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East European Perspectives: October 30, 2002

30 October 2002, Volume 4, Number 22


By Michael Shafir

Deflecting guilt for the Holocaust onto the Germans alone and deflecting it to "fringe" must not, in theory at least, involve anti-Semitic postures. Shifting the blame onto the Jews, however, is undoubtedly a reflection of such a propensity. One can find in its different variations practically all the well-established forms of anti-Semitism, ranging from religious to the politically reactive. For the sake of simplification and clarification, I shall separately discuss five "explanations" of the Holocaust pinning blame on the Jews themselves. A sixth, widely popular, argument -- namely, that the Jews provoked the Holocaust because of their deep involvement with communism -- will only be touched on briefly in this section, and will be extensively dealt with when discussing "comparative trivialization" in a future article.

Crime And Punishment
At "scientific" colloquiums, in volumes and in articles in the press produced by the defenders of extreme nationalism and/or its interwar record, the Holocaust is at times "explained" by DEICIDAL JUSTIFICATION. In a 719-page volume produced in 1997 by the Friends of President Tiso in Slovakia and Abroad association and similar groups in Slovakia itself, it is argued in a chapter entitled "On The Jewish Question" that the Holocaust is the price the Jews have had to pay for having crucified Jesus Christ. There is, however, room for hope, judging by the reflections of Jozef Stitnican in an article called "The Jewish Tragedy." Having refused to acknowledge Christ, he writes, the Jews "over-valued themselves, believing they are more than the others." They thought that with the help of their Messiah, they would be able to rule the world. To this day, Jews believe they are the chosen people. Even after "annihilation in the gas chambers," they still believe so and had "set up a state for themselves," to which they have no right. They can, however, be saved if "we win them over to collaborate in Christ's design" (Mestan, 2000, pp. 182-183). In a similarly argued article in the Greater Romania Party (PRM) weekly "Romania mare" in 1993, a Romanian lady was writing that the criminal structure of the Jews is reflected in "the crucifixion of Christ" and their consequently being "a deicidal people" (cited in Voicu, 2000, pp. 128-129); and, paraphrasing (with SOME change!)Andre Malraux, Ovidiu Gules, the editor in chief of an Iron Guardist Timisoara publication was concluding in 1992, "The Fourth Reich will be [Christian] Orthodox or will not be at all" (�Gazeta de vest,� No. 9, May 1992).

A Return Of The Protocols And Self-Defense
A second "explanation" for the Holocaust is taken straight from the "encyclopedia" of conspiracy theories. According to this explanation, it was actually world JEWISH POWER that PRODUCED HITLER. Aron Monus, the publisher of the Hungarian translation of "Mein Kampf," makes this argument in an epilogue to the volume (Braham, 2001) as well as in a book he authored under the title "Conspiracy: The Empire of Nietzsche." The title of the first chapter in the volume is conclusive in itself: "Freemasonry Encouraged the Holocaust." Chapter Two deems that "Adolf Hitler Was in the Pay of Jewish Freemasons," and the following chapter is on "Adolf Hitler, the Quack Zionist Agent" (Kovacs, 2002). Similar views emerge from Slovakia. According to an article on Freemasonry in "Zmena" in 1992, international Jewry and Zionism nurtured Hitler and provoked the war in order to facilitate the setting up of the Jewish state. This was also the argument of historian Arved Grebert's contribution to the 1992 volume "An Attempt at a Political Profile of Jozef Tiso": It was Zionism itself that had the greatest interest in provoking anti-Semitism in order to prepare the ground for claiming the State of Israel. Robert Letz, a senior lecturer at Bratislava's Comenius University, also blames Zionism but from a different perspective: Were it not for Zionism, Jews would have assimilated and the Holocaust could have been avoided (Mestan, 2000, pp. 85, 119-120, 144). For Russian Pamyat leader Dimitrii Vasiliev, Adolf Eichmann had been Jewish and, in supervising the Nazi extermination, had acted in line with the Protocols (Tolz, 1997, p. 181). Ladislav Pittner, who was Slovak Interior Minister representing the Christian Democratic Movement until May 2001 and whose father was a committed Tiso supporter, in 1998 was similarly arguing that Zionism might have been behind the pogroms in Russia in order to convince Jews to leave for Palestine. Pittner went on to "reveal" that German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris had "very clear documentation indicating that Hitler and Himmler had Jewish ancestors" (cited in Mestan, 2000, p. 194). In Romania, Radu Theodoru argued that Hitler had been "merely a puppet" in Jewish hands (cited in Voicu, 2000, p. 129) and writer Ioan Buduca concurred, seeing anti-Semitism as a Zionist ploy to advance the purpose of Jewish emigration (Buduca, 1998).

