Do You Have to be Jewish to Study the Holocaust?

It was recently brought to my attention that my blog was being discussed on an online forum. Naturally, I was pleased with the idea of it gaining coverage - until I clicked the link and discovered it was a website dedicated to Holocaust denial, or, as deniers crudely term the Holocaust, the 'Holohoax'. The main stem of the argument concerned an earlier post of mine regarding the prosecution of elderly Nazi war criminals. Unsurprisingly, those on the forum completely disagreed with my sentiments. Of course, I accept that you don't have to be a Holocaust denier to have a different opinion on the prosecution of men who are of a certain age for crimes committed 70 years ago, and people are entitled to their opinions on this subject. As for denial of the Holocaust itself - I feel it wouldn't be particulary beneficial to try and argue with people who will not accept the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports that the Holocaust did actually happen. Not only do I not have the time for such debates, I firmly believe that some people will argue that a blue sky is green just because they can - especially when sat behind a computer monitor and keyboard. When you write about a subject that is as delicate as the Holocaust, you have to be prepared for some backlash every now and again. It's equally as important to remember that these people are in a very, very small minority; most people appreciate the plethora of photographs, documents, testimonies and other resources that prove, however shocking, that there was a genocide conducted by the Nazis during the 1940s.

The fact that my blog was discussed on a Holocaust deniers' forum, however, is not what offended me the most. What has left me more frustated is the fact that I was referred to a number of times as a 'young Jewess' (and obviously, apparently, brought up with a 'hatred of goyim', that is, non-Jews).

Let me say, very simply: I am not Jewish. My family is not Jewish. I have absolutely no personal connection to Judaism, or Israel, or even the Holocaust itself, other than encounters and friendships with Jewish people, including Holocaust survivors.

I am not in any way offended by being assumed to be Jewish, as I have a great respect for Judaism and its culture. The irritation that this has provoked is that I was assumed to be Jewish just because I study and write about the Holocaust. Unfortunately, however, it is not just a few Holocaust deniers on a forum that have labelled me as such.

When I first began this blog, I described the usual reaction that people have when I tell them that I am interested in, and now study, the Holocaust. The conversation usually goes as follows:
"You study the Holocaust? Wow. Are you Jewish?"
"Really? You're not Jewish?"
"So what exactly made you decide to study the Holocaust?"

I appreciate that many people will only look at the Holocaust as a Jewish tragedy - which, for the most part, it certainly was. What I don't understand is how being Jewish almost appears to be a requirement, a given, for studying the Holocaust. If you have an interest in the subject and you are Jewish, people are probably surprised. If you have an interest in the subject and you are not Jewish, sometimes it feels as though people simply cannot fathom why you would choose to study such a topic.
There's no denying that a great deal of scholars on the Holocaust are Jewish. But since when does one have to identify with the religion, nationality or race of a persecuted people to study their history? Should a person be black if they are studying the slave trade, or the segregation imposed on black people in America and South Africa during the 20th century? Should a person be only Cambodian, Rwanda, Bosnian or Sudanese in order to be eligible to take an interest in and study the genocides committed against these groups? The answer, of course, is absolutely not. So why should it be any different for a non-Jewish person to be interested in the Holocaust and teaching others its history and contemporary relevance?

As I have stated before, the Holocaust was not just a Jewish tragedy, on two levels. Firstly, Nazi concentration camps also contained Romani and Sinti peoples, homosexuals, political prisoners, prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses and others. The Nazis may not have exterminated these groups in the same way as they exterminated the Jews, but their suffering cannot and should not be undermined. Secondly, the Holocaust was also a human tragedy. I still struggle to comprehend how an operation of mass persecution and annihilation was carried out for so long, and how many millions of people were murdered or, at least, affected by the horrors of the Third Reich and its genocidal programme. It is a warning of what mankind can do to itself under certain circumstances, and it is something we should all remember and pass onto others.

So I may not have celebrated Passover recently, and I may not welcome in the Sabbath or attend a synagogue - but my passion to learn and educate others about the Holocaust is as strong as any other academic or educator, Jewish or non-Jewish.