the President as an unofficial cabinet to advise him on significant issues facing the university.
16.In addition, I was elected by my colleagues in Emory College to the Faculty Council, one of the most significant entities in Emory College. The Faculty Council's responsibility is to review the files of all faculty members who are being considered for any form of promotion. We recommend to the Dean of the College whether these promotions should be granted or rejected. If we reject a promotion of a faculty member who is being considered for tenure then that faculty member must resign from the University.
17.Non-University Academic Activities: In addition to my work at the University I am engaged in various activities outside the University. I am often asked to visit other universities to give lectures on topics related to the Holocaust. Among the universities to which I have been invited to lecture in the recent past have been Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania.
18.There are, however, two non-university academic activities which occupy the lion's share of the time I devote to activities outside the University. They are The United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the United States Department of State Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad.
19.The United States Holocaust Memorial Council: I was an historical consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [hereafter USHMM] when it was being built. I was asked to prepare a film which would delineate various aspects of the American response to the Holocaust. In that capacity, I determined the topics to be covered by the film. In addition, I did the research and wrote the treatment, i.e. the filmic equivalent of script. My direct supervisors for this project were Raye Farr and Martin Smith, who directed and produced segments of the twenty six hour Thames Television production, World at War. The film on the history of the American response to the Holocaust is part of the permanent exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. It has won a series of awards since the opening of the USHMM. It has won the following awards: GOLD HUGO: Intercom '93, Chicago, Highest award given, 1 of 6 awarded in 1993, Category: Educational - Social Sciences/Humanities; MUSE AWARD: American Association of Museums Media & Technology Committee, Recognizing Outstanding Museum Film & Video, Category: History; CINE GOLDEN EAGLE: Cine Film & Video Festival, Category: Documentary; BRONZE PLAQUE: 41st Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Category: Social Issues.
20.In 1994, after completing my professional work for the museum, I received a Presidential appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The Council, which has sixty members, fifty of whom are appointed by the White House, and ten of whom are members of the Congress, is the Federal body which has been charged by the United States Congress with responsibility for administering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The USHMM is the American government's Federal museum of the Holocaust. It is located adjacent to the Washington Monument, the United States Treasury, and the Smithsonian Institution. Built to accommodate one million visitors a year, in the six years since it opened it has been visited by two million visitors every year. Approximately 80% of these visitors are not Jewish.
21.The Chairman of the Council appointed me to chair the Education Committee. In that capacity my responsibility is to supervise the work of the Education Department of the USHMM. Education is one of the USHMM's most significant activities. The USHMM is visited by over 400,000 children in organized groups ever year. I work with the staff and assist in the design and coordination of these visitors. In addition, the Education Committee is responsible for the planning and execution of temporary exhibitions at the USHMM and for an array of traveling exhibits. The Education Committee runs a series of conferences for teachers which I help to plan and to which I deliver lectures. As a result of my serving as Chair of the Education committee, I automatically serve on the museum's Executive Committee. This is the twelve- member committee which is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the museum.
22.In addition, I am currently serving on the committee which is conducting a search for a new executive director of the museum. The work that I do at the museum, which is entirely voluntary, occupies a minimum of three working days a month and often far more than that. I am eligible to receive payment from the United States government for my service to the USHMM. I have, however, waived this and do my work on a voluntary basis.
23.United States Department of State Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad: In November 1996, I was appointed by the Secretary of State to the newly formed Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. In this capacity, together with a small group of leaders and scholars, I advise the Secretary of State on matters of religious persecution abroad and to seek ways in which to advance the universal right to religious freedom. There are twenty members on this committee. They include the leaders of various denominations in the United States and three professors, of which I am one, who specialize in issues of religious pluralism and/or religious persecution. I was appointed because my study of the Holocaust has focused on how the reaction of foreign governments to religious persecution can affect the nature of that persecution. We meet at the State Department approximately every other month and confer by telephone at other times. We have been asked by the Secretary of State to prepare a report for her to submit to the President. The report will analyze the nature of religious persecution worldwide and offers some insight on how the United States government might address some of the problems that arise when issues of religious freedom intersect with foreign policy.
