Ever since the publication two decades ago of his pioneering revisionist study, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, Northwestern University teacher Arthur Butz has been something of an embarrassment for the highly regarded private educational institution.
Recently the Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering has again come under attack for presenting his dissident view of the Holocaust extermination story on his personal Internet “home page” Web site, which he set up using technology the University provides to all faculty members and students to link them to the Internet.
At the forefront of the hateful campaign have been two major Jewish-Zionist groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Joining them has been the local Hillel Jewish student organization and a Marxist group, the International Socialist Organization. On January 6, five ISO activists demonstrated and distributed leaflets outside a class taught by Butz. “A stalwart of the socialist philosophy is to oppose fascism,” said ISO leader Joel Feinman,” and we consider Butz' ideas particularly fascist.”
Northwestern officials, while denouncing Butz' views, have steadfastly refused to curtail his right to express them on the Internet through the University-run “service provider.” “I believe his views are monstrous,” says University President Henry Bienen, “but I don't want to set myself up as a censor of his views. Who decides what's distasteful?” He added: “We cannot take action based on the content of what Mr. Butz says regarding the Holocaust without undermining the vital principle of intellectual freedom that our policy serves to protect.”
Butz has been a member of the engineering department faculty at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) since 1966. He received tenure — in effect, a lifetime contract with the University — two years before the publication in 1976 of his classic debunking of the Holocaust story, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (published in the United States by the Institute for Historical Review).
The Butz-Northwestern furor received considerable media attention. A detailed front-page report in the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 29), which was dismissively hostile to Butz, also appeared in other newspapers around the country. Similarly, an Associated Press report was published in a number of daily papers. Reports appeared in The New York Times (Jan. 10), The Washington Post (Jan. 12), and in the University student paper, The Daily Northwestern, as well as on the CNN cable television network.
Butz and his place at Northwestern was the focus of the February 6 broadcast of “Chicago Tonight,” a program of local television station WTTW. Officials of the Anti-Defamation League, the Wiesenthal Center and the local Jewish Federation described Butz and his views as “lies,” “hate,” “malicious intent,” “anti-Semitic,” “group harassment” and “venom.” University spokesman Alan Cubbage calmly disagreed with the Jewish community leaders, though, explicitly stating that Butz's writings are not “hate speech.”
If Butz' views were really as meritless as his critics insist, Princeton University historian Arno Mayer would not have specifically cited The Hoax of the Twentieth Century as he did in his 1989 study, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?: The “Final Solution” in History. Prof. Mayer, who is Jewish, embraced some of the most important of the arguments made in Butz' revisionist study. He acknowledged, for example, that most of the Jews who died at Auschwitz were victims of typhus and other “natural” causes, not gas chambers. “From 1942 to 1945,” wrote Mayer, “certainly at Auschwitz, but probably overall, more Jews were killed by so-called 'natural' causes than by 'unnatural ones'.”
Several of the newspaper articles about the Butz-Northwestern fracas cited Butz' Web site address, encouraging many who were otherwise unfamiliar with Holocaust revisionism to check out his home page. This in turn contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of daily “hits” or visits received by the linked Web site of IHR Journal associate editor Greg Raven. In January the number of Raven Web site “hits” jumped to between one and two thousand daily.
Adding to the Northwestern controversy was a much-discussed decision by the University not to rehire an Adjunct Instructor who insisted on denouncing Butz and Holocaust revisionism in his “Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship” class. In December the University let its contract expire with Sheldon Epstein, who had been teaching at the school for two years.
Epstein, who is Jewish, said he believes his contract was not renewed because he disregarded the advice of the Engineering School dean not to present his anti-revisionist views in his electrical engineering course. Epstein had also complained to the administration about Butz' Internet postings. (University officials cited other reasons for the decision to drop him.)
"I am proud of who I am,” said Epstein in justification. “I'm not ashamed of my heritage … Am I supposed to stand in front of bright young students and not tell them about their history? Is that what the university wants?”
Butz, who has been a member of this Journal's Editorial Advisory Committee since 1980, has been careful to abide by the University's rules, and has never brought up his views on the Holocaust issue in any of his own classes.
In May 1994 a student-organized presentation by Butz on Holocaust revisionism was cancelled by school officials just two hours before it was scheduled to begin. (See “University Officials Block Talk by Prof. Butz,” July-Aug. 1994 Journal, pp. 42-43.