It matters little if the opposite argument -- namely, that THE JEWS HAD FORCED HITLER INTO SELF-DEFENSE -- is produced by the same people. This was Buduca's case in 1999, when he plainly stated that the Jews were not only "historically guilty" for Germany's defeat in World War I but also of having started a war on Hitler in 1934 by declaring a boycott of Nazi German goods. The argument is a "revisionist classic" (see Vidal-Naquet, 1992, p. 88; Shermer and Grobman, 2000, p. 40). It had been used first by neo-Nazi R. Verral, later embraced by Robert Faurisson and by David Irving, and finally also by Ernst Nolte (see Vidal-Naquet, 1992, pp. 38-42; Nolte, 1993, pp. 152-153; Furet, 1996, p. 177n). It took 60 years, Buduca wrote, to discover that Hitler had adamantly tried via diplomatic channels to avoid the war. It is obvious, then, as Romanian political scientist George Voicu sarcastically notes in commenting on Buduca's article, who must be blamed for that debacle and implicitly for the Holocaust (Voicu, 2000, pp. 81, 123). Ion Coja, the personification of Romanian "selective negationism," might have been the one who introduced Buduca to this particular version of a conspiracy theory. In a book published in 1999, Coja "dialogued" with an unidentified younger admirer who might well have been Buduca. He "revealed" to him that Hitler and Ceausescu had equally "sinned" before what he called "the Grand Manipulator." The former had cut the Reichsmark from its bondage to gold; the latter had paid off Romania's foreign debt. In reaction, world Jewry had declared its boycott of German goods and had Ceausescu executed. Just as "the money changers had sentenced Jesus to death!" responded Coja's anonymous dialogue partner, adding a spice of deicide to the recipe (Coja, 1999, p. 289). Back in 1993, Ilie Neacsu, editor in chief of the weekly "Europa" and a future PRM parliamentarian, had argued that "Hitler did not butcher Jews from the Jordan Valley, but from his own courtyard in Berlin, where after World War I Juda's descendants had become masters over German economy, culture and politics" (Neacsu, 1993).

A somewhat different version of "Jews forcing Hitler into self-defense" was presented in Hungary by negationist Viktor Padanyi. Not only Hitler, but all nations that fought as his allies had been forced into defensive postures. The showdown in World War II had been one between opposing moralities, philosophies, frames of national mind. On one hand, there were the ultra-individualist Jews -- a small minority of rich people with a disproportionate share of wealth -- which Padanyi estimates in the case of Germany and Hungary to have ranged at between 40 percent and 80 percent of national income. On the other hand, there stood a collectivist philosophy and morality, a frame of mind putting community and collectiveness at the head of values. Anti-Semitism in general, according to Padanyi, is thus a sort of "racial egoism," the defense of "country folk" against the international rootless individualism of Jews. When, after 1939, Jews were asked to make collective sacrifices proportionate to their wealth, rather that to their proportion in the population, they refused to do so and had to be forced into it by collectivism-ruled polities, be they Nazi (like Germany) or merely "civilian" (like Hungary). The Jews labeled this "racial persecution" and incited the whole world to war against it. It was normal that the Jews, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a German victory, would work for the enemy. "The plain truth is that there was a real war between some states and their Jewish populations, who were intervening on the side of the enemy. And if the Jews were entitled to spy, pass on news, commit acts of sabotage, destroy supplies, endanger the currency, spread defeatist propaganda, plan armed assaults, and pray for the victory of the enemy (i.e. the destruction of the country), then the state surely had a right to take measures seeing that this does not happen" (cited in Kovacs, 2002).

