Mark Oppenheimer: ‘My lesson in free speech: As a Jew, meeting with Holocaust deniers actually left me feeling empowered’

Mark writes an Op/Ed in the LA Times:

In 2009, I interviewed Mark Weber and Bradley Smith, two amateur historians notorious for being among the leading Holocaust “revisionists.” Smith is an old-school denier, dubious about the existence of gas chambers, while Weber merely believes that Jews exaggerate history to help consolidate Zionist power.

I interviewed Weber in his offices outside Los Angeles, and Smith at a coffee shop close to the border of Mexico, where he lived. In each case I went alone. Although I wasn’t afraid — neither had a history of physical violence — meeting with two men who’d spent their professional lives spinning theories about the perfidy of my people was, at the least, a bit creepy. Let’s put it this way: I hugged my wife extra tight before leaving home.

Lately, I’ve been reminiscing about my time with Smith and Weber, and not just because white nationalists now have a president who they feel is sympathetic to their cause. Rather, the triggering event, if you will, is the national debate about how to confront speech we find odious…

…What was it like to meet with Holocaust revisionists? And then spend many more hours on the telephone, listening to their cracked, sinister theories about me, my relatives, my dead co-religionists?

Truth be told, it was invigorating. They were so deluded, so sad, and so alone in the world. Their lives were tangled webs of failed ambitions, failed ideas, even failed marriages. They weren’t well. I was. It was heartening to listen to my enemies respectfully, and conclude that in a country that permits free inquiry, they would never win.

Interviewing Smith and Weber — two men who downplay the literal genocide of my people; who dehumanize me more profoundly than even Murray’s critics believe that he dehumanizes others — actually empowered me as a thinker, as a progressive, and as a Jew. Having looked at evil, I found it puny. “We can beat this,” I found myself thinking.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2009:

Less than two weeks after Holocaust denier James von Brunn was arrested and charged with killing a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., an online magazine has begun publishing a four-part story on two of the leading figures among Holocaust revisionists.

Mark Oppenheimer’s story based on his interviews with Holocaust revisionists Bradley R. Smith and Mark Weber began on Tuesday and will run through Friday in “Tablet Magazine,” a daily online magazine about Jewish life that debuted this month.

Smith, 79, founded an online magazine called Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, and he also blogs on the Holocaust and more mundane matters such as his medical travails. Weber, 57, is director of the Institute for Historical Review, which published the Holocaust-denying Journal of Historical Review until 2002. He incurred the wrath of fellow revisionists, including Smith, in January when he posted an article on his website arguing that Holocaust deniers have had little success in persuading people, and it was time to focus instead on the harmful impact of “Jewish-Zionist power” around the world.

Oppenheimer, who got a doctorate in religious studies at Yale, spoke several times in person and by telephone with Smith and Weber between February and May. He tracked down one man’s Jewish ex-lover and the other’s rumored Jewish sister. Both men “loved Jews,” Oppenheimer wrote. “They don’t love Jews generally, of course, but each man has a Jewish woman in his past with whom he had a close relationship.”

Weber “seems a good deal smarter than Smith but also a good deal less mirthful,” Oppenheimer concluded. In fact, Weber holds a master’s degree in European history from Indiana University. Oppenheimer marvels at Weber’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish holidays, the founding of the state of Israel and seemingly all things Jewish. “It became clear that he reads the Jewish press more closely than I do, and I write for the Jewish press,” Oppenheimer wrote in his story’s second installment.

Weber seemed especially dismayed that Smith and French Holocaust revisionist Robert Faurisson are interested in little more than questioning the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps. He says he’s interested in a wide array of questions regarding Jewish influence.

Smith rejects Weber’s assessment of him, telling Oppenheimer that he is a passionate libertarian concerned with protecting freedom of speech. Smith was jailed in Los Angeles in the early 1960s for selling Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer at the bookstore he owned at the time.

“Put simply, if we take these men at their words, Smith sees the gas chambers as a question of free speech; Faurisson as an underpinning of a fraudulent Jewish state; and Weber, as a distraction from the machinations of Jewish power in America,” Oppenheimer writes. “These distinctions may seem trivial to some, different facets of the same anti-Semitic menace; but for the men struggling for the soul of Holocaust revisionism, these differences are all that there is.”

Mark Oppenheimer emailed me for help with a story a year or two ago, but when I called back, he didn’t answer because he had concluded I was too weird.

Here is my analysis of his work with the Holocaust revisionists.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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