Categories for Musings
Holocaust denier David Irving is reportedly dead.
Some were surprised to hear that he was dead. Because, really, David Irving had been dead inside for a long time.
He claimed to be a historian, but he wasn’t one. He had no training as a historian. Early in his career he wrote books about historical events, and enjoyed some success at that.
But, about 30 years ago, Irving started to pilot alone through some dark waters. And in particular, he started to deny the Holocaust.
He said there was no proof.
Despite the fact that the Holocaust was – and is – the most well-documented mass murder in human history, Irving became a denier. He wanted proof.
He said that those who survived the Holocaust were “liars.” He said there was no “Reich policy to kill the Jews.” He said “there is only one salvation for Germany, and that is Hitler.”
One evening in March 1989, while I was a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen, I learned that Irving – who called himself “a moderate fascist” – was scheduled to give a speech at Canada’s most storied hotel, the Château Laurier. I contacted I the hotel’s management, to ask if they were aware that Irving was a Holocaust denier and a promoter of Nazism – and would they cancel his event, as they occasionally cancelled other controversial events.
The hotel’s management said they wouldn’t. In fact, they gave every impression that they didn’t care.
So, on that night, “moderate fascist” David Irving came to Ottawa. There he stood, beaming, beneath the glittering chandeliers at the posh old local hotel. Talking about the need for “proof” of the death of six million Jews.
He was dressed in a tailored suit and protected by about a dozen neo-Nazi skinheads. Irving stood before his audience and said there was no proof, and declared himself a “hardcore disbeliever” in the gas chambers used to exterminate Jews at Auschwitz.
On that night in March 1989, more than 300 people were in the Chateau Laurier’s ballroom. They weren’t worried about being spotted there. In fact, Irving’s event was sold out. Dozens were turned away.
Hia audience was mainly comprised of older white men and women from the Ottawa area. Many stood and applauded his hateful words about the gas chambers, and virtually every bigoted word he uttered along the way. They wanted proof, too.
The neo-Nazi skinheads slouched at the ballroom’s doors, and handed out copies of a self-published magazine. It called for “death to race mixers,” contained tributes to Adolf Hitler, and called for “race revolution.”
It was an astonishing scene: hundreds of people paying to listen to a notorious Holocaust denier – and knowing in advance that the media would be there to document their presence. They don’t care. They came anyway.
And they weren’t nobodies.
There was an Ottawa school trustee, a former ranking diplomat, a Department of Justice lawyer, dozens of public servants, and plenty of school teachers. All of them were there, notwithstanding the risk of media exposure, to hear their St. George, the one whose best-selling books would slay the twin-headed dragon of International Jewry and Communism.
They gave him ovation after ovation. Irving beamed.
Seven months following that wildly successful visit to Ottawa, David Irving flew to Austria and spoke to some banned neo-Nazi groups. In Vienna and Leoben, Irving stated that “the gas chambers in Auschwitz never existed.”
Later on, when not sharing stages with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke or one-time American Nazi Party leader William Pierce, Irving would call survivors of the Auschwitz death camp “assholes,” and claim that “more women were killed in the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car in Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
Then, he made a big mistake. When renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt accurateky characterized some of Irving’s views in her writing, he sued for libel. This writer – full disclosure – was a witness for Lipstadt. But in the end, she didn’t need me. She destroyed David Irving in court, and his reputation and career never recovered.
And now, he’s said to be dead. Now, the “moderate fascist” David Irving is gone, and Hell is a little bit more crowded as a result.
So, really, there’s only one thing left to be said about the reported death of this Holocaust denier.
We want proof.
Holocaust denier David Irving is dead.
But you know what? I want proof.
Belleville, Ontario, is the Friendly City. That’s Belleville’s official motto.
Belleville has about 55,000 citizens. It’s got a Kellogg’s plant, and a Proctor and Gamble plant. It’s got some beautiful views on the Bay of Quinte, on the Northern shore of Lake Ontario. It’s got a few Starbucks. It’s got a mall where a Sephora just opened. It’s got some nice old buildings downtown.
And, lately, it’s got a reputation for having one of the very worst drug problems in Canada.
Yes, yes: every city in Canada, big and small, has a drug problem these days. But a few days ago, in a 24-hour period on that Tuesday, two dozen people overdosed on a street that is within the shadow of Belleville’s City Hall. Nine of them needed hospitalization.
The situation was so bad, every available ambulance in the surrounding area was needed. Dozens of cops, paramedics and even firefighters were called in. And, mid-afternoon on that grim day, police issued an extraordinary warning, the kind you see the federal government issuing about travel to war-torn countries: stay away.
“The Belleville Police Service is advising the public to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel to the downtown core area following reports of a significant number of overdoses on Tuesday afternoon,” the statement read. “[There is a] need for increased vigilance and awareness in the affected areas.”
And, with that, the Friendly City became the scary city, right across Canada. It made headlines everywhere. Things got worse, too: on Thursday, with overdoses continuing to happen on and along Bridge Street, Belleville declared an actual state of emergency.
A state of emergency is what you do when things have gotten very, very bad. The province of Ontario says a state of emergency should be declared to “prevent, reduce or mitigate a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons.”
