Sunday, January 30, 2005

Booklist on History on Trial

From Booklist
One of the first attempts to systematically address Holocaust denial, Lipstadt's 1993 book Denying the Holocaust grabbed headlines when she was sued for libel by David Irving for calling the deeply controversial Hitler biographer a Holocaust denier and right-wing extremist. Lipstadt here narrates her lengthy legal battle with Irving, a London media frenzy that, though resulting in no executions, has been compared to the Eichmann trial and Nuremberg tribunals. As a courtroom blow-by-blow account, her story is fascinating and, for those unfamiliar with British civil procedure, even exotic. Lipstadt's barrister deploys enigmatic, roundabout strategies designed to entangle Irving with his own falsehoods; Irving, representing himself, weaves and dodges semantically but eventually crumbles under cross-examination and overwhelming evidence. Despite this book's title, only occasionally does Lipstadt contemplate in the abstract the bizarre gravity of historians cross-examining each other in court. Likewise, she addresses the obvious historiographic elephant in the courtroom--the inevitable twining of history and politics--only superficially. But most readers will be too busy being moved by Lipstadt's satisfying account of the convergence of legal and moral justice to care. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Elie and Marian Wiesel at Birkenau Ceremony

Originally uploaded by dlipstadt.

Review of new biography of Schindler


The Righteous Rogue

Reviewed by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page BW04


The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and The True Story
Behind the List

By David M. Crowe
Westview. 766 pp. $30

David Crowe devoted seven years, conducted scores of interviews and did
research on four continents in order to write the definitive biography of
Oskar Schindler. That's the good news. The bad news is that this definitive account is buried in a massive text. Crowe would have been served by a good editor, one with a relentless red pencil.

Schindler, a man with many flaws, risked his life and his fortune to save more Jews during the Holocaust than anyone else did. While the young Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved a larger number of Jews, he had the assistance of an entire team of people and the financial support of American Jews. In contrast, Schindler had only the assistance of his wife, Emilie. Moreover, Schindler performed his heroic deeds only a short distance from Auschwitz.

Schindler's road to becoming the man who rescued almost 1,100 people was hardly predictable. Born in the Sudetenland, the area of Czechoslovakia that was home to a large German population and on which Hitler had designs, Schindler spied for the Abwehr, the German army's espionage unit. He helped pave the way for Germany's 1939 dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

Shortly after Germany invaded Poland, Schindler showed up in Krakow with one intention: to make money. He bought a Jewish-owned factory for a small fraction of its original worth and then contracted with the SS for Jewish workers. A lackluster businessman, Schindler let knowledgeable Jews run the factory while he wined, dined and bribed German officials.

How did a man of questionable morals whose fortune was essentially made by stealing from Jews become one of the Holocaust's most-heralded rescuers? The path to Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem, is lined on both sides by trees planted for "Righteous Gentiles," non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. One can easily spot Schindler's tree because hundreds of thousands of people have worn down the ground around it as they have come to pay homage to this man.

As the Germans moved from ghettoization to murder, Schindler -- revolted by this development -- was transformed from self-interested shady, entrepreneur to fierce defender of his workers. Crowe, a professor at Elon University and the author of a history of the Gypsies, meticulously documents this transformation. Schindler, the former German spy, became a courier for Jewish aid organizations. He helped these organizations supply Jews with money, food and medicine, and transmitted important information about the gassings in Auschwitz.

In contrast to the impression given by Steven Spielberg in "Schindler's List," Crowe discovered that the famous list was not compiled by Schindler but by one of his Jewish administrators, Marcel Goldberg. There is, Crowe reveals, a seamy side to this story. Aware that inclusion on the list could mean the difference between life and death, Jews bribed Goldberg to get themselves on it. In certain cases, entire families were listed, while people of lesser means were dispatched to Auschwitz and other camps.

Schindler did not create the list, but, motivated by a deep sense of compassion for these people and revulsion at the Germans' actions, he did feel responsible for keeping these people alive, particularly during the harrowing final months of the war. When his female workers were transported to Auschwitz, he fought to have them released. As the situation in Krakow deteriorated, he moved his factory to Czechoslovakia.

By so doing, he saved the lives of his 1,100 workers. Using his own funds, he kept them relatively well fed and even managed to find medication for them. Emilie played a crucial role during these harrowing winter months. She personally nursed the Jews and, working with her husband, managed to procure desperately needed medical supplies. Many "Schindler Jews" (as Jews rescued by Schindler began to call themselves after the war) credit her with ensuring their survival.

Schindler's saga did not end with Germany's defeat. After the Holocaust, Yad Vashem initially refused to honor him as a Righteous Gentile. How, it wondered, could it balance his membership in the Nazi Party with his efforts to save Jews? Those Jews whose factory he had expropriated protested to Yad Vashem that he acquired the considerable sums he spent to save his workers through the Aryanization of Jewish property and the use of slave labor. They tried to take legal action against him. Other Schindler Jews objected vehemently, arguing that, but for his actions,
they would not have survived.

Schindler's postwar business efforts were complete disasters. Without the support he received from a well-respected Jewish aid organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, he and Emilie would have been destitute. Many of his supporters were infuriated when he gambled away substantial sums. Others, willing to ignore his personal shortcomings, shrugged it off with "that's Oskar."

This book, despite containing fascinating information, is marred by its completely undisciplined nature. It contains scads of ancillary -- and sometimes hardly even that -- details on an array of other topics. Do we need to know all about films that were not made about Schindler? Does Crowe have to tell us that his interviews with Schindler Jews "touched [him] deeply"? Why does he feel compelled to include not just the life story of a young American GI who helped some Schindler Jews immediately
after the war but also what was said about him at the time of his death? Moreover, Crowe repeatedly fails to follow a chronological thread. Early in the book, when he is discussing Schindler's expropriation of the Krakow factory, Crowe goes into a discourse on a lawsuit that was not filed until the 1960s. While this is certainly part of the story, he would have served his readers well by waiting until his discussion of postwar developments to tell it. What initially is distracting becomes, by the end of this massive tome, maddening.

Nothing in Schindler's behavior before or after the war would have led one to identify him as a hero of such tremendous proportions. At a crucial moment, he more than rose to the occasion. He surpassed it and, as a result, saved more than a thousand people. His actions are testimony to the fact that, contrary to what many Germans claimed, there was something that people could have done. Oskar Schindler did it. •

Trip Diary: Krakow, Auschwitz, Birkenau 25-28 January 2005

TRAVEL DIARY: POLAND 26-28 January 2005
[Some of the following was written during the trip, as these things were happening, and some afterwards. I have left the tenses as they were when written.]

