My behind-the-scenes ‘Denial’ story

“Denial,” the film opening nationwide on Sept. 30, captures the drama, importance, and personalities of the 2000 London Holocaust denial trial of David Irving vs. Penguin and Deborah Lipstadt.

In 1993, Lipstadt – then, as now, a distinguished professor at Emory University –  wrote a book demonstrating that denial of the Holocaust wasn’t quirky history but anti-Semitic hate. In passing, she mentioned David Irving — British author of many books about World War II — as a dangerous denier of the Holocaust.

Lipstadt’s publisher –Penguin – had sold a small number of copies in the United Kingdom.  Irving sued, something he did not do in the United States, where libel cases are difficult to win, especially if the plaintiff is a public figure. In the United Kingdom, if someone defames another in writing, they must prove that what they wrote was true.

Solicitor Anthony Julius — known for his legal representation of Princess Diana and his scholarly work on the anti-Semitism of T.S. Eliot — represented Lipstadt without fee, until it became clear that Irving was determined to bring the matter to trial, and that this wasn’t a case that could afford to be lost or settled.

The film does not depict a conference call in which Julius explained to a room of American Jewish leaders what was at stake, and how much money needed to be raised to pay for solicitors, barristers, graduate student researchers and the world’s top experts.  (“Denial” correctly notes Steven Spielberg’s support for the defense, but there were many more individuals and groups from the United States — and depressingly few from the U.K. — who put up the required funds.)

Toward the end of the film, Lipstadt (played superbly by Rachel Weisz, who captures her personality, intellect and accent) mentions what a great “team” she has had working years with her to win the case.

I was fortunate to have been part of that team. A staff member of the American Jewish Committee at the time, I was a friend of Lipstadt, had written a less important book on Holocaust denial and was a former trial lawyer specializing in high-profile cases. I helped raise the funds and worked with the lawyers, graduate students and experts, sometimes from London and sometimes from my home in Brooklyn (where the courtroom stenographer’s real-time transcript appeared on my computer, and I could communicate with a paralegal with a vibrating cell phone in the courtroom, if need be).

The “behind the scenes” work on the case was not portrayed in the movie, and many of the in-court events of note weren’t either, including testimony from world-class historians such as Peter Longerich and Christopher Browning. Nor was the trial’s “Dr. Strangelove” moment, when Irving mistakenly referred to the judge as “Mein Fuhrer,” rather than “My Lord.”

The omissions and the few artistic changes were absolutely necessary to tell the story, its ups and downs, and the imperative of exposing Irving’s distortion of history to promote hate.

Having lived through the case, knowing all the characters, I was astonished by how well each and every actor captured the person they played. When the film was being cast, I quipped to Lipstadt that of course Mel Gibson should play David Irving, but Timothy Spall was Irving reincarnate. Irving had tried to keep one foot in the world of respectability and another in the world of anti-Semites, but jumped into the latter with both feet when he became convinced by a fraudulent “scientific” report (by a man named Fred Leuchter — subject of the superb 1999 movie “Mr. Death” by Errol Morris), that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Irving was repeatedly demolished in the courtroom by Barrister Richard Rampton (played beautifully by Tom Wilkinson, who showed Rampton’s commitment, brilliance, and affection for Claret regardless of the time of day). Rampton got Irving to demonstrate his impressive capacity for self-delusion. Caught in lie after lie, but then proceeding as if he had not been, Irving reminded me of that 1950s inflatable clown with a lead bottom that one would knock down, only to see it slowly rise to become upright, as if nothing had happened.

Anthony Julius is one of the most brilliant people I know. One day we were all huddled in Julius’ office, with Rampton and the other barristers and solicitors on the phone, finishing a document that needed to be handed into court within the hour. Julius was fully engaged in the detailed discussion and at the same time vigorously typing on his computer. I peeked over his shoulder: He was writing a chapter of his book on art history.

Andrew Scott replicates Julius’ smarts, his inability to suffer fools and his laser-like commitment to doing everything to win the case. One of the main themes is the lawyers’ clarity that the defense had to be conducted as if it were a prosecution of Irving (what would a credible historian have done with the information before him?), and that no survivors would be called to testify. Lipstadt was on board with those decisions more easily than the film portrays, but it captures the difficult discussions and, in an intense scene, Julius’ harsh impatience, but intellectual power and sound reasoning.

