The following article is copyright © 1994 by the Skeptics Society, P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119. Permission has been granted for noncommercial electronic circulation of this article in its entirety, including this notice. For more information, visit www.skeptic.com
Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law.
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that.
More: Oh? And when the last law was down--and the Devil turned round on you--where would you hide? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
The revisionist assertion that the Holocaust (the Nazi persecution of European Jewry culminating in the intentional mass genocide of five to six million) is a snare and a delusion foisted upon the rest of society by powerful Zionist Jews is generated by only a handful of scholars and propagandists at a few fringe organizations. Despite fears and claims to the contrary, it is taken seriously by only a small percentage of the American population. (I use the term "revisionist" rather than "denier" because that is the term these individuals use; just as newspapers use "Pro-Choice" and "Pro-Life." Likewise, I do not use the term "exterminationist," by which the revisionists often designate their opponents.) According to the most recent Gallup poll on the subject, when asked directly, "Do you doubt that the Holocaust actually happened or not?" only 9% said yes and 4% said they were unsure (Morin, 1994). The Gallup organization explained the discrepancy between the low level of support for Holocaust revisionism found in their poll and the much higher level (22% doubters; 12% unsure) in the Roper poll commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, as resulting from the different wording, especially the use of a double negative in the Roper question.
Denying or even doubting the Holocaust has the same effect on Jews (and others) as would burning an American flag in front of a VA hospital filled with disabled war veterans. To many, it's yelling "liar!" at a crowded gas chamber. And in countries other than the U.S., it's a criminal offense for which violators can do hard time in the slammer.
Should skeptics take the claims of Holocaust revisionists seriously or simply write them off as yet another product of the lunatic fringe? And, do the claims of the Holocaust revisionists have any historical merit? So asked Michael Shermer in a recent issue of Skeptic, in the process of identifying the concept of pseudohistory, the fraternal twin of pseudoscience (Shermer, 1993). Shermer's essay in this issue provides a detailed analysis of these questions. Tom McIver's article specifically compares revisionism with creationism and argues that they share underlying racist assumptions. What I shall examine is how Holocaust revisionism provides a useful test case for the skeptical ethic, our views on freedom of inquiry and expression, academic freedom and responsibility, and the extent to which the "received version" of history is enforced as an article of faith, to be questioned only at the loss of one's reputation, job, or even personal freedom.
In the United States, the First Amendment protects the right of every citizen to question the very existence of the Holocaust (or of Pearl Harbor, the moon walk, the death of Elvis, or anything else for that matter). According to FBI Director Louis Freeh, "no matter how despicable, it's protected by the 1st Amendment." (Shanker, 1993, p.72).
That is not the case elsewhere in the world. In Canada, anti-hate and pornography statutes and the law against spreading "false news" have been used against Holocaust revisionists. In France it is illegal to contest the existence of any of the crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal. In Germany it is against the law to "defame the memory of the dead." Similar laws are on the books in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Israel.
Mark Weber, editor of the Journal of Historical Review (the official organ of revisionists) is presently compiling a detailed list of anti-revisionist laws and criminal prosecutions. He, along with Zündel, Irving, and Faurisson, supplied me with information on these laws (as well as considerably more material despite being told in advance that the resulting essay could be critical of their positions). No one disputes the existence of these laws. Indeed, the most prominent critics of the claims of Holocaust revisionists, Deborah Lipstadt, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and Michael Shermer, have publicly stated they oppose laws that criminalize revisionism. (Lipstadt, 1993, p.17; Vidal-Naquet, 1992, pp. 71-71; Shermer, 1994, p. 14).
This can be an especially difficult philosophy to live by, with the most extreme proponents of Holocaust revisionism--those who have not-so-hidden anti-Semitic agendas. A classic example is Francis Parker Yockey's Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics, written under the Irish-Viking-Russian nom-de-plume of Ulick Varange and dedicated to Adolf Hitler. Yockey, who originally worked for the War Crimes Tribunal, but then quit, was one of the earliest Holocaust revisionists. Imperium was republished by Noontide Press, the publishing arm of IHR. The 1992 IHR catalogue describes Imperium as, "a sweeping historico-philosophical treatise in the Spenglerian mold and a clarion call to arms in defense of Europe and the West." This "prophetic masterwork brought its author a martyr's death" (p. 11). According to Lipstadt (p.147), Yockey had a history of paranoid behavior and committed suicide by taking a cyanide capsule while in prison on a passport violation. Yockey claims Darwinian evolution amounts to the "materialistic animalization of Culture-man." Species, he tells us, do NOT evolve. They arise spontaneously and disappear just as magically. Needless to say, "parasites" (that is, Jews, Negroes, and Communists) come off even worse in his view than does Darwin (McIver, 1988, Entry #1829a).
In Yockey's league is the self-described former Marxist (now unclassifiable political extremist) Lyndon LaRouche, and his wife Helga Zepp LaRouche. Her Hitler Book argues along the lines of creation scientists that Darwinism is the origin of Hitlerism, both of which the LaRouches despise (McIver entry #1841). In addition to having revealed the Queen of England as the Godmother of the International Drug Trade, LaRouche and his followers have resolved the wave-particle duality, uncovered a 3,000-year old conspiracy against humanity, discovered the critical error in the thinking of "capitalist reformer" Karl Marx, rendered all previously existing economic systems meaningless, and conceived the strategic defense initiative (LaRouche, 1979a, 1979b, 1980, 1983). Amidst all these claims, the LaRouches have also dismissed the Holocaust as "mythical" and "a swindle" (King, 1989, p.138).