Traveling to Washington, DC
At the Atlanta airport I was “selected” by the TSA folks for a patdown. There was something in my luggage that looked suspicious on the x-ray screen so they went through my suitcase piece by piece. [We never figured out what it was.] On the packed flight I was assigned a middle seat in a back row right next to the lavatory. I had not had lunch so I asked for a second packet of pretzels. The flight attendant gave them to me, but not happily. I was delighted to get off the plane in Washington National.

En Route to Andrews, AFB
As I emerged from the secure area there was a man standing there with a sign with my name. He introduced himself as a driver sent by the State Department. He took my luggage, put me in the backseat of a very comfortable town car, and we headed to Andrews Air Force Base. Paraphrasing the Wizard of Oz: This wasn’t Delta.

At the guard gate the Air Force officer, upon being told, “I have Professor Lipstadt,” nodded as if I had been expected. A gentleman in civilian clothes approached the car, identified himself as being from the State Department, and instructed the driver to take me to the Distinguished Visitors Lounge adjacent to the tarmac. As we pulled up at the building two young men came racing out. “Welcome Professor Lipstadt.” One was Christian Vanderbrook, a protocol officer from the State Department, who had been my contact for the past week as we dealt with the various details for the trip. He was accompanied by a young man named Tuttle, an intern from his office. They grabbed my luggage. When I reached for my briefcase, one of them took it from me. I was escorted to the lounge, which looks like a very nice hotel lobby. There were fresh baked cookies and coffee waiting for us.

Over the next 15 minutes the other members of the delegation arrived. Felix Bruks, National President of the Polish Association of Former Political Prisoners of Nazi and Soviet Concentration Camps, was a tall 86 year old man. Felix, arrested as a member of the Polish underground, had been in Gross Rosen, Ebensee, and Mauthausen.

Next arrival was Fred Schwartz (New Yorkers know him as Freddy the Furrier) is the person who spearheaded the rebuilding of the synagogue in Auschwitz. I told him that when I first heard about his project, I doubted its wisdom. [Who, I thought, needs a synagogue in Auschwitz?] Since then I have met some of the students who have interned in the Auschwitz Jewish center and visitors who have visited the site. Consequently, I have begun to think otherwise. I have heard wonderful things about its activities and its educational programs. I immediately liked his down to earth manner and friendly demeanor.

Representative Tom Lantos and his wife Annette arrived and greeted everyone most graciously. Lantos and his wife, both Hungarian survivors, (his mother died in Auschwitz), have a certain European courtliness. Lantos, whom I had never met, won me over easily by telling me that I was his heroine for “fighting those bastards.”

Finally Jeff Eubank, the Deputy Chief of Protocol of the United States of America [watch for him at the State of the Union address, he leads in the Diplomatic Corps] arrived. He and Christian Venderbrook would be accompanying us on the trip. Jeff thanked each of us for coming and stressed that President Bush had personally selected us. He’s a most affable young man [mid 40s] who worked for President Bush in Texas. He began to immediately ask me for details about the Holocaust and suggestions of reading lists.

While we were chatting, the young men from the State Department were placing luggage tags, bearing the seal of the United States and the designation, “Presidential Delegation,” on our bags.

The Flight to Krakow:
About 7:30 we were told it’s time. We went outside where a van, painted in the same décor as Air Force One [light blue bottom, white top, with the words United States of America on the side], was waiting. Further out on the tarmac we saw Air Force 2, the Vice President’s plane. [VP Cheney was leaving a few hours after us.]

About 500 yards away was “our” jet, a C-5, which was painted on the outside in the same fashion as Air Force 1 or 2 and also bore the designation The United States of America. The five members of the delegation were driven out to the jet. The jet was one of those used at regional airports, usually configured to seat about 40 people. This one, which we learned cost 54 million dollars, had been configured to seat ten passengers and six crew members. [All crew members were Air Force officers but were dressed in civilian clothing. The men were all in shirts and ties. For take off and landing they put on their suit jackets.]

In the front was a suite area with two seats and a long upholstered couch. One had to walk through it to get to the “back” of the plane where they were 8 additional seats. On each seat were a laminated card with our name and a black briefing book with the Presidential seal on it. The Lantos were given the suite area. I sat facing Jeff and, across the isle, Fred sat facing Felix. The briefing book had the schedule, our bios, the State Department report on anti-Semitism, and some history on Auschwitz/Birkenau.

No sooner had we sat down than a young woman in civilian clothes introduced herself as “Stephanie,” and asked if she could get us anything. Soon drinks and snacks appeared.

Stephanie, who it turned out is an Air Force officer and when she is not working on one of the fleet of Presidential planes (she periodically cooks on Air Force 1) is a flight instructor, then cooked a delicious gourmet meal. My fellow passengers had steaks. She had been told I didn’t want meat and prepared for me a stuffed Portobello mushroom with freshly steamed vegetables. Dessert was a fresh berry yogurt parfait. [Very Weight Watchers. The yogurt was non-fat.]

Over dinner Fred spoke about his work in Poland. It is truly impressive. In the course of conversation he mentioned Jan Gross, author of Neighbors, the story of the Polish massacre of Jews in the town of Jedvabne. The massacre occurred before the German arrival. Felix immediately interjected. “Gross was wrong. My organization found witnesses to prove he’s wrong.” [Though at first the town had protested the book, now there is general acknowledgment that Gross is quite accurate.] A few minutes later Fred mentioned how admirable President Kwasniewski of Poland had been on this matter and in general on Holocaust remembrance. Felix said: “He’s Jewish.” When both Fred and I looked skeptical, Felix repeated: “Oh yes, he’s mother was Jewish.”

I glanced at Fred but said nothing. I hoped this would not mar the trip. A bit later Felix said to me: “In essence I am the only survivor of the Holocaust on the trip.” I pointed to where the Lanto’s were sitting and Felix said: “Oh, no he was not in a camp.”

I said nothing about all this but was deeply troubled. Felix is a courtly genial man. But his view of the Holocaust is quite different. I recalled that ten years ago, at the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Polish President Lech Walesa objected to the recitation of the Kaddish, the Jewish memorial prayer for the dead. Walesa did not want the commemoration to have a specifically Jewish tone. His stance was a reflection of an on going difference of perception between Poles and Jews about Auschwitz/Birkenau. Jews see it as a place of Jewish destruction because the vast majority of the people who were murdered there were Jews. While there were also Polish non-Jewish victims, they were far fewer in number.

Poles feel that their suffering has been overlooked. They are right to a certain extent. Jews tend to do this since we see Auschwitz/Birkenau as a place of tremendous Jewish deaths. However, one cannot describe what happened to the Poles as a Holocaust, since the Nazis were not intent on wiping them out.

