Encountering the Revisionists

An Outside-Inside Report On The 1983 International Revisionist Conference

by Elisabeth Kuesters

Nazism is dead, and good riddance, with its Führer. What remains today is the truth. Let us dare to proclaim it. The nonexistence of the gas chambers is good news for poor mankind -- good news which one would be wrong to suppress any longer.
              -- Robert Faurisson

For the fifth time since 1979, the Institute for Historical Review held a conference to present and discuss papers on various aspects of twentieth century history -- the Holocaust, Hitler's military strategy and war aims, the Nuremberg tribunals, Britain and the partition of Palestine, Zionist political influence, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and, as a background motif, the various legal problems caused by the publication of their heterodox views on all these subjects and more. In 1979 about 75 people attended the first IHR convention; this year it was up to 150, and I too was in attendance. I had never been to a "revisionist" confab before, and one might well wonder what I was doing there, but this can be explained. First, as a historian I was intrigued by the sheer gall of the most controversial revisionist hypothesis: that the Third Reich had pursued no mass physical extermination policy against the Jews (i.e., there had been few or no gassings in "death" camps). Second, as a collector of prime conspiracy theories, I knew as soon as I heard about this aspect of World War II revisionism that it took the cake and ate it too. Third, as a student, like everyone, of a human nature that grows increasingly slippery, I was drawn to comprehend the logic involved, a logic I felt sure must boil down to the self-serving neoNazi reasoning: "Hitler would never have done such thing -- but he should have!" or "The Holocaust never happened -- let's have a holocaust!"

Fourth, as a journalist I had a story to get. Who were these people and why were they saying these outrageous things? Fifth, finally and most disturbingly, as a postwar citizen I became more and more shocked, the deeper I delved into the questions thrown out by revisionist partisans, by how little I really knew about the era that commands such blind, heated emotional allegiance from us all.

Thus it was that I commuted from Hollywood to Anaheim daily in order to see for myself what was going on here.

Everything in the vicinity of Disneyland has a fantasy theme; I was expecting no less of this conference being held in the hotel directly across from "The Happiest Place in the World." For that matter the whole of Orange County is notorious for its proliferation of fantastic sects, cults and holy warriors, its tax rebels and its survivalists, its bloody born-again bizarros and its Immortalists, its Armenian terrorists and its Chicano burguesia, its UFO contactees and its private space academies. Orange is heresy's home county; no surprise to find the Institute meeting here.

As I entered the conference room, late, a middle-aged gentleman was reading a historical paper on the 1945 British Military Tribunal trial of Dr. Bruno Tesch for supplying Zyklon B to the SS administration of the concentration camps. Zyklon B, in the form of prussic acid crystals, was used as an insecticide in the U.S. in the '20s and by the German army from 1924 until the advent of DDT in 1944. It is also the agent claimed to be the gas used in specially-constructed chambers adjoining crematoria in camps such as Auschwitz, where up to 2,000 people at a time, day and night, were herded together to die -- according to "eyewitnesses."

Many revisionists have devoted themselves to picking apart these "eyewitness" testimonies, and this provides some background to Dr. William B. Lindsey's remarks about the Tesch trial. Arthur Butz in The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (1976), and Paul Rassinier in Le Passage de la Ligne (1949), Le Mensonge d'Ulysse (1950), Le Drame des Juifs Europeens (1964), Ulysse Trahi par les Siens (1961), and Le veritable proces Eichmann (1962) -- the first three translated and collated into Debunking the Genocide Myth (1978), the last one translated as The Real Eichmann Trial (1979) -- have pointed out not only contradictions tending to weaken or invalidate the testimonies, but on broader grounds have questioned whether Zyklon B could have been used to gas people at all. Most complete on the latter angle is Robert Faurisson in various articles published in 1980-82 in The Journal of Historical Review. Revisionists think that Zyklon B's use against typhus-bearing lice in the camps was the genesis of the rumor, later to become mass hysteria, that it was actually for killing people. The symbolism of shaving heads to get rid of lice-infested hair only heightened the prisoners' -- and the postwar writers' -- sense of doom. The clothes hangers in the 10-cubic-meter fumigation chambers for clothing and bedding were transmogrified into "meathooks," and so forth.