Serious harm to people: that’s what Belleville was facing. Serious harm to its citizens, who live right beside the United Church where the overdoses happened – and serious harm to the addicted and homeless people who gather there every morning for a continental breakfast and, on Sundays, a dinner. “Serious harm.”
The harm comes from not having a roof over your head, of course. The harm comes from huddling on col sidewalks with nowhere to go. The harm comes from the drugs.
Addicts in Belleville will gather together to share in a batch someone’s scored. They’ll keep some naloxone nearby, in case the opioid – always fentanyl, these days – is off. But, lately, other stuff is being added to the mix: gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, GHB, a “date rape” drug. And xylazine – tranq, or trans dope – has been showing up, too. And naloxone doesn’t really work on tranq or GHB. So, people overdose. Badly.
Neil Ellis is the smart and plain-spoken mayor of Belleville. He’s been around: a couple terms as an MP in Ottawa, and he was a junior minister for a while. And he’s fed up.
After the state of emergency was declared, Ellis got a call from the Prime Minister. He got calls with some provincial ministers. But action? Help? Not much of that.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ellis was back in front of a posse of microphones to give a bit of a State of the Union address. He wasn’t happy. And with good reason.
Ellis had asked Ottawa and Queen’s Park on help getting two things: a detox facility, and a hub where people can go and be safe. That’s it. A lot smaller price tag than an ArriveCan app that doesn’t work.
Said Ellis: “Very little progress has been made in moving forward on the crisis we are facing. There was no support for either [the detox facility or the hub]. I was told we need to formulate a mental health and addiction strategy.”
Ellis was looking pretty mad, now. “I’m not in any way disrespecting the efforts of our provincial partners…but it would be dishonest to say we were satisfied or in agreement.” The province was essentially offering a fraction of the amount needed – and not for a detox facility or a hub.
The cabinet minister who represents the area is Todd Smith, the minister of energy. He’s regarded as a good guy. Effective.
Smith has “finally shown an interest” and “may be able to move the dial,” Ellis said. Then the mayor wrapped up with this: “Our city, our unhoused, our residents and businesses have endured a terrible set of circumstances. It has thrust us into national headlines.”
“It’s time for the province to step up,” he said, but now he wasn’t just talking about Belleville, the Friendly City. “Take responsibility, and act, on the crisis that is in front of every community.”
Will Ottawa and the province, and frankly all of the provinces, do so?
Belleville – like most other cities in Canada – can’t wait much longer.
Over the weekend in London’s Camden Town, someone defaced a statue of Amy Winehouse.
The statue was unveiled in 2014, and is found at the edge of the Camden Market. It’s not far from where the Ramones played their first British show in 1976, or where the Clash recorded their first album, or the legendary Electric Ballroom – still going – where everyone from the Stones to Bowie to Sid Vicious played.
Winehouse was a soul and R and B singer, mainly, but she loved all of those other bands, so it made sense to have the statue in Camden Town. It depicts her with her signature beehive hairdo. And, so small you can easily miss it, a Star of David around her neck.
Not many people know Winehouse was a Jew, but she was. She was born into a Jewish family in North London in 1983, and attended synagogue maybe once a year. When she was little, she went to a Jewish Sunday school for a while.
And, so, over the weekend, someone defaced her statue. They glued a Palestinian flag to it, covering up the Star of David.
In the big scheme of things, a statue being defaced isn’t life-changing. A statue can be repaired – Winehouse’s has, already – and, most of the time, the person it depicts isn’t around anymore to notice.
But it upsets people, just the same, in a way that is hard for them to put into words. Online, some tried. “How low can some people go?” someone asked, and the Daily Mail noticed. “This is utterly disgraceful,” someone else wrote. “So sad to see this.”
The same reaction followed the defacing of Terry Fox’s statue in Ottawa, during the Ottawa occupation. Some “freedom convoy” types wedged a “Mandate Freedom” sign under his arm, and strapped an inverted Canadian flag to his front. People were angry about that, too.
It takes a deeply execrable person to deface a statue of a young man who raised money to fight cancer, or a young woman who simply had a lovely voice. It takes someone who is completely untethered from decency and reality.
But there’s a qualitative difference between those two acts of vandalism. In the case of Terry Fox, it was done to make a political statement. In the case of Amy Winehouse, it was done to make an anti-Semitic statement. To erase a Jew’s identity, even one who was beloved. To express hatred.
Where does that hate come from? What motivates it?
Acts of intimidation and violence against living Jews have become almost commonplace, these days. Firebombing of synagogues, and elementary schools shot up, in Montreal; community centres set ablaze or vandalized in Fredericton and Montreal; firebombing and targeting of Jewish restaurants and delis in Toronto; homes shot up or spray-painted in Winnipeg and small-town Ontario; even a hospital where all can go, which Jews sometimes support with donations, attacked by a mob.
Attacks like that, as noted, are attacks on living Jews. They’re like October 7, on a lesser scale. But to go after a Jew who is dead – like Amy Winehouse sadly is, her body finally giving out in 2011 – who does that? Who?
