​​Holocaust denial and distortion on this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day

By Matthew Smith

On Holocaust Memorial Day this year (27 January 2024), four Online Hate Prevention Institute Analysts documented antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion on social media.

We investigated five social media platforms: X / Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn. Each Analyst spent five hours (one hour per social media platform) capturing antisemitic content posted on Holocaust Memorial Day. There were 283 examples of antisemitism and/or Holocaust denial and distortion documented.

More than half (51%) of the content we found featured either Holocaust denial or distortion. We also documented social media posts featuring classic antisemitism (15%), antisemitism related to Israel (33%), and a relatively small number of posts which featured antisemitic incitement to violence (1%).

In this briefing we look at the main manifestations of Holocaust denial and distortion that we found over Holocaust Memorial Day 2024. While there are many types of Holocaust denial and distortion, here we focus on the six sub-categories we saw feature the most over Holocaust Memorial Day, which were:

  • Holocaust silencing
  • Inappropriate comparisons with the Nazis
  • Distorting the facts of the Holocaust
  • Denying the Holocaust
  • Accusing Jews or Israel of exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Glorifying the Holocaust

Holocaust silencing

“Holocaust silencing” refers to instances when attempts are made to shut down remembrance or commemoration of the Holocaust, or when the Holocaust is diversified or universalised (such as when the Jewish identity of the victims of the Holocaust is erased). 

Example 1, X / Twitter

In this example from X / Twitter, the social media user states that the number of non-Jews killed in World War II was higher than the number of Jews, and asks “but we don’t hear about them do we?” This is an attempt to draw attention away from the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The poster also argues that “nobody should care about a bullsh*t ‘genocide’”. Note the quotation marks around the word genocide, which implies that the social media user does not think that the Holocaust constituted a genocide. The X / Twitter user does not think that people should care about the Holocaust because of the current Israel-Hamas war.

This example can fall under several sub-categories of antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion. It does show Holocaust silencing, but it also features the classic antisemitic idea that there is Jewish control in society (i.e. “That’s because jews wrote the narrative”), and also falls under the Israel-related antisemitic sub-category of holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions (“jews are mass murdering Palestinians right now”).

Example 2, Instagram

The following example is a comment that was made on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s Instagram post which commemorated the Holocaust and announced that a “Coalition Government will provide $8.5 million for Australia’s Holocaust museums”.

The comment shown below is a manifestation of Holocaust silencing whereby the importance of Holocaust education and commemoration is minimised. Furthermore, the social media user also holds the Australian Jewish community responsible for the Israel-Hamas war (“a MINORITY who back a genocide regime…”).

Example 3, LinkedIn

The next example is a comment made on the following European Commission post on LinkedIn which marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

The comment engages in Holocaust silencing by trying to deflect from Holocaust commemoration by asking about Gaza.

Inappropriate comparisons with the Nazis

Inappropriate comparisons with the Nazis, either intentionally or unintentionally, can trivialise and minimise the magnitude of the Holocaust. This type of Holocaust distortion can be offensive and antisemitic particularly when Jews are portrayed as the “new” Nazis. Some of the examples captured under this sub-category also fit the Israel-related sub-category of comparisons of Israeli policy to Nazism.

Example 4, Facebook

This example from Facebook is a comment that was made on a post which shared a news article about the son of a Holocaust survivor and how on Holocaust Memorial Day he was lamenting the current surge of antisemitism he had been witnessing.

The comment here is of interest as the author argues that the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza are similar. Specifically, they compare Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, 30% of Warsaw’s inhabitants were Jewish. The Warsaw Ghetto covered just 2.4% of the city’s surface (3.4 square kilometres). At its peak, Warsaw Ghetto imprisoned nearly half a million Jews, of which 265,000 were murdered at extermination camp Treblinka, 42,000 at concentration and extermination camp Majdanek, and 92,000 died inside the Ghetto from starvation or disease cause by the dire conditions.

The Facebook user also engages in a type of Holocaust silencing which attempts to universalise Holocaust Memorial Day by stating: “the best comment to make about Gaza on Holocaust remembrance day would be to simply acknowledge that genocide must be called out wherever it appears.”

Example 5, Instagram

The following example is from Instagram. The original post contains a video which alleges that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, and accuses Israelis of using similar tactics as the Nazis. The original post itself is an example of Israeli policy being compared to Nazism, and the comments shown here also make inappropriate comparisons to the Nazis as well as imply that the Jewish victimhood during the Holocaust should be ignored due to the Israel-Hamas war.

Distorting the facts of the Holocaust

This sub-category encapsulates instances in which social media users (either intentionally or unintentionally) distort known facts of the Holocaust by, for example, citing fewer casualties of the genocide or absolving the Nazis and/or their collaborators of responsibility for perpetrating the Holocaust. 

