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The watering down of history: Professor warns about the distortion or denial of the Holocaust


“My purpose today is to let you know there are very dark clouds on the horizon.”

Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian professor of history, issued a warning from his presentation at Tuesday’s Day of Remembrance 2023 in Reno that individuals and groups as well as governments are using distortion and denial to rewrite the Holocaust’s history.

Speaking before hundreds of people at the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno, the University of Ottawa professor and son of a Holocaust survivor relied on his research and documented history of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Eastern European countries during World War II.

Not only were 6 million Jewish prisoners gassed or shot at execution centers but another 5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romas or gypsies, homosexuals and people with disabilities were also murdered.

“Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto,” Grabowski said of the 80th anniversary of the revolt (which was the following day), pointing out that the remaining survivors in the camp fought valiantly against their Nazi captors until May 1943.

Grabowski said almost 300,000 Jewish prisoners of the camp were transported to Treblinka, a killing camp built in Poland by the Nazis.

“Thousands of Jews were murdered in Warsaw by the Germans,” Grabowski added.

Over time, though, Grabowski said the historical events conducted during the war have been watered down, either to the point of denial or distortion. He said those who distort don’t necessarily deny the Holocaust occurred. Yet, what he gleaned during his research is that European counties such as Poland and Hungary denied the government assisted the Nazis. Grabowski and other researchers, though, have discovered otherwise.

Grabowski said the Hungarians rounded up more than 400,000 Jews and put them on trains to Auschwitz, a three-camp complex that also included a killing center in German-occupied Poland. The Hungarians accused the Nazis of rounding up the Jews, but accounts discovered afterward did not place any Nazis at the train stations. Instead, the Hungarian police rounded up the Jews to place on the trains.

“The distortion of the Holocaust is pretty much a general problem,” he added.

Over time, Grabowski said distortion is powerful and dangerous. He said whoever controls the present also controls the past.

Yet, Grabowski has seen an increasing number of people who believe the Holocaust never occurred, including students at the University of Ottawa. They wanted Holocaust-related courses removed. Holocaust instruction in this country, however, is not taught in 31 states. The Nevada Legislature, however, unanimously passed a bill in 2021 strengthening Holocaust and genocide education in the schools.

A study compiled by Alexis Lerner, assistant professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, gives a bleak report, however. About a third of North American students think the Holocaust was exaggerated or fabricated, and 40 percent of students said they learned about the Holocaust through social media.

“They’re getting information from who knows where and it’s resulting in (them thinking) did this event in history happen?” Lerner told CTV News in Canada.

Grabowski said the distortion in Canada also comes from his country’s politicians who may discuss the Holocaust but will not mention the Jews in their conversations.

A major incident occurred in October 2017 when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. The plaque at the memorial commemorated the “millions of men, women and children murdered” but didn’t mention Jewish people or anti-Semitism.

Elliot Malin, vice chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Education Relating to the Holocaust, said the Day of Remembrance is for everyone.

“It is not just for the Jewish community to remember, but it’s for all of us to remember,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we do this. It brings the community together and tells us what hate can do.”

Judith Schumer, who previously served as chairperson of the same Nevada Governor’s Advisory Council, said she was more than pleased with the number of people who attended this year’s event.

“The turnout was amazing, and it was heartening to see 540 Northern Nevadans coming out and learning about the Holocaust denial which is a virus in our community,” she said.

Prior to Grabowksi’s presentation, Schumer offered examples of the hatred or ignorance directed toward the Jewish people. She said former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the millions of Jews who were murdered is a myth. Ahmadinejad said in 2008 “Zionists are the most detested people in all humanity.”

More than 40 years after the end of World War II, Schumer said a court in Hamburg, Germany, handed down an opinion that Anne Frank’s diary was authentic as did the Dutch government in the late 1980s. Up until that time, Schumer said deniers didn’t believe a young girl could have written the diary.

In the United States in the early 1990s, Schumer said about 200 out of 350 college newspapers published advertising that questioned the Holocaust’s existence. Twenty years later, a third-grade class re-enacted the Holocaust much to the dismay of school officials in Washington, D.C.

According to the Dec. 19, 2021, edition of The Washington Post, “A Watkins Elementary School staff member told third-graders in library class to re-enact scenes from the Holocaust, directing them to dig their classmates’ mass graves and simulate shooting the victims, according to an email from the school’s principal. The instructor was placed on leave.

“She allegedly assigned specific roles to students. She cast one student as Adolf Hitler, according to an email from Watkins Elementary School Principal MScott Berkowitz to the third-graders’ parents. He did not name the staff member. That student is Jewish, according to the parent of a student who was asked to participate. At the end of the exercise, the child was told to pretend to die by suicide, as Hitler did.”

The stage for inappropriate comments, however, is not solely for third-grade children. Schumer said Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia compared COVID vaccinations in July 2021 to the Holocaust.

“Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star,” Greene tweeted.

Greene later apologized for the comparison.

Schumer also noted other well-known people such as rapper Kanye West and white nationalist Nick Fuentes are both Holocaust deniers. She said it’s unfortunate anti-Semitism and bigotry keep repeating itself in society.

“There aren’t enough people standing up and saying these are lies,” she said.

Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.