Trump administration ‘flirting’ with Holocaust denial, says Deborah Lipstadt

Holocaust scholar warns that while omission of Jews from White House statement may have been an error, refusal to make correction sends ‘deeply disturbing’ signals

Deborah Lipstadt (YouTube screenshot)
Deborah Lipstadt (YouTube screenshot)

A professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta has accused the Trump administration of “flirting with Holocaust denial” by failing to mention Jews in its statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and then refusing to acknowledge its mistake.

Deborah Lipstadt, writing in The Atlantic, said that while the initial omission may have been an error, the insistence on grouping Jews along with other victims of the Nazi regime is “what I term softcore Holocaust denial…It does not deny the facts, but it minimizes them.”

In her piece, Lipstadt explains that while millions of innocents were killed by the Nazis and their policies, none were persecuted in so systematic, so precise a manner as the Jews.

“It was only the Jews whose destruction could not wait until after the war. Only in the case of the Jews could war priorities be overridden” to advance the cause of extermination.

Lipstadt, subject of the 2016 movie “Denial” on her legal battle with prominent Holocaust denier British historian David Irving in the 1990s, accused the White House of endorsing the language of “softcore” deniers, who seek to de-Judaize the Holocaust. She noted the affinity that some in the Trump administration – particularly Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, have to the “alt-right,” a movement that has embraced the resurgent nationalism now prevalent in parts of Europe.

“It may have all started as a mistake by a new administration that is loath to admit it’s wrong,” she wrote. “Conversely, it may be a conscious attempt by people with anti-Semitic sympathies to rewrite history. Either way it is deeply disturbing.”

On Monday the White House press secretary lashed out at criticism over the White House’s statement, calling it “pathetic” that people were “nitpicking” the president’s efforts to highlight and remember the tragedy.

“The idea that you’re nitpicking a statement that sought to remember this tragic event that occurred and the people who died in it is just ridiculous,” Sean Spicer said. “To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — is frankly pathetic that people are picking on a statement.”

This file photo taken on January 27, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump attending the ceremonial swearing-in of James Mattis as secretary of defense at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. (AFP/ Mandel Ngan)
This file photo taken on January 27, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump attending the ceremonial swearing-in of James Mattis as secretary of defense at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. (AFP/ Mandel Ngan)

On Friday, the administration released a press release remembering the victims of the Shoah, but without specifically noting the 6 million Jews who were targeted and killed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, an omission that led to criticism from Jewish groups and others.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly exclaimed that it was “puzzling and troubling” that the administration’s 117-word statement did not mention the persecution of the Jews, which was central to the Nazi genocide.

Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”

The omission also drew frustration from members of the Jewish community who have been allies of the president.

The staunchly pro-Trump Zionist Organization of America released a statement by its president Morton Klein that said the organization felt “compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”

And a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition said “the lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission.”

Asked about this backlash during his daily press briefing, Spicer said the White House did not find any fault in its management of the message, adding he was disappointed anyone would complain.

“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it and the people that were affected by it and the loss of life, and to make sure that America never forgets what so many people through, whether they were Jews or gypsies, gays, disability, priests,” he said.

Eric Cortellessa and JTA contributed to this report.

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