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David Botsford


1 I 2 I

Remarkable as it may seem, even the interpretation of the Holocaust in an unauthorised manner can bring about a conviction. In 1998 Roger Garaudy, aged 84, a sociologist and Muslim convert, was fined £12,000 for claiming that the Holocaust did not merit the status of a crime against humanity because it was "merely" an atrocity, morally no worse than the bombings of Hiroshima and Dresden. In his 1995 book The Founding Myths of Israel, Garaudy wrote that a large proportion of the Jewish victims of the Nazis was not gassed but died instead of typhus, neglect and starvation. (44) Despite such prosecutions, the French authorities have not succeeded in suppressing Holocaust revisionism, which is widely disseminated over the Internet.

Professor Pierre Vidal-Naquet, whose mother died at Auschwitz in 1944, is a Classical scholar who, as we saw above, is the most outspoken French opponent of the Holocaust revisionists. He opposes laws aimed at criminalising Holocaust denial:

Every society has its sects and its madmen. Punishing them would serve only to work toward their proliferation. It is with such individuals as with secret police agents or spies. Once they have been identified it is best to keep an eye on them and not let them out of sight. If they are arrested or expelled, others will show up to replace them and will be harder to locate. Judicial punishment is a dangerous weapon and can be turned against those using it. The lawsuit brought against Faurisson in 1978 by several antiracist associations ended with a decision by the Paris Court of Appeals on April 26, 1983, which recognized the seriousness of Faurisson's work -- which is quite outrageous -- and finally found him guilty only of having acted malevolently by summarizing his theses as slogans. Germany has experimented with legislation specifically aimed at deniers of the genocide. Judging by the quantity of openly or discreetly revisionist publications in that country, one is hard put to view the effort as very successful. Perhaps contempt is a more effective weapon. (45)


Among the English-speaking countries, Canada is the one which has moved furthest from a legal framework which guarantees the right of the individual to freedom of expression. It is quite extraordinary how readily the Canadian authorities introduce laws restricting freedom of expression and zealously enforce those laws. Ursula Owen, editor of Index on Censorship, has recently written:

[US feminists] Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin's now famous campaign to outlaw pornography was based on their view that pornography is in effect hate speech: it treats women as sexual objects and subordinates them in a vile way to men. Though they did not succeed in persuading the US courts, the Canadian legislature did introduce a severe censorship law. But the first authors to be banned under the new Canadian statute were not those the feminists had in mind. They were prominent homosexual authors, a radical black feminist accused of stirring up race hatred against white people and, for a time, Andrea Dworkin herself. Liberals who had warned against the dangers of censorship felt vindicated.

Censorship backfires: the biter gets bit. The powerful and painful paradox of laws against hate speech is that again and again they have been turned against the very people we would see as the victims of that same hate speech. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, laws against defamation and insult were used to persecute critics of the Communist regimes. In Turkey the law was used against Ismail Besiki, Turkish scholar, for his writings on the human rights abuses against the country's Kurdish population. The South African laws against racial hatred under apartheid were used systematically against the victims of the state's racist policies. Even Alex Hailey's Roots was banned on the grounds that for black viewers 'the polarisation of racial feeling was likely to be intensified'. (46)

These insights do not seem to have penetrated Canadian territory. In addition to very strict laws against "incitement to racial hatred", "group defamation" and the like, Canada has enacted "human rights" legislation which enables organised groups to apply to the government for the banning of any specific book or periodical to which they object. The publication then becomes illegal to either sell or bring into the country. Canadian Customs has a lengthy index librorum prohibitorum of publications which are to be confiscated if found in the possession of any person entering the country or in a shipment of goods being delivered to a Canadian address. Believe it or not, this list includes such titles as The Anti-Christ, by Friedrich Nietzsche, a significant landmark in Western philosophy; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which was lawfully published in the Soviet Union in 1961; the American conspiracy theory bestseller None Dare Call It Conspiracy, by Gary Allen; The Life of an American Jew in Racist, Marxist Israel, by Jack Bernstein, an autobiographical account by an American immigrant to Israel who became disillusioned with the Promised Land and returned to the United States; and Britain's Blunder, a critique of British foreign policy before and during the second world war, by Peter Nichol, a Scottish clergyman. In addition, numerous Holocaust denial, historical revisionist, anti-Zionist, racist, pornographic and just plain peculiar titles appear on the list, together with manuals about lock-picking, fake identification, getting revenge and committing murder. In 1984 (sic) The Hoax of the 20th Century, by Professor Arthur R. Butz, the best-known Holocaust denial book, was placed on the list at the behest of B'nai B'rith Canada's League for Human Rights (sic!). Citing the Customs ban as legal justification, officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized copies of the book from the library of the University of Calgary. (47) Perhaps the RCMP's motto should be changed to "the Mounties always get their book".

In 1985, Ernst Zündel, a German immigrant to Canada and an openly National Socialist political activist, was prosecuted for "knowingly spreading false news" under an obscure nineteenth-century law. Zündel was prosecuted for distributing two pamphlets. One was The West, War and Islam, which argued that an alliance of Freemasons, Marxists, bankers and Zionists was plotting to take over the world. The other was Did Six Million Really Die?, which was written under a pseudonym by Richard Verrall, a prominent member of the (British) National Front. This pamphlet had been widely circulated worldwide since the 1970s, and was favourably reviewed by the famous author Colin Wilson in the British literary journal Books and Bookmen on its publication in 1974. The Zündel trial in effect became a trial of the Holocaust itself, with experts from both sides putting arguments for and against the historicity of the Holocaust. Eventually Zündel was acquitted with regard to The War, West and Islam, but convicted with regard to Did Six Million Really Die? and sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment. In 1987 the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the judgement and ordered a new trial. In 1988 the second Zündel trial took place, and once again experts from both sides put forward the case for and against the truth of the Holocaust. During this second trial, the American gas chamber expert Fred A. Leuchter, who has designed and constructed execution facilities for several American states, went to Auschwitz and Majdanek and wrote a forensic report on the gas chambers there, claiming that they could not have been used for homicidal gassings. Again Zündel was convicted and imprisoned, this time for nine months, and again he appealed, and was released after a few days. In 1992, in a significant victory for freedom of expression, the Canadian Supreme Court threw out Zündel's conviction when it ruled that the law under which he had been prosecuted was too vague and possibly restricted legitimate forms of speech. (48)

However, Zündel is currently on trial before the Canadian Human Rights Commission (sic) for allegedly creating and maintaining an Internet website based in the United States which contains "hate literature". Although Zündel denies that he controls the site, his ex-wife has testified that he either writes or approves all the material that goes on it. It is the first case to apply Canada's "human rights" legislation to the Internet. (49) The example of Canada stands as a terrible warning as to what can happen even in a country with the Anglo-Saxon legal system when restrictions on freedom of expression are allowed to go unchallenged.


Germany has by far the most severe censorship laws of any Western country, and in some respects in the world. Its censorship laws are not, and do not claim to be, run according to libertarian principles. More than 2,400 videos and laser discs and some 200 films are banned, mainly for containing pornography, blasphemy or horror, or for glorifying violence. Almost every film for adults is cut. Hundreds of books, comics, magazines and records are banned for the same reasons. Books with titles like Cooking with Cannabis and Psychedelic Chemistry are banned, as is the novelisation of the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street. Even the BBC's sound effects records Death and Horror and More Death and Horror are banned. (50)

Quite apart from such cultural and artistic censorship, political censorship is severe, with heavy restrictions on "extremist" propaganda of all kinds, whether of the left or the right. Since the formation of the Federal Republic in 1949, Germany has had strict laws against both the promotion of National Socialism and the dissemination of historical arguments seeking to exonerate or praise Hitler and the Third Reich. Pamphleteers have even been prosecuted for questioning the authenticity of Anne Frank's Diary. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution has lists of banned "youth-endangering literature", which includes not only Holocaust denial material, National Socialist political works, and historical writings which seek to exonerate or praise some aspect of the Third Reich, but even biographies of second world war military and aviation heroes and histories such as Erich Kern's Adolf Hitler und das Dritte Reich. It is illegal to sell or publish new copies of Mein Kampf, to shout Nazi slogans, to watch Triumph des Willes (Germany, 1936), the film of the 1934 Nuremberg rally which was directed by Leni Riefenstahl, in a public cinema, or to display swastikas, vintage jackboots or SS helmets in public. Those Third Reich medals which contained a swastika or SS motif were reissued in new designs by the West German government after the war to those who had been awarded them. These laws are strictly enforced, with raids on homes and offices, the court-ordered destruction of banned literature and the plates used to print them, and substantial prison sentences for their promoters. Paul Oppenheimer, professor of English and comparative literature at the City College of New York, asks,

