Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Apples Over the Fence [12]: Lipstadt Commentary in the Forward

For additional commentary by me in the Forward on this issue see here

A Danger Greater Than Denial

The news that Herman Rosenblat’s Holocaust memoir “Angel at the Fence” is a fraud has the press buzzing and the publishing world reeling. The book, which the publisher apparently anticipated would be a best-seller, was pulled right before it was to be shipped to bookstores. No one who has paid close attention to the story, however, has a right to be surprised.

I first heard Rosenblat’s story in June of 2007. I was on a bus headed to Birkenau together with other scholars who study genocide. None of them were Holocaust specialists. One passenger began to read aloud from an e-mail he had received about a boy in Buchenwald who was saved because a young girl threw him an apple over the camp fence every day for seven months. Years later, the two met as adults. He learned that her family had been slave laborers in the nearby town. They were posing as non-Jews. They fell in love, married and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Long before my fellow passenger got to the fairy tale ending, I was skeptical. How could a young girl stand at a concentration camp fence without guards noticing? Would a Jewish family passing as Polish non-Jews permit their daughter to wander around near the camp? Could a prisoner go near the fence without being shot? Was the fence low enough for a small girl to throw an apple over?

When the professor finished, I declared, “Fiction. Bad fiction.” Some of the scholars suspected that years of skirmishes with Holocaust deniers had made me a hardened skeptic. After later coming across numerous renditions of the story — which, it turned out, was all over the Internet — and learning that the Rosenblats had appeared on “Oprah,” that a children’s book on the story was already published and that a memoir and film were forthcoming, I felt I could no longer remain silent. On my blog I stated that this story could not be true. The attacks came in quick succession: How could I question Holocaust survivors? Who was I to defame them?

The most vituperative attack came from Harris Salomon, who was making a film based on Rosenblat’s story. In an e-mail to me, he pronounced my opinion “worthless.” He declared that, since he had traveled throughout Eastern Europe doing research, “i may be more of a more of a [sic] holocaust expert then you.” He closed by accusing me of having committed “the greatest sin to the memory of all those perished so long ago.”

In the interim, Michigan State University historian Ken Waltzer, an expert on Buchenwald, had done the research that reporters, publishers and producers did not do. He spoke with historians who knew the layout of this sub-camp and with people who were interned there with Rosenblat. The story was clearly a lie.

The New Republic’s Gabriel Sherman spoke with additional survivors who further confirmed that this was a hoax. Even Rosenblat’s sister-in-law admitted never having heard the story of the girl with the apples, either at the Rosenblats’ wedding or in the 40 years that followed.

In response to the growing scrutiny, Salomon went ballistic. He complained to one of Waltzer’s deans and intimated that he would hold Waltzer “responsible” if Rosenblat’s health suffered because of the questions being raised about his memoir. The publisher, Penguin’s Berkley Books, stonewalled anyone who contacted them.

When Sherman found yet more survivors who contradicted Rosenblat’s story, the whole thing fell apart. The publisher pulled the book. Rosenblat admitted making up the story. Suddenly, Salomon, the great historian, told the press that he was “extremely angry” about being the victim of a scam (although he has said he still plans to make his film, albeit now as an acknowledged work of fiction).

Sadly, Herman Rosenblat overshadowed his genuine Holocaust story with a completely fabricated one. What really happened to him and his family has been lost in his lies.

There are various lessons to be learned from this: Facts about the Holocaust must be checked. Historians should never build their understanding of events based on one story from one person. But Rosenblat had enablers. His publisher, agent and movie producer pounced on his story. Reporters never bothered to check it out. They all seemingly wanted a story that made the Holocaust heartwarming, even though, as Waltzer aptly put it, the “Holocaust experience is not heartwarming, it is heart rending.”

Salomon believed that this kind of “candy-coated message” would reach “Middle America” and “do more to teach people about the Jewish experience during the Holocaust in a way nothing before has done.” Jewish sources also allowed themselves to be co-opted. Aish HaTorah featured the story on its Web site. A Chabad rabbi, whose relatives died in the Holocaust, was swept off his feet by this phony tale and arranged a belated bar mitzvah for Herman, garnering even more publicity for the Rosenblats and himself.

I have spent much of my academic career studying Holocaust denial. But the much greater danger to our collective memory of the event is posed by Holocaust trivialization and romanticization. What the Rosenblats and their enablers did was create yet another obstacle for the remaining survivors to convince others that their stories are true.

Rosenblat claims that all he wanted to do was make people love each other more. The Chabad rabbi probably thought the story would inspire faith. Salomon wanted to teach Middle America about the Holocaust.

