Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist
THE THINKING IS PREOCCUPIED crazily with Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. There are days in the mountains when I can’t get the thinking to address the work. It’s as if thought has grown legs and is running away with me. Butz writes simply and with so much self-assurance I can’t dismiss him. I know my ignorance of the literature is responsible for my being so open to his observations and claims. I have no perspective of my own. At the same time, his Hoax is extensively referenced. It would take months of diligent reading and cross-checking of sources to know if he’s being serious or pulling my leg. It’s work for scholars, not for me. I feel certain Butz is on to something, but I’m afraid of being suckered into a point of view that I won’t be able to support without a tremendous amount of work. I can’t ignore the questions his book raises. It’s gone beyond ignoring. I’m stuck with it.
I’m absolutely alone with this. I don’t know one reputable historian or intellectual in America to turn to for a learned response to Butz’s book. I’m on my own. This isn’t something I should be alone with. It’s not just an idea or line of thought that’s at stake. If I don’t dismiss Butz, everything is at risk. Friends, neighbors, reputation, career. My lifelong understanding of my relationship to the history of my age. It sounds a little grandiose but that’s how I see it. I will be unable to drift with the tides of the age. If I dismiss Butz without first nailing down where he’s gone wrong, I will have done something shameful. Secretly, I will know for the rest of my life what I have done–and why.
Professor Butz appears to feel less feverish than I do over the prospect of not buying the orthodox historical beliefs of our time. He’s made of sterner stuff than I am. I feel like a storm is blowing through my head, through my heart. At this very moment I see an image of a southern belle, the back of one hand held to her forehead, about to faint with a bad case of the vapors. The image resembles Gainsborough’s portrait of Pinky. Some hidden mechanism in the brain is trying to tell me that when I look back on these days I’ll see what a sissy I’m being.
In his forward to The Hoax Butz writes calmly:
“Noting the obvious way in which this legend [that is, the Holocaust] is exploited in contemporary politics, notably in connection with the completely illogical support that the U.S. extends to Israel, I had long had lingering doubts about it. . . .”Elementary investigation into the question, of the sort the non-historian customarily does, led me nowhere. The meager amount of literature in the English language which denied the truth of the legend was not only unconvincing: it was so unreliable and unscrupulous in the employment of sources, when sources were employed, that it had a negative effect, so that the case of the truth of the essentials of the legend (disregarding quantitative problems, e,g., whether it was six million or four million or only three million) seemed strengthened. At the time I became aware that there existed additional literature in French or German but, being quite unaccustomed to reading texts in those languages except on rare occasions when I consulted a paper in a French or German mathematics journal, I did not undertake to acquire copies of the foreign language literature. Moreover, I assumed that if such literature was worth more than what was being published in English, somebody would have published English translations.
“Still possessing my lingering doubts I sat down, early in 1972, and started to read some of the “holocaust” literature itself rather more systematically than I had previously, in order to see just what claims where made in this connection and on what evidence. Fortunately, one of my first choices was Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews. The experience was a shock and a rude awakening, for Hilberg’s book did what the opposition literature could never have done.I not only became convinced that the legend of the several million gassed Jews must be a hoax, but I derived what turned out to be a fairly reliable `feel’ for the remarkable cabalistic mentality that had given the lie its specific form. (Those who want to experience the `rude awakening’ somewhat as I did may stop here and consult pp 567-71 of Hilberg.)”
This evening after supper I walk down the hill to Pickwick Bookstore and buy Hilberg’s Destruction. I feel a little excited thinking that I might discover in a single passage where the Holocaust story went off the track. On pages 567-71 Hilberg treats with the manufacture and distribution of Zyklon B insecticide. There are tables of organization for its manufacturers and distributors. I read over the five pages noted by Butz several times but I am not rudely awakened. Then my eye is caught by a single sentence:
“Almost the whole Auschwitz supply (of Zyklon) was needed for the gassing of people; very little was used for fumigation.”
Hilberg documents this assertion with the statements of one Jewish survivor and one former Austrian intelligence agent who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz. Hilberg is talking about the substance supposedly used to commit the greatest mass murder in history. In a hugely documented book he uses the statements of two men, neither of which had been in a position to know for certain that their claims were true, to document his assertion.
