One of the most notable anti-Semitic propaganda movements to develop over the past two decades has been the organized effort to deny or minimize the established history of Nazi genocide against the Jews. In the United States, the movement has been known in recent years primarily through the publication of editorial-style advertisements in college campus newspapers. The first of these ads claimed to call for "open debate on the Holocaust"; it purported to question not the fact of Nazi anti-Semitism, but merely whether this hatred resulted in an organized killing program. A more recent ad has questioned the authenticity of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. These ads have been published in several dozen student newspapers on campuses across the country.
Similar propaganda has established a beachhead on the computer Internet. In addition to creating their own home pages, Holocaust deniers have sometimes "crashed" the sites of legitimate Holocaust and Jewish discussion groups in a blatant effort at anti, Jewish provocation and self-promotion. Additionally, Holocaust deniers have advertised their Web sites by purchasing innocuous-sounding, inconspicuous classified ads in college and community newspapers.
These paid advertisements and Internet activities have been a national phenomenon since 1991. Though there is no evidence that they have persuaded large numbers of students to doubt the settled record of events which comprise the Holocaust, their appearance has generated acrimony and has frequently caused friction between Jewish and non-Jewish students.
This is precisely the intent of the Holocaust deniers: by attacking the facts of the Holocaust, and by framing this attack as merely an unorthodox point of view, their propaganda insinuates subtle but hateful antisemitic beliefs of Jews as exploiters of non-Jewish guilt and Jews as controllers of academia or the media. These beliefs, in fact, bear comparison to the preachings which brought Hitler to power in prewar Germany.
This pamphlet has been designed to provide a brief summary of the propaganda campaign known as Holocaust "revisionism," or Holocaust denial. What follows is (1) a "Q&A" description of the movement, its history, and its leading activists, as well as a review of legal and scholarly responses to this propaganda; (2) a summary of the movement's most common allegations, with brief factual responses, and (3) a selection of quotes by the leading propagandists, demonstrating their anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi agendas.
It is highly unlikely that this report will dissuade the Holocaust deniers from their mendacious and hateful campaign. But this information should provide students and educators with the facts to make informed decisions and vigorous responses to these bigoted lies.
(For further details concerning the Holocaust denial movement, see also the Anti-Defamation League publication, Hitler's Apologists: The Antisemitic Propaganda of 'Holocaust Revisionism')
The Movement: What You Should Know
1. What is Holocaust denial?
Holocaust denial is a propaganda movement active in the United States, Canada and Western Europe which seeks to deny the reality of the Nazi regime's systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II.
2. Who started the movement?
The roots of Holocaust denial can be found in the bureaucratic language of Nazi policy itself, which sought to camouflage the genocidal intent of what the Nazis called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," even as these directives were being carried out. After the war, former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers dismissed the overwhelming proof of the Holocaust established at the Nuremberg war crimes trials; similarly, an obscure group of post-War French Trotskyists and anarchists led by Paul Rassinier (since deceased), seeking to advance their own political agenda, denounced evidence of the genocide as "Stalinist atrocity propaganda."
However, as an organized propaganda movement, Holocaust "revisionism" took root in 1979 when Willis Carto, founder of Liberty Lobby - the largest anti-Jewish propaganda organization in the United States - incorporated the Institute for Historical Review (IHR). The IHR is a pseudo-academic enterprise in which professors with no credentials in history (for example, the late Revilo P. Oliver was a retired University of Illinois Classics teacher; Robert Faurisson earned a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Lyon; Arthur Butz is an engineer at Northwestern University), writers without formal academic certification (such as David Irving, Henri Roques and Bradley Smith), and career antisemites (such as Mark Weber, Ernst Zündel and the late David McCalden) convene to develop new outlets for their anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and, for some, pro, Nazi beliefs.
Since 1993, Willis Carto has broken with the IHR in a very public, litigious feud. He has devoted considerable funds and rhetorical vehemence to dis. crediting his former employees, and has also established a rival "revisionist" journal, The Barnes Review. At issue in the feud, primarily, is not the history of the Holocaust - which both sides of the dispute argue never really happened - but rather Carto's reportedly dictatorial management style, and the control of a multimillion-dollar bequest to the parent corporation of the IHR. Although the dispute remains in litigation, as of this writing a Superior Court Judge in California has awarded $6.4 million to the IHR in their civil suit against Carto. The judge, in his ruling for the Institute, characterized Carto as "evasive and argumentative" and added that his testimony in large part "made no sense.... By the end of the trial, I was of the opinion that Mr. Carto lacked candor, lacked memory and lacked the ability to be forthright about what he did honestly remember"; ironically, this description could accurately characterize the entire propaganda movement which Carto founded.
(For further details about this feud and its aftermath, see Liberty Lobby: Hate Central, ADL Research Report, 1995.)