These may be worthy goals. But the Holocaust should not be reduced to a means for trying to fulfill these or any other ends. The instrumentalization of the Holocaust, the use of it to fulfill something else, is the ultimate degradation of the event. If Holocaust deniers were smart, they would sit back and let the Rosenblats, Salomons, Berkley Books and the like peddle their wares. Within a short time, no one would know what was truth and what was fiction.

Apples Over the Fence [11]: Lipstadt Commentary on

For some comments by me on this story see's webpage

December 31, 2008

(CNN) -- I don't know whether to be sad or angry -- or both. The recent exposé of the fact that Herman Rosenblat's Holocaust memoir is a hoax was no surprise to me. From the first time I heard the story of his "miraculous" survival during the Nazi era, I doubted that it could be true.

Rosenblat's claim that, as an inmate in a Buchenwald sub-camp, he had survived because a young girl had tossed an apple over the fence each day for seven months just did not seem credible to me.

The notion that a concentration camp inmate could approach the fence without the SS shooting him beggared the imagination. I could not believe that a little girl whose family was supposedly passing as non-Jews would allow their daughter to engage in such an act.

The fairy tale nature of the incident was enhanced by the supposed reunion of the couple on a blind date years later when both had moved to America. The story was that they discovered each other's true identity and, after a whirlwind romance, decided to marry.

Survivors who had been in the camp with Rosenblat and had kept in touch with him since the end of the war protested that the story could not be true. They wondered why Rosenblat had never mentioned the incident until the late 1990s.

A number of other historians shared my doubts, which I posted on my blog. As one of the first to express skepticism about this, I became the target of attacks from those who thought I was demeaning the Rosenblats.

We doubters could not, however, initially overcome the power of Oprah, on whose show Rosenblat and his wife appeared twice. Credulous reporters, who should have sought some form of verification, kept writing about this "miraculous" event.

The producer who acquired movie rights tried to intimidate those of us who raised questions. He wrote to me saying, "I have traveled all over Eastern Europe for several years in preparation for what will be a major feature film. I may be more of a Holocaust expert than you, even though, I have no title nor university affiliation. What I do know for sure is before I make any statements I know the facts. You simply do not know those facts, and that Deborah, is the greatest sin to the memory of all those perished so long ago."

The publisher refused to let anyone see the book. Public relations people circulated versions of the story urging recipients to send it on so eventually it would reach millions of people.

Slowly, thanks to the power of the Internet and the work of some intrepid historians, the hoax was exposed. The publisher pulled the book. The movie producer cried foul, presenting himself as a victim who had been duped.

This is not the first time such a hoax has been perpetrated. Most of the previous stories have been spread by people who were passing as survivors. In contrast, the Rosenblats were both survivors of the Holocaust. But that fact has now been lost in the shuffle.

What, then, is the danger of these sorts of hoaxes? First of all, they give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. This is a bonanza for them.

Deniers expend great efforts in trying to implant doubts in young people about the veracity of the Holocaust. They spend so much energy attacking Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" because it is a book that is widely read by young people.

The fact that this "apples over the fence" story has already been published as a widely successful children's story provides the deniers with a great opportunity to peddle their wares.

However, the danger posed by deniers is not the primary reason why such fabricated stories should be exposed. The events of the Holocaust are horrible in and of themselves. They do not need to be aggrandized or exaggerated to be made to sound any worse than they were. They also do not need to be rendered as joyful love stories that make us feel good about what happened.

Both are insults to the survivors and inimical to the pursuit of historical truth. The optimum way of teaching about the Holocaust and presenting its history is, to quote Detective Joe Friday from the old TV show, "Dragnet," "just the facts, just the facts."

What we need, particularly in relation to something as mind-boggling as the Holocaust, are "just the facts.

Apples Over the Fence [10]: Meet the Sleuths Who Helped Expose the Fraud

Misha Defonseca was not saved by wolves, nor was Herman Rosenblat saved by love apples.

Their successes at defrauding the public with their stories of Holocaust survival have been derailed by Identifinders forensic genealogists Sharon Sergeant and Colleen Fitzpatrick. They worked with distinguished members of the Jewish community to expose Herman Rosenblat's fraudulent Holocaust memoire. The result was a careful reconstruction of the true story.

In a world built on information technology, the key to Identifinders'
success was using team building and technology to derive meaningful information from those facts.

Even though there had been an outcry from Holocaust survivors that Herman's story was historically inaccurate and defied their own experiences in the camps, the publisher Berkley Penguin Press initially defended the work based on the idea that no one can argue with someone else's memory. In spite of its subjective nature, however, memory can be tested to see if it is anchored in reality.
Herman's experiences during his life in the camps did not occur in a vacuum. By the time that Herman Rosenblat publicly admitted that his love story Angel at the Fence was a fabrication, he was doing damage control.