Butz holds that Zyklon B was used extensively by the Germans to protect camp inmates against typhus. He indexes typhus seventeen times in The Hoax. He discusses the problem of typhus at Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau. He writes about the typhus epidemic at Auschwitz during the summer of 1942 “which resulted in the closing of the Buna factory for two months starting around 1 August.” There’s a photograph in his book of a sign at Belsen posted by the British after they liberated the camp warning of a “5 mph speed limit” because “dust spreads typhus.” Hilberg doesn’t think it worth his while to index typhus in Destruction.
It looks to me like Hilberg and Butz have a few things to talk over. Hilberg published his book in 1961. Now Butz has replied to it. The ball is in Hilberg’s court but he doesn’t want to play. Why not? Nobody else has responded to Butz either. Why not? Butz has laid his cards on the table. He has offered himself up to the historians and intellectuals of the age and not one has been willing to do the decent thing. Hilberg is quoted everywhere while Butz is suppressed everywhere. I don’t like it. I’m on Butz’s side against Hilberg. When Hilberg response to Butz openly and fairly, I’ll be on Hilberg’s side too. As long as Hilberg cooperates in suppressing Butz by evading him, I’ll be with Butz.
Hilberg has done an immense amount of work with his The Destruction of European Jewry During Wold War II. It will be relevant for generations to come. But his purposeful ignoring of Butz’s work is contemptible. Hilberg has the support and respect of every historian in America and yet he is unwilling to respond to his one critic, Butz. I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes in academia. In my heart I think I know what’s fair. Butz had done the fair thing. He has published his book. He’s called the Hilbergs of the world to account. He had called a spade a spade. Hilberg and the intellectuals refuse to answer Butz. They’re doing the craven thing.
I’ve met my friend Betty at the Acapulco Mexican restaurant on La Cienega for dinner. We decide to have a few drinks at the bar. I’m trying to think what it is that I enjoy more than standing at a bar boozing with a good looking intelligent woman but my mind’s a blank. My first priority with Betty is to waste the evening, my second is to ask her to help me figure out how to start selling my writing so I can stop working the other jobs. I’ve been trying to sell the writing myself for 30 years and it’s been a no-go. I’m the only one Betty and me know who can’t figure out how to make a living in his chosen profession.
We tossed my problem around for three or four drinks. I begin to understand the gist of what she’s saying. I talk well, but my writing is something else again. I am considerably surprised at her telling me that. I don’t feel humiliated but I’m a little embarrassed. She says I should begin to give public readings. My work will come off better being listened to than being seen on the printed page. If I give readings I’ll meet people. Maybe I’ll meet someone who will offer to help promote the writing.
“Bradley,” she says, “you don’t have the least idea how to promote yourself.” She’s laughing gaily. “Oh, Bradley,” she says, “you need so much help.”
I think it’s admirable how easily she has gotten all that together. I order a couple more drinks. I think excitedly about places where I can read my stories and journals. I think about the new friends I will make. I’m going to lose the old ones so getting new friends sounds pretty good to me. I’ll become part of the literary circle in Los Angeles. I lost my circle when Jenny and I separated. It had been her circle so it stayed with her. I need my own circle. Everyone needs a circle.
Now I tell Betty about The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, about Faurisson and Bennett. I explain how I have come to think that there is something wrong with the gas chamber stories. I see she knows even less about the Holocaust than I do. While most people don’t know very much about the Holocaust, I say, everyone knows that everything they do know about it is true. Betty listens quietly. I waltz her around a while longer.
“What bothers me,” I say finally, “is that the Holocaust is over and done with. It was finished 35 years ago. Now it’s nothing. But if that’s so, why have I become so caught up with it?”
Betty laughs, but she’s thinking.
“I mean, sometimes I wonder what my motives are for being so interested in the Holocaust so long after it’s over. It didn’t interest me when I thought it was true. Why should I think it’s so interesting now that people are saying it isn’t true?”
“Why, Bradley,” Betty says seriously. “It’s tremendously important. What you’ve been telling me has to do with the great question of belief.”
One morning when I arrive at the job site in Escondido Canyon it begins to rain. The framers and I stand under a great old California oak. We watch the rain fall on the job and on the steep sumac-covered hill behind it. Across the little roadway the creek is already running swiftly. Higher up in the mountains the rain had started earlier. Joe lights a cigarette. In the moisture filled air the odor of the smoke is rich and tasty. The birds are grown still. The only sound is the falling rain. In my mind’s eye, hovering above the ridge line, I see us standing down here silently under the oak tree in our work clothes and quilted nylon jackets, the little canyon enveloped in rain and an immense peace.
