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The Denial Twist, Part III

The struggle gets personal between two titans of Holocaust-revisionism movement

Mark Oppenheimer
June 25, 2009
Bradley R. Smith and Mark Weber.( (left), (right))
Bradley R. Smith and Mark Weber.( (left), (right))

This is the third installment in a four-part series about Holocaust denial in America. Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II.

Sitting across from Mark Weber, formerly the leading light of American Holocaust revisionism, in his California office, I asked him the unavoidable question: did the gas chambers ever exist? “There may have been gas chambers,” he said. But he wanted to make a larger point about the war and historical memory: “It would be astonishing if a historical chapter as big as the Holocaust weren’t subject to some exaggeration. The same is true of Stalin—how many people did he kill? Estimates vary. Now the idea that the Holocaust is free of this kind of exaggeration is almost impossible.”

From there, Weber segued to the discussion he hopes to have more of, since he now is willing to concede—to use his words—“the immense catastrophe in which millions of European Jews died during World War II.” Today, Weber is much more interested in Jewish-Zionist power, which of course, he says, is what allows that Jewish suffering to be exaggerated.

“I don’t hate Jews,” he said. “I don’t wish ill to anyone because of his ancestry. But I talk about Jewish-Zionist power because it is a real thing and it has consequences, and those consequences are harmful.” For Weber, some of those consequences are how the United States exercises power in the Middle East: unconditional support for Israel, the invasion of Iraq, the death of young American soldiers in unnecessary foreign adventures—all brought about in large part by the unique power of American Jews, with their dual loyalties and preternatural skill for organization.

Of course, the very idea that Jews have too much influence presupposes that there’s an appropriate amount of influence any ethnic or religious group should have; so as much as Weber would like to keep his views on culture separate from his views on foreign affairs and politics, his reasoning ineluctably links the two. I was glad to find, then, that he is refreshingly candid in his views on culture. These views were formed partly during his travels in Europe, during time he took off from college. It was an interregnum during which, according to one person close to Weber, he lived in Germany and was arrested for displaying a swastika—an episode the details of which Weber disputes. (That “is wrong, and I will leave it there,” he told me. “Were you arrested for something else, then?” I asked. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.)

“When I was in Europe,” Weber said, “I was very struck that there are all sorts of different groups: Flemish, Dutch, Bretons, French. I thought it’s a good thing all these groups exist and the world would be worse off if they disappeared.” I pointed out that even if that kind of homogeneity were desirable, the United States has never had it—we’ve always been a country of immigrants. Weber conceded the point, but said that up until the time of World War II we had a common narrative, that we were “this English people that brings other people in to assimilate.”

The loss of that unifying story is in good measure, Weber says, Jews’ fault. Weber believes that even Jews who embraced this mainstream, Christian America often undermined it. “The Jewish role in American culture has served immensely to de-Christianize Christmas, that’s just one example,” he said. “And one of the most popular Christmas songs is ‘White Christmas,’ by Irving Berlin. Jewish songs about Christmas strip it almost of any religious character.” Another time, on the phone, Weber put his concern even more starkly: “Jewish leaders in America push for, work for, an America—it’s a gross generalization, I know—an America with no racial or cultural identity. Not just in this country, but around the world, including in Europe. That’s almost a truism.”

Jews succeed in this deracinating project because of their extraordinary constitution as a people. “It’s an ethnic community with a consciousness fortified by an unusual religion,” Weber told me. “There’s no other group in the world like that…. It’s a collective community narrative, or community sense,” one that holds even for Jews who are secular, ignorant of Torah, married to non-Jews, and never in synagogue. “Every Jew is aware that Jews are a chosen people. They may not understand what that means. But to pretend—I don’t want to say I know lots of Jews or I have lots of Jewish friends—but there’s a Jewish consciousness that says they’re a special people.”

Mark Weber had just described the plaintive, hopeful dream of every rabbi in America. While Jewish rabbis, scholars, and grandmothers across the land fret that Jews have no sense of common purpose, no Jewish learning, and no loyalty to the tribe, Weber was here to announce that Jews were purposive, unified, loyal, and engaged.