Mark Gatiss as Van Pelt (the expert on Auschwitz) recreates his strong testimony, which was central to the case. (If you go to the website that has the trial records — – you’ll find all the expert reports. Van Pelt’s is a full history of how Auschwitz changed, step by step, from a concentration camp for Poles to a genocidal factory. Historian Richard Evan’s is a blueprint for anyone interested in knowing how we know what we know about history.)

Of all the people on the team, I was happiest to see Laura Tyler’s contribution portrayed (ably by Caren Pistorius). Tyler was Anthony Julius’ paralegal, thrust into her first case. She and the two graduate students — who tracked through Irving’s voluminous writings to demonstrate how he distorted facts, always to benefit the Nazis in general and Hitler in particular — were the largely unheralded heroes at the time. Without their work, the courtroom success would have been impossible.

Irving was a falsifier of history, and part of the challenge of the trial was whether this was a case only about bad history, or one about hatred. Why would Irving’s errors always err on the side of diminishing or denying the Holocaust? What was the motive?

Irving’s vast connections with neo-Nazis and white supremacists (and his own racist and misogynist comments) showed that this wasn’t a case about the Holocaust any more than the claim that Jews poisoned wells was a question of water quality. Holocaust denial is about hatred and anti-Semitism.

Kenneth S. Stern is the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation

Clinton: Remain vigilant against Holocaust denial

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Holocaust denial and Israel criticism that crosses into anti-Semitism require vigilance.

On Tuesday, Clinton addressed a symposium at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on preventing genocide.

“Let me begin by acknowledging that here in this museum, it’s important to note that every generation produces extremist voices denying that the Holocaust ever happened,” she said.  “And we must remain vigilant against those deniers and against anti-Semitism, because when heads of state and religious leaders deny the Holocaust from their bully pulpits, we cannot let their lies go unanswered. 

“When we hear Holocaust glorification and public calls to, quote, ‘finish the job,’ we need to make clear that violence, bigotry will not be tolerated,” she continued. “And, yes, when criticism of Israeli government policies crosses over into demonization of Israel and Jews, we must push back.”

Clinton outlined policies that she said were aimed at genocide prevention, including training officials in detecting warning signs, the use of technology to enhance monitoring, pressuring oppressive regimes and making clear that perpetrators will be held accountable.

She also emphasized limits, suggesting that some well-intentioned efforts could worsen the situation.

“We have to approach this work with a large dose of humility and understanding,” Clinton said.

The museum released a poll, timed for the symposium, showing that substantial majorities of Americans believe that genocide is still possible and favoring intervention to stop it. The poll, commissioned and conducted by Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm, and Penn Schoen Berland, a pollster, showed that 94 percent of Americans believe genocide “is still very much a concern and could occur today.”

It also showed that 69 percent “think the U.S. should prevent or stop genocide or mass atrocities from occurring in another part of the world.”

Greek gov’t, Jews slam Golden Dawn chief for Holocaust denial

The Greek government and Jewish community condemned the leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party after he denied there were gas chambers or ovens at Nazi death camps.

Speaking Sunday in an interview on the private Mega TV network, Golden Dawn head Nikolaos Michaloliakos said gas chambers were lies and claims that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust was an exaggeration.

“There were no ovens. This is a lie. I believe that it is a lie,” said Michaloliakos. “There were no gas chambers either.”

His comments drew condemnation from the Greek government.

This “constitutes a distortion of history and a fierce insult to the memory of the millions of Holocaust victims,” government spokesman Pentelis Kapsis said Tuesday.

“The Greek people have not forgotten that they mourned hundreds of thousands of victims of Nazism, including tens of thousands of Greek Jews,” Kapsis said.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece called on the Greek government and public to “firmly condemn and isolate the forces seeking the revival of the darkest ideology of European history.”

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece today. The prewar community of some 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust.

“It is an insult to the historical memory, the memory of the 6 million Jews, our brethren, amongst whom there were 70,000 Greek Jews, who perished in the death camps of Auschwitz, Dachau [and] Treblinka,” the Jewish community statement said.

