This is the second installment in a four-part series about Holocaust denial in America. Click here to see Part I.
The Newport Beach offices of Mark Weber’s Institute for Historical Review are located in a rented warehouse space in a bland office park. Weber is a former leader of the American Holocaust-denial movement who has now embraced a more intellectualized anti-Semitism; his chief goal is to expose the long tentacles of Jewish-Zionist power. As he showed me in, he paused to introduce me to a young, female intern, one of two who work for him now. According to tax records, Weber is the only paid employee of the Institute, and in the last year for which the Institute’s tax forms are available his salary was $43,999.
His office, lacking walls but defined by bookshelves all around, seems bereft of personal effects. He refused to talk about his ex-wife or his two children; during the time we spent together, he took one call from his current wife, a Russian immigrant whose name he would not give me, and that was as close as he would let me get to his family. His office life was clearly defined by books: books stacked on rows of metal shelves, to be shipped to people who buy from the IHR’s publishing arm, and books crammed into the tall wooden shelves that hold his research library. Dozens of the books, hundreds even, were about Jews and the Holocaust, many of them books I knew from my own graduate studies, written by Raul Hilberg, Lucy Dawidowicz, David Wyman, and others. There were also volumes of Judaica, including Herzl’s diaries and The Encyclopedia of Zionism. I was reminded of the English novelist Howard Jacobson’s brilliant insight about Holocaust deniers: “You will know them because they know more about the Jewish religion than you do. As soon as you meet one of those, and think, by God they’ve got a lot of quotations, by God they know everything about Jews—then that’s what they are. And what cheers me about all this, is that your true anti-Semite, like your true Holocaust denier, is doomed to a kind of Dante-esque hell of living among Jewish things, Jewish books, Jewish artifacts. You can see them in the library, they’ve got the Talmud up here, and they’re burrowing away to find more and more evidence against the Jews. Few Jews live a more perfect scholarly Jewish life.”
This perfectly describes Mark Weber. During the course of our two conversations in person (I returned the next day for another three hours), and several more on the telephone, Weber spoke knowledgeably about the Hebrew Bible, Jewish holidays, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the founding of the state of Israel, Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and the work of Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman. It became clear that he reads the Jewish press more closely than I do, and I write for the Jewish press. At one point, he and I got into an argument over the proper connotations of the Yiddish word macher—a fight that ended, I must sheepishly admit, when I realized he was right.
Gray-goateed, youthful, brown-eyed, in a crisp short-sleeved dress shirt, Weber sat behind a desk and explained to me the source of his conflict with Bradley Smith and others, men with whom he worked closely since before he became head of the IHR in 1995. Throughout our conversation, he positioned himself as the moderate and a freethinker, exasperated by trying to reason with the crazies. He seemed particularly dismayed by Smith and the Frenchman Robert Faurisson, who are both interested above all in questioning the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps. “I find myself—knock on wood—trying to talk dispassionately to both sides,” Weber said. “I think people like Bradley Smith and Faurisson are frustrated that they haven’t been more effective. We all wish things were as we wish them to be. I was disappointed that Bradley Smith would turn his back on years of friendship to say the things he did…. [But] Bradley Smith and Robert Faurisson have their identities tied to Holocaust revisionism in a way that isn’t healthy.”
As Weber sees it, he is interested in a wide variety of questions, while Smith and Faurisson are one-issue obsessives. If Smith and others are too “tied” to Holocaust revisionism, Weber is by contrast a scholar—“the only director of the IHR to have any training as an historian,” as he puts it—and an iconoclastic seeker. It’s true that Weber has authored essays on subjects not strictly about Jews or the Holocaust; one recent paper, posted on his web site, is “The ‘Good War’ Myth of World War II,” an attack on Roosevelt and Churchill that never mentions the Holocaust. But even that paper is ultimately an attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Americans and the Nazis, and most of Weber’s corpus is concerned with either attacks on Jews or the defense of anti-Semites. His papers and pamphlets include “Buchenwald: Legend and Reality” and “Fred Leuchter: Courageous Defender of Historical Truth,” an apologia for a Holocaust denier whom Weber calls, in a macabre turn of phrase, “the foremost American expert on gassing and gas chamber technology.”
