The Institute for Historical Review, a group that claims the Nazi Holocaust was a hoax, ended its 3-day meeting Monday by stirring outrage among residents of Huntington Beach's Old World Village, including one Jewish woman who was told by a conference participant, "You need the gas chamber!"
Six members of the militant Jewish Defense League showed up with signs to picket later in the day when conference participants were holding an impromptu news conference at the end of the meeting.
Although there was no physical violence, several conference participants shouted racial epithets at the protesters. Witnesses said police took away one man in handcuffs after he tried to strike Irv Rubin, national JDL chairman. A Huntington Beach police spokesman said late Monday that he could not confirm that an arrest was made.
"We were there to make a point," Rubin said. "We want to expose these people to the light of the day."
Earlier in the day, conference participants exchanged angry words with several residents of Old World Village, who said they had no idea the group was meeting there until they read about it in the newspaper.
Three plainclothes police officers were keeping an eye on things during the meeting, and several conference participants acting as security guards were stationed outside the basement of the German Community Church, where the meeting was held.
Old World Village is a condominium and commercial development built to resemble a Bavarian village where shopkeepers live on the grounds and a homeowners' association owns and manages the common grounds. Since 1982, however, the development has been embroiled in legal disputes, and it has been in receivership for the last 2 years.
Much of the animosity generated Monday by the Historical Review conference appeared intertwined with the legal disputes, which essentially have pitted the owner of the building where the meeting took place against the rest of the shopkeepers and homeowners. The building owner agreed to allow the conferees to meet without consulting the other village owners.
Expressions of Anger
But the mere presence of an estimated 200 people attending the Ninth International Revisionist Conference, which was forced to move from two Costa Mesa hotels after protests from the JDL, also sparked expressions of anger, outrage and hurt from many of the village residents.
Lony Hauff, owner of the Rathskeller restaurant, said conference participants had insulted his customers, calling them "Jews and traitors."
"We don't like this," Hauff said. "We don't need these kind of people here."
"I never was a Nazi, or a Jew," said Gene Pilz, a customer at the restaurant. "I never was a traitor."
In one conversation witnessed by a reporter, Georges Theil, a conference participant from France, told bridal shop owner Pat Weiss that the Holocaust did not happen.
When Weiss told Theil that several of her relatives were killed in Nazi concentration camps, he responded that there were no gas chambers and that perhaps Weiss' relatives did not disappear.
'You Are a Liar'
"You are a liar!" Weiss said.
"There were no gas chambers!" Theil shot back. "You need the gas chamber! You need the gas chamber!"
Weiss, unable to control her anger, spat on Theil, who then turned to a reporter and said, "They are hysterical people here."
Tom Marcellus, director of the Costa Mesa-based Institute for Historical Review, said the presence of the conference at the village represented a victory for free speech and a defeat for the JDL.
He said that despite the JDL's efforts to stop the meeting, which was attended by delegates from South Africa, Sweden, Germany, Japan, France, England, Switzerland, Canada and the United States, the group had managed to have a full conference "by hopscotching around."
After both the Red Lion Inn and the Holiday Inn in Costa Mesa refused to allow the group to meet there, Marcellus said the conference moved to the Huntington Beach Inn and, finally, to the village.
When asked why he agreed to rent to the Historical Review, Joseph Bischof, a native of Germany who designed the village, said, "Why shouldn't I?"
'Want to Correct History'
"I know that there is a lot of truth to what they say," Bischof said. "They want to correct history. I know that they didn't even have 6 million Jews in Europe. How could they have killed that many?"
As for the complaints of the other shop owners, Bischof dismissed them by saying, "Some of the store owners are sick."
But Cris Cris, owner of B.M.A. Financial Services in the village, said the presence of such a group sends a bad message to the public.
"I think it's a bad place to have a meeting," he said, "especially the connotation with the German village and the Holocaust being a predominately German thing. It is in very poor taste."
"If they would have brought (the matter) to the homeowners, it wouldn't be here," added his wife, Cathy Cris. "They shouldn't be allowed anywhere, particularly here."
Weiss, who was trembling after her encounter with Theil, said that a customer who read about the conference in a newspaper called her Monday to cancel a wedding gown she was planning to buy.
'I resent This'
"She said that under no circumstances would she ever set foot in the village again," Weiss said. "It makes my skin have goose bumps, having these people here. I'm a Jew, and I resent this very, very much."
Village employee Cecelia Baca, her eyes brimming with tears, said that nearly all of the relatives of her Polish grandmother, who was Catholic, were killed in the Holocaust.
"I don't approve of prejudice in the first place," she said. "The fact that these people are here, my grandmother is probably turning in her grave."
But such sentiments did not appear to trouble the conference participants, who said that anybody opposed to their meeting was guilty of prejudice themselves or was ill-informed.
"If they were more fully informed, they would, perhaps, be less upset," said Michael Laurence, 38, a technician who had come to the conference from Atlanta, Ga.
"The point of this conference is to educate people, and our belief is that if people are educated, they will believe as we do and all upset will be eliminated," Laurence said.
Conference participant Gerald Domitrovic, an attorney from Wichita, Kan., said the "real story" was that people were trying to silence the conference.
"The Holocaust is a silly story," he said. "It is silly on its face."
Jurgen Bless, a German Lutheran pastor who was opening up the German Community Church as the conference continued in the basement below, said he was not bothered by the presence of those who believe the Holocaust did not occur.
"The Holocaust is being taken too far," he said. "And these people are trying to set the record straight. And if it is wrong, then the truth will come out. What it looks like to me is that someone is afraid of what they have to say. . . . I feel everybody should have the right to say what they think."
But Frank Emma, vice president of the homeowners' association and owner of a frame shop in the village, said that he and other residents were offended by the message that the conference participants bring.
"Most of us are hard-working, sincere people," he said. "We don't like Nazis."
With that, Michele Weiss, daughter of Pat Weiss, returned to her home above the bridal shop and hung the American and the Israeli flag, which pictures the Star of David, off the balcony.
"We put it out there because I am not afraid of being Jewish," Pat Weiss said. "We are proud to be Jewish. . . . You just can't argue with these people."