Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

This briefing is released for Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January 2023, and is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and other victims of the Nazis.

In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly declared January 27th to be an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust (UN A/RES/60/7 “Holocaust remembrance”). The day commemorates the murder of six million Jews as well as millions of other victims of the Nazis and their collaborators.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on the day that Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. Operated by Nazi Germany in then occupied Poland, Auschwitz was the Nazis largest complex of concentration camps and extermination centers. The extermination centers were were the Nazi sought to implement their plan to systematically wide out the Jewish people. In total over 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered at this site alone.

On January 27th the world remembers the Holocaust, and it has become a tradition for the Online Hate Prevention Institute to take action to protect the memory of the past by exposing online Holocaust denial and distortion, what today might be labelled Holocaust disinformation. This year we do this once again, sharing part of a longer report we will be publishing later in the year examining Holocaust denial and disinformation.

As we share this we do ask for your support to help us continue this work. Details on how you can support us are at the end.

Recognising Holocaust Disinformation

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion describes Holocaust denial as “discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II.”

It further explains that:

“Holocaust denial in its various forms is an expression of antisemitism. The attempt to deny the genocide of the Jews is an effort to exonerate National Socialism and antisemitism from guilt or responsibility in the genocide of the Jewish people. Forms of Holocaust denial also include blaming the Jews for either exaggerating or creating the Shoah for political or financial gain as if the Shoah itself was the result of a conspiracy plotted by the Jews. In this, the goal is to make the Jews culpable and antisemitism once again legitimate.”

Extract of IHRA’s Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

The working definition includes a non-exhaustive list of examples of Holocaust distortion:

  • Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany
  • Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources
  • Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide
  • Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of antisemitism.  They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”
  • Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups

The Online Hate Prevention Institute uses this definition, along with the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism in our reporting software to help classify antisemitism. We’re pleased to note the adoption of the Working Definition on Antisemitism by the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong in recent months. We encourage other universities in Australia to follow and join the over 300 educational institutions around the world that have adopted the definition. We also encourage greater adoption of the Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion.

In a forth coming book chapter on “Historical and contemporary expressions of Holocaust Disinformation in Australia”, our CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, and Dr William Allington, trace the history of Holocaust denial and disinformation in Australia including in the online world. The chapter explores Holocaust denial and forms of distortion which include Holocaust trivialization, Holocaust relativism, Holocaust inversion, Holocaust Promotion, Holocaust Silencing, and False claims of Holocaust disinformation. It also discussed the problem of what IHRA has described as “Irresponsible comparisons can distort understanding of contemporary phenomena and of the Holocaust”, as well as how comparison can be done in an appropriate manner through the comparative genocide approach and thematic approach. We need to learn from the past without distorting our understanding of it.

Holocaust Disinformation on YouTube and Facebook

In 2019 YouTube became the first major social media platform to ban Holocaust denial. The current hate speech policy at YouTube bans content that “Deny or minimize a well-documented, major violent event or the victimhood of such an event”. YouTube’s actions followed years of campaigning by the Online Hate Prevention Institute, including our focus on YouTube in 2015, and again in 2016, which for the first time highlighted with hard data just how prevalent Holocaust denial and other forms of Holocaust disinformation were on the YouTube platform, and how ineffective YouTube was being (at that time) in removing it. Our work exposing the issue led to further research such as that in a report from the World Jewish Congress in 2018. When YouTube changed their policy they contacted us directly to let us know.

In 2020 Facebook, now Meta, also banned Holocaust denial. Our campaigning for this change goes back even earlier, including exchanges of about Holocaust denial between our CEO with Facebook’s Director of Public Policy as far back as 2011 during the project that was a precursor to the creation of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. From the start the Online Hate Prevention Institute had been tracking and exposing dedicated Holocaust denial spaces on Facebook such as the group  “Proud to be a Holocaust Denier” and many others.

Despite the improvements in policy, we continue to find examples of Holocaust denial on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The dedicated groups, pages, and channels are largely gone, but Holocaust denial and disinformation continue to spread through the comments. This is an improvement, but there is clearly still more to be done.

Holocaust Disinformation on YouTube

Example 1.1

A video on YouTube of an interview with Professor Anthony C Sutton titled “Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution” is in and of itself is problematic as it spreads disinformation. Professor Sutton had perpetuated the conspiracy theory that Wall Street had financed the Bolshevik Revolution. Professor Sutton also wrote a book in 1976 titled Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler. Much of Sutton’s work features antisemitic tropes and the idea of a secret global plot.

A comment on this video reads “We are all reminded of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, yet they almost seem to pale in comparison to Stalins crimes and nobody says a word.” This is form of Holocaust distortion that emerged in post-Communist East Central Europe. As Michael Shafir has explained, it involves “competitive martyrdom,” the “Double Genocide” ideology, and ultimately “Holocaust obfuscation”.