Is it not a grotesque irony, one exceedingly difficult for any free-speech purist to accept with equinamity, that 60 years after the Nazi auto-da-fé of books by Mann, Freud, Zola, Proust, Remarque and Einstein in a square opposite Berlin University, the latest twentieth century democratic government is engaged in the same sort of suppression of free expression, albeit this time of Nazi ideas? May not German history simply be continuing by other means down a familiar constrictive path? (51)

Yet these restrictions are supported by most educated Germans. Thomas Lundmark, an American professor of Anglo-American law at the University of Münster, noted in 1997 that

I have never, in years of living in Germany and talking with numerous people about this issue, found a single German who favours repeal of the prohibitions. (52)

Such attitudes account for the severity of German laws against Holocaust denial. A Hamburg judge, Dr Wilhelm Staeglich, who claimed to have been stationed at Auschwitz during the war, wrote a book denying that exterminations had taken place there. The government banned the book, seized all unsold stocks from the publisher and melted down the printing plates. Dr Staeglich was forcibly retired from the judiciary and had his pension cut. The University of Göttingen deprived him of the degree of Doctor of Jurisprudence which it had awarded in 1951. Thies Christophersen, a former Wehrmacht officer who also claims to have been stationed at Auschwitz, and who wrote a pamphlet which denied that exterminations occurred there, was prosecuted and fined several times before he recently died in exile in Denmark.

In 1991, Guenter Deckert, head of the National Democratic Party (NPD), organised a meeting at which Fred A. Leuchter, the American Holocaust revisionist, presented his view that the gassing of Jews at Auschwitz was technically impossible. Deckert was prosecuted and convicted of incitement to racial hatred for arranging this meeting. In March 1994 the Federal Court of Justice overturned the conviction on the ground that simply denying the Holocaust did not constitute incitement, and it ordered a new trial to determine whether Deckert "sympathised with Nazi beliefs" and was guilty of "insulting and denigrating the dead". (53) Deckert was tried and convicted again: three judges ruled that he did sympathise with Nazi beliefs and did insult the dead. They gave him only a suspended one-year prison sentence and a light fine, declaring that his only crime consisted in expressing an opinion. Then they added -- quite remarkably -- that he was a good family man, that his opinions were from "the heart", and that he was only trying to strengthen German resistance to Jewish demands. Two of the judges were relieved of their duties for "long-term illness", the only available ground for that action, and although they were later returned to court, some other judges refuse to sit with them. In December 1994, the Federal Court of Justice overturned Deckert's light sentence, and ordered a third trial.

In 1994 the German constitutional court ruled that Holocaust denial is not protected by free speech, and upheld an official ban on an historical conference where the British historian David Irving was due to speak. In the same year the Bundestag passed a new law declaring it to be a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to deny the Holocaust, whether or not the speaker believes the denial. The law has been enforced with remarkable thoroughness. In 1995, Ewald Althans was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for denying the Holocaust. In 1992 he had told tourists queueing up to visit Auschwitz (which is, of course, in Poland, and not under German jurisdiction):

This was not a death camp. It was a concentration camp like the Jews have built for the Palestinians in Israel. (54)

He was recorded saying this in Beruf: Neo-Nazi, a documentary film which was itself banned for its lack of critical comment about the neo-Nazi movement. (It turns out that Althans had become a paid agent of the German government. He served three weeks and was then released.)

In 1995 the police searched the headquarters of a neo-Nazi newspaper and seized copies of an issue reviewing a Danish book which denied the Holocaust. In 1995 a Hamburg court ruled that someone who left a message on an institutional answering machine stating that the film Schindler's List won an Oscar because it perpetuated the "Auschwitz myth" was not guilty of the crime. Such was the outcry at this acquittal that the man was tried again. Holocaust deniers have successfully turned these trials into forums for their views and opportunities to present themselves as martyrs on the altar of freedom of speech: Althans' trial in Munich featured hours of videos of Hitler's speeches and other Nazi propaganda.

In 1993 Irving was fined DM30,000 (then around £13,500) by the Munich courts for stating in a lecture that the gas chamber shown to tourists at Auschwitz is a fake. He was also banned from German archives and territory in perpetuity. The Auschwitz authorities now tell tourists, when asked, that the gas chamber is a post-war reconstruction of the original, which was destroyed by the Nazis when they evacuated the camp.

Sometimes the enforcement of the law goes beyond anything imagined by Orwell or Kafka. In 1996 Deckert chaired a meeting addressed by Irving which was announced as an exposition of Irving's opinions about the Holocaust. Police officers were present, and made a video recording of the meeting. In his speech, Irving did not, in fact, deny that the Holocaust occurred. Nevertheless, Deckert was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison because the court, on viewing the video, decided that Irving had intended to deny the Holocaust in his speech, and Deckert, as chairman of the meeting, was therefore a party to that intention. At the time of writing, Deckert is still in prison for this "crime". At another public meeting, Irving repeated the statement of Dr Piper, director of the Auschwitz museum, that the number of inmates who died at Auschwitz was 1.1 million, rather than the four million which had previously been claimed. Irving was prosecuted and fined DM30,000 (about £12,000) for making this statement, and was refused leave to present evidence of Dr Piper's statement in his defence. (Most historians of the Holocaust do in fact accept that Piper's figure is more accurate than the earlier one.)

The dangers inherent in the German approach to Holocaust denial are described by Ronald Dworkin, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University, who is a vigorous supporter of freedom of expression on this -- and every other -- issue:

It is implausible that allowing fanatics to deny the Holocaust would substantially increase the risk of fascist violence in Germany. Savage anti-Semitic crimes are indeed committed there, along with equally savage crimes against immigrants, and right-wing groups are undoubtedly responsible for much of this. But these groups do not need to deny that Hitler slaughtered Jews in order to encourage Hitler worshippers to attack Jews themselves. ... We must not endorse the principle that opinion may be banned when those in power are persuaded that it is false and that some group would be deeply and understandably wounded by its publication. The Creationists who banned Darwin from the Tennessee public schools in the 1920s were just as convinced about biological history as we are about German history, and they, too, acted to protect people who felt humiliated at the centre of their being by the disgraceful new teaching. The Muslim fundamentalists who banned Salman Rushdie were convinced that he was wrong, and they, too, acted to protect people who had suffered deeply from what they took to be outrageous insults. Every blasphemy law, every book-burning, every witch-hunt of the right or left, has been defended on the same ground: that it protects fundamental values from desecration.

Beware principles you can trust only in the hands of people who think as you do. It is tempting to say that Germany's situation is special, that the Holocaust was off history's graph and calls for exceptions for everything, including freedom of speech. But many other groups believe their situation special too. ... Blacks find arguments like those of Herrnstein and Murray's book, The Bell Curve, which suggests that races differ genetically in intelligence, deeply offensive, and in some US universities, professors who teach a view of history that minorities believe insulting are ostracised and disciplined. We would not want people in power, who thought this biology or history plainly wrong, to have the power to ban it. Censorship is often the child of grievance, and people who feel that history has been unjust to them -- as many Muslim fundamentalists and other groups as well as blacks do -- are unlikely to accept that their position is not special too.

I know how strong the case for censorship seems in Germany now; I know that decent people are impatient with abstract principles when they see hoodlums with pseudo-swastikas pretending that the most monumental, cold-blooded genocide ever was the invention of its victims. The hoodlums remind us of what we often forget: the high, sometimes nearly unbearable, cost of freedom. But freedom is important enough even for sacrifices that really hurt. People who love it should give no hostage to its enemies, like Deckert and his odious colleagues, even in the face of the violent provocations they design to tempt us. (55)


The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that the right of the individual to freedom of speech and of the press may not be infringed by the government. It is one of the very few freedoms contained in the US Constitution which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld as a matter of principle. This right is legally enforced and culturally accepted by enlightened Americans, and with good reason. There have always been numerous and powerful forces in American society which want those whose opinions they disapprove of to be silenced and punished by the law. One US Postmaster General prohibited the distribution through the mail of material condemning the institution of slavery; another prohibited the distribution of freethought and agnostic material. There have been numerous attempts by Federal, state and city authorities to suppress supposedly "pornographic" works of art and literature, radical political opinions (including both the promotion of racism and opposition to racism), information about the intelligence services, unauthorised cures for cancer which had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, information about how to make your own nuclear weapon, drug-related material, and countless other manifestations of dissent. Perhaps the most extraordinary example of American censorship was the arrest of a cinema manager in High Point, North Carolina, in 1967, for showing Hawaii, a film starring Julie Andrews which was declared to be obscene under a mid-nineteenth century local ordnance because it contained scenes of bare-breasted Hawaiian women. (56) Fortunately, a courageous and dedicated minority of Americans in organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have actively worked to defend the First Amendment against such absurdities by making legal challenges to any attempt to suppress it, if necessary going all the way to the Supreme Court. For instance, Aryeh Neier, who is today president of the Open Society Institute, New York, recalls that

