Prof. Robert Faurisson had a question for his audience.
How many, the French professor wanted to know, had any doubts that the Nazi Holocaust of 6 million Jews is, in fact, nothing more than a hoax?
The audience was silent.
Heads swiveled as people looked to see who was willing to acknowledge publicly the belief that maybe the Nazis had murdered all those Jews, many of them in gas chambers.
Slowly a hand was raised, and another.
The final count was five, out of an audience of about 200.
What was billed as a debate on the Holocaust last Tuesday in Torrance turned into a one-sided conference for people who call themselves "historical revisionists." The event was sponsored by the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, a group with ties to the Institute for Historical Review, a group that formerly had offices in Torrance and asserts that the Holocaust is a fabrication.
No spectators who believed unequivocally in the Holocaust showed up, nor did four speakers who were supposed to argue the case for the Holocaust.
The militant Jewish Defense League, which had clashed with people attending an anti-Holocaust conference in Huntington Beach last weekend, stayed away as well under the belief that the debate had been canceled, according to Irv Rubin, its national chairman. "These people are scum," he said in an interview later.
With the drama taken out of the event, the revisionists had only themselves to talk to.
Among the statements that received approving nods: The numerous eyewitness accounts of gas chamber operations from concentration camp survivors have no value because the witnesses have not been cross-examined. At Auschwitz, what is identified as a gas chamber is in fact a mortuary that could not have been used as a gas chamber without killing guards and people in a nearby hospital. Instead of 6 million Jews dying, the true figure is no more than 300,000, who died from starvation, disease and Allied bombing.
Also: Rather than being victims, Jews have made a flourishing industry of the Holocaust, and they control too much of the world's mass media.
There were delighted smiles when one speaker declared that the name of Nobel laureate, Holocaust author and concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel accurately stands for its translation into English--"weasel."
And laughter greeted the recounting of statements that the Nazis made soap and lubricating oil of the corpses of Jews.
Officer on Duty
Rick Louk, head of the Torrance police intelligence unit, was on duty at the hotel in case trouble developed. Professionally impassive at the event, he said afterwards that he could not help being affected by the audience.
"If you were there and listened to those people laugh about how they disposed of body parts that were still quivering. . . . It was gross," he said.
"It was amazing that people could joke about atrocities."
Louk said he also noticed that speakers never talked "about the bad things the Nazis had done."
After the morning session, he said, he was surprised to see almost the entire audience return after lunch. "Those people are so fanatical," he said. "I am just glad that it went off without any problems."
A number of audience members declared their belief that the Holocaust story is part of a Jewish-Communist conspiracy.
Faurisson, a professor at the University of Lyons, said at the meeting that he places "no value" on statements from former concentration camp inmates if they have not been subjected to cross-examination.
Faurisson conceded that his cross-examination requirement is unusual but said it is justified because the accusation that the Nazis used gas chambers is so serious that it should be treated with legal, rather than historical, methods.
Question About Gulag
Asked if this standard would not also invalidate much of what is known about Stalinist labor camps--which many consider to be on a par with Nazi atrocities--Faurisson said he has not studied the Soviet Gulag and is not prepared to say whether the camps were as bad as they are claimed to have been.
Besides the problem with drop-out speakers, conference organizers had trouble finding a meeting place. They changed the location twice, from the Tetelestia Christian Center to the Calvary Church of the Coastlands to the Quality Inn.
The churches backed out after Louk called and explained that the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust is tied to the Institute for Historical Review, whose offices, formerly in Torrance, were fire-bombed in July, 1984, in what is still an unsolved case. Louk said he also told church officials that the Jewish Defense League had a record of confronting the institute.
"You are liable to get caught in the middle for providing the facility," Louk said he told church officials.
Although Jewish groups stayed away, they were not silent.