Reviewed by Theodore J. O’Keefe
When you see a title starting with the word Confessions nowadays, it's usually safe to assume that some sort of parody is being undertaken. The moral earnestness and the often excruciating self-revelations of an Augustine have long since given way to the posturings of a Rousseau or a De Quincey, not to mention such offspring as Confessions of a Mad Housewife, True Confessions magazine, etc.
Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist, by Bradley Smith, inevitably invites the same sort of scrutiny demanded by some many latterday “confessions,” for Smith assumes a self-mocking stance virtually from the outset In his preface he lets the reader know that he is overweight, self-indulgent, intellectually lazy, and endowed with a character “made up in part of all the bigotries and prejudices that have been identified and catalogued by the best people in the worst.”
That's just the beginning. A vocal agnostic who once stood trial for selling Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Bradley Smith comes to join the Historical Revisionists in questioning the historicity of what moral and intellectual opinion makers of the age have assured us is the most terrible, the most significant, the most real event of our century: the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were systematically done to death in gas chambers and by other means at the decree of Adolf Hitler and at the hands of his henchmen, while a cold-hearted gentile world looked the other way. And, as the exegetes of the Holocaust haggadah never tire of informing us, Holocaust Revisionists are, if anything worse than, Holocaust perpetrators: for the Revisionists kill the six million yet again.
Yet Smith's account is not calculated to endear him to a good portion of the Revisionist camp either. Among his more disconcerting confessions is the story of how a “half-snockered” Smith (who is director of the Institute for Historical Review's Media Project) was “befuddled” by questions asked by the host of a radio program on which he was explaining Holocaust Revisionism, shortly after he'd downed three rums on an empty stomach. Some Revisionists won't cotton to his statement that:
If the people who now support Holocaust Revisionism come to power, however, I have little doubt that the new bullies of the age would be among them, or that I would be thrown out of their ranks, or that my new associates would then become those who despise me now.
Nor will many Revisonists be pleased at the spectacle of their spokesman being shown up intellectually by his aged mother and his Mexican wife, neither of them with any academic pretensions.
Is this confessional stance, however, simply another literary pose, an effort of a fifty-seven-year-old writer who admits that he's had little success, to curry favor with Revisionists, and simultaneously disarm the opposition, by presenting hinmself as a likeable, but harmless, buffoon?
Clearly not, for what shines through Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist is the author's adamantine resolve to concede other persons their humanity all the while he struggles to free himself from the shackles of “belief, the mere habit of faith,” which he has come to see as “the most degrading passion of the species.” From the moment when Smith accepts a leaflet disputing Holocaust gas- chamber claims, we are made privy to an inner struggle in which the author must reconcile the conflicting claims raised by civility, tolerance, shame, courage, and intellectual integrity. Onlookers have heard the man who gave him the leaflet speak against the gas chambers; furthermore, in Smith's circle “one did not read material that made Jews feel uncomfortable.” Nevertheless, Smith holds back from handing back the leaflet
At the same time, because of his honest and open manner, I didn't want him to feel ashamed by publicly rejecting him. I had never looked into the history of the Holocaust, had never examined any of the primary documents used to support the literature, so in my ignorance I felt I had no right, really, to believe or disbelieve any statement about it whatever. I didn't feel I had the right to embarrass another man simply because he doubted what I believed. If sincerity isn't to be taken seriously in human relationship, what is?
That night, alone in his room, “fearful and ashamed,” Bradley Smith reads Robert Faurisson's The 'Problem of the Gas Chambers.'
What follows is a pilgrim's progress in which Smith, already a sceptic, is driven to confront the bases of his own thought and action. “There has never been a time in my life,” he tells us, when I have not believed something ridiculous. A libertarian who confesses to a certain self-indulgence ("I have always taken the easy way") and proclaims that “I have no program for others,” Smith is nevertheless stung by what he comes to see as the intellectual and moral abdication of the Establishment, particularly its journalists.