24.In addition, I am an active member of the American Jewish community. I belong to a myriad of organizations and am frequently invited to speak to synagogue and communal groups on various matters of contemporary Jewish interest. I have twice been invited to Australia by the Jewish community there to address them on the history of the Holocaust and on Holocaust denial.
25.Research and Writing on the Holocaust: My books and articles on the Holocaust have all explored, in one form or another, the American response to the Holocaust from the perspective of social, political, and cultural history. The overarching question which interests me is what impact the Holocaust had on America. I have explored this issue for the period of the Third Reich itself and am currently doing so for the post-war period. In addition, I have examined the impact of the Holocaust on different segments of American society including the general populace, political leaders, media, Jewish community, purveyors of popular culture, and a relatively small group of people who deny the Holocaust. In other words, my books and articles on the Holocaust are an attempt not to just to shed light on the event itself but to also illumine the manner in which it has reverberated in American society and culture.
26.I have written two books on the responses to the Holocaust and am currently attempting to write a third. The first is Beyond Belief: The American Press and The Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945. The impetus for writing Beyond Belief, which analyzes the way the American media covered the news of the persecution of European Jewry, came from a challenge hurled at me by a student a number of years ago. Having just delineated for my students the detailed information regarding the destruction of European Jewry which was available to the Allies during the course of the war, I was asked by a student about the amount of information available to the public. How much of the information in the hands of the American State Department and British Foreign Office reached the general public? I contended that given all the public declarations, international conferences, and government-authorized information which was released, the public could have known a great deal. Furthermore, I contended, America had reporters in Germany until May 1942. (After America's entry into the war in December 1941, those reporters who remained in Germany were interned. However, they still managed to collect information on developments regarding the war and the persecution of the Jews. When they were released and returned to the United States in May 1942 they publicized much of this information.) My student found it hard to comprehend how people could have read about this in their daily papers and "not done anything." He pointed out that there was significant dissonance between my claim, that a great deal of information was available, and the general perception extant in the late 1970s that the public knew nothing until after the war was over. Rather than let the class become a debating match, I determined to explore this issue in greater and more systematic detail.
27.My research for this book, which consisted among other things, of reviewing the news about the persecution of the Jews between the years 1933 and 1945 in over one hundred American newspapers, revealed the complex relationship between information and knowledge. Information on the persecution of the Jews -- which was to be found in many American newspapers -- did not necessarily lead to knowledge of the actual event.
28.Whether information results in knowledge is also dependent on how the information was presented, i.e. its placement in the paper or magazine, the source of the story, and whether it was accompanied by pictures or documentation of some sort. My research proved to me that the relationship between information and knowledge is quite complex. This situation was not unique to the United States. Even at the very end of the war, the BBC felt it had to address the great skepticism prevalent among its listeners about the reports of German murder and destruction. Much of the public, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, was inclined to dismiss news of Nazi Germany as "atrocity stories" or wartime propaganda. Consequently, in 1945, at the conclusion of the war, the BBC set aside a report prepared by its own correspondent on Buchenwald. Instead it used a report prepared by Edward R. Murrow, London correspondent for the American radio network, CBS. Murrow, who was held in exceptionally high esteem by the British public, would, the BBC believed, be more readily believed than would the BBC reporter. It is worth noting that even Murrow included in his famous report the words, "I pray you to believe."
29. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory is, in many respects, a continuation of my work in Beyond Belief. From a certain perspective, it reverses the question of information and knowledge. Today, in contrast to the situation during the war, the Holocaust is probably among the widest known historical events. Despite the widespread general awareness, many people are not aware of the historical research and primary documents upon which our knowledge is based. This haziness about "how we know what we know" leaves room for those who deny the Holocaust to make all sorts of fantastic claims. The deniers manipulate information so that the general public will question whether the knowledge it has is accurate. They seek not to illumine but to deceive.