Proponents of “double genocide” theory argue that two genocides occurred during World War II: one being the Holocaust perpetuated against Jews by the Nazis, and the other perpetrated by the Soviets against local non-Jewish populations in Eastern Europe. Some people who believe this claim that Jews in Eastern Europe welcomed the Red Army and that Jews actively participated in communist oppression. One line of argument in the more aggressive form of “double-genocide” declares: (1) That Communism and its Gulags should be treated as equal to the Holocaust. (2) Using an antisemitic argument, that Jews are responsible for Communism. (3) These agressive proposents of the theory then conclude that Jews are guilty of equal crimes against the local people as the crimes those people are guilty of in relation to Nazi collaboration, so calls to examine collaboration with the Nazis can be ignored. Shafir notes how this argument “has elements common with deflecting the guilt for the Holocaust onto the Jews themselves.”

Example 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4

The next two examples relate to comments posted on a video of people in Israel pausing for a moments silence on Holocaust Remembrance Day. This period of silence occurs in much the same way that two minutes of silence are observed on ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day in Australia. The idea of a nation coming to a stop to observe a period of silence on a national day of morning was first suggested to King George V by Melbourne journalist and First World War veteran Edward George Honey and was later instituted across the Commonwealth by the King.

The first comment say they are glad Israel pauses as it means “Palestinians can take a peaceful break!” it goes on to say “No matter how horrible the holocaust was, it doesn’t give you excuse to commit crimes and atrocities towards anyone yet alone people who have nothing to do with the Holocaust”. The second declares “Some say they deserved that treatment. Look at how they behave now”. The third says “The spirit of the victims of the Holocaust would be ashamed of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians”.

These comments are examples of Holocaust inversion, a form of distortion which Lesley Klaff, Senior Lecturer in Law in at Sheffield Hallam University and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, describes as the “practice of using the Holocaust as a means to criticize Israel and ‘the Jews’ in political debates concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict” with the result that “wrongdoing on the part of Israel is magnified and exaggerated and the crimes and atrocities the Nazis inflicted on the Jews are diminished”.

Examples 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8

We also found that YouTube still contain videos featuring Holocaust denial and distortion, including videos of David Irving, the world’s most infamous Holocaust denier.

In a case decided in 2000, the Judge, The Hon. Mr. Justice Gray, found that,

“13.167 […] Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism”

Irving v. Penguin Books Limited, Deborah E. Lipstat [2000] EWHC QB 115 (11th April, 2000)

In this section we show four videos of Irving, only the first is examined in details here.

This third video we’ll consider in more detail, in part because it sees Irving discuss Australia at length. He refers to historian Deborah Lipstadt, who he sued for defamation in the case he lost (mentioned above), as a “Holocaust-denier denier”. He goes on at length about “our usual enemies” and suggests that Ruppert Murdoch and the Fairfax family’s significant ownership of the Australian media makes it an exception where Jews don’t control the media (promoting the antisemitic conspiracy theory alleging Jewish control of the media). He also alleges Jewish control of the Australian government. As he speaks he repeats antisemitic Nazi propaganda as part of his talk and he casually adds, “not much has changed”.

Irving, getting to the Goebbels diaries, the topic of his talk, promotes a wide range of antisemitic conspiracy theories and in blood chilling tones. He says, “‘The Jewish Question’, he [Goebbels] wrote, on February the 15th 1929, ‘the Jewish question is the question of all questions’. And once again you have to say not much has changed, because what is the topic that dominates the newspapers, again and again and again, that dominate the legislatures, that is dominating the classroom now, that is dominating the media and that in Germany is dominating the court rooms? It’s the Jewish question. Which ever way round you look at it. Whether it is Holocaust denial, or Holocaust denial denial. So he wrote that in 1929 and its still there.”

Irving later goes on to say “This is what I’ve always said, Hitler always swore by the Madagascar solution, even after Madagascar had been occupied by the British in May 1942, in July 1942, we still see Hitler at his lunch table saying that Madagascar is the ideal solution”. This is one of the point of Holocaust denial discussed in the judgement by Justice Grey in Irving v. Penguin Books. The Judge explained:

13.65 […] Does the evidence support Irving’s contention that Hitler was kept in ignorance of the manner in which Heydrich and Himmler were setting about solving the Jewish question?

13.66 […] I have examined some of the documents on which the Defendants rely as evidence of Hitler’s involvement in the extermination [….] Against those documents must be set Irving’s comment, which I accept is accurate, that there is no reference to be found to a Hitler Befehl (Hitler order) authorising the extermination of Jews by gassing at the Reinhard Camps . But, given the secrecy which surrounded the operation of the gas chambers, I would not have expected to have found such a document. For the same reason I consider that Irving’s argument as to Hitler’s ignorance derives little assistance from the fact that he is able to point to a number of documents where Hitler can be found still talking of the Madagascar plan or deportation to some other destination. The need for secrecy required the use of camouflage language when the fate of Jews was under public discussion.

