A Forgettable, But Survivable Hatchet Job on IHR
- Never Forget. Produced by Robert Radnitz. Directed by Joseph Sargent. Turner Pictures, Inc. 1991. 2 hours.
Reviewed by J. Marcellus
Never Forget, Turner Broadcasting's version of the "Mel Mermelstein story," which hit the airwaves nationwide via the TNT cable network on the evening of April 8, 1991 -- and in at least seven airings during the week that followed -- was a pretty forgettable effort. The drama fell far short of both poetry and truth. Nevertheless, Never Forget did serve as a timely reminder to many -- and an introduction to many more -- that there is a Revisionist movement, and an Institute for Historical Review, which challenge a version of the Second World War, and its sacrosanct "Holocaust," that until the appearance of Never Forget were presented as uncontested truth on America's most influential mass medium.
As Never Forget begins, this disclaimer rolls across the screen:
While certain scenes are adapted from incidents in the lives of the Mermelstein family and other individuals, all legal proceedings portrayed are based on actual transcripts and documents.
Like much that follows in the docudrama, these words are deceptive. In fact Never Forget materially falsifies testimony and court proceedings, as well as fracturing history and truth in fact and in spirit from start to finish.
The story of the Mermelstein affair has been truncated, partly to keep production costs down (ergo, no Auschwitz stage sets) but also to represent the judicial notice taken by Judge Thomas Johnson that "Jews were gassed to death at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland in 1944" as a signal legal and historical victory which effectively ended the lawsuit. Thus, viewers are spared the dull story of the nearly four years of legal maneuvering which followed, by which Mermelstein and his lawyers sought to destroy IHR, and thus Historical Revisionism, in America.
The Mel Mermelstein of Never Forget , as played by Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek notoriety, is a prosperous businessman, happy family man, and pillar of the community, not the man whom a Los Angeles Jewish newspaper, quoting "members of the Jewish community" and a "close friend" of Mermelstein, described as "a difficult moody man" and "his own worst enemy" ("Mermelstein, Hailed As a Hero, Stood Virtually Alone During Holocaust Trial," Israel Today, August 2, 1985, pp. 6, 18). His wife Jane, as played by Blythe Danner, is a nothing less than a transplanted Southern belle, while his three sons and one daughter make a convincingly half-Jewish, all-American brood (for reasons which are obscure, daughter Edie is presented in Never Forget as a 12-year-old, rather than the high-school graduate she actually was at the time).
When he receives a letter from the Institute challenging him to, in effect, put up or shut up following his public challenge to lead IHR's Editorial Advisory board to the exact spot at which he witnessed "the actual gassings of men, women, and little children in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms," Mermelstein-Nimoy's earlier bravado seems to crumble. But he is nonetheless determined to call IHR's bluff by providing proof that yes, Jews were gassed at Auschwitz, and thus claim the $50,000 reward which had been offered, withdrawn when nobody complied with the stated rules of evidence (those of American criminal courts), and then offered again to Mermelstein (without authorization from IHR's Board of Directors) by Director David McCalden, writing under the name "Lewis Brandon."
Mermelstein-Nimoy calls first on the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League, then on the Simon Wiesenthal Center for professional advice and legal help in getting the best of the Institute. But both groups turn him away, assuring him that although the IHR is composed of "professional liars and haters," he is likely to cause American Jewry more harm than good by giving them a public forum. Besides, both groups have busy schedules (Rabbi Hier's Wiesenthal Center alone is on the trail of 400 "Nazi war criminals"!). Mermelstein-Nimoy goes away dispirited, sadder if not wiser, still resolved to confront and beat IHR.
These scenes have a double meaning for the perceptive revisionist, and the second meaning is by no means deleterious. Most readers of these pages should take heart from the glad tidings that Holocaust Revisionism "is cropping up every place," according to Rabbi Hier of the SWC, who also notes that "we see this sort of thing all the time," and " [the IHR] is the largest racist and anti-Semitic group in the country ... well-funded, spread out all over the country, with newspapers, radio and television outlets ... just the tip of the iceberg." (Elsewhere in the movie, IHR is referred to in no less flattering terms: as part of "an empire of hate -- connected, well-funded," and a group of "liars and bullies," whose books "you find when you look under rocks.")
Still, the obsessive (he's embarrassed even his eldest son with his fixation on Auschwitz) Mermelstein-Nimoy is not about to give up. He draws up a list of 16 lawyers whom he contacts one by one, all of whom also turn him down. Through all this, the hero is given spiritual sustenance by visits to his homemade Holocaust museum, where he reminisces in view of the old shoes, artifacts made from barbed wire, cakes of soap, pictures and other memorabilia he has accumulated over the years.
Then wife Jane has an idea: why not contact William Cox, a Gentile lawyer who has done business with Mermelstein in the past but curiously was not on his list of potential attorneys. Cox, who is portrayed by Dabney Coleman as the very stereotype of the "lovable curmudgeon" into which TV alchemy can always be counted on to transform ideologically acceptable cranks, ultimately accepts, after the required drama of first turning Mermelstein- Nimoy down and then waking him up at 2 a.m. saying he'll take the case, supposedly pro bono, i.e., without fee. And although Cox doesn't know "how much these liars and bullies are willing to pour into the case," after communing with himself among the paraphernalia of his Holocaust museum Mermelstein-Nimoy courageously decides to go ahead with the task of making everyone remember the last words he ever heard from his father, the plea to son Mel to "never forget" (oddly enough, Mermelstein seems to have forgotten these words when writing his allegedly autobiographical By Bread Alone ...they appear nowhere therein).
On December 18, 1980, Cox writes IHR to tell the Institute of his client's acceptance of the reward offer, enclosing Mermelstein-Nimoy's "evidence" of gassing ...a sworn statement in which he details his witnessing his mother and three sisters enter an Auschwitz "gas chamber," and a list of other alleged witnesses to bolster his story.
A ploy is hit on by which IHR will be sued for breach of contract if it does not respond within thirty days, and Mermelstein-Nimoy sweats out the waiting period, dogging his family, Cox, and bemused letter carriers to make sure that the all-important IHR response (which in any case would be addressed to Cox) has not come. It doesn't (not by the Cox-Mermelstein deadline, anyway), and it's off to the courts.
What does come to Mermelstein-Nimoy's home through the mail in this deceitful drama, however, is some "hair of gassed Jewish victim" and "pure Jewish fat" (a piece of soap). The clear implication of this emotive scene (Mermelstein's young daughter opens the envelope and shrieks in terror) is that the "haters and deniers" have violated the sanctity of Mermelstein's hearth and home with something base and obscene. That the Germans made soap neither from Jews nor anyone else during the war, and that there would be no way to distinguish the hair of a "gassed" concentration inmate from that of a "survivor," since the Germans customarily deloused the shorn hair of inmates, are facts lost on television audiences, most of whom must think: "What despicable monsters these Revisionists must be!"
By now Mermelstein-Nimoy is reeling from the (imaginary) onslaught of the "bigots." His family is buckling too: the kids (except for his adoring daughter) haven't been supportive enough, and even his wife is dubious about pursuing the case against the Institute. By now the television Mermelsteins are convinced they're dealing with the whole phantasmagoria of "extremists" and "terrorists," and that their very property and lives may be in danger.
There are other reverses as Mermelstein-Nimoy begins to search for other "eyewitnesses" to corroborate his story. His first choice, an old woman of evidently long-standing acquaintance, comes unglued at the mention of Auschwitz: the Gestapo still has the habit of dropping in on her in the dead of night (he doesn't find a better "eyewitness" in the drama, although in real life Mermelstein offered Miklos Nyiszli, dead for some thirty years, to back up his reward claim).
There are still more pressures on Mermelstein-Nimoy. His pallet manufacturing business begins to suffer because he can't remember delivery promises, so consumed he is by his obsession with the case. Next, an anonymous miscreant throws a dead pig on his doorstep, and Mermelstein-Nimoy receives an anonymous phone call one night to inform him that his business is on fire (after Mermelstein-Nimoy and son race to the pallet company, the call proves to be a false alarm).
Nerves wearing thin, Mermelstein-Nimoy and Cox infiltrate a meeting of the "National Legion of Patriots," at which the speaker (conveniently at that very moment) is in the middle of a harangue about the myth of the Holocaust. Mermelstein- Nimoy, enraged by what is in fact a pretty fair summation of the basic Revisionist case, tries to shout him down. Cox wrestles him out of the meeting as the audience, faces red with bulging veins and contorted with hate, scream insults and slurs -- it's a far trek from Star Trek for the poker-faced icon who was Mr. Spock.
Then it's on to the IHR's first deposition of Mermelstein- Nimoy, in which he is sworn to answer questions from the Institute fully and truthfully. This is of course represented as a sadistic ordeal, with both IHR's counsel, Richard Fusilier, and this reviewer (both of us named) harassing Mel with cruel questions about his experiences at Auschwitz. To show how sneaky IHR's director is, I am chastised for smuggling a microcassette recorder into the deposition in my jacket pocket, which Mel discovers...a real feat since microcassette recorders were not even on the market at that time. (And I cannot let it pass that the actor who played me was plump, gray-haired, 25 years too old, and decidedly uglier than me...a personal insult for which I'll forgive Mel if he will only let us alone.)