Conspiracy theories interpret history as governed by "demonic forces of almost transcendent power." They have a long history in the United States and are equally at home among both right- and left-wingers (Hofstadter, 1965, p. 29). Among those fingered as the evil ones: the Illuminati, the Knights of Malta, the Masons, the Jews, the Crypto-Jews, the Cosmopolitans, the Abolitionists, Slaveholders, the Catholics, the Communists, the Nazis, the neo-Nazis, the Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Warren Commission, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Monetary Fund, the New Agers, and the list goes on.
Not all Holocaust revisionists are conspiracy theorists. Mark Weber, in fact, is redirecting the IHR away from both conspiratorial thinking and overt anti-Semitic leanings, in an effort to lead the movement into the mainstream of historical scholarship. In this process they must also distance themselves from some of the more extreme revisionists. The best known cases of prosecution of Holocaust revisionists reveal a lot about both the social movement of revisionism and the unwillingness of some countries to grant them the freedom to revise certain histories.
"In that case," I asked him, "do you still stand by what you wrote in the UFO book?" I asked. "Look," he replied, "it has a question mark at the end of the title."
While some Holocaust revisionists operate quietly and seek outlets in academic or academic-like journals, Zündel unleashes an avalanche of newsletters, audio cassettes, stickers, radio and TV broadcasts. The sheer volume of his output would be the envy of any political campaign manager or television evangelist. His tone, however, in person, phone conversations, audio cassettes (which open with a trumpet fanfare that sounds like a 40's Movietone newsreel) is almost always calm and didactic.
During a recent visit to German-American friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, Zündel surprised me with a phone call and invited me over for a lengthy and wide ranging discussion and interview. The word "Zündel," I found out, comes from the same root as "zündeln"--to play with fire. The word, he explained, can have the connotation of either a spark plug (that which ignites something for a desired purpose) or someone running irresponsibly through the haystacks. "A Jewish woman psychic told me that in my previous incarnation [he meant it figuratively] at a convention where I was peddling my UFO book that this was a very powerful name. Something that can spark a revolution. Like 'Iskra'" (in Russian, "the spark," the title of one of Lenin's journals).
Zündel was born in Germany in 1939, and his earliest memories while growing up in a small village in the Black Forest are of the sound of the Allied bombing raids and of waking up frightened, cold and shivering, even in summer. Zündel said he has no memories whatsoever of Jews from his days in Germany. He did not meet his first Jew until he was 19 years old and living in Canada. There he met and married a French Canadian girl and became a successful commercial artist, specializing in photo retouching, (which he found to be a most profitable line of work). He paints in a style he likens to that of Andrew Wyeth, and has sold over 700 paintings to buyers around the world, 80% of whom he estimates were Jews, a fact he apparently thinks is important for us to know.
When discussing his work as a commercial artist, Zündel told me that he had never employed a salesman, but acted as his own salesman and used lunches and dinners to combine business with pleasure. I have worked with a fair number of salesmen over the years and Zündel is as good as any I have met. His introduction is pleasant and filled with stories and self-deprecating humor. He quickly reverses himself in order to agree with his interlocutor on anything that is not critical to his "game plan" Without making a written note, he remembers any points that seem either to test the credulity or win support of his interviewer and at convenient breaks produces supporting documentation from his "briefing book" (a huge three-ring binder, similar to a salesman's pitchbook). And he has his pitch down cold. I feel sorry for any opponent who goes up against Zündel unprepared.
Zündel will dangle a reference to UFO's or the wisdom of the ancient Atlanteans. If it has no effect, he just moves on. If it elicits skepticism, he blows it off with a jovial "for whatever it's worth." Given our early conversation on the UFO book, I'm still not sure whether Zündel really believes any of this esoteric stuff or whether he's just learned how effective pushing hot buttons is in grabbing the media spotlight and perhaps bringing in donations.
"It's a lot like operating a church" he explained. "We survive on donations." He has, in fact, survived well enough to provide for his own defense, assist others in the preparation of theirs, conduct a research project to determine who was really behind the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and is currently going to send a multilingual team to Europe to investigate and interview the "enigmatic revisionist" and noted Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
It is as a Holocaust revisionist that Zündel has become incendiary. In 1983, Sabrina Citron, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, placed a private complaint against Zündel. Zündel claims that Citron was a loose cannon and that her action was based upon the desire to raise her profile and status in the Canadian Jewish community and that most members considered her action counterproductive. Lipstadt agrees that "most Canadian Jewish organizations did not support her decision" (p.157).
In 1984, the Canadian government initiated criminal proceedings against Zündel based on Citron's complaint. Specifically, Zündel was charged under section 177 (the false news section) of the Criminal Code of Canada which provides that "every one who wilfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false and that causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not exceeding two years" (Samisdat, 1992, p.1). Zündel's actionable behavior was publishing (not writing) two books: The West, War, and Islam, and Did Six Million Really Die? (Again that question mark at the end of the title.)