30.I was intrigued by the tactics deniers use to plant these seeds of doubt in people's minds. They present themselves as a legitimate "other side" of an academic or historical debate. They do this despite the fact that among legitimate historians there is no debate about the existence of the Holocaust.
31.The reception by critics in both scholarly and popular journals to Denying the Holocaust was exceptionally positive. The book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World on the same day. It also received exceptionally positive reviews in the Los Angeles Times and other regional newspapers. In addition, I was interviewed on a number of leading news and radio interview shows. There were reviews that took issue with my findings but even those treated the book in a serious fashion. I do not include in this last category the various reviews of the book in Holocaust denial publications and on their various web sites.
32.As a result of the book I was invited to appear on a number of television shows with large audiences. I declined to do so because they wanted me to engage in a discussion or debate with a Holocaust denier. My rationale for declining these appearances was that it accorded deniers a legitimacy they did not deserve. For example, an astronomer or aerospace engineer would not sit down in a legitimate debate with someone who contends that the earth is flat.
33.The book on which I am currently working examines the various ways American commemoration of the Holocaust has evolved during the past five decades. Tentatively entitled, America Remembers the Holocaust: From the Newsreels to Schindler's List, this book will examine the manner in which America has dealt with the memory of the Holocaust. In it I plan to explore how the Holocaust has been given expression in the cultural, political, sociological, and theological arena. The evolution of America's memory of the Holocaust, which begins with a willed amnesia and culminates [as far as the parameters of this book are concerned] with the opening of the United Sates Holocaust Memorial Museum and the movie Schindler's List, can only be understood by a complete examination of the social, political, and religious developments in the American Jewish community and in American society in general. I believe that America's greater willingness to confront the Holocaust today reflects the fact that American society is generally more inclined to confront its own historical shortcomings, e.g. slavery and segregation, the suppression of women's rights, and the internment of the Japanese Americans in World War II.
34.That book was scheduled to be completed by now. It has been significantly delayed because of my involvement in this lawsuit. In fact, instead of having drafted the majority of the manuscript, I have only completed preliminary drafts of two chapters. There is great interest in the book as is evidenced by the number of invitations I have received to speak on this topic at various universities and academic conferences. I delivered a paper on this topic in August 1997 at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem (see Appendix, Tab1). The paper examined the intersection between Holocaust commemoration and domestic politics during the Carter Administration. In November 1997, I delivered a paper at a conference sponsored by Harvard University on the history of the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States Capitol (see Appendix, Tab 2). The conference conveners responded enthusiastically. The paper will be published in the near future. In addition, I have just completed an essay concerning the historiography of America's response to the Holocaust, i.e. the way different historians have analyzed the American role (see Appendix, Tab 3).
35.These three essays will eventually constitute a limited portion of this book. They constitute less than 15% of the total manuscript. The manuscript should have been well near completion by this point in time. David Irving's actions against me have seriously and significantly disrupted my ability to perform one of the major aspects of my profession: creative research and writing.
36.Personal Background: I have had long-standing interest in many aspects of twentieth-century Jewish history. I received a traditional Jewish education, attending Jewish schools until I entered university. There was little discussion of the Holocaust in my home when I was a child. However, on Passover night my father would read a commemoration of those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He would become quite emotional as he recalled friends, relatives, and classmates with whom he had grown up in Hamburg who had perished. Though I knew of the event and its broad outlines, I cannot help but be struck by the fact that, even in a Jewish school, we learned so little about it. I attribute this to the fact that it was terribly difficult for American Jews to address this issue in the two decades following the war. They did not begin to do so until a post-Holocaust generation came of age and other dramatic shifts occurred in American society.
