Chicago Professor Novick scoffs at concern about the "growing influence" of people called Holocaust deniers
Holocaust in American Life
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THE argument for raising Holocaust consciousness that has been advanced with the greatest urgency is, by any sober evaluation, the most absurd: the alleged necessity of responding to the tiny band of cranks, kooks, and misfits who deny the Holocaust took place. Concern about the "growing influence" of this corporal's guard was widespread for a time, but now seems to be abating.
The "star" of American Holocaust denial is Arthur Butz, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University, who in 1976 arranged the private publication of "The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry." A few years later the Institute for Historical Review was established in California; its principal activity was publishing the Journal of Historical Review, a slender quarterly devoted to exposing the "myth of the six million." The Institute rented the mailing list of the unsuspecting Organization of American Historians, and sent sample copies of its journal to the organization's twelve thousand members, garnering some publicity from the resulting reaction. More publicity came when its offer of $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove any Jews were gassed at Auschwitz was taken up by Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of that camp; after bringing a lawsuit, he collected.
The deniers' most successful publicity coup was their clever idea of sending college newspapers advertisements calling for "open debate" on the Holocaust. A series of fusses was occasioned by several undergraduate editors' notion that rejecting the ads raised "First Amendment issues." This kept the pot boiling, though in no case known to me was the Holocaust itself ever debated on campuses; rather, it was a question of whether boycott or exposure was the best strategy for dealing with thes screwballs. So far as one can tell, it was only fellow screwballs that they ever attracted: John Hinckley, who shot President Reagan, was a denier; so was Eric Rudolph, at this writing wanted for the murder of a guard at an abortion clinic; so was the crazed chess genius Bobby Fischer.
The activities of these fruitcakes were irritating, indeed infuriating -- especially, though not exclusively, to survivors. Some insisted that they deniers should be taken more seriously, but since there is no evidence that they'd had the slightest influence, it was hard to say why one should do so.