Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The "Incident" at Bruges: Word from "Victim"'s Brother and Some Lessons to be Learned

People have posted comments on the Bruges story in different places on this blog. For those of you who have missed it click here. [Be sure to click on the comments at each post, especially at "About the Blog."]

[Here's a quick summary: Marc Kalmann, who describes himself as a Professor and says he was born in Auschwitz 3 days before it was liberated, says he was in Bruges and tried to have a cup of coffee in a famous cafe on the square. When the waiter saw his kippah he threw him out and said "we don't serve Jews here." Sometime later Kalmann went to the police to report the incident and they would not take a report in English. The story is all over the internet.]

This morning I received the following email from someone who says he is Mr. Kalmann's brother. I believe it is legitimate because it is loving and yet cautionary about the story at the same time.

It is posted at "About this Blog" and I have cut and pasted it below:

Let me quickly shed some light on Marc Kalmann, my brother. He was born in 1948 in Amsterdam and not in Auschwitz in 1945. He lives in the Netherlands and is fluent in Dutch. He lived in the USA for 22 years and was sometimes employed as a teacher of languages at community colleges. He liked the title professor and has used it since. He tends to believe his own fantasies. I love him but I am concerned that his fantasies take over his world. And through the magic of the Internet it is taking the world by storm. I wanted to set some part of the record straight. I have no knowledge of what did or did not happen at the restaurant in Bruges.

To buttress the brother's comments. See Esther's blog about another incident concerning Mr. Kalmann which seemed to have morphed into an antisemitic charge.

My guess -- and it is only that -- is that Professor Kalmann, as he calls himself, had some incident at this cafe over a cup of coffee [which probably did cost an arm and a leg] and it is possible that some antisemitic crack was made. This morphed into the story that "we don't serve Jews here" and that the Bruges police refused to do anything about it.

What happened at the police station is hard to know. Was there a problem with the filing of the story? [Supposedly the police refused to file the report in English.] Does Kalmann speak Flemish or French? He does speak Dutch. Who knows?

So What Can We Learn from This?

It seems pretty clear that it did not happen as originally reported. Which is a lesson to all those who originally reported this story. Even if they are a Jewish media outlet they are obligated to investigate and not simply take the story as told by the "victim."

Maybe it's because of my work on Holocasut denial, but I feel so strongly that, when it comes to antisemitism and other prejudices, if you embellish the truth or, even worse, make a story up you are doing great damage to those who tell the truth.

How long will it be before they too are dismissed as not being truthful?

Sometimes a story can be a fabrication and sometimes it can be an aggrandizement of the truth , sometimes it can be inflated, and sometimes it can be absolute fact.

It is also worth remembering that:
  • Sometimes a woman or a "minority" can be fired from a job because they are incompetent and not because of racism, sexism, or any other ism.
  • Sometimes a Jew can be attacked because it is a random act of violence and not because they are a Jew.
  • Sometimes a woman or a racial or religious minority member can be passed over for a promotion because there really is someone -- read White (usually Anglo-Saxon) male -- who is far far better qualified.
  • And sometimes these things can happen because there is rampant racism, sexism, and antseimitism alive and well in this world.
It's critically important to know when to make a charge of prejudice and when not. And, in this day and age of the internet, it's even more important to know when to believe what you hear and when to be skeptical and ask more questions.


woodchopper said...

"Does Kalmann speak Flemish or French? He does speak Dutch. Who knows?"

Dutch and Flemish are virtully identical. I have a Flemish friend who describes the Flemish language as being a dialect of Dutch.

Bruges (or Brugge) is also in Flanders. So any Dutchman would have been easily able to talk to the police and would have no need for English.

If a Dutchman did demand to file a police report in English the police could very reasonably have assumed that he was wasting their time.

Unknown said...

Although minor differences may occur like between English English and American English, Dutch and Flemish are basically two names of the same language.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

To Ludovic:
Exactly, which is why this story beggars the imagination.