Earlier this week a junior school in England was forced to apologize after a teacher used a worksheet with a class of ten year olds revealing that Santa Claus was a myth. The students had to make up replies from mail staff to children’s letters to Santa asking for presents, explaining why they couldn’t have them.
One parent said: "My wife and I made a special effort to keep the belief in Santa in our daughter’s mind. What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth, when knowing the truth does take away that little bit of magic?"
The headmistress of the school said the choice of worksheet had been a sad mistake and it would never be used again. "As a school we delight in the magic of childhood and believe that Christmas is a special time."
The Hamilton Trust, which produced the worksheet, didn’t think it would come as much of a shock to children of that age, claiming that by the age of 10 children tend to know that Santa does not exist.
And yet millions of parents in the West persist in feeding the lie of Father Christmas to their innocent trusting children for as long as possible, until they realize they’re being punked, and maybe I shouldn’t trust mommy and daddy so much any more? It’s an accepted acceptable untruth. Santa deniers are killjoys and spoilsports, not to be listened to. They have the right to deny, of course. One wouldn’t dream of jailing them for simply stating their opinion. After all, aren’t we in the West entitled to freedom of speech and belief? You may not agree with me, but I have the right to say what I think — don’t I?
Denial of something more serious than Santa has been making news of late. A Holocaust Denial conference held last week in Iran, which called into question the systematic murder of six million European Jews by Nazi Germany, suggesting that the history of the genocide has been falsified to justify the foundation of Israel, was described by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as "shocking beyond belief", and by the White House as "an affront to the entire civilized world."
So what is this Holocaust denial, and why is it so bad? Isn’t it just like a Conspiracy Theory? Like, you can believe that the American government masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in order to spark Armaggedon, and tell other people what you think, without fear of being arrested in the United States, where freedom of speech is protected in the first amendment. A lot of people might call you a crank. We want proof. Give us the evidence.
But if you’re living in Europe, and you suggest that some facts and figures were rigged in the historic presentation of the Second World War in order gain guilty sympathy for, and facilitate the exodus of European Jews to the then newly born state of Israel — you are likely to find yourself in prison for your views, cranky or no. You are guilty of the crime of ‘Holocaust denial’.
Apart from being a crime in Israel itself, Holocaust denial is a penal offence in Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland and several other European countries, one of them being Austria, from where British historian David Irving was released this week, after having served 13 months of a three-year sentence in an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust. Lord Janner, president of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said Mr. Irving’s release was "unwarranted", and Lord Foulkes of the Labour Friends of Israel, said he should be watched closely by the police since his return to England.
So what do Holocaust deniers (who actually prefer to be known as ‘Holocaust revisionists’) actually say, that causes such offence? They don’t, of course, deny the death of a huge number of Jews, but they dispute the number, claiming the figure of 5-6 million is exaggerated, saying that many emigrated or escaped. They claim that gas chambers were not used to mass murder Jews, nor were cremation ovens used to dispose of millions of extermination victims. They say that most of the photos and film shown after the war were manufactured propaganda by the Allies against the Nazis; that Jews as a group were not in particular singled out from other persecuted people such as Romanies, gays or Communists, and that the Holocaust in general is nothing more than an elaborate Zionist hoax.
I’m sure there are many who hold stranger and uglier views, (and those who stir up antagonism on the basis of either race or religion should be accountable to the law), but like the ‘Conspiracy Theory’ it resembles, Holocaust denial should not be an imprisonable offence. I don’t like David Irving. He supported apartheid in South Africa, describes himself as ‘a mild fascist,’ but he should not have been jailed for his views. As Voltaire put it: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
There are many other examples of genocidal denials around the world. In Turkey for instance, it’s a crime to refuse to deny the alleged Armenian atrocity, and we have yet to hear an American President stand up and apologize for his white countrymen’s ancestors for extinguishing numberless tribes of indigenous people in the land they came to conquer which they named America.
Whether the Holocaust happened or not, there is no denying that people can be very cruel to other people, especially when they are in the position of power, now and in the past. The world is full of examples, everywhere. The Jews certainly suffered terribly under the Nazi regime, and those Jews in power now years later in their own State of Israel certainly seem to have learned a few tricks from their former overlords. The harsh conditions to which they subject the Palestinian people resembles the way the Jews themselves were treated under Hitler, putting thems into prison camp getthoes, creating an apartheid system, stealing their land, destroying their homes and fields, imprisoning thousands, and causing the deaths of countless innocent people and children in bombings and shellings, all of this is really "shocking beyond belief", and "an affront to the entire civilized world."
Deny Santa if you wish. You may even deny the Holocaust. It’s your right. But you can’t deny this affront. It’s happening now.
MICHAEL DICKINSON is an English teacher who lives and works in Istanbul.