Zyklon B released cyanide gas on contact with water vapor (or air) and was very persistent -- that is, it would condense on the walls of the fumigation chambers unless the internal temperature of these was kept quite high, and 24 hours was required for safe ventilation. Yet many sworn accounts portray the SS or prisoner Sonderkommandos entering gas chambers without masks to extract bodies a mere half to one hour after all victims were certifiably dead. Zyklon B was also flammable and could not be used near open flame. Furthermore, any chamber that could hold a few hundred people, much less the 1,000-2,000 often claimed, would have had to be immense, constructed of steel, and airtight -- or else the killers would have killed themselves as well. The ramshackle wooden "bunkers" at Auschwitz-Birkenau could not have done the job, and the much-photographed gas chamber at Dachau, toured by U.S. Congressmen and Nuremberg prosecutors, was actually installed by the Americans for propaganda purposes after the camp's liberation. It is now agreed from Tel Aviv to Washington and even Moscow that there were no death camps or gas chambers in Germany proper. But this did not prevent witnesses from coming forth to testify that there were. Paul Rassinier remarked "that a whole is composed of details, and that an error of detail, whether made in good or bad faith ... must logically make the observer doubt the reliability of the whole; and if there are many errors in detail ...?"

This entire "undertaking" to refute the dead seems macabre, and I can't do more than touch on a few of the objections here; one can imagine the overall effect. What of these dead, the mute six million -- or is it six million? The living all disagree on the numbers involved; it is a matter of conjecture and not of record. Even Holocaust proponents (those who uphold the standard Holocaust story) have offered differing figures, ranging from one million to eleven million. Revisionists agree on one thing: if one begins with the Jewish population of Western and Eastern Europe before the war, and then subtracts survivors, emigres, refugees, and those left unmolested, the remainder is not six million. Of the remainder (dead) they do admit, revisionists estimate that the majority died of typhus and other diseases, from "executions" due to subversive activities, from Allied bombings, and in the horrific chaos of the German collapse.

Arthur Butz is an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at Northwestern University, and Paul Rassinier was a French geographer and socialist interned by the Nazis at Buchenwald and Dora from 1943 to 1945, who upon returning home made it his mission to expose what he called "resistantialisme": the extravagantly exaggerated and vengeful stories of deportees -- and collaborators as well -- about what they had suffered and done in the name of La Liberation. For instance, rumor in the camps had it that if you were "selected" for a "transport" to another area, this was code for "going to be gassed." But Rassinier wrote that he met men after the war who had been "selected" and had in fact been transported to other camps, where their labor was more needed or their illnesses could be treated. Rassinier also contributed his own working model of the concentration camps: the Haeftlingsführung, composed largely of German communist prisoners (some inherited from Weimar Republic jails), essentially ran the camps with little SS supervision. Without these "trusties," Rassinier contended, the camps would have been ungovernable. They made sure their own comrades were well fed and taken care of; "the miserable mass of the prisoners" made do with whatever was left over. Hundreds of sick inmates died in the typhus blocks because the Haeftlingsführung was so eager to preserve a "precious nucleus" of politically correct individuals to inherit the postwar order. More on Butz, Rassinier, "false witness" and lethal gases below.

Dr. William B. Lindsey was basically following the objections raised by these two revisionist authors in his defense of Tesch. It is difficult to take notes on such readings; for the exact texts of exactly who said what, one must look up the issues of The Journal of Historical Review where the papers are published. In addition, I was scanning the room through the cigar smoke to see just who was on the scene. A preponderance of older white males, a handful of old Germans, some Canadians, not many women, some very WASP-type younger people. The crowd greeted mention of some of the wider discrepancies between the Nuremberg testimony and their own beliefs with low laughter, but there was an awkwardness in the air -- typical, I thought, of reserved middle-class WASPs. Later the atmosphere grew more convivial but at first I spoke to no one, feeling awkward myself, lacking the killer instinct of the true Total Journalist -- and also a bit scared off the scent by what the conference organizer told me. "We don't want the press in here," J. Marcellus said. "They might harass our speakers and then just write some dumb sensational piece calling us a bunch of Nazis. We've got no use for that." I promised not to start a riot (but Nazi is as Nazi does, and Nazism is in the eye of the beholder, so I made no promises on that score). To avoid riotousness, I simply shut up.

A considerable amount of reading, re-reading, historical re orientation, suspension of disbelief and sheer heretical elan is called for in writing about this stuff. I've already summarized in a rudimentary way two of the underlying revisionist themes Lindsey touched on -- the "physical and chemical impossibility" of gas chambers using Zyklon B, and Rassinier's insight into how the indisputable horror of l'enfer organise (the organized hell) of the camps was actually administered. A third theme which may help break the mass down into more manageable quanta is the contention that the Nuremberg trials were rigged and riddled with illegal procedures. Butz's book attempts at length and in detail to prove irregularities, from the treatment (including torture) of defendants, to the determination and admission of evidence, to the selection of witnesses, prosecutors and defense attorneys, to the overall political object of the trials: the crushing of Germany as a nation among nations, and of National Socialism as a political philosophy among political philosophies. He investigates the backgrounds of War Crimes Branch figures such as David Marcus and Robert M.W. Kempner and concludes that the various tribunals were mere kangaroo courts run on a predetermined verdict: the Third Reich was guilty period, of mass crimes against humanity. Any defendant who wished to mitigate his own sentence had to testify to the existence of these intentional crimes; those who didn't were simply hung out to dry. Before his suicide Göring told an American interrogator: "I doubt if it was six million, but as I've always said, it is sufficient if only five percent of it is true ..."