13.67 My conclusion on this issue is that the evidence discloses substantial, even if not wholly irrefutable, reasons for concluding not only that Hitler was aware of the gassing in the Reinhard Camps but also that he was consulted and approved the extermination. […] I consider that there are a number of documents which suggest that Hitler knew and approved the implementation of the new policy: for example the protocol of the Wannsee conference, at which the extermination programme was discussed, records Heydrich in his opening remarks that he was speaking with the authority of Hitler. But the main reason for my conclusion is that it appears to me to be unreal to suppose that Himmler would not have obtained the authority of Hitler for the gassing programme (and even more unlikely that he would have concealed it from his Fuhrer). Himmler’s Dienstkalendar provides clear evidence of the regularity of the meetings between Hitler and Himmler and of their having discussed the Jewish question at the time when Himmler was actively supervising the setting up and operation of the gas chambers in the Reinhard Camps. I therefore accept the evidence of Longerich and Browning which I have summarised at paragraph 6.105 above.

Irving v. Penguin Books Limited, Deborah E. Lipstat [2000] EWHC QB 115 (11th April, 2000)

The video is an example of exactly the sort of Holocaust denial that has been proven to be false in court. Yet it remains on YouTube.

Other Irving videos include:

Holocaust Disinformation on Facebook

These examples are all comments responding to a video shared by PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service in the US) to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2018.

Example 2.1

In the first a user wrote “Pure Hasbara. There’s no business like Shoah Business”.

Hasbara is a Hebrew word literally meaning “explanation” and more generally to mean public diplomacy. It is used derogatively here to suggest it, information about the Holocaust, is nothing but misleading propaganda. The rest of the post is a play on the title of the popular Irving Berlin song from 1946, “There’s no business like show business”. It is an allusion to conspiracy theories alleging Jewish control of Hollywood, and more directly an allegation that the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust) is a money making scam.

We investigated the user’s posts further uncovering the following more recent exchange on their profile:

In this exchange the poster above starts by making a vague allegation of a “Zionist” conspiracy, and then in response to a comment they expand more explicitly by saying “”USA has, so far, sent 72 Billion Financial Aid, under orders from Tel Aviv. The Rothschilds truly own the World.” The comment includes two antisemitic Jewish power conspiracy theories. The first claims Jews / Israel controls world governments, in this case the United States. This is a conspiracy theory straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The second claims Jews own the banks and world finance, with specific mention of the Rothschild banking dynasty. Antisemitic conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds have been traced back as far as 1846.

Example 2.2

Another comment on the same PBS post declares “The so called “holocaust” is a hoax but the thoughtless, gullible, research nothing sheep (majority) have been tricked into believing otherwise.” The user’s profile picture is of an American flag with the stars representing the states replaced by the Star of David, a well recognised Jewish symbol. While the text is blatant Holocaust denial, the profile picture represents the same antisemitic conspiracy theory alleging Jewish control of the United States as seen previously.

Examining the user’s profile the theme of the conspiracy their is further evidenced in their cover photo which depits an American flag covered in blood, but with the stars replaced by multiple Stars of David symbolising Jewish control and harm to America.

Example 2.3

A third comment reads “Hope these memories don’t cover our eyes about the current Palestinian Holocaust at the hands of the Zionists in the Holy Land!!”

This is more Holocaust inversion, as previously discussed. It is also an example that falls under one of the specific examples in the IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, the example refers to “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”.

From their profile we can see this person is heavily engaged in Palestinian advocacy. In one post they refer to “Apartheid Israel” and allege Israeli has an ideology of “ethnic supremacy”.

Example 2.4

This next comment is an example of Holocaust relativism. US Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith explained that Holocaust relativism occurs “where the genocide that was the Holocaust – the systematic extermination of the Jewish people – is minimized by being equated with large-scale acts of political violence, including decades of repression”. In the post, the author calls the focus on Germany a “double standard” claiming “France Belgium British Spain Holland Russian Portugal killed millions of local civilian.. as compared to Germany. This is [a] double standard.”

Final comment

There is substantial Holocaust denial and Holocaust disinformation content on both mainstream social media platforms, where neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial is banned, and on minimally moderated platforms where such content is openly shared. The Online Hate Prevention Institute is working to document the problem and work with platforms to see the content gets removed where it is in violation of policy.

We also take action against modern neo-Nazis, such as our successful efforts earlier this week to have the Daily Stormer once again kicked off the Internet, and our efforts against far right violent extremism such as our successful efforts last year to remove videos from the Buffalo terrorist attack.

We operate on a very small budget and all support is greatly appreciated. Anyone can donate, and donations from Australian tax payers are tax deductible.

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This briefing has been produced by Andre Oboler and Jasmine Beinart