By building the context based on what could be documented, we separated fact from fiction. We created a timeline for both Herman's family the Rosenblats and Roma's paternal and maternal families the Radzickis (changed to Rogers) and the Zalctregers.

Aside from his historical inaccuracies, Identifinders found for example that Herman's chronology was not as he stated. Clues from people who had been in the camps with Herman led us to Dr. Ken Waltzer, Professor of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University. Dr.
Waltzer is an expert on the youth who survived Buchenwald and provided Herman's actual history in that camp as opposed to what Herman represented. Waltzer also expanded the team to assemble objective proof that the circumstances at Schlieben did not support Herman's story.

Identifinders meanwhile focused on obtaining evidence on the location of Roma Radzicki Rosenblat's extended family during the Holocaust. The inconsistencies of Roma's part of the story were just as significant but not as prominent.

Most of the Radzickis and the Zalctregers perished in the Holocaust.
But a few of Roma's immediate family survived and emigrated first to Israel, then to the United States. Identifinders traced her remaining extended family to the present day. The clues from the surviving relatives converged on the fact that Roma was nowhere near Schlieben.

None of this would have been possible had Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, Professor at Emory University, not raised a red flag last year on her blog about the truth of Herman's story. Danny Bloom, an author of children's books in Taiwan, read Dr. Lipstadt's comments and took up the challenge after Angel Girl, the children's version, came out in September. He was instrumental in convincing the media that the story needed attention. He also contacted Identifinders knowing we had exposed Misha Defonseca. Peter Kubichek, a concentration camp survivor and author, provided coherent background information that was valuable in understanding how concentration camp survivors viewed Herman's story.

This is just one example of how Forensic Genealogy has become an interdisciplinary approach for discovering the truth behind frauds, as well as for locating DNA references, finding missing persons, determining identity, and provenance.

— Colleen Fitzpatrick

Appples Over the Fence [9]: A Survivor Speaks Out

One of the first people to contact me about the Rosenblat memoir and to emphatically state that this story was false was Sidney Finkel of Tuscon. An interview with him in the local paper can be found here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Limmud UK 2008: Reflecting on "Truth" and the Holocaust

I am sitting here in the cafe after a busy day of teaching and attending sessions at Limmud 08. It is once again an effort that never fails to impress.

But rather than sing the general praises of the event, I want to reflect on a film, Stealing Klimt I saw today about the Klimt paintings that were confiscated by the Nazis, then -- after the war -- "stolen" by the Austrian government, and finally, due to the assiduous work of the owner's niece recovered by the family.

I must admit when people first began to try to recover their property, bank accounts, and artwork I was a bit discomforted. It was wrong of me to feel that way but I admit to it. As all the attention was focused on material goods it seemed that the tragic loss of life was being overshadowed by the loss of property.

[On some level I had internalized antisemitic charges and was responding to that. But more of that on another occasion.]

One day -- I don't remember what brought about the change -- I recognized I was dead wrong.

Heck, this belonged to those families, why shouldn't they get it back? There's nothing wrong and everything right with their saying: this is mine. It was stolen from me and I want it.

This film relates the unbelievable story of how one woman together with a dedicated lawyer pursued these unbelievable paintings.

More importantly it tells the story of the lowly Austrians who, after decades of successfully claiming that they were Hitler's first victims [and I have a bridge to sell you], were exposed for the culprits that they were.

Not only did they welcome the Nazis with outraised arms, join the SS in droves, and plunder Jews in their midst, but afterwards they claimed Jewish property as their own. If you wanted to get a portion of your property back you had to sign over the rest of it over to the Austrians.

Then they spent decades fighting people trying to get their property back. They lied. They were lowlifes. And they continued to behave that way in relation to this family.

The story is unbelievable and it is factual. It is also well told. The writer is Martin Smith who was responsible for much of the design of the exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After a couple of days of being caught up in the morass of Holocaust liars [see under Rosenblatt and Salomon], it's nice to see the truth portrayed so well.

And it's wonderful to be here at Limmud.

Apples Over the Fence [8]: Finding the Real Culprit

Professor Ken Waltzer, in his incredibly insightful statement [see previous post], focused on the role of the purveyors of culture who have tried to turn the Holocaust into a heart warming story.

Among those he cited was Harris Salomon the producer of the film on the Rosenblatts. Salomon, as i noted, in now crying about how he was lied to by Rosenblatt. Essentially he is portraying himself as a victim.

