For the first time, the United Nations held a special Holocaust memorial session of the General Assembly on January 24, with Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel as a speaker. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reminded the gathering that while the Nazis targeted many groups, including the handicapped and homosexuals, "the tragedy of the Jewish people was unique. An entire civilization, which had contributed far beyond its numbers to the cultural and intellectual riches of Europe and the world, was uprooted, destroyed, laid waste."
As millions around the world pause this week to honor Nazism's victims, Mark Weber, director of the California-based Institute for Historical Review, America's central clearing-house of Holocaust revisionism, is writing his latest diatribe downplaying the Third Reich's campaign against Europe's Jews.
In recent years, there has been a rush to documentation before the remaining survivors die. Holocaust museums, scholars, and documentary filmmakers have amassed an enormous amount of evidence, including videotaped narratives such as the eyewitness accounts gathered by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation project.
Yet even the cumulative weight of this vast documentation of Nazi atrocities hasn't budged Weber and his fellow Holocaust revisionists. Rather, because these last-minute first-person accounts perpetuate what they consider to be lies and distortions, the growing mass of testimony only fuels their contention that key events in the Holocaust never happened. In the revisionist mindset, the latest accounts, like the earliest, lack convincing evidence.
Weber first detected this so-called absence of proof 25 years ago, when he was shown aerial reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz. "There were no piles of corpses, smoking chimneys, or masses of Jews awaiting death," Weber says. Yet, Wiesel and others claimed the photographs proved that "Jews were being killed, and that the Americans let it happen."
That's when Weber, who is now 53, began to question the "official view" of the "Holocaust story." "I had been aware of it growing up," he says. "I read `The Diary of Anne Frank'."
"When it came to systematic extermination, the evidence was very thin," Weber says. Like other revisionists, he acknowledges that the Nazis deported large numbers of Jews and others to camps or ghettos, where they were subjected to brutal treatment and where many were killed or died of disease and malnutrition which he calls an inevitable consequence of war.
Weber, who holds a master's degree in European history from the University of Indiana, faults works such as Claude Lanzmann's documentary "Shoah," along with taped eyewitness accounts and museum archives, for spreading what he considers to be false claims, exaggerations, and imprecise statistics. He says they are tools in a "relentless" media campaign that has turned the Holocaust into an "icon," even a "secular religion," in which denying the Holocaust is a crime punishable by imprisonment in many countries. All of this activity promotes Jewish-Zionist political and financial interests, Weber maintains.
Novels and movies are, by definition, the least trustworthy. "Schindler didn't have a list," he says.
Instead, Weber, who briefly served as news editor of the Neo-Nazi magazine, "National Vanguard," relies on his own selection of sources-essays, papers, and scientific reports produced by Holocaust revisionists from the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Australia, which are disseminated over the Internet and at IHR conferences (and which used to appear in the now-defunct "IHR Journal"), as well as writings by academics and journalists, many of them Jewish, who are critical of Israeli government policy.
Among the most influential revisionist documents are the 1988 Leuchter Report and its follow-ups, which profess to substantiate a core revisionist belief: that Jews, though brutalized and killed in large numbers, were not gassed in Nazi concentration camps. The report purports to provide scientific proof, based on analyses of scrapings collected at Auschwitz by Fred Leuchter, Jr., an authority on U.S. prison execution chambers, that Nazi gas chambers were used for fumigation and delousing, not for extermination, and that the purpose of the crematory ovens was to dispose of those who had died of illnesses such as typhus in a manner that would prevent further spread of disease.
Leuchter claims to have broken into facilities at the camp and documented the locations of forensic samples taken from the Auschwitz-Birkenau complexes, and a "control sample" at delousing facility #1, but he did not record the exact locations in his log. It is worth nothing that more than 40 years after the war, Leuchter found cyanide in those samples.
"After tens of millions of tax dollars spent at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is not one exhibit-not one-that demonstrates that one homicidal gas chamber existed anywhere in Europe under German control or occupation," Smith says. The museum, in Washington, D.C., has a casting of a gas chamber door from Maidanek in Poland. (www.ushmm.org/)
You don't need an original gas chamber in a museum to prove the Holocaust, says Alex Grobman, co-author of "Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say it?" (University of California Press, 2000). He visited Auschwitz and other concentration camps with his co-author, Michael Shermer, the editor of "Skeptic Magazine," who is not Jewish .
"The deniers can keep you going," Grobman says. "There's always a next question: 'How do I know this is the one they used?'" Their questions raise another, more fundamental one: "How do you know, or prove anything in history?"
"What if someone says that no physical evidence of slavery exists," Grobman posits. "Do you have to produce the chains and whips and ships in which the slaves came?" He adds, "Holocaust denial is not only a Jewish issue. If you succeed in destroying one group's history, you can do it with anyone's."
