Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist
(Slightly edited, June 1996)
I DIDN’T BELIEVE that the Israeli Government would really try John Demjanjuk as a mass murderer. There’s no credible evidence that he’s the man who, in 1943, was known as “Ivan the Terrible.” There’s no credible evidence that there were homicidal poison gas chambers at Treblinka. There’s no proof that about a million Jews were exterminated there. The whole story is ludicrous.
When it became evident that I’d been wrong about what the Israeli Government would do, my first reaction was to wish that someone from IHR would go to Jerusalem to cover the trial. I telephoned the Institute and told Hoffman what was on my mind. I pitched the idea enthusiastically. I pitched the idea that I was the one who should go. I became aware that while I was talking, Hoffman was laughing. I like Hoffman’s laugh, it’s nicely modulated and has an infectious tone, but at the moment it was distracting.
“Bradley,” he said, breaking into my spiel, “do you really think the Israelis are going to let you get away with writing honestly about the Demjanjuk trial from Israel? Because if you do, you’re the most innocent guy in the revisionist camp. Who carries your insurance, Bradley? Can I get on the policy?”
Later that afternoon McCalden rang me up and I pitched him on the idea of going to Israel to cover the Demjanjuk trial. He agreed it was a good idea but that it would cost too much to stay there for any length of time. The word going around was that the trial would last four months, maybe longer. I suggested that one of us find an Israeli family to stay with. Something like an inexpensive boarding house.
“That’s a good idea,” McCalden said, laughing into the telephone. “I think I’ll ring up some of my Israeli supporters and ask to stay over for a month or two.”
“What’s so funny?,” I said. “I’ve boarded and roomed in people’s homes from Mexico to Thailand. It’s commonplace. I don’t want to go to Israel and skulk around over there under false pretenses. Honesty in this business is the best policy. Where’s the problem? There is no problem. You haven’t looked into it. How do you know there’s a problem?”
“I think you’re wrong,” McCalden said. I don’t think you can get into the country if you tell the truth. That’s the problem. If I were going to go, I’d join a Hadassah group in Paris or London. Ten days or two weeks would be all I could afford. I wouldn’t write about it until I was back here. I’m not sure it’s worth it. Why should I risk my life in Israel when there’s so much work to do here? Any one of a dozen Jewish organizations over there could have me assassinated and blame it on Arab terrorists. There wouldn’t even be an investigation. I don’t like adventures when they have no purpose. We both know the Demjanjuk trial is going to be a farce. It won’t be necessary to go to Israel to document it.”
To hell with it, I decided. I had plenty of work to do here myself. I was getting ready to print Part I of Confessions as a tabloid. I’d use the tabloid to promote testimonials from other writers. I’d use their testimonials to promote the full manuscript to agents and publishers. Alicia had set aside nine hundred dollars from her house cleaning jobs to pay for the typing and printing. I can’t imagine where else I could have gotten the money.
McCalden rang me up one morning to say he was going to Israel to cover the Demjanjuk trial, which was scheduled to begin in November. A supporter would foot the bill. McCalden suggested I go with him. He would ask for the money for me. It was a terrific idea. I began to think about what kind of book I’d write. Something like Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, but from a different perspective. I thought about the trip day and night. Israel! Who wouldn’t want to go there? Then I began to think about how I have already written a book and that if I didn’t pay attention to it, that project would be dead in the water. I began to think about patrons, too. About how McCalden had some and I didn’t. IHR existed on contributions from its supporters. Memory, ever willing to come to my aid, recalled how I had read somewhere that William Buckley’s National Review had lost some 4 million dollars during his stewardship. The truth is, all politically dissident writing needs to be subsidized. A commonplace insight but one that suddenly means something to me. National Review had patrons. I needed patrons too. I’d always thought I should be able to make my living as a writer in the marketplace. Now I saw the issue in a more complicated light. If I was going to write about matters that are taboo in this society, I would have to ask for financial help or I’d never earn a regular income. It’s the kind of insight that most writers get when they’re about twenty years old, and now I’d gotten it too.