This is what he is now saying to the press:
"It’s unfortunate he told a lie.... The man is tragically flawed, but his story had value.... Obviously, this is a surprise to me. Obviously, I am extremely angry. He let me down professionally and personally. We get used to dealing with people of all stripes in this business. This is the business and the society we live in today, that allows people to lie, but also feeds off people lying and asking for forgiveness."
Those who read Gabe Sherman's excellent pieces in The New Republic [see here and here], know that Solomon contacted the deans at Michigan State University to rail about Waltzer's work on this topic. He managed, it seemed to me, to rattle Waltzer, a fine historian, a bit. After all, not all universities, especially state institutions which are facing hard economic times, will strongly support their faculty in situations such as these. [That's why Emory's support of me, as I recount in History on Trial, is so remarkable.]

Since Salomon is now bemoaning his fate, I thought readers should see how he sang a very different tune about six months ago after I told him that i had serious doubts about the Rosenblatt story.

Compare what he had to say now [I have been lied to] with what he had to say then.

His email to me is cc'ed to Rosenblatt and, I assume, to his agent.

To: Lipstadt, Deborah
Cc: [Email addresses eliminated ]
Subject: Re: deborah

dear deborah,

there is no point in me having an argument with you. i know little about you other then what has been written. i have to admit i have heard some harsh things about you since we started exchanging emails. hothead is a word used by at least two of your peers in the holocaust community.

i am telling you, and i am sure you know, that much of what is written on the net is not true. what is on the oprah site, what is on the aish site, and what is on your blog, are not the words of herman rosenblat and not what is in his book. if you took the time to read the book before ripping something apart perhaps your reputation might be different? in my business deborah that is called slander. i know you have heard that word before.

you are entitled to an opinion. you are entitled to judge the facts. but your opinion deborah at the moment is worthless as you are making statements based on third party web sites that do not contain the words of mr. rosenblat or what is in his book.

is this what you would advise your students at emory?

i have traveled all over eastern europe for several years in preparation for what will be a major feature film. i may be more of a more of a holocaust expert then you, even though, i have no title nor university affiliation. what i do know for sure is before i make any statements i know the facts.

you simply do not know those facts, and that debroah, is the greatest sin to the memory of all those perished so long ago.

with regards,

harris salomon


atlantic overseas pictures

I plead guilty to sometimes being a "hothead" especially when something about which I care deeply is at stake, e.g. truth and lies about the Holocaust.

But I did think that Salomon's intimation, as I understood, that it was because of my passion that I was sued by David Irving was a bit over the top.

Anyway, this one-time "expert" on historical truth who tried to silence Ken Waltzer and me -- he did not seem to realize that I have faced far more nettlesome opponents than him -- is now crying about being a victim.

If there is a scoundrel in this story my impression is that we have found him.

Apples Over the Fence [7]: Statement by Professor Ken Waltzer

Professor Ken Waltzer, who did the research that essentially confirmed that Herman Rosenblatt's memoir was fabricated, has issued the following statement. It is exceptional in its sensitivity and its focus on the real culprits in this entire messy saga.

I have learned tonight that Penguin Berkley Press has pulled the memoir, Angel at the Fence, which I and others have been investigating, from publication. Herman Rosenblat has shared the news that he invented the false story with Harris Salomon, president of Atlantic Overseas Pictures, and Harris Salomon has told the publisher. Penguin Berkley Press will seek restitution.

I am saddened by the whole thing. First, Herman and Roma Rosenblat are of course to be faulted for making up a Holocaust love story and seeking fame and public attention, but their lying and dissimulating are actually understandable. Less understandable is the widespread belief in their story – by the culture makers, including the publisher and movie maker and many thousands of others who have encountered it over a decade.

Second, such belief suggests a broad illiteracy about the Holocaust and about experience in the camps -- despite decades of books, serious memoirs, museums, and movies. This shakes this historian up.

This memoir was at the far end of implausibility, yet until yesterday, no one connected with packaging, promoting, and disseminating it asked question about or investigated it. Some actively resisted such investigation and tried to shut mine down.

The idea of a prisoner autonomously going to the fence daily, every day, in a Nazi concentration camp and meeting a young girl at the guarded, electrified fence who was allegedly hiding under false identity with her family in the nearby village and who threw him food beggars the imagination. Prisoners in konzentrationslager could not approach guarded fences; persons in hiding with a primary family group would not risk detection by going daily to a camp where SS guards were concentrated. The actual fence in Schlieben was right next to the SS barracks.

So Herman and Roma overreached and actually demeaned their own Holocaust stories -- Herman forgot his brothers who kept him alive in the camps, Roma forgot her own remarkable and sad family story hiding not in Schlieben but elsewhere more than 200 miles away.

