Some phrases are highly charged, evoking instant feelings of revulsion, incredulity, or both. ‘Holocaust denier’ is one such phrase.
Who on Earth could be so uneducated, so ill-informed, so egregious as to deny that something as profoundly, horrifically impactful as the Holocaust ever happened…?
It’s in our textbooks, it’s on the History channel. All adults today grew up learning about the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazi regime … right?
People like to blame the quick, easy flood of information from the internet for the decline in people’s ability to think critically - and the rise of alarming viewpoints.
‘Fake news’ can be found anywhere we look hard enough - and especially when we start questioning who gets to define it in the first place.
Clickbait gets more clicks, the AIs have been trained to favor algorithms of profit, not truth - and nuance lies largely forgotten.
Anyway - what if ‘Holocaust deniers’ have been around since, y’know, the time of the Holocaust?
So - my dad immigrated to the USA from Germany with his mother after WWII. My mother was a child of immigrants.
Neither of them experienced the prosperity and ease of post-war America that we often see portrayed in Norman Rockwell Christmas scenes.
By the time I was born, my parents were in their 40s, and shared a lot of stories with me about their past.
As a child, my mom could go to the movies downtown and get penny candy for 35 cents. However - her family lived in a relative’s attic, and she shared a twin-size bed with her mother - who worked in a factory.
I know my mom had a more stable childhood than my dad.
He remembers raiding dumps for used coffee grounds, and scraping the insides of banana peels for extra calories.
As a boy, he played games in the ruins of bombed out building in post-war Germany.
That's where my grandmother’s holocaust denial comes in, you know…
So - my dad's always been fiercely proud to be an American.
His mother married an American when he was a boy, and since his biological father had been reported MIA before he was born - he was able to be offically adopted, and even changed his name.
At 18, my father jumped at the chance to join the American Army, became a naturalized citizen, and later, volunteered for Vietnam not once, but twice.
However, his mother - my Oma - was a different story.
She came to this country in her 30s, learned English somewhat grudgingly, and retained her thick German accent into my childhood, peppering her speech with various German words amongst the English.
I wanted to learn to speak German, and she would often chide my father for not teaching me.
His reasoning? We were Americans first, and Texans, specifically - so if I was going to learn a foreign language it would be Spanish, dammit.
My Oma was a fierce, proud, and formidable woman, with a booming voice, perfectly coiffed silver hair and pearl-painted nails.
When I was a kid, we saw her every week, and I used a rotary phone to call her up almost daily and talk about nothing in particular.
She often went the commissary on post to buy me special German chocolates or potato pancakes, and during the holidays, always an imported advent calendar and iced pfeffernusse cookies (still my favorite).
She smoked slims and kept them in a metallic gold mesh cigarette case that I used to play with. She often drank and gambled at bingo halls, and went to the hairdressers every week as if it were church.
Then, she’d come back with juicy tales of gossip and betrayal from amongst the other German women who made up her rich social life. She would delight in telling my mother these stories, who could care less, but was much too polite to say so!
My Oma had a big personality, and a bigger temper.
She did not forgive easily, and once I became old enough to have an opinion and hold conversations, we didn’t generally get on well.
Oma often said that children should be seen and not heard. I often ignored this and quipped back with snarky comments that earned my parents disapproving looks.
She passed on when I was just 13, and despite seeing her frequently, my father didn’t have a great bond with her, and simply doesn’t talk about the rest of his family.
He left the lot of them in Germany long ago, and I never understood why he did that, as a kid.
As an adult, I now realize this must have been my father’s way of protecting us from that unsavory legacy … because his mother was a ‘Holocaust denier’.
She went to her grave insisting that Hitler was a good man and a wonderful leader, and that all the stories of gas chambers and concentration camps were just made-up propaganda to discredit him.
I vividly remember her talking about it when I was 11.
She had come along with my parents to pick me up from school that day (I imagine we were going out for dinner together).
I couldn’t believe the words she was saying, and was annoyed that my parents were just trying to quell the conversaton and change topics. Never one to miss an opportunity where I could prove myself intellectually, I instantly pulled out my history book to show her photos, astounded that she had somehow made it to adulthood without knowing the truth about Hitler and WWII.
As a book-smart kid, it simply didn’t occur to me that she was anything other than misinformed - so I thought it would be easy to correct her with facts.
…but no. She flatly refused to accept any of it.
She waived my objections away with contempt, said the pictures were doctored up, or else, from some other country or time period.
She said my schoolbook was wrong, and she even went on to rant about anti-German propaganda in the American school system.
I was shocked. Books were my holy grail of infalliable truth … yet her belief was stronger.
I vaguely recall my mother having a conversation with me later that day.
She validated that of course I was right and Oma was wrong.
Then, she went on to explain to me that no matter what proof I showed her or how clever my arguments were … Oma would never see it that way.
My Oma’s perspective, as a tall, blonde, blue-eyed German woman, was paramount:
Her personal experience was that, before Hitler's rise to power, they were eating from the dump.
Afterward, she held an important job as a train conductress (which she still liked to brag about, even in her old age).
She had enough money to send some to her parents, who lived on a farm and raised my dad while she worked.
Life was better for her, specifically, myopically - and that was all she had the bandwidth (or luxury—?) to understand.
Her experience was strong, visceral, so anything else must have been propaganda - because for her, life was good when Hitler was in power, and then after Germany lost the war, everything was in decline - and eventually, she had to leave her country.
That experience had a big impact on me, and stayed in my psyche for a long time.
Why share this story?? Because context and perspective are massively important.
We can never hope to reconcile the issues we face in society at present if we are not willing to consider that even the most radical and appalling perspectives are grounded in some subjective truth for the person who believes them.
This is not sympathizing with assholes or watering down one’s principles - this is seeking to understand others so that we may begin the process of bridging the gulfs of disconnection among us.
Today, there’s a veritable flood of information and practically no discernment.
We are encouraged to adhere to ideologies rather than exploring, questioning, and thinking more deeply than just accepting what we hear.
A significant portion of humans on the planet today are like my Oma - simply relying on their own myopic experience to tell them “the truth”.
Some of us think the way to clarity is to cling frantically to facts - and if they can just find the “most correct” facts, they’ll have it all figured out.
Those who are getting their truth from the mainstream media and corporate gangsters who have been colluding in the destruction of public health for decades … they’re never going to be swayed by your well-reasoned arguments or objective facts.
The best we can do is wish them well and move on with our lives.
The way forward isn’t through convincing them to ‘awaken’ and join us.
They’ve made it clear - they’re not interested.
They have chosen their path, and in fact, continuing to try and convince them otherwise only fuels their stubbornness - and depletes your precious energy.
It’s time to disconnect. Wish them well on their path … but most of all, disconnect.
Otherwise, they will eat away at your sense of love and peace - and that’s not what you need.
If there’s anything we can do, it’s to focus on creating the kind of beautiful, harmonous world we want to live in.
Maybe you’ve planted a spark in the consciousness of others.
Maybe they’ll come back into your reality at some point, saying they’ve found out some new things, and changed their perspective.
If that happens later down the line, celebrate! Welcome them back - and know that the only way they can choose this is through their own awareness.
Don’t sink your creative energy into that hope for others, because it can easily become a black hole and destroy your own future.
The truth is, anybody who’s trying to say they KNOW the truth is either an idealist or a liar.
Truth is found in discernment, intuition, and remaining open to the fact that even the most intelligent and logical of us are still human, and capable of making mistakes.
Lies hate to be questioned. The truth welcomes it and endures it, because it has nothing to hide.
In all cases - compassion and discernment are essential. Nobody changes their mind by being made to feel like a fool.