July 26, 2023
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Holocaust Denial and Holocaust Distortion: An Introduction

Holocaust denial and distortion are harming our democracies. Understanding what Holocaust denial and distortion are, how they differ, and where they overlap is crucial to countering these dangerous trends and to protecting democracy.  

What is Holocaust denial?

Holocaust denial tries to erase the Holocaust from history. Deniers claim that the Holocaust never happened, that it is a fake event made up by Jews, or that the Nazis and their collaborators were not responsible for the genocide of Jewish people. They question whether gas chambers existed, if mass shootings ever took place, and whether victims died from forced labour, starvation, and torture—all in contradiction to reliable sources and established research.

Holocaust denial tries to create a world where antisemitism is acceptable once again. Deniers will often focus on one unclear aspect of the Holocaust or simple errors in survivor testimonies to ‘disprove’ the entire historical fact.

Holocaust denial is often presented as serious scholarship. But a closer look shows that their sources are either fabricated or taken out of context, allowing them to make manipulative interpretations that blame Jews for the Holocaust or claim that Jews exaggerated or invented the Shoah for political or financial gain. Holocaust deniers try to exonerate National Socialism.

For all these reasons, Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, but one found mostly on the fringes.  

What is Holocaust distortion?

Many people have heard of Holocaust denial. The subject has even made its way into popular culture thanks to powerful Hollywood films like “Denial” (2016). And while Holocaust denial remains a serious issue, Holocaust distortion poses a more pernicious threat. Difficult to identify, distortion often goes unchallenged. Distortion serves as a bridge between mainstream and radical ideas. It doesn’t question whether the Holocaust happened; it rather excuses, misrepresents, or minimises the history.

Those who distort the Holocaust might present it in a positive light or blame it on someone else—another national group, for example, or even on Jews themselves. They might draw inappropriate comparisons to a contemporary event or honour those who were complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust. Holocaust distortion can take many forms. But it always erodes our understanding of the history of the Holocaust and its legacy. 

Holocaust distortion can take many forms. But it always erodes our understanding of the history of the Holocaust and its legacy.

Some knowingly engage in Holocaust distortion to suit anti-democratic political ends or to legitimize a difficult national past. Others do so unintentionally, out of ignorance of the facts.  

Intentional or not, Holocaust distortion encourages people to question the impact of the Holocaust, its established facts, and the importance of its lessons, like the value of democracy and pluralistic, open societies.  

Holocaust denial and distortion harm democracies

Both Holocaust denial and distortion foster antisemitism, dangerous forms of nationalism, and conspiracy myths. By advancing a world where the truth is no longer valued, Holocaust denial and distortion provide fertile ground for authoritarian and anti-democratic movements.  

Whether in the form of leaflets, speeches, memes, or TikTok videos, Holocaust denial and distortion chip away at our understanding of historical truth. Being able to recognise when the Holocaust is being denied or distorted is the first step to stopping this trend in its tracks.  

Learn about the facts of the Holocaust. Encourage others to #ProtectTheFacts and #SayNoToDistortion. Help build a world that remembers the events of the past to safeguard the future.

Learn more about Holocaust denial and distortion

The views expressed by the individual contributors to the blog do not necessarily reflect those of the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance,  the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the United Nations, UNESCO, or officials of Member States of the European Commission, IHRA, the United Nations and UNESCO.

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