Weber’s father, a journalist-turned-lawyer, managed President Kennedy’s Oregon campaign in 1960, and his mother returned to school for a doctorate in biology after her children were grown, but Weber traveled far from his prosaic, middle-class roots. As a teenager he was as an activist for the Biafran refugees, then after college taught secondary school in Ghana, only to become in 1978, after travels in Europe and time living in Germany, a writer for a neo-Nazi newspaper, and later, at the IHR, the premier face of Holocaust denial and revisionism in America. But in his conversations with me, Weber seemed to be arguing that his catholicity of interests, his unusual history, and his broad focus on white supremacy, Holocaust skepticism, and historical revisionism on a range of topics (like the causes of World War II, Stalin’s crimes, and Hiroshima, as well as present-day Middle Eastern politics) showed him to be of higher caliber than those who natter on about gas chambers.
“What’s odd is, as [Smith] himself says, he’s not a scholar, not a historian,” said Weber, who, by contrast, holds a master’s in European history from Indiana University. “He’s a publicist for this idea…. It’s hard to see, increasingly, how he can get traction. His latest thing is to place ads [often in campus newspapers] that say, ‘Name one person who died in a gas chamber.’ And maybe one person will read that and say, ‘Okay, okay, I can’t.’ But it’s a pretty far remove from most people’s concerns.” It was hard to tell, listening to Weber, if he wanted to shift the IHR’s identity away from flat-out Holocaust denial because he had decided that it was wrong, and that the Holocaust did happen, or because it was ineffectual, a school of losers who might be right but had failed to convince anybody, and thus deserved their own ignominy. Was Weber abandoning Smith just because he was a loser? I found myself feeling a strange pity for Smith.
That feeling hardly dissipated when I met Smith in person. An enthusiastic raconteur, Smith told me at length about his days as a bullfighter in Mexico, an activity he enjoyed before his days working at an art gallery in New York and then as a bookseller in Los Angeles. Above all, he rejected Weber’s portrayal of him as a single-issue obsessive. Instead, he argued, he was a passionate libertarian, primarily concerned with protecting the sanctity of the freedom of speech. He offered another piece of his history into evidence: Earlier in his storied life, Smith operated one of the few bookstores in Los Angeles where one could buy “obscene” books, and in 1962 he was convicted of selling Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer; his lawyer on appeal was the renowned First Amendment crusader Stanley Fleishman, the disabled polio victim immortalized in Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife. On the website of Smith’s one-man organization, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), Smith praises Jews for coming to his defense at that dark hour: “All my life I have watched Jews lead the struggle to maintain a free press and intellectual freedom in America. In the 1960s, when I was a book dealer on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, I was arrested, jailed, tried and convicted for selling a book then banned by the U.S. Government—Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Jews from every walk of life supported my stand against Government censorship.”
Smith may be romanticizing his past as a free-speech crusader; at his trial, he positioned himself not so much as a martyr for the cause as a simple bookseller caught in a web of legalese. According to a Los Angeles Times article of February 8, 1962, Smith declared in his testimony that “he had not heard of the state obscenity law until two weeks after his arrest.” Nevertheless, Smith did take real risks for the cause, and he now says that the fight against censorship has always been his main concern; according to his professed logic, the possibility for “open debate” about whether or not there were gas chambers is useful as the ultimate test of whether our speech is truly free.
In this regard he differs from both Weber and from Faurisson, who sees debunking the Holocaust as an instrument for undermining the Israeli state. Put simply, if we take these men at their words, Smith sees the gas chambers as a question of free speech; Faurisson, as an underpinning of a fraudulent Jewish state; and Weber, as a distraction from the machinations of Jewish power in America. These distinctions may seem trivial to some, different facets of the same anti-Semitic menace; but for the men struggling for the soul of Holocaust revisionism, these differences are all that there is.
Mark Oppenheimer is a Senior Editor at Tablet. He hosts the podcast Unorthodox. He has contributed to Slate and Mother Jones, among many other publications. He is the author, most recently, of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood. He will be hosting a discussion forum about this article on his newsletter, where you can subscribe for free and submit comments.