Sacramento is about to become ground zero for the Holocaust-revisionist movement
Frank Rothman is watching a half-decade-younger version of himself walk through what remains of Auschwitz in a video that documents his return to the concentration camp where he was first taken at the age of 19. “I am walking through where, on every inch of soil, somebody was killed, beaten or tortured,” narrates the onscreen Rothman. “This doesn’t seem real. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. This terrible place should be covered in darkness. It should remind the world what happened here.”
“So, your deniers would tell me that this doesn’t exist?” Rothman now asks, referring to a small but strident faction who question historical and eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. Perched on a coffee table in a modest Citrus Heights condominium, Rothman rephrases the question again and again as the tape continues to roll. “That was a small gas chamber; they could only put 300 people in to gas at the same time here,” he says as the onscreen Rothman steps inside one of the facilities. Later, the camera pans to a crematorium. “This is where some were burned after they were gassed,” he says. “But most of them were burned in ditches. Because, otherwise, you couldn’t burn all of them. If you go there, ask them if that existed.”
The “there” to which Rothman refers is the 2004 International Revisionist Conference, a Sacramento meeting that’s being called the largest revisionist gathering ever held on American soil. (Revisionists reject the term “denier” because they essentially question the extent of the Holocaust rather than its existence.) Local organizers—who intend to keep the two-day conference’s location secret from everyone but registrants—say more than 300 people have registered so far to hear speakers they’ve invited from Germany, Australia, Croatia, South Africa, Austria and, in one case, Israel. They insist the timing of the April 24-25 event—which comes a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day and days after Hitler’s birthday—was a fluke, the only weekend the mysterious facility had open between March and May.
Rothman, who will be speaking at a very different local Holocaust Remembrance Day event on April 18, says he has yet to meet a Holocaust revisionist: “It’s now 58 years that I’ve been liberated,” says the survivor who lost his parents and two sisters in the camps, “and I never had a chance to be confronted by a person who would tell me the Holocaust did not exist.”
Walter Mueller casts his gaze up at a large replica of SN&R’s 1997 “Best of Sacramento” cover. “This one here is me,” he says, pointing at the image of a gold-plated, vaguely androgynous figure in heroic contemplation. “I was the activist of the year that year. I received it two years in a row. I used to be a celebrated neighborhood activist.”
That was before Mueller came out?
“No—well, yeah, ‘came out’ is a good word to say,” says Mueller, who is the organizer of the forthcoming revisionist conference. An Austrian émigré and former pastry chef who says no local restaurant will employ him because of his revisionist stance, Mueller insists his concerns have remained the same as when “we did the first citizen patrol … fighting drug dealers, gang bangers and those types.
“As soon as I talked about the Holocaust, I became taboo,” says Mueller, who credits Harvey Taylor, a retired airline pilot, for rekindling his interest in his European-American heritage. (Taylor, who is now assistant editor of Mueller’s monthly Community News, will serve as master of ceremonies for the conference.)
“Have you ever asked a German what they go through having a heavy German accent like I do?” asks Mueller, who, after a falling-out with the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, formed his own European American Culture Council. “Every time somebody gets angry at you, the first thing they say is, you Nazi pig, and you Nazi this and you Nazi that.”
Mueller says such condemnations only heightened his desire to question the Holocaust. “Where I grew up, it wasn’t allowed,” he says, recalling a school visit to a “gas oven so small, I couldn’t figure out how they could have killed thousands of people every day there. I was suspended from school for a week for asking that question. But here in America, I have all the opportunities.”
Taylor condemns the characterization of conference speakers and attendees as “Holocaust deniers.” “That’s a term that the Zionists and Israeli supporters use to denigrate those who say that the accepted version of what happened in the second world war is in error. Our position is—and I said this at one of our meetings recently—that there was a Holocaust in Europe, that many people died, they were immolated in firestorms, and so on and so forth. German cities were immolated. Our position is that no one was purposely killed in a homicidal gas chamber anywhere in Europe between 1933 and 1945. And one of our speakers will tell you that he’s conducted investigations within the facility that is promoted in Poland as a homicidal gas chamber, and it could not have been used for this particular purpose.”
The views of Holocaust revisionists are especially controversial in Europe, where revisionists have been sued and jailed. What they see as a free-speech issue, others characterize as an incitement to violence.
“It’s great that these guys have their philosophy, but the problem is that if people hear it and act on it, then I have to worry about it,” says Sean South, Sacramento chair of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), who plans to protest the event. “And if they’re coming here to talk about it, then I’ve got to be worried about it here in this community.”
