Five minutes before the show, the producer came into the Green Room, panic-stricken. "Phil is very concerned about this show. He is in over his head and is worried it might not come off well." In the weeks prior to the show, I had prepared a list of denier claims and constructed sound-bite replies, so I assured the producer that I was ready to answer all the deniers' claims and told him not to worry.
Donahue opened the show with these words: "How do we know the Holocaust really happened? And what proof do we have that even one Jew was killed in a gas chamber?" As the producers rolled stock footage from Nazi concentration camps, Donahue continued:
In just the last six months, fifteen college newspapers across the country have run advertisements that call for an open debate of the Holocaust. The ad claims that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has no proof whatever of homicidal gassing chambers, and no proof that even one individual was gassed in a German program of genocide. The ads have caused an uproar everywhere, sparking protests from students and boycotts of the papers. The man who placed all the ads, Bradley Smith, has been called anti-semitic and a neoNazi because of the challenges of the Holocaust. Smith claims he simply wants the truth to be told—that Jews were never placed in gas chambers and that the figure of six million Jewish deaths is an irresponsible exaggeration. And he is not alone in his beliefs. A recent poll by the Roper organization found that 22 percent of all Americans believe it's possible the Holocaust never happened. Another 12 percent say they don't know. So in a time when over five thousand visitors are crowding the new Holocaust museum every day, and the film Schindler's List is reducing jaded movie-goers to tears, the question should be asked, How can anyone claim the Holocaust was a hoax?
It was obvious from the start that Donahue was, indeed, in over his head. He knew little about the Holocaust and even less about the debating style of the deniers. He immediately tried to reduce the discussion to accusations of antisemitism.
Donahue: You do not deny that antisemitism in Europe in the '30s, most especially Germany, Poland, and environs, was visceral and that Hitler ...
Smith: We're not talking about any of that. Listen . . .
Donahue: Please don't be upset with my questions.
Smith: I'm not upset. But the question is outside the parameter of the issue. I'm running an advertisement that says the museum .. .
Donahue: We're three minutes into this program and you don't like my question.
Smith: The question has nothing to do with what I'm doing.
Donahue: Do you believe that there was engineered by Hitler and the Third Reich a strategy of eliminating Jews called the Final Solution? Do you believe that?
With this question, it looked like Phil was going to zero in on one of the deniers' major points—the moral equivalence argument that in times of war all people are treated badly and that the Nazis were no worse than the other major combatants in this and other wars. But Smith moved Donahue right by this issue.
Smith: I don't believe it anymore. I used to. But that's not what I'm talking about. If you don't understand what I'm talking about you won't ask the right question. The question is this. We have a $200 million museum in Washington, D.C. It's in America. It's not in Europe. And the whole museum is dedicated to the proposition that Jews were killed in gas chambers. They don't have any proof in the museum that Jews were killed in gas chambers. As a matter of fact, they are so sure that guys like you will never ask them the question
Donahue: Guys like me? [Audience laughter.]
This sort of patter went on for another fifteen minutes, with Donahue continually returning to the issue of antisemitism, and Smith and Cole desperately trying to make their points that the Holocaust is debatable and that the camp gas chambers and crematoria were not used to kill prisoners. David Cole showed some of his footage from Auschwitz and Majdanek, and began discussing Zyklon-B trace deposits and other technical matters. Assuming that this was over the heads of his audience, Donahue switched to trying to associate Cole with the noted neo-Nazi, Ernst Ziindel.
Donahue: David, you are familiar, and know, and have traveled with Ernst Ziindel. Is that so?
Cole: No, I have not traveled with Ernst Ziindel.
Donahue: Did you meet him in Poland?
Cole: I met him in Poland. I met him twice in my entire life.
Donahue: All right, what did you do, have a beer? I mean, what's travel mean? [Audience laughter.] You met him in Poland. He is a neo-Nazi. You don't deny that?
Cole: No, I'm sorry Phil. This is not about who I've met in my life. I just met you. Does that mean I'm Mario Thomas? [Loud audience laughter.] This is about physical evidence. This is about Zyklon-B residue. This is about windows in a gas chamber . . .
Donahue: Were you bar mitzvahed David?
Cole: I'm an atheist. I made that clear to your production staff.
This meaningless chatter went on for several more minutes until a commercial break. The producer, page, make-up artist, and microphone technician now escorted me into the studio. My entrance had the look and feel of a prizefighter going into the ring. The producer told me to stay away from the technical matters and stick to analyzing their methods. In the days prior to the show, he had interviewed me extensively and I had told him everything I would say. There should have been no surprises.
