Historian Saul Friedlander is the author of Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939. In a phone conversation with my mom a few years ago, I told her that I was about to read this book. At one point she remarked that Holocaust deniers astonished her. How could people deny a historical reality supported by so much evidence?
Good question. But the answer is plain enough. Holocaust deniers have a strong motive for dismissing all the evidence of Nazi atrocities: They hate Jewish people. Consider, for instance, the leaders of Iran. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the whopping death toll—six million Jews—or questioned whether the Holocaust had any historical basis whatsoever. And the current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who determines Iranian foreign policy, depicts the Holocaust as a distorted event of history. Naturally, the people of modern Israel view Iran’s hot pursuit of nuclear weapons as an ominous threat. Since the Holocaust arouses sympathy for the Jewish people, minimizing its extent or denying it altogether is a way of eroding support for Israel among the nations that may oppose Iran’s evil purposes.
Denying the reality of the Holocaust is rather like denying the existence of God. Evidence for the Creator positively shouts for attention. His handiwork is evident everywhere—in the soaring of the eagle, the grace of the deer, the sweet fragrance of the rose, the splendor of a sunset, the growth of a child in its mother’s womb. Paul says that “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
So why do atheists usually spurn all evidence for God? Like Holocaust deniers, they may have a strong motive: They either hate God or hate the idea of yielding to him. Denying God’s existence is perceived as the easiest way to dismiss any obligation to live according to a standard higher than human opinion.