At the beginning of October, a commission of experts concluded that in the Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden in February 1945 at most 25,000 people were killed.
This figure is much lower than previous estimates of scholars, some of which reached 135,000 victims. Neo-Nazis claim that the number of victims was half a million to a million and speak about a "bombing Holocaust."
The findings of the historic commission, which was appointed in 2004 by Dresden's mayor, have far greater importance than the significant issue of writing history correctly. They are also a weighty tool in the struggle against the multiple manipulations and distortions of the Holocaust, which is a growing phenomenon.
Such developments in Germany merit particular attention. One of the most worrying aspects is the effort of sizable segments of the mainstream to portray Germans as major victims of World War II rather than as prime perpetrators of genocide. This revisionism is mainly done through a combination of four methods:
- decriminalization of Germans,
- blaming the Allies for Holocaust equivalence and
- Israelis for Holocaust inversion, while
- claiming that Jews speak too much about the Holocaust.
In the widespread revisionist German narrative, Nazis are represented as some kind of aliens who took over a decent country. The truth however is that Hitler and his associates were voted into power democratically in 1933. Thereafter, even more Germans went over to their side.
The weekly Die Zeit earlier this year drew attention to the perfidy of the two-part television movie Die Gustloff which tells about the sinking of the ship of that name in January 1945 by the Russians. It wrote: "The movie shows the 9 000 people on board as innocuous lambs" and mentions that it gives the impression that there were at most two or three Nazis on board, who are shown as caricature characters.
THE SECOND manipulation method is to present the actions of the Allies against Germans as similar in nature to German crimes. In this Holocaust equivalence framework, the exaggeration of the number of victims of the Dresden bombardment plays a major role. For instance, in two best-sellers the German historian Jörg Friedrich uses Nazi terminology when speaking about Allied bombings of Dresden and elsewhere.
Historian Susanne Urban writes that Friedrich "uses terms that for decades were associated with Nazi persecution and the Shoah; thus, cellars and air-raid shelters in which Germans died are 'crematoria,' and a RAF bomber group is an Einsatzgruppe, and the destruction of libraries during the bombings constitutes Bücherverbrennungen. In this way the Shoah is minimized through language."
In his second book, Friedrich depicts Germans as victims and doesn't mention the persecutions. "The book contains horrifying photos of the effects of the Allied bombings of Germany. Ruins, burned bodies and ashes everywhere evoke associations with the Warsaw Ghetto after its liquidation in 1943 and well-known images from Auschwitz and other extermination camps."
Urban points out that Friedrich declared openly, in several television interviews in 2002, that "Churchill was the greatest child-slaughterer of all time. He slaughtered 76,000 children." Friedrich did not mention the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by Germans and their allies.
A THIRD method, also widespread in the German mainstream, is diminishing Germany's guilt by inverting the Holocaust and claiming that Israel is committing crimes against the Palestinians similar to those of the Nazis. In a major poll of more than 2,600 Germans undertaken in 2004 by the University of Bielefeld, 51 percent agreed with the statement: "The way the State of Israel acts toward the Palestinians is in principle no different from the Nazis' behavior in the Third Reich toward the Jews." Sixty-eight percent agreed with the allegation: "Israel undertakes a war of destruction against the Palestinians."
The fourth manipulation method has two aspects. The first one is accusing the Jews of speaking too much about the Holocaust. Its second element can only rarely be publicized. It consists of mentioning the Holocaust as little as possible. Its public origins can be traced back to the author Martin Walser. When he received the prestigious Peace Prize of German Publishers in 1998, he stated that he was fed up with being confronted by Auschwitz. Some 1,200 members of the German elite gave him a standing ovation.
THESE MANIPULATIONS are all stepping stones toward revising German history. This will become easier in the future because most survivors of German horrors are very old. In the revision process the German mainstream avoids the pitfall of applying a fifth method of distorting history. Holocaust denial or stating that the number of Holocaust victims was far less than 6 million should be left to the neo-Nazis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and many Arabs and other Muslims in the world.
The mainstream German distortion of history using the above-mentioned methods has increased dramatically in recent years. It may ultimately become the new German collective memory as well as official history. To avoid this it should be exposed as much as possible.
Germany's post-war governments have made major efforts to reeducate Germans after the war and to avoid most of the major distortions of the Holocaust. Their aim was to make Germany acceptable again among the nations. If the current major distortion of past crimes succeeds, it can only lead to one ultimate outcome: paving the way for future ones.
The research for this article was made possible in part by the support of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation and Education).