Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist
I PAUSED TO ACCEPT a photocopy of a newspaper article he was handing out when he quickly started telling me that the stories that six million Jews had been exterminated during World War II are not true.
I felt stunned, as if Buck Rogers had somehow come down from the 21st century and zapped me with a beam from his ray gun. I had heard about people like the little man who was confronting me, who deny that the Holocaust happened, but I had never actually seen one.
He was a small, thin, middle-aged man with a white pointy beard, clear blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. The picture of health. He talked fast (though in a well-mannered, articulate way) as if he were afraid he would lose me.
In the first instant I didn’t truly grasp what he was saying; then I understood that he was telling me that there had been no Nazi gas chambers — none – that the stories I had heard all my life about the gas chambers were meant to gain sympathy for Jews at the expense of Germans. I felt my heart change its beat and pick up speed. I felt sweat appear on the palms of my hands.
The first thing I wanted to do was to get away. We were on the mezzanine of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles; there were a lot of people standing around and I supposed that he had proselytized the others before I had arrived. The others then had already heard what I was hearing now, and in my imagination each of them had one eye on me, waiting to see what my first move would be, waiting to judge me.
I felt ashamed listening to the man talk about Jews. I felt ashamed holding the photocopied articles in my hand. I could not have repeated anything he had said after his first few words; my brain had closed itself down in self-defense and yet: I was aware that he sounded knowledgeable and sincere.
I felt trapped between his sincerity and my shame. I wanted to get away from him, to hand back his flyers and turn away so that those who were watching would see that I rejected out of hand everything he was saying. At the same time, because of his honest and open manner, I didn’t want to cause him embarrassment by publicly rejecting him. I had never looked into the history of the Holocaust, had never examined any of the primary documents used to support the literature, so in my ignorance I felt I had no right, really, to believe or disbelieve any statement about it whatever. I didn’t feel I had the right to embarrass another man simply because he doubted what I believed. If sincerity isn’t to be taken seriously in human relationship, what is?
In the end the little man with the white devil’s beard and the very blue eyes made my decision for me when he turned to a new arrival and began his spiel all over again from the beginning.
Feeling defiled somehow by the flyers in my hand, I walked toward a large trash can. Even at that moment I knew that the problem wasn’t so much that I was holding the flyers as that I was being observed by others to be holding them. I had accepted the flyers innocently in deference to another’s sincerity. The shame I felt, the defilement, did not come from inside me but from the others, from what I understood to be the standards of my peers.
As I approached the trash can I glanced down at the lead article in one flyer. It was titled, “The Problem of the Gas Chambers, or The Rumor of Auschwitz.”
What Rumor?, I thought. What problem? There wasn’t anything that rang a bell for me. The author of the article was a certain Professor Robert Faurisson. I’d never heard of him. Then I noticed that the article had originally been published in Le Monde, the Paris daily. It was confusing. I had no idea at all what the problem of the gas chambers might be, or what the rumor of Auschwitz referred to. It sounded crazy. And I’d never heard of Faurisson. But I did know about Le Monde. My understanding was that Le Monde was one of a handful of world-class newspapers.
What, then, was Le Monde doing publishing an article critical of the Holocaust, or the gas chambers, or whatever? A moment before I had intended to drop the flyers into the trash on principle. In my circle you did not read material that might make Jews feel uncomfortable. It was a principle. It was necessary in my circle to maintain principles about some few things. Not many, but some. At the last moment I folded the flyers and put them in my back pocket. All that day I went about my business, the flyers folded up secretly in my pocket. That night, alone in my room, like a thief, I took them out and read them, all the while conscious of the fearfulness in my behavior, the lack of self-respect. I was aware that I was reading something that everyone I knew, and all the people I liked best, would think bigoted and dirty, and that I was doing it at a time and in a place where they could not find me out. I had spent years learning to accept the weaknesses in my character, and to stand aside from them, yet there I was, 49 years old, hiding in my room with a newspaper article, fearful and ashamed.