But where were the culture makers on this one? What kind of questions did Penguin Berkley Press bring to bear regarding a memoir about a love story set in a concentration camp? What kind of strategy did Harris Salomon embrace to elevate a candy coated Holocaust love story to bring Holocaust education to Middle America? This was not Holocaust education but miseducation. Holocaust experience is not heartwarming, it is heart rending. All this shows something about the broad unwillingness in our culture to confront the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust. All the more important then to have real memoirs that tell of real experience in the camps.

I want to thank those who have worked with me – particularly forensic genealogists Sharon Sergeant and Colleen Fitzpatrick, and amateur Schlieben historian Uwe Schwarz and his associate Jean-Luis Rey. I also want to thank the many survivors, including Ben Helfgott and Sid Finkel, who put their trust in me and shared their knowledge. Gabe Sherman’s reportage at the New Republic has been remarkable, and there will be more to say in the coming days.

Ken Waltzer

Director, Jewish Studies

Michigan State University

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Apples Over the Fence [6]: A New Republic Editor Comments

There is an interesting comment on the TNR website and reaction on the TNR website.

Apples Over the Fence [5]: Publisher Cancels Book

The publisher of Herman Rosenblatt's memoir has just cancelled publication. The book was scheduled to appear on February 3rd. Yesterday the publisher was defending the book. Today it cancelled it and issued this statement:

"Berkley Books is cancelling publication of Angel at the Fence after receiving new information from Herman Rosenblatt's agent, Andrea Hurst. Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work."
According to the story, Harris Salomon, the producer of the film that was to accompany the book, said: "It’s unfortunate he told a lie... The man is tragically flawed, but his story had value."

Salomon now acknowledges that they story is false and is angry about being lied to. Just last week he was calling Professor Ken Waltzer's dean at Michigan State University to complain about Waltzer's talking to the New Republic to express his doubts.

Limmud UK

Once again attending this stellar educational program. Among the great teachers who will be here are Menachem Ben-Sasson, Sarah Benor, Jim Kugel, Mel Konner, and many many others.

Apples over the Fence [4]: The New Republic Interviews Survivors: Story is Fabricated

Gabe Sherman has followed up on his initial story in the New Republic on Herman Rosenblatt's supposed memoir, Angel at the Fence, with another one detailing extensive interviews with survivors, some of whom were with him in the camp. He has also interviews Rosenblatt's sister-in-law whose late husband, Herman's brother, was with him in the camp.

To a person they all say the story is false. A number of them tried to stop Rosenblatt from telling this story. They could not.

Up until now I have written with great sadness about this whole mess. I still am sad. Sad that other survivors will feel on the defensive about having to "prove" their memories are indeed true. Sad that some people will feel more inclined to wonder if a survivor is telling the truth. Sad that the deniers will use this story as fodder for their argument that you cannot believe survivors' stories.

But, after reading Sherman's latest my sadness is mixed with anger. People tried to stop Rosenblatt. They told it was wrong to fabricate a story. They warned him against it. All to no avail. He apparently loved the publicity.

Some people have written to me asking why they should even care about deniers. "They lie anyway. Why do you care if this gives them ammunition?" I don't care about deniers. They have made their minds up based on lies and inventions. I just don't want to give them any ammunition to convince other people, people not inclined towards denial. Rosenblatt played right into their hands.

This scandal was unnecessary.

Herman Rosenblatt survived the camps as a young boy despite the inhumane efforts of the Germans to work him and other prisoners to death. That's enough of a miracle in my book.

The apples and all the other embellishments should have stayed in the larder.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Off Topic: Bush Pardons [then retracts it] a Real Estate Crook

Sorry for this off topic post but this has been making me nuts since I first heard about it this a.m.

President Bush pardoned a real estate crook who scammed lots of people. The guy's name is Roubert Toussie.


He committed a crime that is emblematic of the housing crisis plaguing so many Americans.

Of all crimes to pardon. THIS WAS NOT THE ONE.

OK, got that off my chest.

The AZM [American Zionist Movement] Gets the Message

I just learned that the AZM is revising its 8 heroes of Hanukkah web page. They screwed up -- as I noted in the previous post -- and they moved quickly to rectify their mistake. Good for them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The AZM [American Zionist Movement]: Absurd and Out of Touch

Are the folks at AZM [the American Zionist Movement] living under a rock? Are they completely out of touch?

My friend Rela Geffen, Past President of Baltimore Hebrew University, has alerted me to the fact that someone at the organization decided to put together a Hanukkah game on their web site. They singled out 8 Hanukkah heroes.

All men. Yup, all men.

They are men of accomplishment without doubt.

But couldn't these folks have found one woman to celebrate?

