. . . Revilo Oliver–Holocaust Denier and John Birch Society Leader
They’re All Dead
I was in the first grade when I started walking to St. Timothy’s School, a Catholic grade school in my Chicago neighborhood. The four-block hike from my home on Maplewood took me down Devon Avenue, a busy commercial street lined with small shops, most with Jewish owners.
I was around ten when it dawned on me that many of the conversations I overheard were about World War II and the fate of the Jews in eastern Europe. The old folks usually spoke in Yiddish, so I didn’t understand much. But I did hear some English words “smoke,” “ghetto,” and “camps.” My across-the-alley-neighbor, Mrs. Fishman, told me that the Jews in Germany were forced to wear yellow stars and then they were put into railroad cars. “Now they’re all dead,” she said. “No one is left.”
Ashes Covered Everything
I asked my father about the stars and the boxcars. He told me how the Nazis arrested Jews across Germany and Poland. He told me about the gas and the ovens. He told me that the Nazis also killed untold numbers of Gypsies, Christians, and anyone who opposed them.
I remember his face when he said that the ashes of the dead covered everything. I remember his voice cracking when he described what the Allies found when they liberated the camps: piles of corpses and emaciated prisoners in striped prison pajamas.
Before I knew the word Holocaust, I knew the Nazis had tried to kill every Jew in Europe. I knew this for certain.
Any Friend of Robert Welch is Welcome
In 1958, my father joined the John Birch Society and became a national leader. Our home turned into Ground Zero for Birch recruiting in the Midwest. Lots of Dad’s Birch friends stopped by to share a meal, meet new members, and discuss plans for growth and development.
One frequent guest was Dr. Revilo P. Oliver, a classics professor from the University of Illinois in Campaign-Urbana. He was a founding member of the Birch Society and a personal friend of Birch founder, Robert Welch. Welch often described Oliver as one of the “ablest speakers on the Americanist side.” Oliver got a hearty welcome from my parents. After all, any friend of Robert Welch was an automatic friend of Stillwell and Laurene Conner.
Using the Birch network, Oliver peddled his revised history of World War II; one in which the Jews invented the Holocaust and foisted the story of their imaginary persecution on an unsuspecting world. I heard Oliver spin his vile “Holohoax” ideas right in my parents’ living room.
The first time I met Oliver he gave me the creeps. His long face was exaggerated by greasy black hair, bushy eyebrows, beady eyes and wide handlebar mustache. I never saw Oliver smile. But his lips often curled in a nasty snarl, especially when he was berating someone who dared to disagree.
Oliver Used Conservative Magazines to Peddle His Racial Views
Oliver was a frequent contributor to National Review, William F. Buckley’s magazine, and to the John Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion. In the pages of these journals, he expressed some of his most controversial positions including a 1965 slam against the United States for “an insane, but terribly effective, effort to destroy the American people and Western civilization by subsidizing . . . the breeding of the intellectually, physically, and morally unfit.”
No Gas Chambers
Oliver took every opportunity to peddle his version of the Holocaust, one in stark contrast to everything I’d learned from my Jewish neighbors and from my own father.
According to Oliver: there were no yellow stars. No death camps. No gas chambers. No crematoria. Even the witness of soldiers who liberated the camps was discarded out of hand. Oliver insisted that the Jews were imprisoned because they were traitors to the German state. But, no one was gassed. No one was exterminated. Death was the natural result of imprisonment and poor food.
My parents parroted Oliver. The Holocaust stopped being so terrible, the death camps turned into detention camps. Jews were imprisoned because they were Communist traitors. The “Final Solution” became fiction, and the Nazis were loyal military men following orders.
I’d met Jews with tattoos on their arms. I’d seen photographs. I knew that millions of men, women and children were tortured, worked to death, or gassed and their ashes coated everything when the fires roared. I knew all of this as well as I knew my name. I was only 14 and I thought my parents had lost their minds. Dr. Oliver had helped them
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Oliver’s Views Were Known to the John Birch Society Leaders
No matter what Revilo Oliver said, he continued to serve (with my father) on the John Birch Society National Council, the inner circle of the organization. My parents drank in everything he said and repeated most of it, almost verbatim. Robert Welch heaped praise on Oliver for his outstanding contributions to the Birch cause.
All of this Oliver devotion stopped abruptly in July of 1966, when Oliver headlined the New England Rally for God, Family, and Country, an annual Birch-sponsored festival held in Boston and billed as a reunion for conservative Americans. In his speech, “Conspiracy or Degeneracy, Oliver talked about “vaporizing” Jews as part of the “beatific vision.”
Oliver’s statements generated an avalanche of negative press, followed by internal Birch turmoil on how to respond. Over a period of eight years, every single member of the Birch leadership had heard Oliver deny the Holocaust, and label Jews as inferior, subversive, and evil. While some of the men may have been shocked, Oliver continued to be one of the most visible and powerful of the top Birch leadership.
This Was Different
The 1966 Rally was different. Oliver was speaking at a public Birch-sanctioned event with press in attendance. He was introduced as a member of the Birch leadership and his comments reflected badly on the Society, which critics had called “anti-Semitic” for years. Robert Welch knew he had to act.
In early August, Welch told council members that Oliver had resigned. In a split-second, Revilo Oliver vanished from my parents’ conversation. They pretended that Oliver had never been a Birch leader or a personal friend.
Revilo Oliver lived the rest of his life as a hero to neo-Nazis, skin heads and white supremacists. His views never moderated. In 1982, twelve years before his death by suicide, Oliver wrote that “democracy would only be possible by “deporting, vaporizing, or otherwise disposing of swarms of Jews, Congoids (Africans), Mongoloids and mongrels (mixed-race) that now infest our territory.”
Oliver Fueled Today’s Neo-Nazis
Oliver left an indelible mark on the John Birch Society, built a network of Holocaust deniers, and recruited countless followers to spread his message of hate. Unfortunately, his ideas did not die with him. Neo-Nazis and historical revisionists continue their campaign to deny the reality of Hitler’s Holocaust. They point to Dr. Revilo Oliver as a hero of their movement.
To confront today’s Holocaust deniers and Neo-Nazis, we have to know the man who fueled the movement, Revilo Oliver–the vilest man I ever knew.