In 1977, I helped to defend freedom of speech for a group of American Nazis. There was nothing particularly unusual in this: the American Civil Liberties Union has frequently defended Nazis, members of the Ku Klux Klan and others engaged in hate speech. Yet it aroused great controversy because of the drama of the situation: the Nazis wished to march through Skokie, Illinois, a town with a large proportion of Holocaust survivors. I thought then, and think now, that it was important to protect free expression even for such a repugnant group. ... During the debate that raged nationwide throughout the 15 months of a series of court cases, many people argued that the Nazis should not be allowed to march. Some drew on the doctrine of `clear and present danger', which the US Supreme Court had invoked on a number of occasions to limit freedom of speech. The doctrine of 'clear and present danger' stems from the period after World War I which saw some 1,900 federal prosecutions for peaceful speech, mostly for statements considered subversive because they encouraged resistance to the draft or otherwise opposed the war effort. Among the notable cases of that era was the prosecution and imprisonment of the leader of the American Socialist Party, Eugene V Debs, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. The restrictive force of the doctrine was broadened in 1951 during the prosecution of 11 top US Communist Party leaders, when the Supreme Court ruled that if the climate is right for an evil to occur, the government may imprison people whose advocacy could create that evil at a future point. If the Supreme Court had adhered to this view, which it subsequently abandoned, the government would have had a powerful tool to crack down on all manner of speech that particular officials might find offensive. ... Freedom of speech is ultimately the greatest protection against the kinds of crimes that took place in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia, and against the crimes that Julius Streicher was able to incite in Nazi Germany. (57)

As a result of the successful defence of the First Amendment, Holocaust revisionism has been able to develop in the US in a context in which the law prohibits the government from taking legal action to suppress it. This legal protection has made the US today the main centre of Holocaust revisionism. In 1978 the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) was established in California with the purpose of promoting Holocaust revisionism and other revisionist interpretations of twentieth-century history, with a strong emphasis on the second world war. The IHR publishes books and the Journal of Historical Review in order to promote its ideas, as well as holding annual conventions at which revisionists from all over the world have spoken.

Fortunately, a number of prominent American Jews, including Professor Alan M. Dershowitz of Harvard Law School, are among the most outspoken supporters of the First Amendment. Indeed, I have heard that Professor Dershowitz, who has often condemned the Holocaust revisionists in print, nevertheless ordered a subscription to the Journal of Historical Review to be added to the library at Harvard University, as a demonstration of his commitment to freedom of expression, even for those whom he despises.

Deborah Lipstadt, who holds the Dorot chair in modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, and who is the most prominent academic opponent of the Holocaust revisionists in the US, puts forward a different point of view. While she argues that academic institutions and media organisations should, as a matter of policy, deny a platform to Holocaust revisionists, and she does whatever she can to encourage such a policy, she nevertheless opposes any attempt by the government to prosecute them. She writes:

The deniers have the absolute right to stand on any street corner and spread their calumnies. They have the right to publish their articles and books and hold their gatherings. But free speech does not guarantee them the right to be treated as the "other" side of a legitimate debate. Nor does it guarantee them space on op-ed pages or time on television and radio shows. Most important, it does not call for people such as Chomsky to stand by them and thereby commend their views to the public. ... I reiterate that I am not advocating the muzzling of the deniers. They have the right to free speech, however abhorrent. However, they are using that right not as a shield, as it was intended by the Constitution, but as a sword. There is a qualitative difference between barring someone's right to speech and providing him or her with a platform from which to deliver a message. (58)

She is critical of attempts to use the law to prosecute the deniers:

There are those who believe that the courtroom is the place to fight the deniers. This is where Austria, Germany, France, and Canada have mounted their efforts. ... The problem with such legal maneuvers is that they are often difficult to sustain or carry through. ... It transforms the legal arena into a historical forum, something the courtroom was never designed to be. When historical disputes become lawsuits, the outcome is unpredictable.

The main shortcoming of legal restraints is that they transform the deniers into martyrs on the altar of freedom of speech. ... The free-speech controversy can obscure the deniers' antisemitism and turn the hate monger into a victim. (59)

Indeed, US law has consistently protected the rights of Holocaust revisionists to express their views. In 1984, the late David McCalden, a Holocaust denier, contracted to rent exhibit space at the California Library Association's annual conference in order to promote Holocaust revisionist publications. Two Jewish organisations -- the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the American Jewish Committee -- protested to both the city and the association, the latter organisation threatening to demonstrate outside the conference, and the association cancelled McCalden's contract. McCalden sued the SWC and the AJC, arguing that they had conspired to deprive him of his constitutional right to free speech. Although the court dismissed his complaint, the US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in 1992.

Nevertheless, the IHR has been repeatedly subjected to civil action at law. One of its earliest activities, in 1979, was to offer a reward of $50,000 to any person who could prove that Jews were gassed by the Nazis at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The judges of the evidence would all be Holocaust revisionists. The IHR wrote to Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of Auschwitz who gave talks to community groups and schools about the Holocaust, challenging him to prove his claims in return for the reward. Mermelstein provided what he considered to be conclusive evidence, and the IHR did not respond. So Mermelstein sued the IHR and in 1981 obtained a court judgement that the Holocaust was a fact and that the IHR had a legal duty to pay him the money it had offered, together with damages. Mermelstein was then involved in further litigation with the IHR which dragged on for years and inflicted heavy costs on the organisation. (The Mermelstein story was dramatised as Never Forget, a made-for-television film starring Leonard Nimoy.)

In the US, Holocaust revisionists have put their case on radio, television and cable programmes, including the nationally syndicated Phil Donahue Show and 60 Minutes. The libertarian Holocaust revisionist Bradley Smith has placed advertisements denying the Holocaust in college newspapers across the nation, as well as speaking at several American universities. This campaign created a considerable debate about freedom of speech and the First Amendment in American universities. (59) Holocaust deniers also have a significant presence on the Internet, where heated debates about this historical controversy are constantly going on. The presence of Holocaust revisionism on the Internet ultimately renders futile any attempt to suppress it in the long run, anywhere in the world. So long as the First Amendment protects the right of the Holocaust deniers to promote their ideas on the Net in the United States, anybody in the world with access to a computer with a modem and Internet software will be able to download their material in minutes for the cost of local telephone call. American principles of freedom of expression will therefore ultimately prevail everywhere. Increasingly a free market in ideas is going to prevail, whether one likes it or not, and those who want to put Holocaust revisionists in prison because they don't agree with their historical opinions are going to have to live with that fact.

For the sake of brevity and clarity, I have almost exclusively examined above governmental and private legal action against the deniers through the courts. I have not mentioned the extensive illegal violence that has been used against them by their enemies. For instance, in 1984, the California premises of the Institute for Historical Review, including the warehouse storing its books, were destroyed by a firebomb which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of damage and almost destroyed the IHR. Bradley Smith has been subjected to continuous intimidation and threats of violence for disseminating Holocaust revisionism: when he lectured at Ohio State University in 1989, for instance, there were 15 death threats and a bomb scare. In 1989, Robert Faurisson was walking his dog in a park near his home in Vichy when a group of thugs kicked him with boots with iron toecaps, inflicting severe facial injuries which required extensive plastic surgery. In 1995 the home and premises of Ernst Zündel in Toronto were firebombed, causing extensive damage. David Irving has been physically assaulted while dining in a London restaurant and his home has been broken into by a man wielding a sledgehammer. Bookshops throughout the provinces in Britain which have displayed his books have had their windows smashed until the offending publications have been withdrawn. Although these attacks on bookshops have been reported in the local press, nothing about them has appeared in the national press. The printworks of the Historical Review Press, a Sussex-based Holocaust revisionist publisher, have been subjected to several arson attacks.

In addition, informal pressure is applied to discourage the appearance of Holocaust revisionist material. For instance, the popular Japanese magazine Marco Polo carried an article denying that exterminations had occurred at Auschwitz. The Israeli embassy and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre complained, and the company which published Marco Polo recalled all unsold copies of the offending edition and even closed down the entire magazine. An Italian academic journal arranged for a debate between Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust revisionist, and an orthodox historian, to be published in its pages. After pressure was placed on the journal, it cancelled the proposed debate.


