Confessions of a Former Holocaust Denier

Note: More than once, I’ve actually heard anti-Jewish Arabs argue that there’s no way they could be “anti-Semitic” since they don’t hate themselves; I grew up with the understanding that “Semite” is not a synonym for “Jew.” For the sake of my own clarity in writing this and to avoid that sort of semantic nit-picking, I will refer to hostility towards Jews as anti-Jewish sentiment rather than as anti-Semitism. Again, that is for my own clarity of thought and is in no way in support of those who derail discussions anti-Semitism with semantic charges.

Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden, Australia
Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden, Australia

I have a confession to make: I used to believe that the Holocaust was exaggerated at best and a fabrication at worst.

I know, I know. I usually write to combat stereotypes and humanize Muslims, but that is what I thought. You know how almost every family has a resident bigot uncle and/or grandpa? Mine is no exception. From a young age, certain relatives of mine used to encourage the young people in my family to be “skeptical” of claims related to the Holocaust. I remember a cousin of mine being praised for telling his history teacher that the Holocaust is “a load of crap.” In my early adolescent years, during my protesting in favor of the Second Intifada, I absorbed claims that veered from pro-Palestinian to anti-Israeli/anti-Zionist and then into very anti-Jewish territory.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Thankfully, I attended a public school in an area with a significant Jewish population. Between my befriending of a classmate whose grandfather survived the Holocaust and attending a field trip to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, my hard-core Holocaust denial phase was short-lived. However, the residual guilt for once having been one of those assholes hasn’t quite left me.

Which is why, when I first heard about FFRF’s decision to oppose the use of the Star of David on a publicly-funded Holocaust memorial, my initial reaction was to feel more than a little chagrin. After all, wasn’t the most prominently-stated goals of the Holocaust to wipe out the Jewish people? Why not allow that to be expressed in the memorial?

Holocaust Memorial, New Orleans
Holocaust Memorial, New Orleans

Knee-jerk reasoning, whether it’s to atone for youthful hatred or otherwise, rarely leads to the best conclusions. Indeed, my conclusions changed after I found out, thanks to the Friendly Atheist as well as Dave Silverman of American Atheists, that designs for the monument that would’t have used a Star of David were rejected, that the chair of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board resigned over the matter, and that the monument is intended to honor all victims of the Holocaust, not only the Jewish ones.

It makes little sense to inscribe an unarguably Jewish (although whether it’s more religious or cultural is somewhat up for debate) symbol above an inscription that is supposed to honor all the victims of the Holocaust. It makes even less sense to do so on public property and, at least partially, on the public dime. To do so seems to relegate the inscription to the level of lip service as opposed to a genuine move to be inclusive of every group that was targeted and killed in Nazi Germany.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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  1. I was always really shocked to see people so hostile to the idea that the other five million ought to be considered victims of the Holocaust. I was really shocked to find myself in the minority on that one.

    1. Yes, I agree with Heina and with you. Particularly ironic when you consider the defence that Rosenberg attaempted at Nurenberg. In short he thought he was a good Nazi, unlike those unspeakables such as Himmler and Goebels. He wanted so called “White Russians” to be be spared. But at the end of the day, all were exterminated – Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Communists, Social Democrats, Russians and so on. Rosenberg hated only Jews, but this availed him little. He was hanged nevertheless.

  2. I haven’t had a chance to dig in to the fuss yet. I only saw Camels With Hammers and maybe someone else making some fuss, and then a few defensive tweets from Silverman about it. From this article it does sound to me like the FFRF and AA positions are about what I expected they’d be – so I don’t understand the fuss either. Maybe I’ll get around to reading up on it. But, definitely, there were a whole lot of non-Jewish victims who shouldn’t be ignored. Seems like we could honor all the victims without ignoring or bashing others.
    So, anyway, thanks to Heina for the post.

  3. Since the star of David was almost certainly some Jewish King’s battle standard at some point (the Maccabean kings are almost certainly genuine and would have used it even if they had no idea what David actually used), it certainly isn’t an exclusively religious symbol and the use is not an endorsement of religion per se.

    But the wider point, that there is a missed opportunity here, yes. Why not have a memorial that shows all the symbols that people were forced to wear to show their membership of a class the NAZIs didn’t like. Wouldn’t it be a more powerful message to point out that it wasn’t just one group targeted?

    All told Hitler caused the deaths of between 20 and 30 million people. The difficulty in determining the number accurately is due to the difficulty of determining which murders were due to Hitler and which to Stalin. The same problem comes up determining how many Jews were murdered, the argument over whether it was five of six million isn’t an argument over the number of people killed, it is which category they were in.

    Given the politics in that state I suspect that the reason the politicians don’t want an inclusive memorial is that mentioning the fact that the NAZIs persecuted homosexuals and considered black people sub human as well as Jews might lead some people to consider if the bigotry of Fox News and its political wing might be cut from the same cloth.

  4. that the monument is intended to honor all victims of the Holocaust, not only the Jewish ones

    then it should have been designed like this: (that’s one of the memorials at Dachau)
    I’m still not sure if that was the right battle to pick, or whether holocaust memorials with the star of david actually fail the lemon test, but if this was supposed to be a memorial for ALL victims, then rejecting designs that didn’t have the star of david on them and apparently not including any of the other badges is definitely wrong.

  5. This is my first time reading you and I’m disappointed that you agree with FFRF and Silverman. The obtuse thinking and petty behavior surrounding symbols like this continues to stagger me, and it is only doing damage to “the movement,” if such a thing can be said to exist. I hope you read what James Croft wrote about it.

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