This is not a matter of the useless venture of comparative pain, i.e. my people lost more than yours. The Germans murdered many Polish non-Jews, particularly intellectuals, political figures, and resistance fighters. However, they did not plan to wipe out the entire Polish people. They saw them as untermenschen, lesser people, who would become a source of very cheap – essentially slave -- labor for Germany. If scores would die as a result, the Germans did not care.

Jews, on the other hand, were destined for one thing and one thing only: death. It did not matter if they were leaders. It did not matter if they were male or female, old or young, from a particular place, or even had talents the Germans needed. The only thing that mattered to the Germans was to kill as many as possible wherever they could find them.

I decided that I would not get into a debate with Felix. There was nothing to be gained and, given that he was 86, had recently lost his wife, gone through serious operations, had survived 3 different camps, and that we going to be wedded at the hip for the next 2.5 days, it did not seem an efficacious thing to do.

I kept quiet when he talked about the 11 million victims [6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews]. This is a ludicrous figure created, apparently by Simon Wiesenthal who pulled it out of thin air in order to get non-Jews to care about the Holocaust. He stopped using it, I have been told by the great Holocaust historian Yisrael Guttman, when people like Guttman called him to account. The figure is absurd. Who are these 5 million? There were not 5 million non-Jewish victims in the camps. There were not 5 million non-Jews shot by the Einsatzgruppen and their helpers. If you want to talk about civilian victims of the Nazis, the number is far higher than 5 million.

It is ironic that this should happen to me because whenever I hear Jews say: “The Poles were worse than the Germans,” I point out that that is a pretty a-historical [dumb] statement given that the Germans planned and executed the worst murder of Jews in history. German architects, engineers, doctors, organizers, and all sorts of other people made this happen. Unlike Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Estonians, all of whom formed units of the German auxiliary, Poles were oppressed by the Germans. Recently someone said to me, “But Poles administered the camps.” There were certainly Poles who, as prisoners, assisted the Germans [see QBVII by Leon Uris or, for a non-fictional account of the same story, Auschwitz in the Courtroom] but they were not responsible for the Holocaust. There were Poles who turned Jews in to Nazis. And there were Poles who hid Jews. In fact, at Yad Vashem there are more Polish righteous gentiles honored than any other nation. [Of course, this, in part, is because there were more Jews being persecuted in Poland than in any place else.]

Many Jews get quite annoyed at me for saying this. I tend to think their response is a reflection of the fact that the death camps are in, what is currently now, Poland. [Auschwitz was in the Greater Reich. From the German perspective it was in Germany. Mauthausen was also in the Reich.] They were put there, not as many Jews have been taught, because the Poles would not mind the Jews being killed but because most of the intended victims were in the vicinity of the camps. And of course, many Jews remember the attitudes of Poles in Lanzmann’s Shoah in which a number of Poles, after expressing horror at what was done to the Jews, slip into blaming the Jews for their own fate but contending that they were rich, killers of Jesus, and Jewish women were beautiful.

So here I was, a person who is seen by many Jews as “overly” sympathetic to the Poles, facing the contrary point of view. I decided to say nothing and instead to go send some emails.

I went up to the communications center [a closet like affair with one seat in front of a bank of communication devices, telephones, and computers. See picture] The communication officer hooked me up to the Internet and I was able to send some email and make a short post to this blog site.]

Arrival in Krakow
Then a few hours of sleep and a hot breakfast, we landed in a driving snow storm at Krakow. As we landed a long row of cars, vans, limos, and security cars pulled towards the plane. As we disembarked the American Ambassador to Poland was waiting for us together with his wife. Also waiting were some Consular officials, security people, and State Department staff who would be with us for the duration of our stay.

One was young man named Aaron, who, after spending two years in the Peace Corps in Poland (the program was ultimately cancelled because Poland’s situation had improved so much), had joined the Foreign Service. I heard him tell Christian, our State Department Protocol officer, that security at our hotel, the Radisson, had been taken over by the Shin Bet because President Katsav was staying there.

At the hotel the General Manager, a woman of about 40 years, was waiting to greet us. The lobby was crawling with police and security. Rep Lantos said to the woman: “Is President Katsav here? He is a good friend and I would like to say hello.” The woman hemmed and hawed and said: “I am sorry I am not allowed to say.” Lantos smiled, handed her his card and said: “Well if he is staying here can you give him my card?” She said: “Of course. I would be happy to do so.” So much for security.

We were taken up to what was described as the Control Room on the 3rd floor. Apparently the entire floor was reserved for our delegation [we were called the PreDel (Presidential Delegation) as opposed to a group of Congressmen who were the CoDel (Congressional Delegation)]. We were handed our keys, identification tags, embossed invitations to receptions, the forum on Thursday a.m., and the commemoration.

I used the computer, then quickly changed and we were off to a long lunch [the delegation, Jeff Eubank, Christian, Aaron, and a security man] at an excellent restaurant. [The security man did not join us at the table but sat at the entrance to the room in which were dining.] From there we returned to the hotel, changed quickly [into business clothes, i.e. black suits] and went off to the Castle [if you have been to Krakow you can’t miss it. It’s high on a hill on the bank of the river. My grandmother -- my mother would tell us – who grew up in Krakow used to do folk dancing on the banks of the river in the shadow of the Castle.]

Meeting with the Cheney’s
On the way we were held up while the VP’s motorcade passed by. It looked like it had about 15 cars in it, all of them flown from the USA. One was small truck which, I was told, was a decontamination unit.

Cheney went off to meet with the President of Poland. We went to a different building to wait for the Cheney’s. Jeff Eubank, the Deputy Chief of Protocol, was not pleased with the room that had been set up for our meeting. Four long tables had been set in a square with about 12 seats. Since our delegation was only 5 [the Wiesels had not yet arrived] the table was far too large. A gaggle of Embassy, Consular, and VP staff tried to reconfigure it. It was impossible to do so we went to Plan B and were told that when the VP came in we would have a meet and greet standing up.

After about 10 minutes they arrived. Mrs. Cheney, upon being introduced to me, told me that she greatly appreciated my writings on Holocaust denial and what I had done to stem their advance. As soon as the VP approached I gave them a copy of my new book. We took some pictures, chatted some more [Cheney told us he had been to Auschwitz once with Gerald Ford] and then it was time to move to the next venue, a reception Cheney was giving for Americans who had come to the Commemoration ceremonies.

Vice Presidential Reception
It was held in the Jewish quarter in a lovely gallery of photos of Jewish life in Poland. The Cheney’s arrived as we did. As soon as we entered our coats and hats were taken from us by the ubiquitous staff people and we were told that in the next room the guests and press were waiting. We were to walk in as a delegation, stand behind the podium, and then the Cheney’s would enter. He spoke briefly – about the significance of this day – and then there was time to mingle. People could approach him or her and talk. I made my way to their granddaughter, Katie, and her mom. I told Katie I taught about the Holocaust and asked her if she had read about it. She said yes and told me she had read Number the Stars, a book many children read. I asked her if she liked to read. Her face lit up and she said: YES. I told her that she might soon be ready for Anne Frank’s Diary.

