Some might consider that inappropriate. “About the dead, nothing but good should be said,” goes the Yiddish proverb. But when the deceased in question is Ernst Zundel, a distinction needs to be made. Because when the list of monsters is drawn up one day, Zundel will have achieved true distinction. In Canada, in this era, his evil and malevolence were almost without equal.
Ernst Christof Friedrich Zündel was born in Germany in April 1939 and died in Germany in August 2017. As far as we’re aware, no one demanded photographic proof of his passing or forensic evidence of the heart attack that killed him. But they would be entitled to do so.
Zundel, you see, made his name – made a fortune – denying the murders of millions. He achieved worldwide infamy by peddling foul, criminal conspiracy theories about the Holocaust. That was what he sought to do, day after day after interminable day: deny one of the greatest mass murders in human history. To whitewash the sins of Adolf Hitler and the other architects of the Holocaust.
He studied graphic art in Germany, then scurried to Canada when he was 19 – tellingly, to avoid conscription by the German army. In Montreal, he laboured in obscurity, acquiring some skills as a retoucher of photographs. Even then, this man excelled at erasing reality.
Early on, his megalomania and self-delusion were manifesting themselves. In 1968, he actually ran for the Liberal Party leadership – the one that was won by the father of our present prime minister. He was against “anti-German” attitudes, he told the few reporters who bothered to listen. Zundel then drifted to Toronto in 1969, where he started another small commercial art studio.
He had a taste for the limelight. He got involved with something called Concerned Parents of German Descent, and bleated and brayed about how the media were being mean to Germans. As such, he issued press releases denouncing the acclaimed NBC TV miniseries Holocaust. He started to get noticed, but for all of the wrong reasons.
Like all cowards, too, Zundel was leading a double life. One enterprising journalist, Mark Bonokoski, discovered that Zundel was publishing anti-Semitic screeds under the pseudonym Christof Friedrich. One of his pamphlets was The Hitler We Loved And Why.
At that point, others might have withdrawn from public view, expressed regret or chosen a different path. Not Zundel. He commenced his downward descent into the ooze and the muck of organized hatred. Now unmasked, Zundel became Canada’s top purveyor of lies.
Out of his fortified home in east-end Toronto, Zundel created Samisdat Publishers (meaning to self-publish). He published more of his paean to Hitler, as well as Did Six Million Really Die? and other such filth. In a way, he became “a run-of-the-mill neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier,” Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, told the New York Times.
But that understates Zundel’s significance. In his prime, Zundel was the most prodigious publisher of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism on the planet. In his various run-ins with the law, he was permitted – appallingly – to put the Holocaust on trial. And, along the way, too many gullible reporters – and far too many politicians – regarded him as a “free speech” advocate or a harmless crank. Ignore him, they said, and he’ll go away.
He wouldn’t. He didn’t.
For a while, Canada rid itself of the foul stench that was Ernst Zundel. He slunk out of the country and relocated to Tennessee, where he married Ingrid Rimland, another Holocaust denier. In 2003, Zundel was arrested for overstaying his visa and deported back to Canada. Two long years later, Canada deported him, too – back to Germany, the place he had fled to avoid military service almost 50 years before.
His indecent legacy remains. Even now, a group of neo-Nazi Zundel fanatics are publishing a Holocaust-denying leaflet in Toronto’s east end, just like Zundel did. Their publication is called Your Ward News. As with Zundel, gullible reporters – and far too many politicians – are calling the new haters “free speech” advocates or harmless cranks. Ignore them, they’re saying, and they’ll go away.
They don’t. They won’t.
Their hero may be gone, but their enthusiasm for Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism is not. The hatred may subside, some years, but it never fully goes away.
So we must never forget. We must never falter. We must never stop fighting the purveyors of hate and lies.
Because Ernst Zundel, from his distant perch in Hell, fears that we will keep fighting most of all.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.