My grandfather was a Holocaust denier.
From my childhood years to my early teens, my mother would leave my Protestant father to watch TV in his armchair and take my siblings and me for a day trip to her parents’ severely Catholic home. It was a central meeting place where our extended family could sit around the dining room table to discuss religion and politics (there really was no distinction between the two) or gather around the piano to sing hymns. It was the 1980s, but you wouldn’t find any traces of that loud, rebellious, colorful popular culture here.
I loved my grandmother, but my grandfather was never in the room. I knew him only as a sullen, pale, white-haired figure who might occasionally emerge from scary dark passages behind the door in the main hallway of my grandparents’ house.
Once, I had seen what was behind that door. It was just a workshop where my grandfather built model airplanes instead of visiting with his children and grandchildren when we came to the house. Knowing what was behind the door didn’t make me any less afraid of my grandfather, and I preferred not to be there when and if he emerged.
My mother excused her father’s grim demeanor. He was sad, she explained, because the world had fallen into depravity. His Catholic faith meant everything to him. He’d been an altar boy serving Mass in Latin, studied his Catechism, and said his prayers faithfully all his life, but now even the Catholic Church had relaxed its rules too much. Modesty standards now allowed women to cover less of their bodies. The Mass was now in English and the liturgy offered too much acceptance of other religions. His heart was broken.
While I didn’t get to experience much of what my grandfather might have been like as a person, I knew his beliefs well. My mother made sure of it. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of riding in the back seat of the car while she ran errands, using time behind the wheel to pass to me the precious doctrine her father had given to her. I remember her eyes every so often meeting mine as I watched her animated expressions in the rear-view mirror.
It was very important to her that I understand that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Photographic evidence showing that it had…