Birds of a feather

by Yule Heibel on May 22, 2003

It’s difficult for me even to begin a post about someone like Ernst Zundel, but a friend of mine local man, Gregory Hartnell, received an anonymous and threatening letter yesterday after speaking out publicly against Mr. Zundel, and it’s of course impossible to let the matter get swept under the rug. He took the letter to the local police, who in turn want to take a closer look, as befits the situation.

Here’s a brief summary: Ernst Zundel, born in Germany in 1939, is a Holocaust-denier and a hate-monger. From a website called Zundelsite, operating out of California, he distributes vicious anti-semitic propaganda. He came to Canada in 1958 at the age of 19, to avoid the German draft, and rapidly fell in with a notorious Canadian Nazi, Adrien Arcand, who helped him turn his own snippets of personal history into a cosmic melodrama. To whit, Mr. Zundel joined his personal story to the old canard that Jews control the world and the Holocaust never happened.

Suddenly, the metaphysically small Mr. Zundel was very big, and just as suddenly he had a crusade to embark on.

Despite emigrating to Canada in 1958, Mr. Zundel never applied for Canadian citizenship, at least not until 1994, when he perhaps sensed that his German citizenship was a potential liability. However, since he had been busy for years propagating hatred, the Canadians were by this time not interested in granting his application and he was turned down. Let me add that Germany doesn’t allow dual citizenship except under very exceptional circumstances. If Zundel had applied for Canadian citizenship before the Canadians got wind of his activities, and had succeeded, he would have lost his German one, which is perhaps why he never applied earlier, the loss of status in the fatherland being too much to bear. Canada on the other hand allows multiple citizenships, which indicates to me that it’s more democratic in its bureaucracy than most other countries. Although Mr. Zundel made his home here from 1958 to 2000, he was unwilling to recognize this fact, probably because he wasn’t interested in democracy in the first place.

Mr. Zundel left Canada for the United States at the end of 2000, and through his lawyer renounced his Landed Immigrant status (the Canadian equivalent of Permanent Residency). When his visitor visa to the US expired, the Americans wanted him out; he was returned to Canada in February 2003, from where he is supposed to be deported to Germany (recall that he renounced his Canadian Landed Immigrant status).

But now Mr. Zundel is fighting this in the courts, trying, of all things, to claim refugee status here. He’s a German citizen, and he should be sent back to Germany, which was the point Gregory Hartnell made in his letter to the local paper, which in turn prompted the local Nazis to emerge just long enough to send their anonymous, poisonous missive.

One more thing: Back in 1995, I published an art and intellectual history of the immediate post-World War II period in western Germany. It grew out of my irritation over the marketing of 1980s neo-Expressionism, which according to contemporary critics represented the first time that Germans were culturally coming to terms with their Nazi past. The suggestion was that everyone from 1945 onward was a sheep, and that not until the 68ers came along was analytical justice done. Many 68ers despised neo-expressionism, and I agreed on this point, but I came to disagree with their view that they had a monopoly on open discourse. In my research I discovered that the immediate post-war period, particularly prior to the 1948 currency reform and Berlin blockade, was one of vibrant discussion, and I did not come across a single instance where the Americans “directed” the Germans in suppressing anything, even though Sixties anti-Americanism often enough bowdlerized this idea into a truism. When suppression came, it originated from the Germans themselves, from a ruling class, unfettered by American directives, reconstituting itself out of a wartime old guard that wanted to ensure the firmness of its strides towards the new economic miracle of the 50s. At this point — half a decade after the war ended — the lid on the past was slammed shut, by Germans, and Germany returned to a status quo of “normalcy” that had never existed in the first place. Ironically, Zundel appropriates a Sixties leftist rhetoric when he links his petit-bourgeois trajectory to History At Large. Thus, he writes in his autobiography that he had been taught to “hate Hitler and all he stood for and had been brainwashed by Allied occupation authorities-produced books in post-war German Schools.” Along with the rest of Zundel’s bag of tricks, this “poor German” canard, while not as morally repugnant as the anti-Semitic ones he likes to dispense, also deserves to land on the trash heap of bankrupt ideas.

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