Golda Meir?

Henrietta Szold? [She created the MOST successful Jewish organization in the world and one that has had a tremendous impact in Israel...]

Nehama Leibovitz? [One of the great Torah teachers of all time.]

Hannah Senesh? [She showed more bravery than some of the leaders who sat in Tel Aviv. She died to save her people.]

Rachel? [one of Israel's great poets]

Alice Shalvi? [considered the "mother" of Israeli feminism and a winner of the Israel Prize. The prize committee described her as having been "revolutionary and courageously trailblazing, with intellectual integrity and long-term vision."]

Rabbi Naamah Kelman [the first Israeli woman to be ordained]

Didn't it seem strange to the AZM folks to look at 8 photos of Jewish heroes and not see one woman? Did they notice and not care or -- and this is even more frightening -- did they not even notice?

And sometimes organizations wonder why they become irrelevant.

I am not asking for 4, i.e. parity. Just one or, maybe to be a bit greedy, two.

If you want to see how it could be done check out the website of the Jewish Women's Archive, a great organization that I have always thought was highly relevant but, after my encounter with the AZM, am even more convinced of the fact.

Or maybe we should get the AZM folks a subscription to Lilith

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NPR: Using Yiddish to Define an English Word

This morning on NPR's Morning Edition a story was introduced by the host as follows: "We've been throwing the word moxie around lately. It means courage, nerve, sort of like the Yiddish word, hutzpah."

It's quite something when NPR uses Yiddish to define English!!

Apples over the Fence [3]: The New Republic Covers the Story

[Link fixed 3:38 p.m.]

Gabriel Sherman's article on the Apples Over the Fence story is now up on the New Republic website.

Since I am quoted in the article, I want to reiterate two points:

1) I am upset by this incident because it gives fodder to the deniers. It helps cast unreasonable doubt on other trustworthy memoirs and recollections.

2) More importantly, even if we had never heard of deniers and they did not exist, it would be wrong. The Holocaust beggars the imagination. It is beyond belief in many respects. The facts -- as Joe Friday would say "just the facts, just the facts" -- are bad enough. One need not embellish them in any way.

Finally, as I said to Sherman, I find this all very sad. A Holocaust survivor who went through terrible experiences and lost many members of his family has overshadowed the truth of what happened with a questionable tale.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blatant Discrimination Against a Moslem Woman

According to the AP a Muslim woman was arrested for refusing to take off her head scarf at a courthouse security checkpoint. She was ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court, said police in Douglasville, a city of about 20,000 people on Atlanta's west suburban outskirts.

The police said she violated a court policy that prohibits people from wearing any headgear in court. However a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General said that there is no state law on the matter and that it is up to the judge and the sheriff.

I guess the good ole boys who run the court did not like it. If this happened to someone wearing a kipah Jews would be up in arms and rightfully so. There is no difference here.

And it happened right here in my neighborhood....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Gift for the Antisemite: Bernard Madoff

Ever since I heard about this scandal and the degree to which it impacted philanthropies, particularly but not only Jewish philanthropies, I have been shaking my head in wonder.

How could this man do this to so many institutions which do good things? In addition he hit lots of people, some of them quite rich and some of them in far more modest circumstances. Many are left with nothing.

Madoff is a sociopath. That seems pretty certain.

He is an antisemite's dream. The worst of them could not have dreamt up such a story.

There seems to be no punishment strong enough for this guy.

Ha'aretz's Bradley Burston says exactly what I have been thinking: Christmas came early for the worst of the antisemites this year.


As some readers of this blog know, I am a great fan of Limmud, a wonderful educational enterprise. The "mothership" of Limmud is held in the UK every year between Christmas and New Year's.

The Guardian has an interesting article on the event.

Monday, December 15, 2008

British Boycott of Israeli Universities: The End of this Antisemitic Action?

According to the JTA a threat of legal action by Anthony Julius, who was my lawyer in Irving v. Penguin/Lipstadt, has brought an end to the attempt by a small group of university academics to boycott Israeli universities.

Anthony promised free legal assistance to any academic affected by the threatened boycott, and wrote the union’s general secretary that he considered the union’s motion -- to “consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues” -- to be both a boycott motion and anti-Semitic.

Last week the union, known by as the UCU, dropped its latest boycott call.

Anthony took this action despite the fact that many people -- including some within the UK Jewish community -- opposed it. He knew it was the right thing to do.

I am not the least bit surprised. He took the same stance in my case.

The rest, as is said, is history.

Bravo Anthony [and also to his cohort James Libson who played an equally important role here, as he did in my case].

