Office of the Chancellor
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Open letter from Dr. John Silber to Colleges and Universities
I write to bring to your attention libels that have appeared recently in college and university papers concerning Boston University professor Elie Wiesel. These have taken the form of advertisements placed by the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) and its director. Bradley R. Smith.
Just as surely as a student newspaper would be reluctant to run an advertisement in favor of the flat earth theory and no university would hire a professor who advocated the flat earth theory, anyone who cares about the truth is under an obligation to think twice before offering a platform to those who systematically lie by denying the Holocaust. Those lies are at the heart of the advertisement submitted by Mr. Smith.
The advertisement begins by misunderstanding the idea of the university. It is not merely to promote intellectual freedom, but also to promote intellectual responsibility in the pursuit of truth. It is contrary to the ideal of the university to promote deliberate lies. It is also contrary to the propose of the university to participate in libeling individuals
Mr. Smith's libel of Elie Wiesel is multiple.
1.) He reports that Elie Wiesel claims that he was liberated from Dachau, from Buchenwald and from Auschwitz. That is contrary to fact. Elie Wiesel wrote in Night that he was liberated from Buchenwald, and he has never claimed anything else. Newspapers occasionally get facts wrong, and Smith bases his claim about Wiesel not on Wiesel's writings but on newspaper reports From these erroneous accounts, Smith claims that Wiesel is not a credible witness.
2.) Smith writes, "Elie Wiesel claims in All Rivers Run to the Sea, 'I read [Immanuel Kant's] The Critique of Pure Reason in Yiddish.''' Smith continues, "Kant's Critique has not been translated into Yiddish. Here again, EW did not tell the truth. " But selections from Kant's Critique of Practical Reason had been translated into and published into Yiddish in pre-war Warsaw — I have a photocopy of the title page before me as I write. After the passage of 50 years, Wiesel misnamed the Critique he had read in 1945, but his minor slip hardly justifies Smith's claim that "EW did not tell the truth."
3.) Smith writes. "EW claims that after Jews were executed at Babi Yar in the Ukraine, 'geysers of blood' spurted from their grave for 'months' afterward." Wiesel's words are these: "Eye witnesses say that for months after the killings the ground continued to spurt geysers of blood. One was always treading on corpses." Nowhere did Elie Wiesel claim to see geysers of blood, only that he heard these reported.
4.) Smith claims, "Elie Wiesel as an authority on 'hate' " and Smith says he counseled "on how to perpetuate a loathing for Germans." No fair-minded person can read Wiesel's "Appointment with Hate" and reach that conclusion. Rather, it is a penetrating analysis of his own reactions as he visited Germany for the first time following the war. He entered Germany hating Germans and ended his visit finding it was impossible to hate. In that article, he went on to explain why Jews are not inclined to hate and why they did not engage in acts of vengeance against the Germans.
Moreover, following his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Peace Elie Wiesel has used the substance of his prize to sponsor conferences in the United Stales and Moscow and elsewhere on "The Anatomy of Hate:" His consistent theme at those conferences, and I have participated in two, has been to denounce hate as a corrosive, destructive element in human nature that must be replaced with understanding and hope.
The quotation cited by Smith doesn't even support his libel. In the quote, Elie Wiesel does not say that every Jew "should set apart a zone of hate -- healthy virile hate " for Germans. Rather he said they "should set apart a zone of hate -- healthy, virile hate -- for what the German personifies and for what persists in the Germans." As the Nazi generation has passed from the scene, what Germans personify and what persists in the Germans has changed. What Germans personified in 1945 is not what a different generation of Germans personify today.
Elie Wiesel was invited by the President and Chancellor of Germany to speak in Berlin on January 27, 2000, the day of the remembrance of the liberation of Auschwitz. That address was notable for the absence of hate and the plea for remembrance and forgiveness on which reconciliation between Germans and Jews can be possible In that address Wiesel commented favorably on Germany's support of Israel, on Germany's compensation for the victims of the Third Reich, and on Germany's recent initiative in compensating those who were used as forced laborers.
What is the motivation and purpose of Mr. Smith and his CODOH? Why do they find it personally important to deny the Holocaust and to abuse and denigrate Professor Wiesel? Isn't it relevant to ask? Bradley R. Smith and his Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust are a travesty and a repudiation of all that a university should stand for when falsehood is disseminated and truth is suppressed
A university should have as one of its purposes to teach students the difference between the search for truth and false propaganda. No newspaper -- and certainly no newspaper on the campus of a university -- is under any obligation to advertise and perpetuate vicious lies. Bradley R Smith's advertisement is a repudiation of learning, a violation of civil discourse and libelous harassment.
Source: The Mazal Library: A Holocaust Resource. Reprinted with permission of Chancellor Silber.