The fact that it will be so difficult to suppress Holocaust revisionism in today's -- and tomorrow's -- wired world should not, however, allow us to be complacent about the threat to freedom of expression which is involved in any attempt to invoke the law to suppress it. If the current prosecution of Griffin and Ballard for denying the Holocaust on grounds of "incitement to racial hatred" is successful, and the defendants are sent to prison, then there may develop a situation in which there is a prima facie case that all individuals distributing publications denying the Holocaust may be in breach of the law and therefore subject to prosecution and prison. That is why, whatever our opinions about the BNP and everything it stands for, we must do everything we can to ensure that Griffin and Ballard are acquitted.

What is at stake is the very concept of intellectual freedom itself. This concept has been ably promoted over the centuries, perhaps most famously by John Milton, in Aeropagitica, and by John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty. It is important, of course, to uphold the right to freedom of expression in all areas, but it becomes absolutely essential to do so when the criminal law is applied to prohibit the questioning of a dogma in history, science, economics, philosophy, theology or any other intellectual field.

Lord Acton was the greatest classical liberal philosopher of history, and it is unfortunate that he never lived to write his projected History of Liberty, a book which has probably had more influence than any book that was never actually written. Acton was a student of the great German scholar Leopold von Ranke, who single-handedly created the methods which have guided the historical profession ever since, and Acton combined von Ranke's methodology with a profound understanding of the nature and value of individual liberty and the free society which was based on a degree of historical knowledge probably unsurpassed by any other individual. In 1895, in his inaugural lecture as Regius professor of modern history at Cambridge University, Acton explained that the essence of historical understanding was taking into consideration opposing points of view and interpretations:

No political dogma is as serviceable to my purpose here as the historian's maxim to do the best he can for the other side, and to avoid pertinacity or emphasis on his own. Like the economic precept laissez faire ... it has been an important, if not a final step in the making of method. ... [An] historian is seen at his best when he does not appear. Better for us is the example of the Bishop of Oxford, who never lets us know what he thinks of anything but the matter before him; and of his illustrious French rival, Fustel de Coulanges, who said to an excited audience: "Do not imagine you are listening to me; it is history itself that speaks." ... For our purpose, the main thing to learn is not the art of accumulating material, but the sublimer art of investigating it, of discerning truth from falsehood and certainty from doubt. It is by solidity of criticism more than by the plenitude of erudition, that the study of history strengthens, and straightens, and extends the mind. And the accession of the critic in the place of the indefatigable compiler, of the artist in coloured narrative, the skilled limner of character, the persuasive advocate of good, or other, causes, amounts to a transfer of government, to a change of dynasty, in the historic realm. For the critic is one who, when he lights on an interesting statement, begins by suspecting it. He remains in suspense until he has subjected his authority to three operations. First, he asks whether he has read the passage as the author wrote it. For the transcriber, and the editor, and the official or officious censor on top of the editor, have played strange tricks, and have much to answer for. And if they are not to blame, it may turn out that the author wrote his book twice over, that you can discover the first jet, the progressive variations, things added, and things struck out. Next is the question where the writer got his information. If from a previous writer, it can be ascertained, and the inquiry has to be repeated. If from unpublished papers, they must be traced, and when the fountain-head is reached, or the track disappears, the question of veracity arises. The responsible writer's character, his position, antecedents, and probable motives have to be examined into; and this is what, in a different and adapted sense of the word, may be called the higher criticism, in comparison with the servile and often mechanical work of pursuing statements to their root. For a historian has to be treated as a witness, and not believed unless his sincerity is established. The maxim that a man must be presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved, was not made for him. ...

Remember Darwin taking note only of those passages that raised difficulties in his way; the French philosopher complaining that his work stood still, because he found no more contradicting facts; Baer, who thinks error treated thoroughly nearly as remunerative as truth, by the discovery of new objections; for, as Sir Robert Ball warns us, it is by considering objections that we often learn. Faraday declares that "in knowledge, that man only is to be condemned and despised who is not in a state of transition." ... Modern History touches us so nearly, it is so deep a question of life and death, that we are bound to find our own way through it, and to owe our insight to ourselves. The historians of former ages, unapproachable for us in knowledge and talent, cannot be our limit. We have the power to be more rigidly impersonal, disinterested and just than they; and to learn from undisguised and genuine records to look with remorse upon the past, and to the future with assured hope of better things; bearing this in mind, that if we lower our standard in History, we cannot uphold it in Church or State. (61)

Acton's precepts are those which govern -- or ought to govern -- historical research and writing in all countries which accept the fundamental value of intellectual freedom. Unfortunately, the twentieth century has seen the rise of various schools of history in which dogma replaces the higher criticism expounded by von Ranke and Acton. In many countries dogmas have achieved the status of a state monopoly, and have been backed up by secret police forces and punishments for those who express disagreement with them. The late Sir Karl Popper was an Austrian-born -- later British -- philosopher whose intellectual development coincided with the rise in Europe of totalitarian ideologies such as National Socialism and Marxist-Leninism. Largely in opposition to these tendencies, he became one of the most formidable philosophers of classical liberalism that the twentieth century has produced. In contrast with the "certainty" which the totalitarians used as a justification for their suppression of those who disagreed with them, Popper demonstrated that in intellectual fields such as science, philosophy and history, just as in economic activity, "certainty", in the sense of complete and unquestioned knowledge about any subject, is a philosophical impossibility, because we cannot possibly accumulate sufficient evidence to warrant such a claim. In all knowledge, Popper argued, we are concerned merely with greater or lesser degrees of uncertainty. According to Popper, a process of conjecture and refutation is the means by which knowledge is advanced, not towards "certainty", nor even towards "probability", but, by testing each hypothesis against the body of existing knowledge, towards the progressive elimination of errors and towards a less and less inaccurate interpretation of reality. Any such conjecture must necessarily be "falsifiable", that is to say that we could conceive of decisive refutations of it, before it can be accepted as valid. In short, one must attempt to falsify a hypothesis rather than to reinforce it. If a belief or dogma of any kind is given special politically-protected status in the law, so that legal penalties are imposed on any person who expresses an opinion which contradicts it, then the process of acquiring greater knowledge is halted, because no belief or dogma can possibly be so "certain" as to be beyond the process of conjecture and refutation. Mankind's continued survival and growth, which depends on this process of acquisition, is therefore to that extent impaired. The classic example in the field of science is that of Galileo, who was repeatedly prosecuted and forced to recant his discovery that the earth is not the centre of the solar system, because of its conflict with Church dogma. A more recent example is that of the notorious fraud Trofim Lysenko, whose Lamarckian ideas about agricultural "germination" were considered by Stalin to be authentically Marxist-Leninist, and were therefore elevated to the status of an unquestioned dogma in the Soviet Union, resulting in the ruination of its agriculture and the murder or imprisonment of those scientists who disagreed with them.

It is worth quoting Popper's argument in this respect at some length. He stated that in the field of history

... the facts at our disposal are often severely limited and cannot be repeated or implemented at our will. And they have been collected in accordance with a preconceived point of view; the so-called `sources' of history record only such facts as appeared sufficiently interesting to record, so that the sources will often contain only such facts as fit in with preconceived theory. And if no further facts are available, it will often not be possible to test this theory or any other subsequent theory. Such untestable historical theories can then rightly be charged with being circular in the sense in which this charge has been unjustly brought against scientific theories. I shall call such historical theories, in contradistinction to scientific theories, 'general interpretations'.

Interpretations are important since they represent a point of view. But we have seen that a point of view is always inevitable, and that, in history, a theory which can be tested and which is therefore of scientific character can only rarely be obtained. Thus we must not think that a general interpretation can be confirmed by its agreement even with all our records; for we must remember its circularity, as well as the fact that there will always be a number of other (and perhaps incompatible) interpretations that agree with the same records, and that we can rarely obtain new data able to serve as do crucial experiments in physics. Historians often do not see any other interpretation which fits the facts as well as their own does; but if we consider that even in the field of physics, with its larger and more reliable stock of facts, new crucial experiments are needed again and again because the old ones are all in keeping with both of two competing and incompatible theories (consider the eclipse-experiment which is needed for deciding between Newton's and Einstein's theories of gravitation), then we shall give up the naãve belief that any definite set of historical records can ever be interpreted in one way only. ...