The trial, during which he appeared in court wearing the now familiar Zündel garb of a bullet-proof vest and a hardhat bearing the motto, "Freedom of Speech" in both English and German, took place in 1985. Zündel was acquitted of the false news charge for The West, War, and Islam, but convicted for Did Six Million Really Die? He was sentenced to 15 months in jail. That conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered.
The second trial became a revisionist media event in which Zündel's lawyer largely succeeded in putting the Holocaust, rather than his client, on trial. Zündel was able to call leading revisionists Faurisson, Leuchter, Irving, Weber and others as expert witnesses. Zündel's company, Samisdat Publishers (1993) has printed a 566-page summary of the testimony presented in that trial. ("Samisdat" is derived from the Russian word for "self-publication" the way all works, fact and fiction, had to be published unless they were "officially approved" in the former Soviet Union.)
Zündel was again convicted, but the case worked its way up to the Canadian Supreme Court, which struck down the publishing false news statute as an unconstitutional violation of free speech (B'nai B'rith Covenant, 1993, p. 7). Thus Ernst Zündel, self-described admirer of der Führer, became a civil libertarian hero of Canada.
Zündel is not, however, home free, as some Canadian Jewish groups have initiated further action against him under the anti-hate provisions of Canadian law. The German ambassador to Canada, Dr. Guenther Sulimma, joined with them when he told a B'nai B'rith luncheon in Canada that he would formally ask the Canadian government to do what it could to stop Zündel from publishing Holocaust revisionist materials (B'nai B'rith Covenant, p. 7).
Zündel has retaliated by filing his own anti-hate suit against various Canadian Jewish groups, citing the statement by Elie Wiesel in his book, Legends of Our Time: "Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set apart a zone of hate--healthy, virile hate--for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German." (Journal of Historical Review, 1993b, p. 16). To date no action has been taken by the Canadian authorities.
Zündel's "game plan," as he calls it, is to "first, bring down Jewish suffering in terms of numbers and events, both real and imagined, to what it really was, not what they say it was, what they exploit for their own political, financial, and geopolitical purposes." When asked to be more precise, he estimated total Jewish deaths from all causes under the Nazi regime as only about 300,000. His second goal is to make the world look at German suffering and the Allied brutality toward Germany and realize that both peoples were victims.
"Suppose," I asked, "new evidence, either from the archives or from scientific analysis, proves that you and the revisionists were really right all along. What would change?"
"First," he replied "all the numbers would go down. It would be a satisfying personal victory to know that I was right; that I had been a trailblazer and an iconoclast. History would be rewritten and corrected and I could get out of this stuff and get back to my life."
"What about aid to Israel?"
"I would cut it off immediately," he stated, as his voice shifted from its usual avuncular tone to the more strident one he calls "the eloquence of emergency." Israel, he says, is "a parasitic enterprise and they don't deserve it. It wouldn't happen if it weren't for the Holocaust. The Jews will have to give back the money to the Germans or to the Palestinians and make restitution to the Germans. They must apologize verbally and then financially. They got the money illegitimately. It must be turned over to legitimate causes."
"Why go back in time?" I asked. "Why not just wipe the slate clean?"
In an even more strident tone he replied, "Why should we let parasites and liars live with their loot? They took it from Egypt (a reference to the Old Testament Exodus). They're not going to take it from the Germans."
"Those are awfully strong words," I said, offering him a chance to take them back were he to feel they were spoken in a moment of anger.
"They are strong words. After what I've suffered, the price I've paid, I have the right to use strong words."
I gave him yet another chance. "You're comfortable being quoted on that?"
"Absolutely. The Holocaust has become an enterprise based on falsehoods and lies and they are promoting it criminally."
I asked Zündel what might have happened if in 1917, when both sides had been putting out peace feelers, all sides had gone back to the pre-World War I borders and there had been no Treaty of Versailles. He replied that it was the Treaty of Versailles that created Hitler. The Kaiser had offered to do that, but there wasn't peace in 1917 because the Jewish political and financial interests manipulated the U.S. into the war.
Realizing that in Zündel's view the Jews had a hand in everything, I granted him that there was a Jewish lobby (or an Israeli lobby) and that it was powerful. But how is what AIPAC does (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) different, quantitatively or qualitatively from what the National Rifle Association does?
Zündel replied that they were totally different. The NRA was made up of Americans concerned about their Second Amendment Rights. Zündel told me he wasn't envious of Jewish power; he was alarmed by it. Unlike the NRA or other lobbying groups, the Jewish lobby, he said, works for a foreign power.
And at that moment Zündel's conspiratorial mind opened up. He referred me to Francis Parker Yockey's book, Imperium, which shows how the Jews have distorted and perverted the direction of Western culture. He informed me that Jews lack what he called, "fingerspitzengefuhl," which he translated from the German as "the touch of the fingers." Throughout history this has derailed Jewish enterprises. Since they didn't listen to Moses, Zündel doubted they'd listen to him. They were on the path to becoming intellectual Baruch Goldsteins (a reference to the American born Israeli West Bank settler who recently gunned down defenseless Palestinians in a mosque). When I asked what the result of their not heeding him would be, Zündel told me massive pogroms were ahead.
