Lying About the Holocaust: Inside the Denial Movement
National borders don't mean much in the international Holocaust denial business, but America is playing a special role.
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.
But Americans have done much more than merely contribute to the storehouse of Holocaust denial literature. They have institutionalized the enterprise.
In 1978, Willis Carto — founder and head of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby, based in Washington, D.C. — spun off a new organization called the Institute for Historical Review (IHR).
It presented itself as a legitimate historical research group, devoted to "revisionism" — a term hijacked from a school of credible historians who offered new interpretations for the origins of World War I. But in fact, it was made up of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and it would draw expertise from the like-minded from around the world.
Its mission was to erase the Holocaust by any means at its disposal — including distortion, misquotation and outright falsification.
IHR's first annual conference was held in 1979. As in subsequent meetings, deniers from around the world attended and helped to introduce some key American extremists to Holocaust denial.
David Duke, the neo-Nazi who was then the national leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was so taken with the idea that he followed up the conference with an issue of his Crusader newspaper that he dubbed the "Special Holocaust Edition."
In the same way, National Socialist Party of America leader Frank Collin enthusiastically embraced denial, saying, "There was no Holocaust, but they deserve one — and will get it."
To this day, IHR's yearly conferences are key events that offer networking opportunities for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites from around the world.
Constructing the Myth
A critical contribution by IHR was its attempt to encourage fellow anti-Semites to avoid Collin's type of blatant venom, and instead to couch their politics in distortions of history and science meant to sound reasonable.
Though the theories that resulted were far out, they had at least the appearance of legitimacy, as did the Journal of Historical Review that the IHR would soon begin to publish.
Deniers would claim, for example, that the Anne Frank diary is a fraud because it had alterations made with a postwar ballpoint pen (they didn't mention that the marks were made later by Frank's father).
They would assert that the ovens were not capable of burning as many bodies as the Allies had said were disposed of after gassing. They lied about the qualities of the Zyklon B gas used to kill Jews, the operation of the Einsatzgruppen (the mobile killing squads which shot more than 1 million Jews on the Eastern Front), and hundreds of other facts.
Through it all, they sought to give the appearance of honest, if skeptical, students of history.
So it's no surprise that IHR liked the look of Irving, a man who had written a whole series of books about World War II and who increasingly, over the years, became a denier of the Holocaust.
As evidence in the London trial would later disclose, Irving was first invited to the annual IHR meeting in 1980. He began attending in 1983, and went on to speak before at least five more conferences, in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1995, as well as at numerous other IHR events.
Irving's value — as a prolific writer with a reputation as a historian — was so apparent to IHR that he was introduced in 1990 as "a kind of one-man IHR."
Irving had for years tried to keep a foot in two worlds — that of the radical right and that of respectability. He was known as a good writer and an industrious researcher, someone who had tracked down not only unique documents, but also many of Hitler's former adjutants.
He didn't exactly deny the Holocaust — he rather minimized it, suggesting that the numbers of Jews killed was much smaller than commonly believed, while, he asserted, the number of German civilians killed by the Allies was greater than acknowledged.
To the extent there was a Holocaust, he argued, it wasn't the handiwork of Hitler, whom he believed to be the Jews' "best friend" among the Nazis, but that of Heinrich Himmler and others.
In 1988, Irving agreed to testify in the trial of Ernst Zündel, a German national living in Canada who was facing prosecution there (for the second time) for denying the Holocaust.
Before the trial, Zündel had searched out an American "expert" on gas chambers — a man named Fred Leuchter who had worked with some state prisons on their methods of capital punishment, but who, as it later turned out, had only a bachelor's degree in history and no engineering license.
Zündel sent Leuchter to Auschwitz, where he illegally broke some chunks off a wall, sent them to a lab, and wrote a report concluding that people had not been gassed to death there.
The report was grossly flawed, of course, and it was not allowed as expert evidence in Zündel's trial. But it had one immediate convert — David Irving, who was so impressed that he described it as "exact science" and went on to issue a copy of it under his own imprint, accompanied by his own foreword.