Example 6, Facebook

This example from Facebook is a comment on a post about the Israel-Hamas war. The comment claims that “Zionists collaborated with the Nazis before and during WW2.” Furthermore, the Facebook user attempts to connect the alleged Nazi collaborators with the political party of the current Prime Minister of Israel (Likud). This comment is an example of Holocaust distortion in that it claims that Jews were not victims of fascism as well as distorting the Holocaust by implying that it happened in order for the Jewish state to be created.

The idea that Zionists allegedly collaborated with the Nazis is a manipulation of the history of the Haavara Agreement (Transfer Agreement) of 1933 which made it possible for 60,000 German Jews to flee to Mandatory Palestine between 1933 and 1939 amidst Nazi persecution.

The author of the comment also refers to a group offering “to go to war on Hitler’s behalf”. This is mis – or disinformation related to the anti-British Lehi (Stern Gang) paramilitary, which existed only between 1940 and 1948. Once the State of Israel was created, the group was condemned, and did not continue in any other forms, such as a political party. The group had proposed to recruit Nazis to help them fight the British, which, in the view of Lehi members, would hasten the establishment of a Jewish state.

Example 7, TikTok

This comment on a TikTok video is an example of Holocaust distortion in which the social media user questions whether six million people were gassed, or whether they “died in the camps”. The implication here is that the deaths were caused perhaps by starvation or inhumane living conditions, which does not fully reflect the enormity of the systematic, industrialised mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

It is important to note, though, that not all the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust were killed in gas chambers. Approximately 2.7 million Jews were murdered at concentration and extermination camps by being gassed, two million were murdered in mass shooting operations, up to one million were killed in concentration and labour camps and ghettos due to the deliberately inhumane conditions caused by the Nazis, and at least 250,000 were killed in other acts of violence such as pogroms, executions, and death marches.

Denying the Holocaust

This sub-category refers to content which outright denies the event of the Holocaust, or calls “into doubt the use of principal mechanisms of destruction (such as gas chambers, mass shooting, starvation and torture) or the intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people.”

Example 8, LinkedIn 

This comment was found on a post on LinkedIn which discussed ways in which some Israeli politicians have allegedly politicised Holocaust history. The original post also practises Holocaust silencing by diversifying it and attempting to shut down commemoration.

In response to this post, one LinkedIn user wrote, “there was no Holocaust” and that they refuse to believe it happened. Another LinkedIn user replied with a comment that, while not denying the Holocaust, distorts it by implying that the impact of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is worse than the Holocaust.

Example 9, X / Twitter

This example is a reply to Athony Alabnese’s X / Twitter post which commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day. The response refers to the Holocaust as “Holohoax”, and claims that the Holocaust it is a lie.

Example 10, TikTok

This comment was found on a TikTok video. It both denies the Holocaust and says that even if the Holocaust did not happen that “it should have”.

Accusing Jews or Israel of exaggerating the Holocaust

This sub-category is a type of Holocaust distortion that describes instances when it suggests that the Holocaust is exaggerated by Jews or Israel. 

Example 11, TikTok

This comment on TikTok is a very clear example of an accusation that Jews or Israel exaggerate the Holocaust. The author claims that Jewish people have exaggerated the number of victims and that they use a victimhood status to deflect from alleged crimes and in the process also dupe the West.

Example 12, Twitter

The next example is a reply to a post on X / Twitter. The author both accuses Jews of exaggerating the Holocaust and promotes the idea of a world Jewish conspiracy by claiming that the Holocaust was exaggerated in order for Jews to be able to control the world. The X / Twitter user also distorts the Holocaust by claiming that the “real Holocaust” is happening in Gaza.

Glorifying the Holocaust

This sub-category encapsulates content which implies that the Holocaust didn’t go far enough or  that it was a good thing, in posts that praised or glorified the Nazis for their actions.

Example 13, Facebook

This example from Facebook is a comment that was made on a commemorative Facebook post. In this example, the Holocaust is glorified in that the author makes light of the Holocaust by calling the Jewish victims “happy 6 million cockroaches” and uses a smiling emoji. The commenter also attached an image of information about the liberation of Auschwitz. It could be understood by this post that this Facebook user views the Holocaust as a good thing.

Example 14, LinkedIn

A repost on LinkedIn demonstrates another instance of Holocaust glorification. The LinkedIn user questions whether Hitler was right for perpetrating the Holocaust. The original post they shared is about how Israeli protesters blocked aid supplies from entering Gaza. This social media user implies that Hitler might have done the right thing, and that if there were no Jews then the current situation in Gaza would not have been happening.