LAST WEEK, I wrote a column about paying attention. I asked us to pay attention to the tragedy occurring in Aleppo because we had a moral obligation to focus on something beyond our narrow domestic interests. I might have come off sounding preachy and pretentious because a lot of people emailed to say that dead Syrian children "weren't our problem" and accused me of being a clueless liberal.
That would come as news to my azure blue Philadelphia readers, who think I was cloned from Stalin's DNA.
Fortunately, many other readers got the message, and the column was shared over five hundred times on Facebook, which puts me somewhere between a stupid cat meme and a Martha Stewart recipe in terms of social visibility. I'll take it if it means we're talking about Aleppo.
Ironically, though, the column elicited something that I didn't see coming. Apathy is one thing, and so is nationalistic bravado in the wake of Donald Trump's victory, but the response that I got from a man named Joe was so unexpected, I had to reread it a few times just to make sure it wasn't a joke.
Joe wrote me a long email that started off with a compliment: "Christine, obviously you seem to be a very caring person with your article." And then, like Joe Frazier landing one of those deadly left hooks on your weak side, he wrote: "But, of course, you use some of the same propaganda that we have heard for 70 years about the Jews and their genocide and the 6 million."
And he proceeded to explain to me how the Holocaust was a lie, and "there were no gas chambers." To make sure I believed him, Joe helpfully provided links to support his thesis, most of which included the word "hoax."
After I took a shower to purge the intangible film of dust and disgust from my hands and my eyes and my heart, I emailed Joe back. My message was brief, included the phrase "F--k you" and closed with a wish that he and his family enjoy a Merry Christmas (because Happy Hanukkah apparently was out of the question).
I promptly posted the exchange on Facebook and was delighted to see that there were very few pearl-clutching librarians among my friends. Most people said "attagirl." Some were upset I used foul language, but they didn't grow up in an Italian family, so I gave them a pass.
The thing is, I don't even feel good that my post ridiculing Joe was "liked" over 250 times and that my old law professor suggested I should win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I keep coming back to the idea that there are still people out there, people with thousands of Facebook friends like Joe, who believe the Holocaust never happened.
You'll sigh and raise your eyebrows and try to convince me that this is just a fringe element of society and that, of course, most educated people believe that Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka existed in stone and brick and mortar and not simply as the architecture of fantasy. Of course, that's true.
But it's not enough to say these are the fringe elements in society, these deniers of Germany's great shame, just as it's not enough to say that anyone who thinks slaves were well-treated by their "masters" is a lobotomized moron.
It is not enough to try to dismiss the Joes of the world as one-off aberrations who emerge every few years from their wood-paneled basements to spew the product of their minds' masturbation into our midst. It's not enough to laugh at them or do as I did, and invite them to copulate with themselves.
This poison is a communicable disease, and it infects a mind that hasn't been inoculated against the lies. We need to keep talking about the Holocaust, which has a unique place in modern history, so that when the last survivor has died and there are no longer eloquent eyewitnesses to the carnage, we can neutralize the anti-Semitic provocations with powerful resolve and undeniable facts.
Joe's email prompted me to pick up the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by professor Deborah Lipstadt, who was once sued by Holocaust denier David Irving because she called him a liar. Lipstadt scored a victory in both the courts of law and public opinion by proving he was, in fact, a bigot. The troubling part about the story is the fact that, unlike so many of the yahoos who deny the Holocaust, Irving was a well-respected World War II scholar who was highly regarded by his academic peers. This was no "lobotomized moron." This was an educated man saying that the gas chambers were a myth, and millions of good Germans were being swindled out of reparations by Israel.
Irving, like most deniers, knew in his heart that the Holocaust occurred. He and his fellow travelers - like the twisted little man who called my radio show last week to attack the "Holocaust lie" - engage in a dangerous game of rhetorical chicken: They see how far they can get by denying the truth and hiding behind the shield of "freedom of speech." And we refuse to silence them, wrapping ourselves in the mantle of fairness.
But they must be silenced, not by laws but by practice. We need to shout them down, to dispense with the polite Marquis of Queensbury rules and call them what they truly are: vile and disgusting abortions of the intellect. The people on Facebook who thought it was "inappropriate" to use obscenities against these bigots need to rip off that genteel carapace like the larva evolving into the butterfly and own their outrage, scream it at the top of their lungs so it can't be ignored.
Gentility has given us permission to look away, averting our gaze from the genocides of the past or the ones occurring under our noses. I still find it amazing that we are insensitive to the stench.
In a couple of days, we will celebrate the birth of a Jewish boy who changed the world. Some say that he is a myth and that those who believe in his message and his miracle are fools. None of us was there to see that miracle happen, but legions of us accept that it happened. For that, we resort to faith.
We do not need faith to believe that an event that decimated generations of other Jewish boys actually happened. It happened. And those who deny it are fetid, ugly stains on the fabric of society.
We are the ones who need to erase them, lie by lie, with the disinfectant power of the truth.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer.