Holocaust Denial: unrecognised on Guardian letters page?

3 Dec 2009 by CST

This is a guest post by Paul Evans of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

A letter about the John Demjanjuk trial appears in today's Guardian, which asks “What kind of justice is it that proscribes the normally accepted right of the accused to challenge the assumption that a crime had, in fact, occurred?” It contests that in the alleged war criminal’s trial, the focus should shift from whether Demjanjuk was a guard at a death camp, to whether the court should first prove any crimes were committed there. “The court will, without proof, arbitrarily accept that the crime took place,” he complains.

What the letter-writer appears to imply is that the murder of thousands by gas, at the hands of guards at Sobibor death camp, is a question of legitimate debate. It is an extraordinary and offensive suggestion. The letter is from a man named John Mortl.

While “John Mortl” is an unusual name, letters to the international press from people of that name are not – and the eagle-eyed might spot a few running themes in the correspondence. In 1996 a John Mortl of Bala, Canada, was writing to the New York Times to tell us that following the Holocaust, Germans believed that the gas chambers were no more than “atrocity propaganda”. The same year, someone of the same name and from the same Canadian town was writing to the anti-Israeli Washington Report on Middle East Affairs questioning “what does "Holocaust denial" really mean?” and coming to his own unorthodox conclusions. By curious coincidence, just years previously, a man named John Mortl was writing letters to the notorious Holocaust denial newsletter, the Journal of Historical Review (published by the Institute of Historical Review).

After a period of silence, a John Mortl from London begins reappearing in the press. In June 2003, this John Mortl is complaining to The Observer about “the anti-Semitic card” being played to divert attention from the Israeli government’s conduct in Gaza and the West Bank. Now let’s skip forward five years and to an article in The Times, entitled ‘German war dead no one wants to remember’. The online version of the piece now appears to have no comments under it, but internet history shows us that there was one (since deleted) from a reader named John Mortl. The comment read:

“In WWI it was Britain and France who declared war on Germany, also in WWII. Too, in 1933 organized world Jewry declared war against Germany, and again in 1939 international Jewish bankers in New York and London bankrolled these two world wars.”

This is the stuff of classical antisemitic conspiracy theorists, directly asserting that the Jews as a race bear responsibility for all wars.  A few months later on a legal affairs blog run by the Inner Temple Library, we again find a “John Mortl” comment, this time in defence of Australian Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben. Finally, in March this year we find opinion from a John Mortl on a Holocaust Denial Forum, discussing the need for “a change of emphasis at the IHR”.

Are all these John Mortls are related? I don’t know. But I do know that publishing Holocaust denial is bad news for the reputation of Britain’s most widely-read progressive newspaper.

UPDATE: The Guardian has now removed the letter, and published an apology in its place.


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