Mennonite Life Letter
Letter to the Editor of Mennonite Life
North Newton, Kansas
Jim Juhnke in the latest issue of Mennonite Life has added to the uncharitable and, in some respects inaccurate, portrayal of Ingrid Rimland Zundel and her work that has characterized Juhnke’s work and that of other Mennonite reviewers since Rimland’s conversion to historical revisionism in the 1990’s.
First, it is not correct for Juhnke to say that Ingrid’s husband, Ernst Zundel, was “extradited” to Germany. Instead, he was deported illegally from the United States and subjected to a show trial in Canada, at the conclusion of which he was also deported from Canada, branded a racist and threat to Canada’s national security. Extradition happens to criminals, and Ernst Zundel was never charged with a crime. Subordination of historical accuracy to story line is something Juhnke would have us believe that only Ingrid Rimland engages in.
Moreover, although at the time of his political kidnapping from his Tennessee home Zundel was seeking (and eligible for) lawful permanent resident status in the United States based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen (Ingrid Rimland), he has never sought U.S. citizenship, something that Juhnke says he was “denied.” Maybe to Juhnke the difference between citizenship and lawful permanent residence is a trifling matter, but for thousands of immigrants it is not.
Also, I have never provided Ernst Zundel with a “legal defense.” I never got the chance to do so. Ernst Zundel, unlike most aliens charged with being in the U.S. illegally, was never charged in the U.S. and never got to see an immigration judge but was instead hustled across the northern border and dumped unceremoniously in the same country from which he had legally entered the United States in the year 2000. Ernst Zundel, despite his marriage to a U.S. citizen, never got his day in court in the U.S., nor did he ever get to see the secret “national security” evidence thrown against him in Canada, where he had Canadian attorneys “defending” him. As a lawyer, I can only imagine how utterly impossible it would be to defend against secret witnesses with unknown motives and integrity.
I do now represent Ingrid and Ernst in a legal action they filed against the United States and its agents. The courts are playing hot potato with the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals has already sent the case back to the District Court Judge in Knoxville once because of error in his court, and a second appeal of further Knoxville error is pending.
Though Juhnke has included in his review a gratuitous remark about my efforts to bring this story to the attention of Mennonites, Juhnke has either willfully ignored the reasons for my own efforts or considers them unimportant. Ernst Zundel, like our Anabaptist forebears, is a pacifist who is in prison because he has made unpopular truth claims. Even if you hate his claims and what he stands for — which is exactly the kind of hate our forebears faced for daring to challenge the status quo — that is the undeniable reality. His case thus has important implications for free speech and the stifling of dissent, for the way history is written and used as a club, and for the extension of due process of law and civil liberties to even the most reviled among us–all of which are core Anabaptist issues. Fear of being labeled antisemitic should not deter us in these recognitions.
Further, one can only hope that when Juhnke refers without comment to the “crime of denying the Holocaust” he is not endorsing the criminalization of speech or political conviction or historical dissent, like Germany has done with respect to this single issue. Already Franklin Littell, a well known Reformation scholar and a member of the advisory board of the Mennonite Quarterly Review, has fallen into this trap, saying, “You can’t discuss the truth of the holocaust. That is a distortion of the concept of free speech. The United States should emulate Germany, which outlaws such exercises” (quote obtained from Reporter’s Notebook news service, New York). Littell’s willingness to submit historical inquiry to political orthodoxy is outrageous, but it may help to explain the vapid history-writing that Mennonites themselves have produced.
The timing of Juhnke’s review could not be more curious. Rimland’s book The Demon Doctor was copyrighted in 1988, 17 years before the review appeared. Although it is perhaps to be implied, the review was obviously written now in an attempt to discredit either Ingrid Rimland or me or both of us, after I had alerted members of the corporation of Mennonite Weekly Review, Inc. about the Zundel story and about MWR’s failure to cover it. Juhnke has not disclosed his membership on the board of the MWR corporation or his receipt of my mailing to corporation members.
It is perhaps no coincidence that James Schrag, general secretary of MCUSA and brother to Robert Schrag, MWR publisher, invoked the name of Juhnke during an intense conversation that I had with the general secretary at the just-completed Charlotte 2005 MCUSA convention. Schrag and his associate Ron Byler sought alternatively to intimidate and belittle me as they insisted that I not distribute flyers announcing a presentation at Charlotte by Ingrid Zundel (more details about that encounter).
Whatever the politics, however, both the story told by Ingrid Rimland in The Demon Doctor about her search for Josef Mengele, and the story she told at Charlotte 2005 culminating in her conversion to historical revisionism, are compelling stories that Mennonites have every reason to be interested in, and one can only hope that discerning Mennonites will ultimately prefer raw history to raw hysteria.
Law Offices of Bruce Leichty
Law Offices of Bruce Leichty
Bruce Leichty may be contacted at .