The extreme-right Golden Dawn Party, whose flag closely resembles the Nazi swastika, received 21 seats in parliament, the first time it passed the threshold to enter the legislative body. It campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant platform under the slogan “So we can rid this land of filth.”

Michaloliakos came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting.

Uruguay condemns Iranian diplomat’s Holocaust denial

Uruguay has condemned statements denying the Holocaust made by Iran’s ambassador to the country.

The country’s Foreign Ministry called in an official from the Iranian Embassy on July 29 to condemn the statements made earlier in the week, according to reports. The ministry also released a statement calling the Holocaust an “undeniable historic event,” according to the World Jewish Congress.

Irani Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani had said during a public meeting that “World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945. It is said that during that war the Nazis killed 2 million, 4 million, 6 million … there are different figures on the Jews’ news. This was named a ‘Holocaust,’ and Israel is using this issue to present itself to the world as a victim, and asking for economic and political support from some countries in Europe.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the program, Soltani said that “Maybe some people died, some were murdered, I don’t know, maybe thousands of Jews. But that figure of 2 million, 4 million, 6 million, that is a lie according to some European historians who have submitted documents.”

Soltani also called Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians the current Holocaust.

Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro told the Irani embassy official that Jewish Holocaust survivors still live in Uruguay. He also said that diplomatic and trade relations with Iran would not change over the incident, according to the WJC.

Facebook firm on Holocaust denial pages, despite survivors’ letter

Facebook, citing free speech, has rejected a request by Holocaust survivors to remove some pages that espouse Holocaust denial.

“We think it’s important to maintain consistency in our policies, which don’t generally prohibit people from making statements about historical events, no matter how ignorant the statement or how awful the event,” the popular social networking site said in response to a letter from Holocaust survivors dated July 8.

Survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims wrote Facebook asking that the site change its policies permitting Holocaust denial before their aging generation is gone. The 21 survivors who signed the letter listed their concentration camps, ghettos and other Holocaust experiences below their names.

“We, the undersigned, are Holocaust Survivors who saw our parents, children and loved ones brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust,” the letter begins. “We are writing to you to protest Facebook’s policy that categorizes Holocaust denial as ‘free speech,’ rather than the shameless, cynical, and hateful propaganda that it is.”

The letter goes on to point out that not only are the Holocaust-denial sites offensive and hateful, but also could negatively influence scores of people due to Facebook’s popularity and accessibility.

“By allowing this hate propaganda on Facebook, you are exposing the public and, in particular, youth to the anti-Semitism which fueled the Holocaust,” it says.

The survivors who signed the letter are volunteers at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles who speak there and at its Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, criticized Facebook’s policy on Holocaust denial.

“A review of denial sites currently active on Facebook confirms that it is not mere speech but that it constitutes at its core a platform for bigotry and hatred of Jews, dead and alive,” said Cooper, who briefs online companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo on digital hate and terrorism.

He added, “We will continue to urge Facebook officials to reflect on the pain and suffering their policy is causing victims of the Shoah. For these aging heroes, every posting by deniers labels them, not victims of history’s greatest crime, but liars and thieves.”

Pope Admits He Mishandled Bishop Matter

ROME (JTA)—Pope Benedict XVI admits in a letter that his rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop backfired.

The remarkable letter to bishops, whose text was officially released Thursday by the Vatican, also says the Vatican must become Internet savvy to
prevent further mishaps.

Benedict specifically addressed the Jan. 21 lifting of the excommunication order on Richard Williamson and three other traditionalist bishops, saying
it unleashed “an avalanche of protests” whose “bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment.”

Lifting the excommunications had been intended to heal a rift in the church. But due to the uproar over Williamson, the pope said, it “suddenly appeared
as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews,” and a revocation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The pope continued, “A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an
apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council—steps which my own
work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.” This, Benedict said, he “can only deeply regret.”

“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned
the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news,” the pope said.

A pontiffs very rarely issues a document admitting errors in such a detailed and personal way. Benedict said he was particularly hurt by the “open
hostility” from within the Church itself.

“Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the
atmosphere of friendship and trust which—as in the days of Pope John Paul II—has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues
to exist.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder praised the pope.

“The Pope has found clear and unequivocal words regarding Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust denial, and he deserves praise for admitting that
mistakes were made within the Vatican in the handling of this affair,” Lauder said in a statement.