'They Got What They Deserved'
While unwilling to admit own nation's participation in the Holocaust, some deniers in East-Central Europe admit that "repressive measures" had to be taken against Jews, emphasizing that JEWISH DISLOYALTY TRIGGERS A REACTIVE RESPONSE. This was already reflected in the Padanyi interpretation, but here I want to focus on those deflective versions that link Jewish disloyalty to a particular, well-defined point on the eve of, or in the course of, the war itself. Many library shelves would be needed to store the countless number of books and articles in media outlets (many of them identified with pro-Western postures) that "explain" Holocaust-related events in Romania in reactive rationalizations. From outright negationists of the likes of Theodoru to the "selective negationists" discussed below, there is agreement that Jewish disloyalty is what had triggered Antonescu's punitive reactions. The main argument rests on the large-scale support allegedly rendered by Jews to the Soviet occupation forces in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in 1940 and on the alleged Jewish participation not only in humiliating or torturing the retreating Romanian army but in the physical liquidation of Romanian military personnel. Viewed from this perspective, the June 1940 Dorohoi and Galati pogroms, the pogrom in Iasi, and the atrocities committed in Transnistria (whenever they are acknowledged, even in minimalist terms) can all be explained in terms of self-defense and/or spontaneous revenge on the Jews for their deeds in 1940. This is precisely what exiled Romanian writer Paul Goma does in one chapter of a forthcoming book, published in the Romanian monthly "Vatra" in 2002. "In the Beginning There Was Anti-Romanianism," reads the subheading of one of Goma's chapters (Goma, 2002, p. 36).

That Bessarabian or Bukovinian Jews had little reason to mourn the departure of authorities whose official anti-Semitic policy had been by then legislated into law, there can be little doubt. It is also true that Bessarabian Jews (but not only Jews) were among those who had humiliated withdrawing Romanian soldiers and officers. Romanians (and Ukrainians) were also involved -- and not all who engaged in the deeds were Communists. The Romanian authorities had unfortunately treated Bessarabia more like a colony than like a province that had opted to join Romania in 1918, and anti-Bucharest resentment was rather widespread.

This having been said, it must be added that the Romanian commanders of an army retreating in disarray undoubtedly found a convenient scapegoat in the "Jewish aggression" and many of their reports later turned out to have been made up to cover for military humiliation. Among other things, an officer reported to have been killed by Jews turned out many years later to be alive and well in Germany (Pelin, 1994). The reports in the Romanian media on the events were inflammatory. To what extent these reports influenced Antonescu in his "Jewish policies" after 1941 is difficult to know. Some Antonescu apologists explain the distinction he would eventually make between "Romanian" and "non-Romanian" Jews precisely in these reactive terms.

The June 1941 pogrom in Iasi is likewise said to have been a defensive reaction. Although an inquiry conducted by the Antonescu authorities concluded that the bogus claim of Jews having signaled to "enemy" planes or having opened fire on Romanian and/or German soldiers had no base in reality, the allegation continues to be reproduced by the likes of Theodoru (see "Europa," No. 64, February 1992). There may be some truth in Jews having been caught among those parachuted in by the Soviets near Iasi after the outbreak of hostilities, and about Jews having been sent over the border to spy. There can be no doubt whatsoever concerning where the sympathies of Jewish Romanian Communists lay, or that some of them engaged in active spying. Yet not only were these Communists isolated from the Jewish community, but as Antonescu himself would admit, Jews (or rather "kikes," as he put it) had also spied FOR Romania on the other side of the 1940 border (cited in Stoenescu, 1998, p. 237).

The reactive version, however, persists in producing the Jewish-deflective argument even as it admits that there has been no justification for atrocities. This, for example, is Stoenescu's case. He purports to abhor the innocent victims of the Iasi pogrom (whose number he minimizes as best as he can) and deplores the ensuing "death trains." At the same time, however, he claims that the thousands who died on the trains were the victim of "negligence" rather than intent, and that even those victims can ultimately be laid at the door of other Jews. Those who had been forced onto the trains were suspected of being Communists who had opened fire on Romanian and German soldiers, he claims. The "selection" (triere) had unfortunately been carried out under duress. It was not the first time in history that the many were paying the price for what only a handful -- in this particular case a few Jewish Communists -- had done, Stoenescu concludes (Stoenescu, 1998, p. 280).