"Suppose the evidence proves you're wrong. What will you then do?" I asked. He replied "I'll spend my last money issuing apologies and retire."
When asked if he could think of any definitive experiment that could decide the gas chamber issue one way or the other Zündel offered the macabre suggestion that someone build a gas chamber according to what are alleged to be the plans, get DEGESH to supply the gas, fill it with people, gas them and see if they in fact died. Since the U.S. continues to execute people, we could also save some money in conducting such an experiment.
Zündel's Judeophobia is clear enough. His Germanophilia is no less potent. In our conversation he waxed eloquent about all of Hitler's accomplishments. He believes that Europe is only now 50 years later arriving where Hitler wanted it to be. Hitler, according to Zündel, evolved from being a German ultranationalist, to a Pan German, to a European. By the time the war ended, der Fuhrer had hit upon the idea of a "Europa ethnica," in which each ethnic group could live peacefully in its own little place. When I asked him if this was not just so much propaganda to get Poles, Slovaks, and others to fight and die to keep the Third Reich going just a little longer, Zündel explained that I too was a victim of my limited American perspective.
Even if viewed from his perspective as a German ethnic activist, I queried, was not Hitler more responsible than anyone for ruining Germany and making Germans subservient to the Jews? "No," he stated. "That would be blaming the victim! Hitler didn't bomb the German cities. Hitler didn't fire the German university professors. Hitler didn't . . . . " All this started to sound a little too much like Franz Liebkind in Mel Brooks' The Producers: "Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill. Hitler was a better singer than Churchill. Churchill couldn't even say Nazi. He would say Naah-Zees, Bloody Naah-Zees."
In checking my notes before publication I called Zündel one more time, by chance on April 2Oth, the 105th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler. He complained that the Canadian authorities had detained him when he returned and tried to seize his notes and briefing book. He told me he was celebrating Hitler's birthday "the way we Germans like to--by hard work!"
For making these statements, Faurisson was first dismissed from his academic post on grounds that should send shivers down the spine of any civil libertarian: ". . . the authorities couldn't protect him from his enemies" (Herman, 1993, p. 8). He was in fact physically beaten rather severely by anti-revisionists. Faurisson, his publishers, and supporters who have distributed or promoted his materials have been tried, convicted, fined, and barred from holding any government jobs (Le Monde, 19 September 1983).
The convictions were under the Fabius-Gayssot law of 1990, largely written with the express intent of criminalizing Faurisson's revisionist activities, which should also raise civil libertarian eyebrows. That law makes it a criminal offense "to contest by any means the existence of one or more of the crimes against humanity as defined by Article 6 of the Statutes of the International Military Tribunal, attached to the London Agreement of August 8, 1945, committed either by the members of an organization declared criminal in application of Article 9 of the same Statutes, or by a person held guilty of such a crime by a French or international jurisdiction."
Any meaningful appeal of those verdicts is therefore impossible under French law. Faurisson and his supporters have been restricted in court from mentioning "gas chambers" (ostensibly, the existence of which they were convicted of questioning) and have been denied government jobs. Le Choc du Mois ("The Shock of the Month") had to cease operation because of the fines it repeatedly incurred in publishing Faurisson's work.
Leuchter's involvement with Holocaust revisionism began when Zündel called him as an expert witness as to the existence of gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps. Zündel's defense paid Leuchter $30,000 to perform an analysis on samples from the chambers, which Leuchter obtained without the knowledge or consent of the Polish authorities. This was strictly illegal.
According to the analysis performed by an independent laboratory on the samples, Leuchter claimed, in the now famous "Leuchter Report," ("An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek, Poland"), no gassing could have taken place. (See Shermer's article for an analysis of this controversy). The Leuchter Report became a revisionist international best seller and Leuchter an overnight (and by his account, reluctant) star of the movement. This produced a good deal of ill feeling for Leuchter in certain circles.
In response, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld joined a local Massachusetts survivors group and brought an action against Leuchter for practicing engineering without a license. This statute had been previously untested (Trombley, p. 88) and according to the figures supplied by Zündel, less than 20% of the "engineers" practicing in Massachusetts are so licensed. Like the Zündel trials, the Leuchter trial became a media event.
Leuchter eventually signed a consent decree barring him from using the title "engineer" (Trombley, p. 90). This was really academic. All of his contracts with the various states have been terminated and, according to Zündel, some states have reneged on outstanding invoices so that Leuchter has been left holding the bag on some rather expensive equipment.
In the tape interview distributed by Zündel (1993), Leuchter (whose name in German, Zündel tells his listeners, means "illuminator," though "candelabra" is the preferred translation) tells his lawyer Kirk Lyons, that his life is a shambles and his business is ruined. Leuchter now exists on speaking fees from sympathetic revisionist groups and working at odd jobs. He receives no royalties on the Leuchter report. (Leuchter did not return any of my numerous phone calls.)
Leuchter gave a speech in Germany in 1991 based on the finding of his report. He later returned to that country to appear as a guest on the popular German TV program, Schreinemakers, to discuss capital punishment. He was arrested in the TV studio before the program began on "suspicion he would use the TV show to incite racism and to slander the memory of Holocaust victims" (Canada News, 1993, p. 12).