37.I attended City College of New York. There I studied American social and political history, concentrating on the late 19th and early 20th century. I was particularly interested in the history of the acculturation of Eastern and Southern European immigrant groups into American society. As part of this course of study, I wrote a number of research papers on the hostility and prejudice encountered by immigrants, particularly those from Eastern and Southern Europe. This work on American prejudice towards those immigrants who were not WASPS [White Anglo Saxon Protestants] led me into a systematic study of antisemitism. When my interests turned to the 20th century, I paid particular attention to the case of refugees from Nazi Germany. This work helped prepare me, to some degree, for my study of Holocaust denial. It exposed me to what some scholars have come to call the "paranoid style in American politics," a style which is particularly susceptible to all sorts of conspiracy theories, including Holocaust denial. I became intrigued by the use of conspiracy theories to foster prejudice in general and antisemitism in particular. During the Holocaust, for example, despite a total lack of evidence to substantiate these charges, those who were adamantly opposed to the immigration of refugees in general and Jews in particular, convinced the American public that Jewish refugees posed a significant threat as a German Fifth Column, i.e. domestic spies.
38.During the 1966-67 academic year, I attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem to which I received a tuition fellowship and stipend in recognition of my academic record. I studied at the Institute for Contemporary Jewry where I took a series of courses on the history of the Holocaust. But I also encountered the Holocaust outside the classroom in a non-academic setting. I met Holocaust survivors in every walk of life. Professors at the university, bank tellers, and the shoemaker who repaired my shoes were among the survivors I met. Although I had grown up knowing some survivors, I never heard them speak of their experiences in more than a passing fashion. The most I recollect them saying was a comment such as, "When I came here after the war..." In Israel I began to encounter these people in a sustained fashion. Replicating the behavior the survivors I had known as a child, they also did not refer to their experiences except in a passing fashion. But towards the end of the 1966-67 academic year that changed dramatically. In the weeks prior to the June 1967 Six Day War survivors in Israel began to make much more frequent reference to the Holocaust. They were not the only ones to connect the events then occurring in Israel with the Holocaust. In the weeks, that followed as the Tehran Straits were closed to ships bearing cargo for Israel, as Egypt expelled United Nations forces which patrolled the border with Israel, and as all the Arab League countries joined in a military alliance against Israel, I began to hear a great deal of speculation as to whether the Jewish people were poised on the brink of another Holocaust. Mass graves were prepared in Tel Aviv in the anticipation of a myriad of casualties. American students at the university received phone calls and telegrams from their parents urging them to leave because a major tragedy seemed to be in the offing. The university shut down because so many students were drafted. Tension was palpable but life continued. I delivered mail and volunteered at a children's home outside of Tel Aviv where most of the counselling staff had been drafted. There were a number of Holocaust survivors on the staff. They too spoke of their experiences during the World War II. This was the first time I heard so many survivors talk in such graphic terms about their experiences.
39.This increased my interest in the Holocaust and other aspects of contemporary Jewish history. I remained at the university in Jerusalem for another year. In the fall of 1968, I returned to New York to finish my B.A. degree. In 1969, I received my B.A. with high honors and was elected to the prestigious honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. By that time I had decided to move from my study of American history and society to study of Jewish history and society. Much of the research I did in graduate school examined the intersection between Jewish history and American history.
40.In 1972 events outside the classroom propelled me to deepen further my commitment to study of the Holocaust. I visited the former Soviet Union and had the opportunity to see a number of sites that are of particular importance in the history of the Holocaust, e.g. Ponary, Babi Yar, Czernowitz. I had as my guide younger Jews who were in the process of challenging Soviet totalitarianism. One of the ways in which they did so was by study of Jewish history. I also heard many Holocaust survivors talk about their experiences under the Third Reich. I was struck by the fact that many of them were reluctant to speak to me openly about the persecution they endured during the war and only did so when they were relatively sure they were not being watched by the Soviet authorities.
41.During this and subsequent visits, I spent a great deal of time with young Soviet men and women born in the wake of the Holocaust. Many were children of Holocaust survivors. Some of their parents had been in concentration camps, most however had fled eastward as the Germans approached. These "Refuseniks," i.e. people who had been refused permission to leave the USSR, and dissidents were among the "freest" people I met on my trip, they had liberated themselves from a terrible fear of the authorities.