I launched into my presentation, knowing that I only had a few minutes. After summarizing the methods of deniers, I began to move into their specific claims. Now was the time to put up on the screen the photographs and blueprints of gas chambers and crematoria and the short quotes about "elimination" and "extermination" of Jews that I had provided. Instead, Donahue showed film footage from Dachau, now known not to have been an extermination camp. Unfortunately, no one had told Donahue where the footage was taken or anything else about it. Cole promptly nailed him.
Cole: I'd like to ask Dr. Shermer a question. They just showed the Dachau gas chamber in that footage. Is that gas chamber ever claimed to have killed people?
Shermer: No. And in fact, the important point here . . .
Donahue: There is a sign at Dachau notifying tourists of that fact.
Cole: That it was not used to kill people. So why did you just show it in the clip?
Donahue: I'm not at all sure that was Dachau.
Cole: Oh, that was Dachau. Now wait a minute. You're not sure that was Dachau? You show a clip on your show and you're not sure it was Dachau?
I jumped in to try to redirect the discussion back to the point: "History is knowledge and like all knowledge it progresses and changes. We continually refine our certainty about claims.. . . And that's what historical revisionism is all about." Meanwhile, David Cole left the studio, disgusted that he had not been allowed to make his points. Donahue said, "Let him walk!"
Thinking that I had done fairly well in analyzing the methodologies of the deniers, I was comfortably awaiting the next segment when the producer came running over to me. "Shermer, what are you doing? What are you doing? You need to be more aggressive. My boss is furious. Come on!" I was shocked. Apparently either Donahue thought the Holocaust deniers could be refuted in a matter of minutes or he was hoping I would just call them antisemites as he did and be done with it. It was suddenly obvious that Donahue was not privy to the briefing I had given the producer. As I anxiously tried to think of new things to say, the studio audience and callers started asking questions, resulting in talk-show chaos.
One caller wanted to know why Smith was doing this to the Jews. The ensuing exchange demonstrated the problem of having a host and guests who are not prepared to deal with the specific claims and tactics of the deniers.
Smith: One of the problems here is we have a feeling that if we talk about this issue nobody is involved but Jews. Germans are involved. For instance, if we tell, there is something vulgar about lying about Germans and thinking that it's proper. For example, it was a lie that Germans cooked Jews to make soap from them. It was a lie . . .
Judith Berg [from the front row]: It was true. They made lampshades and they cooked soap. That's true.
Smith: Ask the professor.
Shermer: Excuse me, historians make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. We're always refining our knowledge, and some of these things come down and they don't turn out to be true. But let me tell you what I think is going on here . . .
Smith: Ask why they're doing that to this woman. Why have they taught this woman to believe that the Germans cooked and skinned .. .
Berg [jumps out of seat, screaming]: I was seven months in Auschwitz. I lived near the crematorium as far as I am from you. I smelled You would never eat roast chicken if you had been there. Because I smelled .. .
Smith: Let's get to the bottom of one thing. She says soap and lampshades. The professor says you're mistaken.
Berg: Even the Germans admit it. They admit it that they had lampshades ...
Donahue [to Smith]: Do you have any empathy at all?. . . Are you concerned about the pain that you cause this woman?
Smith: Sure, but why should we ignore the Germans who are accused of this despicable story?
Berg [in an emotion-filled voice, pointing finger at Smith]: I was seven months there. If you are blind someone else can see it. I was seven months there . ..
Smith: What does that have to do with soap? No soap, no lampshades. The professor says you're wrong, that's all.
Berg: He wasn't there. The people there told me not to use that [soap] because it could be your mother.
Smith: A doctor of history, Occidental College. He says you're mistaken.
Because Mrs. Berg had told me that she had seen Nazis burning large numbers of bodies in an open field, I began to explain: "They burnt bodies in mass graves ..." but I was cut off when Donahue broke for a commercial.
Before the show, I had told both Mrs. Berg and Mrs. Glueck not to exaggerate or embellish anything, to just tell the audience exactly what they remembered. Most survivors know little about the Holocaust outside of what happened to them half a century ago, and deniers are good at tripping them up when they get dates wrong or, worse, claim they saw someone or something they could not have seen. By turning her actual experience of seeing burning bodies into evidence for human soap, Mrs. Berg provided a perfect setup, and Smith capitalized on it. He not only avoided the issue of burning bodies and undermined the credibility of what Mrs. Berg did see but also managed to make it look as if I and other Holocaust historians were on his side. Donahue, having exhausted his knowledge of the Holocaust, returned to the free-speech issues and, once again, antisemitism and ad hominem attacks on Smith's character and credentials. During each of the subsequent segments, the producer stood on the sidelines pointing at me and mouthing, "Say something! Say something!"
