My Lunch With George
How an Influential Journalist Twists the Truth
With a syndicated column that appears in several hundred daily papers, regular appearances on ABC television's "This Week With David Brinkley," several successful books, and well-paid appearances on the lecture circuit, George F. Will has a deserved reputation as one of America's most influential commentators on social-political affairs.
So when his secretary phoned to ask me to meet with him for lunch, I was both hopeful and wary: Hopeful about the good that could possibly come from such a meeting; Wary because, given his well-known biases, he might distort whatever I say or do as part of a smear.
Still, I was optimistic, in part because his secretary had assured me that Will merely wanted to meet and talk. She indicated that this would not be an interview.
From the outset of our August 19 , luncheon meeting, Will made clear that he was interested in revisionist motives (or what he believes them to be), not revisionist arguments. Indeed, at one point he said that it is not the truth or validity of what a revisionist says that determines whether it is evil, but rather his motive.
In response to a question early on, Will told me that he had read the issues of this Journal and other IHR material I had sent him prior to our meeting. It was quickly, even embarrassingly obvious, though, that he was either lying, or was not able to understand what he had read.
When I asked Will if he considered himself to be well informed about the Holocaust, he replied that he did -- citing visits to the sites of some of the wartime German camps, and his reading of a good bit of secondary literature.
I was struck by what Will did not know about this subject. He was completely unfamiliar with the Einsatzgruppen -- the special German security police units that operated in the occupied Soviet territories. He did not know (or remember) that Anne Frank -- along with others in her family -- had "survived" internment in Auschwitz. (She died later in Bergen-Belsen camp, a victim of typhus.)
He confirmed that he accepts as accurate and reliable the often-cited "testimony" of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss. Will acknowledged that he did not know that this important piece of Holocaust evidence was obtained by torture, and that, on a number of key points, it is not even consistent with the current version of the Auschwitz extermination story.
He said that he also accepts as authentic the frequently quoted but now thoroughly discredited "testimony" of Hermann Rauschning. Will made clear that he was not aware of the many German wartime documents that plainly show that the "Final Solution" policy was not one of extermination.
It soon became obvious during the course of our conversation that Will is unable or unwilling to view Holocaust claims with the same refined skepticism with which he critically dissects so many other official and historical claims.
I reminded Will of something he had written about Auschwitz a decade earlier. In his Washington Post syndicated column of March 10, 1983, he told readers:
You could tell from the smoke the sort of persons consumed in the crematoria. Newcomers to Auschwitz, who still had some fat on their bones, made black smoke. Persons who had been there for awhile made white smoke. There: that is an emblematic fact of 20th century politics.
What Will calls an "emblematic fact" is, rather, an instructive fable, and the way he cites it not only points up the reverential, even awestruck way he regards the Holocaust story, but shows his careless disregard for facts.
When I told him that this statement is simply not true -- that in fact crematory chimneys give off no flame and almost no smoke -- he asked me how I know this. I explained that I had studied the matter, and had spoken with crematory managers -- adding that anyone who takes a little time to look into this question can determine the truth for himself.
Will responded by somewhat snidely asking if the Auschwitz crematories were like those at Forest Lawn. In reply, I explained that the crematories at Auschwitz were of the standard design used throughout Germany during the war years. Will responded with silence.
I then asked Will for his source for this anecdote, adding that in all the reading I have done on this subject, I had never come across any other mention of this particular story. Will replied that he couldn't remember, but that it was something an Auschwitz inmate (perhaps Elie Wiesel, he mentioned) had said or written.
Will's rigid bias with regard to the Holocaust story and Israel is no secret. Even William Buckley, himself a staunch friend of Israel and Zionist interests, has taken note of what he calls Will's "perverse" partisanship with regard to these matters. (The Washington Post, Jan. 27, 1987.) With regard to the Holocaust issue, wrote the founder of National Review magazine, "Will is losing sight of rather a lot of things." Buckley took exception to a reference by Will to the "Vatican's contemptible behavior toward the Holocaust."
George Will begins any discussion on the Middle East, Buckley wrote, "by siding with Israel on every single point." He went on: "The problem with devising peaceful solutions in the Mideast, where George Will is concerned, is that there he sees only a single position: Israel's -- at all times, in all places. George sometimes sounds a little like Rabbi Kahane" (founder of the terrorist Jewish Defense League).
As part of a discussion with Will about the double standard that prevails in America with regard to the Holocaust story, I mentioned the ban against Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. He was barred from this country, I pointed out, even though no evidence of his personal involvement in any atrocity or war crime has ever come to light. At the same time, I went on, American presidents have rolled out the red carpet for Israeli leaders Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir -- each of whom has a well-documented record as a terrorist.
Will had no comment, but when I asked him if he agrees that Waldheim should be barred from the United States, he said yes. When I asked on what basis he deserves to be banned, Will replied: because Waldheim is a "suspected war criminal."
Will said at one point that he has been particularly impressed with the presentation in Claude Lanzmann's film "Shoah" of the "testimony" of Treblinka camp barber Abraham Bomba. Contrary to the impression given in the film, I responded, this "testimony" is actually a staged recitation, the absurdity of which should be obvious to any really critical person.
Will himself seems to understand this, at least implicitly. Writing in a November 1985 column, he apparently concluded that Bomba's claim to have cut hair of doomed Jews inside the Treblinka "gas chamber" is not credible, deciding instead to shift the action to "the threshold of the gas chamber." (Lanzmann's nine-and-a-half hour film "Shoah," wrote Will in that 1985 column, is "the noblest use to which cinema -- the technology, the techniques -- has been put, ever.")