Naturally the judgments rendered at Nuremberg have to be impugned, I thought, if the Germans are to be "rehabilitated"; how else could the special horror we reserve for them be undermined? After all, our entire postwar consensus on Good and Evil is based upon the evidence presented at these trials. If the judgments hold up, so must our horror. And if I found myself listening carefully to the revisionists, it was not so much doubt as my own ignorance that made me hold my breath.

A mobile mike was produced to catch questions from the floor, between speakers. After Lindsey's speech the dean of French revisionists, Robert Faurisson, who was due to deliver his own talk the next day, noted that the only ones who could have defended Tesch at Nuremberg were people in the metal products industry who knew the properties of Zyklon B, and none of them was called to the stand. Faurisson gave an example of testimony that was allowed due to the vindictive anti-German atmosphere. A witness who'd sworn to "17 tons of gold" extracted from camp inmates' teeth, when questioned on this surprising figure, retorted: "When it is done by German science, I am never surprised!"

OK, so far: thought-provoking. A couple of times, though, "people of a certain persuasion" were mentioned, causing a light rippling chuckle. In-jokes, I thought: easy means of making people feel camaraderie, of creating a bond among them. (Like on the Left, where my first act of integration with the sect I came briefly to call home was to start laughing at its crude caricatures of rival sects.) Not being Jewish, I didn't feel cut to the quick by them, but I noted them, and weighed them. I wondered how many others in the room were wary of snide anti-Semitic asides. "None dare call it Aryan" ran through my mind, and although I eventually found that most of the crowd could not be bothered about such ephemera as "Aryan" or "Semitic," these ephemera nonetheless have some substance, and due care must be exercised. On the other hand, Roald Dahl criticized the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in a recent interview, and now his TV programs have been banned from Israeli television as "anti-Semitic." So "due care" need not mean "Lie down and play dead every time someone decides to call you names."

Actually the background to the snide asides is concrete as well as metaphysical: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith has put the word out on the Institute, and the Jewish Defense League has made life physically unpleasant for more than one revisionist. Considerable secrecy was maintained about the conference site lest the JDL decide to send a commando squad to raid it. So behind the scenes there rages a small guerrilla war whose skirmishes -- thus far -- have been petty and rather absurd. [See note] In fact I myself was put on the spot at one point because the doorwatcher didn't catch sight of my badge as I exited -- off to call in the commandos, no doubt. Uncool of him, but not entirely off the mark; to any True Believer I might well qualify as a Mole or a Stooge.

The next speaker was historian Dr. Robert John, co-author of The Palestine Diary (for which Arnold Toynbee wrote the foreword). His topic was how the Balfour Declaration of 1917 came about, whereby Britain pledged to partition Palestine between Arabs and Zionists. The first international congress of Zionism, called by Theodore Herzl in 1897, dedicated itself to "strengthening Jewish national sentiment and consciousness" against the trend toward assimilation. Herzl was willing to negotiate with any power -- Papacy, Sultanate, British Crown, Kaiser, Czar -- to gain a Jewish homeland.The Jews would win Palestine, he felt, "not from goodwill, but from the jealousy of the powers. "(Emphasis mine -- and Robert John's.) American Zionist financiers, by backing various loans, had got the Germans to promise them Palestine; with the Balfour Declaration they shifted their support to the British -- a maneuver Hitler exploited as a Dolchstoss, "stab in the back."

John's discussion, I thought raised a point fatal to any conspiracy theory of "world Jewish domination": if Jews really wanted to run the world, why should they agitate for a homeland? This contradiction is so obvious it inspired the young Surrealist Robert Desnos to the rather comic extreme of his Pamphlet contre Jerusalem (1925): "Judas's 30 pieces of silver were not given in vain. You have saved them to buy back those rare things worthy of salvation. Don't waste them in reclaiming sentimental real estate ... It is necessary that the Israelites remain in exile ... as long as this Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, German spirit is not crushed, this most terrible menace to the Spirit."

