Holocaust Denial on Campus
by the Anti-Defamation League
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 six 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
- Exploiting the World Wide Web
- Infiltrating University Libraries
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
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 that
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
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 news magazine, 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 news organs.
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 Remembrance 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 defaming Jews.
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 of ordering 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 the ad.
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 results.
Source: Schooled in Hate: Anti-Semitism On Campus, ADL, 1997. Copyright Anti-Defamation League
(ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.