Anti-Semitism that expresses itself through Holocaust denial has garnered
much of its recent U.S. notoriety by targeting college students. Through
campus newspaper advertisements, videotapes and computer networks, the
pseudo-scholars who seek to inflame "debate" about the veracity of the
Holocaust have made inroads at colleges and universities, attracting national
attention through the controversies that erupt on campuses over the publication
of their lies.
Just as anti-Semitism on campuses cloaked itself as anti-Zionism in
the 1970s and 1980s, Holocaust denial now serves as a campus vehicle for
spreading hatred of Jews. By presenting their thesis as an academic question
deserving debate, the deniers have found fertile ground among campus newspaper
editors eager to demonstrate their commitment to free speech and the airing
of controversial ideas. And through the student editors, Holocaust deniers
have found an inexpensive method of reaching thousands of impressionable
young adults who often have limited knowledge of the Holocaust and are
in the process of forming their perceptions of world history. (To be sure,
many campus editors have rejected efforts to use their publications for
the spread of such propaganda.)
Holocaust deniers, falsely claiming to be legitimate historical "revisionists,"
portray themselves as scholars seeking the truth behind what they term
the largest hoax of the 20th century. Their success does not depend on
convincing college students that the murder of 6 million Jews never occurred;
rather, just the idea that the genocide can be called debatable and that
its scope can be doubted, means that the deniers have scored propaganda
Holocaust "revisionism" emerged as an organized propaganda movement
in 1979 when Willis Carto, the founder of Liberty Lobby -- the nation's
largest anti-Semitic organization -- established the Institute for Historical
Review (IHR). Based in Southern California, IHR enables professors with
no credentials in history, writers without academic certification and career
anti-Semites to engage in pseudo-academic efforts to deny the Holocaust.
Bradley Smith's Campus Campaign
IHR has found its niche on campuses through its Media Project Director,
Bradley Smith, who leads the so-called Committee for Open Debate on the
Holocaust (CODOH). In the spring of 1991, Smith submitted a full-page paid
advertisement to The Daily Northwestern of Northwestern University (the
academic home of Arthur Butz, an electrical engineering professor who wrote
a book in 1976, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, arguing that the Holocaust
never happened). The newspaper printed the ad, which looked like a news
article with the headline, "THE HOLOCAUST STORY: How Much is False? The
Case for Open Debate."
In a pseudo-scholarly vein, Smith stated that the "Holocaust lobby"
prevents scholars from pursuing a thorough examination of the "orthodox
Holocaust story." He alleged a lack of proof that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz
or that millions of people died there. He contended that the piles of corpses
photographed at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen were not a result of a
German plan to murder Jews, but rather the result of disease and starvation
caused by the flood of refugees into Germany as the Soviet army advanced
in early 1945. He did not couch his argument in blatantly anti-Semitic
terms, but in a seemingly rational, thoughtful manner designed to provoke
serious consideration of his views.
Needless to say, the advertisement, which appeared on April 4, 1991,
sparked a furor on campus. It led to letters and Op-Ed pieces in the school
paper and lectures and forums on campus about the issue. That, in turn,
attracted wide media coverage in the Chicago area.
Obviously pleased with the tumult his advertisement caused, Smith submitted
his ads to more campus newspapers in the fall of 1991, beginning with the
University of Michigan. During the 1991-92 school year, the ad was published
in nearly a third of the more than 60 campus papers to which it was submitted.
The material was printed either as a full-page advertisement or as an Op-Ed
piece with commentary by the editors, in either case generating controversy
wherever it was read. No matter how loud or numerous the condemnations
of the substance of Smith's material, the national attention provided a
victory, or at least validation, for the Holocaust-denial movement.
In the spring 1992 semester, Smith peddled a second ad, devoted to the
issue of "Jewish Soap," in which he sought to build on the notoriety generated
by the first ad. But this time, not a single campus newspaper accepted
it, including many which had published the first one.
Smith was quiet during the 1992-93 academic year. At the beginning of
the 1993-94 year, however, he launched a new advertising blitz, challenging
the veracity of the newly opened U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and attacking
the work of Emory University's Professor Deborah Lipstadt in her acclaimed
book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
This advertisement was more strident in its arguments and accusations
than was the first:
The Deborah Lipstadts [sic] -- and there is a clique of them on every
campus -- work to suppress revisionist research and demand that students
and faculty ape their fascist behavior... To many it will appear impossible
that deception on such a grand scale can actually be taking place.
By the end of the spring 1994 semester, Smith's ad had been published,
in various formats, in 32 campus newspapers, although it had been rejected
by many others. A particularly furious controversy erupted when the ad
was printed in December 1993, in The Justice, the student newspaper of
predominantly Jewish Brandeis University; the uproar was covered by national
news organizations, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post,
and Time magazine. The ad cost $130, but the check was never cashed as
the editors donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- which refused
the money. About 2,000 copies of the paper were stolen from distribution
stands the day the ad appeared. Campus police guarded the 4,000 new copies
that were ordered and distributed two days later, the same day that 250
students held a protest rally.
Smith and his colleagues also garnered widespread media attention when
the ad was published -- along with an accompanying editorial and a banner
headline reading, "An illustration of hate" -- in the Queens College Quad,
the student newspaper at Queens College, a campus of the City University
of New York with a 30 percent Jewish population. The resulting controversy
was included in a segment on Holocaust denial on the CBS newsmagazine,
60 Minutes. That was followed by a one-hour Donahue program featuring Smith
and CODOH representative David Cole. The editors at Queens, like those
at Brandeis, refused to accept the advertising fee, and the two events
netted Smith invaluable free publicity from the nation's most venerated
During the 1994-95 academic year, Smith again held off on submitting
advertisements. Instead, he sent 250 campus editors copies of a video (see
previous reference) in which David Cole -- who claims Jewish parentage
-- provides a tour of Auschwitz from a denier's viewpoint. Three papers
-- those at the University of Akron, Tulane University and Rowan College
of New Jersey -- printed uncritical summaries of the video written by inexperienced
staffers. In each case, the editors later printed apologies after students
and ADL protested the falsity of the articles.