At any rate, what John argued was that Zionists used World War I as they would later (most successfully) use World War II: as a situation or diversion out of which to obtain Palestine over Arab objections. On the second try, the Holocaust both fact and fiction became the "founding myth" of Israel, the old dream of Zion, at once proving the necessity of a Jewish state, silencing any opposition to the dispossession of the Palestinians, and assuring the new state a treasury-full of reparations payments from Germany. John closed his speech with a denunciation of the modern world order, an order which ordains that "$625 for every Israeli man, woman and child will be transferred from American taxpayers during 1983 alone" in what he called "the game of Israel." That does seem rather a lot of money but I can't see going to war over it. However dubiously Israel may have been established (see Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection), the Jews of Europe did, after all, need somewhere to go once it had been so spectacularly demonstrated that their fellow Europeans cared very little about their fate. (E.g., during the war the Reich Foreign Office discovered it had "requisitioned" too many Romanian Jews for forced labor, and asked their government if it wanted them sent back. "Oh no, don't bother!" the Romanians blithely replied.)

Next, Friedrich P. (Fritz) Berg, according to his introducer "another scientist who has something to tell the historians," spoke on "Diesels, Gas Vans, and Zyklon B." Berg, who has a strong New Jersey accent, petitioned the National Broadcasting Corporation for equal time after the "Holocaust" television mini-series was broadcast, and lost. His angle of attack on the "crackpot, harebrained contraptions" which "for forty years" have rested unchallenged in the popular horror pantheon as "Nazi Gas Chambers" differed somewhat from that of Butz and others, in that Berg addressed the charge that the Einsatzgruppen (roving SS mop-up units behind the lines of the eastern front), as well as the first tentative gassings at the regular death camps, used diesel exhaust fumes for mass murder. One of the major witnesses to diesel gassing was Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer who committed suicide while in Allied custody after the war. (His body was never produced, but his statement, in six different versions and three different languages, was.)

Berg used visual aids drawn from his automotive engineering and environmental-analysis background to make several points. Gerstein had spoken of wooden doors, windows, a period of one half hour (which he timed) for the fumes to induce death, and corpses that had turned blue. American studies of carbon monoxide (CO) accumulation in auto tunnels yield a number of base statistics. An accumulation of 0.06% CO will produce no more than a headache in the course of several hours, but an accumulation of 0.35% is sufficient to cause death in just under an hour. Following "Henderson's Rule" that for any given toxic effect, if you halve the time you must double the dose, death in half an hour would require a concentration of about 0.7% CO.

Diesel engines run clean compared to gasoline engines, making the former, in Berg's words, "an inherently ludicrous choice."Idling, diesels cannot produce enough CO to cause a headache in the time described by the Gerstein and other statements, even supposing the structures described were perfectly sealed; at "peak load," as in a heavy vehicle straining uphill, one type of diesel engine available in the '40s could have produced sufficient CO -- just before the strain burnt it out. Perhaps other gases present in diesel exhaust were lethal -- hydrocarbons, aldehydes, carbon dioxide itself? Not possible, said Berg, although they are responsible for the smell which makes diesel exhaust seem dangerous. Perhaps the lack of oxygen? Oxygen is also present in diesel exhaust. What could have killed them? Not CO, either: victims of CO poisoning turn "cherry red," not blue, according to Berg.

Why, he went on, did witnesses speak of diesel fumes when a far likelier candidate for "extermination vans" already existed close as hand: "producer gas vehicles," 3,000 of which were in use in Germany prior to WWII? By 1941 150,000 of these "gas wagons," propelled by solid fuel (such as wood chips or coal) consumed in a rear burner and sucked as a gas into the forward engine, were in service throughout German-occupied territory. (General Motors was a major manufacturer of these.) For the autarkic and oil "gassings" in ordinary military trucks? Why haven't the gas wagons, the producer gas vehicles -- so lethal, in contrast to both regular vehicles and diesels -- been implicated in a single Holocaust horror story? Why did Eichmann, the SS transport specialist, or Himmler and other SS commanders itching to implement the Final Solution, not hit upon using these very effective gassing machines?

Another anomaly, Berg continued, is this: Why did the Reich use scarce rail transport to ship its victims from Bucharest, Posen (Poznan) and Budapest, for example, all the way to Auschwitz for gassing, when near Bucharest, Posen and Budapest there already stood enormous fumigation buildings, huge versions of the clothing-decontamination units in use at all the camps and military installations? These buildings could fumigate entire trains that had passed through typhus-infested regions; better candidates for gas chambers would be hard to imagine.

A final anomaly noted by Berg: The shower bath at Dachau, now agreed to have been inoperative for gassing, was eventually "supposed" to be used for that purpose had not the end of the war prematurely intervened. Yet it could easily have been converted into a gas chamber all along by being hooked up with the adjacent clothes-fumigation chamber. The same holds true for the rest of the admitted non-death camps (i.e., the camps in Germany itself). Why was this not done?

