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Letter to the editor: Dershowitz clearly distorted the facts

Published: March 9, 2007
Section: Opinions


To the editor,
Shortly after University of California Press announced publication of my book Beyond Chutzpah, documenting Professor Dershowitzs shocking record of plagiarism, falsification and forgery, he began alleging that my late mother was, or I believed she was, a Nazi collaborator during World War II.

In an article for FrontPageMag.com (“Why is the University of California Press Publishing Bigotry?” July 5, 2005), Dershowitz stated that “[Finkelstein] suspects his mother of having been a kapo ('really, how else would she have survived?' he asks rhetorically).” In a statement posted on Harvard University Law School's official webpage, Dershowitz wrote that “He suspects his own mother of being a kapo and cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust” (law.harvard.edu/faculty/dershowitz/). A more elaborate version of this claim appeared in Dershowitz's 2005 book The Case for Peace. He has now reiterated it yet again in the pages of The Brandeis Hoot.

Relying on information apparently supplied to him by Dershowitz, Professor Steven Plaut of Haifa University has in the meantime stated, While Finkelstein likes to defend his own anti-Semitic ravings by claiming his parents are themselves Holocaust survivors, Dershowitz recently revealed that Finkelstein's mother was in fact a collaborator with German Nazis during the war. (“DePaul U Confronts Amerikan 'Empire,'” FrontPageMag.com (January 3, 2006);

posted on this web site under “The New Year Begins”)

On a brief biographical note, my late mother grew up in Warsaw, Poland and was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp and two slave-labor camps. Every member of her family in Poland was exterminated. After the war she was a key witness at a Nazi deportation hearing in the U.S. and at the trial of Maidanek concentration camp guards in Germany. My late father survived the Warsaw ghetto, Auschwitz concentration camp and the Auschwitz death march. His entire family in Poland was also exterminated.

Here is the full excerpt from my memoir that Dershowitz is allegedly quoting:

“Except for allusions to relentless pangs of hunger, my mother never spoke about her personal torments during the war, which was just as well, since I couldn't have borne them. Like Primo Levi, she often said that, being “too delicate and refined, the best didn't survive.”

“Was this an indirect admission of guilt? Much later in life I finally summoned the nerve to ask whether she had done anything of which she was ashamed. Calmly replying no, she recalled having refused the privileged position of “block head” in the camp. She especially resented the “dirty” question “How did you survive?” with the insinuation that, to emerge alive from the camps, survivors must have morally compromised themselves.

“Given how ferociously she cursed the Jewish councils, ghetto police and kapos, I assume my mother answered me truthfully. Although acknowledging that Jews initially joined the councils from mixed motives, she said that “only scum,” reaping the rewards of doing the devil's work, still cooperated after it became clear that they were merely cogs in the Nazi killing machine.

“When queried why she hadn't settled in Israel after the war, my mother used to reply, only half in jest, that “I had enough of Jewish leaders!” The Jewish ghetto police always had the option, she said, of “throwing off their uniforms and joining the rest of us” — a point that Yitzak Zuckerman, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, made in his memoir. (It was always gratifying to find my mother's seemingly erratic or harsh judgments seconded in the reliable testimonial literature.) Still shaking her head in disbelief, she would often recall how, after Jews in the ghetto used the most primitive implements or even bare hands to dig bunkers deep in the earth and conceal themselves, the Jewish police would reveal these hideouts to the Germans, sending their flesh-and-blood to the crematoria in order to save their own skins.

“One of the first acts of the ghetto resistance was to kill an officer in the Jewish police. On a sign posted next to his corpse — my mother would recall with vengeful glee — read the epitaph: “Those who live like a dog die like a dog.” Still, if she didn't cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me, how my mother must have fought Hobbes's war of all against all many a time in the camps. Really, how else would she have survived? (www.NormanFinkelstein.com, 'Haunted House')”
In The Brandeis Hoot, Dershowitz states:

Why would Finkelstein use the words if she didnt cross the fundamental moral boundaries unless he was questioning whether his mother had indeed crossed such boundaries, that is, whether she might well have collaborated or violated the other fundamental moral norms in the camps. Why else would he have included the if phrase?

Readers can judge for themselves whether Dershowitz has accurately rendered what I wrote.

A Brandeis undergraduate, Stefan Borst-Censullo '08, nobly rose to protect the memory of a Holocaust survivor who is no longer here to defend herself, and the reputation of her son, against obscene slanders. Under normal circumstances he would be the object of high praise. But Dershowitz contemptuously replies that truth does not seem relevant to Borst-Censullo. It is a double irony that Dershowitz fashions himself a great defender of Holocaust survivors against the likes of Finkelstein while he scandalizes the memory of these survivors.

Isnt it time already for Harvard to retire this brazen hoodlum?

Norman G. Finkelstein