After the harrowing ordeal of the exhausting deposition (the plaintiff was suffered the indignity of having to answer hard questions about his concentration-camp experiences), Mermelstein-Nimoy confesses to his family that he might lose the case because of Fusilier's tricky questions or because, at a key moment, he might forget or get crossed up on some tiny detail about the gas chambers. But finally there comes the great and historic day in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Johnson, who after hearing a heart-rending witness-stand account of Mermelstein's personal experiences at Auschwitz, and his promise to his father "never to forget," takes judicial notice that the Holocaust is a fact not subject to reasonable dispute. Much joy and celebration. The End (of this docudrama, anyway).
If the viewer has remained awake through this dishwater-dull, soap-operatic nonsense, he or she may be interested in an accounting of what was actually true and what was demonstrably false in Never Forget. In fact, a lengthy list of material distortions and falsehoods, as well as lesser violations of the truth made in hopes of livening up the turgid Melodrama could be compiled. Here are just a few of them:
- The drama represents the initial letter sent to Mermelstein as part of a deliberate IHR plot to harass the "survivor." In fact the letter re-opening the reward offer was undertaken entirely on the initiative of the late David McCalden, then director of IHR, who consulted neither the Institute's board nor its founder. (The announcement that the $50,000 reward offer for proof of gassings at Auschwitz had officially expired was made at the Second International Revisionist Conference. The full and detailed story of the reward offer is told in the booklet Worldwide Growth and Impact of Holocaust Revisionism, which is still available from IHR.) McCalden was shortly discharged, after subsequent incidents gave further evidence of irresponsibility, and even hostility, to the interests of IHR.
All the same, in regard to the initial letter to Mermelstein, Never Forget veers, briefly and unexpectedly, toward something of the truth, as opposed to his counsels' representations at the time and subsequently. In his actual letter of December 18, 1980, Cox represented that the way in which the evidence submitted to claim the reward would be judged was still undecided, suggesting that the proceeding be televised and then voted on by the TV audience. Thereafter, Mermelstein, Cox, and their successors swore ignorance of any other proposed method of judgment -- including the specification that IHR would choose the judges - despite the fact that a sheet of rules including IHR's choice of the judges was routinely sent with every reward application. Never Forget, however, has Cox speaking dismissively of the Institute's "kangaroo court," and not tailoring his case to a jury of couch potatoes; and Cox makes quite clear in the drama that his strategy is based on luring IHR into the courts.
- Never in any of his depositions has Mermelstein ever referred to "gassed" hair, "Jewish fat" or a dead pig being delivered to his home. In fact, the closest such incident this reviewer can recall was the depositing of a dead pig, owned up to by one Irv Rubin, on the porch of a Jew who'd run afoul of Rubin through his alleged sympathies for the Palestinians, about five years ago. Rubin, chief of the terroristic Jewish Defense League, once stated on Los Angeles television (April 6, 1981) that "Mermelstein is one of our financial supporters," although Mel denies supporting the JDL or ever meeting Rubin.
- The reviewer has never heard of a "National Legion of Patriots," nor is there any record of Mel ever crashing any meeting at which Holocaust Revisionism was being promoted. Out of exemplary fairness, however, IHR did invite William Cox to speak briefly at the Third International Revisionist Conference held in Los Angeles in November of 1981. Cox appeared, said his piece (chastising the audience for attending a conference sponsored by a group with such anti-Semitic views), and was treated politely.
- The claim put in Nimoy-Mermelstein's mouth during his deposition, that his brother, like his father, was "worked to death" in the coal mines of the Auschwitz sub-camp at Jaworzno, is a fabrication of the docudrama. In the actual deposition Mermelstein says nothing of the circumstances of his brother's alleged death; elsewhere, Mermelstein has claimed that his brother was shot for refusing to take part in an evacuation march (which to the German guards could only have been tantamount to an escape attempt). A small thing, perhaps, but an irrefutable indication of the liberties Never Again has taken with the legal record -- and perhaps a sign of Mermelstein's continuing inclination to alter his stories, or at least acquiesce in errors made by others (during the deposition in question, Mermelstein claimed his father died "of torture, hunger, and also because of inability to see his son suffer and being beaten and tortured," but in an article which appeared in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner on February 15, 1981, reporter Timothy Carlson quoted Mermelstein as saying that he had seen his father as well as his mother and sisters led off to the gas chambers. And there is solid evidence for other Mermelstein versions of his father's death.)
- There is no record of Mel ever receiving a crank call that his business had been set aflame. However, on the night of July 4, 1984 the office and warehouse of the Institute for Historical Review was totally destroyed by arson, a crime that the authorities have never seriously investigated and which set the IHR back by years and some $400,000.