It seemed to me initially that Berg had made a breach in the anti-Zyklon B argument here. Was he saying that there could have been gas chambers, but there just ... weren't? Contacted afterward, he replied that the SS certainly knew exactly how to use Zyklon B since they had their own school for pesticide experts. And by speeding up the evaporation of cyanide from the granules with a superior ventilation system, the SS might indeed have been able to devise a safe and foolproof method for killing with it. "The problem is, if you used Zyklon B in the ways alleged, it wouldn't have worked. The descriptions in the Holocaust legend are completely different -- and fantastic. Maybe someone will come along and change them now, but after 40 years changing the story won't be too believable. You wonder," he laughed, "how all those people like Elie Wiesel and Simon Wiesenthal survived all their years in the camps with the SS trying to kill them off every day! The only explanation is that no one was trying to kill them." And: "the official descriptions are off because the witnesses did not really see these things. They heard about them from others, who heard about them from others ..."

The master of ceremonies next introduced British historian David Irving by reading from a "Special Backgrounder" on him issued by the ADL to its regional offices. God knows how the IHR got hold of it. The ADL terms Irving "a leading neo-Nazi" due shortly in the States, and instructs: "Should he surface in your region, please notify the fact-finding department and your civil rights coordinator." My own awareness of Irving was not in his capacity as alleged leading neo-Nazi but as a pretty well-known and well-received historian, author of The Destruction of Dresden, Hitler's War, the recent Uprising! (on Hungary 1956), The Secret Diaries of Hitler's Doctor, and an upcoming biography of Winston Churchill. Eliot Fremont-Smith, book reviewer for the Village Voice, has gone quite soft on Irving lately. I was unaware that the Voice had any neo-Nazi leanings.

Looking back on it, I must admit that David Irving's speech appealed directly to the Romantic Historian in me. "My ambition is to write the total truth," he announced -- rather splendidly, I felt. He is a man of passion and of scorn, a tall, exceedingly florid man with a dramatic and eloquent delivery. Sort of the two-fisted intellectual, thriving on controversy and fond of making public splashes -- most recently during the Hitler Diaries farce in Spring 1983. Evidently he'd bought some fake Hitleriana from the same source as Der Stern had, and having determined his were ersatz -- "In this business fakes are thrust at one from every side!" -- he was one of the first historians to dismiss the "diaries." His new book on Churchill, written in light of what we now know about ULTRA, ENIGMA, and the Allies' clandestine "war of deception" -- and also in light of what Irving found in Churchill's desk appointment book, which he "rented" for 5,000 pounds from the thief trying to sell it to him -- should prove to be eye-opening. "No surprise to us, but a surprise to the world at large, ladies and gentlemen."

Irving "rambled" in an energetic, thoroughly methodical manner. He clearly was displeased -- though at the same time somewhat amused -- to be a bugbear of the ADL. "Addressing you today, ladies and gentlemen, brings me one step closer to a boycott by Madison Avenue," he said somberly. Although he is published by Macmillan and Doubleday, his latest book, Uprising!, was dropped by Putnams, apparently because of its central treatment of anti-Semitism. That is, Irving had determined that what happened in 1956 bore all the features of a pogrom: "The Hungarians are an anti-Jewish race compared to whom the Nazis were as pure as the driven snow." The four top commissars and much of the secret police and officer corps instated by Moscow after World War II had been communists and hence were trusted by the Soviets. The commissars were all Jewish -- a fact mentioned bitterly by many of the escaped revolutionaries when debriefed by CIA interrogators and psychiatrists after the revolt. (Irving's research corroborated those findings.) By 1956 one quarter of the Hungarian population had been jailed at one time or other; people lived in a state of hopeless desperation. If your father had followed the wrong profession, a mark on your dossier ensured that you got nowhere in the professions, the universities, or politics. Deep in the bowels of Budapest there was, people believed, a "meatmincing machine" for the corpses of enemies of the State -- an example of how "even the most absurd stories" seem credible to the oppressed, observed Irving. (Also a characteristic horror-fantasy Christians recurrently have about the Jews, and vice-versa.) However, there are those who deem anti-Semitic even a discussion of events traceable to anti-Semitism -- Putnams, for instance.

I must leave out lots of interesting stuff about how research from primary sources is done ("Go for the handwritten documents the other historians avoid" was one bit of advice) in order to convey the chief convergence and chief divergence Irving's oeuvre has with Holocaust revisionism. His military history, Hitler's War, researched for 15 years, concludes that Hitler did not know about or sanction any mass extermination program. No orders, approvals, plans or blueprints for implementation exist to link him with a Final Solution of extermination. There are references to Ausrottung der Juden and dieses Volk umzubringen (destroying these people) in a speech Himmler is said to have given at Posen in 1943, the text of which was found in Alfred Rosenberg's files, but that's about it. On the other hand, the Reich euthanasia policy was initiated on written orders from Hitler. (It was terminated after concerted protests by German clergymen.) Could the extermination order have been a verbal understanding of the kind Kitchener is said to have employed against Boer prisoners in South Africa? If so, the chain of command must have been breached many times, if the Nuremberg defendants are to be believed; it is difficult to imagine how such a gigantic plan systematically to eliminate millions could have been implemented on so informal a basis.