Later Scooter Libby, the VP’s Chief of Staff, approached and asked what he should know about Auschwitz. [See posting on blog for my conversation with him.] A few minutes later, when chatting with Lynn Cheney, I told her what I said to Scooter Libby.

A minute later and aide approached her to say the Wiesels had arrived [they were coming from Davos]. The Cheney’s went out to greet them. They chatted for a while and then it was time to leave. We returned to the hotel. Everyone agreed that we did not want to go out to dinner and called it a night.

I appropriated one of the computers in the control room and while there eavesdropped on the conversation Jeff, Christian, Aaron, and the security folks talking about how best to get us to Auschwitz. [See earlier blog posting]. Saw that my article on the commemoration would be in Thursday’s International Herald Tribune.

Forum: Let My People Live

Early rise the next morning. Off to an Italian style theater for the Forum that preceded the afternoon commemoration. We were seated in a box right next to the entrance. I was able to get pictures of the various leaders entering and leaving. The Forum had its moving moments, e.g. participation of Russian soldiers, some readings etc. But, as is the case with these things, really too long. Most people spoke too long. I was pleased that VP Cheney spoke short and well. Putin arrived late [see photo], went immediately to the podium to speak. He greeted Cheney, Katsav, the Polish president, and the other leaders there. He did not go over to greet Yeushenko, the Ukrainian.

Traveling to Auschwitz/Birkenau
Back to the hotel to change clothes for Auschwitz. I put on about 6 layers of clothing [I looked like the Michelin Lady.] By now it was really snowing. There was a lot of slush. Marian Wiesel and I were walking over to the van and were about to get on when Jeff stopped us. He had the driver move the van up onto the sidewalk so we would not have to wade through the slush. I juxtaposed Jeff’s graciousness and concern for our welfare with the fact that we were headed to Auschwitz/Birkenau.

When everyone was on the bus we raced over to the Sheraton Hotel [when Cheney was staying] to join his motorcade. [That way we would not be caught in the traffic jam outside of the camp.] We were placed on a small bus with other members of the Vice Presidential staff. Standing [there were not enough seats for everyone] above me was Dexter, a Navy man who works for the Cheney’s as a chef in their residence in Washington. [See photo of Dexter. African-American, photographed from below, great smile. Navy wool cap.]

Dexter had all sorts of black bags with him. I asked him what all the paraphernalia was. He told me it was snacks and things for the Cheney’s. He even had some lattes with him. Given that the VP has a history of heart problems, I asked Dexter if they were decafe and non-fat. He said yes. I told that was perfect for me and if he had an extra I was a willing customer. He laughed [and made no move to give me one of them!]. I asked him if the snacks he had for the Cheney’s were designed for a heart patient. “Precisely,” he responded, “carrots, celery, bell pepper.” I may not share Dick Cheney’s political views but I do share his diet!!

He talked about working for the Cheney’s and stressed what good bosses they were. I had the feeling he was not just saying this because it was the political thing to do. When they were in Jackson Hole over New Year’s he and his crew finished serving around 9 p.m. The Cheney’s insisted that Dexter and his colleagues go out and party. “Could you go?” I asked. “Of course, my bosses told me to.”

When we arrived at Birkenau the snow was coming down heavily. We found seats on the platform. There were many people already there and the speeches were going on. I sat for a while and then wandered around taking pictures. I was struck by the fact that our folks had brought a large thermos of hot coffee for us. [see picture of Jeff serving coffee, with Christian in wool stocking cap watching] In addition to the coffee, Aaron had umbrellas and blankets for each of us. Then Polish soldiers appeared with trays of coffee and tea as well. I marveled at the care. Rarely, I imagined had a Jew been accorded such care in Birkenau. [We were about 100 yards from the ruins of the gas chambers.]

Most of you have seen the reports on the ceremony so I will not go into great detail about things you saw on TV.

At one point when the speeches were getting longer and longer and the weather was getting colder and colder, I walked over to Liz Cheney who was sitting at the end of our row. She told me her mother had repeated my comment to her about the architects and engineers. I asked about Katie and she said that they thought today would be too much for her but she would join us tomorrow. Liz asked for suggestions of some books on the topic and I promised to send them on.

I asked Elie Wiesel about the 1995 commemoration when Walesa would not allow the Kaddish to be said. Wiesel told me that he threatened, in no uncertain terms, that if Walesa did not allow the prayer to be said, instead of giving his own speech, Wiesel would walk to the podium and recite the Kaddish. Walesa, probably afraid of creating an international scandal, relented and the prayer was said.

Wiesel and I reflected on how much these ceremonies, in contrast to the one ten years ago, emphasized the Jewish nature of the suffering, while not ignoring that of the Poles, Roma (Gypsies), and others.

Thursday p.m. [after the commemoration]
On the bus back from Auschwitz I was sitting right behind a nice young woman. Turns out she is the VP’s personal assistant, which means she does all sorts of things. While we were chatting, Tom Lantos leaned across the isle and told me that he had begun reading my book and it was gripping. I began to explain to Cheney’s assistant what he was talking about. She said: “Oh, I know. I had the copy you gave the Cheney’s in my briefcase last night and when he went up to his room the VP asked me for it.”

Upon my return I stopped in the control room to check my email. Saw that an oped piece I had written was in the Jerusalem Post weekend edition. I also found a request from the Atlanta Journal Constitution for an oped piece for Sunday’s paper. I decided to try to write it in the next twelve hours. I would try to contrast the tremendous outpouring of commemoration we had witnessed with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in Europe. It’s hard to say nobody cares when 41 nations are represented here….. It would be the beginning of my effort to figure it all out.

But first we head off for dinner. At the restaurant we found 3 secret service people having dinner. Jeff introduced us. I asked the woman who was with them what her job was and she said. “I am assigned to Liz; I was standing behind you while you were talking to her today.” During dinner I checked my pictures from the day and sure enough there she was right behind us.

Everyone is very relaxed. Fred buys a couple of bottles for the table [he insists on paying because, as he puts it, “the American taxpayers should not be buying us good wine.] During dinner Felix mentions the 11 million figure again. Feeling I could now say something since Felix and I had developed a friendly relationship, I said, “Felix, that’s not really a real number.” He got quite adamant, insisted it was, [“You have your point of view. I have mine.”] so I decided to leave it. Had he been a bit younger I would have explored the issue with him, but given his history and age I decided to leave it. [There are those who believe I can never walk away from a debate….. This time I did.]

Nonetheless, it further convinced me how careful one must be about history.

