March 23, 2009

Shoah Denial

Bishop Williamson, a member of the St. Pius X Society, reportedly denies the Shoah, which has been the cause for recent protest by Jews. Shoah denial or reductionism readily appears as an attack on historical truth and an offense against the dignity of human life. I cannot address Williamson’s own views here because I am unfamiliar with anything he has said. Therefore, I will be discussing briefly my own concerns prompted by the Williamson affair.

Evidence for the Shoah as a historical fact remains indisputable, so we naturally suspect the motives of anyone making a blanket denial of that sinister event. The denier may very well be acting out of a personal prejudice against Jews. Alternatively, if a person takes a reductionist view of the Shoah, it may not necessarily be from prejudice or ill will. He may have particular historical reasons for believing the Nazis did not murder nearly as many as 6 million Jews. The disputer’s smaller numbers, though, may be the product of inadequate methods of historical research.

As for myself, I find that 6 million Jewish victims of Hitler’s pogrom to be an ‘unbelievable’ yet credible number. After all, Stalin’s purges dwarfed those of the Third Reich. Communism and National Socialism turned 20th century states into highly efficient killing machines.

Germany has since made Holocaust denial a crime. I can sympathize with this law, but I am not sure I can agree with it. When governments begin criminalizing ideas or opinions I would be concerned that it may set a precedent for outlawing almost any view considered offensive to the body politic, to a select but politically influential minority, or to the government itself. The unintended negative consequences of such a precedent can outweigh the good intended by the current proscription. For example, government might choose to criminalize Biblical teachings, that is, outlaw God Himself from speaking. This is what the Canadian government has done.

The Canadian government responds to public presentation of Biblical teachings on homosexuality with an unjustifiable suppression of free speech and religious practice. Oppressive lawmaking, when left unchecked, will bring about once more the total state as god.

Unlike many folks, I do not view healthy democracy as allowing free public interplay or expression of any and every opinion regardless of how injurious to the common good a certain opinion may be. It is the duty of government to protect and promote the common good. However, when government begins criminalizing particular viewpoints, the risks are many. We are dealing with a two-edged sword, which so far has cut both ways. Sometimes it is better to tolerate a little evil now rather than open the door to greater evils in the future.

In addition, it is not only denial of the Shoah that is a problem. There also exists a contra-historical denial of that great good carried out in counter-response to Nazi oppression of the Jews. Specifically, no one did more to aid the Jews in their plight than did Pope Pius XII working through his nuncios. Yet, certain writers, including the New York Times, out of some sort of perverse anti-Catholic prejudice, would have us believe otherwise. The Times falsely claims that Pius XII was silent about the Nazi pogrom. No claim could be further from the truth. It is worth noting here that during the war years, the Times printed truthful stories about the heroic efforts of Pius XII to call worldwide attention to the plight of the Jews. However, nowadays the New York Times denies that same truth it once recognized.

The denial or reduction of the great good the Vatican accomplished in aiding persecuted Jews during WWII is an attack on historical truth and it defames the courageous, prudent and saintly Pope Pius XII. Catholics should be vigilant in protesting this falsification of history whenever it occurs. Likewise, Jews ought to protest this attack on their great benefactor, Pope Pius XII, just as they readily protest denial of the Shoah.

(I recommend the following books about Pius XII: The Defamation of Pius XII, by Ralph McInerny; and Pius XII and the Second World War (According to the Archives of the Vatican) by Pierre Blet, S.J.)

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