Nonetheless, Irving admits that Hitler had "uncorked the bottle" and was hard put to recapture the "genie" he'd let loose. Kristallnacht 1938 was such a case: a German secretary at the embassy had fallen to a Jewish assassin in Paris and Goebbels gave a rabble-rousing speech that touched off "the night of broken glass." He hoped thereby to be restored to the Führer's good graces, as he was in disfavor owing to a certain scandalous amour. To Goebbels' horror, the plan backfired, and he had to stay up all night calling off the "outrage" after Hitler was informed of it.

It is obvious that David Irving is impressed with the man whose career he studied for so many years. He considers Hitler "a rather weak boss" but an excellent military mind who "repeatedly outwitted Churchill." At one point he referred to Hitler as "intellectually honest" and at another as "the Jews' greatest friend in Germany." My instincts were to deride those remarks, but by this time I felt I could no longer trust my instincts: they weren't well enough informed.

Insofar as Hitler's non-authorization of a Holocaust is maintained, Irving's view coincides with that of revisionism. But Irving finds it quite possible, even probable, that certain "criminal elements" in the SS did take it upon themselves in various localities in the East to authorize the shooting and/or gassing of prisoners. He says he "can't prove it" but has "a gut feeling," grounded in the principle that where there's smoke there's fire.In other words, the wildfire wartime rumors codified into Established Historical Fact at Nuremberg could not have been concocted out of thin air but must have been based on isolated incidents of "undesirables" being "liquidated."

Either the guilt lay with SS criminals, then, or else -- perhaps also -- it resulted from a breakdown in the ability of certain camps to support their deportee allotments; here Irving cites a memorandum from the General Government (the Nazi authority in occupied Poland) to Eichmann requesting some "fast-acting means" to finish off deportees "who will otherwise starve." Yet extermination was never the intended goal of the deportations, Irving believes -- e.g., the big project to remove Jews to Madagascar was dropped the moment the Eastern territories were seized in 1941, whereupon construction of resettlement and labor camps proceeded apace. Therefore one might conclude that the "banality of evil" was in truth more banality than evil, thus resolving Hannah Arendt's celebrated but unenlightening oxymoron.

Evidently some members of the audience didn't care to hear any concession whatever to the "Holocaust legend," but David Irving received a standing ovation anyway. For the middle-aged rightists in attendance, "exposure" of the Holocaust may be primarily a new, more sophisticated structure from which to fly their old banner of American Betrayed. For the elderly Germans, there doubtless exists a still more immediate self-interest. For others, it represents the amplifying confirmation of a suspicion-laden sense of the universe, a universe where even the Sun is conspiring to ditch us eventually. For others, the opportunity to question the givens and the received ideas about this crucial, reverberating period offers a chance to overcome static, dead-end banalities like "the banality of evil." It is far more stimulating to determine for oneself a coherent picture of what happened, to devise for oneself an explanation that better explains this "inexplicable" world war. As for me, someone asked if I were "convinced yet." I answered that I had no intention of becoming "convinced" or of converting to some alternative version of events simply because my faith in the old one had been shaken -- that what threw me most was how vulnerable my dogmatic version had been to a few well-placed kicks; I planned for this reason to take a vacation from "conviction" for some time to come.

Not that there is one single, unitary "alternative version" available from the revisionists, in any case. Opponents of this heresy will be heartened to learn how riven with schisms the young upstart already is. For instance, Robert Faurisson opened his talk with a critical response to David Irving. "Dahveed Earveeng saze, Eatlair deent know wot appen at Auschwitz. I esk Dahveed Earveeng, whot appent at Auschwitz???," he chided in a real "Com wit' me to thee Casbah" French accent. Irving had already departed, but to say that this group is not averse to mutual criticism would be putting it mildly. One exception is the reverence Faurisson reserves for Arthur Butz. (Butz didn't attend this year because "eleven years of Holohoax are too many for somebody who does not have the temperament of an historian.") And they all revere Paul Rassinier, but (or because) he's been dead since 1967.

Following are the highlights of Faurisson's talk, which covered the two civil suits and one penal suit filed against him in France. Faurisson has always been "revisionist," although until the abrupt admission in 1960 by Martin Broszat, the current director of the Munich Institut für Zeitgeschichte, that there had been no death camps on German soil, he had confined his heterodoxy to reconsiderations of Rimbaud and Lautreamont. A bright-eyed, wiry, Celtic-looking man, he seems not to have been bowed by "The Faurisson Affair," which has cost him thousands of francs in legal fees, his position in literature at the University of Lyon-2 (he retains the post but cannot teach), and at times his health.