“The Pope’s letter conveys the essential requirements for interreligious dialogue: candor and the willingness to tackle difficult issues squarely.
His expressed anguish at the events following the Holocaust-denying statements by Williamson reflects the similar emotional pain felt by Jews
worldwide during this affair,” he said. “We reciprocate his words of appreciation for Jewish efforts to restore interreligious dialogue and will
continue to work with the Catholic Church to further strengthen mutual understanding and respect.”

Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed

Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Don’t dismiss Iran Holocaust conference as harmless fringe elements

Even Borat, the bumblingly anti-Semitic comic character, could not have contrived a more absurd and utterly offensive assemblage: David Duke, erstwhile Imperial
Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, alongside Robert Faurisson, the French pseudo-academic who argues that the Holocaust never happened, accompanied for dramatic effect by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose anti-Zionist fanaticism motivates them to desecrate the memory of millions of murdered Jews.

On Monday and Tuesday, they and other likeminded sociopaths “debated” at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran whether or not my grandparents and my 5 1/2-year-old brother were gassed at Auschwitz. And the sponsors of the “International Conference on ‘Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision'” are the very folks James Baker and Lee Hamilton, authors of a recent re-evaluation of U.S. policy in Iraq, want to enlist to stabilize the Middle East.

Other participants in this perversion included Australian socialite Michele Renouf, who explained that anti-Semitism is caused by “the anti-gentile nature of Judaism,” and Rabbis Moishe Arye Friedman from Austria and Ahron Cohen from England, who strutted through the conference halls and gladly posed for the cameras.

Friedman told the press that he believes that only about 1 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and Cohen declared that he does not consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sponsored the conference and who has called frequently for the Jewish state to be destroyed, an anti-Semite.

The Tehran reunion of misfits demonstrates conclusively why the Ahmadinejad government cannot be allowed anywhere near responsible political endeavors of any kind. If the international community ostracized South Africa during apartheid and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it should isolate present-day Iran in the most remote diplomatic Siberia imaginable.

Ahmadinejad has made it clear that his espousal of Holocaust denial is a pretext for his desire to destroy the State of Israel. In response, a group of Iranian students showed tremendous moral courage by publicly demonstrating against their president, burning his picture and protesting the “shameful conference” which, in the words of one student, “brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world.”

In contrast, the reaction of the U.S. government was surprisingly, even shockingly, subdued. Substantially after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair all sharply condemned the Tehran conference, the White House issued a statement calling the event an “affront to the entire civilized world” and accusing the Iranian regime of providing “a platform for hatred.”

President Bush, however, has not personally spoken out on the subject, relegating his administration’s response to an institutional press release. The man who usually never misses an opportunity to bash one of the charter members of his Axis of Evil seems to have developed laryngitis.

So, apparently, have Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their failure to use their bully pulpit on this occasion not only plays into Ahmadinejad’s hands, but serves to empower Holocaust deniers generally.

Why does the Tehran conference have ominous significance? Because Duke, who managed to get 43 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful 1990 U.S. Senate campaign from Louisiana, will now be able to tell students at colleges in heartland America with a straight face that his contention that there were never any gas chambers has international academic and institutional support. And because the noxious views emanating from the podium in Tehran are hardly unique.

Pat Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and now a well-paid television commentator, would have fit in perfectly. He once wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of Treblinka and has referred to a “so-called Holocaust-survivor syndrome” which he described as involving “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

Professor Deborah Lipstadt has long maintained that while we should never engage Holocaust deniers in debate, we must nevertheless expose them at every opportunity. The Tehran conference is not just another gathering of skinheads in some obscure beer cellar; it is a government-sponsored effort to evoke and manipulate the darkest, most heinous impulses in society.

Every single one of us, from the president of the United States on down, must repudiate this inexorable obscenity publicly, unambiguously and in person.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?

Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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Hitler’s Favorite Book Ignites Feud

A mounting Internet feud has led to the expulsion of a public leader of the Holocaust revisionist movement from and triggered a slew of threatening e-mails against a Jewish communal official.

The trouble started soon after Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the Los Angeles office of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), ordered one of Hitler’s favorite books, “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success,” Sept. 10 from a seller on’s marketplace. Only afterward did she find out that she had purchased the book from Holocaust revisionist Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list called, ReportersNotebook, that is dedicated to Holocaust denial, as well as to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material.