I decide to take the day off. I drive out to the coast then down to Santa Monica. On a whim I stop at the library in Santa Monica. I go through the Book Review Digest and Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature looking for references to Faurisson and Rassinier. I’ve learned that Rassinier was the first major Holocaust revisionist. I can’t find anything on either of them. The librarian suggests I look in the New York Times Index. I’ve never used it before. I’ve used the Digest and the Guide a couple times when I wanted to find out what was being written about libertarian politics.
Butz’s name is listed in the Times Index five times in 1977. I’m surprised and excited to see him there. There is one article and four letters in response to it. The article is headlined: “Professor Causes Furor by Saying Nazi Slaying of Jews is a Myth.” In 1978 Butz’s name was mentioned once in passing.
The library has the Times article on microfilm. I discover that it had not been known at Northwestern University that one of its own had taken a swing at the Holocaust story from a revisionist perspective. Somebody on the staff of the student paper, the Daily Northwestern, had seen an article about Butz in the Jerusalem Post. When the Daily published its own article it apparently did so without interviewing Butz. It just rewrote the Post article. As the Times reports it:
“The Daily Northwestern’s story on the book brought a flood of letters from students and faculty members, most of them denouncing Mr. Butz and deploring the book.”Petitions were circulated this week and signed by many faculty members and students. Their petitions warned that the book only added ‘academic legitimacy to anti-Semitic propaganda.’ The petitions also criticize the Northwestern administration for failing to express any personal outrage over the book’s allegations. . .
“Provost Raymond W. Mack, speaking for the University, issued a statement yesterday saying he agreed with his faculty colleagues and students who believed that a distortion of well-documented historical facts constituted a “contemptible insult to the dead and bereaved.”
“The text of the protest petition and the names of many signers will appear in an advertisement in tomorrow’s Daily Northwestern. A statement at the bottom, signed by Rabbi Marc Gellman, director of the campus B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, notes the university’s ‘belated but welcome’ statement.”
I was amazed by the reported intolerance of the academics at Northwestern but I wasn’t surprised. There was no evidence in the article that even one professor who had denounced and deplored Butz’s book had laid eyes on it. A couple kids on a student paper had pressed the well-known anti-anti-Semite button. Students and professors alike had jerked to attention and parroted the anti-anti-Semite party line. I had heard the anti-anti-Semite caper used for years to suppress criticism of United States policy toward Israel. Now here it was being used to silence criticism of Holocaust orthodoxy.
It’s late afternoon and I’m delivering a load of lumber to a job site up on top of Topanga Canyon. The Canyon itself is already in shade and the air is chilly. This morning when I sat down to type it was still dark, as usual. The next time I looked up from the machine the horizon to the east was aflame with sunlight while overhead the sky was capped with thick black clouds. All day the beauty of what I had seen influenced me, urging me ever so lightly toward right action, toward right relationship.
Now, while I drive slowly up the winding road in the Canyon I’m listening to a Pakistani on KPFK radio discussing American-Soviet relations. His intellectual sensibilities are of so high an order that I feel transfixed listening to him. Following the nuances of his observations my feelings resemble those I have experienced hearing fast powerful symphonic music. His learning, his care to distinguish between similar but separate ideas, his clarity of expression are far beyond my own. I reflect on how powerful, sensitive intellects flower irrespective of the political conditions or the cultural history of the society in which they live. I feel comforted. I have been reminded of one attribute of the race that is in all our favor. I feel a sense of brotherhood for men everywhere flooding my heart.
I drive the truck up out of the darkening canyon into the last sunlight of the day and off-load the lumber at the job site. Then I go in the house to talk to my friend Beatrice. I half-dreaded to do it but I wanted to tell her about Butz and The Hoax of the Twentieth Century and about how the book is being suppressed. I weaseled around for half an hour but finally got to it. Her reaction was abruptly dismissive, not of me personally but of revisionist claims. I don’t know how to describe the tone of our conversation. She hasn’t heard of Butz or of his book either. She immediately questions his motives for having written it. In all likelihood, she says, he belongs to a lunatic fringe or he’s an anti-Semite. It’s only natural that his peers won’t comment on a book written by such a man.