For many readers Smith's account of how he was driven to investigate the veracity of Holocaust claims by reading Faurisson, Arthur Butz, John Bennett (the man who started him off by handing him Faurisson's 'Problem of the Gas Chambers') and other Revisionist writers will doubtless be the easiest path to Revisionism. To their intellectual austerity and rigor Smith adds the all-too human dimension of the concerned but sceptical citizen, in Smith's case a libertarian who nevertheless possesses a profound sense of duty not only to humankind in general but in particular to the members of his own polis.
Smith's humanity — his bumptious refusal to be categorized or to accept the imposition of things that don't pertain to him - is of course what makes him so deadly a spokesman for Holocaust Revisionism. The Exterminationists he has confronted nearly one hundred times on talk radio shows have so far been unable to deal with a flesh-and-blood, Caucasian American male who can't be credibly dismissed as a “Nazi,” a “Klansman,” a “white supremacist,” “a born-again Christian,” and all the other strawmen they have found so easy to brush aside until now. Further, Smith's insistence on his right and his duty to doubt must be particularly afflicting to the Exterminationist high command, which has made clear in marching orders issued to its foot soldiers over the past several years that the new tactic is to characterize Revisionists as “Holocaust deniers,” with all the added Freudian freight the term “denial” carries.
Smith handles the structure of this autobiographical reminiscence pretty deftly, cutting back and forth from the time of his first encounter with a Revisionist and Revisionism in 1979 to 1987, by which time he has become thoroughly enmeshed in his campaign to break the blockade of smear and silence that rings the growing literature of Holocaust Revisionism. The writer gives evidence of a rich inner life, and he has a wonderful ear for human speech. In one masterly stretch of prose he captures with near perfection an airplane conversation with a bright young Jewish woman flying home to Los Angeles from Harvard. To the practiced ear of this reviewer he hits scarcely a false note, and it's a good bet that even the most hardened anti-Semite will not feel for the Jewess' distress in forcibly confronting the real issues of the Holocaust, or that all but the most rabid Exterminationists will cringe a little with Smith in his initial embarrassment.
Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist comes not to an end but a caesura on page 118, where one reads “End of Part I.” This already expanded version of a tabloid Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist is, according to its author, to be shortly followed by Part II, which will range farther back into Smith's past which has included service as a combat infantryman in the Korean War (a strong vignette from which appears in the present book), work as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, a longshoreman, a merchant seaman, a bullfighter (in Mexico) and a stint as a freelance journalist during the Vietnam War which saw Smith swept up in the 1968 Viet Cong Tet offensive.
It's difficult not to root for Bradley Smith, for he speaks in a voice that's unmistakably American. Self-schooled, hard-headed, he's called what's essentially an alien bluff by hanging tough with poseurs like Elie Wiesel, for the last thing that sainted laureate of the Holocaust would ever expect to hear from today's fashion in Americans would likely be Smith's (implied, anyway): “I'm from Missouri — show me.” This twentieth-century American Diogenes, who wanders the world not with a lamp but with a mirror, in which even the grimacing visage of the Jewish Defense League's Irv Rubin is reflected to the possible edification of its unfortunate possessor, has turned the tables on those professors and philosophers who have instructed us for so many years on how Auschwitz has desacralized the world, how “there is no poetry after Auschwitz,” by demonstrating that it is these pretentious Exterminationists who are slaves to a false dogma.
When Part II appears, it is to be hoped that the embarrassing, but not critical, erratum on page 22 is removed. Even more desirable would be an eye-catching dust jacket to cover the drab, mustard-yellow binding, which Bradley Smith will surely brandish to ill advantage on camera when he hits Donahue, or The Oprah Winfrey Show. But let not the purchasers of the first edition of Confessions lose heart. these homely little gems of Revisionist incunabula will some day be, if not costly collectibles, surely testimony that their buyers were early on attuned to a movement of intellectual liberation that is of world-historical importance.