When Amazon banned Santomauro from its marketplace a few weeks later — due to e-mails he had sent to Taylor — he distributed her home address and e-mail account to his thousands of subscribers. Taylor was immediately hit with a barrage of threatening e-mails — one of which led her to contact the Los Angeles police: “Since you support Zionists,” the anonymous e-mailer wrote, “I’m sure you won’t mind having your family members shot and your house bulldozed.”

The Internet has been a boon for Holocaust revisionists, who have found few other mainstream outlets for their ideas and products. Earlier this year, Santomauro began selling “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success” on the Amazon marketplace, which serves as a middle man between Internet buyers and sellers.

The book, which was written by Theodor Fritsch, was first published in 1887 and became one of Hitler’s favorites. In an e-mail to supporters, Santomauro wrote that the book explained how “Judaism is a conspiracy against non-Jews. Its aim is to fulfill the covenant and gain dominion over mankind by controlling wealth.”

He reprinted 1,000 copies of a translation of Fritsch’s book, and by September, he had sold more than 100 of them. Taylor came across the book as part of her work with the AJCongress, where she said she is “in charge of monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism on high school and college campuses.”

Taylor has posted a number of online reviews of books relating to Israel and Judaism on In a review of a book edited by prominent left-wing Israeli historian Tom Segev on Israeli political dissent, she wrote, “If you like lies, revisionist history, falsehood and numbers without statistics to back them up, then this is the book for you.”

The same day that Taylor bought “Riddle” from Santomauro, she posted a review of the book. In it, she wrote, “Shame on Amazon and shame on you if you purchase this trash.” Santomauro wrote to Taylor using the e-mail address he had received through the order, and asked her why she had written a bad review before reading the book. (Taylor said that she had read excerpts before purchasing it.)

Amazon prohibits sellers from having any contact with customers that is unrelated to the transaction. Taylor said that soon after, she received two more e-mails from Santomauro’s personal e-mail account, one of which, she said, “talked about Jews masturbating over body parts.” When Amazon asked for a customer review of her experience, she sent along the e-mails from Santomauro.

In an interview with The Forward, Santomauro said he sent the e-mails only after Taylor asked to join his ReportersNotebook e-mail list. Taylor countered that she did request to join his list — for monitoring purposes — but only two days after receiving the first batch of e-mails. Neither claim could be confirmed, because both Santomauro and Taylor told The Forward that they had deleted their e-mails from the relevant time period. has already taken steps to avoid any possibility of a repeat occurrence, at least one involving Santomauro. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman confirmed that will no longer allow the Holocaust revisionist to sell books through its Internet Marketplace.

The Marketplace allows third parties to sell “new, used, refurbished and collectible items” through Amazon facilities, in exchange for a fee equal to 15 percent of the proceeds.

Santomauro violated his participation agreement with Amazon, which prohibits information about a book buyer from being misused “for sending unsolicited e-mail, harassment, invasion of privacy, or other objectionable conduct,” said Berman.

However, as a basic principle, Berman added, “Amazon believes in providing access to all reading material, however controversial or distasteful. Anything else, we believe, is censorship.”

Santomauro and various pro-Nazi groups have urged their followers to protest Amazon’s alleged censorship in cutting off sales of “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success.” Berman said he had no information on how many protest e-mails Amazon had received.

This is not the first time that his various e-mail lists have gotten crossed. He also runs a roommate-matching service on the Internet and in 2003, was swamped with complaints after his Holocaust revisionist e-mails accidentally were sent out to his real estate clients.

Amazon wrote to him Oct. 11, telling him that he was “no longer able to sell on our site,” because of “inappropriate e-mail contact that originated from your e-mail address.”

Santomauro told a different story in e-mails that he sent out to his supporters after he was banned by Amazon. He immediately wrote to his ReportersNotebook list, proclaiming that he was the target of a “professional campaign to smear booksellers that deal with the ‘Jewish Question.'” He told his readers to protest to Amazon.

Then he sent out a separate e-mail with Taylor’s home and e-mail addresses. Santomauro told The Forward that he sent out Taylor’s personal information to help journalists who wanted to write about the story.

