Los Angeles, CA (2/12/05)–Weaving stories of her own flight from a war-torn Mennonite colony into a defense of her embattled husband Ernst Zundel, novelist Ingrid Rimland warned a California audience on February 3 that “what plagued us then in Russia…has now come to America. It’s here now.”
Rimland was in southern California to speak at a conference of the Institute for Historical Review prior to taking part in a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles the following day on behalf of her husband, a controversial publisher and activist who has been held in a Toronto prison for almost two years, on charges that he is a threat to the national security of Canada. Demonstrators rallied at Canadian consulates in several U.S. cities February 4 to call for Zundel’s release.
Zundel, an avowed pacifist with no criminal record in either Canada or the U.S., was living peacefully in Tennessee with Rimland after their marriage in 2000, until federal authorities effectively kidnapped him at his home using an expired immigration law, says Bruce Leichty, Clovis, California. Leichty, who has been representing the Zundels in a federal court proceeding in Tennessee since September 2004, joined Rimland at the Los Angeles rally 2/4.
Rimland told her California audience that her father had been taken away by Stalinist police in a similar manner in front of her when she was a child. “It was like a nightmare that happened to me 60 years ago, and it happened again.” She never saw her father again, and fears that the same will be true of her husband.
Zundel is currently awaiting a decision in his national security case from a Canadian judge–who used to represent Canada’s intelligence service–which would likely mean that he will be deported from Canada to Germany where he faces criminal penalties for his speech.
Her husband, a native of Germany, dares to speak of his own experience arising out of World War II and to challenge the prevailing historical orthodoxy, which makes him unpopular, says Rimland. “Why are we not allowed to talk about this? Why is it so terrible that there are people who say, the war that has been told to America is not the war we experienced?”
Zundel’s most controversial claim has been that accounts of gas chambers in WWII concentration camps are part of a successful propaganda hoax. Zundel believes he incurred the lasting wrath of an international bloc of Jewish lobbyists and government officials by presenting expert testimony on that and other subjects during two trials in Canada, where he lived for several decades prior to coming to the United States and marrying Rimland. He and Rimland say that most of the Jews and others who died in the camps did so from disease and starvation near the end of the war.
Rimland noted that she herself took a “politically incorrect” position in her novel The Wanderers, published in 1977, when she wrote that the German Army had been heroes to the Mennonite community, offering them safety from a Communist reign of terror. That novel, emerging from her experience and from research she did at the Mennonite Library and Archives at North Newton, Kansas, won California’s Best Fiction award for 1977. But “nobody ever called me names…[until] I met Ernst Zundel, that’s when the story changed.”
In her California presentation February 3, Rimland spoke autobiographically about surviving a forest massacre by Russian troops in postwar Germany, to which she and her mother and grandmother had fled; about her life as a “survivor” in the Volendam Mennonite colony in Paraguay; and about how her “prudish” inability to talk about breast-feeding her firstborn in the Paraguayan jungle ultimately led to medical malpractice resulting in her son’s brain damage, which in turn propelled her to North America in search of expert medical help.
She spoke of her quest to find her exiled father in Siberia and her discovery that he had started a new family after he was told that his wife and child had perished. She read lines from a recent letter sent by her half-sister, now resettled in Germany, who wrote that politics is “frightening” and that she would rather not know about the activities of Ernst Zundel “so I can sleep at night.”
Rimland was invited to speak in numerous Mennonite communities and in other settings after writing The Wanderers, but she says that all changed after she became an outspoken “revisionist.” During the last decade she has run a website called the Zundelsite, starting with materials published by Ernst Zundel such as “Did Six Million Really Die,” but now she says she is trying to reach out to Americans of various persuasions who are not revisionists but who nevertheless “are beginning to realize they’re losing their country.”
“Truth is truth. Lies are lies,” she told her audience. “It doesn’t matter if the truth is suppressed, it’s still the truth.”
She and Leichty are to speak at a student-sponsored event on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder February 17 at which controversial professor Ward Churchill is also slated to speak. Churchill made national headlines in January for an essay which he wrote in which he called victims of the World Trade Center bombings in September 2001 “military targets” and “little Eichmanns.”
Leichty says that not only has Zundel been thwarted during his Canadian trial by not being allowed to know the charges against him, but that it has been also difficult making headway on Zundel’s claims of government misconduct in the U.S. judicial system. After a Knoxville federal judge initially threw out Zundel’s claim, the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed that decision and sent the case back to Knoxville, but the same federal judge has now ruled that he lacks even the authority to review the Attorney General’s decision to arrest and deport Zundel.
Despite hearing testimony and argument about the unprecedented seizure of Zundel and of the expiration of the law under which Zundel was seized, the judge tried to “wash his hands” of the case at trial held in November 2004, says Leichty, by openly stating he wanted a higher court to rule on the legal questions in the case.
Zundel’s adversaries call him a “Holocaust denier” and say that he preaches anti-semitism and white supremacy–charges he denies. In an FBI report on Zundel released under the Freedom of Information Act, says Leichty, an FBI agent concluded that Zundel was not a security threat and that Zundel would probably succeed in getting U.S. permanent residence as a result of his marriage to a U.S. citizen, and the agent recommended closing the FBI’s file. Several months later, however, Zundel was arrested at his home and has been jailed ever since.
“What Zundel experienced was a shocking violation of established immigration law and procedure, made all the more alarming because it was clearly motivated by a desire to suppress his right to free speech and to punish freedom of conscience,” says Leichty. Leichty, who has practiced law in California since 1987, says he first met Rimland in the 1980’s through a mutual interest in Paraguayan Mennonites and their ties to National Socialism, at a time when “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal was charging that Mennonite colonies had sheltered Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. At that time Rimland shared with Leichty her criticism of a doctor in the Volendam colony who she believed was Mengele, but who was using a different name and performing unnecessary surgeries.
Leichty met Zundel for the first time when he was asked to testify about the immigration irregularities in Zundel’s case at Zundel’s Canadian national security trial in the summer of 2003. Among the irregularities Leichty noted were the absence of two letters written by Zundel’s attorney in the official U.S. INS file, and the failure of INS to notify Rimland or Zundel at the time that Rimland’s application for her husband was supposedly deemed “abandoned.” Leichty testified that Zundel and Rimland and their prior immigration attorney had scrupulously complied with U.S. law in their application for his permanent resident status.
Rimland pointed out at the Tennessee trial in November 2004 that she had lived under four dictators and had always believed that the United States was a nation of “laws, not men.” But that belief is being sorely tested by the treatment that Zundels have suffered in both the United States and Canada, says Leichty, and “what makes Zundel’s claims against the U.S. all the more disturbing is that they have been almost totally ignored by media in the U.S.” Zundel’s national security trial in Toronto received limited coverage in Canada, but the Toronto Globe and Mail recently editorialized against the national security proceeding used against Zundel, which gives government ministers unprecedented power, including the ability to use secret evidence and testimony, and results in a judgment which is not appealable.
The Associated Press did cover the most recent demonstration held in Los Angeles, where shouting counter-protestors carrying Jewish Defense League signs were kept apart from Zundel supporters by a double column of Los Angeles police.
“Regardless of what one may think of his views, Ernst Zundel is a modern-day martyr for his beliefs, and all persons of conscience throughout North America should be troubled,” Leichty says.