Initially held without bail, he was subsequently released and is now in the United States. Gunther Deckert, head of the right-wing National Democratic Party of Germany set up the Leuchter speech and served as translator. He was arrested and charged with "defaming the dead" by translating and agreeing with Leuchter's arguments. Leuchter's lawyer, Hajo Herrmann, was also placed under investigation, though not formally charged, for having repeated Leuchter's arguments during his client's bail proceeding (Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 1993, p. 3).
In March of 1994, the German Federal Court of Justice (Germany's highest appeals court) revoked Deckert's $6,000 fine and one year suspended sentence. The court ordered a retrial of Deckert on the grounds that it was "too much of an overgeneralization" to assume that he had "attacked the dignity of the Jewish community in Germany by claiming that the Holocaust had not occurred" and that a new trial must prove that he was guilty of specifically "inciting racial hatred" (Boston Globe, 1994, p. 6). This ruling should affect Leuchter's trial, which will take place later this year.
Irving goes about writing history in the same do-it-yourself manner. He has no formal academic training in history. In fact, he holds most academic historians in contempt. While they spend their time reading each others' books, Irving avoids secondary and interpretive sources and instead immerses himself in the archives, going through diaries, correspondence, handwritten notes of the person he's writing about, his staff and intimates.
Irving has written or is in the process of writing a book on most of the major figures of World War II. When I reached him for a series of telephone interviews he was going over the final draft of Dr. Goebbels.
Irving's method of relying on only primary sources gives his books a unique style and a very controversial impact. Some are more in the form of a chronology than an interpretive summary. They often read more like Joe Friday than Gibbon or Macaulay. And like a police report, they contain firsthand information you will find nowhere else, which is why they have been required reading at such places as West Point, the Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the British Open University, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Critics would argue that Irving's methodology is not only his strength, but his greatest weakness. The mildest criticism would be that in his avoidance of secondary and interpretive sources, his reader loses any sense of context and is unable to see the forest for all the (unearthed) trees.
A stronger criticism would be that after providing a mass of details, Irving seizes upon some "zinger" as support for some controversial thesis and thereby guarantees publicity and sales. When I asked Irving if he thought this criticism had any merit, he answered that if he discovers "zingers as you call them," he documents them and follows the evidence wherever it leads him; he does not manufacture them. He also told me that certain forms of controversy hurt sales and result in costly litigation.
The strongest criticism would be that Irving uses whatever he can find in the mass of documents to support his own "mild fascist" position. In 1979 he argued in Hitler's War that not only was there no evidence of a Führer order for the extermination of the Jews, but that Hitler himself did not know what was going on with respect to the Jews (at least in the beginning). Since then his conclusions have consistently moved in a revisionist direction that reduces the culpability assigned to Germany in general and Hitler in particular, both for starting the war and practicing genocide.
Irving told me that the oft-repeated characterization of him as a "self-described mild Fascist" was neither fair nor accurate and was based on a 1959 article that was "retracted immediately." He prefers to describe himself as an "ultraconservative with socialist leanings." As for reducing Nazi culpability, Irving stated that he has publicly accepted every Nazi atrocity or crime for which he can find hard evidence.
Controversy and litigation are no strangers to Irving. But it was only after his testimony in the Zündel trial that governments placed criminal charges against him, that he was deported or denied entry, and that his books were removed from stores and/or the stores vandalized. He told me he realized that there was "a campaign to shut me up" and that he "was up against an international organization with considerable clout." I asked him to identify the organization, which he did as "the traditional enemies of the truth."
In May, 1992, Irving told a German audience that the gas chamber shown to tourists at Auschwitz was "a fake built after the war." In June, 1992, he was coming to Rome from Moscow. When the plane landed, it was surrounded by police and Irving was put on the next plane to Munich. He was charged under the German law of "defaming the memory of the dead" and fined 3,000DM. He appealed the conviction and on subsequent appeals the conviction was upheld and the fine increased first to 10,000 and then to 30,000DM, or about $20,000. (The German legal system provides for increasing the penalty on appeal. Irving was not the victim of extralegal tactics, nor has he ever claimed this). In all his appeals, Irving was not allowed to call the director of the Auschwitz museum as a witness to confirm his statement. (The Auschwitz gas chamber is, in fact, a reconstruction built after the war. No one at the Auschwitz museum denies this.)
Later that year, while in California, Irving received a letter from the Canadian government saying that he would not be allowed into that country because of the German conviction. He did enter Canada, legally, in October, 1992, to receive the George Orwell award from a conservative free speech organization. He was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, led away in handcuffs and told that he was being deported on the grounds that he had been convicted of a criminal offense in Germany and was likely to perform similar acts in Canada. According to Irving, he had been to the country numerous times before without even a traffic ticket.
At present he cannot legally enter Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, or South Africa. When he is allowed into certain countries, the authorities sometimes present Irving with a list of just what it is he is not allowed to say. The list can sometimes run 12-15 pages.
