Andrew Mathis vs. Paul Grubach regarding laws against Holocaust denial

I have to hand it to Andrew Mathis. In the time I've known him as a more experienced and far more active and tenacious fellow traveller in the fight against online Holocaust denial, he's never ceased to amaze me in his ability to dissect deniers' distortions and outright lies with an eloquence that I can only rarely match. Because Andrew has put his own blog on hiatus for a month because he is getting married soon--congratulations, Andrew!--he asked me if I'd post a letter for him. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige him by putting the middling popularity of my blog in the service of his message. But first, a little background on what this is about:

Like me, Andrew is not fond of laws criminalizing Holocaust denial. That being said, however, like me, he also can't help but feel a bit of schadenfreude at Irving's present predicament, given how Irving tried to suppress Deborah Lipstadt's free speech with a bogus libel charge in the U.K. and that, even though a large judgment against him at that trial rendered him technically "bankrupt," he was somehow able to travel the U.S. and Europe to spread his Holocaust denial to sympathetic far-right wing audiences. (He became a major celebrity in those circles.) As you recall, even though Irving had 16-year-old warrant out for his arrest for Holocaust denial in Austria, nonetheless he went into Austria, full of hubris, to give a speech to a right-wing student group. He was busted. Irving's predicament led to this commentary in the Los Angeles Times by D. D. Guttenplan, which, to my reading, was actually a rather lukewarm defense of hate speech laws in Germany and Austria, explaining them in the light of the different histories of these countries. Nonetheless, I would have agreed with another point that Guttenplan made, namely that the "threat of a 20-year prison term, even if it doesn't come to pass, only burnishes Irving's counterfeit credentials as a martyr to free speech," were it not for Irving's later recantation and admission that the gas chambers existed, which has already led to at least one Holocaust "revisionist" asking whether Irving has "betrayed us." (Guttenplan's article was published on Nov. 19, before Irving "recanted.")

In any case, this commentary in the L.A. Times led to a reply by Institute for Historical Review contributor Paul Grubach on a "revisionist" discussion board (scroll down a little bit to find it), in which he takes issue with this statement by Guttenplan:
Countries that outlaw Holocaust denial do so not because they love liberty less than we do but because their history is different from ours. Holocaust denial causes real pain to survivors and their families. To fail to acknowledge that pain, or to treat it as a particularly Jewish problem that need not trouble anyone else, is to deny our common humanity — precisely the denier's aim.
Grubach responded with a commentary whose essential message came down to:
Let me put my argument in the language of Guttenplan. “Jewish people like Wiesel, Yoffe and others cause real pain to Europeans and Christians when they use the Holocaust ideology to degrade and humiliate European and Christian civilization. To fail to acknowledge that pain, or to treat it as a particularly European and Christian problem that need not trouble anyone else, is to deny our common humanity—precisely the aim of Jewish promoters of the Holocaust. Therefore, countries should outlaw promotion of the Holocaust ideology because it causes real pain to many non-Jews.”
And now, unedited (except that I did add a couple of links to pieces to which Andrew is referring), here is Andrew's letter to Paul Grubach, in which he dismantles Grubach's false analogy:

Dear Mr. Grubach:

I read with interest your response to D.D. Guttenplan's article in the Los Angeles Times on David Irving's arrest in Austria a few weeks ago. It was interesting to me not just because of the dishonesties committed therein, but also because of the massive false analogy on which you base your central thesis.

I should state, before I even begin analyzing your article, by stating that I have a large problem with laws that criminalize speech, and if I had my way, none of these men would be in jail for things they said or wrote. That being said, let us not forget certain facts. First, Ernst Zundel missed an immigration hearing. He himself admitted this in court when he was deported from the U.S. to Canada, stating, "One oversight was that I should not have taken my attorney's advice. I was a fool and should have driven to [the hearing] and I wouldn't be sitting here." Anyone can do a Lexis-Nexis search in the library for this quote, cited by the Canadian Press by way of the Hamilton Spectator on April 2, 2003. Second, David Irving knowingly went to a country where there was an outstanding arrest warrant against him. I have a hard time feeling sympathy for Mr. Irving in normal circumstances; when he undertakes as monumentally stupid an undertaking as he did in Austria, any sympathy I may have had left disintegrates entirely. So while it certainly is true that two of these men -- Zundel and Irving -- are where they are because they broke speech laws that I disagree with, the more immediate cause of their imprisonment is, in fact, their own carelessness.

Then you quote Guttenplan's reasoning for why certain countries have passed Holocaust denial laws, and then it's on to the false analogy. Your first piece of evidence comes by way of Elie Wiesel. First I did a Google search on the obviously edited quote (the ellipses were the giveaway) that you give from Wiesel. First, you offer no context for Wiesel's statement, which is a common tactic among Holocaust deniers (quoting out of context). The context is a conversation that Wiesel had with one of the three Israeli judges that tried Adolf Eichmann. Wiesel had asked the judge whether, after having tried Eichmann and heard the witnesses, he understood the Holocaust better. The judge replied that he did not, opining that perhaps that was God's gift--that he did not understand something so evil. Here is then what Wiesel writes:

"In truth, Auschwitz signifies not only the failure of two thousand years of Christian civilization, but also the defeat of the intellect that wants to find a Meaning -- with a capital M -- in history" (quoted in Art From the Ashes, Ed. Lawrence L. Langer, New York: Oxford UP, 1995. p. 143).