To sum up, there can be no history of 'the past as it actually did happen'; there can only be historical interpretations, and none of them final; and every generation has the right to frame its own. But not only has it a right to frame its own interpretations, it also has a kind of obligation to do so; for there is indeed a pressing need to be answered. We want to know how our troubles are related to the past, and we want to see the line along which we may progress towards the solution of what we feel, and what we choose, to be our main tasks. ... Those interpretations which are needed, and justified, and one or other of which we are bound to adopt, can, I have said, be compared to a searchlight. We let it play upon our past, and we hope to illuminate the present by its reflection. (62)

Popper argues, in short, that the historian will always be "subjective" in regard to such historical interpretation. Historical interpretations must be tested against known facts and deductions which follow logically from those facts. If the interpretation is sufficiently strong to withstand this testing process, then historians will modify their representation of the past in accordance with it. New evidence, or the re-interpretation of existing evidence, may also lead to such a modification. If for instance a key piece of evidence is demonstrated to be a fake, then a significant modification may be necessary. The free market in ideas is the only way in which this process can be carried out.


In 1990 the British Museum held a most interesting exhibition entitled "Fake? The Art of Deception", which I visited. The purpose of the exhibition was to discuss what is meant by the concepts of "falsehood" and "authenticity" in such fields as art, science, literature and history. Some of the exhibits are objects and documents which were once accepted as genuine but are now believed to be fakes, others are objects which were once believed to be fakes but are now accepted as genuine, and others still are the subject of continuing controversy as to their authenticity. A perusal of the illustrated catalogue of the exhibition will be a valuable educational experience for anyone who believes that something called "certainty" can ever be achieved with regard to artistic, scientific, cultural or historical ideas. The section relating to the forging of history, however, is the most relevant to the present paper. The oldest exhibit is an Old Babylonian forged inscription on a stone cruciform monument, which probably dates from the first half of the second millennium BC, but purports to be from the 23rd century BC. According to the catalogue:

All twelve sides of the monument are covered with an inscription, the bulk of which deals with the renovation of the temple of Shamash and the very substantial increases in revenue that the temple received from the king. It ends: "this is not a lie, it is indeed the truth ... He who will damage this document let Enki fill up his canals with slime ..."

The monument comes into the category known as a fraus pia, or 'pious fraud'. It was probably produced by the temple priests in order to establish the great antiquity of the privileges and revenues of their temple, thus strengthening the temple's claim to them. (63)

Attempts to distort the historical record for political and financial gain can hardly be described as a recent innovation.

The exhibition contains forgeries from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as examples from medieval Europe, including the well-known "Donation of Constantine", one of the "Forged Decretals of Isadore", which purported to be a letter from the Emperor Constantine granting temporal power over the Roman empire in the West to Pope Silvester I while Constantine retreated to the eastern capital which bore his name. The "Decretals" were definitively exposed as a forgery in 1440 by the great Italian Humanist scholar Lorenzo Valla. This exposure subsequently did a great deal to undermine the prestige of the Papacy and contributed significantly to the Protestant Reformations in several European countries. (64) The exhibition also contains fake historical relics such as "chastity belts", which probably never existed in the middle ages or the Renaissance, but were manufactured in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as curiosities or fakes, (65) and a fake "Spanish Inquisition torture chair" which was manufactured in the nineteenth century. (66)

Modern political forgeries include the notorious "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion", an anti-semitic fabrication first published in Russia in 1903 which purported to be the text of a "Jewish plan for world domination" but was in fact shown to be a re-writing of two 19th century texts: a satire on the Third Empire by the French lawyer Maurice Joly, and an anti-semitic diatribe by a Serbian writer, Osman Bey. (67) The "Parnell letter" of 1887 purported to be a letter from the Irish leader Charles Parnell expressing approval of the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke. It was published in The Times but was later demonstrated to be a forgery by a government commission of inquiry, which completely vindicated Parnell. (68) There is also the "Zinoviev letter", which purported to be a letter from the Soviet leader Grigori Zinoviev to the British Communist Party, urging it to pressure the Labour government to conclude the proposed Anglo-Soviet trade treaty and to prepare for armed revolution by infiltrating the armed forces. The publication of this letter in 1924 contributed substantially to Labour's election defeat that year and greatly strengthened the position of the Conservative Party. (69)

As one might expect, the two world wars produced a rich crop of propaganda forgeries on both sides, examples of which appeared in the exhibition. One exhibit was the Lusitania medal which was widely distributed in Britain and the United States by British government propagandists during the first world war. In 1915 the British Cunard liner the Lusitania was sunk off the west coast of Ireland by a German U-boat, killing 1198 passengers and crew, including many Americans. British propaganda accused the Germans of having carried out one of the most dastardly war crimes in European history. A private German citizen, Karl Goetz, produced this satirical medal, seeking to excuse the sinking on the grounds that the ship had been carrying arms -- which was true -- and that passengers had been warned of the danger by advert-isements placed in American newspapers. When the German government found out about this medal, it suppressed it. Nevertheless, the British propagandists obtained a copy of the medal, duplicated it, and sold it in huge numbers, claiming that it was an official German decoration. (70)

The journalist Colin Simpson has demonstrated that before the war the British Admiralty, which had a very close relationship with Cunard, had arranged for the Lusitania to be fitted with twelve six-inch naval guns and other naval equipment and made available as a Royal Navy warship in case of war. Although reference books such as Jane's Fighting Ships correctly listed her as an auxiliary cruiser fitted with naval guns, she was advertised as simply an ocean liner owned by a private company. After the outbreak of war, Simpson demonstrates, the British government deliberately used the Lusitania simultaneously to carry armaments for the Western Front in her capacity as a warship and to carry civilian passengers, in severe breach of international law. Simpson demonstrates that the purpose of this policy was to provoke the Germans into sinking her and killing enough American passengers to cause the United States to enter the war. In accordance with the laws of war, the Germans declared an official war zone around the coast of Britain, which they were blockading, and warned that British vessels believed to be carrying munitions were liable to be sunk in that area. They knew about the Lusitania's status as a warship and munitions carrier, and took out full-page advertisements in newspapers throughout the US warning Americans not to take passage on her. Although the sinking of the Lusitania was therefore carried out in accordance with the laws of war, British propaganda relating to it played a major role in shifting American opinion in favour of entry into the war. (71)

Another exhibit from the first world war was an example of German propaganda called The Great Anti-Northcliffe Mail, dating from 1917. The press magnate Lord Northcliffe played a major part in maintaining British public enthusiasm for the war effort through his newspapers, which included the Evening News, The Times and the Daily Mail, as well as exercising influence in neutral countries. On the outbreak of war in 1914, the British government established a semi-official committee under Lord Bryce which produced anti-German atrocity propaganda, such as the claim that the Germans had cut off the hands of Belgian children, thrown babies into the air and transfixed them on their bayonets, crucified a Canadian PoW, raped and mutilated women, looted churches, and operated a factory in which the corpses of German soldiers were boiled down to produce soap, fats and fertiliser. The Northcliffe press gave wide publicity to the propaganda produced by the Bryce committee. Such propaganda, which involved the alteration of documents and the manufacturing and doctoring of photographs, was used to incite the maximum degree of hatred against the evil Hun. In 1917 the Germans began to produce The Great Anti-Northcliffe Mail, a newspaper published in Zurich which was identical in size and format to the Daily Mail, with the purpose of challenging such propaganda. (72) After the war, the British government formally repudiated its atrocity propaganda in an official statement by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. The full story has been revealed in books such as Falsehood in War-Time by Arthur Ponsonby MP (later Lord Ponsonby, a Cabinet minister); Propaganda Technique in the World War by H. D. Lasswell; Propaganda for War by H. C. Peterson; Atrocity Propaganda, 1914-1919 by J. M. Read; and British Propaganda during the First World War by M. L. Sander and Philip M. Taylor.

As the French scholar Jacques Ellul demonstrated, propaganda is an all-pervasive feature of contemporary society, and any understanding of the twentieth-century world must take it into account. In The First Casualty, the journalist Philip Knightley documents the brazen distortions disseminated by war correspondents from the Crimea to Vietnam. The historian of warfare must subject such war stories to the process of higher criticism described above by Acton, even more than with most other pieces of historical evidence.

The Holocaust revisionists argue that the claim that the Germans deliberately exterminated Jews during the second world war in gas chambers is simply another propaganda myth, with no more historical foundation than the products of the Bryce committee during the first world war. They do not dispute the fact that many Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, but they claim that there were no gas chambers, that the number who died was far lower than the figure of five or six million, and was in fact somewhere between 100,000 and 1.5 million, and that there was no deliberate and systematic policy of killing Jews simply for being Jews on the part of Hitler, Himmler or any other Nazi leader. The only difference between the propaganda of 1914-18 and that of 1939-45, they claim, is that the propaganda was maintained after the latter war because it continued to suit the political needs of the Allied powers, as well as playing a central role in the establishment of the state of Israel, and gaining material and moral support for that state's policies. In order to promote this belief, they challenge the authenticity of certain documents, photographs and films, the interpretation of others, and the accuracy of eye-witness testimony, as well as presenting other evidence which, they claim, demonstrate that the Holocaust, at least in the manner which is generally accepted, did not occur.