The reactive explanation was quite clearly backed from the outset of postcommunist Romania by historians who under the previous regime had worked for either the Communist Party's Institute of History or for the Army's Center for the Research and Study of Military History and Theory headed by the executed president's brother, Ilie Ceausescu. It figured prominently in a volume published in 1992 by two Romanian historians from the army's own Academy for Higher Military Studies (Scurtu and Hlihor, 1992). It was also prominently displayed in a volume by historian Gheorghe Buzatu as a sequel to a tome on World War II's "secret history" published in the last years of communist rule (Buzatu, 1995b).

By then, the latter author's views on the Holocaust had already acquired notoriety (see below). They were succinctly expressed by the title of a booklet Buzatu published with the Iron Guardist publishing house Majadahonda. Rather than being a perpetrator of the Holocaust, Romania had been its victim. But not the victim of the Nazis, as others have already had it in Romania or in "competitive elsewheres." Romania underwent a Holocaust at the hand of the Jews, and the year 1940 marked its beginning (Buzatu, 1995a). The booklet would eventually become a separate chapter in a volume based on research Buzatu conducted in Soviet archives (Buzatu, 1996). Although this tome purports to deal with "Romanians in the Kremlin's Archives," most of its "heroes" are Jews who served Soviet power and would later become prominent leaders in post-World War II Romania. The volume is therefore significantly relevant to the "double genocide" debates in postcommunist East-Central Europe, which make up a core argument in the Holocaust's "comparative trivialization."

The "Romanians in the Kremlin's Archives" indulged in deflecting blame onto Jews even more stridently than the booklet published with the Iron Guard outlet had done. For example, it is no longer stated that the Jewish attacks on the Romanian army in summer 1940 "UNDOUBTEDLY INFLUENCED" Antonescu's "ULTERIOR BEHAVIOR VIS-A-VIS THE JEWISH PROBLEM" (Buzatu, 1995a, p. 40. Author's emphasis). Implicitly, in 1995 Buzatu was acknowledging that Antonescu had ordered in 1941 that Jews be deported from Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to Transnistria. (Though it must be also stated that Jews were also deported from southern Bukovina, which was within Romania's post-1940 boundaries.) By 1996, that sentence had been purged. Both in 1995 and in 1996, Buzatu cited Antonescu as having stated on 19 October 1941 that the crimes perpetrated in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in 1940 against the Romanian Army had been "essentially of Jewish inspiration and execution" (Buzatu, 1995a, p. 40, 1996, p. 230). More important, in both versions one finds the assertion that July 1940 is the date marking "THE HOLOCAUST [DIRECTED] AGAINST THE ROMANIAN PEOPLE DURING THE 1939-1945 WORLD WAR II AND LATER ON" (Buzatu, 1995a, p.29, 1996. p. 222. Author's emphasis).

Buzatu only alludes in 1996 to the 1940 Dorohoi and Galati pogroms, citing a military report that draws attention to the reactive anti-Jewish sentiment growing in the army and the Romanian population in general and warning against "possible anti-Semitic reaction within ranks of the military." This is then followed by a single sentence in which he remarks that the warnings "unfortunately materialized." How that happened the reader would never learn from Buzatu -- he or she is directed to a 12-volume documentation by Israeli historian of Romanian origin, Jean Ancel. The volumes are difficult enough to find in the West, let alone Romania. But Buzatu hastens to add that whatever followed "HAS CERTAINLY NOT BEEN PROGRAMMED BY THE [ROMANIAN] AUTHORITIES" (Buzatu, 1996, p. 229. Author's emphasis). Former Ceausescu court poet-turned-postcommunist-politician Adrian Paunescu "explained" in 1994: "None of the Romanians who fought for the restoration of the Nation's Unity (starting from Marshal Antonescu down to the last soldier) has acted in the blood-stained manner in which wars force people to act against enemies because they were acting against Jews. The only -- and fearsome -- rationality for the terrible crimes in Bessarabia was to administer punishment to the Bolsheviks. Romania did not kill Jews [just] because they were Jews" (Paunescu, 1994).

