Invitation to renounce Kosinsky and Wiesenthal
Elie WieselJerzy Kosinski
University Professor and
Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02215
Dear Mr. Wiesel:
Journalist Boaz Evron has observed that
Two terrible things happened to the Jewish people during this century: [First, t]he Holocaust and the lessons drawn from it. [Second, t]he non-historical and easily refutable commentaries on the Holocaust made either deliberately or through simple ignorance and their use for propaganda purposes among non-Jews or Jews both in Israel and the diaspora constitute a cancer for Jews and for the State of Israel. (Boaz Evron, Holocaust, a Danger for the Jewish People, published in the Hebrew journal Yiton 77, May-June 1980)|
I would like to address a request to you concerning two of the individuals who have spread, or are still spreading, the cancer of "non-historical and easily refutable commentaries on the Holocaust made either deliberately or through simple ignorance" — the two individuals being Jerzy Kosinski and Simon Wiesenthal.
The first of these cancer spreaders was Jerzy Kosinski. In his New Yorker article Kosinski's War of 10 October 1994, James Park Sloan portrays you as playing a leading role in the authentication of Jerzy Kosinski's book The Painted Bird, and thus in the launching of his career:
"Written with deep sincerity and sensitivity, this poignant account transcends confession," Elie Wiesel wrote in the Times Book Review. At the time of Kosinski's suicide, in 1991, Wiesel said, "I thought it was fiction, and when he told me it was autobiography I tore up my review and wrote one a thousand times better."|
Wiesel's review sanctified the work as a valid testament of the Holocaust, more horrible, more revealing — in a sense, truer — than the literature that came out of the camps. Other writers and critics agreed. Harry Overstreet wrote that "The Painted Bird" would "stand by the side of Anne Frank's unforgettable 'Diary'" as "a powerfully poignant human document," while Peter Prescott, also comparing it to Anne Frank's "Diary," called the book "a testament not only to the atrocities of the war, but to the failings of human nature." The novelist James Leo Herlihy saluted it as "brilliant testimony to mankind's survival power."
"Account," "confession," "testament," "document," "testimony": these were the key words in the book's critical reception. What made "The Painted Bird" such an important book was its overpowering authenticity. Perhaps it wasn't exactly a diary — six-year-olds don't keep diaries — but it was the next best thing. And in one respect it was better: Kosinski was Anne Frank as a survivor, walking among us. (Sloan, 1994, pp. 46-47)
What happened subsequently, of course, must have been a tragedy for you personally, and was obviously an undeserved setback for those wishing to truly understand and to faithfully document the sufferings of the Jewish people during the Second World War — and what did happen was that after a glamorous career as a Holocaust victim and accuser, Kosinski was discovered to be a fraud, to have experienced none of the events described in his book, to have spent the war in relative comfort and security, to have enjoyed the heroic protection of the very people — the Catholic Poles — whom he chose to malign in his book:
Siedlecka portrays the elder Kosinski [father of Jerzy] not just as a wily survivor but as a man without scruples. She maintains that he may have collaborated with the Germans during the war and very likely did collaborate with the N.K.V.D., after the liberation of Dabrowa by the Red Army, in sending to Siberia for minor infractions, such as hoarding, some of the very peasants who saved his family. Her real scorn, however, is reserved for the son [Jerzy], who turned his back on the family's saviors and vilified them, along with the entire Polish nation, in the eyes of the world. Indeed, the heart of Siedlecka's revelations is her depiction of the young Jerzy Kosinski spending the war years eating sausages and drinking cocoa — goods unavailable to the neighbors' children — in the safety of his house and yard.... (Sloan, 1994, p. 48)|
And the second of these cancer spreaders is Simon Wiesenthal. In Mr. Wiesenthal's case, you cannot (as far as I can tell) be said to have either sanctified his stories or promoted his career, and if anything, seem to disdain him, as testified to — subtly but unmistakably — by your excluding him — him who is traditionally accorded the status of world's foremost Nazi hunter — from those who come to mind as Nazi hunters worthy of your respect:
I never felt the need to become a Nazi-hunter. Though I respect those who did, like the Klarsfelds in Paris and Neal Sher in Washington, my obsession was quite different. (Elie Wiesel, Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea, Alfred A. Knopf, Toronto, English translation 1995, p. 88)|
Mr. Wiesenthal differs from Jerzy Kosinski mainly in selecting as the principal target of his calumnies the Ukrainian people rather than the Polish, in being still alive, and in having largely avoided the discredit that is his inescapable ultimate fate. Among his greatest calumnies, as you probably are aware, is his accusation during the 23 October 1994 60 Minutes broadcast The Ugly Face of Freedom that in the three days prior to the German occupation of Lviv in 1941, Ukrainians killed some 5 to 6 thousand Jews. This calumny is galling to Ukrainians not merely because it has no foundation in truth, but more particularly because the historical record demonstrates that during approximately that same interval, the Jewish-dominated NKVD had killed approximately that same number of Ukrainians.
It appears to me that you would be performing a service both to the Jewish people, and to the Polish and Ukrainian people as well, and moreover would be promoting a truer understanding of the Holocaust — all of these — by explicitly and forthrightly repudiating both Jerzy Kosinski and Simon Wiesenthal. As you promoted the birth of what seemed at the time to be Kosinski's truth, it may be incumbent upon you more than anyone else to now promote the death of what has in the end proven to be Kosinski's lie. And although you have not provided Simon Wiesenthal the same support that you provided Jerzy Kosinski, your repudiation of Simon Wiesenthal is for another reason more pressing — that reason being that Simon Wiesenthal continues his calumniation to this very day.
The danger in not explicitly repudiating Kosinski and Wiesenthal is that you would then be helping portray the Jewish Holocaust as a unitary edifice, one concerning which all Jewish authorities agree, and to be accepted or rejected as a whole. The danger of this, of course, is that because the story of the Holocaust has been corrupted by the insertion of components which are palpably untrue — as by Jerzy Kosinski and Simon Wiesenthal — then some uncommitted observers might prefer to reject the whole rather than accept it as presently flawed.
Kosinski and Wiesenthal must be repudiated by all sides because they do injury to all sides. It is precisely people like Simon Wiesenthal and Jerzy Kosinski who have provided soil for the growth of Holocaust denial. It is precisely people like Wiesenthal and Kosinski who are Jews by birth, and who present themselves as working toward the promotion of Jewish interests, but who in reality bring discredit upon the Jewish people, and who attract incredulity toward the Holocaust, and so who must be extirpated from the healthy Jewish body as a cancer which endangers the life upon which it feeds.
But of course my particular interest lies in Simon Wiesenthal, the living grand calumniator of the Ukrainian people. You are indeed right to exclude Mr. Wiesenthal from the list of Nazi hunters worthy of respect — his purchase of a career by following the path of hatred and fantasy constitutes an act of irreverence toward the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, undermines the authority of the prosecutions of Nazi war criminals, and lowers the credibility of those who attempt to present their true accounts of the Holocaust.
One very great benefit of your repudiation of Simon Wiesenthal would be — and this is my chief reason for writing to you today — the amelioration of Ukrainian-Jewish relations which have day by day been sinking to new lows, partly on account of Mr. Wiesenthal's calumnies. You have already excluded Mr. Wiesenthal from those deserving your respect, but only in a whisper. I ask now that you express your exclusion loudly enough that all Ukrainians can hear it. I can assure you that the Ukrainian response will be one of gratitude, and that the gratitude will not be limited to you alone, but will be distributed widely over the Jewish people.
cc: Simon Wiesenthal