11 p.m. home from dinner and began working on the oped piece. By 2 a.m. I had a draft and decided to go to bed

6 a.m. up to pack and then back at the computer finishing the draft.

Friday a.m.

En route to Auschwitz
7 a.m. Our group headed to Auschwitz I to meet up with VP Cheney and his daughter, Liz, early this morning. We [our security folks and Jeff Eubank, the Deputy Chief of Protocol of the United States] decided that it would simpler if we went on our own and did not try to go in the VP’s motorcade. [I have learned over the past two days that that entails a lot of “hurry up and wait,” and all sorts of bureaucratic hassles.]

The plan was for out group to meet the VP at the camp. However, we had to get a real head start because about 15 minutes before he passes the Polish police close down the road and any traffic on the main road is diverted.

Well we were doing fine until we were about 15 minutes from the camp. Then suddenly we hit a roadblock and the Polish police waved us off the main road down a subsidiary road which was a dead end. Our consular liaison, Aaron, began to yell in Polish [it did not sound complimentary at all] at the driver not to turn off and to tell the Police that we were part of the VP’s party. The driver ignored him [I guess he decided that a Polish policeman in a uniform outranked a young American]. By this point we were at the end of the road which was the entrance to a Polish military base. Behind us were about 5 tour busses and trucks and cars which had been shifted to the subsidiary road [it was a one lane road so essentially we were stuck].

Aaron got off and said: “You have to get us out of here. We are supposed to be in Auschwitz with the VP.” Not only did the various soldiers ignore him but they gave him a withering look of contempt and shrugged their shoulders. The more he protested the more they made it clear that they could care less. He started to berate the driver. When Jeff, who had stayed on the bus saw that, he said to Christian: “Go tell Aaron to forget about the driver. Tell him to focus on getting us out of here.” Christian and Aaron both go on their phones to various folks including the VP’s staff.

Aaron tried to point out to the various Polish officials that if they let the long [and getting longer all the time] row of trucks and cars which were blocking our way out pull further down the road we could then exit. That, however, would have meant letting them drive onto Polish military property. So they simply said: “No.” They may have said some other things in Polish but I did not understand. From their eyes I could tell they were not thinking happy or nice thoughts.

Meanwhile the soldiers guarding the entrance to the base were really nervous about having us so close to it. I got off to take some pictures and one practically jumped me. I told him to back off, got back on our van, and began to shoot the whole thing from our window.

It looked like we were going to be there for a couple of hours.

Suddenly one of the Polish soldiers got a phone call and attitudes began to change. Turned out it was the Chief of Protocol of Poland telling him to get us out of there and to get us to Auschwitz.

Suddenly they could not move fast enough. The long line of trucks and cars were pulled forward and off the road. [Tom Lantos joked that there would be a new village started here because there was such chaos that the cars, busses, and trucks looked like they would never get out of there.] We began to move back out to the main road. The driver was moving so fast that our stuff was flying all over the van.

Then we again ground to a halt. A train was crossing. We sat there pretty dejected pretty sure we would never get to Auschwitz I for the tour with Cheney. Suddenly a police car with lights flashing approached us. He indicated we were to follow him. Traffic was stopped in both directions so we could get around the long line of cars that had backed waiting for the train to cross. Then the police car began to move between the two lanes of traffic, effectively creating a third lane on a two lane country road, racing towards Auschwitz. They essentially split the traffic like Moses splitting the sea.

At Auschwitz I:
We got there and were told to go to one of the barracks [the exhibits are in different barracks] where the VP, his daughter, and granddaughter would meet up with us.

When they joined us I had a chance to chat with them about the camp and my work. Felix talked about a friend of his who has the number 300 on his arm. He was one of the early Polish prisoners.

There is no doubt that they were deeply moved. At one point Liz Cheney had tears running down her face. Her little daughter Kate, who is about 9, asked to go back to the car mid-way through the tour. She probably was too young for the visit but Liz had wanted her to see the place.

After touring the various exhibits in the barracks, we went to the execution wall where prisoners were shot on a regular basis. Up until that point there was no press with us. The VP’s “people” explained that when we walked into the courtyard toward the execution wall the press would be waiting. The VP and his daughter would lay some flowers and then each of us would approach to place a lit candle in front of the wall. Over the years, I have become a bit used to being photographed by a bunch of reporters. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen. This time however it was completely surrealistic. I wasn’t walking into or out of a courtroom. I wasn’t addressing a press conference about the Holocaust. I was in Auschwitz…. The experience epitomized the sentiments I have about this trip in general. It has been a whirlwind of emotions.

After that we visited the gas chamber [no press but a number of White House photographers]. Our guide, a first rate historian Theresa Swiebodka who is, for all intents and purposes, in charge of the archives and museum , pointed out that one can see the name of the company, Topf and Sons, which built the ovens on the side of the ovens. I told Liz Cheney and Scooter Libby, Cheney Chief of Staff, that in 1942 Topf filed a patent in the Berlin patent office for the new crematoria they had built for Birkenau [the ovens were fuel “efficient” by using fat from the bodies to fire up the ovens]. Libby said, “As you said: this place would have been impossible but for the engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.”

I was impressed by how Theresa did not in any way diminish the terrible suffering of the Polish prisoners at Auschwitz but carefully differentiated that from the Holocaust. She is an impeccable historian. We had been given flowers and told that the VP and his daughter would lay them on the gurneys that were used to push the bodies into the crematoria. We could lay them if we wished. I was conflicted since leaving flowers are not a Jewish tradition and wasn’t sure what I would do.

When we standing in the gas chamber Theresa turned to the VP and Liz and said: “You can place the flowers here or on the gurney. Here would probably be a more appropriate place since people died here.” I was standing directly behind Cheney. When he placed his flower and Liz had placed hers, the Protocol person turned to me and motioned for me to go forward. I did – I feared that if I did not it would be misunderstood -- but felt a bit strange about doing so.

We then went outside where Cheney wrote a long message in the official guest book. We then signed it. Then it was over. Cheney bid us goodbye and thanked us for accompanying him on the trip. His motorcade pulled away towards the airport.

We could not leave in our smaller [but quite comfortable jet - see pictures] until 30 minutes after Air force 2 because we were the backup plane, i.e. if something went wrong with Cheney’s plane, he would have used ours and we would have been bumped.

Since we still had a bit of time, we stopped at the Auschwitz Jewish center, a project spearheaded – in so many different ways – by Fred Schwartz, a member of delegation. About 10 years ago Fred took upon himself the refurbishing of the Auschwitz synagogue [there were Jews in Auschwitz in 1270 when the town filed as a town]. I had never been there. It is an impressive place. []. It is a place which commemorates what Jews did and not what was done to them. Though all sorts of groups visit there, for Jewish groups it has become a point of affirmation of life after visiting Auschwitz/ Birkenau.