Because of the chaos during the commercials and stimulation overload during the show, it was difficult for me to know how the program was perceived by viewers. I thought that it was a total disaster and the deniers had bested me, that I had made a fool of myself in front of my colleagues and let down the historical profession. Apparently, that was not the case. I have received hundreds of calls and letters from historians and the general public telling me that the deniers looked like cold-hearted buffoons and that I was the only one who kept his cool throughout the mayhem of the program.
I have also received letters and calls that focus on another issue. One Holocaust scholar was furious with me for accepting an invitation to "debate" the deniers (if you can call what happens on a talk show a debate). Had it not been for me, she argued mistakenly, there would have been no show. In a private correspondence, she told me that she was "amazed" that I "would be naive enough to allow yourself to be drawn into making them the other side." How one should respond to claims one finds repugnant is a personal matter. But we should consider the ramifications of not responding. For example, when I speak with Holocaust scholars, they occasionally will say something like "Off the record, I do not place much validity in survivors' testimony because their memories are faulty" or "Off the record, the deniers have identified some things that need further research." In my opinion, trying to keep these things off the record is going to backfire on historians. The deniers already know these things and are publicizing them. Do we want the public to think that we are covering up "problems" with the Holocaust story or that we have somehow missed these things? At every lecture I have ever given on Holocaust denial, when I state that the human soap story is generally a myth, audiences are shocked. No one but Holocaust historians and Holocaust deniers seems to know that the mass production of soap from Jews is a myth. (According to Berenbaum  and Hilberg , no bar of soap has ever tested positive for human fat.) Do we want the Bradley Smiths and the David Coles of the world explaining such things to the public? By keeping silent on such important issues, our inaction may come back to haunt us.
Of course, Holocaust historians are reluctant to speak out on such important issues because Holocaust deniers use such statements ruthlessly against the Holocaust. Consider the case of Elizabeth Loftus. In 1991, world-renowned memory expert and University of Washington psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus published her autobiographical work, Witness for the Defense. Loftus is well known for the stand she has taken against the abuse of "memory recovery" therapies. Through her research, she has shown that memory is not as reliable as we would like to think.
As new bits and pieces of information are added into long-term memory, the old memories are removed, replaced, crumpled up, or shoved into corners. Memories don't just fade .. . they also grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed—colored by succeeding events, other people's recollections or suggestions. . .. Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretative realities. (Loftus and Ketchaml991,p. 20)
In 1987, Loftus was asked to testify for the defense of John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-born Cleveland autoworker who was tried in Israel for allegedly helping to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews at Treblinka, where he was said to have been known as "Ivan the Terrible." The problem was in proving that Demjanjuk was Ivan. One witness, Abraham Goldfarb, first stated that Ivan was killed in a 1943 uprising but later identified Demjanjuk as Ivan. Another witness, Eugen Turowski, who initially had no recognition of Demjanjuk, announced after Goldfarb's testimony that Demjanjuk was Ivan. All five witnesses who positively identified Demjanjuk lived in Israel and had attended a commemoration of the Treblinka uprising in Tel Aviv. But twenty-three other Treblinka survivors did not make a positive identification.
Loftus was caught in a dilemma: "'If I take the case,' I explained, having talked this out with myself hundreds of times, 'I would turn my back on my Jewish heritage. If I don't take the case, I would turn my back on everything I've worked for in the last fifteen years. To be true to my work, I must judge the case as I have judged every case before it. If there are problems with the eyewitness identifications I must testify. It's the consistent thing to do'" (p. 232). Loftus then asked a close Jewish friend for advice. The answer was clear: '"Beth, please. Tell me you said no. Tell me you will not take this case.'" Loftus explained that there was a possibility of mistaken identity based on old and faulty memories. '"How could you?'" was the friend's reaction. "'Ilene, please try to understand. This is my work. I have to look beyond the emotions, to the issues here. I can't just automatically assume he's guilty.'" In the ultimate choice between loyally to one's people and loyalty to the search for truth, Loftus's friend made it clear which she should choose. "I knew that in her heart she believed I had betrayed her. Worse than that, much worse, I had betrayed my people, my heritage, my race. I had betrayed them all for thinking that there might be a possibility that John Demjanjuk was innocent" (p. 229).
