Facing Up to the Truth
The Revisionist, Helen Schulman, Crown Publishers, 1998Richard Widmann
The Revisionist is a work of fiction (with no affiliation or connection to the magazine that you are currently reading) that confronts psychological "denial" on multiple levels. Helen Schulman has written a fast-paced book in which her main character, a neurotic neurologist, David Hershleder learns to cope with his inner demons only after rushing headlong into the author's distorted vision of the world of Holocaust "denial."
The catalyst for Schulman's novel is apparently, French chemist, Jean-Claude Pressac. Pressac is recreated as Jacques LeClerc, a former revisionist who has determined that the gas chambers did indeed exist and has written a "thousand page engineering study on the mechanics of the death camps" to show exactly that. For Schulman, LeClerc/Pressac had been in a state of denial in regard to the Holocaust but was able to overcome it and ultimately recognize the truth. Hershleder becomes obsessed with LeClerc, which leads him to undergo a study of the works of Holocaust revisionism with a pair of equally neurotic and sometimes paranoid friends.
Many readers will find Schulman's language as well as the dysfunctional lives and lifestyles of her protagonists somewhat perplexing if not downright disturbing. The behavior of the "heroes" of this book is really quite awful. Still, in Schulman's world this type of behavior is somehow normal. The confusion, neurosis and depression are only addressed through a coming to terms with Holocaust "denial." This is all cast as a Jewish solution to the problems that life has dealt the trio. Interestingly the group is unable to find its identification through traditional religious means but rather only through anti-Holocaust revisionism.
Schulman has obviously made a superficial attempt to look into Holocaust revisionism. There is reference to Bradley Smith's Campus Project; "[Hershleder's] mother... had been increasingly troubled by the revisionists. She had stumbled upon an advertisement in her university newspaper challenging the scholarly community for documentable proof." There is also mention of The Legion for the Survival of Freedom and the Institute for Historical Review [IHR]. There is brief mention of the IHR's $50,000 reward offer and the TNT movie, "Never Forget" which retold the Mermelstein affair through Hollywood eyes.
Beyond a few names and references, Schulman's study of revisionism failed miserably. Schulman probably doesn't stray far from her characters' views of revisionists. Their first thoughts about revisionists are that they are "assholes" and "nuts." As the book winds its way through over two hundred pages, little changes and Schulman gives into the worst of stereotypes by accusing revisionists of wanting to "do it again" and of being driven by anti-Semitism.
There is little in this book actually about the Holocaust. What little is mentioned is not accepted by any serious historian. Of all things, Schulman picks on the PBS story of African-American's liberating the camps. Of course this story, "the Liberators" told the mythical account of the liberation of Dachau by Black troops in 1945 (see The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 13, Number 3 May/June 1993). Other whoppers that Schulman includes are stories of SS lounges decorated with "Jewish skin and organs," lampshades, ashtrays of bone and "a paperweight made from a human vagina."
It is not surprising that Schulman has a two-dimensional and orthodox view of both the Holocaust and Holocaust revisionism. Schulman had her mind made up from the outset and refused to properly evaluate the evidence against the claims of mass gassings. In fact, any other conclusion would not at all serve her purposes or be appreciated by her audience.
The Revisionist is an important book only in the fact that it is the most recent example of the ever-growing trend to address Holocaust revisionism through the arts. Recently revisionism has been the plot of television shows, plays, movies and works of fiction. The art community has discovered a profound interest in revisionism. It would come as no surprise to me if artists were discovering the truth about the Holocaust while approaching this subject. Now all that is needed is an artist whose honesty and integrity allows him or her to face up to the truth. The day will come when myopic visions of revisionists like that of Helen Schulman are simply swept away.
Installed: 08/06/00, 04: 00 PM, EST