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International Holocaust scholar lectures on denial movement


Ephraim Kaye (Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Many authorities believe that approximately 6 million Jewish men, women and children were killed in the World War II Holocaust, victims of a Nazi program known as the final solution. However, a movement of Holocaust deniers is campaigning for a revision of history.

Ephraim Kaye, director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, spoke about the movement on Monday, Dec. 6, at a Rhode Island College lecture titled, “The Phenomena of Holocaust Denial: The New Challenge for Us All.”

According to Kaye, Holocaust denial means that someone refutes that there were gas chambers, crematoria and death camps, and asserts that there was no systematic plan to kill every Jewish man, women and child. Essentially, Holocaust deniers believe that the Jews were not discriminated against more than other ethnic group during World War II.

Kaye showed attendees footage of prominent Holocaust deniers and let them present their arguments. Many revisionists believe Jews fabricated the Holocaust in an attempt to gather sympathy and support, allowing them to further their plans for world domination. They point to a lack of physical evidence and testimonies which conflict with that of the Holocaust as the principle evidence for their argument.


Jews arrive at Auschwitz-Birkenau by train.
(Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Kaye maintained that Holocaust denial is a modern incarnation of an old anti-Semitic piece of literature, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which originally outlined the international Jewish conspiracy of world domination. The book was a piece of propaganda published by members of the Russian empire in 1903 and is largely plagiarized from an earlier work of French political satire, which contains no anti-Semitic sentiments.

Kaye then presented the convergence of evidence showing that the Holocaust did indeed exist. He compared the historian’s work to that of a private investigator or a detective on CSI. “We have a crime scene,” said Kaye, “it’s all of Europe.”

Kaye displayed Nazi secret police documents, listing with chilling precession their killing efforts. One document listed “26.8.41, Kaisiadorys. Every Jewish man, woman and child, 1911.” Kaisiadorys was only one small town in Lithuania among an entire list that told of the deaths of thousands, recorded with the disturbing accuracy of what can only be described as an extermination effort.

The Jews were the only group, said Kaye, that was targeted down to the last man, woman and child.


Hall of Remembrance, Yad Vashem, Israel.
(Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Near the end of the war, as Soviet forces advanced on concentration camps, the Nazis destroyed much of the evidence of the death camps. They blew up the gas chambers and crematoria, and dug up mass graves and burned the bodies. They also crushed the bones of the dead and dumped the remains in swamps and rivers.

The Nazis tried to erase the evidence, leaving behind only scattered stories and personal accounts made by Jews with bar codes tattooed on their skin, and documents with euphemistic descriptions of “treatment in the east,” which was the Nazi’s way of saying sent to the death camps. In fact, the Nazi’s efforts to destroy the evidence led the way for Holocaust deniers and revisionists.

In the chaos of war however, many pieces of evidence did survive. Kaye showed students the only known footage in the world of the Nazi’s shooting operations. The film had no sound and depicted Jews, identified by their armbands, getting out of trucks, walking into a ditch filled with the bodies of the dead and being shot by German soldiers.

Kaye also led students through testimonials and other sources of evidence such as the diaries of Jewish crematoria workers in Auschwitz-Birkenau who burnt the bodies of their families, collectively known as the scrolls of Auschwitz; the testimonials and documentation presented at the Nuremberg Trials; and the Enigma decodes, which are transcriptions of Nazi wireless messages intercepted by the allies during World War II.


A Holocaust survivor shows his Auschwitz tattoo.
(Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem)
As he presented his lecture, Kaye walked up and down the front of the audience, shaking students' hands and asking questions. By the end of the lecture, Kaye seemed to know at least 10 students by name as he repeatedly called on them for input. Many students felt it was an engaging learning experience.

Yad Vashem was established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust. Located in Jerusalem, Israel, Yad Vashem houses 80,000 pages of German documentation of the Holocaust, over 320,000 photographs and a collection of close to 75,000 testimonials of Holocaust survivors.

Yad Vashem offers many online educational resources, and is committed to Holocaust education, using an interdisciplinary approach that includes art, music, literature, theology and drama to allow students to gain a broader understanding of what happened during this period.

For more information or access to their educational resources, visit their website at www.yadvashem.org.

Ezra Stieglitz, RIC professor of elementary education, who organized the lecture, became familiar with Yad Vashem when he took a workshop in preparation for teaching the class GEN 263 – The Holocaust and other Genocides, a recent addition to the critical enquiry into cultural issues classes, also known as Core 4. Each RIC undergraduate must take one of the Core 4 classes before graduation.

Support for the lecture was provided by the Pearle W. and Martin M. Silverstein Foundation, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the RIC Department of Elementary Education.