Lying About the Holocaust: Inside the Denial Movement

On Friday morning, Oct. 28, 1994, in Kenner, La., British author David Irving woke at 7:30 a.m., went to Denny's for breakfast, didn't like the tea (so he didn't pay for it), then spent all day at the "Great New Orleans Militaria Show," where he sold $650 worth of his books and spent $20 on a Goebbels postcard.

When he returned to his hotel at 6:20 that evening, there was a message waiting from David Duke, America's best-known former Ku Klux Klan leader. Irving returned the call.

They talked and, as agreed, they met the next night when Irving spoke at the North Kenner library. After the lecture Duke, Irving and Duke's fiancée went to dinner. The following night they had dinner together again, this time at Duke's home in Metairie.

After they ate, Duke "gave me a chapter of his draft memoirs to run my eye over," Irving wrote in his private diary, parts of which are now part of a London court record.

"[I]mmediately, I seized a pen and began sub editing it, with the result that he wants me to edit everything he's written to now. Several chapters of his quasi Mein Kampf." The manuscript was, in the words of the British writer, "much better than I anticipated, [containing] many insights. . . . [It] deserves success."

In the months that followed, Irving and Duke would frequently dine together. They played tennis, went to a disco, and also met with an assortment of U.S. white supremacists, including old-timers Willis Carto and Eustace Mullins.

Irving continued to edit Duke's manuscript (a racist tract that would turn into My Awakening, with chapters on black intellectual "inferiority," Jewish "supremacism," Holocaust denial and an "Aryan vision" for America) and tried to find him a publisher.

In turn, Duke loaned Irving money and gave him 404 names of his "best" contributors — a list which Irving wrote that he planned to "milk."

At first blush, this cozy collaboration seems odd — a prolific British writer, known for best-selling books such as Hitler's War, hobnobbing with an American known for his association with the nation's oldest terrorist group. But it is not.

The Duke-Irving relationship is a reflection of the international agenda and network of those who would deny the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews by the German Nazis in World War II.

Holocaust denial, in fact, may be the single most potent ideological force tying together a variety of extremists from around the globe — including old Nazis, neo-Nazis, anti-Israeli Arab governments, American black supremacists and others.

Because denial is of interest to so many extremists, it has spawned hundreds of contacts like the Duke-Irving connection that have helped to internationalize both the aims and the ties of the radical right.

And because of the First Amendment and the wealth of many U.S. far-right-wingers, America has come to play a special — even a critical — role in the falsification of this history.

The Roots of Holocaust Denial
Holocaust denial began with the Nazis, who carried out their murderous program in secret and couched it in misleading terminology. But German Nazis, and others of their countrymen later, were not the Third Reich's most credible defenders.

That task would fall to others, European and American neofascists who understood that a Nazi revival was possible only if the accusation of Nazi genocide of the Jews — an accusation backed by mountains of evidence — was somehow eliminated.

Americans were prominent in early postwar denial circles. Austin J. App, a professor of English at the University of Scranton, had defended Germany during World War II, claiming that it didn't desire to "dominate" Europe, but rather was legitimately attempting to get raw materials. Once the war ended, App energetically denied German atrocities.

More significant was Harry Elmer Barnes, an American isolationist who wrote a 1962 pamphlet called Blasting the Historical Blackout, in which he claimed that the Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia and Poland after the war suffered a fate "obviously far more hideous and prolonged than those of the Jews said to have been exterminated in great numbers by the Nazis."

Four years later, Barnes produced Revisionism: A Key to Peace, alleging that "it is alarmingly easy to demonstrate that the atrocities of the Allies in the same period were more numerous as to victims and were carried out for the most part by methods more brutal and painful than alleged extermination in gas ovens."

Genocide as 'Hoax'
In 1966, American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, interviewed in Playboy, took the argument one step further, saying it was "self-defense" for people to kill Jews.

"Are you implying that Hitler was justified in exterminating 6 million European Jews?" Playboy interviewer Alex Haley asked.

"I don't believe for one minute that any 6 million Jews were exterminated," Rockwell replied. "It never happened. You want me to prove it?" Rockwell then offered up statistics purporting to show that there were more Jews alive after the war than before it.

In 1976, another American, Arthur R. Butz, wrote The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. A professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University, Butz's book conceded that Jews were persecuted, but denied they were exterminated. Any gas chambers were for delousing, and not for mass murder, he claimed.

There would be others, too, including Gary "Gerhard" Lauck, a Nebraskan who wrote, published and helped smuggle Holocaust denial literature into Germany and other European countries in the 1980s and early 1990s.

To this day, U.S. groups such as the neo-Nazi National Alliance publish and sell denial material. To most of them, Jews intentionally made up the "Holohoax" as part of a nefarious plan to extract war reparations from Germany and to win the world's sympathy.

Europeans also have played an important part in this enterprise, but they have been hampered by laws that punish Holocaust denial and other statements seen as inciting racial hatred. This has left the Americans, with their speech protected by the First Amendment, in a unique and important position.

Of course, these deniers are only the latest in a long line of those who attributed all kinds of alleged horrors to the Jews — the murder of Jesus Christ, the poisoning of wells, the stealing of Christian children in order to drain their blood to make matzoh, plans to take over the world — that go back to the Middle Ages and beyond.

In America, automaker Henry Ford in the 1920s printed a three-year series that attacked Jews in a mass-circulation newspaper he owned, later republishing the series as the four-volume set, The International Jew. These publications did more than almost any others to popularize anti-Semitism in the United States.