Monday, July 09, 2018

Holocaust deniers try to disrupt conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust

In March 17 and 18, I went to a conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust that was held at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. It was very interesting, and I've been meaning to write up my impressions, but haven't gotten to it it.

The conference was disrupted a couple of times by a Mennonite denier of the Holocaust named Bruce Leichty, who was finally kicked off campus by the local police. He attempted to speak a couple of times during the question and answer period after the academic presentations, but was told to leave by the conference organizers.

Update: Lisa Schirch, in a contribution to the blog Anabaptist Historians, describes one of the incidents when Leichty attempted to disrupt the conference:
A Mennonite holocaust denier, Bruce Leichty, attended parts of the conference. Leichty is a California-based lawyer known for representing the Holocaust deniers Ernst Zundel and his Mennonite wife Ingrid Rimland Zundel. Leichty has passed out anti-semitic literature at the past several MCUSA gatherings. At the introduction of the conference, the organizers told the audience there was someone attending the conference who they were watching. But many were not in the room or did not understand what was being said. When Leichty began to ask an offensive question during the conference, the organizers removed him by calling campus security, but did not inform the audience of who the man was or why he was being removed. The lack of communication confused many in the audience.
Two of his compatriots in Holocaust denial, who are affiliated with the antisemitic group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), also went to North Newton - Daniel A. McGowan, emeritus professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and Henry Herskovitz, who leads a weekly vigil outside a synagogue in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I saw and heard Leichty, but didn't see McGowan or Herskovitz, but apparently Herskowitz was hanging around the auditorium where the conference was held and he was also told to leave campus by the police. Herskovitz wrote up his reaction on his blog, hosted on the DYR website, where he wrote that Leichty was arrested and held by the local police for a number of hours. His arrest is recounted in an article posted on a Holocaust denial website, which I will not link to.

Herskovitz says that he and McGowan intended to give a kind of counter-talk outside the conference at a at a local meeting hall, called "Two Revisionist Jews Consider the Holocaust," and Leichty tried to hand out flyers about this meeting to the people at the conference. In all the reading I've done by and about McGowan, I've never seen the claim that he himself is Jewish, so I'm not sure where the title comes from. [I just looked again at Herskovitz's post, and he provides a link to a farcical document where he and Paul Eisen declare McGowan to be a Jew; Eisen is a co-founder of DYR].

The conference itself was very moving to me as an outsider, because so many of the Mennonite speakers and attendees were obviously troubled by the fraught history of Mennonites during the Holocaust. Mennonites were not persecuted by the Nazi regime, and in some places (Germany, Poland, and Ukraine) some collaborated with the Nazis, even to the extent of being part of one of the Einsatzgruppen (in Ukraine) - the Nazi killing squads that targeted Jews. Some Mennonites did try to protect and hide Jews, but most did not (as most European Christians did not). One of the talks was about Mennonites in the Netherlands who did work to rescue Jews.

Given the pained sincerity of most of the participants in the conference, it was really a violation to have Leichty appear and attempt to disrupt these difficult conversations with his crude and obtuse attacks upon historical truth. It is a pity that he and the other two deniers decided to push their agenda at such an important conference.

Update: Leichty apparently has a long history of pushing his antisemitic and Holocaust denial views among Mennonites. Vic Rosenthal, writing in Fresno Zionist in 2007, describes a talk organized by Leichty in a local Mennonite church. The speaker was Ingrid Rimland Zündel, wife of Ernst Zündel, who was imprisoned in Germany for Holocaust denial. The pastor of the church himself did not want Rimland Zündel to speak, and passed out flyers to try to dissuade people from going in and listening to her.

Leichty is a problematic figure who has defended a number of Holocaust deniers, including Ernst Zundel, who is imprisoned in Germany for denying the Holocaust. Leichty also represented 9-11 widow Ellen Mariani in lawsuits against various entities she held accountable for her husband’s death. In motion papers, Leichty apparently used research from Bollyn to make spurious accusations against a Jewish judge on the case. In May 2012, the United States Court of Appeals sanctioned Leichty and Mariani for making frivolous arguments before the court and also highlighted the anti-Semitism reflected in the papers filed by Leichty.
Leichty is also a believer in other conspiracy theories, including those about the 9/11 attacks. He belongs to a group called "Lawyers for 9/11 Truth."

Leichty's antisemitism also showed up in a lawsuit he brought on behalf of a widow of a man who died in the 9/11 attacks: 9-11 Widow and Lawyer Sanctioned for Raw and Ugly Antisemitism. For a more objective report, see the New York Times article: Court Penalizes a Lawyer Over Slurs in a 9/11 Filing


  1. I can attest to the efforts of Mennonites in the Netherlands to save Jews. When I was there several years ago as part of an Israeli-Palestinian delegation sponsored by a Mennonite non-violence group (and affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation), I went with a store owner on the free day to the north of the country to collect some quilts for an exhibition. A few of them came from the home of an older couple who had sheltered Jews during the Holocaust and we were able to see the nooks and crannies in the home where the Jews were hidden. Some of the quilts we collected had kept them warm in hiding.

  2. Wow, what an amazing story! It's good to hear positive stories of Mennonites and the Holocaust, because there are also quite a few horrible stories.