For the past six decades, Serge Klarsfeld has dedicated his life to hunting down Nazis and bringing them to justice. There was Klaus Barbie, the infamous “Butcher of Lyon,” whom Klarsfeld and his wife, Beate, tracked down in Peru; René Bousquet, who ordered thousands of Jews to their deaths in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup; and Paul Touvier, who was apprehended at a priory in Nice and became the first Vichy official to be convicted of crimes against humanity for Holocaust collaboration.
Now, he’s setting his sights on Mark Zuckerberg.
Klarsfeld, 84, is one of a number of Holocaust activists and survivors who are speaking out as part of #NoDenyingIt, a campaign against Facebook and its founder for allowing Holocaust denialism on the platform. In addition to Klarsfeld, who lost his father at Auschwitz, the participants include Auschwitz survivor Roman Kent, Anne Frank’s stepsister Eva Schloss, and many more.
“The internet causes a lot of people who are gullible or anti-Semitic to want to believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen,” says Klarsfeld. “It’s wrong, it’s against history, and it brings people to be anti-Semitic, because if the Holocaust didn’t happen, that means the Jews lied about their parents and grandparents being killed.”
#NoDenyingIt was launched by the Claims Conference, or the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an organization seeking reparations for Jewish victims of Nazi oppression, recovering stolen Jewish property, and preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
This controversy began in 2018, when, during an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Zuckerberg brought up Holocaust denialism on his own during a discussion of Facebook’s censorship policies.
“Let’s take this whole [issue] closer to home. I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” said Zuckerberg. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” (He later issued a half-hearted apology, while remaining steadfast on in his position: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)
Later in the chat, Zuckerberg expanded on his company’s rather nebulous policy. “The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform,” he said.
But Klarsfeld and the #NoDenyingIt campaign argue that Holocaust denialism does result in “real physical harm,” and is therefore in violation of Facebook policy.
“He is Jewish,” Klarsfeld says of Zuckerberg. “And it’s important that Facebook, which is a big vehicle of ideas, thoughts, and images, does something about hateful speech—and not only hateful speech but an incitement to violence. Because if people start to believe that the Jews didn’t die in the Holocaust and this was a big hoax, then they’ll become angry with the Jews and commit violence. In the United States, there have been shootings of synagogues. In a time of crisis, people are looking for scapegoats, and throughout history, Jews have been scapegoats. Throughout history, if you give people an alibi to commit violence against Jews, they will use it.”
He adds, “If he bans pedophiles from Facebook, people who deny the Holocaust should also be banned. He bans people who bare their breasts on Facebook and won’t ban people who say that Jews didn’t die during the war.”
“He bans people who bare their breasts on Facebook and won’t ban people who say that Jews didn’t die during the war.”
In addition to Facebook, Klarsfeld is deeply troubled by the rise of the far right—many of whose leaders and followers are anti-Semitic—not only in America but around the globe. One of the leaders who he says is too tolerant of the far right is U.S. President Donald Trump.
“He didn’t condemn the violence that occurred against the Jews by the extreme right, and he should have done that. He’s not responsible and he didn’t do what he had to do, which is condemn the extreme right—and the neo-Nazi extreme right,” says Klarsfeld, adding, “He called some of the [Charlottesville far right] ‘very fine people,’ which he shouldn’t have said and which was a big mistake. Some of his voters are from the extreme right. So he has a tendency to be lenient to some of the extreme-right movement.”
We’ve also seen a disturbing rise of anti-Semitism among prominent Black celebrities in America, from the rappers and actors Ice Cube and Nick Cannon, to pro athletes DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson, to Diddy, who took it upon himself to broadcast a speech by one of the nation’s leading anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan, to an audience of millions this July 4.
“If Puff Daddy put a speech of Farrakhan, who is a known anti-Semite, on the internet, it means he shares his ideas, and it’s something that is very easy,” explains Klarsfeld. “It’s easy to explain all the worries of the world and put them on the backs of the Jews—it’s been happening for many centuries. It means you’re not responsible for your worries, or the government is not responsible for your worries, it’s the Jews who are responsible. We have to remind people that there are 12 million Jews, 2.5 billion Christians, and 2 billion Muslims. So I don’t see how the Jews could be running the world based on those numbers.”
These days, Klarsfeld—along with wife Beate and son Arno—are doing their damnedest to educate generations young and old about anti-Semitism, and the horrors of the Holocaust.
“We buy pages in newspapers, give lectures, and we try to be active against the extreme right, which until now, we still haven’t made the moves necessary to condemn these anti-Semitic parties,” he says. “It has to be done through education, and teaching compassion and tolerance.”