Anti-Semitism can be found in many social life spheres, even in those that should be distinguished by neutrality, objectivity, and tolerance. Thus, academia became one of the frontlines for anti-Semitists, where they employ nonsensical arguments regarding the existence of genocide of Jews during World War II and, in this way, propagate Nazi ideology. College students are commonly faced with anti-Semitic ideas on campus through newspapers and professors questioning whether extermination camps and gas chambers existed or claiming that the number of Jews murdered in reality is colossally lower. Higher education institutions carry the responsibility to surveil that information propagated within their buildings is not a straightforward lie camouflaged as a controversial opinion. While the latter can exist in academic discourse, lies, the category to which Holocaust denial belongs, should be discouraged.
Colleges and universities represent a variety of opportunities for Holocaust deniers to subvert the facts and spread disinformation. For instance, college newspapers have been intensively employed to promote Nazi ideology. The Committee on Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) and similar organizations exploit the idea that academia is supposed to be a place for open debate, free speech, and fresh ideas to revise the historical discourse. For years CODOH has placed ads with their contact information in newspapers issued by university press, attracting students with preexisting anti-Semitic and xenophobic tendencies (Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust 187). Moreover, educational institutions serve as a driving force in social activism – political correctness, which to a significant extent, was nourished in academia was used by Holocaust deniers to appeal to students who felt oppressed by the tendency. Anti-Semitic scholars and on-campus activists described Holocaust denial as an “intellectual taboo” prohibited by higher educational institutions, which transformed from open debate spaces into “thought police” (Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust 187). The strategy allowed Holocaust deniers to reunite a following within academia.
Colleges and universities are primarily responsible for developing the current society and the spread of ideas in it. The 1960s civil-rights movement demonstrates the high role that student activists and higher education institutions, by extension, have in social change. For instance, student activism occupies a sizeable role in promoting anti-discrimination policies and pushing for diversification. Students have successfully collaborated with universities to change educational programs to render them less biased. For instance, San Francisco State University opened the first African American studies department under pressure from student activists (L. R. Gordon and J. N. Gordon 110). Thus, anti-Semitism on campus in the form of the distribution of CODOH’s contact information or more direct advertisements is the responsibility of colleges and universities. In case if such information is placed in a newspaper, the college or university president should declare the official position on Anti‑Semitism. It can be stated that higher education institutions produce and alter ideas and values that are further disseminated in the exterior world and should be cautious in this regard.
Additionally, universities and colleges are instrumental social institutions in defending factual information and knowledge. They should utilize the available resources to effectuate this function. Ideally, universities and colleges should strive to embody scientific truth. Although in postmodernity the truth is thought to be relative and the reality inaccessible, as Prof. Lipstadt states, “there are indisputable facts,” one of which is the Holocaust (Lipstadt, Behind the Lies of Holocaust Denial 13:58). Higher education institutions are responsible for defending these facts and revealing lies parading as them. As a distortion of truth, Holocaust denial cannot be included in historical discourse as anything but an effort to refuel Nazi ideology. The attempts to deny the Holocaust or any other well-documented historical event could be equalized to denying the physical world’s facts. Moreover, they should not be portrayed as controversial cutting-edge ideas, making them more appealing, but merely offensive comments. While controversial statements are expected in campus media, hateful ones are not. Nonetheless, excluding discussions around the Holocaust from academia does not seem feasible, but portraying Holocaust denial as an attack on one of the principal values in academia, truth, could be impactful.
Considering that higher education institutions play a significant role in preventing Anti-Semitism, their reaction to Holocaust denial should be reflected in educational programs. Supplementary courses on World War II, war crimes of the Wehrmacht, Nazi indoctrination, and the establishment of anti-Semitic beliefs in Nazi Germany could help contextualize Holocaust denial and make it less credible. These measures should not only be directed at alerting students of the danger that organizations like CODOH present, but prepare them to make their own conclusions when encountered with falsified information by giving the necessary mental instruments. Providing students with factual information is crucial but may not suffice to counter CODOH’s tactics – developing critical thinking seems essential to detect disinformation. Additionally, misunderstanding of the First Amendment, particularly regarding the freedom of speech clause, appears to be a significant problem among students, which is up to colleges and universities to resolve (Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust 200). Hence, higher educational institutions are accountable for equipping students with the required abilities and knowledge to process information critically.
Nonetheless, some prognoses regarding the role and efficiency of additional courses relating to the Holocaust are full of doubt. Despite the efforts that universities and colleges invest in discrediting Holocaust denial and condemning it, students still become acquainted with “revisionist” ideas. According to Lipstadt, students “assume there is an “other side.” That is the most frightening aspect of this entire matter” (Denying the Holocaust 201). Even if higher education institutions manage to exterminate Holocaust denial on campus, students can be easily faced with the idea online. On the other hand, Holocaust denial is not the only instance of public misinformation or conspiracism that students encounter. The epidemic of fake news and relativism raises a larger question regarding critical literacy, and the problem of Holocaust denial constitutes its part. Regarding critical literacy, universities and colleges are dependable for developing this capability and preparing students for dealing with misinformation that they encounter daily.
Academia should be distinguished by neutrality, objectivity, and tolerance. One of its principal missions is establishing truth, which despite relativists’ claims in some aspects can be accessed. Therefore, Holocaust denial contradicts the fundamental principles of higher education – it is colleges and universities’ responsibility to not only actively engage in countering Holocaust denier’s arguments but discrediting the validity of such point of view altogether. Moreover, in current social situations of increased public misinformation and in which the phenomenon of fake news accelerated, higher education institutions are responsible for training students to filter the information they consume. Holocaust denial is a serious social issue that reflects a larger problem and which should be alleviated by higher education institutions.
Gordon, Lewis R., and Jane Anna Gordon. Not Only the Master’s Tools: African American Studies in Theory and Practice. Routledge, 2015.
Lipstadt, Deborah. “Behind the Lies of Holocaust Denial.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, 2017, Web.
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Free Press, 1993.