What the forced evacuation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina is for Romania's Antonescu apologists, the Slovak National Uprising is for Tiso's defenders in that country. The uprising, which started on 29 August 1944, was quashed by Nazi intervention in October of that year. Some Jews did indeed participate in it. Yet the reactive Slovak version would have it that it was the alleged MASSIVE Jewish participation in the uprising that triggered their deportation. Somehow, this overlooks the fact that the deportation of Slovak Jews started on 26 March 1942 (Hilberg, 1994, Vol. 2, p. 779). Jewish participation in the uprising must thus have been limited to the few who had somehow managed to escape from camps in Slovakia itself, where internment started earlier, or to individuals who had escaped abroad. Were one to believe Tiso's personal secretary, Karol Murin, in his"Memoirs and Testimony," reprinted in Slovakia in 1991 by the Friends of President Tiso association, the interned Jews left their places of work and labor camps and "joined the partisans" (cited in Mestan, 2000, p. 110). The reader might thus draw two conclusions: first, that Jews were free to move about Slovakia as they wished; and, moreover, that the camps themselves were some sort of facility from which one moved in and out at will. (I shall yet return to this [not unimportant] aspect of Holocaust "comparative trivialization.") Just as important, an association is thus established between Jews and communism, for the uprising has been a Communist-led event. Not only is this aspect shared by Slovak and Romanian providers of reactive explanations, it is part and parcel of the centrality of the myth of Judeo-Communism that is also playing a prominent role in the "comparative trivialization" of the Holocaust.

Other examples are variations on the theme. According to Gabriel Hoffmann, Tiso had acquiesced only to Jews being "interned at home." How Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka and Hlinka Guard commander in chief Alexander Mach had managed to keep him in the dark about the deportations one never learns from Hoffmann and his likes; but it was only "the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising [that] brought Jews further suffering." The German occupying forces arrested and deported them against the will of the Slovak government and Tiso (Mestan, 2000, p. 165). Culpability, in this particular version, is thus deflected to Jews and Germans -- in this particular order.

A yet more "original" version, seeking to overcome the lack of credibility of the Murin or Hoffmann interpretation of events, was provided by Jozef Vrba in a book on Tiso whose telling title is "The Man Who Stood Up Hitler," published in Slovakia in 1998. According to Vrba, when the deportations began in March 1942, "[T]he Slovaks were convinced that it was only a matter of moving the Jewish population to parts from which they had come to Slovakia in the past century." Only one year later, in March 1943, did the Slovak government find out about the "extermination of people in concentration camps," and as a consequence deportations were then halted, it is claimed. Had the Slovak National Uprising not taken place, all of Slovakia's Jews would have been saved, the author writes, pretending not to realize that he has just liquidated one credibility gap in order to create a larger one. It was only after the uprising that the Germans deported and/or murdered Slovak Jews. Tiso by then had no choice, for he was now struggling against attempts to bring about "the liquidation of the Slovak state" (cited in Mestan, 2000, p. 201). A rather "interesting" variation on the theme is encountered in Hungary and belongs to Istvan Lovas, who happens to be Jewish. His ethnic origin helps, of course, those interested in propagating precisely such opinions. Lovas argues that Jewish suffering during the Holocaust is largely due to the fact that Jews had sided with the Allies and, what is more, participated in revolts in ghettos and concentration camps (Braham, 2001). Lovas's publishing outlets include Kairosz Kiado, which has brought up his "collected works." The same publisher puts on the market the works of "historians" associated with the official 21st Century Institute, headed by former Premier Victor Orban's senior adviser, Maria Schmidt (see Kenedi, 2001).

The common Slovak-Romanian reactive explanation notwithstanding, there are two important differences that set them apart. The Slovak version may be more perverse than the Romanian one in the sense that Jewish disloyalty is constructed and timed at a historical point where Slovak Jews were simply not in a position to exercise a political option. Viewed from this perspective, Romanian reactive explanations are, though utterly distorted and/or exaggerated, somehow more credible. It is, for example, a fact that the 30 June 1940 Galati pogrom (400 victims) was carried out by Romanian military against Jews who were on their way out of the country, having opted to live on what has now become Soviet territory (Ioanid, 2000, p. 41). That Antonescu's disguised apologists of the likes of Stoenescu extend this incident to the many innocent Jews thrown out of trains and liquidated in those days for no other reason than that they were traveling from the southern part of the country to the north, which was closer to the new border, is another matter (see Stoenescu, 1998, pp. 138-140). Yet the Romanian version is, on the other hand, far more worrying. Its proponents are relatively young or politically active in Romania itself -- the case of Buzatu. The Slovaks, on the other hand, are mostly aged ("The Man Who Stood Up To Hitler" was published in Slovakia when its author was 98 years old) and all belong to the exiled entourage of former Tiso officials whose echo in the country itself should by no means be dismissed, but neither should it be exaggerated.

