Marco Werman: The diplomats are talking about the nuclear issue today, but Rouhani's comments yesterday about the Holocaust are also generating a lot of back and forth. In an interview with CNN, Rouhani said "any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, is reprehensible." That's the English version anyway. Now Iran's previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was famous for denying the Holocaust happened, so I asked Deborah Lipstadt how she interpreted Rouhani's remarks. She's a Holocaust studies scholar and the author of the book "Denying the Holocaust."
Deborah Lipstadt: I interpreted his comments as what I would call "soft core" Holocaust denial. I tend to divide Holocaust denial into hard core and soft core. Hard core would be those who say there were no gas chambers, the Nazis never had a plan to kill the Jews, it's all made up. And hard core denial has been pretty much discredited and shown to be based on lies and falsifications. Soft core denial, to use a non-academic term, is much squishier than hard core denial. I think it was exemplified by Rouhani when he said I'm not a historian, I don't really know what happened, I'll leave that up to the historians. If someone were to ask him about World War I or World War II or the Ottoman Empire, he wouldn't say oh, I don't really know, I'm not a historian. So I think that that was that kind of, I'm not denying it but I'm not saying it happened. And yet they wouldn't do that in reference to some other historical event.
Werman: You've studied Holocaust denial pretty intensively. How soon after World War II did it surface, did it start?
Lipstadt: It surfaced pretty quickly, in the '50s you had examples of Holocaust denial. But most of the people who engaged in them were seen really as kooks and quacks. The change came in the '70s, in the late '70s, early '80s, when deniers figured out something that's actually now been imitated by a lot of extremist groups, really, and I'm talking far extremist groups, and that is instead of outright denial, they said, we're not denying, we just want to revise mistakes in history. We're just looking into what happened. They painted themselves less as neo-Nazis and more as academics trying to examine the past, trying to do a fair evaluation.
Werman: When did denying the Holocaust first occur in the Arab and Muslim world?
Lipstadt: In the Arab and Muslim world you had it, it begins to surface somewhat in the '70s, but more strongly in the '90s, in some outright denial and some of the soft core denial. And some people who felt that this was a way of, that to acknowledge the Holocaust would make Jews or Israel sound like it had a right to exist and they didn't want to do that. There were other, I mean, there have been Arab groups, there have been Muslim leaders in recent years that have visited Auschwitz, who have acknowledged that this happened. It may not change their view on the Middle East, they may be as opposed to the existence of Israel as ever, but at least it makes them look like far more historically rational people. Mahmoud Abbas wrote a dissertation when he was a graduate student in the Soviet Union in the early '80s which denied the Holocaust, which he later rejected. He later said, I was wrong, and withdrew what he said. I give him credit for that. I give him credit for acknowledging that he either lied or was duped, and what the truth is. So, I guess it, but it does make you nervous. It makes you nervous as who's my negotiating partner, who's my conversation partner.
Werman: Deborah Lipstadt, the author of "Denying the Holocaust." She also teaches Modern Jewish Studies and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. Deborah, thanks very much.
Lipstadt: You're welcome. Thank you.