"The deniers are the only ones questioning the existence of gas chambers. The German and Polish governments aren't questioning it." What's needed to confirm historical events is "a confluence of information" supplied by a series of "building blocks," Grobman says. There is more than enough evidence: orders for Zyklon-B gas, blueprints and building materials, confessions of camp guards and commandants, diaries by sonderkommandos (whose job it was to remove the dead bodies from the gas chambers), and photographs. (www.Holocaust-trc.org).
But Smith, who is 74, puts little faith in eyewitness accounts, such as the more than 50,000 taped by Spielberg's Shoah Foundation project. "I'm burned out on `testimonies' by Jewish survivors," he says, referring to the writings and oral testimony of Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, and Abraham Bomba (the "Barber of Treblinka" in "Shoah"), which he calls "lies."
"Survivor testimonies are the weakest link in all the Holocaust literature. Even today the Internet is flooded with old survivors going around to schoolchildren, talking about the unique monstrosity of the Germans. Some of their stories are so goofy that it's like reading a Woody Allen script-one that he decided not to use," says Smith, who launched a revisionist outreach campaign on college campuses in the early '90's by placing a series of ads directing students to his Web site in more than 50 student newspapers.
Weber, who spoke to a number of survivors at the 1983 American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Washington, D.C., is somewhat less dismissive. "I think survivors tell the truth when they describe their own experiences. It's when they talk about events of which they have no personal experience or knowledge, that their testimony is more suspect."
"We try to appeal to the facts, to rational explanations, not to the emotions," he says, pointing out with evident satisfaction that many early assertions about Nazi atrocities have been "quietly dropped" or emended over time. For example, he says, no one now believes the once-authoritative evidence for gas-chamber killings at Dachau and Buchenwald reported at the Nuremberg Trials. "Even Simon Wiesenthal admitted there were no extermination camps on German soil," Weber says.
Concentration camps on German soil may not have been used as extermination centers, says Grobman, a former director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. But Germany was the site of gassing installations in which the Nazis used carbon monoxide to "euthanize" mentally ill and disabled Germans, and these killing centers were precursors of the gas chambers. Because Germans objected to such distasteful activities in their own backyard, the Nazis set up Auschwitz and the other death camps in Poland, Grobman says.
According to the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the estimated number of Jewish fatalities during the Holocaust is usually given as between 5.1 and 6 million victims.
The most recent authoritative figures come from Wolfgang Benz, a German historian and expert on anti-Semitism, Grobman says. Using the same criteria as his predecessors, such as population demographics before and after the war, numbers reported transferred to camps, numbers estimated or reported killed, including in special actions by Einsatzgruppen, and numbers liberated from the camps, Benz arrived at a higher number: 6,269,097. Raul Hilberg has put the figure at 5,109,822. For Auschwitz, the figure is probably between 1.2 and 1.5 million.
On the subject of evidence, Smith draws a parallel with the war in Iraq. "After 60-odd years it is time to admit publicly that there were no German WMD's [gas chambers]," he says. "Just as the Iraqi WMD fraud morally justified the American invasion of Iraq, the United Nations used the German WMD fraud to justify the creation of a Jewish state on land occupied by Arabs."
"The Shoah [the Hebrew word for "holocaust"] is frequently exploited in America and Israel to deflect any criticism of Israel," and "allows Israel to trump other nations' sufferings," Weber quotes from an article by historian Tony Judt in a January 2005 issue of "The Nation." (Judt is Jewish, Weber is quick to point out.)
It may be tempting to dismiss Holocaust deniers as members of a "lunatic fringe," but they have a "profound impact on the collective mindset in the Middle East," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. "They're heroes among the Muslim and Arab elites."
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish anti-discrimination organization, says "At first we wouldn't `answer' the revisionists," explaining that there have been three types over the years: old Nazis trying to whitewash Germany's image, Neo-Nazis, and, finally, "classic anti-Semites."
But revisionist David Irving's 2000 libel suit in London against Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University Holocaust studies professor, and her publisher, Viking Books, "forced the issue," Foxman says. "We had to support the defense."
Irving lost the case, in which he sued Lipstadt for calling him a "Holocaust denier" in her 1993 book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." In the future, there is bound to be more to defend. "In the old days, a student who was assigned to write a paper on the Holocaust would go the library and find a hundred books, maybe two of them denying it," Foxman says. "Now there are a whole slew of denial sites on the Internet. It's difficult to differentiate between what is legitimate and what isn't."
"There are still people who can stand up and bear witness," Foxman continues. "Twenty years from now, there will be more books, more Web sites, more films-maybe even an anti-`Schindler's List'," he speculates. But there won't be more survivors.