From there we headed to the jet which was waiting for us. On the van I finished the oped piece, which I hope to post to the paper from the jet.

At the airport we pulled out onto the tarmac and the foot of the plane. We took a delegation picture in front of the plane, bid goodbye to the security and embassy folks who had accompanying us since we set foot in Poland, [I gave Aaron who was headed to a posting in Kahaganistan, a special hug] boarded the jet, the door closed behind us, and now we are winging our way to the states.

I will try to post this from the plane.

En Route from Krakow to Washington
No internet connection on plane, something amiss in the 54 million dollar jet. Could not blog but still had to get my oped piece to the AJConsitution. The communications officer printed out my piece and faxed it from the plane to my office. I called the office to make sure it got there.

Dinner was halibut with a peanut sauce Stephanie made from scratch on the plane. There was also cous cous and steamed veggies. I slept through dessert.

We all switched book. I read a book Fred’s wife [she had joined us on Wednesday p.m. in Krakow] was reading on the Japanese internment. Fred read my book Why the Allies Won? And Fred’s wife read a copy of my book. I felt silly but I kept looking up to watch her reading it. I tried to read her facial reaction: Was she enjoying it? Was it holding her interest? Was she dozing off because she was jet lagged or bored? I had never seen someone read it before. After a while I decided it would be more productive to go back to my reading.

Arrival in Washington
As we landed two military officers ran to the foot of the plane and saluted. Not sure what that was all about. Christian took our passports, gave them to the Customs officials, and within 90 seconds he was back on the plane and we could disembark. As we did a line of town cars pulled up for us. The State Department officials quickly got all our stuff into the trunks. Members of the delegation bid each other good bye and we all thanked the State Department officials who had been so caring and gracious to us. We climbed into our cars and we were about to head off to our different airports, when our driver said: “The airport has been shut down. Nothing moves.” I had noticed a moment earlier that Jeff, Christian, the plane crew, and all the other guys in suits who had met us go back on the plane. I assumed they were having a debriefing meeting or double checking the plane to make sure all was in order.

Turns out that Air Force 2 had just landed. [Though it left ahead of us, it had to stop and refuel. Our jet did not.] That meant that the airport – or at the least the entire tarmac – went into a shut down, which means that nothing and no one moves. All those folks had been told by the military who met our plane to go on board because no one was to be on the tarmac. After a few minutes I asked the driver if he was sure all my luggage had been put in the trunk. He said I could check and popped the trunk. I got out of the car, saw that it was there, and was about to climb back in when a soldier approached me and said: “Maam, do not get out of the car. We do not want to have a problem.” His tone made it quite clear that this was not a suggestion.

Felix and I were in a car together since both of us were headed to Dulles. While we waited he called his son who had been very worried about him. He reassured his son that he was ok and talked about how moving the trip had been and how wonderfully the delegation got along. I called my mother and assured her I was ok.

After about 10 minutes we saw a helicopter take off from near the plane and the shutdown was lifted. We were then led off the air force base by a police car with lights flashing. The escort left us as soon as we hit the edge of the base.

As soon as I got to Dulles and passed through their security control with everyone else I began to long for the royal – oops, Presidential -- service we had received the past few days….. No one to shlep my bags, make the arrangements, etc. But I was too exhausted to focus on it…. Well sort of.

After checking in at Delta, I walked to the other end of the terminal to USAir to look for Felix. I wanted to make sure he was ok. Despite our different ways of looking at things, I like him and was worried about him traveling alone and negotiating his way through Dulles. I thought about my mother returning from a trip such as this and no one looking after her. I did not see him. I looked around and, not seeing him, decided to go through security. After getting the complete check over [since my hips always set off the metal detector and that means I am pulled out of line], I was putting back my boots when I looked up and saw Felix. He had been rerouted to United. I waited for him to put his shoes back on. I took his carry on bag and insisted on holding it. Felix, a very Old World man [women always went first, he always called me Professor, etc.] must have really been exhausted since he let me do so. I got him to the shuttle to his terminal and then headed off to my terminal.

Dick Cheney's wardrobe at Auschwitz

Having been asked by a number of people about Dick Cheney's choice of a parka and a navy wool cap for the Auschwitz commemoration, I must say that I find the whole discussion ridiculous. Having been with him the evening before and discussed his previous visit to Auschwitz [with Germad Ford] and walked with him through Auschwitz I the next morning, I have no doubt that he was deeply moved and touched by his visits.

I have two thoughts: the man has a history of heart trouble. My mother's cardiologist would probably have told her, also a heart patient, "are you nuts to even think about sitting outside for 3.5 hours in a driving snow storm? If you must then wear the warmest clothing you have." [And I remind those who compared this to the inaguration that that ceremony was about 40 minutes, this one was far longer.]

The second thought is a teaching from Ethics of the Fathers, a book of Rabbinic teachings, "don't look at the container, rather look at what is contained therein."

Let's get our priorities straight.

[For origins of this debate see

Friday, January 28, 2005

Auschwitz - Entrance

Originally uploaded by dlipstadt.

Jerusalem Post Oped

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

The future of denial


Standing in the biting cold of Auschwitz-Birkenau, surrounded by aging Holocaust survivors, it struck me that such a gathering will not be possible much longer. We, who have grown up surrounded by survivors - as teachers, neighbors, and friends' parents - can easily forget how important their personal testimony is.

When today's children are old enough to really understand this momentous event, there will be virtually no one around to speak in the first person singular and to say "This is my story, this is what happened to me."

Many people worry that when the voice of the witness is lost, Holocaust deniers will find it easier to spread their lies. This fear suggests that without the survivors, there will not be enough evidence to "prove" what happened at Auschwitz. Though a survivor can speak with the unique voice of the eyewitness, this fear is unfounded.

This was brought into stark relief during my legal battle in the UK when I was compelled to defend myself against charges of libel brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. Without relying on survivors as witnesses, we amassed a massive cache of documentary, testimonial, and material evidence about Auschwitz.

With the assistance of a gifted team of expert historians, my legal team proved that Irving's and, by extension, other deniers' claims about Auschwitz were a tissue of lies. Judge Charles Gray of the High Court of Justice emphasized this in his 355-page judgment. He said that the evidence conclusively demonstrated that Irving's claims that Auschwitz-Birkenau was not a death camp fell far short of the standard to be expected of a conscientious historian.

Gray declared that the "cumulative effect" of the documentary evidence for the genocidal operation of the gas chambers at Auschwitz was "considerable," "mutually corroborative," and "striking[ly]... consistent." He concluded that "no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt" the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. The four different judges who heard Irving's appeals agreed.

