Since Jan. 7 an Ontario county court jury has been hearing testimony that will help it decide whether a Toronto publisher knowingly spread false information about the mass murder of Jews during the Second World War. The trial is likely to last for another week but it has become clear that one of the most horrific events in history has not passed into the textbooks and is still capable of arousing passion.
In 1983 Ernst Zundel, a 46-year-old commercial artist, published a pamphlet which claimed that information on the numbers of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps had been grossly exaggerated or even faked. Zundel has pleaded not guilty to two charges of wilfully publishing false statements that were likely to cause social or racial intolerance. As a result, the Crown must prove that he knew the statements were false when he published them.
Zundel’s assertions that only thousands—not millions—died in the camps has angered many Jews. His Jan. 7 appearance at the courthouse for the first day of the trial caused a confrontation between 25 members of the militant Jewish Defence League and 15 hardhatted supporters forming a protective
screen around the defendant. And inside the crowded downtown courtroom, as the trial entered its third week, the atmosphere remained tense as defence lawyer Douglas Christie and Crown witnesses fenced over the fate of European Jewry during the war.
At the centre of the case are the two pamphlets that the German-born Zundel admits to publishing. In The West, War and Islam, Zundel, who wrote the four-page pamphlet, argues that Zionists, Freemasons, bankers and Communists are all joined in an international conspiracy against Islamic states. But it is the second pamphlet, Did Six Million Really Die?, claiming that only 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, that has so far dominated the trial. Last week, in an attempt to discredit the pamphlet’s contention, Assistant Crown Attorney Peter Griffiths called two survivors of the concentration camps as witnesses. Arnold Friedman, a Toronto businessman, testified that as a 16-year-old prisoner in Birkenau, Poland, he watched trainloads of Jews arrive at the camp, where guards forced many of them to march toward four crematoriums. Declared Friedman: “Most of the people who were not fit to work—the elderly, the children, the mothers — never came out.”
Then, many of the spectators stiff-
ened with shock as Christie challenged Friedman’s testimony, arguing that he could not have seen chimneys belching fire and smoke from burning human flesh—because crematorium chimneys do not emit smoke. Asked Christie: “What do you say about that, sir?” Replied Friedman: “Nothing. If you are talking about crematoria in Toronto and crematoria in Auschwitz [the system of camps that included Birkenau] those are two different things. In Birkenau smoke came out the chimney.”
Later Christie clashed with Raul Hilberg, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont in Burlington, over the meaning of terms in Nazi documents. Hilberg, an expert witness for the prosecution, testified that he had studied the events of the Holocaust for 37 years. His examination of German documents of the era, he said, had led him to conclude that more than five million Jews had perished under Nazi rule—most of them in the concentration camps. As Christie prepared to call his witnesses, it was clear that the Crown’s stated intention at the beginning of the trial—to prevent it becoming an excuse for again discussing the horrors of the Second World War—had already fallen victim to the passions that still swirl around the Holocaust.^
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