- Whatever were the difficulties Mermelstein had in recruiting an attorney at the outset (and they seem overdrawn to say the least), there has been no shortage of free legal help through most of his ten-year crusade against IHR and Revisionism: there has been a legion of top-flight lawyers at his beck and call. He has enjoyed important support from important segments of the Jewish community (despite his initial dismissal by those influential Jewish groups he first turned to for help). Nor has the judiciary of Los Angeles County and the press been anything except extremely supportive of him. The alleged "facts" dramatized in the film are directly contradicted by the actual record. It was IHR that was almost unable to file a timely answer to Mermelstein's original complaint in 1980 because no lawyer, even noted "civil rights" advocates in the area, would touch the case. Fortunately, one attorney was found, Richard Fusilier, who agreed to represent the IHR because no other attorney in the state of California would take its case.
- In real life Mermelstein is not precisely the normal personality portrayed by Leonard Nimoy. Nowhere in the film is there any mention of the fact that he had been under psychiatric care long before IHR, and the emotional distress its actions allegedly caused him intruded into his supposedly well-balanced mind and life.
- The drama portrays Mermelstein as a cooperative witness willing, if not eager, to answer Fusilier's questions honestly and completely during the first deposition. Never Forget also depicts Mermelstein-Nimoy as finally breaking down into heart-wrenching sobs when the attorney's probing questions become just too much for an Auschwitz "survivor" and "eyewitness" to his mother and sisters' "gassing" to bear. But what in fact took place at that deposition (I was present) was that Mermelstein proved a most elusive respondent: often he seemed unwilling to give a straight answer to even the simplest questions, misunderstanding them, waxing broadly philosophical, forgetting inconvenient details, dueling back and forth with Fusilier and all in all leading IHR's lawyer on a merry chase. At no time during the entire deposition did Mermelstein shed a single tear. On the contrary, he struck me as hostile, combative, and evasive throughout the entire deposition.
- At the dramatic conclusion of Never Forget, Mermelstein- Nimoy takes the witness stand during the crucial hearing at which Judge Johnson ruled on Mermelstein's request for judicial notice of that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz during the summer of 1944. The docudrama has Mermelstein touchingly recount the story of his promise to his father to "never forget," whereupon Judge Johnson makes his historic ruling and the movie ends reminding viewers that the fight against bigotry and racism goes on. But the drama's initial assurance that "all legal proceedings portrayed [have been] based on actual transcripts and documents" to the contrary, Mermelstein neither took the stand at that hearing nor gave any testimony whatsoever -- the entire scene is pure invention, devised to provide something of an emotional catharsis to what remains a weak, and for the millions undoubtedly soporific, made-for-television movie.
What has been the likely impact of this film on IHR and Revisionism? To be sure, every trick in the smearer's arsenal has been employed (subject to budget limitations, of course). Old hands at Revisionism will immediately note the old trick of ascribing to their enemies that which the Holocaust lobbyists, themselves, are guilty of, thereby turning the truth right over onto its head. Reversed is the fundamental fact that the purpose of Historical Revisionism is not to hector the Mel Mermelsteins and similar blustering Holocaust small-fry but to challenge the mighty, the entrenched establishments and interests which profit from historical falsehood. IHR's only goal, and its only weapon of self-defense, is "to bring history into accord with the facts." In the longer view, Mermelstein and his allies will appear simply as pawns of those much larger and more sinister entities.
That is why, despite Never Forget's portrayal of Mermelstein as a sympathetic underdog, it is not the Exterminationists who have trouble recruiting lawyers or raising funds to exist, or who are subjected to continuous barrages of threats, intimidation, assaults, arsons, and even cold-blooded murder. Nor, despite the docudrama's dark murmurings of IHR well-connectedness and far-flung resources, do real-life Revisionists encounter the least bit of objectivity, let alone sympathy, toward their concerns in the press or the entertainment media -- in contrast to the automatic acceptance that even the woolliest and most mean-spirited "survivor" accusations win from these industries.
Above and beyond the Auschwitz lie itself, this is the Big Lie of Never Forget -- the whopper that the revisionists are somehow politically powerful, shrewd, bigoted, sadistic and well-connected, while the Exterminationists are weak, innocent, and morally upright.
Not to worry, though. Never Forget's liberties with fact are so multifarious that it must fall of its own weight in the eyes of anyone with the slightest knowledge of the facts of the case. Even Gloria Allred, LA law's far-left, fervidly Zionist, cartoonishly "feminist" firebrand, whose firm took over Mermelstein's case from Cox, angrily denounced the film as "historically inaccurate," adding her own brand of Revisionism to the stew.
And now comes the glimmer of truth, the blinding flash of the obvious, as the great American political thinker Lawrence Dennis would have put it. Clearly, the intended purpose of trying to slam, smear and isolate the Revisionists is counterbalanced by two quite unintended messages to the viewer: 1) Historical Revisionism is strong and growing, and 2) the embattled but still mighty IHR is leading this movement, which is of the gravest concern to the Establishment.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1991 (Vol. 11, No. 2), pages 229-238.