Now such arguments are undoubtedly deeply offensive to many people within the Jewish community, especially those who lost relatives during the second world war. Nevertheless, they must stand or fall in the free market of ideas. The demand for laws which fine or imprison individuals for making these arguments is an attack on the very process of the study of history as described by Acton. It can only be fatal for the process of free inquiry, for the health of a free society and the intellectual freedom on which such a society depends. In his classic work The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, the late Professor F. A. von Hayek demonstrated that political and intellectual freedom depends on the existence of economic freedom, without which they cannot long survive. Conversely, it is questionable how long economic and political freedom can survive the extirpation of intellectual freedom, once one moves along that path through the prohibition of Holocaust revisionism.


The Swiss writer Erich von Däniken has made millions with his pseudo-historical books about aliens visiting the earth and developing ancient civilisations. Von Däniken's writings defy every significant fact known about ancient cultures, and therefore cannot be considered as a legitimate historical interpretation by any historian, archaeologist or scientist. But nobody has called for von Däniken to be prosecuted or imprisoned for promoting this absurd fiction. To take another example, a recent book entitled Russia: A History, edited by Professor Gregory Freeze, and published by the Oxford University Press, challenges the generally-accepted view that at least 20 million Soviet citizens -- and possibly as many as 40 million -- were murdered by Stalin's regime. It is generally believed that between 5 and 12 million Ukrainians were murdered during the collectivisation of agriculture, primarily through deportations and deliberate mass starvations. Freeze and his co-authors argue that about 3.3 million Soviet citizens died in the famine of 1933, and that that famine had not been deliberately imposed by Stalin's regime. They also claim that the purges of the late 1930s were on a far smaller scale than has previously been believed, and were not necessarily initiated by Stalin himself.

The arguments of Freeze and his colleagues have been the subject of severe academic controversy, with Professor Robert Conquest, among others, pointing to the massive evidence against them, but nobody has suggested that a law should be passed to fine Professor Freeze or put him into prison on grounds of "inciting racial hatred" against, for example, Ukrainians. I doubt whether anyone seriously believes that was his motivation. If Freeze was to be prosecuted for expressing his controversial opinions on the death toll of Stalin's regime, libertarians would just as vigorously oppose such an action as they oppose the prosecution of individuals who deny the Nazi Holocaust.

Although not all historians or philosophers would accept Popper's view of the nature of historical inquiry, it is nevertheless at the very least a useful model for the examination of historical controversies. The classic example from English history is the question of whether Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower, and several other of his relatives, in order to secure his hold on the throne. Partly due to the fact that Henry VII's claim to the throne was so weak, Tudor propagandists found it necessary to paint a picture of Richard as the mass murderer who is so familiar from Shakespeare's most frequently-performed play. Yet the fact that the Tudors promoted this view for their own political purposes does not necessarily mean that their claims were not true. In the present century, most historians of the period have come to believe that he was probably innocent, although some still disagree. Some years ago there was an interesting television programme in which both sides of the controversy put forward arguments for and against Richard's guilt before a jury, which, if I recall correctly, returned a verdict of "not guilty". There is an organisation called the Richard III Society, which seeks to clear Richard of the murders which have been attributed to him. Sometimes people change their minds. Desmond Seward argued for Richard's innocence for thirty years before recanting and writing a book arguing that the king was, after all, guilty of the murders attributed to him. (73) It is purely a matter of interpretation, and nobody, as far as I am aware, has called for one side or the other to be put into prison for expressing a view on the subject. (74)

It is a different story with Holocaust revisionism. Whether one likes the fact or not, these ideas have gained considerable ground since the mid-1970s, and are no longer dismissed by historians as merely the ravings of a neo-Nazi fringe seeking to restore the Third Reich. They are beginning to creep into the margins of respectable academic history. In 1986 the distinguished German historian Professor Ernst Nolte argued that the Nazis' anti-semitic policies, culminating in the Holocaust, should be understood in the context of Soviet mass murders and the anti-German campaign by the international Jewish community, rather than a unique and unprecedented evil. This began the Historikerstreit of the late 1980s, in which German historians debated for and against Professor Nolte's position. While Nolte rejected Holocaust denial, he nevertheless said that the intentions of Holocaust revisionists were often honourable, that they should be taken seriously, and that they were not necessarily neo-fascists.

Roger Eatwell's book Fascism (Verso, London, 1995) contains a number of references to Holocaust revisionist arguments, albeit rejecting their conclusions. A compilation of documents also entitled Fascism, edited by Roger Griffin and published by the Oxford University Press in 1995, contains a number of extracts from Holocaust denial literature, albeit in the context of examples of contemporary fascist propaganda. In his monumental bestseller Europe: A History, which is also published by the OUP, Professor Norman Davies, the world's most distinguished living historian of Poland, gives serious consideration to the Holocaust denial arguments, with references to the books which promote them, even though he rejects their conclusions. Even Holocaust historians have begun to take notice of them. Professor Arno Mayer, of Princeton University, includes Rassinier and Butz in the bibliography of his Holocaust history Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The Final Solution in History, while indignantly repudiating their case. In answer to Robert Faurisson's arguments that no homicidal gassings took place at Auschwitz, Jean-Claude Pressac considered it necessary to produce a study entitled Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers in an attempt to disprove them.XXX In the US, a nationwide programme for Holocaust studies in schools was denied Federal funding on the grounds that the Holocaust revisionist interpretation, however repugnant, was not represented. Holocaust revisionism is increasingly considered by historians to be an extreme, radical, dubious and highly controversial interpretation, but an interpretation nevertheless that must be taken into consideration in the writing of the history of the second world war.

David Irving's claim that Hitler knew nothing about the Holocaust has been the subject of Hitler and the Final Solution, a book by Professor Gerald Fleming which argues that the historical evidence does in fact point to Hitler's personal knowledge and responsibility. In 1977, Irving debated his claim on television with the late A. J. P. Taylor. Taylor asked:

"Now, Mr Irving, let me see if I have this right. You say that the lack of any written order from Hitler concerning the Final Solution proves that he knew nothing about it. Is that right?"

Irving assented.

"And yet you say that the lack of any written order from Churchill concerning the death of General Sikorski does not clear him from being implicated in his murder?" (75)

As we saw above, the Labour Party has adopted a policy of sending anybody to prison for two years for either denying the Holocaust or claiming that Hitler did not know about it. Irving could therefore spend two years in a prison cell for making an argument that had previously led to a televised debate with one of the most distinguished historians of the twentieth century. They say that New Labour has abandoned its commitment to nationalisation of the economy. Apparently they've simply shifted the commitment to a Clause Four on the mind.

Some people would argue that historical arguments aimed at exonerating Hitler and the Nazi regime simply cannot be equated with those relating to other historical problems. They would argue that Holocaust denial arguments are taken up by racist, fascist and anti-semitic organisations with the specific purpose of oppressing or inciting violence and hatred against certain ethnic, religious and national minorities. It has been claimed, for instance, that David Irving's historical lectures challenging the generally-accepted view of the Holocaust have in some way been responsible for the wave of violent neo-Nazi attacks and murders in Germany. Yet the arson attacks on refugee hostels occurred in Lübeck and Rostock, where Irving never spoke, and his talks were not reported in the media.

It has been claimed that Robert Faurisson's Holocaust revisionist arguments have led to the rise of the National Front (FN) in France. Certainly it is true that Jean-Marie Le Pen and other FN leaders have occasionally made remarks which indicate that they may have been influenced by the deniers. Yet we have seen above that both Germany and France have introduced laws prohibiting Holocaust denial, and this has not prevented racist violence in Germany or the rise of the FN in France, but has severely impaired freedom of expression and academic freedom in both countries.

The argument is made that this denial is such an affront to Jewish people as to attack their very identity, quite apart from the insult to the memory of those who died, those who survived, and those whose relatives perished in the Holocaust. This is the one and only area, it is argued, where the state must step in to enforce a point of history through the criminal and civil law. Yet to accept this argument would imply, as Professor Dworkin argued above, that the expression of any historical idea that can be represented as offending against a recognisable group should also be penalised by the criminal law. For example, many Irish people believe that the famine of the 1840s was exacerbated by the indifference of the British government. Indeed, some Irish-Americans have recently gone so far as to claim that the British starved the Irish as a deliberate policy. At the same time, some historians have argued that the large majority of the deaths attributed to the famine actually occurred as a result of a disease for which no cure existed at the time, and that therefore nothing could conceivably have been done to prevent them.