In early to mid-April 1995, Smith began submitting his ad to campus
newspapers again. The advertisement, the same one used during the 1993-94
academic year, was no doubt distributed with an eye on timing, as it was
received during or right after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remem-brance Day),
just before final exams, and often in time for the last issue of the semester.
The possibility for an effective on-campus response was limited at the
17 schools where the ad was printed. But the schools where the advertisement
appeared were also nowhere as large or prestigious as the group of colleges
and universities where Smith's first advertisement appeared in 1991 and
1992. This might signal that Smith's message has become a bit shopworn
and that many campus editors are wise to his tactics and motivation.
Campus editors need not feel that constitutional principles of free
expression are at work when deciding whether to print Smith's material.
The First Amendment does not compel journalists to disseminate lies that
fuel anti-Semitism. Just as most campus editors would not print an overtly
racist or sexist advertisement filled with obvious lies and distortions,
they should exercise that same right of refusal when it comes to material
The advertisements and speaking appearances by Holocaust deniers lead
well-meaning students and academics into the trap of debating the "revisionists"
on their own terms. The deniers seek to create an ongoing debate over the
existence of the Holocaust. But the principle of a free press and the quest
for truth on campus do not mean that students must be subject to blatant
lies about the near-extinction of European Jewry. Encouragingly, many campus
journalists are by now familiar with Bradley Smith and will not publish
his material, denying him the publicity and legitimacy he craves. Smith,
however, relies on the rapid turnover and limited institutional memories
of most campus newspaper staffs.
Exploiting the World Wide Web
The 1995-96 academic year did not see much Bradley Smith propaganda in
college newspapers. He has tried peddling a classified advertisement to
tout a denier's Internet site. The ad reads, "46 Unanswered Questions About
the German Gas Chambers Free on the World Wide Web." The questions are
written by David Cole, and internet surfers reaching the site have the
option to order Cole's video tour of Auschwitz. The advertisement ran twice
in October 1995 in The Diamondback at the University of Maryland, but was
pulled due to student protests. It was rejected by newspapers at the University
of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Pierce College in
Tacoma, Washington. A similar ad, reading "46 Revisionist Questions about
the World War Two 'Gas Chambers,'" also ran at least five times in the
Cornell Daily Sun in February and March 1996, engendering considerable
controversy on campus. The newspaper, in an editorial, recognized the ad
as "hate-filled" but justified continued publication as serving the cause
of free speech and "open debate." As a result of the advertisement, Cornell
Hillel invited the ADL director of campus affairs to speak at Cornell about
Holocaust denial and advise them on strategies to counteract it. Soon afterwards,
a newly elected editorial staff decided to terminate the publication of
It may seem that Smith has been focusing recently more on developing
his World Wide Web site than on exploiting campus media, but the Internet
is even more of an ideal tool to reach students than college newspapers.
Students are frequent Web surfers, and their access to cyberspace is often
free. What is more, they may examine the material in complete privacy and
at their convenience. The Internet also allows Smith to circumvent newspaper
editors who might reject his advertisements, and is more cost-effective
and far-reaching than student publications. However, the computer material
must be sought out, with no guarantee that college students will find it
or, if they do, explore it further. Hence, Smith has coordinated his Web
and advertising strategies by running small, inexpensive ads promoting
his Web site.
In addition to the efforts of Bradley Smith and David Cole, college
students may be subject to Holocaust-denial theories from within academia
as well. Northwestern University's resident faculty denier, Arthur Butz,
for instance, promotes his own Holocaust-denial materials on his University-provided
faculty Web site. This site links the surfer to other Holocaust-denial,
racist and anti-Semitic sites including those of Bradley Smith, Greg Raven
(currently head of the IHR) and Wellesley professor Tony Martin. At Washington
State University, an anonymous student has produced his own Holocaust-denial
Web site with equivalent linkages.
Infiltrating University Libraries
In April 1995, a student at Northeastern University in Boston noticed several
Holocaust- denial texts in the school's main library. The books were found
in the history section, alongside genuine texts about the Holocaust, and
included titles such as The Six Million Reconsidered and The Real Eichmann
Trial. ADL protested, asking in a letter to Dean Alan Benenfeld, the director
of the school libraries, that the books be moved off the library's history
shelves and to a section dealing with anti-Semitism, propaganda or hate
literature. Dean Benenfeld responded, writing that the university would
investigate the matter. Ten months later, he told ADL that the school had
discovered "inconsistencies" in the library's cataloguing system, and was
switching to the system used by the Library of Congress that includes a
category for misinformation and propaganda.
But administrative improvements do not solve the problem raised by the
presentation of these books as legitimate history texts. The fact that
university librarians would place anti-Semitic propaganda alongside genuine
scholarly works by known historians demonstrates either carelessness, a
decline in library standards, or the growing acceptance of "revisionism"
within academia and the need for effective education to counter the deniers.
The books' placement on the history shelves only perpetuates the false
impression that debate over the veracity of the Holocaust is part of serious
academia, instead of the work of a few well-organized anti-Semites.
No data has been collected on campuses regarding the effect of denial
propaganda on college students' attitudes about the Holocaust. Surveys
regarding its impact on the American public are inconclusive, with varying
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