Since then, Taylor said, she has received about 50 threatening e-mails. A friend helped Taylor track down the person who sent the most threatening e-mail, and she reported it to the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI.

While two additional neo-Nazi groups — Mein Kampf and Der Leibstandarte — have joined the campaign against Taylor, she has received no further hate e-mail following the initial flurry, Taylor reported this week.

“Apparently, they have been scared off by learning that the FBI is on the case,” Taylor said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing agency policy, but The Journal has learned that the FBI is actively investigating the threats against Taylor as a domestic terrorism case.

Santomauro said he saw nothing wrong with his decision to publicize her address: “For somebody who is trying to destroy my livelihood, and saying things in derogatory ways — I didn’t see what was wrong to announce her address.”

About the threatening e-mails, Santomauro said, “How do I know it’s not a campaign being fabricated in cahoots with the [Anti-Defamation League]?”

Neo-Nazi Internet magazine National Vanguard picked up Santomauro’s story and reprinted his telling of it, without including a response from Taylor. The magazine identified her as an “alleged operative of the ADL,” because of an e-mail she wrote to one of Santomauro’s supporters, saying she intended to pass along the book to the ADL. An ADL official said that the organization has had no contact with Taylor about the incident.

Taylor has written to Amazon, asking the site’s operators to display prominently the fact that sellers on the site will receive buyers’ contact information.

“Had I known I was giving all my information to Santomauro,” Taylor said, “I would have done things differently.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward (

History on Trial


“History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving,” by Deborah E. Lipstadt (Echo, 2005) $25.95.

For five excruciating years, from the moment that David Irving sued her for libel in England until the appeals process ran its course, Deborah Lipstadt had to remain silent. Others defended her scholarship and revealed the deceitfulness and deliberately misleading nature of Irving’s writings. But Lipstadt would not, did not take the stand in her own defense.

Lipstadt is a contemporary women not known for her reticence. Silence was hard on someone who prides herself on fighting her own fights — but it was necessary. Now, finally, she speaks freely.

It all started in 1993, when Lipstadt wrote “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault Against Memory and Truth,” a book which described Holocaust denial in our age. A few paragraphs were devoted to Irving, the most informed, original and therefore most dangerous of Holocaust deniers.

Irving could not bring action against Lipstadt in the United States, because as a public figure, the burden was on him to prove that Lipstadt engaged in reckless disregard of truth — a near impossible task — since what she said was true. In England, the burden of proof is reversed. So when Penguin published the book in England, Irving sued both the author and publisher in London.

Lipstadt wrote that Irving was “a Hitler partisan wearing blinkers, who distorted evidence, manipulated documents and skewed and misrepresented data,” and that “Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying out Hitler’s legacy.”

British revisionist historian
David Irving.
by Martyn Hayhow/AFP

She considered him a dangerous Holocaust denier. As the court determined in 2000, Lipstadt was not wrong, merely understated.

Perhaps Irving thought that Lipstadt would back down, issue a pro forma apology and settle for a symbolic sum. As the trial neared, he asked for a pittance — 500 pounds — to go to charity. Perhaps he thought the potential liability would force the parties to back down.

Lipstadt could not back down. To concede would be to accept defeat, inflict injury upon Holocaust survivors and desecrate the memory of the dead. She had to take a stand to preserve her standing, her dignity and her values.

The lawyers decided that the case would not be tried in the court of public opinion in the press, but in a courtroom. The trial was held before Judge Charles Gray — without a jury.

The press fury Irving induced as he played to them for months allowed his side of the story to be ubiquitous, while Lipstadt was silent. In the end, it was up to the judge to deliver a decisive, clear judgment.

What did Lipstadt do during five years of public silence?

As a blind person may hear more clearly; a deaf person see more intently, one who is muted may listen more carefully.

Lipstadt proves to have the keen eye of a journalist, observing the setting, the demeanor and even the fashion style of everyone from the court clerk to the judge and her barrister. She writes with a novelist’s sense of plot, so that while the reader is led through the entire trial, from first accusation to final vindication, the major story is never lost in the details. She doesn’t tell everything — but she does convey the drama, the anguish and the wealth of emotions that were her day-in, day-out experiences.