Irving feels he has also suffered professionally because of his revisionist views. Waterstones and Dillon's (British book chains) decided to keep Irving's books out of view after a number of their stores had been vandalized (Brownlee, 1992). The German Federal Archives in Coblenz, to which Irving has donated one ton of materials, has denied him further access and he is demanding the return of his materials. In March of 1994, Macmillan, the American publisher of Irving's forthcoming book on Dr. Goebbels, rejected his final draft and demanded the return of his (sizable) advance.
Irving's current position is that no one has offered proof (or now even tries) to contradict his argument that there was no "Führer order;" that the total number of Jewish deaths should be reduced to a figure below one million; that the Leuchter Report is firm evidence against the existence of gas chambers which has been independently confirmed; and that the number of gassings that may have taken place in mobile vans or other experimental devices was at most an insignificant percentage of the total deaths.
Having grown up in a mob town in New Jersey, I asked Irving why one would even hope to find a written order, as such things usually take the form of verbal commands: "Hey Vito, can you take care of that thing for me?" Irving agreed that the "Godfather" method might well have been the way it happened.
I suggested to Irving that Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on December 10, 1941, was evidence that der Führer realized he would either win the war and have the history books written the way he wanted, or lose completely, in which case he would take as many of his enemies with him as he could. Given this mindset, he probably encouraged Himmler to "take care of that Jewish thing." Irving responded that such an interpretation did not contradict the evidence and may well have been what happened. While going through the Goebbels diaries he found that from about 1942 on Goebbels repeatedly said things like "We have crimes on our book. We can't go back. We can only go forward." I quoted Shakespeare's murderous Richard III (Act IV, scene ii), "I am so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin. Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye," which Irving thought fit quite well.
My conversations with Irving were quite different from those with either Zündel or Mark Weber. Where Zündel struck me as a supersalesman looking for a way to close, and Weber seemed like a therapist trying to help me get over denial, Irving came across as the polished professional, with immediate recall of a wealth of facts and figures and little concern whether I agreed with him or not. This difference became even more obvious when I asked Irving: "suppose the revisionists are proven correct, what would change?" He responded, "the press would immediately say, 'we knew it all along.'" He then read his "Note for the Record," which he asks all journalists to sign before interviewing him on the Holocaust:
Being a responsible journalist reporting for _______, I solemnly affirm that I still believe in the existence during World War Two of "gas chambers" and "factories of death" in which Nazis killed millions of their opponents. Signed______ Print Name______ Date______(Since I am acting as a journalist for Skeptic, here is how I responded to Irving's note: "I neither affirm your note as provided, nor decline to participate. Here's what, based on reading and interviews, including you and revisionists, I presently think: Millions of Jews died in Europe under the Nazis. Some died of disease, overwork, brutality in the camps. Some were shot on the spot by Einsatzgruppen and Nazi collaborators. Some were systematically killed in the camps by methods that included gassing. I've found no 'hard' percentages. I'll continue to believe this until and unless you or someone else can convince me otherwise." Irving told me that I was the second person to provide an alternative version. All others had simply declined. None had signed.)
_Alternatively_: signature declined, (signed)______
When I asked Irving what he would do if proven wrong, he again offered a professional and unemotional reply. He said he'd move on to something else, satisfied that he had argued the case well.
Where revisionism is a crusade for Zündel, for Irving it seems more an intellectual battle royal. And when it's done and over, he believes he'll be the last one standing and will take particular delight in stepping over the bodies of the academics he has KO'd along the way.
Intellectually, Irving's extremely proud. He told me how, when he was imprisoned in England for contempt of court arising out of a libel action brought by Australian Jewish organizations, his fellow prisoners, especially blacks, treated him with respect and dignity. Irving is miffed that John Charmley is getting the credit for the current wave of Churchill revisionism going on in Britain, when it was he (Irving) who started it all. He's even more miffed that Vladimir Zhirinovsky has taken Irving's place as the star speaker at right-wing talkfests put on by the German publisher Gerhard Frey. He considers Zhirinovsky an unstable lightweight who'll never be taken seriously, and feels Frey has wasted his money bankrolling Zhirinovsky's political campaign.
Irving enjoys taking chances and defending controversial positions for the intellectual challenge. He doesn't like to be labeled or pigeon-holed. He's currently working on a book on FDR, whom he found to be an exceptionally capable war time leader who listened to his generals, lost relatively few lives, "took us (Brits) for all we had," and made the U.S. a great power. He considers America's subsequent wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Panama) to have been counterproductive and racist and thinks the American media have done a terrible job of presenting the story to us. After likening the Gulf War to the Holocaust, in October, 1991, he was thrown out of an Argentine TV studio and all his lectures in that country were cancelled.
I will go even further and argue that in the post-Cold War world censorship in general is on the increase, not the decrease. And where once "national security" could be invoked to deny basic civil rights to dissidents, now preventing injury to some one's (or particularly some group's) "self esteem" is the cry being used by one and all to erode long established constitutional rights. A recent poll by the National Law Journal found 49% of Americans surveyed "say it would be 'compelling' for a defendant to argue that fury as a result of long-term, institutionalized racism, caused an individual to snap" (Sherman, 1994, p. A19).