3. Where is Holocaust denial active today?
IHR has tapped into an international network of propagandists who write for the group's Journal of Historical Review (JHR) and meet at its more-or-less annual conventions. The leading activists affiliated with IHR have included Mark Weber, Bradley Smith and Fred Leuchter (USA); Ernst Zündel (Canada); David Irving (England); Robert Faurisson (France); Carlo Mattogno (Italy); and Ahmed Rami (Sweden). Of these activists, Bradley Smith, who served for many years as IHR's "Media Project Director," has attracted the most notoriety in the U.S., due to the series of "revisionist" advertisements which he has placed in college newspapers since 1991 for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH).
Nonetheless, IHR has suffered noticeably from its feud with Carto. Since breaking with its founder in 1993, the professional staff at the Institute has shrunk from seven to two - Mark Weber, now serving as director, and Greg Raven, who operates IHR's World Wide Web site - and its increasingly infrequent publications have consisted mostly of reprints from previous issues of the Journal of Historical Review, along with at times desperate appeals for funding. Most recently, IHR announced that its 1996 conference would be postponed indefinitely.
4. What is CODOH?
Though Smith claims the "Committee" is an independent entity devoted to promoting "open debate," it has operated essentially as a vehicle for IHR propaganda. CODOH was first headed by Smith and Mark Weber, then-editor of the JHR; its founder was the late William Curry, a longtime supporter of the IHR. Every other associate of the group has also been a public participant in IHR conferences. CODOH ads and flyers list the IHR address and cite IHR sources almost exclusively. Additionally, Bradley Smith's Web page on the computer Internet - which is fairly elaborate and has constituted the bulk of his activity since 1995 -provides links to the IHR site, as well as other Holocaust-denial outlets. Smith, moreover, appears to have suffered from
the same decline in fortune affecting the IHR. He has not written a new editorial-style advertisement since 1993, and his pre-existing ads appeared in only seven newspapers in 1995, and one in 1996, down from 13 in 1993. Instead, Smith's current campus outreach tends to consist of inconspicuous, anonymous classified ads promoting his Web site; the only indication of Smith's agenda in these ads is a reference to "Unanswered Questions About the Nazi Gas Chambers."
5. Are there other propagandists promoting Holocaust denial on the World Wide Web?
In addition to overt neo-Nazi groups, such as the National Alliance,1 which promote denial of the Holocaust as part of a comprehensive racist and antisemitic agenda, one of the most active Holocaust deniers on the computer Internet is the German-born Canadian hatemonger Ernst Zündel Zündel whose antisemitic activities extend back to the mid-70s, and include associations with the IHR and the neo-Nazi publication, Liberty Bell, as well as the authorship of books such as The Hitler We Loved and Why, has established perhaps the most extensive Holocaust-denial Web site on the Internet. Often updated daily, Zündel's home page, operated by a previously obscure Southern California writer named Ingrid Rimland, publishes materials in English, French and German and includes audio recordings of Zündel's own speeches. In addition to his Internet activities - which he, like Bradley Smith, promotes by purchasing inconspicuous ads in college and local newspapers - Zündel also produces a cable-access TV program as well as German and English-language shortwave radio broadcasts, each of which is also devoted to Holocaust denial.
6. Are there laws regulating Holocaust denial?
In Canada and Western Europe, Holocaust deniers have been successfully prosecuted under racial defamation or hate crimes laws. In the United States, however, the First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech, regardless of political content. Nonetheless, though the First Amendment guarantees Holocaust deniers the right to produce and distribute their propaganda, it in no way obligates newspapers or other media outlets to provide them with a forum for their views.
7. What do American legal precedents indicate about such propaganda?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1974 decision, Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo , that "A newspaper is more than a passive receptacle or conduit for news, comment and advertising. The choice of material to go into a newspaper... [constitutes] the exercise of editorial control and judgment." Simply stated, to require newspaper editors or broadcasters to provide Smith, or any other individual, with a forum would deny the newspaper or other media their own First Amendment rights to operate a free press, without government coercion; such requirements would also diminish the public's ability to distinguish historical truth from propaganda.
Like the editor of a private newspaper, the editors of all private and most public college newspapers have a First Amendment right to exercise editorial control over which advertisements appear in their newspaper. The only situation in which an editor of a state university newspaper would not have this right would be if the university administration controlled the content of the campus newspaper and set editorial policy. In such a case, the university would essentially function as an arm of the government, and prohibition of newspaper advertisements based on content would violate the First Amendment. There are few universities, however, where the administration exercises this type of control over the student paper.
At public elementary and secondary schools, the administration has the right to refuse to print Holocaust-denial advertisements in a student newspaper; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1988 decision, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, that "educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over. . . the content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concern." Based on that decision, it is clear that public school officials have the same right as student editors to reject Holocaust-denial advertisements, since this propaganda encourages bias and prejudice, offends many individuals and has a negative educational value.