As a result of this lawsuit - brought against me by this man whom the court declared a denier, anti-Semite, and racist - virtually all denial arguments as they stood until July 2001, the date of the final appeal, were exposed as completely bogus.

This sweeping and unrelenting dismissal constituted a serious setback for the deniers. In the Western world, this blatant form of Holocaust denial has currently been relegated, by and large, to fringes of the political spectrum.

Other forms of denial - declaring President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be Hitler's equivalent or denouncing Israeli soldiers as Nazis - are still prevalent. These charges are a form of Holocaust denial because, irrespective of how one feels about the United States' or Israel's policies, comparing them to the actions of the Third Reich is a complete distortion of the truth.

THERE IS, however, a region of the world where David Irving-style wholesale denial is alive and kicking: the Arab world. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who served as the "general commander" of Hamas until his assassination in April 2004, expressed his outrage at the Zionists' success in spreading the propaganda of the "false Holocaust" and claimed that that no one has clarified how the "false gas chambers worked." Maintaining a consistent level of historical accuracy, Rantisi decried the fact that David Irving "was sued" because of his Holocaust denial.

In August 2004 Muhammad Al-Zurqani, the former editor-in-chief of Al-Liwaa Al-Islami, the Egyptian government daily, declared on Egyptian television that "the Holocaust is a big lie." Author Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad, who had written an article in the daily, entitled "The Lie about the Burning of the Jews," was appearing on the same show. As soon as Al-Zurqani made his claim, he chimed in, "Of course."

Though the Egyptian information minister denounced such views, the Egyptian Journalists Association defended them as being based on "historical research."

In his recent book The Lost Territories of the Republic, Georges Bensoussan describes the current situation in many French schools attended by large numbers of Muslims. These students frequently dismiss their teachers' attempts to teach about the Holocaust with the declaration: "This is an invention." In response, some French teachers have reportedly backed off from teaching about the Holocaust.

There has been a tendency to dismiss this phenomenon as of matter of lesser concern because it comes from "disaffected" Muslim and Arab youth. Most of these students, however, are the French-born children or grandchildren of immigrants.

Holocaust denial is not the only form of false history that is gaining ground in the Arab and Muslim world. Increasingly, the myths of the blood libel and of world Jewish domination have spread.

In 2003, the manuscript museum at the famed Alexandria Library briefly exhibited The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (it withdrew them in response to world protests). The Egyptian weekly Al-Usbu interviewed Dr. Yousef Ziedan, the director of manuscripts at the library, in conjunction with the exhibition.

Regarding the Holocaust, the weekly quoted the museum official as saying, "An analysis of samples from the purported gas chambers has proven that these were sterilization chambers, without a sufficient quantity of cyanide to kill." He also declared that "Had Hitler wanted to annihilate the Jews of Europe, he would have." Strikingly, fundamentalist Muslims have adopted the traditional anti-Semitic imagery of the Christian world.

While there are those Arab intellectuals who have decried Holocaust denial by their fellow Arabs, their views do not seem to be in the ascendancy. The phenomenon of Arab and Muslim Holocaust denial cannot be ignored or dismissed as "simply" an expression of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These attacks are not found only at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. Moreover, it is hard to erase these notions once they have taken root, particularly in a generation of young people.

The prevalence of Arab Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are a stark indication that despite the fact that a myriad of heads of state and their delegations gathered yesterday at Birkenau, history - particularly inconvenient history - remains a battleground.

The writer, a member of the official American delegation to the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, is author most recently of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Arriving in Krakow

Arriving in Krakow
Originally uploaded by dlipstadt.

Photos from trip

The full set of photos so far are loaded on my Flickr account.

Report from Auschwitz

Too much to tell right now... Just back from Birkenau... snow.. cold... many speeches... heads of state [Chirac, Putin, Kwasniewski (Poland), Yuschenko, Katsav, Latvia]... survivors... We were given the luxury treatment because we were with the VP... A day of contrasts.

Off to dinner [another contrast]... More later

International Herald Tribune Oped by Deborah Lipstadt
Today's IHT.

Witnesses for the witnesses
Deborah E. Lipstadt International Herald Tribune
Thursday, January 27, 2005

ATLANTA When I teach my courses on the history of the Holocaust, I have learned that for the students the "highlight" is when they hear about the Holocaust in the first person singular - from a survivor, particularly a survivor of Auschwitz or one of the other camps. However, the number of survivors I can call on to speak to my students is rapidly diminishing.

The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is being held on Thursday, is the last commemoration (they are held every 10 years) at which a significant number of survivors of the camp will be present. I will be there, not as a survivor or a child of survivors - I am neither - but as a historian of this place and the other attendant horrors of that which has become known as the Holocaust.

On some level, this reflects the passing of the memory torch from the survivors to historians and scholars. I already witnessed the beginning of this process during my libel trial in London in 2000, when I was forced to defend myself against a Holocaust denier, David Irving. Irving had called the Holocaust a "legend," denied that gas chambers were used to systematically kill Jews, and removed all mention of the Holocaust from one his books because, he said, "if something didn't happen, then you don't even dignify it with a footnote."

Nonetheless, he sued me for libel for having called him a denier. My legal team decided not to call survivors as witnesses. Irving was acting as his own lawyer, and they feared that his only objective would be to humiliate and confuse these elderly people. More important, they did not think we needed witnesses of fact to prove that the Holocaust happened.

We relied instead, on a stellar team of historians and specialists. They became, in the words of the poet Paul Celan, the "witnesses for the witnesses."

This phrase took on life for me one day when an elderly woman broke through a phalanx of reporters who were trying to ask me questions. She rolled up her sleeve, pointed at the number on her arm and declared, "You are fighting for us." On other occasions survivors would wait in the hallway outside the courtroom and press into my hands pieces of paper with the names of their relatives on them. "This is the evidence," they would tell me.

Ultimately we won a unequivocal victory with the judge declaring it "incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier." The judge's choice of words to describe Irving's writings about the Holocaust were unambiguous: "distorts," "perverts," "unjustified," "travesty" and "unreal."

Deniers like Irving have made Auschwitz the focus of their attacks because it is the primary symbol of the Holocaust. But they have made few significant inroads. Holocaust denial is hardly a clear and present danger. But deniers are sure to try to ply their wares even more energetically when there is no one left to say: "This is my story. This is what happened to me."

Then it will be up to those who study Auschwitz and all the other elements of the Holocaust to help us know, beyond any doubt, what happened in these places. Holocaust historians, as well as those of other genocides, such as those in Rwanda and Sudan, bear a particular responsibility to be not just meticulous and exacting historians, but "witnesses for the witnesses."

It is a heavy burden, but it can be done.

(Deborah E. Lipstadt teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. She the author of ''History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving'' and a member of the official American delegation to the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.)