I printed 3,000 copies of Confessions on newsprint. I did everything myself. I demonstrated to the world that I proof no better than I spell and punctuate. Nevertheless, 3,000 bundled copies of Confessions were stacked up in our public storage cubicle, along with the rusty bicycles, the old rug, the boxes full of clothes that are too small for Alicia and me but that we don’t want to give away in case we ever happen to become slim and youthful again, and all the old manuscripts that have never been published and that now probably never would be.
I’d written a letter soliciting help to publish a typeset, bound edition of Confessions and mailed it together with a copy of the tabloid printing to the three hundred people whose names I’d collected over the past couple of years. From the first responses I could see that within 30 days I would have enough money to publish a bound edition of the manuscript. There were no strings attached to any of the contributions.
It was difficult to sort out the different ways I felt. I’d been writing for 35 years and it’d been uphill all the way. I’d never understood why. I suppose in the beginning I had no talent. After I learned how to put one sentence after another it didn’t make any difference. I had no way to know if my supporters were helping me because of my contributions to American literature or for political reasons. It made no difference to me. A lot of years had passed since the days when I had thought literature and politics can be kept separate. The Left used to say that everything is political. Everything is literature too, or should be. The one thing I understood about getting that new money was how I felt that many hurdles had been swept out of my path, and that my life had taken a turn for the better.
IHR was promoting the tabloid Confessions in a small way and had sold a hundred or so copies. I begin getting letters from Christians who resented my remarks about the “Jesus stories” and my assertion that Christianity has proved to be a catastrophe for the West. I re-read those passages in Confessions and it appeared to me that my comments about the Jesus stories were gratuitous, that they had little to do with the thrust of the manuscript. I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to know why I had made such comments without a clear purpose. I didn’t have to reflect much on the matter to understand that my wisecracks about Jesus were, in a secretive way, an attempt to demonstrate to Jews who read Confessions that I am even-handed. I had attacked individual Jews in Confessions for their hypocrisy, double standards and craziness. So I pretended to display a kind of religious neutrality by dismissing Christianity in passing. Not Christian individuals who are guilty of hypocrisy or specific acts of ill-will, but the church in its entirety. Even at the time I wrote those remarks I must have been half-aware of what I was doing.
My assertion that Christianity has been a catastrophe for Western civilization presented an interesting question. The question was this one: what did I know about it? The answer was: not very much. That being so, I saw no good reason why I should address the issue of the history of the church. I write as a citizen, not as a historian. All the ethical charges that need be leveled at the historic church can be put to living Christians and their congregations. All the questions that can be asked of ancient historical records can be asked of living bureaucracies.
I still felt I should say that I do not believe the stories that Christians tell me about how Jesus was God and the Son of God and how he came back from the dead and rose up bodily into the heavens. I am not saying that the stories are not true. I’m being very modest here. I am saying I do not believe them. Belief is a serious business. I don’t believe I should pretend to be something I am not. Here, I believe, Christians and I are in perfect harmony.
Alicia was already telling me about how, when she presented the baby to her evangelical congregation, she expected me to be there with her. I didn’t want to say no, but I didn’t want to go inside her church either while services were being held. She attended the old Aimee Semple MacPhereson church in Echo Park. Aimee put on quite a show around here in the 1920′s. She was a star. Her bubble burst when she was caught shacking up with a guy in Arizona. She made a run for it, disappeared for a few days then reappeared from the depths of the sea off the Malibu coast. She tried to sell it for a miracle. Even our newspapermen were unwilling to buy that one.
One afternoon I was driving Alicia past the Forest Lawn cemetery on our way to the Glendale shopping mall.
“It is so pretty over there,” she said in Spanish. “So green, and peaceful. When you are dead I think that is where I will put you. On holidays I will bring you a little bunches of flowers. Would you like a tree more? Do they allow that? Which would you like better?”
“I may have you burn me.” I imagined the image might set her back a little.
“I will keep your ashes if you like. On Thanksgiving I will put a pinch on the turkey. Everybody then will know what kind of man you were.”