Apples Over the Fence [2]: The Truth Will Out

It has been a bit over a year since I posted my doubts about the Herman Rosenblatt story about having a young girl throw him apples over the fence when he was in a Buchenwald sub-camp. I expressed strong reservations when I first heard it.

Never has anything I posted received as many comments. The number stands at 105 at the moment. I find that remarkable.

Well it looks like the book and the 15 million dollar movie will be out soon.

But that is not the only thing that will soon be out. Some serious historians as well as other historical sleuths have done some pretty serious research on this story. There are also survivors who are very upset about this story. They just don't believe it.

Based on what I have seen thus far, I would say that this story is not exactly a shining example of verisimilitude.

The folks behind these productions [movie and book] will go after the critics with a vengeance. One of them did so to me. He essentially accused me of slander and told me that I really don't know much about the Holocaust and that he knows more....

Seems to me that it is his way of trying to silence the critics.

My prediction is that he won't be able to do so this time. There is just too much evidence to the contrary.

Another really unfortunate circumstance.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Film on Free Speech: Irving Gets a Starring Role

The filmmaker who included David Irving in his film An Independent Mind [see previous post] defended his decision to do so. In an article in the UK online magazine Totally Jewish the filmmaker presents himself -- rather proudly -- as having bucked criticism and done the brave thing.

The problem is that the guy gave Irving a chance to spout, not just odious views, but misstatements of fact and he apparently did not even know how to challenge them. [That was what my trial was all about.]

It's one thing to argue that people with disgusting views have a right to freedom of speech. They do [unless they engage in incitement].

But since when does a person who just spouts lies and distortions and inventions have to be celebrated?

Obviously such a liar has a right to speak but what person in their sane mind would believe that they have to give them a platform?

Obviously Rex Bloomstein, the filmmaker did.

The film, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular Article 19 which states 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.'

Rex Bloomstein has made The Longest Hatred: The History of Anti-Semitism and KZ which tells the story of Mauthausen concentration camp.

Bloomstein told the publication that he "thought long and hard" about including Irving in the film, but said: "In the end, I thought it was right to include him and I would have to accept that the decision would be met with some controversy."

He also said: "Irving is someone who reflects the limits of freedom of expression. He epitomises repellent views which make us aware of the limits of freedom of expression. It would be derelict not to include someone who challenges how we look at that freedom."

This guy does not get it. It's not a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of judgment.

Why give someone who is simply twisting the truth and lying a platform?

Did Bloomstein, possibly unconsciously so, want to show how brave he is? How willing he was to buck criticism? I think dense is a far more accurate term.

Sometimes, just because lots of people criticize you, does not mean you're are right. [With apologies to the originator of the line: Just because I am paranoid does not mean everyone isn't out to get me.]

[For my views on outlawing Holocaust denial see here.]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Irving to Appear on UK's Channel 4: Have They Completely Lost Their Minds?

From today's Guardian

by Oliver Marre


On Tuesday night, C4's offshoot channel, More4, is showing a 90-minute documentary, An Independent Mind, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


According to the puff: 'This unique film gives a voice to eight characters from around the world who have fought to exercise their right to free speech.'

What C4 doesn't say is that the film's eighth and final hero is Irving. The timing is fortunate for Irving, if not for the rest of us, since he's currently trying to flog his self-published misery memoir.


As Irving objects to being called a Holocaust denier and is in the habit of writing to newspapers that do so, I've gone in search of a better description. His personal website offers Hitler's walking stick for sale, refers repeatedly to Jews as 'nice folks' (including during a magnificent attempt to ally himself to John Cleese, because the comedian is divorcing his wife, who is Jewish) and carries links to his flattering biographies of Hitler and Goebbels. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman: The Death of a Great Man and a Great Leader

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman passed away yesterday. I was privileged to deliver one of the eulogies at his funeral in New York. It follows below.

Tribute to Rabbi Emanuel Rackman Z”L

When I set out to write History on Trial, my book on my trial in London where I was sued for libel by the world’s leading Holocaust denier, my editor said to me: “Deborah begin by telling your readers who you are. Let them know how you came to be the kind of person who would stand and fight the way you did.”

And so I sat down and wrote about how my parents had instilled in me a deep sense of right and wrong. Then I added the following:

When I was in first grade my parents decided to move from Manhattan to the suburbs. They chose Far Rockaway, a beach-side community in Queens, because they admired the local rabbi, Emanuel Rackman, and decided that this was the man they wanted as a spiritual leader and a role model for their children. A graduate of Columbia Law School, a man with a Ph.D., a learned rabbi, a lover of Torah// he combined knowledge of Judaism with the contemporary world. His meticulously prepared and well-crafted muscular sermons, delivered without notes, covered a wide range of topics -- everything from the weekly Torah portion, which he adored, to Arnold Toynbee, whom he abhorred.

