For the past week, members of the UW-Madison community have been debating the extent to which denials of the Holocaust, or more specifically, ads that deny the Holocaust constitute free speech. As a scholar in German studies, I want to take a few moments to address a slightly different set of issues.
Many of the comments that have been submitted to The Badger Herald emphasize the consequences of such denials for members of our Jewish community. They are right to be concerned about the consequences. We are fortunate to have larger numbers of Jewish students as a percentage of our total population than most of our Big Ten peers, a fact of which we are not only proud, but of which we are all beneficiaries.
Anyone sensitive to the long-term, intergenerational effects of trauma, but also everyone who cares about truth, will be disgusted by efforts to deny the source of that trauma and the facts about Nazi genocide that have been established by the historical record.
The Nazis themselves (e.g., Adolf Eichmann) fixed the number of murdered Jews at between five and six million. They also planned and implemented the murders of the Roma, of communists, homosexuals and the disabled. Add to that the more than 10 million mostly Slavic civilians and prisoners of war, and thousands of civilians of other nations. In 1941, Nazi planners designed the deaths by hunger of approximately 30 million non-combatants in the Soviet Union alone. The Holocaust was a project of genocide, an effort to eradicate European Jews. It was part of a huge project of mass murder. Denying it contributes to a failure to understand this project of criminal inhumanity, which concerns every one of us who share the world together.
Denials of the Holocaust are offensive to everyone who elevates fact over ideology, and they are a serious breach of the academic principles on which this particular community rests. They amount to an effort to deny hundreds of millions of planned deaths and to negate the long-term effects of this horror on the world.
We are an academic community dedicated to “sifting and winnowing” in the pursuit of truth. We arrive at truth and separate facts from ideology or opinion through the rigorous study of the available record and through ongoing scholarship that tests and builds on that record.
At the moment, we live in a world that too readily substitutes mere opinion and shrill ideological or partisan claims for the serious pursuit of fact and reasoned argument. Virtually any opinion or claim, however unfounded, can find space. It is our responsibility to oppose reckless claims with the vigorous pursuit of truth and with actual knowledge. For those who want to assure themselves of the unimpeachable record that has been established showing Hitler’s genocidal intentions and actions toward Jews (as well as homosexuals, communists, Roma and the disabled), I refer you to “Holocaust Denial on Trial” at http://www.hdot.org/.
I would also like to suggest two reading lists for those who are interested in learning about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, a list from a respected scholar of German History at Cornell University, Professor Isabel Hull, (http://www.arts.cornell.edu/history/2180.pdf) and the list at the end of this letter from our own UW-Madison historian, Professor Rudy Koshar.
I hope members of our community will use this opportunity to do more than take sides for or against The Badger Herald’s decision to run an ad placed by Holocaust deniers.
I hope you will combat lies and distortion with education. I hope you will feel a sense of outrage at efforts to deny history. I hope you will act on a sense of responsibility for our shared humanity.
Biddy Martin, Chancellor
Professor of German
Recommended by Professor Rudy Koshar:
- Doris Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
- Saul Friedlander, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. HarperCollins, 2007.
- Christopher R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy. University of Nebraska, 2004.
- Gotz Aly, Final Solution: Nazi Population Policy and the Murder of the European Jews. Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton University Press, 2008.