Clearly Wiesel is still placing blame on European Christian civilization for the violent anti-Semitism that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust, but it is quite clearly, once the context is restored and the expurgated words put back in, not the key point of what he's saying. Furthermore, he's not, to quote you, "saying that, because of the alleged Holocaust, the whole span of Christian civilization is a failure!" He's saying that if Christian civilization could not prevent a genocide in its heartland, then hasn't it failed in its mission of tolerance, non-violence, and mercy? And, indeed, it has, as former popes, as well as the current pope, have said. These are the leaders of the largest denomination of Christianity. I think it's not too far of a stretch to say that they can speak on the topic with slightly more authority than you. Furthermore, you cite this "real pain to Christian peoples" that Wiesel's rigged statement purportedly evokes, but you don't offer any evidence besides your own outrage.

In the interest of determining whether it is you or Prof. van Pelt who edited the quote in the manner it is presented (I do not own his book), I am sending him a blind courtesy copy of this e-mail.

Turning to the quotes from the Forward, I see words in brackets and again wonder if the quote is genuine and contextualized. Luckily, this is a publication that I do have at my disposal. Here is the entire paragraph from Rabbi Yoffie (note the spelling):

"We note with horror the monstrous canards that continue to circulate in the Arab and Muslim worlds, including the charge that Jews rule the world and are to blame for the September 11 terrorist attacks. And in Europe, which bears the mark of Cain for its complicity in the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict has become a means of absolving guilt. In turning Israelis from victims into Nazis, they seek to cleanse their consciences by casting their sins upon us."

Rabbi Yoffie is remarking on a significant rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and activity in Europe since September 11, 2001, specifically the ridiculous claims that Jews, the Mossad, Israel, what have you, carried out the attacks, warned Jews and Israelis not to go to work that day, etc. And what's he's saying beyond that, which I commend you for quoting accurately (if you remain a bit rabid in your need to point out obvious meanings in brackets to create polar oppositions, and you do remove the context), is that many Europeans are expressing an anti-Semitism still felt despite the general absence of Jews from Europe since World War II and using the Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse to vent that feeling. I agree with Rabbi Yoffie that, were there no Arab-Israeli conflict, some Europeans and Middle Easterners would need to create some conflict to be able to point their fingers at Jews.

Israel's hard-handed military actions are condemned uniformly (as they wellshould be -- there's no reason to drop one-ton bombs on buildings in denselypopulated areas), but suicide bombings are justified in the most disgusting ways. A significant double standard exists with regard to European reporting on Israeli and Palestinian atrocities. Many publications in Europe that published articles on a "massacre" in Jenin (that ended up numbering fewer that ten non-combatant Palestinian dead) never retracted the stories when they were uniformly and by non-biased third parties shown to be patently untrue. You know what that is, Mr. Grubach? That is blood libel. And you know who created the blood libel? Europeans "Christians" did.

This is not to point a finger at Christian Europeans as a massive group and call them bad. But, again, the relationship between European Christianity and violent anti-Semitism cannot be dismissed with the wave of an aggrieved hand when you state that you are offended by Rabbi Yoffie's words. No serious scholar would deny the history of European Jewry as one of repeated victimization at the hands of religiously charged Jew-haters.

You say that Rabbi Yoffie's words, like Wiesel's, "cause pain to non-Jewish Europeans." Do they? Do non-Jewish Europeans even know who he is? I didn't until a day or so ago, when he was mentioned in an article published on And I'm an American Jew. I'm not Reform -- I'm Conservative. But I couldn't tell you the head of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Judaism's ruling body) either. So you're claiming that non-Jews a continent away are being harmed by these words? Really?

This is why your analogy is false. It is false because it is based on the idea that the statements of these two men (and people who offer similar opinions) have the same impact on Christian Europeans as the words of Holocaust deniers have on Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their families. It's not even close. It's the difference between, on the one hand, dropping a piece of scrap paper on a soiled city street, and, on the other, urinating on graves. Your suggestion of how to level the playing field -- either having countries drop these laws or criminalizing "promotion of Holocaust ideology" (whatever that is)-- is laughable.

Furthermore, the laws we are discussing here are not solely targeted at deniers of the Jewish Holocaust. The laws in France have been used againstthose who would deny the crimes of the Young Turks against ethnic Armenians during World War I. The law in Poland not only prevents one from denying the Nazi Holocaust, but also the crimes of the communist regime of 1945 to 1989. So here you're just plain incorrect.

Your use of Kevin MacDonald as an expert is humorous because he is an anti-Semite of the biological kind, believing that Jews are the way we supposedly are because of our genetics and not external circumstances. Dr. MacDonald once wrote in an e-mail to me that he found it hard to believe I was not ethnically Ashkenazic given my attitude toward him. I told him, in return, that I am a second-degree Mischling, which I am.

