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A Holocaust of Scholarship

Author Defends His Book Against a Professor's Critique

By John J. Sack

A headline in a February edition of The Crimson read, "Holocaust Museum Cancels Sack Speech." The story below it, published in February, said the Museum had invited, then disinvited, a journalist named Sack who'd intended to speak of Jews who ran concentration camps at the end of World War II and beat, tortured and killed the German inmates: German men, women, children, babies.

The story, picked up off the Associated Press wire, didn't mention that Sack graduated Harvard, Class of 1951 or that he was a former Crimson editor. And it didn't mention that he would try to rekindle his fiery youth just one month later by sending the Crimson his first contribution in almost fifty years.

Hello, future fellow alumni! I am Sack, the heretic author of An Eye for an Eye. Call it chutzpah, but in it I wrote that in 1945 hundreds of Jews wore olive-colored uniforms and ran a Polish bureaucracy called the Office of State Security. I wrote that they and the Catholics who worked for them rounded up German civilians, took them to 1,255 camps, beat them with "beaters-to-death," put splinters up their fingernails, put living toads in their throats, and put gasoline in their hair, then lit it. I wrote that 60,000 to 80,000 Germans died.

Yes, I intended to say all this in Washington at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, but also I'd say (as I did in the piece published in The Crimson) that "God knows the Jews were provoked." I'd say that they soon remembered how Jews should behave and did what the SS had never done: they deserted, defected. The title of my soft-spoken speech would be "Revenge and Redemption, 1945."

Then the Museum scrubbed me. The cancellation, the story in The Crimson said, was not necessarily welcome to Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, who said, "I want people to see how wrong he is." Until I read this, I hadn't thought of Wieseltier as an especially staunch defender of Freedom of Speech.

Even before An Eye for an Eye came out, Wieseltier's boss at The New Republic, Lecturer on Social Studies Martin Peretz, called up my publishers vowing to destroy the book, and Wieseltier himself told New York magazine, "The sooner we stopped this book, the better."

He then sought to smother it (and also inspired this Crimson piece) by hiring Harvard's Associate Professor of Government and of Social Studies Daniel J. Goldhagen, who, in December 27, 1993 article for The New Republic, let loose a volley of hatchets against An Eye for an Eye.

Goldhagen hinted that I, a Jew, was an anti-Semite. He said I was morally sloppy and intellectually tawdry. He called my 65 pages of endnotes bewildering, and he complained that I'd written, "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew passions?" without attributing the phrase to playwright William Shakespeare. Goldhagen said I'd done outright fictionalization.

This despite the fact that all the scholars who'd check my bewildering notes at the German Federal Archives would write, "The story is there," "The facts are correct," "The writing is watertight."

The sharpest of Goldhagen's hatchets went at my "outrageous claims" about the Jewish commandant of the camp at Schwientochlowitz, near Auschwitz, even though my claims that the man killed the Germans with clubs, crowbars, stools, and the Germans' own crutches would be confirmed by 60 Minutes, The New York Times, and the German newspaper Die Zeit.

In The New Republic, Goldhagen lied. He said that I hadn't written things that, at a glance, a freshman (in high school) could ascertain that I had. In An Eye for an Eye I'd written in highly legible type of the commandant at Lamsdorf, "He insisted (and all the Jews accepted) that he was a Polish Catholic," but Goldhagen claimed, "It is only in the notes, eighty pages away...that the unusually diligent reader will discover [that] he was a Polish Catholic."

But Goldhagen's hatchets were two-headed ones, for he also claimed that I'd written things that I hadn't. Our high-school freshman could read in An Eye for an Eye that 75 percent of the officers--the majors, captains, lieutenants--in the Office of State Security in the province of Silesia in February 1945 were Jews, but Goldhagen claimed that I'd written that "75 percent of those in the Office of State Security in Silesia were Jews."

Of those? Of those what? The adjective in a noun's disguise was Goldhagen's awkward way of concealing from innocent readers that I had been writing of officers only.

May I go on? Having misrepresented me, Goldhagen then refuted me with statistics about the officers and the privates, about Silesia and the rest of Poland, and about an antithetical era. Goldhagen wrote: "We know how many Jews were in the Office of State Security. According to a tabulation of November 21, 1945, by Boleslaw Bierut, then President of Poland, the Office of State Security had 438 Jews. 438! Not Sack's 75 percent but 1.7 percent."

"Uh, no," says our thirteen-year-old high school student, for I'd clearly written that Jews left the Office "as early as June 1945," that "hundreds of Jews escaped from the Office" by September 1945, and that "all but a scattering of Jews returned to the Torah and Talmud and fled from the Office by December 1945." If, as Goldhagen said, there were 438 Jews in the Office as late as November 21, 1945, that's sixty times more than I'd ever mentioned in An Eye for an Eye. I reported this in a letter to The New Republic, but the editors (my avowed free speech defenders) wouldn't publish it, and when I bought a $425 advertisement, the editors wouldn't publish that either.

All this was Wieseltier's decision. But what would entice a Harvard Associate Professor to act as Wieseltier's willing executioner? "The facts are," Goldhagen said in The New Republic, his certitude unencumbered by certainty, "that Jews did not run the Polish Office of State Security."

Oh? A Columbia professor told New York, "The great majority of officers were certainly Jews." A professor in Warsaw found a Who's Who of the 447 top officers from 1944 to 1953, and thirty percent declared they were Jews. (How many Jews didn't declare it? How many deserted in 1945?)

What was the source of Goldhagen's unprofessional fit? His piece in The New Republic had such disregard for his University's motto that he may just have been seeking to immunize his upcoming book from any eyewitness evidence that what we must learn from the Holocaust isn't that all Jews are good and all Germans are bad.

And yet I can't swear that a germ of veritas doesn't lurk in Goldhagen's screed. Let truth and falsehood grapple, said Milton--let former student and present professor debate at some forum in Cambridge what Jews did or didn't do after the Holocaust.

Professor Goldhagen, I challenge you.

Oh, one little update. The speech that I didn't give at the Holocaust Museum, I gave at the National Press Club. But (doubtless to Wieseltier's disappointment) the press didn't see how wrong I was. The press applauded.

John J. Sack '51, a former, Crimson editor, is a freelance writer.

The New Republic wouldn't publish my letter. And when I bought a $425 ad, the editors wouldn't publish that either.

Goldhagen is wrong to understand the Holocaust as teaching that all Jews are good and all Germans are bad.

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