Despite nearly seventy years of painstaking historical documentation across the globe, certain individuals refuse to believe the Nazi Holocaust ever happened. Disbelief makes some strange sense: the horrendous suffering of more than six million victims is unbelievable, as is the wretched depravity of the perpetrators.
We do not want to believe that human beings are capable of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in ghettos, massacres sites, slave labor and death camps at Auschwitz, Lodz, Ponar, Babi Yar, Maidanek, Birkenau, Kovno, Janowska, Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Vilna, Warsaw, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Minsk, Mauthausen and Dachau. Nor do we want to imagine the trauma and life-long heart break endured by the survivors, among them Humboldt State University 1990 Scholar of the Year, Professor Emeritus Samuel Oliner who, as a child in Poland, saw the corpses of his murdered family piled in an open pit.
The term genocide was coined in 1944 by Polish-Jewish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin. In 1948, the United Nations defined genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” In 2004, international jurists ruled that “the part targeted must be significant enough to have an impact on the group as a whole.” The destruction of a third of the world’s Jewish population has sent shock waves through generations.
In recent decades, scholars have undertaken the daunting task of documenting genocides across the world. Last year, in honor of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), HSU’s Jewish Student Union and Temple Beth El of Eureka co-sponsored an event that paid tribute to the victims of some of the most massive 20th century genocides. Contemporary ethicists have suggested the UN definition is inadequate because it fails to address systematic mass killings due to political affiliation, which may require the new term of politicide.
The human propensity for killing one another is truly hard to believe. But we would be extremely naïve to think that individuals who deny the reality of the Holocaust are expressing innocent disbelief. To the contrary; these people are sowing seeds of hatred. This year, on the week of Yom HaShoah, The Lumberjack ran an advertisement paid for by a notorious bigot whose fundraising campaign for college newspaper advertisements declares, “Get ‘em while they’re young!”
Most of the students who write, edit, and read The Lumberjack are young, but they are neither gullible, nor callous, nor likely to be easily swayed toward hatred. Just the opposite: our students are idealistic, eager to understand political events that shape our lives, and deeply concerned about social and environmental justice. A bigot’s obsession has drawn our students into an examination of world history and the responsibilities of a free press.
In protest of the disturbing advertisement in the April 15 issue, readers are suggesting that all advertising in The Lumberjack should be clearly identified as such, and that an accompanying disclaimer is needed to make it abundantly clear the editors do not support the dissemination of misleading, false or inflammatory information. By carefully weighing public response, and listening to guidance from faculty who are committed to a quality newspaper on campus, The Lumberjack student staff can make much needed policy changes that will ultimately improve the paper and add vigor to our campus journalism. Only good can come from this difficult exercise.