WE CAN AGREE with the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about one thing. He told this week’s conference in Tehran, convened to question the occurrence and the scale of the Jewish Holocaust, that those present should examine the evidence in more detail. Given that many of the most prominent international Holocaust deniers were at the conference, it would be good if they heeded his words. For the murder of six million Jews, Communists, gipsies, homosexuals, and the mentally ill, is one of the best documented episodes of 20th-century history. Forensic evidence, confessions at Nuremburg and other trials, and the accounts of eye witnesses, are incontrovertible.
The “fact-finding” committee set up by the Tehran conference will be able to complete its work in the day or two it takes to read the evidence assembled for the Irvine trial in 2000 (www.hdot.org). The attempt by David Irvine to defend his reputation as a historian against accusations made against him in a book published by Penguin provided an opportunity for the wealth of evidence to be rehearsed once again. The judge’s 350-page judgment dealt in detail with the proofs of how the Nazis had systematically killed Jews, and refuted Mr Irvine’s apologies for Hitler. It concluded that the alleged libels against Mr Irvine were justified, namely that, “in denying that the Holocaust happened, [he] has misstated evidence; misquoted sources; falsified statistics; misconstrued information, and bent historical evidence so that it conforms to his neo-fascist political agenda and ideological beliefs.”
Sadly, the rhetoric surrounding the conference, its location, and the platform it gave to President Ahmadinejad for another of his anti-Israel speeches, suggests that a similar process is at work. The motivation behind the conference was not academic but political. Holocaust deniers go further than merely misbelieving the evidence: many claim that it has been fabricated to support an international Zionist conspiracy. It is, in effect, another manifestation of anti-Semitism. It is for this reason that several European countries have made it illegal. (David Irvine was jailed in Austria for refusing to recant.)
The unwillingness of governments to acknowledge uncomfortable parts of their history is not unknown. Truth will out, however. Turkey’s reluctance to admit to the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 almost derailed its bid to join the European Union this year. It remains an offence in Turkey to press for the recognition of the genocide. France has retaliated by passing a Bill to make it illegal to deny the genocide.
The argument that reconciliation is hindered by equivocation about the past is as true of nations as it is of individuals. Tony Blair was right to use the Tehran conference as yet more evidence that Iran has become an extreme regime. His description of the conference as “disgusting, unbelievable, and shocking” was not an exaggeration.