One of the primary leaders in the fight to question and delegitimize the Holocaust has proclaimed that fight to be a lost cause, sparking a furious debate among his cohorts.
Mark Weber, a telegenic Californian, has served for 15 years as director of the Institute for Historical Review, which was founded in the late 1970s as a center for people dedicated to doubting and criticizing mainstream histories of the Holocaust.
This month, however, Weber released an essay on the institute’s Web site, questioning whether this work has ever had any relevance. Weber argued that Holocaust revisionists are unlikely to have any success in convincing large numbers of people.
“It’s been almost 30 years, and Holocaust revisionism has gotten almost no support in academic circles or society at large,” Weber told the Forward. “It’s gotten some support in Iran, or places like that, but as far as I know, there is no history department supporting writing by these folks.”
The argument in Weber’s essay, “How Relevant Is Holocaust Revisionism?” might appear, at first glance, to be good news for the Jewish organizations that have fought against Holocaust revisionists. But in his essay, Weber calls for his movement to shift to a new mission, one more purely directed to fighting against “Jewish-Zionist power.”
Michael Shermer, a columnist for Scientific American who wrote a book about Holocaust revisionists, said that “for Weber, the Holocaust is just a minor skirmish. The real war to be won is about the Zionists.”
Though Weber, like most Holocaust revisionists, is not a fan of the Jewish community, his essay has not even gained him popularity among his fellow travelers. Bradley Smith, a former employee of Weber’s institute who is a prominent online publisher of Holocaust revisionist material, told the Forward that he is putting together a whole issue of his newsletter with arguments against Weber.
“It’s hard for me to think of Mark Weber as betraying me, because we’re friends. And yet, there are those who feel he has betrayed the institute and that he has betrayed the revisionist movement such as it is,” Smith said in a phone interview from Mexico.
Smith said that a number of prominent revisionists will be calling for Weber’s resignation from the institute.
The world of Holocaust revisionists — inhabited by people who are, by nature, disputatious and unconcerned with social norms — is not one in which divisions and fights have been foreign. Weber took over the Institute for Historical Review after a prolonged and expensive legal fight with its founder, Willis Carto, who had built the institute into what both antagonists and protagonists acknowledge was the premier forum for Holocaust doubters and deniers.
Since taking over, Weber has continued to publish writing on the Holocaust and on World War II. But he came to the institute after working with the white supremacist National Alliance party, and he has pushed to broaden the institute’s mandate. The Web site that Weber has built features such articles as “The Jewish Role in the Bolshevik Revolution” and “Israel at 60: A Grim Balance Sheet.”
In his new essay, published January 9, Weber does try to position himself as a more moderate voice in the debate about the Holocaust. He acknowledges Jewish suffering, and notes that Joseph Goebbel’s diaries speak about a concerted campaign to eliminate the Jews — a heretical view for many Holocaust doubters.
“Much of the predictable hostility toward my piece has come from people who are basically cultists — or fanatics on this issue,” Weber told the Forward. “They view it with an almost religious fervor.”
Already, this has appeared to cause some questioning on revisionist Web sites. One commenter, writing under the handle Carto’s Cutlass Supreme, responded to Weber’s use of Goebbel’s diary by asking: “What would people say about that here? Do we know the diary couldn’t have been tampered with?”
Weber’s discussion of Jewish suffering, though, is a lead-in to the historian’s broader point, which is that the Holocaust doubters have not been effective agents in the broader battle against Jewish power.
Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list dedicated to questioning Jews and the Holocaust, said that Weber’s shift is a strategic mistake.
“I think it is an unfortunate path he is taking, because the Holocaust is an effective weapon,” he told the Forward. “When the Holocaust is used as a weapon, it explains a lot of the lopsided foreign policy.”
But for Santomauro and many of his online friends, much of the problem with Weber is not his ideology, but his work output. Most prominent revisionists are prolific writers who will publish anywhere in order to have their views distributed. Under Weber, the institute has ceased publication of its journal and stopped hosting international conferences.
“He hasn’t done any work,” Smith said.
Aryeh Tuchman, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Library and Research Center, said that Weber’s slowed production hurt the doubters and deniers of the Holocaust long before his new essay. “There is not a central Holocaust denial organization or body anymore,” Tuchman said. “There’s no one who can serve to motivate them anymore.”
The Iranian government, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, tried to take up this mantle when it hosted a conference with Holocaust doubters last year. But even Weber said that the conference didn’t do revisionists any favors.
“If the point of the conference was to be scholarly, the thing was a failure,” Weber said. “The thing only strengthened and confirmed the views people already had about Iran, Ahmadinejad and Israel.”