'By Their Own Hand'
The last -- and by far most insulting to memory -- deflective manipulation has JEWS THEMSELVES BEING THE PERPETRATORS OF THE HOLOCAUST. In his "Wastelands of Historical Truth," published in 1988, the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who claimed to be a historian among his other callings, sought to exonerate the Croats from responsibility for participation in the Holocaust. The infamous Jasenovac concentration camp, where several hundred thousand Serbs, Jews, and Roma perished during the Pavelic regime, was for Tudjman a "myth," blown out of all proportion, whose main purpose was to back the theory of "the genocidal nature of every and any Croat nationalism" and to "create a black legend of the historical guilt of the entire Croat people, for which they must still make retribution." While by no means original (the same arguments of "de-mystification" and "unmasking" of the alleged attempt at the "culpabilization" of the nation as a whole are being heard in Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania in connection with the Horthy, Tiso, and Antonescu regimes), Tudjman nonetheless stands out in his deflectionist postures, which are not very far from outright negationism. This is less so due to his questioning of the figure of 6 million victims, which he deemed to be "based too much on emotionally biased testimonies, as well as on one-sided and exaggerated data resulting from postwar settling of accounts," than to his cynical allegations that Jews had actually been the main perpetrators at Jasenovac. They are said to have "managed to grab all the more important jobs in prisoner hierarchy" and to have taken advantage of the fact that the Ustasha trusted them more than they trusted Serbs. Whence Tudjman concluded, "The Jew remains a Jew, even in the Jasenovac camp.... Selfishness, craftiness, unreliability, stinginess, deceit, are their main characteristics." To "demonstrate" that Jews rather than the Ustasha Croats were the main perpetrators, Tudjman must, however, make figures more plausible for prisoners to be able to accomplish the deed. He thus dismissed not only the 700,000 figure advanced by the Serbs but also the 60,000 victims claimed by Croat historians. No more than 30,000-40,000 are said to have perished in the camp, some at the hands of the Ustasha but most at those of Jews, who controlled the liquidation apparatus (cited in Milentijevic, 1994, pp. 234-236). In a letter to Croatia's Jewish community in February 1994, Tudjman, (who had put the word Holocaust in quotes when implicitly criticizing world Jewry efforts to prevent Kurt Waldheim's election as Austrian president [see Wistrich, 1994, p. 15n]) eventually apologized for these sections in his book (Gruber, 1995, p. 24). But in subsequent revised versions of "Wastelands," the basic argument did not much change, though the more offensive sections were somewhat mellowed (see, for example Tudjman, 1996).

Not that Tudjman is a unique case in the annals of Holocaust denial. He DOES however, stand out for having made the allegation from his position as Croatia's most prominent politician. Similar examples come from the obviously psychically deranged lunatic fringe that can by no means be compared with Tudjman. In Hungary, Padanyi also claimed that the management of the camps had fallen into Jewish hands (Kovacs, 2002). And this, according to Gabriel Hoffmann, was also the case of the Sered forced-labor camp in Slovakia where, he claimed in 1998 in an article in "Zmena," he had been interned himself before having converted. In Sered, not only did Jews administer the camp themselves, but the place was run by a certain "Hauptobersturmfuehrer Zimmermann," who in reality was none other than "the dreaded Simon Wiesenthal." Wiesenthal was there with a false identity and was wearing a German uniform. He ordered the murder of Jews suspected of collaboration with the Nazis and had forced Hoffmann himself to kill prisoners by lethal injection (cited in Mestan, 2000, p. 188).

Not all deniers go that far when attempting to address the existence of concentration camps. Many content themselves with "just" providing descriptions that banalize conditions in the camps and providing descriptions that compete with the famous show put on by the Nazis at Theriesenstadt for the benefit of the International Red Cross. As such, these examples must also be discussed in a forthcoming article that will deal with the category of "Holocaust Trivialization."


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