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Denial Becomes an Important Movie

Mark Dov Shapiro, Rabbi Emeritus Sinai Temple, Springfield
Article published in The Republican, September 26, 2016


I remember the women at the bakery. They had numbers tattooed on their arms. I was about six years old when my family moved to Toronto and began going to the local Jewish bakery where those women served us. I must have asked about the numbers on their arms and then been told by my parents that, only a few years before I was born, something called the Holocaust had taken place. People called the Nazis had attempted to exterminate all Jews in Europe. They had forced Jews into concentration camps, stamped their arms with numbers for efficiency, and then gone about murdering them. The women in the bakery were among those who had somehow survived the Holocaust.


And that's my story.


As I grew up, I learned much more about Judaism, but that Holocaust chapter in Jewish history has become central to my being who I am.


Of course, everyone has a story. America is an amalgam of many people's stories. Not long ago, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, shared her story of growing up in New York as the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. In telling readers how she became to be the person she is, she spoke with tenderness and pride about the many ways in which her Puerto Rican heritage shaped her life.


Only a few months ago, American television viewers were able to view another story. It was Roots, which took us deep into the heart and soul of African Americans. In only a few weeks, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be opening on the Mall in Washington DC. The complex and central story of our country's African American community will be told for all to come and learn.


And it is so important for that story and others all to be told fully and accurately, which is why I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new movie in October called DENIAL.


The movie will tell the true story of how Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, fought a legal battle over six years to establish that the Holocaust actually happened!


Lipstadt went to court in London, England to respond to the claims of David Irving, a fairly prominent English writer who claimed that Jews like those women I met in the Toronto bakery hadn't been victims of the Nazis. Irving insisted in various speeches and books that there never was a full-blown Nazi plan to starve, shoot, or gas the Jews of Europe.


It's hard to imagine that anyone would want to prove such horrors really took place. Or maybe it's even harder to imagine why anyone would want to revisit history and claim the Holocaust really wasn't as evil as it was.


But that is what happened. Over the course of many years, David Irving developed his ideas that the Holocaust as a genocidal war against the Jews never happened. Even though he admitted that many Jews died during World War Two, Irving insisted that they died as part of the overall horrible casualties of the entire War. When Deborah Lipstadt called him a "denier" of the Holocaust in one of her books, Irving sued her for libel. He initiated his lawsuit in 1995. As the new movie will explain, it would take almost six years until an English judge declared Lipstadt innocent of libel. The documents her attorneys presented in court ultimately occupied over 100 feet of shelf space. The court's judgment against Irving ran over 350 pages.


Does the whole episode matter? What if the Holocaust wasn't as major a catastrophe as we know it was?


Here is how Deborah Lipstadt explains why she had to devote so much time to the trial. She couldn't give in because "if one history can be denied, any history can be denied."


Which is to say the Jewish story I value might no longer to be taken seriously. Beyond that, Puerto Rican, African American, Irish, Italian, and other American stories could also be rewritten, whitewashed, or undone.


But our stories are the bedrock on which we build our lives, our values, and our hopes. Deny our stories or our history and you chip away at who each of us is. We lose our identities.


DENIAL, the movie, will soon arrive in theaters everywhere. It will literally tell how history was put on trial. I am glad that history (and truth) won. I am hopeful that the full story of those ladies in the bakery along with so many other people's stories will remain alive for many years to come.


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