It was a turning point for Irving. In a letter to American denier Arthur Butz, Irving said "the documents I saw at Toronto shattered several of my former beliefs." It wasn't long before Irving was attacking Holocaust survivors in vulgar terms.
"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz," he would tell one audience. "It's baloney. It's a legend. Once we admit the fact that it was a brutal slave labor camp and large numbers of people did die, as large numbers of innocent people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney?
"I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."
In London, a Historic Trial
In 1993, two books appeared about Holocaust denial, my own (Holocaust Denial) and, more significantly, that of Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt.
Entitled Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, she called Irving, among other things, "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." In 1994, her book was also published in Great Britain by Penguin, Ltd.
Irving, who was by now finding it more difficult to have major publishers print his work, sued Lipstadt in London for libel. He could not have done so successfully in the United States, since libel laws make it very difficult for plaintiffs — especially public figures — to prevail here.
But in Great Britain, once the plaintiff shows that a book was published which is defamatory, even if true, the burden shifts to the defendant, under the principle of "you wrote it, now back it up."
Between January and April 2000, the case of Irving v. Penguin and Lipstadt was heard before Mr. Justice Gray at the High Court in London.
In the months that led up to the trial, defense experts pored over Irving's books, tracking his footnotes back to their sources — something that had not been done systematically before. What emerged was a consistent pattern of distortion that exonerated the Nazis in general, and Hitler in particular.
Every historian, of course, makes mistakes. But, as the defense experts made clear, Irving's factual errors were always in one direction.
On April 11, 2000, the court issued a 349-page decision, declaring complete victory for Lipstadt and her publisher.
"It appears to me," Justice Gray wrote, "that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier. ... Irving is anti-Semitic. ... Irving is a racist. ... Irving [is] a right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist."
Truth, Memory and Evidence, Too
The trial was not only a victory for "truth and memory," as Lipstadt had so eloquently put it. It also produced extensive evidence — largely in the form of Irving's meticulously detailed diaries, which the court gave the defense access to — of Irving's international connections, and of his frequent disingenuousness.
For example, Irving denied any contact with the National Alliance, the West Virginia-based organization headed by William Pierce, a key former member of the American Nazi Party and the author of The Turner Diaries, a novel of race war that served Timothy McVeigh as a blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing.
But the defense was able to show that Irving not only had corresponded with National Alliance members (at least one of whom had written to Irving on National Alliance stationery), but also that the group had regularly organized events for Irving in the United States, including at least two in 1995, three in 1996 and two in 1997.
In fact, Irving's diaries gave proof positive of his close association with far-right racist and anti-Semitic parties and figures around the world, including nearly two decades of involvement with the major figures at the IHR (Willis Carto, Mark Weber, Tom Marcellus, Greg Raven and others), whose conferences he attended six times.
Irving also had connections to the neofascist British National Party, the [British] Clarendon Club and many German Nazis and neo-Nazis including Ernst Zündel; Ewald Bela Althans; the far-right party, Deutsche Volksunion, and its leader Gerhard Frey; Ostrat Günter Deckert; Karl Philipp; Ernst Otto Remer; Christian Worch; Ingrid Weckert; Michael Swierczek, Udo Walendy and others.
That wasn't all. One of Irving's contacts was Ahmed Rami, head of Sweden-based Radio Islam and a key promoter of anti-Semitism worldwide.
(Rami's Web site contains a treasure trove of antisemitica, including the notorious Czarist forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and speeches by American Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black separatist Nation of Islam (NOI). The NOI publishes materials blaming Jews for the slave trade and even invited Holocaust denier Arthur Butz to address its "Saviour's Day" celebration.)
Rami, along with certain Arab governments and groups, has used Irving's and IHR's materials as anti-Israel propaganda.
Presented at trial with extensive evidence as to the nature of IHR, Irving had to concede that it contained "some elements which are cracked anti-Semites," but he maintained that he had only been an occasional speaker at the IHR's conferences.
Yet his diaries showed that his lengthy association with the institute was so close that when it split into Carto and anti-Carto factions in 1993, it was Irving — a foreign guest speaker — who attempted to resolve the Americans' differences.