42.These young Jews stressed that while Soviet authorities did not deny that the Holocaust happened they significantly skewed its history. The Holocaust was portrayed by Soviet officials as an act by the Fascists against the Communists. To have described the Holocaust as an act by Germans would have been to implicate not only West Germans but East Germans as well. Moreover, to have focused on the fact that while many people suffered horribly at the hands of the Germans and their allies, Jews were the target of the Final Solution, would have been to validate the existence of an ethnic group, i.e. the Jews, something which was contrary to Marxist ideology. Nazi Germany's explicit and unambiguous policy of antisemitism disappeared in the process. This policy of de-Judaizing the Holocaust was a legacy of Soviet antisemitism, which, in the wake of the 1967 war, had been terribly exacerbated.
43.This policy played itself out in many ways. These young men and woman had learned about the terrible persecution by Nazi Germany but had barely heard a reference to the suffering of Jews and the German intent to annihilate European Jewry. Sites at which the Nazis had murdered Jews commemorated the death of Soviet citizens but failed to mention that all the Soviet citizens killed at that spot were Jews. Yevteshenko's famous poem "Babi Yar," about the massacre site outside of Kiev, protested this policy of Soviet de-Judaization of the victims. Even in a Jewish cemetery burial sites were de-Judaized. One Jewish cemetery I visited in the Czernowitz area proclaimed that it held the remains of 800 victims of the Fascists and that the victims were Russians, Georgians, Bukovinians, Ukrainians etc. Jews were not mentioned.
44.The Soviets did not deny German brutality. Soviet citizens experienced horrendous suffering at the hands of Nazi Germany; they simply tried to deny both the national identity of the perpetrators and the ethnic identity of the victims.
45.During this visit to the Soviet Union I encountered antisemitism face-to-face. I spent Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Judaism's most holy day of the year, in Czernowitz, a city whose Jewish community had been decimated by the Holocaust. I went to the synagogue and spent a good part of the day talking to the Jews who were gathered there.
46.Prayer books were in terribly short supply because Soviet authorities restricted distribution of them. Consequently, I lent my prayer book to an elderly woman. Shortly thereafter, an official of the synagogue who, I subsequently learned, worked for the government, accused me of being a "provocateur." (Since synagogues were government institutions these officials were government employees. Many worked for the police and the KGB and were placed in these positions in order to inform on any contact Jews might make with visitors from abroad.) When he saw the woman with my prayer book he accused me of distributing religious ritual items, which was forbidden by Soviet law, took the prayer book, and left the synagogue in anger. The next day, when I was scheduled to travel to Kishinev, my traveling partner and I were taken from the hotel by KGB police, brought to a remote train station outside of Czernowitz, held for an entire day, questioned separately, strip searched, forced to sign statements about our contacts with Jews, and forbidden from contacting American authorities.
47.I was accused of trying to subvert the USSR, being anti-Communist, and spreading false stories about the Soviet regime. The officials spoke of Jews using traditional antisemitic stereotypes. The contempt of these officials for me was made manifest in the most unambiguous fashion.
48.When my train finally crossed the Soviet border I realized that this was the first and only time in my life that I had confronted governmental totalitarianism face-to-face. And all because I had lent my prayer book to an elderly woman in the synagogue.
49.Though I was well aware that what I had seen could not be compared to the persecution Jews had suffered under the Nazis, I became greatly interested in the invidious nature of antisemitism. I began to intensely study the history of the Holocaust. I became increasingly convinced that this seminal moment in Jewish history had to be understood and remembered. It could not be something only taught by Jews to Jews. Given the way in which the Soviets skewed the history of this event, I also became convinced that it had to be taught on a straightforward absolutely factual level. The highest levels of scholarship had to be applied.
50.Our Responsibility to Teach about it: Why should we study the history of the Holocaust: "Why should we dwell on this horrible event of over fifty years ago?" "Let memories such as these fade. Don't live in the past." Such comments are made by those who do not believe or understand why the Holocaust should be taught. Those who make such comments often have sincere motivations. They have not, however, considered the issue carefully. For someone, such as myself, who has devoted so much of her creative energies to this field and who has spent over two years defending my right to do so, the answers have become painfully self-evident.
