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Guidelines for Teaching about the Holocaust

By Wilfried Heink-

On October 6, 2009, Lady Renouf took part in a conference on “Denial and Democracy in Europe” called by the European Parliament in Brussels. During her address, she held up a handbook, titled “Guidelines for Teaching about the Holocaust”, and quoting from the section “Avoid legitimizing the denial of the past”.

To that day, I had never heard of those “Guidelines”, so I decided to look them up. As it turns out, they are available online:
http://www.herinneringseducatie.be/Portals/portal01/docs/Londen/Holocaust_Ex_TeachHbook.pdf [1]

The first question that needs to be asked is: Why are special guidelines needed to teach any topic? We are told that “The Holocaust” has been thoroughly researched, so, why not read up on it, collect the data provided and simply teach? Why are special guidelines needed to teach “The Holocaust”? Or: What other topic needs special teaching guidelines? I am not aware of any, and indeed, the authors of the “Guidelines” start out by asking:

“Why Teach about the Holocaust?”

Now, this is not exactly what I asked, but it is a start. It continues:

“The objective of teaching any subject is to engage the intellectual curiosity of students in order to inspire critical thought and personal growth. Therefore it is essential that educators consider questions of rationale whenever they approach any subject.”

No problem with that, except perhaps for the last sentence and the caveat about rationale, i.e., are not all questions asked by students, if they refer to the subject, rational? Or put differently: who decides what is a rational Holocaust question and what is not? Why the angst about this issue?

Next follows some enumerated articles. In No. 1 the teacher is informed:

“The Holocaust was a watershed event, not only for the 20th century but also in the entire history of humanity. It was an unprecedented attempt to murder a whole people and to extinguish its culture […]”

How can the attempt to “…murder a whole people” be called an event? Would that not qualify as being the greatest crime in history, or at least, as something that should be viewed as a crime? There are no mentions of criminal activities in Webster’s definition of “event”. But then, if it is deemed a crime, different standards would apply, and experts in the field of criminal investigations would have to be called in to investigate. And so far, this has not happened. We do not have even one verifiable report by a forensic expert. We do have reports of investigations by the Soviets and Poles, but the Polish legal expert and investigator Lukaszkiewicz forgot to mark the “graves” he allegedly found and the Soviets reported nonsense, all of which has since been discarded. Is that why “The Holocaust” is called “event”, allowing for amateurs to investigate? The fact is, no solid evidence exists of this alleged enormous crime – the systematic mass murder of Jews by gas and bullets – having been committed.

All seven articles listed under that heading are worth reading, but to comment on everyone of them would make this too long, so I we will focus on just one more, the last one, No. 7:

“The Holocaust has become a central theme in the culture of many countries. This is reflected in media representation and popular culture. Holocaust education can offer students historical knowledge and skills needed to understand and evaluate these cultural manifestations.”

No argument with the first two sentences. The last sentence, however, is problematic: Why the special effort to make students “understand”? Will what is taught not speak for itself?

Moving on in the “Guidelines”, teachers are not told to just teach “The Holocaust”, oh no, the next chapter starts out with:

“What to teach about the Holocaust?”

Selective teaching then, starting with:

“Under the cover of the Second World War, for the sake of their “new order,” the Nazis sought to destroy all the Jews of Europe. For the first time in history, industrial methods were used for the mass extermination of a whole people. Six million were murdered [later we meet the estimate “approximately six million”], including 1,500,000 children. This event is called the Holocaust.”

We now have the “Guidelines” definition of “The Holocaust”. What this definition suggests is that World War II was used as a cover to kill six million Jews, including 1.5 million children. Would “The Holocaust” have happened if WWII had not happened? This is something the authors fail to address, even though the wording begs the question. In any case, we are informed that six million Jews were murdered, or approximately six million. Are the teachers next informed as to how they will be able to substantiate the numbers, including the 1.5 million children, or how they were killed, and when and where? Are they referred to any of the books the libraries are filled with? No, first an anonymous author connected with Yad Vashem is quoted:

“Teaching about the Holocaust can and must be different in various contexts. In order to see the differences between the Holocaust and other genocides, comparisons should be carefully distinguished and similarities also should be articulated.”

Why must teaching about “The Holocaust” be different from teaching about other historical subjects? Surely any differences between this and any other genocide would become apparent, if they existed. And again, why not just teach the facts and refer the students to relevant books, etc., why do they have to be “guided” in regards to this subject? Do the facts not speak for themselves? Apparently not, or at least this is how the text comes across.

The next chapter is titled “How to teach the Holocaust” and lists 29 suggestions, here are just a few of them, starting at the top:

” – The Holocaust can be successfully taught to students; do not be afraid to approach this subject”.