When I mention Faurisson and Rassinier Beatrice says: “Sure. French. The French are the worst anti-Semites in Europe.” I get sidetracked trying to convince her that other Europeans are just as anti-Semitic as the French. It isn’t something I know very much about. Several times she asks me if I have seen the “photographs.” I say I have. We don’t discuss which photographs. I take it for granted she means the photographs taken at the German camps in the western theater when they were captured by the British and Americans. She appears satisfied that I will know automatically which photographs. In each instance we go on to talk about something else. I never find out for certain which photographs I have admitted to seeing or what, precisely, their significance is. I don’t even ask.
I say it is almost certain that I am going to write something on the Holocaust. It will be something from a free press angle. Even at that, I say, I’m afraid I will be branded as an anti-Semite. I’m afraid that everything I write afterwards will be considered contaminated by what I will have written previously about the Holocaust.
“That’s right, Bradley.” She holds her nose with her thumb and forefinger and lifts it up. “It’s going to smell all over the place.”
I’m at a loss for words.
“Bradley,” she says, “what’s in this for you? You’ve never been interested in the Jews. You’ve never empathized with their suffering. What’s in it for you now?”
I say it excites me to think about the possibility that a contemporary horror story that’s believed by everyone is probably built on fraud and falsehood. “I don’t know. It just excites me. Just that part of it alone is a tremendous story. But what’s really nailed me to this thing is how it’s being suppressed and that those who are suppressing it are absolutely obsessive and fanatical about it. And it’s not fair about guys like Butz. It’s not fair that he’s dismissed out of hand. It offends me. You should see the book. It’s a real book. He isn’t wrong about everything. No man is. The intellectuals owe it to me to tell me where he’s wrong and where he’s right too. What the hell’s going on here? It’s not right. It offends me that the intellectuals beat their chests about how important the Holocaust is then refuse to allow the details of the event to be debated. I think that’s what stinks.”
“Well, you’re right about that,” Beatrice says. “The historians have a professional obligation to at least look at the material in their field. Especially if it’s documented.”
This evening in the apartment my thoughts return again and again to Beatrice’s question, “What’s in it for you, Bradley?” This afternoon I’d felt half shaken by the question. I will never be able to prove that I have good motives for not dismissing revisionist writings out of hand. Tonight, thought won’t let it go. “What’s in it for you? What’s in it for you?” I don’t know. But inside the head thought is cooking away on it. Cooking away. Then I hear thought ask, What’s in it for the others? What’s in it for those persons who want to believe that Germans holocausted Jews in poison gas chambers? What’s in it for those who want to censor and shut up open debate about those accusations? What’s in it for those who become enraged at expressions of doubt about what they themselves believe? What’s in it for all those people? What’s always in it, thought says, for true believers.
It occurs to me than that the true believer might respond to Holocaust revisionism with rage for the same reason I respond to it with interest. I don’t want to be lied to about the Holocaust. The true believer doesn’t want to be lied to about it either. Do we each approach the literature with the same demand–that we not be lied to? Is that possible? How is it possible for two individuals, each adamant in his contempt for lying, to be at loggerheads over any specific issue? Is the hatred for lying felt by one of us compromised by certain desires that remain unexpressed? By a secret agenda?
The Twisted Cross, narrated by Alexander Scourby, is being aired on television. It’s about Adolf Hitler so it isn’t strictly a documentary. It portrays Hitler as ugly, unimaginative, brutal and stupid. The Germans people are pictured as being like Hitler. It’s an outrageously propagandistic film, the kind of film produced at the height of a great conflict, a chauvinistic orgy decrying the enemies of the State. The Twisted Cross, however, was produced in 1981, thirty-six years after Hitler shot himself and the war ended. Now it’s being exhibited on KPFK, a public television station supported by “the people.”
Who hears a great cry from the people for more cheap, twisted propagandistic films about a man and a movement that have been dead for so long? Whose purpose does it serve to exhibit it on “public television? It doesn’t serve those who might want to get a clear picture of the multiple origins of World War Two. Or those who might want to gain some insight into why tens of millions of ordinary individuals supported the Hitlerian regime. It doesn’t help anyone who wants to watch an honest and objective review of Mr. Hitler.
There are those in media who believe that it is a little elegant to be involved with exhibiting crappy propaganda films that flog dead Nazis while they cover up the war crimes of Democrats and Republicans. At this hour the planet is aswarm with multitudes forced to lick the boots of their despotic rulers. Media intellectuals urge us to treat the despots of our own age with understanding, evenhandedness and good will. They speak of the despots of their fathers’ time with moral outrage and great courage. They speak of living despots with a brilliantly restrained circumspection. They are not ill-willed people. They are most ignorant about that which they believe most deeply. It’s a commonplace state of affairs. Ignorance and true belief ar what go best together.