“We do not tolerate anyone who advocates violence,” says Taylor, who in turn characterizes the JDL as a terrorist organization. “We conclude that anybody who wants to come in and join an organization to talk about religion, politics, whatever, if he advocates violence, he’s a plant from somebody who’s trying to get us into trouble.”
The conference Web site includes a number of rules. Among them are “NO REVISIONIST OR CHRISTIAN BASHING, NO WEAPONS, and NO MILITARY ATTIRE.”
“They’re trying to get them to blend in with the overall community, which is quite unusual,” says South, who says he’s attended events where uniforms and paraphernalia were not uncommon. “Usually, these guys, it’s kind of like coming out of the closet a little bit. When they’re among their own people, they dress in their full regalia and really want to push it in your face. … But I guess they’re trying to downplay it.”
“What I do, what makes me an activist, write about it as much as you want,” says Mueller. “But don’t call me a Nazi, because I’m not. No way is Harvey, nor I, nor any of the revisionists. In fact, there’s a big fight going on between some of the revisionists who want to distance themselves from the white nationalist groups and from the white civil-rights movement because they think their methods are wrong. So do I.”
Mueller points out that an Israeli speaker, Barry Chamish, has been invited for balance. “Yeah, we are not as intolerant as you people from the press always think.”
Mueller says he’d love for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to attend his convention but so far has received only a form letter acknowledging the invitation. “You never know,” says Mueller, who notes that a “sensational chef” (himself) is preparing the food. “Maybe he shows up. He is going to Israel, I think.” The governor, Taylor explains, is planning to travel there in May.
Mueller also is dismayed that Schwarzenegger didn’t take a harder stance when questions about his father’s role in the war came up during last year’s campaign. “He handled it terribly,” says Mueller. “Because, first of all, he insulted his dad. He insulted his family. … There is nothing that I think that he has to be ashamed of.”
“Governor Schwarzenegger is a great pragmatic politician,” adds Taylor. “He has donated to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Museum of Tolerance, considerable sums of money. For some period of time, he evidently had. This is the only way he could possibly have been approved by the California political power structure and then win the governorship—this is the way I see it.”
The Museum of Tolerance also rubs Mueller the wrong way. “Why are we building one lavish temple after another one for a holocaust that’s been committed to foreign people in a foreign country that [America] liberated?” he asks. “I mean this was 60 years ago. I wasn’t even born. And, if you ask me, honestly, what gives them the monopoly, the corner on victimhood?”
Revisionists, meanwhile, see themselves as victims, particularly when it comes to how they’re portrayed in the media. Taylor recalls Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., a documentary that director Earl Morris is said to have re-cut after a test screening in which people empathized too much with the film’s eccentric, chain-smoking Holocaust revisionist. “Morris could have presented him as a reasonably sane individual,” says Taylor, “but he didn’t want to do that.”
As the interview draws to a close, Mueller offers up a final comment. “Like beauty,” he says, “truth is in the eye of the beholder.”
Back in his Citrus Heights living room, Rothman shakes his head at such ideas, equating them with denying the existence of the sun or the thousands killed in the World Trade Center. “They’re trying to convince me, who was there, that I wasn’t there? They’re trying to tell me that the number I showed you on my arm—I did that to myself? Show me the exaggeration, and I show you the opposite. If it is exaggerated, in what respect? Not 6 million Jews killed? And 5 million non-Jews, by the way, since there were non-Jews in the Holocaust, also, in the concentration camps. I was with them. Gypsies, homosexuals, Catholics, as well. Would they say this is exaggerated, that not 6 million [Jews] were murdered, but 5,999,000? It is laughable.”
Rothman says Sunday evening’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event, which will be free to the public and held at a disclosed location (the Mosaic Law Congregation)—is about passing history on to the next generation, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles. In the Sacramento area, he says, “there are only five survivors left, and I’m the only man.”
“That’s why we always support the survivors putting down their history and making sure it’s on videotape,” notes South. “Because, as we get farther and farther away, you don’t have those living people [with] personal knowledge of what happened.”
In the end, Rothman figures it’s best not to take revisionists and deniers too seriously. “I would say to these deniers the following thing: ‘You don’t believe everything that happened in the Holocaust, so that is better than you saying the Holocaust didn’t exist.’” But even his sad smile begins to fade when told of revisionist claims that Germans never purposely killed anyone in a homicidal gas chamber.
“I was there when we were separated and my mother and my father and sister were pushed on one side,” says Rothman. “Where did they go? What happened to them? What happened to 37 members of my family I have never seen again? Am I lying? Or are they not normal to try to convince me otherwise?”