Weber’s voice was thick with admiration for Jews—and it was full of derision, or at least pity, for his old friend, gas-chamber skeptic Bradley Smith. “Smith was on Donahue in the ’80s, and he was on TV and radio a lot,” Weber told me. “[But] he’s increasingly obscure. The times are different…. When Bradley first started, that was a startling claim, that the gas chambers didn’t exist…. But Bradley Smith has been marginalized in a way he wasn’t in the ’80s and ’90s.” It was ironic, then, that Smith was getting a dose of new publicity thanks to Weber, whose rather histrionic break with Smith and his kind had made them all interesting again, at least to me.

But the elderly and kindly-looking Smith, when I met him at a California Starbucks, wanted to talk not about the Holocaust but mainly about his short-lived career as a self-published author. He has written a book-length monologue called The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, which includes mysterious koans like this: “Jews were in there too from the beginning with Christians and Nazis and the others working on the bomb. They were good at it too. Einstein, Oppenheimer. Teller. What distinguishes Jews primarily from the others is that there aren’t so many of them.” When I insisted on discussing the work for which he is most famous—a series of advertisements in campus newspapers, beginning in the 1990s, questioning various aspects of the received Holocaust story—Smith began attacking David Sweet, the president of Youngstown State University, in whose campus newspaper Smith had recently placed his advertisement asking for, “with proof, the name of one person who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” In a letter to the Youngstown State newspaper in March, just days before I met with Smith, Sweet had quoted John Silber, the former president of Boston University, who in 2000 had called Smith a liar.

It incensed Smith that he had been called a liar—just as it incensed him that more non-Jewish professors at Northwestern didn’t stand up for their colleague Arthur Butz, an engineering professor who has argued the gas chambers did not exist; just as it incensed him that Mark Weber has allowed the Institute for Historical Review, once the premier organization in the world for Holocaust revisionism, to lapse into irrelevance. Back in 1993, Smith sided with Weber and others against Willis Carto, who according to Smith “wanted to change the nature of the Journal of Historical Review,” then the IHR’s major publication. “[The journal] was set up primarily to pursue revisionist arguments with regard to the gas-chamber story and the Holocaust,” Smith clarified for me, by phone, a few weeks after our meeting. But Carto, who was accused of hiding funds bequeathed to the IHR, and now runs a fringe publication called The Barnes Review, grew more interested in “nationalism and the race issues and conspiracy stuff,” Smith said. “I mean, he is interested in the Bilderbergers, and stuff like that, and that simply isn’t what those of us who wanted the journal wanted in it…. It was the center of the revisionist movement internationally, and we wanted it to remain that way. They published good stuff, carefully edited.”

Alas, The Journal of Historical Review has not been a priority of Mark Weber’s for a long time, and hence there was mistrust between Smith and Weber even before Weber’s eccentric turn away from the important stuff—gas-chamber questioning—toward the more abstract project of extreme anti-Zionist paranoia. After all, the journal “failed under Mark Weber,” Smith told me. “He hasn’t published it in 10 or 12 years. He’s not really a businessman, and he’s not an editor. It’s difficult for him to work with writers. Mark has a tendency to rewrite stuff, rather than edit stuff.

“I think he functions much better when he has a boss than when he is the boss,” Smith said. “He is not lazy at all, and he is very smart, and he’s a good speaker, and he’s a good writer, when he writes. He has everything. But he can’t run the business, and he can’t work with writers. He lost everybody.”

Smith and Weber each tried to be charitable about the other. For example, Weber had told me that while he didn’t approve of race-mixing, he’d never held it against Smith that Smith has a Mexican wife and a half-Mexican daughter. And Smith was careful not to traffic in the unsavory rumors spread by Weber’s enemies—for example, that he has a Jewish sister. The rumor “comes across my desk every two to three years,” Smith told me, “and I’ve never thought to ask him about it.”

But the rumor was true. Weber did have a Jewish sister. And Smith, currently married to a Mexican, once shared his life with a Jewish lover. I set out to find these women.

Mark Oppenheimer is Tablet’s editor at large. He hosts the podcast Unorthodox.

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.