by Dr. Rafael Medoff
The Romanian government’s statement earlier this year that “within the borders of Romania between 1940 and 1945 there was no Holocaust” was a shocking and blatant falsehood. It was also the latest example of a new type of Holocaust-denial.
The fact is that more than 400,000 Jews from Romania were murdered during the Holocaust. Nearly half of them were machine-gunned to death by the German “Einsatzgruppen” squads, assisted by the Romanian army, in 1941. The remainder were either murdered in Romanian death camps such as Bogdanovka and Domanevka, or deported to death camps elsewhere, or massacred in local pogroms.
But Romania is not alone in distorting the facts of the Holocaust.
The journalist Christopher Hitchens has adopted a line found in the writings of Holocaust deniers, claiming it is “now undisputed” that “there were no gas chambers or extermination camps on German soil, in other words, at Belsen or Dachau or Buchenwald”.
Hitchens’s statement glosses over the fact that while Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Buchenwald were not designed to serve as Treblinka-style death camps, many thousands of Jews (including Anne Frank) were indeed murdered in Belsen, and at least tens of thousands were murdered in Dachau and Buchenwald, via slave labor, savage “medical” experiments, untreated diseases, and phenol injections. Hitchens’s statement also ignores the fact that there were gas chambers in some camps within Germany, such as Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen, near Berlin.
In a similar vein, Arab spokesmen routinely claim that the Palestinian Arabs played no role in the Holocaust. This assertion surfaced among the Israeli Arabs who recently visited Auschwitz. Author-journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, who took part in the visit, reported in The New Republic that as they entered the Auschwitz grounds, one of the Arab participants remarked: “Arabs had nothing to do with this. The Palestinians are also victims of this place.”
Halevi writes that he thought to himself, “What about Arab pressure on the British to turn back refugee boats? Or the Mufti, the Palestinian leader who spent the war years as a Nazi propagandist in Berlin?”
The Mufti, Haj Amin el-Husseini, who was the undisputed religious and political leader of the Palestinian Arabs, was not alone in Berlin. He brought with him to Hitler’s Germany an entourage that included many of his senior aides, who returned to leadership roles in the Palestinian Arab community after the war.
In addition to making fiery anti-Jewish radio broadcasts from Berlin to the Arab world, the Mufti organized Arab sabotage squads that were parachuted into the Mideast to attack Allied facilities (and nearly succeeded in carrying out the Mufti’s scheme to dump large quantities of German chemical poison into the Tel Aviv water system). He also persuaded the Nazis to reject a prisoner exchange that would have freed 4,000 Jewish children; the children were then shipped to Auschwitz.
The Mufti also helped develop an Arab Legion of the German Army, mobilized Soviet Muslims to fight alongside the Nazis, and recruited Bosnian Muslims for an all-Muslim unit of the SS called the “Handschar” division, which committed so many atrocities that thirty-eight of its officers were later tried as war criminals. In July 1945, Husseini himself was indicted by the Yugoslavian government for war crimes. Yet to this day, he continues to be regarded as a hero among the Palestinian Arabs.
Now contrast the continuing Arab denials of their role in the Holocaust with the responses of others who have been challenged for making such statements.
After four days of international protests, the Romanian government acknowledged that its earlier denial had been “stupidity,” and formally retracted it.
Then-Chancellor Franz Vranitsky of Austria admitted before parliament in 1991 that the Austrians were not “Hitler’s first victims” –as many Austrians were fond of claiming– but rather had willingly participated in the crimes and of Nazism.
The then-president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, publicly apologized in 1994 for a book he had authored in which he minimized the Holocaust and in particular whitewashed the Croatian role in the slaughter. The pro-Nazi Ustashi regime in wartime Croatia murdered an estimated 20,000 Jews in the Jasenovac death camp.
Polish President Aleksander Kwaeniewski last year publicly acknowledged “the full, sometimes bitter truth”: that Polish citizens, not the German occupation forces, were primarily responsible for the massacre of 1600 Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne in July 1941. After Polish émigré historian Jan Tomasz Gross exposed the Poles’ role, the Polish government’s Institute of National Memory investigated the matter and Poland’s leaders finally admitted that the traditional claim of “we didn’t do it” was false.
Whether or not Arab leaders will follow in the footsteps of the Romanians, Austrians, Croatians, and Poles by acknowledging their role in the Holocaust remains to be seen. One thing is certain: such extreme distortions of Holocaust history are nothing less than a new version of Holocaust denial –Prof. Robert Wistrich calls it “a soft form of Holocaust denial”– and should be recognized as such.