She writes without self-pity, but the reader is likely to pity her restraint. For those who did not follow the trial day by day, this book is fascinating reading that gives one a sense of what it was really like to sit there, to see the nature of the evidence, and see how strategic decisions were made.

In the end, all drama aside, the judge understands and renders the clearest of judgments by unmasking the pretense and politics of Irving’s pseudo-scholarship and the racism and anti-Semitism of his beliefs. And the plaintiff, Irving, plays his role to perfection, exceeding even our fondest wishes for him, by destroying himself in public. In defeat, his sting is diminished.

As Lipstadt writes, she did not stand trial alone. Her book is a tribute to those who stood by her. She is the first to recognize their importance, their competence, generosity and dedication.

Her brilliant and dedicated legal team included Anthony Julius, a fine lawyer and literary scholar, who wrote a doctoral thesis on T.S. Eliott’s anti-Semitism, and was a proud Jew known as Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. His partner, James Libson, and his law firm, Mishcon de Reya, were prepared to take the case pro bono. They recruited Richard Rampton, a distinguished London barrister, to try the case after they prepared it. He, too, was prepared to work pro bono.

In the end, adequate funds were raised for the defense from Leslie and Abigail Wexner, Steven Spielberg, William Lowenberg and other Jewish philanthropists. Rabbi Herbert Friedman, whose distinguished career began as a U.S. Army chaplain working with soldiers and survivors and working with Bricha, organized the fund-raising effort discretely. (For the record, I was honored to assist him.)

The American Jewish Committee stepped in without seeking credit or publicity. Ken Stern, a lawyer and an authority on Holocaust denial, masterfully ran its efforts. Emory University, where Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, stood by her and gave her paid leave. Others taught her Holocaust course; friends visited, called, e-mailed and supported her through the long ordeal.

Scholars were recruited: Richard Evans of Cambridge, a superb historian and an expert on historiography, read each of Irving’s works and then checked and double-checked the original documents Irving cited and his translations — a tedious and increasingly loathsome task, as the depth of Irving’s deceit became clear.

Christopher Browning of the University of North Carolina, a worthy successor of Raul Hilberg as the leading authority on German documents, worked on German documentation of the “Final Solution.” Robert Jan Van Pelt, a Canadian of Dutch origin, an architectural historian who wrote brilliantly of the gas chambers of Auschwitz and who reads German documentation, testified on gassing at Birkenau.

Peter Longerich, a German living in England, analyzed the work of the Einsatzgruppen in former Soviet territory in 1941-42. Hajo Funke examined Irving’s association with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and racist groups; the speeches he made, and the manner in which he played to his crowd.

Evans examined Irving’s footnotes and documentation. Their findings were devastating to Irving.

The team’s scholarship became contributions to the historiography of the Holocaust. Evans’ case became an extended discourse on how historians should read documents and reach their learned conclusions, an expression of historiography at its best — that demonstrated the most egregious violations of the cannons of the profession. The books that emerged from this team have added significantly to our knowledge of the Holocaust in clarity and in depth.

No survivors were called as witnesses, no Israelis. The trial was designed to be a trial of documents — an added benefit, since we are approaching the day when the last survivor will leave this earth and living memory will become the stuff of history. To those who feared that this natural development of time would put the memory of the Holocaust at risk, the trial proves otherwise.

Lipstadt is entitled to gloat, but does not. She understands the importance of her vindication — and its limitations. The British press was nasty, seeing it as a battle of class — an English gentleman against an American Jewish woman upstart Some barely concealed their anti-Semitism, and sometimes they confusingly presented the trial as an issue of free speech.

In our world, where rumor and innuendo parade as fact and insight, there is a tendency to believe that in every squabble there is some truth to each side and a basic laziness to uncover the truth. At least in England, Lipstadt was spared cable’s Court TV spinning.

Anyone who opens this book will be gratified by Lipstadt’s vindication. But what was all-important was the unmasking of Irving. He may have made the greatest contribution to that himself by bringing the suit in the first place, defending himself and then destroying himself.

Irving was the superstar of Holocaust deniers, and now he is known as the racist and anti-Semite who deliberately misread and mistranslated documents toward one end, the exoneration of Adolf Hitler. This case — and this book — prove that good scholarship can beat bad scholarship, and that even in our age of relativism and deconstructionism, there is a difference between good history and fraud.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism.