You Are Entitled to Your Opinion, but You’re Not Entitled to Your Own Facts

We are in a high school class in U.S. History, somewhere in Connecticut, 2007. A student says, “The slave trade of Africans to America never really happened.” Other students look at him with curiosity. “Yes,” he says, “this whole subject has been grossly exaggerated by American blacks to explain their difficult experience in this country and to win compassion. Africans really wanted to come to America, eagerly and voluntarily got on ships, and came over here, hiring themselves out on plantations for fair wages and good treatment and better lives.”
What would you expect the teacher to say in response? Let’s say that when other students replied that the student doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the teacher said, “Now, now, boys and girls, he’s entitled to his opinion.”

What if a teacher at a public high school allowed that remark denying the trade in African slaves to America to stand without refutation, to be called one opinion among others, validating the possibility of its truth?

How long would it take for that teacher to be fired? If that teacher did not absolutely and categorically refute and disprove the student’s remark denying the slave trade, he or she would be hounded as a racist. And indeed, that teacher would not be worthy of being called a history teacher. History is about understanding the past. To deny the facts of the past is to undermine the study of history.

But what if the same student, and it would be the same kind of prejudiced and moronic student, said that the Holocaust never happened. And the teacher said, “Well, there are many people across the world who agree with that and many others who think that the number six million is grossly exaggerated.” What would happen to that teacher?

Apparently nothing, because, guess what? It happens, right here in this area. And across the country. Students can say, “I don’t believe the Holocaust really happened” or “My father says that the Holocaust is just a big myth” or “I read on the Internet that the Holocaust is a lie.” And teachers say, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” The teacher will respect that opinion, and if another student argues, it is left open as a debate.

The late great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” That’s what every teacher should say.

It’s stupefying: We are talking about the best documented event in human history. There is a facility,  known as the International Tracing Service, which houses 30 million pieces of paper on 16 miles of shelves. It is the largest repository of Holocaust documents in the world.  It’s all there,  including the deportation record of Anne Frank and the lists of slave laborers rescued by Oskar Schindler.  There are cabinets of precise, handwritten records of executions which fill pages of lined composition notebooks from death camps. 48 people were shot at two-minute intervals on April 20, 1942 as a present to Hitler on his birthday. The SS wrote it all down, every detail.

At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the most important museum to the Holocaust, I saw film footage of the poor starving children in the Warsaw Ghetto; children falling in the street from hunger and sickness, children in tattered rags.  And I asked the question:  “How do we have this record?”  The answer was that the Nazis themselves filmed the children, and showed these films in the movie theaters in Germany.  When people tell you that the Germans didn’t know what was going on, don’t you believe it for one second.  The Nazis were proud to show the starving, dying Jewish children in the movie theatres.  They kept careful records of every kind.  The Nazis didn’t deny the Holocaust; they proclaimed it and advertised it and were triumphant and gleeful about every Jewish person killed.  

So to say that the Holocaust didn’t happen or is any way exaggerated is pure and utter nonsense of a very evil kind. And yet, from a local high school to a conference of evil in Iran to newspapers around the globe to the Internet where people write anything they want and get away with it, people say it all the time.

For Jewish people who really understand their people and its history, the Holocaust is always with us. For some of us in this sanctuary, it is very personal.

Perhaps the person most on my mind on this Rosh Hashanah is Charles Gelman, the late Cantor of Temple Beth Sholom for many years and father of our Cantor Irwin Gelman for these High Holidays. Read the late Cantor’s book about his experiences during the Holocaust and World War II. The book is called Do Not Go Gentle, because he did not go gently into the darkness of evil but fought back as a partisan in the forests.  Charles Gelman lost his first beloved family. He survived and fought back and later built a new life in America. And his family is carries him into the future. And his son brings his spirit into this shul in mystical ways. Deny the Holocaust to the son of that brave man.  

Cantor Gelman’s book is skillfully abridged in a wonderful collection co-edited by our congregant Dr. Martin Glassner, And Life is Changed Forever,       which includes autobiographical memoirs from many people who were young during the Holocaust and survived to make new lives. One of the authors is his wife Renee who tells her own very painful story. Deny the Holocaust to Renee, who lost her world.

Or deny the Holocaust to our member Dr. Steven Frank. His father Jacob Frank wrote his autobiography Himmler’s Tailor. Jacob Frank lost every other member of his sixty-four person family and survived because he was literally the tailor for one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany. He witnessed the beating, torture, mass shooting and extermination of thousands of Jewish people in four different concentration camps. He testified in the War Crimes Trials because of his first-hand knowledge. He survived he said, because of an accident, that he was a skilled tailor whom the Nazis, in their hypocrisy, wanted to use.  Still, he said, “I only survived at the end for one reason: That they didn’t have time to finish us off.” But Jacob Frank lost his beloved family. 63 out of 64 people; only he survived. Deny the holocaust to Jacob’s son Steve.

Now you say: “Why make a big deal? Everyone with a brain knows that the Holocaust happened.” I would respond that people with brains are being indoctrinated right this minute all around the world. People with brains know what they are taught and what they read. And if they are taught and if they read that the Holocaust never happened or was grossly exaggerated, then that’s exactly what they think.

Or you might say, that’s all very sad, but if we’re talking about history, about events that happened over sixty years ago, what difference does this make for the world today?

Let me explain how the denial of the Holocaust is part and parcel of what is going on in the world today and how the denial of the Holocaust changes how we, and I mean you and I, see the world today.

People tell me that Israel is wrong not to work out a peace deal with the Palestinians. Many very nice people think, to quote the expert on current affairs, A. J. Soprano, that no one even knows how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started, that it’s about a cycle of violence that goes around and around and it’s about borders and it’s about territories and it’s about occupation.

Their first mistake is in thinking that Israel would not sign a decent peace treaty today if there was a chance of having peace and security. People distinguish between the terrorist party Hamas, the party that controls the Palestinian government in Gaza, and the supposedly moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank.

So let’s do a little exercise. Let’s ask the question: What does Hamas say about the Holocaust, and then, what does the moderate President Abbas say about the Holocaust? If you understand what people say about the Holocaust, you get the true picture of who they are.

Hamas has in its charter that the Holocaust is a fake.  In Article 22 of the Hamas Charter the Jews are blamed for the French Revolution, World War I, the Communist revolution, World War II  and those sinister organizations – the Masons, the Rotary Club and the Lions. Hamas says that the Holocaust is a myth perpetrated by Jewish people for their own financial gains.
It says that Jewish people distort the facts. But of course it is the Holocaust deniers who distort the facts and then say that Jewish people distort the facts. And this is just the beginning of their hatred.
The director of the Hamas Children’s Summer Camp in Gaza City stated: “The first thing we want to teach the children is their cause. They know from daily experience that their enemy is the Jew — our job is to explain why. In the Koran much is said about the bad behavior of the Jew … God cursed the Jews.”
In April 2007, Dr. Ahmad Bahar, acting Hamas speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, referred to Israel’s Jewish citizens as a “cancerous lump” and prays to Allah to “count them and kill them to the last one, and don’t leave even one.”  

So that’s what Hamas thinks. It could not be clearer. So what about the so-called moderate Abbas? He wrote his doctoral dissertation, his Ph.D. thesis, on this topic and later published it as a book with the title: The Other Face: The Secret Connection between the Nazis and the Zionist Movement. Abbas says that the entire Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis in the annihilation of the Jewish people.  Abbas also denies that the gas chambers were for murdering people, and claims that they were only for incinerating bodies, out of concern for the spread of disease and infection in the region.

So we did our exercise. The Palestinians, both Hamas and Abbas, both the explicit killers and the so-called moderate faction, deny the Holocaust.
Do you think that such people really want to negotiate and make peace?
How can you negotiate with people who lie about facts?
How can you trust in what such people say about the future when you know that they lie about the past?

In the face of all of the evidence, why should anyone deny the Holocaust?
To say that Jewish people do not get to be victims worthy of compassion. Why? So that they themselves can claim to be the victims of the Jews.
Their problem with Israel has nothing to do with borders or treaties or territories, it has nothing to do with the facts, only the evil opinion that Jewish people shouldn’t live and certainly shouldn’t have their own country. Because if Jewish people have their own country they will have an army and if they have an army they will protect themselves and they will not be killed.

Why do they deny the undeniable?
They deny the Holocaust to hide the fact that it is exactly what they want to do.
They want to be the greatest Jew-killers in history and they can’t stand the competition.
Anti-Semites always accuse us of doing what they are doing.  We’re not the ones fighting all over the globe. It is Muslims who are anti-West, anti-Democracy, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Hindu. I may be off by a war or two, but Muslims are involved in 25 of the 30 conflicts going on in the world today.  
So they say, as found in The Hamas Charter: “There is no war going on anywhere without Jewish people having their finger in it.”
They say it’s us, but the facts show that it’s them. They blame us of doing what they’re doing.

You say, “Why bother me about these kinds of people? They are just evil.”
But I want to correct you: They are not the only deniers of the Holocaust.
We are also, in our own way, Holocaust deniers.
For example, we hear that people are being killed in the Sudan, and we don’t do anything and we don’t say anything. We deny the fact of genocide.  