51.First of all, the Holocaust did not occur in the distant past. [No one would consider telling Allied veterans to forget World War II.] There are both perpetrators and survivors alive today. To tell the perpetrators that they may forget what they did constitutes the ultimate evasion of responsibility. Moreover, it also seems to be a guarantee that we will be condemned to repeat such horrors. To tell survivors that it is time for them to "forget" strikes me as the height of insensitivity. It would be the equivalent of telling a victim of a horribly violent rape or someone who had witnessed the brutal murder of his entire family, to "forget it" and move on. They may move on with their lives but they will never -- nor should they -- forget.
52.But personal sensitivity to an individual's or group's suffering is not reason enough for anyone, other than those in the group, to engage in the act of remembering. If study of the Holocaust were solely a matter of personal memories, there would be little need for museums, courses, movies, and books on the Holocaust. The rationale for study of the Holocaust transcends the individual memories of a particular group. There is much we can learn from the Holocaust and much, even more significantly, we can teach future generations. The tragedies in Cambodia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Bosnia, among other places, indicate that the world has not learned the lessons from the Holocaust.
53.For Jews, both those who were directly touched by this event and those, such as myself, who were not, there is a particular significance to the study of this event. It is hard for Jews to forget that but fifty years ago approximately one out of every three Jews in the world was killed. Central to Jewish belief is the act of remembering. One is to remember the bad (you were slaves in Egypt) and the good (you were liberated from there); you are to remember how you suffered and how you have been blessed. Even those who have not experienced an event are commanded to "remember" it. But, it is crucial to stress, remembering is not synonymous with bearing eternal enmity. One can forgive and remember simultaneously. In fact, there would be those who argue, that a prerequisite for forgiving is remembering.
54.Jews respond in many different ways to this "remembering" of the Holocaust. Some become more committed to preserving their ritual and tradition. Some contend that because Jews today are so few in number they must husband their energies for helping other Jews. They are determined to aid Jews who are in distress, particularly when that distress is antisemitic in origin. Others, convinced that the legacy of the Holocaust demands a more universalistic approach, feel that, as Jews living in a post-Holocaust world, they must shoulder a special responsibility for fighting evil and eradicating hatred irrespective of where it occurs and who is the victim. And some Jews combine these responses to one degree or another. I believe myself to be one of the latter, a little bit of all these things.
55.I feel a responsibility to teach other Jews about Jewish tradition, knowing that one out of every three Jews was killed shortly before my lifetime. This is not to suggest, of course, that the only or even primary reason to preserve Jewish tradition is because of the Holocaust. During the 1970s and 1980s, I worked hard on behalf of Soviet Jews when they were being persecuted, in part because I "remembered" that during World War II when European Jews cried out for help, they felt abandoned by the world. But I also believe that, as a member of the first generation of Jews born after the Holocaust, I have a special responsibility to respond to the suffering of others.
56.Thou Shall Not Stand Idly By: On Being a Bystander: While doing my research for my book Beyond Belief, I found an article from the front page of the April 22, 1943 edition of the New York Times. It told of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and of the transmission from Poland of a secret underground radio broadcast describing how the "the last thirty five thousand Jews in the ghetto at Warsaw have been condemned to execution. The people are murdered. Women and children defend themselves with their naked arms." Then, just before the station went dead, the following was heard: "Save us...." (see Appendix, Tab 4).
57.That article exemplifies the quandary faced by many "bystanders." The war was at its height. There was relatively little that could be done at that point to aid these people and, yet, the words "Save us" carry with them a power of their own.
58.My experience in learning about and teaching the Holocaust also reminds that while it is true that by 1943 there was little the individual citizen could have done, in 1933 and for a number of years thereafter, there was much more room for action.