John Demjanjuk was indeed found innocent by the Israeli Supreme Court. Loftus went to Israel to watch the trial but chose not to testify. Her explanation reveals the human side of science: "As I looked around the audience filled with four generations of Jews ... it was as if these were my relatives, and I, too, had lost someone I loved in the Treblinka death camp. With those kinds of feelings inside me, I couldn't suddenly switch roles and become a professional, an expert. ... I couldn't do it. It was as simple and agonizing as that" (p. 237).
I have great respect for Loftus and her work, and considerable regard for the courage it took to make such an honest and soul-searching confession. But do you know how I heard about this story? From the deniers, who sent me a review of the book from their own journal, in which it was claimed that "Loftus is perhaps more culpable than the elderly persons who bore false witness against the defendant. For unlike the aging witnesses who were no longer able to distinguish truth from falsehood, and who had come to believe their own false testimony, Loftus knew better" (Cobden 1991, p. 249). I met Loftus at a conference and talked to her at length about how the deniers were using her work. She was shocked and had no idea this was happening. No wonder Holocaust historians are tempted to keep dilemmas under wraps.
Loftus is just one example among many of how personal and public censorship can backfire. Consider two more.
1. In the February 1995 issue (released in January) of Marco Polo, one of nine weekly and monthly magazines published by the highly respected Japanese publishing firm Bungei Shunju, appeared an article entitled "The Greatest Taboo of Postwar World History: There Were No Nazi 'Gas Chambers.'" The article was written by Dr. Masanori Nishioka, a thirty-eight-year-old physician, who called the Holocaust "a fabrication" and said "the story of 'gas chambers' was used as propaganda for the purposes of psychological warfare." Propaganda soon became history, Nishioka claims, and "The 'gas chambers' currently open to the public at the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland are a postwar fabrication built either by the Polish Communist regime or by the Soviet Union, which controlled the country. Neither at Auschwitz nor anywhere else in the territory controlled by the Germans during the Second World War was there even one 'mass extermination' of Jews in 'gas chambers.'"
Reaction to the magazine article was swift. The Israeli government protested through its Tokyo embassy, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center suggested an economic boycott of the magazine by its major advertisers, including Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi Motor, Carrier, Volkswagen, and Philip Morris. Within seventy-two hours these advertisers informed Bungei Shunju that if something was not done, they would pull their advertising not only from Marco Polo but from the publisher's other magazines as well. The editors first defended the article, then offered equal space for a rebuttal, an offer declined by the Wiesenthal Center. The Japanese government issued an official statement that called the article "extremely improper," and, under mounting economic strain, Marco Polo, circulation 250,000, folded on January 30. The company's president, Kengo Tanaka, explained, "We ran an article that was not fair to the Nazi massacre of Jewish people, and by running the article, we caused deep sorrow and hardship for Jewish society and related people." Some Marco Polo staff members were dismissed from their jobs, and remainders of the magazine were recalled from the newsstands. Two weeks later, on February 14, Tanaka resigned his presidency (although he remains chairman of Bungei Shunju).
Calling the publisher's decision "hara kiri," the March/April 1995 issue of the Journal of Historical Review claimed that "Jewish-Zionist groups responded to the article with characteristic speed and ruthlessness" and that "the publisher capitulated to an international Jewish-Zionist boycott and pressure campaign." Author Nishioka said, "Marco Polo was crushed by Jewish organizations using advertising [pressure], and Bungei obliged. They crushed room for debate." The Journal of Historical Review said the incident was "a great defeat for the cause of free speech and free inquiry" and concluded:
American newspapers and magazines repeatedly assert that the Japanese hold "stereotyped" views about "the Jews," and frequently disparage them for thinking that Jews wield enormous power around the world, severely punishing anyone who defies their interests. The murder/suicide of Marco Polo magazine is unlikely to disabuse many Japanese of such "stereotyped" views. As in the United States, Japanese are expected to engage in a kind of Orwellian "doublethink," simultaneously taking to heart the harsh lesson of Marco Polo's demise, while regarding those who forced the execution as feeble victims, (pp. 2-6)
From the deniers' perspective, Jewish organizations did exactly what deniers have been accusing them of doing all along—wielding economic power and controlling the media. Simon Wiesenthal Center senior researcher Aaron Breitbart chose not to dignify their viewpoint with a seri ous rebuttal, responding only, "If it is not true, they have nothing to worry about. If it is true, they'd better be nice to us."
