Guest post: How I was made into a Holocaust denier

One of the most problematic aspects of Holocaust commemoration in Israel is the state’s insistence  to make it an exclusivist event – a cirme against the Jewish people first, against humanity second (if at all). This is manifest in many ways – the most odious, perhaps, is scornful rejection of using the word “Shoah” to describe the Armenian Holocaust, but there are many more. Here’s an anecdote from a fellow Russian-Israeli journalist to illustrate the point. Author anonymity preserved by request:

How I was made into a Holocaust denier

It’s summer 2004, boiling hot, I’m just back from a working trip and going on another one in two days. The phone rings. A girl’s voice:”Hello! I’m calling from paper So-and-so (a Leading Israeli Paper – henceforth, LIP). We want to commission you a feature about Russians! Could you come by tomorrow and meet the editor (a Famous Israeli Liberal Journalist – henceforth, FIL-J).”

I’m thinking to myself, damnit. I’m so not in the mode, and haven’t got the time, and I’m about to go abroad – but on the other hand, LIP. Not to mention, FIL J. It’s flattering and could come in useful. “Okay,” I say, “I’ll be there.”

I get to the place. Looking for a parking spot, heat, looking for the bloody entrance, HEAT, looking for Fil’s desk – and then I see him, daintily waving at me from the end of the corridor. I run over, come in, sit down, hello-hello. We’re accompanied by his assistant, the young girl from the phone, who now stares admiringly into her boss’s mouth.

Fil says: “You see, we’re running a special supplement on Russians. About their culture, you know. We have many ‘Russians’ in Israel and it’s interesting for our readers. So it’d be great if you could write us something.”

“Great,” says I, “I’d love to! I could write, for instance, about the political culture of the Israeli ‘Russians.”

Fil literally jumps out of his seat.

“NO!” he says, “No politics. We don’t need that. We need, you know, in general, how shall I say… well, you know, this guy is writing about Russian cuisine, about alcohol… that’s very interesting. And this other woman is writing about how Russians are into esoteric stuff. And this other-other woman is writing about Russian toys – matryoshkas and the like…”

“So your supplement will be purely ethnographic, then?”

For some reason, Fil takes it personally. “No! No ethnography. We’re about culture here.”

“Where do you know me from?” I ask. “From X,” he replies. “But X knows me as a political activist! I’m afraid matryoshkas are not my specialty.”

Just then, the coffee finally arrives, and leaving becomes somewhat uncomfortable. Time is pressing and I’m itching to go, because nothing of value is obviously going to come out of it. We drink coffee and chat about Russia – small talk.

And then Fil goes: “Eureka! I’ve got it. You’ll like it. Why don’t you write about how Russians feel about World War II. Because I hear they’re still very emotional about it… can you imagine? [to his assistant:] It’s been nearly 60 years now and they’re still remembering the war. I mean, why?”

The inverted commas around the world “Russians” slip my attention, perhaps because we spent the last few minutes talking about Russia. So I automatically reply: “Well of course they do. 20 million people died, after all.”

He goes: “I wasn’t actually talking about victims of Stalinism.”

I go: “Me neither. 20 million Soviet citizens perished in the war! Stalin is a whole other matter, that’s more millions…”

And then I see the blood draining from Fil’s face. The assistant takes the cue and goes paler still. He says, hoarsely: “What… you’re… you’re engaging in Holocaust denial in my office?? I protest!”

I’m stunned. “What’s wrong with you,” I say. “What Holocaust denial?”

He says: “Well, how many Jews died, do you think?”

I say: “Well, 6 million!”

He says, “You see. And you’re claiming MORE  of other people died!”

I say: “But that’s a historical fact! And how does it even contradict the Holocaust? There was a genocide of the Jewish people. I’m not arguing with that by any means. But other people had died too!”

He stares at me. I stare at him, every bit as shocked. And make my excuses to leave.

“Ok,” he says. “Go. I’ll look into it… we’ll get in touch when you’re back.”

They never called. And I never called them, either. They could use the time to learn some history.

This conversation remains etched in my memory as one of the worst disappointments I experienced in Israel. That was our intelligentsia… our liberals… our Left, so to speak. Opinion-makers. And he wasn’t even one of the worst. Alas.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Guest post: How I was made into a Holocaust denier

  1. goy

    Name and shame…

    Ok, perhaps not. But very interesting, although I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ummm

    That was incredibly pointless and terribly written.

  3. Dimi

    So, bets are off: Is Umm’s comment a lame attempt at an insult / poorly construed and unimaginative criticism / ingenious negative (rather than sticky, flattering) comment-spam? I’m personally betting on the latter…

    @Goy – pleasure :)

  4. lisagoldman

    Comment spam, for sure.

  5. Agree with Ummm

    Interesting topic. But yea, it was indeed terribly written. And this story sounds fake. What famous and experienced journalist would talk like that. There are obvious exaggerations here, or even misinterpretations.

    Wow, what immature responses by Dimi and lisagoldman. In addition, God forbid someone can criticize your writing or disagree with you. Grow a backbone Dimi.

    • Dimi

      Don’t mind disagreement in the slightest, but just saying something is _____ <- swearword without explaining why is hardly criticism, isn't it.

      As for the accuracy – can vouch for it. 100%. And I've heard journalists considerably higher up than Fil do just as bad.

      • Agree with Ummm

        Wow Dimi. Just by browsing your blog, I can see you’re on some sort of crusade against Israel. Do you have ANY posts in which you something good about the country? Or have your Londonistan friends convinced you that Israel is evil and needs to be singled out from other nations?

        I gather you are one of those many Russian speakers who came to Israel, reaped all the benefits from the country that an immigrant can get, then hightailed it to live outside Israel and tell all your mates in how bad a country it is. Lots of those in Toronto too. And in Israel, the Russians can’t wait to leave; run away from their problems instead of trying to improve the country from within.

  6. lisagoldman

    Wow, Agree-with-Ummmm, you are so far off the mark that I’m a bit embarrassed for you.

  7. Hello,
    I am a student writing my thesis about the Russian-speaking aliyah, their notions of culture and shared heritage. This post already is of value for me, but now I’m very happy I went back to it. Умница! The comments are a treasure. The accusation of someone who is ‘Russian’ of post-Zionism on the basis of his origins is very typical. I just wander what stereotype Agree-with-Ummm would have invoked if the guest poster and/or Dimi had been ‘Russian’ women. And the best thing is that the discussion evolved from this great post about choosing actual problems instead of matryoshkas! I’ll follow it further.

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