Copyright © 2005 The International Herald Tribune |


It's late and I still owe an oped piece to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. So I shall post some more tomorrow and more photos. We are off first thing tomorrow a.m. back to Auschwitz, actually Auschwitz I this time, for a private tour with VP Cheney, Mrs. Cheney, their daughter Liz and granddaughter Kate. Had a nice talk with the granddaughter yesterday and with her mom today at Birkenau. With Kate I talked about some books she might read on the Holocaust. With her mom, Liz Perry, about different ways parents approach teaching their children about the Holocaust.

After Auschwitz it's off to the airport to "our" [it's really the President's] jet and home.

What an experience this has been. How blessed I am to have been part of it.

Laila tov.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

VP Cheney's Chief of Staff asks about Birkenau

At a reception yesterday, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff asked what a first time visitor to a camp should keep in mind on such an occasion. I told him to remember that without the help of engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated people, this place and all its attendant horrors would have been impossible.


Thanks to the help of my blog mentor, Sashinka of London [considered a premier blogger herself], there soon will be pictures of the trip posted. Just to orient you: the tall skinny white haired man [who may look familiar to some of you] is Rep. Tom Lantos who is the only Holocaust survivor in the Congress. Hungarian. Mother died in Auschwitz. The other white haired man [pictured with me and wearing a bunch of Polish medals] is a Polish Catholic survivor who was in Mathausen and two other camps.

Note from Sasha - pictures will be posted to a Flikr tonight.Watch this space.

Greetings from Krakow

There is so much to tell, I don't quite know where to begin. It continues to be a day with amazing contrasts. VIP treatment, hobnobbing with the Vice President of the USA, and then continuous reminders that we are here to commemorate the anniversary of Auschwitz.

We arrived in Krakow in the midst of a snowstorm [after having been served a gourmet breakfast cooked by an air force person on the plane who, when she's not on this jet, is either cooking on Air Force I or being a flight instructor]. As we landed in the blinding snow, a massive number of cars and vans pulled up plane side. Loads of people jumped into action.

The US ambassador got out of his car with some other Embassy officials to greet us as the "guests of the President." Even as we came off the plane our luggage was already being unloaded. [If ever there was a reminder that were not flying Delta this was it.]

We came to the Radisson which, we were told, was under shin bet -- Israel secret service -- control because Pres Katsav is staying here. Of course when Rep. Tom Lantos asked the General Manager of the hotel if Katsav was here... she hemmed and hawed and said: "I can't answer that." Lantos gave her his card and said "Well, if he's here give him my card."

We then went off to a lovely 5 course lunch. Great conversation. The Lento’s are fascinating and Fred Schwartz, a member of the delegation, is a great guy. He's the one responsible for rebuilding the synagogue at Auschwitz [the town].

We came back for a quick change of clothes -- I also managed to squeeze in an interview with a reporter -- and then went off to the castle where VP Cheney was meeting with the Pres of Poland. After a few minutes he came in with his wife, daughter, and grand-daughter. Lynn Cheney came right over to me and said: "thanks for your work on Holocaust denial." I gave the VP a copy of History on Trial.

After a bit more chitchat we headed off to a reception for survivors and American visitors to the events. A number of people commented to me how impressed they were with the White House at having chosen to send someone who teaches about these events. [The Europeans sent 130 students but not one teacher or professor of Holocaust studies.]

I had a talk with Cheney's daughter and granddaughter. The mom asked for reading suggestions for her daughter.

Finally back to the hotel, emails and bogs and ready to fade.

While I sit here writing this a crew of State Department folks are sitting here with the Deputy Chief of Protocol [who is with our delegation] talking about the most efficacious way of getting us out to Auschwitz/Birkenau tomorrow so that we can get "good seats" and be there on time. [They were debating the pros and cons of putting our van in the VP's motorcade. Yes: we get there efficiently, with police escort, and without delay. Con: When you go with the VP it's a lot of "hurry up and wait and wait and wait."] After listening for a quite a while, I finally just turned around to them and pointed out that they were debating how to get us to, I emphasize to, Birkenau so that we could get good seats there.

It's all a bit much and rather surrealistic. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Greetings from the Plane

hello from the plane... the communications man has given me his spot in front of a bank of equipment to write this... group small and very nice, jet exceptionally comfortable, peole are beginning to turn in and were this not a plane headed for Auschwitz this would be a perfectly lovely experience. The contrasts are already amazing and we have just started on our way.

more from Krakow

White House Announcement

White House announces delegation to Auschwitz commemoration.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I am leaving for Poland tomorrow night but tonight I will be on CNN International, 6 p.m. Atlanta time talking about the trip.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Response to Rashi's daughter

You are right. For too many people Europe is a place of the Jewish past not the Jewish present. It's too bad because -- even in France -- there are places of vibrant Jewish living, learning, and culture. While Europe is also awash with Jewish history -- both bad and good -- it is not only that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Holocaust denial article on the BBC website 2

You can go straight to the BBC post on Holocaust denial by clicking on "Holocaust Denial" by Deborah Lipstadt

Holocaust Denial article on the BBC website

Check out the BBC website for a series of articles on Auschwitz, one of them by me on Holocaust denial. Also check your PBS listings [in the States] for a series on the history of Auschwitz. They are apparently exceptionally well done.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

LimmudNY 2

Still amazed by the positive Jewish energy being displayed here. Though I think I would, in any circumstance, be deeply touched by all the learning and celebrating of Jewish life that is going on here, it has a special resonance for me. A week from this coming Tuesday I am leaving for Poland for the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Not only shall I be there but I am going as part of the official American delegation. I will be, as the person from the White House who called me to ask me to go, put it be representing the President and the Nation. It is an overwhelming honor and a bit mindboggling to think that I have been asked to be part of this delegation.

I shall go from watching how Jews lived to commemorating how and where they died. Or, as I put it in my book on the libel trial [History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving] from Jews as "subject," as they are here, to Jews as "object," as they were for the most part during the Shoah.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

LimmudNY: A Cause for Joy, Not Oy

Here I am at LimmudNY, doing my first post on my new blog, which my buddy from the UK, Sashinka, has set up for me..

Re Limmud: It's an amazing program, a weekend of Jewish learning, living, and rejoicing organized by a dedicated group of volunteers [one paid staff person], over 650 people -- from all sorts of background: devoutly religous to fervently secular -- and it's been quite inspiring.

The thing that strikes is that we talk so much now and worry even more about the rise of antisemitism and anti-Israelism. These are fears and worries which may well be justified. However, even as we worry about these developments, we cannot loose sight of the positive developments. If we do that we cheat ourselves and future generations out of an opportunity to rejoice in their heritage, history, tradition, culture and future.