2. On May 7, 1995, fifty years to the day after the allies defeated Nazi Germany, the Toronto headquarters of Ernst Ziindel, the noted neo-Nazi publisher and Holocaust denier, were set on fire, causing an estimated $400,000 in damage. Ziindel was away on a speaking tour but swore that the attack, not the first, would not deter his efforts: "I have been beaten, bombed, spat at. . . but Ernst Ziindel will not be run out of town. My work is legal and legitimate, and enjoys constitutional protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Ziindel should know, as he defended these rights in two trials in 1985 and 1988, in which he was charged with "spreading false news" about the Holocaust. In 1992, Canada's Supreme Court acquitted Ziindel on the grounds that the law under which Ziindel had been charged was unconstitutional.
Claiming credit for the arson attack, according to the Toronto Sun, was "a shadowy offshoot of the Jewish Defense League" called the "Jewish Armed Resistance Movement." The group contacted the Toronto Sun, whose investigations revealed a connection "to yet another offshoot of the Jewish Defense League, Kahane Chai, an ultra-right Zionist group." Meir Halevi, leader of the Toronto Jewish Defense League, denied any connection with the attack, although a few days later, on May 12, Halevi and three companions, including Irv Rubin, leader of the Jewish Defense League in Los Angeles, tried to break into Ziindel's home. Staff members photographed the would-be intruders and called the police, who, with Ziindel in the car, chased them down and apprehended them. They were released, however, without being charged.
The point is this. Like the Loftus-Demjanjuk story, I heard about these events through the deniers themselves, who take such incidents and use them to prove their point about what "the Jews" are capable of doing. The Institute for Historical Review capitalized on the Marco Polo incident by citing it in a fund-raising letter asking for donations to support the fight against the so-called Jewish-Zionist conspiracy. Ziindel plays to the hilt that it was "the Jews" who did this to him as he solicits funds to help him reconstruct his office.
My position regarding the freedom of speech of anyone on any subject is that while the government should never, under any conditions, limit the speech of anyone anytime, private organizations should also have the freedom to restrict the speech of anyone anytime within their own institution. Holocaust deniers should have the freedom to publish their own journals and books, and to try to have their views aired in other publications
(e.g., college newspaper advertisements). But colleges, since they own their own newspapers, should have the freedom to restrict the deniers access to their readers.
Should they exercise this freedom? This is a question of strategy. Do you ignore what you know to be a false claim and hope it goes away, or do you stand it up and refute it for all to see? I believe that once a claim is in the public consciousness (as Holocaust denial undeniably is), it should be properly analyzed.
From a broader perspective there are, I believe, reasonable arguments for why we should not cover up, hide, suppress, or, worst of all, use the State to squelch someone else's belief system, no matter how wacky, unfounded, or venomous it may seem. Why?
• They might be completely right, and we would have just squashed the truth.
• They might be partially right, and we do not want to miss a part of the truth.
• They might be completely wrong, but by examining their wrong claims, we will discover and confirm the truth; we will also discover how thinking can go wrong, and thus improve our thinking skills.
• In science, it is not possible to know the absolute truth about anything, so we must always be on the alert for where we have gone wrong and where others have gone right.
• Being tolerant when you are in the majority means you have a greater chance of being tolerated when you are in the minority.
Once a mechanism for censorship of ideas is established, it can then work against you if and when the tables are turned. Let us pretend for a moment that the majority denies evolution and the Holocaust and that creationists and Holocaust deniers are in the positions of power. If a mechanism for censorship exists, then you, the believer in evolution and the Holocaust, may now be censored. The human mind, no matter what ideas it generates, must never be quashed. When evolutionists were in the minority in Tennessee in 1925, and politically powerful fundamentalists were successfully passing antievolution legislation making it a crime to teach evolution in public schools, Clarence Darrow made this brilliant observation in his closing remarks in the Scopes trial:
If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and next year you can make it a crime to teach it in the church. At the next session you can ban books and the newspapers. Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy, indeed feeding, always feeding and gloating for more. Today it's the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After awhile, your honor, it is the setting of man against man, creed against creed, until the flying banners and beating drums are marching backwards to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the man who dared to bring any intelligence, and enlightenment, and culture to the human mind, (in Gould 1983a, p. 278)
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