Demagogues in Denial

The Holocaust ‘revisionist' industry is running a brisk trade. Nick Ryan meets the merchants of denial.

In the midst of increasing antisemitic sentiment and attacks against Jews, ardent Holocaust deniers (or ‘historical revisionists’ as they like to see themselves) are now finding the perfect opportunity to insinuate their views into the wider discourse.

For a long time such fascists and neo-fascists have talked about ‘The Jewish Problem’. During my own investigations into the murky world of the extreme Right, I witnessed this hatred of the Jews as the ideological glue which binds together many Far Right organizations, as well as linking them to a wider network of other militants. Just look on the internet for shared theories about ‘Zionist conspiracies’ regarding 9/11. This was one of the many popular themes espoused by rightwing ideologues and Islamic militants at a large meeting in Beirut to which I was invited. It was organized under the auspices of the Los Angeles- based Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a major force in the revisionist scene.

In Britain, I met many times with Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP), a Far Right group which now holds 21 local council seats and has electoral aspirations for national and European parliaments. Though he now denies antisemitism has any relevance to the electorate, Griffin wrote a booklet called Who are the Mindbenders? in which he obssessed about supposed Jewish control over the British media and government. He fumed about Holocaust ‘lies’, invoking the popular phraseology of the Far Right – the ‘Holohoax’.

The BNP leader railed: ‘I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated... Orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat... I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter-day witch hysteria.’

Travelling down Griffin’s network of contacts in the US, I encountered John Tiffany, an aficionado of Celtic culture, in his mid-fifties and a self-educated ‘historian’. He edits The Barnes Review (TBR) magazine, one of the bibles of the Revisionist movement. For many years it has been controlled behind the scenes by Willis Carto, former aide to pro-segregation politician George Wallace and founder of the Far Right Liberty Lobby pressure group.

The Barnes Review also organizes various conferences and it was at one of these that I met Tiffany. I listened to a lecture by the infamous Fred Leuchter, who claimed to have ‘proven’ there were no gas chambers and met the smartly dressed Germar Rudolph, who was wanted in Germany (having been sentenced in absentia for Holocaust denial, which is a crime there).

The Barnes Review mission statement is typical of these sorts of Revisionist outfits: ‘TBR aims to tell you the truth – the whole truth about history – things you need to know to figure out how things got so screwed up – and why. It’s a good investment in your family’s future. No other history publication in America can truthfully say that.’ A nervous, mumbling speaker, Tiffany, wearing a kilt, explained: ‘We’re oriented towards the white race and the Germanic peoples and the Celtic peoples, primarily. We think that every race should have pride in its heritage.’

Talking with him was a very matter-of-fact, mundane experience. He seemed like nothing other than a slightly eccentric scholar. ‘History is being written by the victors, so all we hear about is the evil Germans,’ he declared, his voice passionate. ‘A large part of our thrust is towards correcting the “evil Germans” image, the “German Hun”, where the Establishment not only blames them for World War One but World War Two, claiming they wanted to exterminate the Jewish people and various other peoples.’

This obsession with the War is something that unites many Revisionists who lambast Jews for supposedly degrading German culture. They ridicule Jewish remembrance of the Shoah by describing it as ‘Holocaustianity’.

A man of extremes

‘We Germans don’t have any identity at all. We lost it after the War’, explained the soft-spoken, American-accented Horst Mahler. I met Mahler at his house in Berlin, the day after a May Day march by over a thousand neo-Nazi skinheads. They’d been shouting ‘Frei, Sozial, und Nation–aal!’ (‘Free, Social and National’), as they marched in stormtrooper fashion, occasionally exchanging blows with anti-fascist protesters.

Mahler was something of an oddity. He’d been a founding member of the leftwing terrorist group, the Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang). After a 10-year spell in prison for armed robbery, he reverted to his lawyer’s practice then decided to join the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland (NPD – National Democratic Party), defending it against a possible government ban.

I listened to Mahler’s ruminating while birds sang incongruously from his garden. ‘Everyone now believes that the Nazis were the devil and who wants to give their hand to the devil? But this will change soon.’ He paused, perhaps for effect. ‘That’s why the Government wanted to ban NPD.’

A return to the Nazi era?

‘People say National Socialism was all bad, only concentration camps, killing people, and this is National Socialism, And if you are a National Socialist you are the devil and we can beat you. And this is untrue.’ Like myself, Mahler had been on the guestlist for the IHR revisionist conference in Beirut. He had intricate theories on how President Roosevelt had joined the Second World War thanks to a Jewish conspiracy. He then talked about the resistance to his ideas from the ‘New World Order, which is dominated by the One World power now and I guess this will change very soon,’ he said, ominously. ‘This model will be victorious all over the world and it will start here in Germany.’

‘The atmosphere was always paranoid and conspiratorial... Naturally, all his woes were caused by the Jews’

One woman knows what it is like to be close to such men. She is Irene Zundel, ex-wife of the Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, a German national who’d spent many years living in Canada. Zundel created and ran the Zundelsite on the web, a haven for Far Right discussion and thinking. He is now in jail in Canada fighting a high-profile extradition case to Germany on charges of inciting hatred.

‘The atmosphere was always paranoid and conspiratorial. Ernst was considered a threat to national security and was convinced he was constantly watched, wiretapped and plotted against from within and without. He recorded or listened to all my calls with friends and family, read every letter I wrote or received. He even had hidden cameras installed all over the common areas employees worked and socialized in. Naturally, all his woes were caused by the Jews, their plots against him, and their decades-long “persecution” of him.

‘In a nutshell, Ernst wants to punish all the nations that, as he puts it, “bombed Germany into the Stone Age” and forced his Motherland to pay billions in reparations to the despised Jews. He wants to restore the reputation of Adolf Hitler, and usher in a revival of National Socialism. Everything he says, writes, broadcasts and does in his personal life is geared towards accomplishing those goals.’

Such are the beliefs and world view of the men – and they are nearly always men – trying to capitalize on the pain of the Middle East today. Never again, the world once said. That hope now looks increasingly fragile.

Holocaust denial is of course a spit in the face of victims of the Nazi genocide and their descendants. It serves to minimize the stigma associated with fascism and Nazi ideology so that the Far Right can regain credibility in the public eye. By purporting to be academics merely ‘seeking the truth’ about the Holocaust, such revisionists shroud their antisemitism in a veneer of respectability. There are those, however, who refuse to stand by and do nothing while history is distorted.

Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust provoked a libel suit by infamous British revisionist David Irving in the early 1990s. The case, in which by British law Lipstadt had the burden of proof, resulted in the judge vindicating Lipstadt, accepting as incontrovertible that the Holocaust did happen, and declaring Irving a bonafide Holocaust denier and antisemite.

As Lipstadt warns: ‘We must function as canaries in the mine once did, to guard against the spread of noxious fumes. We must vigilantly stand watch against an increasingly nimble enemy. But unlike the canary, we must not sit silently by waiting to expire so that others will be warned of the danger. When we witness assaults on truth, our response must be strong, though neither polemical nor emotional. We must educate the broader public and academia about this threat and its historical and ideological roots. We must expose these people for what they are.’

Nick Ryan is author of Homeland: Into a World of Hate (Mainstream Publishing) and creative producer of the BBC drama England Expects.