Another area of historical controversy is the treatment of black slaves in the antebellum American South. The historians Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman wrote an historical work entitled Time on the Cross, based largely on econometric calculations, which sought to demonstrate that economic conditions for black slaves were roughly equivalent to those of free white workers in the North, and possibly on average slightly better; that over the course of a lifetime the slave received back about 90% of the value of his work; that masters generally cared for the health and well-being of their slaves and avoided gratuitous ill-treatment; and that some slaves not only became skilled craftsmen, but also joined professions such as engineering and architecture, in some cases being slave-owners themselves. (76) Some black people might argue that this constitutes "slavery denial", and that those persons advocating it should be imprisoned for "insulting black people".

If we are to support the prohibition of Holocaust denial, then on what grounds could equivalent demands by Irish or black people be resisted? On what grounds could the demand by Muslim fundamentalists for the banning of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses be opposed? And who knows what other demands for the banning of other ideas -- historical, scientific, religious or cultural -- would emerge once we moved so far in the criminalisation of dissident opinions? Are scientists who promote Darwinism going to be imprisoned because their ideas offend the beliefs of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists? Britain would very rapidly descend to the level of Canada, if not to the dystopia described by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, in which all books are banned, and "firemen" equipped with flame-throwers go into action to destroy any secret libraries which are discovered. The central character of Bradbury's novella is a fireman who develops an unhealthy curiosity about the books he has to destroy, and begins secretly to collect and read them. He discovers that many of the other firemen, including his immediate superior, have been doing exactly the same for years. Finally he escapes the city to join a remote community of dissidents who have outflanked the ban by each memorising the entire text of a complete book, which they then recite from memory to the others.

Bradbury's classic story was probably never intended to be taken literally. Nevertheless, Jean-Claude Carrière, France's leading screenwriter, and president of the Paris film school FEMIS, provides an example of ingenuity in evading censorship which goes the full length of Bradbury's fiction:

In the 1970s in Prague I encountered a "human movie." He knew several banned films by heart (he had seen them abroad). People invited him to dinner; after the meal the guests made a circle and he "told" them the movie -- that evening it was The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- forgetting not a single scene, not a single line. (77)

The point is that the suppression of an idea is ultimately impossible, and never more so than it is in the interconnected world in which we now live. In that complex and much misunderstood work The Ego and Its Own, the nineteenth-century German philosopher of egoism Max Stirner predicted that

The men of future generations will yet win many a liberty of which we do not even feel the want. (78)

In one important sense, he was right. At the beginning of this pamphlet I cited a speech by Arthur C. Clarke made in 1983 relating to communications technology. Let us close with another statement by Clarke when he returned to the same theme in 1995:

... as this century draws to a close, it looks as if all the old arguments about censorship will be made obsolete by wide-band, person-to-person communications. When you can download anything and everything "in the privacy of your own home", as certain notorious advertisements used to say, not even entire armies of Thought Police will be able to do anything about it. (79)



Gill Siedel, The Holocaust Denial, Beyond the Pale Collective, Leeds, 1986.

The only full-length British study of Holocaust revisionism, published by a Jewish socialist group. Although it contains a considerable amount of information about the deniers, the author somewhat unsuccessfully attemps to link the Holocaust denial with the rise of "Thatcherite" political and economic ideas.

Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Assassins of Memory, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, Columbia University Press, New York, 1992.

A collection of essays attacking Robert Faurisson by the leading French academic opponent of Holocaust revisionism, who is a Classical scholar. It contains a great deal of information about the surprisingly wide level of acceptance Holocaust denial has attained in some French circles.

Deborah Lipstad, Denying the Holocaust, first published 1993, Penguin Books, London, 1994.

The author holds the Dorot chair in modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and is the leading academic opponent of the Holocaust deniers in the United States. This is the most comprehensive hostile study of Holocaust revisionism produced to date. She demonstrates how Holocaust denial is linked to earlier traditions of American historical revisionism relating to the two world wars and the cold war, and how it is having a growing impact in the US. The columnist and Republican presidential nomination candidate Pat Buchanan and the late Hollywood star Robert Mitchum have both made statements indicating that they are not total believers in all aspects of the conventional view of the Holocaust. She argues that the Hoilocaust deniers should be denied a platform in the media and universities, but not prosecuted by the government. This book is currently the subject of a libel action by David Irving, who argues that Lipstadt's attacks on him are defamatory.



As I mentioned in the main body of the text, Nick Griffin and Paul Ballard, editor and distributor respectively of the magazine The Rune, are currently being prosecuted for the contents of number 12 of that magazine under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986. If they are convicted, they face a maximum of two years in prison for incitement to racial hatred. Under current UK law, when any individual is arrested and taken to a police station, the interview between that person and the police is tape recorded, and a copy of the tape given to the person under arrest. Griffin is selling edited versions of his tape in order to raise funds for their legal defence. Apparently the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that this distribution of the tape is lawful. I have obtained a copy of this tape, and will here summarise its contents. I have never seen a copy of The Rune, nor had I even heard of it before I learned about this case. It is safe to say that its circulation is rather smaller than that of the Sun. (80)

Griffin introduces the tape by describing how nine police officers arrived in four vehicles at his farm in Wales, placed him under arrest on charges of "incitement to racial hatred", and carried out a five-hour search of his house and outbuildings. They seized numerous publications and documents, together with a computer, floppy disks, audio and video tapes and other material. Then they took him to a police station and kept him in a cell for two hours. The police arrested Griffin because of a complaint by Alex Carlile QC MP (Liberal Democrat), who complained about six items in the relevant edition of The Rune. These were:

(i) The cover, which features a white noose on a black background, with the words, "What has a rope got to do with white unity?";

(ii) The editorial, which answers the question on the cover by calling for the unification of all white racist organisations into a single movement in order to achieve political power;

(iii) Pictures and a caption of a West Indian murderer and his victim, an unarmed police officer, all of which came from contemporary press reports;

(iv) A cartoon strip satirising the Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg, whom Griffin describes as the "Swindler's List supremo" who is "making films full of fantasies about dead Jews";

(v) The use of the single word "Holohoax" and the suggestion that six million Jews were not gassed;

(vi) On the back cover, a drawing of a Viking princess on a longboat, with other longboats in the background.

There then follow extracts from the interview, which was conducted by Detective Constable Aldicott and Detective Sergeant Jones, in which each item was discussed in turn. DC Aldicott began by quoting part of the Public Order Act 1986 which concerns "a person who publishes or distributes written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting and intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or, having regard to all the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby."

Griffin then went on to explain his role in the magazine, and its purpose of building a political movement that will achieve power. He claimed that he had no animosity towards members of ethnic minorities, but did not want them in the UK. He said that he had no antipathy to Jews as Jews, but objected to what he called "organised Jewry" which was controlling the media and "using it to the detriment of my people".

He said that the Viking princess illustration (vi) was a representation of a white type of northern European origin. The picture of the noose (i) was a representation of the unity of white racist groups and the desire to hang child murderers and others whom public opinion believed should be hanged. The black background had no significance. The editorial (ii) called for the unity of all "white nationalist" groups in order to achieve a final victory over "those who wish to destroy us so they can rule for ever over a mass of mongrel slaves". They could then "put the rope to capital work". The editorial did not mention ethnic minorities. Griffin explained that he meant that "international capitalism" and "international Zionism" were conspiring to reduce white people to "a mass of mongrel slaves". He predicted that Western countries would have non-white majorities in the twenty-first century unless present demographic trends were reversed. He said that many Asians, West Indians and Africans did not want their children to be racially mixed any more than BNP members did. He proposed achieving political power through the ballot box, and using that power to repatriate all members of ethnic minorities. He denied that such an opinion could be construed as being insulting, threatening or abusive to any ethnic group.

Feature (iii) was a means of demonstrating that immigration is a bad thing. He argued that the vast majority of violent crime in London was caused by young blacks, and that young blacks were largely responsible for drug-dealing. Griffin denied that in drawing attention to a black murderer he intended to incite racial hatred.

Carlile had complained in particular about the cartoon (iv) about Spielberg. Griffin claimed that Spielberg's films are "anti-white propaganda, and lying propaganda at that". He accepted that hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, but denied that there was a Nazi policy of exterminating Jews and that millions of Jews were gassed. He said that the cartoon was "anti-Hollywood" because Hollywood had produced 550 anti-white films over the past 30 or 40 years, and none attacking other ethnic groups. He denied that any Jewish person could regard the cartoon as insulting to Jews in general.

Griffin argued that "the way to come to truth is through free and open debate". He said that he would be willing to print a letter by Carlile if it was sent to the magazine. He denied that he was a fascist: "I don't believe in an all-powerful state."

