An old lie about one of humanity’s worst episodes in the last century apparently made an appearance at the University of Wyoming last week in the form of fliers denying the Holocaust. The fliers claim that Nazi attempts by the German government to exterminate all Jews during World War II never happened.
The fliers were the work of an anonymous person or persons, and appeared during Holocaust Remembrance Week. A campus organization of Jewish students holds the event every year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Jewish homes, businesses, schools and synagogues all over Germany and Austria were vandalized. It’s a time to remember the millions of people who died, not from the inevitable consequences of war, but from a systematic program of murder devised by a madman who deemed them to be less than human. This included not only Jews, but Poles, Slavs and anyone who were not part of the “master race.”
Coincidently, I watched a British television documentary last week about racism in America. It focused on the recent white supremacist march in Virginia and a counter demonstration by African Americans. Representatives of both sides were interviewed — members of a Ku Klux Klan group that joined the march and members of the counter demonstration.
The anger and hatred issuing from both sides was upsetting, but the words of some of the participants when interviewed were more so. Among the people interviewed, for example, was a young KKK member, a clean-cut young man who earnestly told his interviewer that the KKK was a Christian organization defending Christianity. He openly admitted that he believes Christian whites are the superior race and should hold the supreme power in the U.S.
During the interview, he stated that the Holocaust had never happened. It all was faked, he claimed, and Jews were never targeted for extermination in concentration camps. The infamous camp at Auschwitz was not a death camp, he said, but simply a place to hold prisoners who opposed the war. He described it as a sort of resort where people enjoyed socializing over fine meals, and even claimed inmates were able to enjoy a nice swimming pool.
That wasn’t the worst thing this man said, though. That came when he was asked about Hitler. He responded that Hitler was a great man and we need someone like the Fuhrer to make America great again.
His acceptance of a lie about the Holocaust was unbelievable, but his wish for an American Hitler was even more unbelievable. Why would anyone want to follow a man who hated all of humanity except for the “master race” of his imagination? Why long for a leader who, thanks to an inflated view of his own intelligence and the power of his nation, led his country into a disastrous war that killed 70 million people or more. Further, when the war was lost, he took the coward’s way out, committing suicide rather than facing his enemies and defending himself. How could anyone idolize such a person?
I also wonder how can this young man can ignore the volumes of evidence of the gas chambers and crematories that killed millions, or the starvation that claimed many more. The Nazis, after all, made little attempt to hide what they were doing until it became obvious that their country would be invaded. They even kept careful records of the names of people they exterminated. And how can he dismiss the witness of American and British soldiers who liberated many of those camps and saw with their own eyes the piles of bodies waiting their turn in the crematoriums and the emaciated bodies of those who still clung to life. How can he ignore the films that General Eisenhower and other commanders ordered to show just how evil the Nazi regime was?
Still, that young man, and many others, cling to this lie. In his case, as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he wants to believe it. He believes it because, like Hitler, he believes that some varieties of people, whether because of their race, religion, nationality or ethnic group, are inferior to the group he identifies with. Even worse, he would welcome a strongman, a Hitler, who would institute and enforce his group’s superior place in America, destroying the Constitution in the process.
Thankfully, I believe most Americans are not white supremacists. This is not what America is all about. Most of us realize that everyone here in America is descended from people who have migrated here from somewhere else, whether it was from a Middle Eastern war zone last year, East Africa on a slave ship or Asia over a land bridge created during the Ice Age. Most importantly, I believe most people accept that all these immigrants deserve freedom and justice — at least they say they do every time the recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Of course this nation isn’t perfect when it comes to making sure everyone enjoys “liberty and justice for all,” because both liberty and justice are complex ideas and that complexity is multiplied by thousands of varied traditions all those migrants brought with them when they came.
Unfortunately, though, Americans who don’t believe in equality have become more visible in recent months. They will tell you that those of us who are Christian Caucasians, whose roots are in Europe, are the supreme race and Americans should give them power over “other people” who speak with accents, worship in mosques or have darker skin. They twist history to justify those beliefs, and they wish for a strong leader who will put them in charge.
Let’s not give them what they want.