59.The Nazi regime was particularly susceptible to pressure and protest in its early years. By 1939, it was virtually too late for foreign nations to exert much pressure. This, as well as subsequent genocidal events, proves that generally once atrocities or massacres are underway protest is often futile. Then one can only place limited pressure on the perpetrators. Injustice of this nature can be far more efficaciously combated when it first rears its head, before it becomes a tragedy of major proportions.
60.To study the Holocaust and emerge as one who responds only to the cries of one's own group would be to learn the wrong lesson. Today, when I read news stories of suffering in Kosovo or Rwanda I am sometimes inclined to turn the page without reading them. After all, I rationalize, what can I, a private citizen, do? But, the legacy of the Holocaust compels me to recognize that such a response is wrong. When I encounter -- directly or indirectly -- contemporary acts of persecution, I try to find someway to let my protest be heard. At times such as these I am reminded not only of the words from the New York Times article, "Save us," but also of the verse from Leviticus 19: "Thou shall not stand idly by as thy brother's blood is spilled." As a result of my teaching of the Holocaust that verse has taken on new meaning for me. It has had an impact on my personal Weltanschauung. It has made it more difficult for me to be a bystander.
61.Those we tend to call "ordinary" Germans may also be counted among the bystanders and/or facilitators. By ordinary Germans, I mean those German "Aryan" citizens of the Third Reich who were neither government functionaries nor party members. They did not run businesses which profited from the fact that Jews were being deprived of their fortunes and virtually all their worldly possessions. They were the "people in the street," who, though they may never have beaten up a Jew or thrown a rock through a store owned by Jews, stopped talking to Jewish neighbors before laws demanded that they do so and who kept silent even in the early years when protest was possible.
62.The early hardships experienced by Reich Jewry in the 1930s pale in the light of the severity of the ghettoes and concentration and death camps which followed. Nonetheless, the response of the bystanders, both domestic and foreign, during the 1930s to the acts of persecution perpetrated by the Third Reich are of particular significance because this period was a testing ground. Had Aryan citizens of the Reich and other nations with which the Germans wished to maintain diplomatic and commercial relations expressed unambiguous and sustained revulsion at the Nazi's antisemitic policies, it is possible that the Final Solution would not have evolved as it did.
63.I try to impress upon my students the social and political realities of the time. They must understand that there was a limit to what the various bystander nations could have done and to the number of refugees they could have admitted. Yet, these obstacles notwithstanding, the question remains: did the bystander nations and institutions offer whatever aid it was plausible for them to offer?
64.The story of the bystanders is particularly significant because my students are convinced, as are most people today, that they could never be perpetrators. So too they are convinced that they would never "allow" themselves to be victims. In all likelihood, they will be neither. But they will be and, in many respects, have already been bystanders. Bystanders often comfort themselves with the claim: there was nothing we could do. One of the things my students learn as they explore the issue of Holocaust rescuers, is that in relation to the Holocaust there was often something that could be done. That is why Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler capture our imagination. There was something that could be done and they did it. Potential accomplices (Schindler) and bystanders (Wallenberg) became heroes. They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things. In the face of unmitigated evil a bystander becomes a facilitator of sorts.
65.The Slippery Slope of Persecution: The Holocaust also offers important lessons about the slippery slope of persecution, i.e. that terrible acts of hatred don't emerge in one fell swoop. They develop over time, in a step-by-step fashion. Students must understand that an event of this magnitude did not emerge full-blown from the brow of the perpetrators, it began with a series of incremental steps. From 1933 on, life in Germany for the Jews constituted an unending series of terrible humiliations. Jews could shop for only one hour at the end of the day when a store's stock was often depleted and any "Aryan" present had to be waited on first. Elderly Jews sitting on park benches designated "for Jews only" were easy targets for stones thrown by "Aryan" children. By the end of the 1930s, Jewish life in the Reich comprised restrictions, humiliations, degradations, and physical persecution. The Holocaust demonstrates that terrible outrages begin with small acts of hatred and prejudice.
66.The Holocaust demonstrates that prejudicial hatred is a slippery slope and that violence has its genesis in small expressions of prejudice and hatred.
The Purpose of the Book >>

accessed 12 March 2013