The wealth of fundraising opportunities in America is another aspect of this country's importance in the international Holocaust denial business — a fact reflected in Irving's diaries.
In 1993, for instance, Irving was invited by IHR to participate in a press conference attacking the April opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Irving agreed — in return for a fee, air fare, and an advertisement in the IHR's Journal of Historical Review for his "fighting fund," set up to finance Irving's battle to avoid being banned from Canada and Australia.
In May 1993, Irving wrote to IHR principals Mark Weber and Greg Raven, saying that "[l]ast month's appeal for Fighting Fund brought in $2,270: thanks, America!"
His diaries are replete with similar entries. "October 1, 1995 [at a Cleveland meeting organized by the National Alliance] ... Fine meeting, around 150 people, many ethnic Germans, gate of $500 as agreed, plus $1700 book sales." And again, at another Alliance event: "September 21, 1996 ... started to talk to small audience ... about seventeen people ... Book sales $1,300 plus $500 fee."
A decade ago, Irving could count on groups of neo-Nazis in Australia, Canada, Germany and elsewhere to come hear his lectures and buy his books. He is now banned from those countries and has been discredited in the United Kingdom.
While he has still been able to raise funds elsewhere, Irving increasingly has had to rely on his American audiences for political and, especially, financial support.
Coming to America
Earlier this year, the IHR was scheduled to hold its annual conference in Beirut, in conjunction with a Swiss denier named Jürgen Graf who has found asylum in nearby Iran.
Lebanese authorities, responding to international pressure, ordered the meeting cancelled, but it was recently reported that new Syrian President Bashar Assad (who during a recent papal visit revived the accusation that the Jews had killed Christ) may approve such a meeting in Damascus before the end of the year.
Whether or not that occurs, the trouble in Lebanon reflected the difficulties that deniers face in many countries — and the resulting attraction of the United States.
Take Ernst Zündel, the German national who fought for years to win Canadian citizenship. Recently, he gave up on his Canadian application, moved to Tennessee and married Ingrid Rimland, the American who for many years has run his Web site from there in order to obtain First Amendment protections. Still, coming to America has hardly changed Zündel's global focus.
"Revisionism has broken out of the Arab beachhead," Zündel exulted recently, "and is now spreading into the vast desert beyond, much like Erwin Rommel. ... If Revisionism spreads in the Middle East, I foresee scenes in Tel Aviv ... reminiscent of the Americans abandoning Saigon — with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon climbing into a helicopter gunship from the rooftop of the Tel Aviv Hilton!"
Germar Rudolf, a German convicted in that country of Holocaust denial, is another example. Rudolf is now asking for political asylum in the United States, saying he is being persecuted for his beliefs.
Rudolf lives in Alabama, apparently near IHR board member Robert Countess, who has been promoting his work. He was recently appointed to the advisory committee of the IHR's Journal of Historical Review.
And this summer, Rudolf submitted a 300-plus-page affidavit to Irving to support the Briton's application for the right to appeal the Lipstadt trial findings.
Finally, Irving himself, who reportedly spends a good part of the year in Florida, has begun holding so-called "real history" conferences in Cincinnati. The first two conferences, held in 1999 and 2000, were addressed by Germar Rudolf. Irving's third conference is set for Labor Day weekend, again in Cincinnati.
It seems clear today that the machinery and main proponents of Holocaust denial increasingly will operate from American soil. The IHR (which recently won its 8-year-old battle with Carto, see The Spotlight, Extinguished) shows no sign of abating its activities, and in fact still functions as a connecting point for anti-Semites from around the world.
David Irving may consider himself a proud Briton. David Duke may see himself as a loyal American. But for these two anti-Semites, race — a classification that transcends national boundaries — is more important than any other factor.
That view, typical of the radical right today, makes it clear that a significant part of anti-Semitic and racial hatred in the 21st century will be an international affair.
Kenneth S. Stern is the author of three books, including Holocaust Denial, and is the American Jewish Committee's expert on anti-Semitism and political extremism. He was a special adviser to the defense in the Irving V. Penguin and Lipstadt trial, the record of which is available at www.holocaustdenialontrial.org.