Harvard Hillel invited guest speaker Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, a prominent opponent of Holocaust deniers, to join a discussion about the realities of Holocaust denial last Friday.
The conversation was spurred by The Harvard Crimson’s publication of a controversial advertisement in early September that suggested the Holocaust did not occur. The Crimson issued a statement the following day, explaining that the publication of the advertisement had been a result of miscommunication and failed oversight.
Hillel undergraduate president Rebecca D. Gillette ’10 told the audience that the advertisement “served as a reminder of the persisting and troubling reality of Holocaust denial.” She added that she hoped the conversation would increase awareness of the existence of Holocaust denial.
The discussion was led by Lipstadt, a Jewish studies scholar who successfully fought libel charges from a Holocaust denier in England. Speaking candidly to a diverse audience—which included Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson, as well as student leaders from political, religious, and cultural groups on campus—Lipstadt argued that there should be no debate about whether the Holocaust happened or not.
“Deniers are not a point of view,” she said. “They are liars and falsifiers of history. Deniers take the data and twist it and turn and distort it.”
Lipstadt also discussed what she called “soft-core Holocaust denial,” a new form of denial in which the Holocaust “gets mixed up with other things” and is “used as a misrepresentation.” As an example, she cited the comparison of George W. Bush to Hitler, which she said suggested an implicit denial of the Holocaust.
“To compare [Bush] to Hitler is to turn history on its head,” said Lipstadt.
After Lipstadt’s presentation, members of the audience took part in an intimate discussion about the Holocaust, often sharing stories from their personal experiences.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Jason Y. Shah ’11, chair of South Asian Men’s Collective. “I was impressed by the level of candidness [with which] everybody spoke, given our different ethnic backgrounds. It was uniquely productive and very anecdotal.”
Gillette said that the diversity of the group was “remarkable,” adding that these individuals are not often brought together to have meaningful discussions.
“This event should be a motivator and model for similar kinds of conversations about other things,” she said. “This is a good way to start relationship between groups.”
As a direct result of this discussion, the South Asian Men’s Collective is currently planning a dinner with Hillel.
—Staff writer Jessie J. Jiang can be reached at email@example.com.