A chance to educate
Monika Schaefer is a violin instructor in the Alberta mountain town of Jasper. She was also a candidate for the Green Party of Canada in the federal elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Last week, a video went viral of Schaefer declaring that, after “a great deal of time researching this topic,” she has concluded that what Canadians have been taught about the Holocaust is rife with “inaccuracies.”
“When I started to look at the evidence, and I researched, and I researched and I researched, and the lies are coming apart,” she told the CBC. “This house of cards is crumbling, and that is why there is this very fierce reaction against what I’m saying, because this lie, this public myth, has shaped our world.”
She calls the Holocaust “the six million lie” and “the biggest and most pernicious and persistent lie in all of history.”
With all the things happening in the world today, the misguided ramblings of a soundly defeated candidate for Parliament is far from the most crucial issue we face as a civilization. Yet, the incident deserves consideration.
Despite that the Green party is being rightly condemned for anti-Israel resolutions set for debate at its upcoming national convention, let’s not attribute to an entire group the poison of one of its (soon-to-be-former) members. Holocaust denial and antisemitism have been expressed across the political spectrum and no party has a monopoly on that. Green party leader Elizabeth May responded immediately and appropriately, condemning Schaefer’s comments and moving to have her membership in the party revoked. That is one positive outcome.
The most generous assessment of the video is that Schaefer herself, who is of German heritage, is a victim of the collective trauma of Nazism. As the director of community relations and communications for the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, Tal Toubiana, told the CBC: “I find it curious that a woman who allegedly faced bullying based on her country of origin would rather continue a cycle of irreflexive hate than reflect deeply on the wounded history and trauma the Holocaust did create.… The Holocaust is a historical event that is not only undeniable in regards to the facts and documentation of its existence, but in the collective trauma it created. Ms. Schaefer is a product of the very trauma she claims does not exist.”
This is a very insightful analysis. It is easy to dismiss the people who conjure such fabrications as irredeemably wicked, but to adopt a more humane response in the face of inhumane statements would invite us to wonder what personal circumstance would lead an individual to such a distorted and easily disprovable worldview.
This appears to be the first public utterance Schaefer has made on the subject and perhaps it will open the door for her to be confronted with facts and have the sources upon which her deeply flawed conclusions rest debunked. Whatever happens in this instance, little is to be gained by demonizing the individual even though we rightly demonize her words.
Each time such an incident occurs is an opportunity to return to the basics and realize that we still have work to do. We need continued vigilance and we must educate all people, especially young people, about history.
Googling Schaefer’s name confirms this. Her ideas attract some breadth of support in the dusty extremities of the internet, where she is lauded as a “truth revealer and free speech advocate.” It is, of course, impossible to tell whether the hordes of online comments coming to her defence represent a sizable cohort or a tiny but prolific cluster of keyboard pounders. What they certainly represent is an unadulterated reminder that shockingly inhumane ideas retain sway among some of our fellow citizens.
There are now human rights complaints lodged against Schaefer in the Alberta and Canadian human rights commissions and already Schaefer is positioning herself as a martyr.
“Right now, the issue for me is freedom of speech,” she told a Jasper news outlet. “Last I checked, I thought we had freedom of speech in Canada and suddenly I’m the criminal.”
Wrong again. By law, Schaefer is innocent until proven guilty, so she is not “suddenly” a criminal. Moreover, her research fails her once more. Canada has freedom of speech, but not without limitations. To become the criminal Schaefer contends she already is would require proof that she intended to incite hatred against an identifiable group. This is a very difficult motivation to prove.
Whatever happens in the quasi-judicial processes Schaefer faces, we should be heartened by the response of many of Schaefer’s fellow residents of Jasper and we should take the opportunity to recommit ourselves to sharing the truth.