Related to anti-revisionism legislation, consider next the unintended consequences of anti-pornography legislation. Canada has led the free, industrial world in anti-porn laws. Indeed, the hate speech laws used against Zündel are part of the same legislation. The Canadian Supreme Court has expanded the definition of pornography "to include depictions of sex that degrades or exploits women or other groups." The result--customs officials have gone on a rampage of seizing books that include scenes of rape, bestiality, child sex, sex with family members (even if not genetically related) or even if such acts are just implied! The same customs service memo also covers "hate propaganda," defined in the memo to include "material blaming any specific group for economic problems or for manipulating the media" (Lyall, 1993, p. A6).
According to Lyall's story in The New York Times, "hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers have been detained, often for months at a time, or banned outright." The most frequent targets of such seizures have not been 24-hour hard-core porn shops filled with inflatable dolls and misogynistic "stroke books," but gay and lesbian books and magazines, small publishers, and small (often gay and lesbian) proprietorship bookstores--one quarter of Canada's feminist bookstores according to the National Coalition Against Censorship (1993b, p. 1).
Well-known feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon have argued that pornography by its very nature constitutes violence against women, and must therefore be banned. It is perhaps the ultimate vindication of the Slippery Slope argument to point out that their works are among those that have been seized (NCAC, 1993a, p. 4)! And based on the examples Dworkin provides of just what it is she is against, they would have to be. By like reasoning, Deborah Lipstadt's book, and this issue of Skeptic, for that matter, could be seized on the grounds that we have, by way of summary, repeated the arguments of the Holocaust revisionists and some simple soul out there could conceivably be won over by them.
Along these lines, a librarian in Montana recently was fired because "she assisted two seventh-grade girls with their research by giving them information from encyclopedias and lending them two books of her own after making sure that they had their parents' and teacher's approval" (Hoffman, 1994, p. A23). The subject was not revisionism, but the Salem witchcraft trials (though the study of the government suppression of witchcraft could be classified as feminist revisionist history). The West Valley School Board of Trustees in their press release argued that Ms. Denzer was only a "library aide" and that while the two books in question contained "graphic text and pictures depicting atrocities toward women," they contained "only a few pages of information" or "no references" to the Salem witch trials (West Valley School Board, 1994). Apparently the West Valley School Board sees no value in background research. Since the Bill of Rights does not explicitly mention the Salem witchcraft trials, I guess students at West Valley should not request a copy of it either. As to protecting school children from the harmful effects of "graphic depictions of atrocities," the school board should perhaps feel compelled to speak with Zündel before allowing any pupils to see Schindler's List.
Librarians are in fact duty bound by American Library Association policy "to obtain requested material without regard to bias or personal judgment" (Hoffman, p. A23). A decision by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that Holocaust revisionist materials be treated in "a reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner, equally applicable to all and administered with equality to all" (Polish Historical Society News Release 1993). As some feminists consider witchcraft trials the "women's holocaust," the school board's actions have the effect of not only violating the rights of revisionists but of simultaneously "denying a holocaust," a punishable offense in other countries.
Regarding the use of law to restrict and prohibit Holocaust revisionism, the skeptical ethic can do no better than to follow the counsel given by Thomas Jefferson: "If a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled by it" (Jefferson, 1964, p.154). He noted that when "reason and experiment" are employed, "error" flees before them. "It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself" (p. 153).
If the skeptical ethic is clear on anything it is that individuals should not be subjected to government force (that is, arrest, imprisonment, fines) simply for what they believe, say, or write, rather than for what they do. It is perhaps as good a definition of dictatorship (as opposed to rule of law) as any that individuals are prosecuted (and persecuted) not for what they have actually done, but for what unspecified actions they or others influenced by them (also unspecified) might perform at some unspecified future time.
The quashing of the false news law by the Canadian Supreme Court in the Zündel case, and the demand for retrial on the grounds of overgenerality by the German Appeals Court in the Deckert case, indicate that the courts in the countries that do have anti-revisionist laws are moving in the direction of the skeptical ethic and of Thomas Jefferson. They are also acting in the spirit of those sections of the Helsinki Accords that deal with freedom of travel, personal contact, and communication (Lawson, 1991, pp. 717-719). To date, the most effective and respected revisionist has been the Israeli high court, which in effect threw out both survivor testimony and documentation from government archives that were introduced as evidence by the prosecution when they acquitted John Demjanjuk.
In doing so, valid revisionism raises more questions than it answers. Among those noted by Eatwell regarding the Holocaust are "detailed questions about the procurement of transport for the Jews . . . general questions about the Nazi regime, whether the system was truly totalitarian, or whether it was more chaotic and fragmented than has generally been assumed . . . sweeping issues, such as the question of human nature, or the concept of progress" (1992, p. 143).
One of the important matters raised by historians is the debate between "functionalists" who believe the Holocaust "just evolved," and "intentionalists" who contend that exterminations were planned very early on (see Marrus, 1987, pp. 34-48). Irving's archival research satisfies Eatwell's criterion. It was, in fact, Martin Broszat's critique of Irving's Hitler's War that moved the functionalist-intentionalist debate from academic circles into broader public debate (Marrus, p. 40).
Even Zündel, who sparks more heat than light and is often deliberately inflammatory, did get the "false news" law struck down and thus extended the civil rights of all Canadians. The summary of the second Zündel trial, produced by Zündel's Samisdat Press, provides a bibliography and an index in addition to the testimony and is a valuable resource.