Most Americans first heard of the Affair when a flap arose over Noam Chomsky having written the introduction to Faurisson's Memoire en Defense (Memory on the Defensive) in 1978. Chomsky defended Faurisson against the charge of anti-Semitism and avowed that he was no worse than a freethinker hounded by zealots. People were shocked that a Jew could condone denial of what M. Hirsh Goldberg has called "one of the touchstones of modern Jewry," the Holocaust. But Chomsky was not alone: soon rallying to Faurisson's side were Jean-Gabriel Cohn-Bendit (Danny the Red's brother) and other Jewish leftists, as well as two Jewish members of France's Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique. One of the latter testified that Faurisson was no Nazi, but rather part of "a revolution in historical research." Journalist Gitta Sereny ruefully called them "young, eager, and even attractive acolytes."

In the first suit, nine organizations banded together to accuse Memoire en Defense and Verite historique ou Verite politique? (coauthored by Serge Thion) of "racial defamation and incitement to racial hatred." The plaintiffs sent three lawyers to Poland in quest of extermination proof, but they came back empty-handed, according to Faurisson. Eventually he was convicted of "personal injury" but not "falsification of history." This epoch, instructed the court, was still "too sorrowful, too burning." One must "wait for time to calm people's minds." Exclaimed Faurisson: "How long am I supposed to wait?"

The whole Faurisson Affair has been conducted in unique Parisian fashion. Paris is a richly incestuous milieu where resistants and collaborators, existentialists and Catholic humanists, Trotskyites and Stalinists all know, revile, and, often, ultimately forgive one another. Faurisson first convinced his own lawyer of the thesis that gas chambers never existed; the lawyer was then reproached by his friends on the prosecuting side: "How you have changed!" One prosecutor cried out in court, "Monsieur Faurisson, you haunt my nights!" Another burst into tears and had to be helped home by his wife when -- upon appeal of his first conviction -- Faurisson was found innocent of "lying," "false research," and generally being an impostor. "Faurisson is not a liar," quoth the appeals court. "But he is, perhaps, a troublemaker." The son of Simone Veil, president of the European Parliament in addition to having been listed among those gassed at Birkenau, was one of the prosecuting attorneys; Faurisson came upon him one day at a cafe, head sunk in his hands, and proceeded to lecture the disconsolate young man on "historical truth." And so on. Quaint personal touches foreign to those of us in anonymous mass societies.

The second civil suit was filed by Leon Poliakov, author of a number of standard Holocaust histories. Faurisson had claimed that Poliakov "manipulated" the Gerstein statement and the Auschwitz diaries of Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, making interpolations and changes in them which amounted to forgery. (Like almost all revisionist revelations, this doubt was first sown by Rassinier, nemesis of "the extermination mystique.") Poliakov sued for libel "under heavy pressure from his friends," we were told. His court strategy centered on proofs that Gerstein -- who in death has become a sort of SS saint, a "spy for God" -- really existed. This point Faurisson did not contend and considered moot, adding that "Gerstein's grotesque revelations" were not in any case credited by those who heard them during the last years of the war.

The court found Poliakov's interpolations and alterations "annoying but not serious," and convicted Faurisson of libel. At this point the story of the various judgments and appeals began to confuse me. The Poliakov verdict was never published, although the plaintiff had the right to make Faurisson pay for this to be done; the appeals court on the penal suit, in which Faurisson was also convicted, let stand part of the conviction but eliminated the stipulation that he pay for prime-time TV and radio readings of the verdict (about $600,000 worth). In April of 1982 Pierre Vidal Naquet and Poliakov formed a group called ASSAG to assemble all "verifiable data" on killings by gas -- this, although they had testified that such evidence is already overwhelmingly available. Simone Veil, in further self-contradiction, announced that "no proof and no witness exist because the Germans suppressed them all." She herself was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; was she, too, "suppressed"? "I don't think they are going to sue me any more," Faurisson concluded.

What could make a man give up his career and social position for an idea? Raw, naked anti-Semitism would seem insufficient cause. Vidal-Naquet has likened Faurisson's stance to W. Arens' denial, in The Man-Eating Myth, that human cannibalism ever existed; his implications are that one can become addicted to "revising," that denial is one classic method of dealing with complex or troublesome historical problems, and that "the university prestige game" may be a factor. In Faurisson's case the last factor, if it was a factor, would appear to have backfired. In an interview with Liberation (reported in Harper's, December 1981), Faurisson himself explained that "While studying Greek and Latin, I was corrected thousands of times for mistakes in translation, which made an indelible impression on me. I told myself that we have eyes to see and ears to hear, but that we nonetheless keep getting things wrong."