Shortly after the fall of Stalin, during a period of Khrushchev-style perestroika, he traveled with a group of American rabbis to the Soviet Union. On the Shabbat of his return my father suggested that I stay in services during the sermon -- a time that we children generally ran all over the expansive lawn in front of Sharrey Tefila. “It will be memorable,” he assured me. Though I was not quite sure what memorable meant, I knew the trip had been something important. I did not grasp all that Rabbi Rackman said in that sermon, but I understood that he had made contact with a group of Jews who were not free to live as we did and we could not forget them. They were, he taught us, our responsibility. When I took my first trip to the Soviet Union in 1972 in order to meet with refuseniks, I remembered his words.

He was a stickler for doing things right. He insisted on decorum at services. He laughed so when I told him that as a child I thought decorum was a Hebrew word because the only place I heard it was in shul from him. Daledyudkoofvavreshmem.

A believer in intra- and inter-religious dialogue, long before it was in vogue, Rabbi Rackman reached out to people both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Right-wing religious Jews attacked and denigrated him for his attempts to demonstrate how one could -- and should -- draw upon the best in both traditional Judaism and the secular world. From the other end of the religious spectrum some would question his unwavering commitment to Halacha. How, they wondered, could such an enlightened man be so wedded to such an ancient tradition. He ignored his attackers and went on living a life that exemplified Torah u’Madah.

I remember how my father would seethe at these attacks and stress how important it was that Rabbi Rackman’s ideas not to be silenced. He believed in taking a stand and in speaking out when he saw injustice.

Long before I knew precisely what a role model was, I knew that I wanted to be just like him.*

What I did not know then and what I only learned last night from a colleague when I told him of Rabbi Rackman’s passing, was that in 1951 when Rabbi Rackman was recalled as a chaplain due to the Korean War, he discovered that his security clearance had been revoked because he opposed the death penalty for the Rosenbergs and supported Paul Robeson's right to free speech. The Air Force offered him the choice of an honorable discharge (not a dishonorable one). Had he accepted it, he would have been able to go home to his family but he would have to accept that his security clearance was rightfully revoked. Alternatively he could seek a military trial. After much thought, Rabbi Rackman took the military trial. He acted as his own lawyer, and was cleared of all charges and promoted to Colonel.

Why did he fight so hard? Because he believed that while "a person can be right or wrong on many decisions that they make, when it comes to one’s integrity, one must stand strong and never let anyone impugn it. Ultimately,” he said, “all a Rabbi has is his reputation and honor."

Rabbi Rackman was not afraid of controversy. He believed that Halachah had to live in the present and not the past. He knew that Halachah was fully up to the task. He sometimes wondered if its adherents and those who interpreted it were as well. He was willing to go out on limb and stand virtually alone when he felt that Halacha was not being allowed to rise to the challenges it faced. Such was the case when he tried to find a solution for long suffering agunot. What a terrible moment it was when he was so viciously attacked for his efforts. Would that his critics would have put as much energy into resolving the problem as they did in attacking him.

Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah perek hey [5] teaches about the great kavode we owe a Rav Muvhak, the teacher from whom you have learned the essence of Torah, the teacher who has shaped you. I may not have learned the majority of the things I know from Rabbi Rackman. But he gave me the rosh pinah, the cornerstone or foundation upon which I built so much of the rest of my life.

He taught me and so many others – by example as much as by words – that while one cannot fight every fight, there are certain fights from which one cannot turn away. He taught me and so many others – by example as much as by words – that sometimes, in order to live in this world, one must find ways to work together with those around you, even if you do not fully agree with them. But on certain matters he knew and was not afraid to say: here there is no room for compromise. 'ad kan, v'tu lav.

He was my Rav Muvhak.

He could be the scholar. He could be the lawyer. He could be the teacher of Torah. But he could also be a listening, caring, personally involved model of a pastor. There were a number of crucial moments in my life, particularly in my teenage and college years, when I turned to him with personal problems. He listened and he cared.

A great man walked on this earth and so many of us sitting in this room -- together with hundreds of others who were privileged to have his life intersect with theirs -- are more than just better for having had him in our lives. We are who we are, in great measure, because of him.

I have had many blessings in my life but none greater than when my father and mother chose Rabbi Emanuel Rackman as our family’s rabbi. The rest is history.

May his memory be for a blessing. Yehi zikhro barukh.

* Adapted from Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, New York, Echo Press, 2006

My thanks to Rabbis Michael Broyde, Michael Berger, David Ellenson, and David Blumenthal for their suggestions and coments.