Sunday, March 21, 2010

Germany / Second World War / Holocaust Denial

In Dresden or Darfur, The Numbers Are Important
By Peter Beaumont
The Observer, March 21, 2010
"Before David Irving's failed libel case against author Deborah Lipstadt a decade ago -- she accused him of Holocaust denial -- Raul Hilberg, Holocaust scholar and author of The Destruction of the European Jews, was asked by DD Guttenplan why the arithmetic of mass murder remains so important. 'There is,' said Hilberg, 'if you don't want to surrender to nihilism entirely, the matter of a record. Does the record matter? In my judgment it is not discussable, it is not arguable.' I mention Hilberg because of the final unravelling of another of Irving's poisonous 'facts': the claim in Irving's 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden that 135,000 people died in the firebombing of the German city. In truth, Irving's Dresden numbers have long been under assault. They were challenged at the Lipstadt trial by the historian Richard Evans, who later accused Irving of 'consistent' and 'deliberate' falsification. Other historians have concluded over the years that the death toll was much lower. Now, in what seems likely to be the last word on the matter, a German historical commission set up to examine the precise numbers of those who died has reported. After five years' work it has established that the toll was around 25,000 ... a shocking number, but -- without diminishing the scale of the death -- of quite a different order. ... Why this matters is because an accurate accounting -- whether of the deaths in Darfur, Dresden or Dachau -- supplies real meaning to the narrative of memory and history. It allows us to accurately define events; make comparative judgments both morally and politically, to understand the intention behind acts and the weight of suffering. [...]"

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