Here perhaps is some insight, at least, into what keeps such "crusaders" going. We have all noticed our remarkable human ability to see things we never saw and hear things we never heard, to fabricate "memories" of things we have been told of and never ourselves experienced. This phenomenon has been explored by Jacques Vallee in Passport to Magonia (a universal mythography of UFO sightings), Jan Harold Brunvald's The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meaning, and other studies. People don't need to lie -- they frequently can't help but lie. At times it seems the mind is no "window onto the universe" but a mere self-serving illusion machine designed to keep us blissful in our ignorance. Courtrooms must go to great lengths to check and crosscheck sworn testimony; imagine how much more intense these metaphysical mirages become under wartime conditions.

In any event this is how Faurisson views the problem. If critical re-evaluation arrives at truths which incommode the prevailing views of established Truth, so be it; this cannot be helped and must be faced squarely if History as written by the victors (the "incorrigible" victors, as Rassinier called them) does not stand up to scrutiny after time has "calmed people's minds" enough to permit such re-evaluation. He defends himself against the charge that his work "objectively lends itself to neo-Nazism" by declaring: "I take no responsibility for the political views of those who publish [my work]." To the extent that applying a corrective to the human capacity for self-deception is his motive, I don't believe Faurisson's revisionism is a noxious thing. Moreover, censorship in the hope that this heresy will "go away" only acts, and has already acted, to convince the heretics they're onto something big -- and perhaps to convince others of the same thing as well.

With that last observation, I will close with a few more comments about what makes revisionists tick. Some just tick along as they always have because they are associated with the Liberty Lobby, a right-wing outfit whose boss, Willis Carto, publishes the weekly Spotlight and is the behind-the-scenes controlling voice at the Institute for Historical Review. Other revisionists are Libertarians politically and thus dislike the Far Right. Still others are unaffiliated ex-Marxists. Yet others are a- or anti-political. I gleaned this at lunch on the last day. Though it's hard to eat and scoff at the same time, my table was manned with dining scoffers scratching each other's surfaces to bare deep differences. Gary Allen, author of None Dare Call It Conspiracy, sat to my left; to my right Dr. James J. Martin, venerated as a Libertarian historian (he prefers to call himself "an advanced Stirnerite with anarchist tendencies") expounded his theories straight through to dessert. The Liberty Lobby's Dr. Martin A. Larson discoursed on the "impending great catastrophe" of the money system. "But a rolling loan gathers no loss, does it?" quipped Allen.

Who are these people, I thought? Well, for the most part they seemed rather nice. Regular people, pleasant but low-key. More than one told me they felt that exposure of the Holocaust as "the most astounding mass psychosis in human history" (in the introductory words of the master of ceremonies) would "help Jews most of all" by liberating them from the traumatic burden of paranoid distortions. What I found most often was a sort of taboophobia. As one man put it: "I'd rather believe it's possible the earth is flat than believe it's round in the same way I used to 'believe in' the Holocaust."

Cui bono? If the Holocaust story as it stands has benefitted Israel financially and the Soviet Union politically (by keeping West Germany hamstrung in Europe), it has certainly not benefited my Jewish friends, who are all to some degree traumatized by its horror. "The real horror is enough," argues Faurisson. "It is useless to add anything to it." Admittedly one motive for hoping Revisionism is "onto something," big or not, is the longing to disbelieve that humans are capable of such atrocities -- "good news for poor mankind," indeed, mankind so cruelly maligned ... Several people at the conference told me they believed revisionism would "help Jews most of all." But in the back of the mind is that longing, that great yearning to be free at last of man's inhumanity to man.

We can all agree with Winston Churchill that "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Yet we have a right and an obligation to demobilize this bodyguard once the wars are over. If this was not accomplished completely right or shortly after World War II, we are nevertheless going to be "demobed" more and more insistently from now on, either by revisionism or other forces, until the process is complete. The Holocaust is not mythical but it may have been mythologized, perhaps to a considerable extent, and it will become increasingly difficult to quell doubt with dogma in this regard. Grin and bear it, ladies and gentlemen -- the repressed has returned.

(Note: A few months after this piece was written about the Fifth IHR Conference in September 1983, the IHR offices in Torrance, California, were destroyed in an arson attack during the early morning hours of July 4, 1984. Damage was estimated at $400,000. A police investigation later established that the arson had been carried out by the Jewish Defense League. No one was ever arrested for the crime.)

From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1984 (Vol. 5, Nos. 2, 3, 4), pages 307-323.

About the Author

Elisabeth Kuesters is the pen name of a free lance writer whose essays and reviews on cultural and political issues have appeared in a range of intellectual and current affairs periodicals.