“What would you think,” I said, “if when I die you find out that I have gone to hell?”
“I know you are going to Hell. Where is the mystery?”
“What if you find out I have gone to hell not because I have been bad but because of a mistake? For example, that I do not believe in God and heaven. I am sincere in that. I am not pretending. What if I am wrong because I do not understand something, or I took a wrong turn someplace when I was young, and I go to hell not because I am bad but because I made a mistake? How will you feel about that?”
“What you need to understand is that you are going to go to Hell. You are going to burn in the fiery lake. My family and I are going to be in Heaven. We will never see you again. What difference does it make how I feel?”
“You do not look very sad about what is going to happen to me.”
“How can I feel sad when you remind me that I am going to be in glory with my family for eternity?”
“But how about me?”
“You have been offered the word of God and you have turned it down. Every night you lie under the lamp reading about Jews who died forty years ago. Forget about that. If you want to read about Jews, read about those that lived when giants were on the earth. There is one book you have not read, but your name is already in it. The Book of Life. When you die and go to stand before Christ, He will be sorting out souls like the women in my village sort beans. The good ones here, the bad ones to Hell. When Christ turns to the page where your name is He will see written there: “Bradley Smith, donkey.”
At first I was amused by her self assurance so I’d egged her on. Now I was starting to feel uneasy. “You know I do not believe any of that.”
“You do not believe anything,” Alicia says. “You are an empty pot. Do you think God worries about the doubts of donkeys? Men like you are created for the work of Satan.”
“Why do you think God allowed you to marry a man who He knew was going to become a victim of Satan?”
“I did not ask Him for His advice so He did not give it to me.”
I decided to try one more time to get her to see the pathos in our situation.
“Now, when you are in heaven,” I said, “I will be in hell. Right? Try to imagine how that will make you feel.”
“How will it make you feel? I will be with my family in paradise while your shorts are smoking in the fiery lake.”
“Yes. But how do you feel about that?”
“I am waiting for the Glory with my family at my side.”
“Don’t you see the cruelty in what you are saying?”
“Do you want me to tell you pretty stories or do you want to hear the truth? When you discover your shorts are in flames you will forget about the laughing.”
I remember the exact moment I realized I didn’t believe in God or any of the rest of it. Not when I stopped believing, I don’t know how that happened or when, but the moment I realized that for me, belief was finished. It happened one morning thirty-five years ago. It seems like it was last month. It was the first week in March, 1951, in a little valley in North Korea. I remember how the sky was like lead and how some of the paddy water was still frozen and how what was left of two squads of us was trapped in an irrigation ditch by Chinese machine-gunners.
When we had reached the village in the center of the valley they’d been waiting and we had gotten it from every side. The excitement was incredibly intense. Big Ben and me were laughing and running around like crazy. About ten of us made it to the ditch, which was three and four feet deep in water. I had already been shot once but it didn’t bother me. I was too excited. They told me that the bullet was still in the side of my head. I could feel the lump but I couldn’t make out the outline of the slug. The blood was running down the side of my face and dripping off my chin. As we crouched there the water was up to our chests and bursts of machine-gun slugs socked into the wetness of the side of the ditch behind us.
Something Charley Flannigan was doing caught my eye. He was at the head of the ditch where it ended at the road embankment. He had put his M-1 down on the bank and he was lying back against the slope of the embankment and his eyes were half closed. Just above the water his hands were moving together in an odd way. I had to look hard to see what he was doing. Then I understood and Big Ben understood at the same moment and then we were both laughing and I yelled down the ditch:
“Hey Charley, what are you doing, counting your beads?”
Charley said: “You’re godamn right I’m counting my beads.”
And that was the moment I realized I did not believe in God. I realized that I did not believe in beads or heaven or hell or the supernatural qualities of Jesus Christ or any of it. I had no one to turn to who was not there in the ditch with me and I understood that I did not feel that something was missing. I was alone with the remnants of second and third squads of Fox troop in a ditch in a valley in the mountains of Korea beneath the immense lead sky that went from one range of mountains to the other as far as I could see. I was exultant within myself and I felt no need to say anything to Charley about the beads.