The detectives told Griffin that Carlile had emphasised that his most important objection to the magazine was its claim that the Holocaust of six million Jews did not happen. Griffin denied the suggestion that a Jewish person could be offended by such a claim, because, he said, about 25% of serious Holocaust revisionists are Jewish. Griffin said that the German concentration camps were no different from the British camps in South Africa during the Boer war and the American camps in which Japanese-Americans were interned during the second world war. He said that "I will be delighted, if this does come to court, to discuss the question of the lie of the six million at length."

The Rune trial will open at Harrow Crown Court on 27th April. Given the importance which Carlile places on the "Holocaust denial" features in the magazine, it is likely that the prosecution's case will rely largely on an attempt to prove the generally-accepted concept of the Holocaust. From what I have seen in BNP publications, the defence is assembling an international group of Holocaust revisionists, including Dr Robert Faurisson, who will argue the opposite case. The trial is highly likely, therefore, to seem like a trial of the Holocaust itself.

As we have seen above, in Canada the two trials of Ernst Zündel for distributing Did Six Million Really Die? both became in effect "trials of the Holocaust", with representatives of both sides putting their case in court. Both times the trial ended in Zündel's conviction and imprisonment for distributing this pamphlet. In 1992, in an historic victory for freedom of expression, the Canadian Supreme Court threw out Zündel's conviction and denounced the law under which he had been tried as a potential violation of free speech. Let us hope that the Rune trial ends in an equally historic victory, not because of any admiration for the BNP, or even for Holocaust revisionism, but because of the fundamental -- indeed cosmic and universal -- principle of freedom of expression which is at stake.



(1) However, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the prominent Jewish organisation which combats anti-semitism in the United States, is in partnership with an American software company to develop Internet censorship software. I will avoid any speculation as to the technical feasibility of such a project. See the ADL's website at

(2) Quoted in Arthur C. Clarke, "Beyond 2001", in Ruth Petrie (editor), Film and Censorship, Cassell/Index on Censorship, London, 1997, pp. 191-192.

(3) Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, p. 103. For updates on this and other cases, plus links to the offending articles, see Index's website at: <>.

(4) Ibid., p. 16.

(5) Ibid., p. 15.

(6) Quoted in Sunday Telegraph, 16th March 1997, p. 5.

(7) Sunday Times, 29th September 1996, p. 24.

(8) Quoted in ibid., p. 24.

(9) Quoted in ibid., p. 24.

(10) Quoted in ibid., p. 24.

(11) Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Assassins of Memory, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, Columbia University Press, New York, 1992, pp. 90-91.

(12) Interview with Bradley R. Smith in Loompanics' Greatest Hits, Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend, Washington, 1990, pp. 137, 140, 141.

(13) Quoted in James J. Martin, Revisionist Viewpoints, Ralph Myles, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1971, p. 18.

(14) Quoted in Arthur Goddard (editor), Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader, Ralph Myles, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968, p. 285.

(15) Adam Sisman, A. J. P. Taylor, Sinclair-Stevenson/Reed, London, 1994, p. 296.

(16) Quoted in Goddard (editor), op. cit., p. 241.

(17) Quoted in ibid., p. 252.

(18) James J. Martin, Revisionist Viewpoints, Ralph Myles, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1971, p. 121.

(19) Sunday Telegraph, 11th May 1997, p. 30.

(20) J. F. C. Fuller, The Decisive Battles of the Western World, vol. 3, Eyre and Spotiswoode, London, 1956, p. 438.

(21) Quoted in Sisman, op. cit., p. 365.

(22) The full story is given in Yoram Sheftel, Show Trial, translated by Haim Watzman, first published 1993 as The Denjanjuk Affair, Victor Gollancz/Cassell, London, 1995.

(23) Quoted in Murray N. Rothbard, "Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War", in Goddard (editor), op. cit., p. 320.

(24) Quoted in ibid., p. 323.

(25) Quoted in ibid., p. 324.

26) Quoted in ibid., p. 329.

(27) Quoted in ibid., p. 331.

(28) Clyde R. Miller, "Harry Elmer Barnes' Experience in Journalism" in Goddard (editor), ibid, pp. 712-3.

(29) Quoted in Rothbard, op. cit., p. 337.

(30) Ibid, p. 315, 338.

(31) John Godfrey, 1204: The Unholy Crusade, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1980, p. vii.

(32) Quoted in Robert F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997, p. 180.

(33) Quoted in Vidal-Naquet, op. cit., p. 67.

(34) Quoted in Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, first published 1993, Penguin Books, London, 1994, p. 16.

(35) Quoted in Vidal-Naquet, op. cit., pp. xv-xvi.

(36) Quoted in Barsky, op. cit., pp. 177-8.

(37) Quoted in ibid., pp. 181-2.

(38) Quoted in ibid., p. 184.

(39) Quoted in ibid., p. 184.

(40) Quoted in Vidal-Naquet, op. cit., p. xiii.

(41) Quoted in Lipstadt, op. cit., p. 220.

(42) Court of Higher Instance of Paris, office of Mr Valat, examining magistrate, gen. ref. P 92 282 2004/9, office ref. 42/93, 30th November 1993, pp. 3-4 of certified translation by Ferit Elabed.

(43) Quoted in Focal Point press release, 6th May 1993.

(44) Daily Telegraph, 28th February 1998, p. 14.

(45) Vidal-Naquet, op. cit., pp. 137-138.

(46) Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, pp. 33-34.

(47) L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon, Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend, Washington, 1987, pp. 23-24.

(48) Lipstadt, op. cit., pp. 157-182 and 220.

(49) Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, p. 83.

(50) Scapegoat, vol. 1, no. 1, January/February 1995, pp. 10-11. Unfortunately it appears that this highly informative anti-censorship magazine folded after only one issue.

(51) Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, pp. 52-53.

(52) Quoted in ibid., p. 54.

(53) Quoted in Index on Censorship, vol. 24, no. 3, May/June 1995, p. 43.

(54) Quoted in Index on Censorship, vol. 24, no. 5, September/October 1995, p. 177.

(55) Index on Censorship, vol. 24, no. 3, May/June 1995, pp. 45-46.

(56) Patrick Robertson (editor), The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, 3rd edition, Guinness Publishing, Enfield, Middlesex, 1988, pp. 175-6.

(57) Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, pp. 57, 59.

(58) Lipstadt, op cit, pp. 17, 26.

(59) Ibid., pp. 219-220.

(60) Ibid., pp. 183-208.

(61) Lord Acton, "Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History", in Lord Acton, Essays in the Liberal Interpretation of History, edited by William H. McNeill, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1967, pp. 320, 330-331, 342-343, 358-359.

(62) Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1945, 1974 edition, pp. 264-6, 268-9.

(63) Mark Jones, Paul Craddock and Nicolas Barker (editors), Fake? The Art of Deception, British Museum Publications, London, 1990, exhibit 34, p. 60.

(64) Ibid., exhibit 38, p. 62.

(65) Ibid., exhibit 49, p. 70.

(66) Ibid., exhibit 51, p. 70.

(67) Ibid., exhibit 52, pp. 70-72.

(68) Ibid., exhibit 53, p. 72.

(69) Ibid., exhibit 54, pp. 73-74.

(70) Ibid., exhibit 55, p. 74.

(71) Colin Simpson, Lusitania, first published 1972, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1974.

(72) Jones, Craddock and Barker (editors), op cit, exhibit 59, p. 77.

(73) Desmond Seward, Richard III, Country Life/Hamlyn, Feltham, Middlesex, 1983.

(74) For a general survey of the historiography relating to this subject, see Michael Hicks, Richard III, Collins and Brown, London, 1991.

(75) Quoted in Sisman, op. cit., p. 384.

(76) Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross, Little Brown/Wildwood House, London, 1974.

(77) Jean-Claude Carrière, The Secret Language of Film, translated by Jeremy Leggatt, first published 1994, Faber and Faber, London, 1995, p. 191.

(78) Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, first published 1845, translated by Steven T. Byington, Dover Publications, New York, 1973, p. 160.

(79) Clarke, op. cit., p. 193.

(80) "Nick Griffin Police Interview" audio tape, Carlile Two Defence Fund, Welling, Kent, nd [1997], from which all the following quotations are taken.


Historical Notes No. 29; ISSN 0267-7105; ISBN 1 85637 416 5; An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance, 25 Chapter Chambers, Esterbrooke Street, London SW1P 4NN; Email: [email protected];; © 1998: Libertarian Alliance; David Botsford. (With the authorization of the author). David Botsford is a freelance writer and therapist. The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers. LA Director: Chris R. Tame; Editorial Director: Brian Micklethwait; Netmaster: Ian Geldard


See, from the same author: The case of R. vs GRIFFIN, and Coercion of opinion is a mistake, as complements of this document.

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