Lawmakers disavow praise of Holocaust denial film
Deny seeing video, say staff didn’t read mail
A Holocaust denial video that suggested Jews were not exterminated by gas chambers at the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp mysteriously received flattering praise in letters from the offices of one U.S. representative, a Maine state representative and a high-ranking policy adviser to the president of Hungary who now works for NATO.
A fourth letter from a U.S. representative acknowledged receiving the video, but only described it as “informative,” and returned the video to the sender.
The Washington Times reached three of the four individuals whose offices sent out the flattering responses, and, in all three cases, officials denied having actually watched the video and offered apologies.
They suggested that a secretarial staff member probably sent the response not knowing the actual content of the video, wrongly assuming it was a conventional analysis of the Holocaust.
The 1992 documentary in question was produced by David Cole, a then-22-yearold American researcher who is Jewish, and Bradley Smith, who in 1987 founded the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.
The video, “David Cole in Auschwitz — A Jew Questions the Holocaust,” quickly became a hallmark film in the Holocaust denial community and has since been treasured by deniers partially because of Mr. Cole’s Jewish heritage, which they say gives credence to his claims being, as one letter stated, “objective.”
A Washington Times investigation revealed that admirers of Mr. Cole’s sent VHS copies of his documentary in the mid-1990s to political officials in the U.S. and abroad, and, in at least four instances, letters were sent back — from the offices of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, former U.S. Rep. John E. Baldacci of Maine, Maine state Rep. Alvin L. Barth and Zsolt Rabai, a foreign policy adviser to then-President Arpad Goncz of Hungary.
In the first three instances, an Oregon man named Gregg Clemmer sent the video.
An opaque response sent back to Mr. Clemmer and purportedly signed by Mr. Baldacci flatly said, “Thank you for the tape sent to me regarding the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was a very informative production. I am returning your tape, following office policy. I appreciate the opportunity to view it. Thank you again.”
Mr. Baldacci, a Democrat who later served as governor of Maine, told The Times he had no recollection of the video, and described any form of Holocaust denial as “disgusting.”
In contrast to Mr. Baldacci’s flat response, the letter sent from Ms. Kaptur’s office offered more dramatic praise, saying, “Thank you for sending me a copy of David Cole’s video. Mr. Cole has obviously invested a great deal in researching his subject, and I admire his tenacious curiosity. Again, I thank you for sharing this documentary with myself and other members of Congress.”
The reply from Mr. Barth was handwritten and said, “Dear Mr. Clemmer, thank you for the video. It does raise some valid and interesting points. Have you considered court action to get the video aired?”
The reply from Mr. Rabai, the Hungarian political adviser, was written to Mr. Cole’s co-producer, Bradley Smith, and said, “Thank you sending us your documentary video about the Auschwitz concentration camp. I was impressed by the objective and logical way David Cole spoke about the Auschwitz gas chamber. Congratulations!”
Steve Fought, a spokesman for Ms. Kaptur, said that the still-sitting Democratic congresswoman did not watch the documentary or write the letter.
“I’ll be honest with you: We apparently let one slip through the cracks,” he said. “Back in 1995 this office received about a hundred letters a day. Most offices now average about a thousand a day and around a quarter [of] a million a year. It’s very hard to keep up. We try to add a little flavor to these letters sometimes to make a response sound personalized, and I think that’s what happened here.
“We made a mistake, but no one ever watched this video, and no one would ever say anything to deny the Holocaust,” Mr. Fought said.
Mr. Barth is now retired and could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Rabai was so concerned when The Times sent him a copy of the letter sent from his office that he watched Mr. Cole’s full documentary so that he could comment on it.
He said that both he and the former Hungarian president “were deeply touched by the tragedy and human suffering caused by the Holocaust,” and later added that although he answered much of the foreign mail, books and videos that came to his office, he rarely had time to analyze what he had received.
“We tried to answer all mail coming in and personalize them as much as possible so, at least myself, I tried to have a quick look at the summary of a book, a few pictures of a video and make a reference to it.”
He expressed regret for not issuing what he called “a proper answer on the statements of this video.”
Bradley Blakeman, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush who also served on the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said that the letters reveal what he described as “a serious problem on the Hill that needs to be addressed and corrected.”
“All of Capitol Hill has surrendered their authoritative voice to a bunch of inexperienced interns who don’t know what they’re talking about,” Mr. Blakeman said in a telephone interview. “In this case, U.S. congressional offices surrendered their voice to the Holocaust denial community and empowered it by doing so. These letters are out there now, and they can be used to validate the documentary. If elected officials allowed their staff to mail out these letters without ever watching the video, then they were grossly negligent.”
Mr. Cole himself said that he does not think Mr. Baldacci watched his video, but he does believe someone in Ms. Kaptur’s office did because of the specific language of her response.
“I feel certain that whoever wrote the Kaptur letter — be it Kaptur or a person acting on her behalf — saw the video,” he told The Times. “If you receive a video about Auschwitz, and you just want to fire off a simple form letter thank you note, you’d say something like, ‘Thank you for the video. The Holocaust is a terrible chapter in history and must never be forgotten. Thank you for your efforts to further the cause of remembrance …’
“But my documentary was specifically about my ‘tenacious curiosity’ in relentlessly grilling the Auschwitz State Museum staff regarding the evidence for gas chambers. One would only know that the video was about David Cole and his ‘tenacious curiosity’ by watching the video.”