Just as there are those who believe that belief can be willed, there are those who believe that doubt can be overcome by desire. My own experience is that while desire has everything to do with belief it has nothing to do with doubt. I never wanted to doubt the existence of God, and I never wanted to doubt the homicidal-poison-gas-chamber theory. After thirty-five years of unwavering belief in the gas-chambers I began to doubt them in the few minutes it took me to read a single newspaper article. The doubting itself has given me no pleasure, no new advantages in the world. Doubt has not deepened my friendships or gained me the respect of my peers. Doubt simply came to me one night in my room, without warning, like a terrible dream.
I have become helpless in the embrace of my skepticism about the Holocaust stories. I doubt the homicidal-gas-chamber tales. I doubt the human-soap tales. I doubt the Anne-Frank story. I doubt the human-skin-lamp-shade tales. I doubt the homicidal gas-van tales. I doubt the German-monster scam which all these tales together imply. I doubt the mass-extermination tales. I have come to doubt almost everything that is implied by what spokesmen for the Holocaust Lobby have told me, and told me and told me. And now, from my isolation where, on principle, relationship itself is denied me, I have come to doubt the sincerity of many of those who believe what I doubt.
I doubt the sincerity of those Jews and others who pretend that it is beneath their dignity to respond to my honest questions, who speak contemptuously of me because of my doubt — which I can not control – and who by their actions urge others to isolate me rather than to come into relationship with me. Here I am. I will talk to anyone about anything. I will read any writing, consider any proposition, change any view I hold when I’m shown that it’s wrong. For the first time in my life, as I am systematically excluded from all dialogue with Jews about the so-called Holocaust, I have begun to see that event, whatever it was, as a parochial Jewish affair. It has been my experience for six years now that almost every Jew would agree with me. I have been told by their every word, their every gesture, to stay out. No good will come of it. In a free society no good ever comes from the programmatic practice of exclusivity.
The Holocausters go on endlessly about how the Nazis first attempted to “dehumanize” Jews with rhetoric. The Holocausters, spearheaded by Jewish extremists, have chosen to use silence, the denial of language, to dehumanize those of us who express doubt about what they believe. Everywhere this happens, and it happens everywhere, I was being told that I am not sufficiently human to share language with. But it is only animals — vermin — that are considered unworthy of language.
Who is going to believe in the end what these bigots are trying to demonstrate with their refusal of language to revisionists? It is either foolishness on their part or a great attempt to put something over on everybody. I do not find myself less human than someone who believes the gas chamber stories, less human than Holocaust experts, less human than Jewish “survivors.” I remain human regardless of what I believe and what I doubt. I remain deserving of language. I insist on it. I claim that no historian is beyond the reach of my questions. I wait for their answers with an open mind. I swear that no survivor is beyond the reach of my embrace. I wait for them with an open heart. Here I am. Every place I go I influence others to doubt as I doubt. I stand ready for correction and enlightenment. I urge all those who think that I am mistaken to relieve me of my burden of error. I urge all those who believe that I am ill-willed to relieve me of my burden of sin.
Here I am.
I swear my allegiance to all men everywhere.
It’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m standing at the kitchen window in the dark. Outside, the trees are blowing wildly in the night wind. A few minutes ago I woke from a dream where I saw myself racing across the surfaces of black mountain lakes. I was naked and I could feel the pressure of the water rushing against the soles of my feet. In the dream I looked wild and powerful but I didn’t feel anything. Now, looking idly out the window, I am aware of the trees groaning and whipping against the house. In a few more hours I will be 57 years old. In my heart tiny traces of apprehension come and go, come and go. Then, somehow, the moon is there before me above the swirling black treetops and it is very white. I know that it is not the moon because the kitchen window faces north and I know that at this moment the moon is passing to the south in its great arc out over the Pacific ocean. But I watch it anyhow in my careful, lazy way, and I am aware that in this one dark moment, in the seemingly endless days of my life, I am without opinion.