The one case directly involving the substance of Holocaust-denial propaganda in an American court was a 1985 lawsuit brought against the IHR by Mel Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor living in Long Beach, California. In the early '80s, Mermelstein had responded to a cynical IHR publicity campaign which offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove that Jews had been gassed at Auschwitz by submitting evidence that members of his own family had been murdered at that concentration camp. When the IHR failed to comply with its promised terms, Mermelstein filed his suit. In July 1985, the lawsuit was settled in Mermelstein's favor. The settlement, approved by judge Robert Wenke of the Los Angeles Superior Court, called for the IHR to pay Mermelstein the $50,000 "reward," as well as an additional $40,000 for pain and suffering. Moreover, at a pre-trial hearing, the Court took judicial notice of the fact that gas chambers had been used to murder Jews at Auschwitz.
Several months later, Mermelstein won another victory against the Holocaust-denial movement. In January 1986, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Mermelstein $4.75 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages in a suit he had filed in 1981 against Ditlieb Felderer, a Swedish Holocaust denier whose publication, Jewish Information Bulletin (it is in fact none of these), had mocked the killing of Jews at Auschwitz and had attacked Mermelstein personally. Later that year, the IHR and Willis Carto sued Mermelstein, claiming he libeled them during a radio interview given in New York. In 1988, they voluntarily dropped the charges.
8. What have academic authorities said about Holocaust denial?
The History Department at Duke University, responding to a CODOH ad, unanimously adopted and published a statement noting: "That historians are constantly engaged in historical revision is certainly correct; however, what historians do is very different from this advertisement. Historical revision of major events. . . is not concerned with the actuality of these events; rather, it concerns their historical interpretation - their causes and consequences generally. There is no debate among historians about the actuality of the Holocaust... there can be no doubt that the Nazi state systematically put to death millions of Jews, Gypsies, political radicals and other people."
David Oshinsky and Michael Curtis of Rutgers University have written, "If one group advertises that the Holocaust never happened, another can buy space to insist that American Blacks were never enslaved. The stakes are high because college newspapers may soon be flooded with ads that present discredited assertions as if they were part of normal historical debate. If the Holocaust is not a fact, then nothing is a fact...."
Peter Hayes, Associate Professor of History and German at Northwestern University, responded to a Smith ad by stating, "[B]ear in mind that not a single one of the advances in our knowledge since 1945 has been contributed by the self-styled 'Revisionists' whom Smith represents. That is so because contributing to knowledge is decidedly not their purpose . . . . This ad is an assault on the intellectual integrity ... of academicians, whom Smith and his ilk wish to browbeat. It is also a throwback to the worst sorts of conspiracy-mongering of anti-Semitic broadside.... Is it plausible that so great and longstanding a conspiracy of repression could really have functioned? ... That everybody with a Ph.D. active in the field - German, American, Canadian, British, Israeli, etc. - is in on it together?... If one suspects it is, might it not be wise to do a bit of checking about Smith, his organization and his charges before running so implausible an ad?"
Perhaps most significantly, in December 1991, the governing council of the American Historical Association (AHA), the nation's largest and oldest professional organization for historians, unanimously approved a statement condemning the Holocaust-denial movement, stating, "No serious historian questions that the Holocaust took place." The council's action came in response to a petition circulated among members calling for an official statement against Holocaust-denial propaganda; the petition had been signed by more than 300 members attending the organization's annual conference. Moreover, in 1994, the AHA reaffirmed its position in a press release which stated that "the Association will not provide a forum for views that are, at best, a form of academic fraud."
Holocaust Denial Themes
The following are summaries of major assertions employed by Holocaust-denial propagandists, with brief factual responses.
1. The Holocaust Did Not Occur Because There Is No Single "Master Plan" for Jewish Annihilation
There is no single Nazi document that expressly enumerates a "master plan" for the annihilation of European Jewry. Holocaust-denial propagandists misrepresent this fact as an exposure of the Holocaust "hoax"; in doing so, they reveal a fundamentally misleading approach to the history of the era. That there was no single document does not mean there was no plan. The "Final Solution" the Nazis' comprehensive plan to murder all European Jews - was, as the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust observes, "the culmination of a long evolution of Nazi Jewish policy."2 The destruction process was shaped gradually: it was borne of many thousands of directives.3
The development and implementation of this process was overseen and directed by the highest tier of Nazi leadership, including Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann, Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler himself. For the previous two decades, Hitler had relentlessly pondered Jewish annihilation.4 In a September 16, 1919, letter he wrote that while "the Jewish problem" demanded an "anti-Semitism of reason" - comprising systematic legal and political sanctions - "the final goal, however, must steadfastly remain the removal of the Jews altogether."5
Throughout the 1920s, Hitler maintained that "the Jewish question" was the "pivotal question" for his Party and would be solved "with well-known German thoroughness to the final consequence."6 With his assumption to power in 1933, Hitler's racia