arvin Stern, director for the Northwest Regional Branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), can't conceal his bewilderment over what he calls "the growing Holocaust revisionist movement." Mr. Stern expressed his dismay in a column published in The Oregonian, the largest-circulation daily in the Northwest. His alarm was triggered by the appearance in that newspaper of our ad, "A Revisionist's View of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum."
Stern lays the blame for the growing influence of revisionism on the "ignorance" and "anti-semitism" of Americans. He appears not to understand that he's charging tens of millions of American citizens with being ignorant, anti-Jewish bigots (a recent Roper poll reported 20 to 30 percent of adult Americans doubt they are being told the truth about the Holocaust story). Spokesmen for the ADL have propagandized themselves into an empty intellectual corner. Having refused to judge revisionist research on its merits, refusing still to admit that revisionists have any substantive arguments whatever, refusing debate or even an exchange of civility, the ADL'ers are left with no intellectual tools to work with but invective, misrepresentation, slander, and a sickly dependence on playing their "nazi" card.
One result of this intellectually and psychologically stunted behavior is that many ADL'ers appear to be obsessed with nazis and nazism, neo-nazis, intimations of nazism, rumors about nazis and crazy nazi conspiracies to rehabilitate Adolf's reputation. Some ADL'ers, Stern appearing to be one of them, live in an imaginary nazi wonderland where they fantasize armies of nazis marching toward them from distant horizons, singing songs of conquest, whips in hand, about to leap through the ADL office window to lash the hapless drudges inside and mistreat them sexually.
Such fantasies must be traumatizing for those who suffer them, but to others they can appear comic and infantile. The text of my ad, which prompted Stern's response, makes at least two claims which admittedly are controversial. It asserts that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibits no proof that homicidal gas chambers existed anywhere in Europe, and no proof that even one child, woman or man was "gassed" at any German camp liberated by the Allies. I flew to Washington, toured the Museum, and that's my assessment of its exhibits.
Mr. Stern writes that the best response to the "outrageous lies" of revisionism, that is, the text of my ad about the Museum, is to "reiterate the truth" and "repeat the facts." It's good advice, but Stern avoids it like the plague. Instead, he reveals the common ADL self-serving obsession with hate movements growing like cancers in American society. He doesn't even try to assure his readers that the Museum does, in fact, exhibit proof of one gas chamber or one victim of a gas chamber. Why?
The Marvin Sterns and the ADL face a conundrum. They can continue to rail with empty irrationalism against legitimate revisionist research and watch the number of Americans who are increasingly unsure what to believe about the Holocaust story increase year after year. Or they can turn to the orthodox scholars in the field for help in responding to revisionist questions. That would be the adult thing to do. The ADL'ers however, true to form, have chosen to do the childish thing—to substitute schoolyard insults for a grown-up exchange of ideas.
Stern's article in the Oregonian ran under the head, "Holocaust Revisionists Should Be Challenged, Repudiated With Truth." Marvin and I are in complete agreement on this one. Do it! Challenge the claims in my ad with truth! That has always been what I've asked for. It's my invitation to the ADL'ers and my challenge to them—and to all others. Respond to my ads with truth. I don't ever want to run an ad that contains an inadvertent error of fact. Why do the Marvin Sterns talk about repudiating revisionism with "truth" and always evade doing so?
Here's my guess. While revisionists almost certainly are not right about everything, we're not wrong about everything either. No one is wrong about everything! That's what terrifies Marvin Stern and his ADL buddies. The day they admit the possibility that revisionists are not wrong about everything, their psychological world will collapse. They'll have admitted that revisionists are human beings, that we eat our soup with a spoon just like they do. And there's the rub. The ADL'ers can't afford to admit that revisionists are ordinary men and women—that is, human beings. The ADL committed itself to its nazi devil fantasy half a century ago and has ridden it so long so successfully it can't get off, no matter how broken down and exhausted the old nag is.
Marvin Stern is probably a nice guy. He's probably a smart guy. When a smart guy goes over the line and becomes a true believer it's almost impossible for him to change his mind. When a true believer changes his mind he becomes an apostate. He feels like a traitor. A dumb guy can just change his mind and go about his business. A smart guy who's become a true believer has to work out a theory explaining how, being so smart, he could have believed something so dumb so long. It's not easy. I know.
Marvin, I used to believe everything about the Holocaust story you believe now. It's not a sin to be wrong. It's human. You have a theory you believe is true, I have a theory I think is true. Let's talk things over. You know how it goes. I listen to you. You listen to me. We have a beer. We settle the world's problems.
Bradley R. Smith is director of Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.
This piece appeared in The Albany Student Press, the State University of New York, Albany, on 10 December 93.