What is there to be afraid of? If what is being taught is based on facts, then just stick to the facts. No. 4 and 5 reads:

“- Individualise the history by translating statistics into personal stories.
– Use witness testimony to make this history more ‘real’ to your students”.

Personal stories and witness testimony? What happened to teaching the facts? Here the authors are recommending that students should be conditioned, before the subject is addressed. Suggestion No. 12 finally gets us there, having softened up the audience:

“- Provide your students with access to primary sources”.

Good, but still, particulars as to what sources would have been helpful! The next suggestion reads:

“- Students should be alerted to the fact that the perpetrators produced much of the evidence of the Holocaust”.

This in itself is an admission that no solid, substantial, evidence exists – a declaration of bankruptcy. Why not refer the students to reports compiled by experts in the field of criminal investigation, or independent findings in support of perpetrator testimony (some of which in reality was given under duress)? Further down the teacher is advised:

“-Avoid legitimising the denial of the past”.

Denial of the past? How, yesterday did not exist? This in turn is followed by:

“- Be aware of the potential and also the limitations of all instructional materials, including the Internet”.

Why limitations and where exactly are those limitations apparent? “The Holocaust”, we are told, is the best researched historical subject – there should be no limitations. Could it be that they are referring to the complete absence of solid evidence, thus encouraging the teachers to resort to smoke and mirrors? Perish the thought!

The 29 suggestions are then explained individually, I will just concentrate on No. 25: “Avoid legitimising the denial of the past”. It starts out with:

“Holocaust denial is ideologically motivated. The deniers’ strategy is to sow seeds of doubt through deliberate distortion and misrepresentation of the historical evidence. Teachers should be careful not to unwittingly legitimise the deniers through engaging in a false debate.”

Quite the decree! What it says is that Holocaust denial must be delegitimised, perhaps even outlawed, because it is ideologically motivated. Then we get this well-known mantra of “deliberate distortion and misrepresentation of the historical evidence”. First of all, revisionists do not deny anything, they ask questions. And if in fact they are distorting evidence, why not invite them to one of the many conferences to set the record straight? “Denial” would disappear in a flash if those who distort and misrepresent were to be presented, in public, with the undistorted facts claimed to exist. In May 2008, 200 scientists attended a conference in Berlin with the topic: “Die Gaskammer-Lüge in der Internationalen revisionistischen Propaganda” (“The gas chamber lie in revisionist propaganda”, cf. http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/termine/id=9241 [2]). However, not one Revisionist had been invited to present some of that “revisionist propaganda”. Why not? Here was a chance to invite the press and totally destroy the revisionist arguments, with 200 scientists participating in the wrecking job. Why was this not done, to end denial?

Teachers are then told what to do if “denier” arguments are presented:

“However, many teachers feel that the phenomenon of Holocaust denial must be explored with their students, either because their young people raise the question themselves or because teachers are concerned that their students might come across these views later in life and be unprepared for the deniers’ rhetorical techniques, and their ability to confuse or mislead. If this is the case then Holocaust denial should be treated separately from the history of the Holocaust. It might be relevant to a separate unit on how forms of antisemitism have evolved over time, or as a media studies project exploring the manipulation, misrepresentation and distortion employed by groups for political, social or economic ends.”

Is not to label people who ask questions “Antisemites” a sign of ideological motivation? It is, and nothing else needs to be added to the above. Those “Guidelines” are clear evidence that “The Holocaust” can not be substantiated, and that students must be conditioned to accept it.

In conclusion, I here is part of the speech given by Lady Renouf:

“This conference is entitled “Denial and Democracy”. There is surely only one way to combat “denial” in a “democratic” context – by not instituting debate-denial across Europe but instead by providing documentary evidence to disprove the deniers’ case. Two weeks ago Benjamin Netanyahu based his address to the United Nations on evidence – so-called industrial WMD construction blueprints – which had been rejected as spurious by Jewish experts such as Prof. Van Pelt, who went so far as to say “the deniers are having great fun because it shows how people are gullible”. These same documents held up as proofs by Netanyahu were in fact first discovered and published in 1976 (as proof of the normality of gas chambers [*] thus labelled for disinfecting clothing) by the veteran revisionist Professor Robert Faurisson!

Can this expert conference succeed where Netanyahu failed? Can this conference send us away with one – just one – clear item of documentary proof which confounds source-critical Holocaust revisionists? Or must we merely silence such sceptical voices with threats, fines and prison sentences and teach our school children debate-denial of normal historical source criticism? […]”

The defense at the 2006-2007 Zündel trial in Germany also asked for proof of the “Holocaust” allegations. None was provided, and Zündel’s defense lawyers were threatened with charges of Holocaust denial when they persisted in their demand for such. Such behavior is not exactly convincing and the “Guidelines” are further evidence that what is presented as fact can not be substantiated.