Some of the people in this room today are Holocaust-deniers and do not support Israel.  They spout ignorant platitudes. For example, a nice Jewish girl in this community, a recent college graduate, said, “The Jewish people never had any trouble before Israel existed.”
This has to be the most ignorant statement anyone ever made.   Why do you think there is an Israel?  Because the Jewish people in Europe and the Arab countries were so happy and were treated so well? Did she ever hear of the Holocaust?  Doesn’t she understand that the attacks on Israel are part of Hitler’s program?
If you are like this girl, do yourself and everybody else a favor.
Don’t just buy the propaganda. Read. Learn.
When people think that Israel has problems because it controls Arab territories, they should learn that before Israel won those territories in 1967, the PLO carried out terrorist attacks in 1964, 1965, and 1966 when Israel was in possession of no territories whatsoever. We forget that a victorious Israel immediately offered to return Sinai to Egypt and the Golan to Syria only to be met with the Arab League’s famous three “nos”: no peace, no recognition and no negotiation.
We forget that if the Palestinians had wanted a viable state of their own, they could have had it a long time ago.

Anti-Semites say:  Jews control all the money in the world.
I wish it were true.  If we did, there wouldn’t be poverty or hunger or homelessness.
Anti-Semites say:  Jews control the media.  OK, I get it. We control the media, which is why the world is influenced by media which is so Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic.  I wish we did control the media to counter the propaganda that is so Anti-Israel that Americans from a sanctimonious collaborator with evil named Jimmy Carter to millions and millions of ignorant and misinformed people believe a pack of lies.

It is difficult for me when anyone spouts Anti-Semitism.
But when it’s Jewish people who do it, trying to sound oh-so-hip and oh-so-cool, I have only one description for them:  
They are Holocaust-deniers.  
I am not just embarrassed, I am ashamed.
I am ashamed in front of the memories of 1-1/2 million children who were killed not just by the Nazis but also by people of many other countries.
A million and a half children.
What had any of them done?
Were they soldiers?
Were they terrorists?
And that girl says that the Jewish people never had any problems until there was a State of Israel?
I am ashamed of the Jewish knee-jerk liberals who say that they just want to give peace a chance and who don’t understand that Israel has never wanted anything but peace and has always given peace every possible chance.  
They are entitled to their own opinions but they are not entitled to their own facts.

When our July Israel group came out of Yad Vashem, I asked them each to give me one word on their mind.  One of the young people said, “Education.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Maybe we could get rid of some of the misguided opinions if people were guided to the facts. But my worry about education, and this is a general concern for me, is that kids learn isolated facts so that they can take a test, that the Holocaust becomes another set of facts, another course, and that very few integrate that knowledge into wisdom about the present.
Knowledge must be transformed into the wisdom to understand this world.
And another young man said at Yad Vashem:  “I feel isolated not by my Jewishness but by the failure of others to comprehend what has gone on and is going on now.”
That’s exactly how I feel.
I feel isolated because the world seems to be split into three parts, with the Holocaust as a kind of moral litmus test:
One part says that the Holocaust never happened or was exaggerated. These people are evil.
 A second part says that the Holocaust happened but either doesn’t care, or is bored by the subject. These people are not evil but they do not see evil.
And a third part of the world, which includes many Jewish people, says that the Holocaust happened and was horrible beyond belief and that we must be sure it never happens again, but does not apply this understanding to the current situations in the world.  
And that leaves some of us, a very few of us, screaming in frustration that nobody gets it, that another Holocaust is ready to happen at any of a number of places in this world right this minute. We’re like Harry Potter who, when no one believed him that evil was very real, had to marshal all his inner resources to insist that evil was true and dangerous.

And again I say to this educated and caring congregation of nice people that your niceness blinds you into denial, that many of us here do not deny the Holocaust but deny its meaning, deny its implications.  

But if we deny the meaning of the Holocaust, if we think it was a one-time event, we will break our bond with the people who died at the hands of evil and we risk the lives of the people of this world at the hands of those who are quite eager to destroy us.
Evil counts on the weakness of the good, preying on our goodness, negotiating with treachery, depending on our hopes for peace, making agreements that they will never live by.
It’s hard to think about evil and not despair.
But ask the Holocaust survivors and their children who are here today.
Evil is real and must be countered with strength and resolve.
Tell the truth about those who deny the Holocaust.
The same people who deny the Holocaust are the people who want another Holocaust.
And then there are people who deny evil and allow evil to flourish.
Don’t you be one of them.
Stand up for truth when you hear lies.
When you hear people denying the Holocaust or rejecting Israel or failing to apply what we’ve learned about evil to our situation in the world today, tell them:
You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.