Lipstadt, one of the severest critics of Holocaust revisionists, notes that Jean-Claude Pressac was at first impressed by Faurisson's "seemingly vast array of knowledge" and "began to meet with him on a regular basis" (p.175). It was only after Pressac studied Faurisson's work and then rejected it that he produced his own work, which Lipstadt and others believe so effectively destroys the revisionist argument on the gas chambers.
"The problem of all factionalism," philosopher Hans Sluga pointed out in this analysis of the Heidigger controversy "is that it already knows the answers to the questions it raises" (1993, p. 5). To fully participate in a valid historical examination of the Holocaust, revisionists cannot continue to simply "nibble at the edges" of the accepted version, seizing upon any discrepancy or seeming contradiction between proponents of the accepted view as proof that the whole thing never happened, in the manner of creationists and Kennedy conspiracy theorists.
A defense lawyer need only create a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror to deny the prosecution a conviction. In academic argument, when challenging the "received version," at some point one must provide an alternative interpretation of greater plausibility. And this is precisely what most serious skeptical literature on ESP, faith healing, and the like does. Likewise, Holocaust revisionists must provide their own detailed account of what actually did happen to all those Jews if they did not die the way we have been told they did. To date, their best attempt is Butz's (1976) virtually unreadable The Hoax of the Twentieth Century.
In particular, to be taken seriously and not be dismissed as "conspiracy theorists," revisionists cannot invoke the machinations of powerful, nefarious Zionist controlled entities to explain away any testimony or evidence that supports the received version. Rather, revisionists must demonstrate independent, falsifiable (in Popper's sense of being capable of being disproved) evidence that a small group of Zionist Jews could so effectively put one over on all the rest of us, at no small cost to us, and yet have proved singularly unable to rescue the bulk of their coreligionists from the horrors that befell them (even if only the limited set of horrors conceded by the revisionists).
If and when Holocaust revisionists produce such material they must be provided full liberty to write, speak, and distribute it, and be accorded the opportunity to present it in respectable journals and academic fora. They should be extended the opportunity to engage in open, fair, and lengthy debate before knowledgeable audiences (rather than "hit and run" appearances before self-selected groups) along with anyone of a contrary view who chooses to appear opposite them. If such opportunity is refused, they should self-publish their work along with the rejections and accompanying correspondence and thereby, as Mr. Jefferson said, "let good sense have fair play."
David Irving: Best-selling British historian of World War II, has moved to an increasingly revisionist position since he first claimed in Hitler's War (1977) that Hitler knew nothing of the extermination of the Jews until late in 1943. Since testifying on behalf of Zündel, Irving was fined in Germany for "defaming the memory of the dead," deported from Canada on the grounds that he was "likely to commit a criminal offense" (based on the German conviction) and denied entry to Australia on the grounds that he was "likely to become involved in violence." At present, he cannot legally enter Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, or South Africa.
Robert Faurisson: Professor at University of Lyon 2, who wrote that no homicidal gas chambers were ever in use in the Nazi concentration camps. Originally suspended from teaching on the grounds that the authorities "could not protect him" after he was physically beaten, Faurisson, his publishers, and supporters have been fined for "contesting the crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal."
Fred Leuchter: American developer and servicer of execution devices, testified at Zündel's second trial that, based on his examination of the Nazi concentration camps, no executions by "gas chamber" could have taken place. He repeated his findings before a right-wing group in Germany. His translator was arrested for "defaming the memory of the dead." Leuchter was arrested when he returned to appear on a German TV program to discuss capital punishment. He is currently in the US, awaiting trial in Germany. The highest German Appeals Court ordered a retrial of Leuchter's translator (a leader of the right-wing party) and revoked the prison sentence and fine on the grounds that simply denying the Holocaust did not constitute defamation. Leuchter's lawyer has been placed under investigation, but not officially charged, for repeating Leuchter's findings as to the nonexistence of gas chambers during a bond hearing.
The number of Jews killed: "All deaths, from all causes, in concentration camps--300,000."
What the Germans did to the Jews: "I think that there should have been much kinder methods found."
Holocausts and Genocides: "To the Germans, Dresden was the Holocaust--burning by fire."
Steven Spielberg: "He is celebrating the tribe in Hollywood. This is so arrogant."
His own politics: "I'm not a Marxist Socialist. I'm a National Socialist."
Persecution: "Because of what has happened to me I now know how it must have felt to be a Jew in Nazi Germany."
Adolf Hitler: "I am an admirer of how this man took a country that was like a beaten child amongst nations and within six years turned that place around and made it into the marvel that National Socialist Germany was in 1938. He was a humble man with wonderful, intuitive gifts. Hitler's contribution to mankind, if he had died in 1939, would be as one of the great statesman of the 20th century."
Ernst Zündel: "Society would do well to listen to its outcasts. These people have a story to tell."
Long term goals: "To bring Jewish suffering down to what it was, not what they say it was, and what they exploit. Then make the world take a look at the Allied behavior toward Germany. Then we can talk to each other as equals and see that both peoples were victims."
Return to table of contents.