I’m standing on Hollywood Boulevard in front of a Popeye’s fried chicken joint thinking about seeing a movie when my old friend Jo sticks her head out the door and calls my name. She’s about sixty-five years old now and overweight but she’s still lively and talkative. She looks to be in good health but mentions she has cancer and has just returned from a cancer treatment center in Tijuana. Jo tells me how it’s been with her, it hasn’t been that good, so I decide to tell her the truth about what I’m doing.
“You’re one of those?,” she says. “Just hearing the word revisionist makes me angry.” She reaches over the table top and pats my hand. “That doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re a nice man, Bradley, but I don’t see how you can do it.”
“I’ve hardly told you anything about it, Jo.”
“You don’t have to. I’ve heard about those people. I don’t blame Jews for being angry at them. I’ve never read anything they’ve written but I’m angry at them myself.” She pats my hand again. “I don’t mean I’m angry at you, honey.”
I tell her my Elie Wiesel story about how he claims that when some Jews were shot at Babi Yar that for months afterward their corpses spurted geysers of blood from their graves. She blinks. A smile starts to appear at one corner of her mouth but she stops it. Then her face turns angry. Jo has always had a wonderfully expressive face.
“Are you trying to tell me that Hitler was something different from what we have always known he was?”
“How did we get from Elie Wiesel to Hitler?”
“I can see where it’s leading. I don’t like it. How old were you during the war? After everything American boys went through over there, what are you saying about that? This whole subject makes me angry. Sitting here I can feel how the anger is coming up.”
I don’t know what to say. I recall that her former husband had been the right age to have fought in Europe.
“I can’t help it, Bradley. It makes me uncomfortable hearing what you’re saying. Now I can see that I’ve made you feel strange too. I’m sorry.”
I walk her to the bus stop. She shows me a purple and black scarf and a pair of purple shoes she bought this afternoon. She says she’s had to give up her car, that she can’t afford to drive it any longer. “Life isn’t as easy as it used to be, honey.” She sounds very brave and cheerful about things. She really always was. While we stroll along chatting thought recalls the night I met her twenty five years ago. She had come into the bookstore and I had almost let her get away. I ran down Hollywood Boulevard after her like a kid. I was thirty-one years old. Just to look at her had been so exciting that my body had begun to tremble. It had started in the legs but by the time she had left the store even my voice was shaking.I caught up with her at the corner of Las Palmas and asked if I couldn’t ring her up.
“Mmmmm,” she said. “I’d like that.”
A couple nights later we had dinner then drove out to South Central to a tiny frame bungalow not far from where I had grown up. In the early 1960s that part of the city was already Black. Mother was still living there in our old house. Jo and I sat in the tiny front room with a few other Whites chatting with Dorothy Healey, who at that time was California’s best known Communist. It had been Jo’s idea. While Jo wasn’t politically well-informed she attended the left radical Unitarian church on 8th Street. Ms. Healey appeared to believe that I agreed with her on a lot of issues where I didn’t. Jo, who was a dozen years older than me and too beautiful to even be in that little house, sat at my feet laughing and laying her hand on my thigh.
Healey knew who I was because I was in the middle of a long trial where I was being prosecuted for refusing to remove Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer from my display windows and selling a copy of the book to an undercover police officer. At that time the book was still banned by the U.S. Government. Many people took it for granted that because I butted heads with the State over a censorship issue that I was on the left. I wasn’t on the right but I was never on the left. I didn’t know where I was politically. All I understood was that on almost every issue I was against almost every body.
I didn’t feel particularly annoyed at being prosecuted over Tropic. My sense of things was that I would sell the book as a matter of course and that as a matter of course the Government would prosecute me. I understood that Christians were particularly offended by the book. They saw it as pornography. Overwhelmingly, Jews and my Jewish friends were on my side and the side of a free press. They didn’t worry about Christian sensibilities. When it was pornography my Jewish friends where on the side of the First Amendment. I had no background arguing First Amendment issues. My sense of things was that I would feel humiliated if I participated in black-balling a book that I had read with so much interest and pleasure. It would be wrong to refuse to allow a writer to bear the responsibility for revealing in his books what he thought and how he really felt. For me, it wasn’t a matter of law, but of sensibility.