How A Buddhist Neo-Nazi I Know Tried To Use Elie Wiesel’s Witness To Disprove The Holocaust
Last year I was shocked to discover that a long time Buddhist teacher who I was friendly acquaintances with, and who I shared a sometimes teacher with, was a neo-Nazi holocaust denier.
It happened through Facebook, that window into other people’s personas and, on occasion, souls. I was on a scroll one day when I saw that an old friend, Trent Red (not his real name), had posted a strange blurb from a site called “Militant Atheist” which referred to the Holocaust as the “Holohoax”. What?! I thought, doing an existential double take. This kind of thing is always wrenching to the gut, but here it was being posted by Red, a Buddhist teacher who I had known of for two decades or more, who I had shared a sometimes teacher with, and who I had had tea with a few weeks before. At the time of the tea Red, who spoke genteelly of Buddhist philosophy and seemed a little high strung but sane enough, had expressed enthusiasm about meeting with me because of my Jewishness.
Without doing any further research I fired off a message to him. I expressed concern and asked him about the material he had posted. I then took a look at his Facebook page. Uh-oh.
It turned out that my lotus-eyed friend had been posting videos on Youtube denying the holocaust, questioning mainstream histories of WW2 and the Reich, and positing (yawn) Jewish conspiracy theories. The Holocaust, he said, was a media mirage created by the Jews who controlled the press and pretty much everything else.
Now would be a good time to fill you in a little about my background. My Dad was born in an Austrian displaced person’s camp at the end of WW2. His parents, Rya and Myer, and his older brother, Sam, were all Holocaust survivors who had hid underground throughout the war and landed in the camp in 1946. The three of them had walked to the relative safety of the refugee camp through snow covered forests, my Baba in worn-out shoes, the pregnant belly carrying my father peeking out through her undersized dress. My grandfather Myer’s parents and 10 of his brothers, with their wives and children, had been machine gunned into a pit in their native village, Glemboke, then in Belorus. My wife Miriam is also a descendant of survivors on one side. Her grandfather, at dinner parties, would tell me about how he saw Nazis throwing Jewish babies out of second floor windows and ask me to explain God to him.
My aversion to Holocaust denial is not just based on what I hope to be a near-universal hostility to it among the sane, but is also intimate. It is based on the fact that one of the last things my grandfather said to me before he died was , “When I went back and saw the mass grave in the forest, there was blood coming out of the soil.”
After I looked at Red’s Facebook page, I sent him another message. It said something along the lines of: “Oh dear. This sickness has really got you. I am so sorry to see that, Red. I pray that you wake out of this nightmare before it utterly destroys your soul.”
Red responded by asserting that he had not surrendered to any darkness, but was simply a truthseeker. Turning to challenging what he viewed as my naive belief in the genocidal rampage that nearly eliminated my ancestors, he wrote: “Think about it. If the Germans- the most advanced country on earth- had really tried to eliminate the Jews, how did Elie Wiesel survive?” I wanted to point out that the fact of surviving assumes something to be survived. I wanted to point out that the fact that some Jews survived is not evidence to efface the records- kept by the Nazis themselves!- of the successful murder of 6,000,000 other Jews.
Another voice in my head, though, pointed out that this is how conspiracy theorists work. Ignoring mountains of evidence, they will find one teeny-tiny hook in the geology of facts on which to hang their theory. This is because they are exactly the opposite of truthseekers. They are Zoroastrians in the existential night, seeking to find an army of darkness in comparison to which they become a son of light.
I wrote Red that I was not interested in debating the facts with him. I wrote that I would leave him with the pointer that as a Buddhist teacher, committed to the virtue of compassion and the reduction of suffering everywhere, he might consider the extreme distress and pain his posts caused Jews who saw them. “I hadn’t thought of that”, he wrote with an ingenuous straightforwardness one can only admire.
Despite my stated desire not to debate, Red took the opportunity to shoot off a few last attempts to get me to see reason, including the doleful plea for me to be fair and recognize the fear and distress that he- like the Jews- had suffered, in his case as a result of his well-intentioned neo-Nazi beliefs. He had even lost his job as a meditation teacher with the Vancouver School Board!
Red threw a few more revisionist historical facts at me, but I simply wrote: “There are no statistics you could give me, no videos you could show me, no books you could suggest to me, that could change my belief in the Holocaust- all I have to do is call my grandfather and ask him what he saw.”
That was before my grandfather left his body, going nistar (hidden) in Nov of 2015. And now Wiesel too has passed away, the archetypal survivor. Soon there will be no one to talk to , no one we can simply call and ask, “What did you see?” Soon it will just be books against books, videos against videos, academics against academics. I trust that the massive historical evidence gathered by Jews and their friends will prevail, and will show itself to have been an essential undertaking. Yet there is a chill wind blowing from the Kingdom of Night, where the lights of the survivors no longer shine, and I can’t help but shudder.