In her wonderful but unsettling recent bestseller, People Love Dead Jews, published before October 7, novelist Dara Horn tries to answer that question: that is, killing a living Jew – as Hamas and Gazans assuredly did on October 7, 2023 – is one thing. To erase them, to cancel their actual existence.
But to possess a hatred that is so virulent, so bottomless, that an anti-Semite is moved to lash out at a Jew who has been dead for more than a decade? That’s a more complete variant of hatred.
In her book, Horn recounts how Anne Frank’s diary has sold 30 million copies, and how the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam hosts over a million visitors every year.
But when a young Jew employed at Anne Frank House tried to wear his yarmulke to work? His employers told him to hide it under a ball cap. It took four months for the museum to reverse its decision. Writes Horn: “Four months seems like a rather long time for the Anne Frank House to ponder whether it was a good idea to force a Jew into hiding.”
There are many hatreds. There are hatreds based upon skin color, or belief, or gender or sexual orientation, or political ideology.
Hatred for Jews is the worst one, perhaps – because it now extends to hatred of all Jews, whether living or dead.
The horsemen of the apocalypse: everyone has their own.
In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, there are four. The horsemen aren’t explicitly named, but they are believed to be Death, Famine, War and Conquest – usually the Anti-Christ. It varies.
In Anno Domini 2024, this writer’s are as follows: the fall of Ukraine, the collapse of support for the Jewish state, the rise of fascism, and the re-election of Donald Trump. And, for the purposes of this opinion column, all are connected. As in the Scriptures, so too in 2024: these Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride together.
Trump first, because he is the “horseman” who represents a real and present danger. His recent call for Russia to militarily attack any nation which has fallen short on its NATO contribution – which would include Canada, including in the Harper years – is madness. As this newspaper has editorialized, what Trump said is “irrational and dangerous.” He is a bully, as the paper declared, and his statement is “reprehensible.”
The fall of Ukraine is the next horseman, because that prophecy is edging nearer, too.
Vladimir Putin’s Satanic siege of Ukraine started two years ago next week. Many expected Ukraine to be defeated in the first weekend. Because of the extraordinary valor and military acumen of the Ukrainian people, it did not – to Putin’s surprise. So, his Nazi-like blitzkrieg having failed, the Russian potentate settled upon another strategy: biding his time, and letting Donald Trump and the MAGA Republican Party do his bidding.
Time is Ukraine’s enemy. Russia has always had more armaments and soldiers, and more resources. So Putin elected to wait, and grind down Ukraine’s defences.
He has been greatly assisted in this strategy by Trump and the MAGA cult. By refusing multiple attempts to provide military aid to Ukraine, House Republicans are essentially acting as Putin’s water boys. As Republican stalwart George F. Will put it in the Washington Post:
“Substantial numbers of insubstantial congressional Republicans are contemplating an ignoble act whose imprudence exceeds even its pettiness. These Republicans could, by denying Ukraine the material means of resistance, hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a victory that might be just the beginning of Putin’s war for the restoration of ‘Greater Russia’.”
Ukraine is not some faraway outpost in the former Soviet Union. It is a central part of Europe. If Trump and his Republicans permit Ukraine to be defeated, as Will and many others attest, other Soviet bloc European nations will follow.
That’s just Trump, some might say: in Canada, Conservatives support Ukraine. But do they? The Tories have now voted twice against a trade deal sought by Ukraine. And, a February poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that – like the GOP – nearly half of their partisans say Canada is “doing too much” to support Ukraine. The isolationism of conservatives is an ominous trend.
In the case of Israel, the circumstances are different from Ukraine. Israel, the only democracy in a sea of Middle Eastern despotism, seems to be winning its just and proper war against Hamas. And, in the main, Canadian Conservatives (but not as many American conservatives) are offering the Jewish state unequivocal support – with the Liberals waffling, and the New Democrats beyond redemption.
But Hamas is not Israel’s only enemy. There are legions of others who will take the place of Hamas – Hezbollah, the Houthis, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force, Islamic Jihad, and (of course) Syria and Iran.
Israel has always had those enemies, one might say, and one would be right. But there is a new adversary, one that is arguably more lethal than all the others: the shocking and global rise of fascistic anti-Semitism. Jew hatred is everywhere, these days – seen in trade unions, academia, classrooms, pulpits, legislatures and in the streets.
This new anti-Semitism is organized and well-funded – and brazen. After the horrors of October 7, it was reasonable to expect that the world would sympathize with the victim. But the reverse has happened. The beast of fascistic Jew hatred is surging globally, in every democracy. And that, more than Hezbollah or the Houthis or the others, represents a greater long-term threat to Israel.
Trump, as with Ukraine, has again been a destructive force. Just days after the horrors of October 7 became known, Trump called Hezbollah “very smart” and kicked Israel when it was down, saying it “was not prepared.” His Republicans, meanwhile, are in disarray and last week failed to pass a support package for Israel, despite having the majority in the House of Representatives.
The rise of Trump and anti-Semitism, the fall in support of Ukraine and the Jewish state: all represent profound threats to democracy and decency. And these four horsemen are no mere Biblical myth.
They are real.
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