At one point, and suddenly changing the subject, Will asked me why I think that anti-Semitism exists. I said that this is a complex issue, and that a better way to put it might be to ask why hostility toward Jews has persisted over so many centuries, and in so many different cultures.
I went on to say that I largely agreed with what Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, had written (in The Jewish State) on this issue. I mentioned that Herzl, along with many others, often referred to the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in society as "the Jewish question." (Grossly misrepresenting this aspect of our conversation in his column, Will also pretentiously cited the German term, Judenfrage, as if this version is somehow more sinister.)
When I put this same question to Will, he expressed the view that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is probably rooted in Christianity, but said that he is completely unable to explain why it has persisted through the centuries. "Why is there is no 'Baptist question'?," he rhetorically asked, an exclamation that is either disingenuous or manifests intellectual poverty.
Near the conclusion of our meeting, Will spoke -- in a tone almost of exasperation -- of having once stood in a Birkenau barracks with a former inmate who pointed out the exact place where she had once slept. He cited this anecdote as particularly compelling reason for his belief in the Holocaust story.
While I didn't expect the column that Will said he would write about our meeting would be flattering, I was surprised at just how mean-spirited and inaccurate it turned out to be. He was unwilling even to concede my sincerity. (The column appeared in The Washington Post on August 29, and in dozens of other daily papers on or about the same day.)
As unfair as it was, on balance it was probably more helpful than harmful. It at least made many more people (most of them relatively well-educated) aware of the growing skepticism about the orthodox Holocaust story. And he paid for my lunch.
Letters of response from the IHR were published in perhaps half a dozen of the papers in which Will's column had appeared. It was also gratifying to note that letters from other revisionists taking issue with Will on this matter appeared in at least several daily papers.
George Will's attitude about the Holocaust issue is, unfortunately, all too typical of millions of relatively well-educated Americans today. His smug sense of moral and intellectual certainty about this subject is characteristic of the close-minded who know just enough about this trendy subject to pronounce on it with arrogance. The self-righteous and almost reverential way he writes about "the Holocaust" is not merely fashionable these days, it is all but obligatory -- particularly for a successful commentator on current affairs.
Will's column concludes with the "good news that this year two million people" will visit the U.S. government's new "Holocaust Memorial Museum" in Washington, DC. In the end, though, it will be neither such state-sponsored temples nor the motives of revisionists that matter, but rather the historical reality -- which cannot be suppressed forever.
A Letter to George Will
George F. Will
1208 Thirtieth St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Dear Mr. Will,
While I did not expect a friendly report by you of our conversation over lunch, I was surprised at just how mean-spirited, unfair and intellectually dishonest your column turned out to be.
You attribute words to me that are either invented or are crass distortions of remarks ripped from their context. You attribute the following sentence to me: "Anti-semitic and anti-democratic, Hitler understood the necessity for severely hierarchical and racially homogenous nations." I said no such thing. For you to then go on to write that "applying these ideas, Weber says ..." only adds to the dishonesty.
I did not say that Hitler was "the most philosophical" figure of the 20th Century. What I said was that he was probably the most philosophical of the great political figures of his time. (As I recall, I added that Churchill is a possible exception.)
Your presentation of what I said to you about Hitler gives an utterly false impression of my view of the man. (You may recall my remark to you that your own statements to me about Hitler could, if taken out of context, be taken as praise for the man.)
Your assertion that "the deniers 'arguments' always return to what Weber, like the Nazis, calls 'the Jewish question' "is likewise inaccurate and dishonest. As you will recall, it was you who first raised the issue of relations between Jews and non-Jews.
Your portrayal of the arguments of Holocaust "deniers" is grotesquely inaccurate. No serious revisionist has ever claimed that "Zyclon-B [sic] gas was too weak to kill." Your contention that revisionists claim that gas from Zyklon was "too powerful to use for mass murder" or that "the gas chambers were really showers" is likewise a gross misrepresentation. You have obviously not taken the time to familiarize yourself -- even superficially -- with the findings and arguments of revisionist scholars. Apparently you have simply relied on Lipstadt's grossly distorted portrayal of revisionist arguments [in her book, Denying the Holocaust ].
What you wrote about an IHR Journal advertisement for Ingrid Weckert's book about the "Crystal Night" is similarly dishonest. Contrary to what you suggest, neither the advertisement, nor Weckert's book, contend that "the Jews" benefitted from that outburst of violence on November 9th (not 6th), 1938. While you chide a young reporter for his/her failure to read Lipstadt's book, it is obvious that you have not read the book by Weckert you inaccurately describe.
Finally, your assertion that I "torture the past in the hope of making the future safe for torturers" is simply contemptible.
You should be ashamed of yourself for writing such a column.
Letters from individual revisionists, and from IHR Journal editor Weber, responding to George Will's polemic were published in several of the papers in which the syndicated column had appeared. The entire text of the IHR's response was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times. In most cases, though, only a portion of the full text appeared
Will's column, and Weber's response, touched off an exchange of views in the "readers' letters" section of the San Francisco Chronicle, including a commentary by an ADL official and this follow-up letter by Weber (published September 15) that included the IHR address. It resulted in about 60 letters and postcards to the IHR from readers seeking further information. Typical was this comment: "Thanks for your letter to the editor. You are the biggest secret around. Please send me your literature."
From The Journal of Historical Review, Nov.-Dec. 1993 (Vol. 13, No. 6).