I think that you correctly identify a slippery slope fallacy in Mr. Guttenplan's observations about the ultimate outcome of Holocaust denial, but it cannot be reasonably denied that public exhortations to violence, particularly over the radio, were a major factor in the outbreak of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. And, furthermore, I agree that banning Holocaust denial ultimately wins it more sympathizers than detractors. But the thing that you don't say -- the thing that no "revisionist" dare utter, is that the vast majority of Holocaust deniers are already National Socialists, sympathizers with National Socialists, anti-Semites of the most virulent type, and haters of Jews wherever they live. Bradley Smith, himself a denier, says it best:
"Revisionists have our own taboos. It is taboo to criticize the published writings or statements of revisionists who admire Hitler and the Hitlerian regime. It is taboo to publicly question the racialist arguments of specific revisionists. Taboo to argue publicly against the anti-semitism that exists among revisionists. It is not that we cannot do it, or occasionally do not do it, but we understand that when we do we will break the taboo against doing it, and we’ll suffer the consequences.
Clearly you're either suffering under the same taboo or you are one of the aforementioned group of Nazi sympathizers, Jew-haters, and the like.

One more observation on your citation of sources before addressing your conclusion: You cite Winfried Brugger and then Germany's law against denying the Holocaust as a defense against Holocaust denial charges as if the speaker were the same. It is not the same speaker. The speaker in the second case is Zundel's attorney, Jurgen Rieger, and not Brugger. I do agree that lawyers should be able to try this tactic in Germany, however. It worked so well for David Irving when he sued Deborah Lipstadt, did it not?

Your closing follows from your earlier assumption that the Holocaust can be disproved. I suggest you follow the below link:

Here a group of anti-deniers point out that there is no reasonable way to explain how sixty-nine SS witnesses, twenty survivors, the Vergasungskeller memo, gas-tight doors with peepholes, induction shafts in blueprints for rooms known to be gas chambers, the excessive cremation capacity of Auschwitz, photographs of pit burnings, tens of thousands of people who disappeared during the war along with records that indicate they were sent to Auschwitz,the utter destruction of Yiddish culture in Europe during the war, and thehomicidal outbursts of the Nazi leadership can point to any other conclusionthan the normative history of the Holocaust unless one violates the principle of Occam's razor. No other theory other than the true one -- that the Nazis murdered Jews in the millions -- can address all that evidence without needing extra assumptions such as conspiracies, forged documents, etc.

Or perhaps you can offer the explanation, Mr. Grubach?

Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D.
The Holocaust History Project

The above views are my own are do not represent the official views of the Holocaust History Project or any of its individual members, except myself.
Folks, I hope many of you will take this as a plug and check out Andrew's blog when he returns in January. (If I can't plug my friends, what use is achieving a surprisingly high visit count, eh?)


  1. as a minor footnote:
    while Germany has a special law against holocaust denial it also has general anti hate-speech laws and the concept of group libel. In combination those would be sufficient to prosecute the deniers.
    In as far as so far I have yet to see a single example of a non-antisemitic denier, it is not difficult to find evidence of malicious libel against Jews as group in their statements. ( if a division of any society into Jews and no Jews is a useful dichotomy is a different question - ) Other groups, members of which can sue, are the armed services ( the quote "all soldiers are murderers" can be sued against by individual members who feel libeled by it ) the police and some more (I am not a lawyer so I would have to look up what exactly legally makes up groups that can be insulted/libeled as group. [ ttbomk mothers-in-law do not constitute such a group so comedians should be safe ] .)

    I think anti hate-speech laws are essentially useless. Even the most revolting demagogues rarely outright tell their listeners to go and harm their particular target. [ ~"go forth and smash the windows of all blond shop owners for they are an abomination.." ] These days people look for denyability.
    Also 60 years of it has proven relatively toothless : those deniers that can't keep their mouth shut move abroad where such laws don't exist. ( Zundel was not exactly alone ).
    I do think that information that is false and misleading is best countered by better information , and teaching everybody how to evaluate information. ( Ok, I an an idealist and believe in 'enlightenment' ) so that makes me end up favoring free speech.
    Outright libel is a different thing.
    And so is displaying symbols of forbidden organisations ( another German - Austrian peculiar law ) which IO think should be solved through copyright protection: if an asshole does carry a swastika flag across a street make him broke for carrying an unlicensed copy. ( Since the German state is the legal successor of the preceding 'German reich' one could argue that all logos and symbols of the state party are owned by the current state. )

    I have to say though that while I favor free speech over anti-hate-speech laws I do see that abolishing the specific German and Austrian laws would encourage the old and new Nazis and deniers and I don't want that either.

    me: German borne safely post war in '55, not religiously affiliated with a clean sheet back to my grandparents: My parents may not have been part of the resistance ["Widerstand"], but neither did they actively support the Nazis or profit from the persecution of Jews [ and gipsies, and gay , and social-democrats , and unionists and ...] )


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