I came home from a poker game with a realization about myself that has nothing to do with my ability to bluff or compute odds: I’ve been a Holocaust-denial denier.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, I’ve never accepted that anyone in the Western world disbelieves in the Holocaust. Sure, there are people who make a living out of denying the Holocaust, such as Deborah Lipstadt’s British court opponent, David Irving, and there are people who peddle doubts and double-talk for political reasons, such as David Duke.
But deep down, I thought they were con men, not true believers. It’s an idea I probably picked up from the Stephen Cannell TV show “Wiseguy,” which had a story arc starring future Sen. Fred Thompson as a charismatic leader whose white supremacism was a huge, lucrative scam.
I don’t think I even believed that most of the poor, uneducated folks who respond to the hate-filled messages of neo-Nazis or turn out for Klan rallies really thought the Holocaust was a hoax. Holocaust denial was just a way to lash out at the people they believed were pulling all the strings of power and hoarding all the world’s wealth (I don’t deny anti-Semitism is real).
I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that anyone with education and access to the evidence could believe that the Holocaust was some elaborate trick foisted upon the world to win support for the establishment of the modern state of Israel or perhaps just to provide some entertainment during the monthly meetings of the Elders of Zion.
Then I went to the weekend poker game where I’m a semiregular. The memories of the state’s annual Days of Remembrance Holocaust commemoration April 28 and the two community Yom HaShoah observances April 23 were fresh in my mind.
Most of the guys I play with are Iranians and highly secular Muslims. They’re smart and fun to hang out with for a few hours one night a week. On the rare occasions when the conversation drifts toward the Middle East, as it did during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, the talk is calm, curious and respectful before returning to more immediate interests, such as the royal flush our host flopped a few weeks ago.
So it was unusual when another semiregular started talking about Israel and its “70-year occupation of Palestine” as the game was winding down. I don’t remember how we got to the topic or how I responded, but it wasn’t heated because there was no point. He was wrong, but it was his opinion, and nothing I said would change his mind.
Somehow, Israel denial wasn’t enough, and he made the leap to the Holocaust.
The seemingly intelligent, well-off man who had sat next to me the previous couple of hours said the Holocaust never happened.
He wasn’t arguing about the numbers, as some “soft” deniers like to do in an effort to portray the systematic slaughter of the Jews as just another one of those bad things that happen sometimes and not a uniquely horrific expression of evil.
He wasn’t just trying to get a rise out of me. He wasn’t joking. He believes in the fantasy of a global fraud perpetrated and sustained by generations of governments and the Jewish people over the simple, terrible reality staring him in the face.
He thus believes that all the Holocaust survivors I have met, including the dwindling but significant number who still live among us, are some of the worst liars in history.
That’s a monstrous view of the victims of the worst crime against humanity. But it has forced me to accept that Holocaust denial is real, not just a vicious game, and that there are still monsters among us.