The Simon Wiesenthal Center
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1977 with a $500,000 gift from Canadian Jewish businessman Samuel Belzberg, Rabbi Marvin Hier lost no time launching his dream project: the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In the years that followed, Hier succeeded in building the Center, named after the well-known "Nazi hunter," into one of the world's most influential Jewish organizations.
"Now second in membership only to B'nai B'rith International with 380,000 members," noted the Los Angeles Times in 1990, "the Simon Wiesenthal Center at times rivals the venerable American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress for its impact and access to world leaders." Today, five years later, the Center's power and impact are, if anything, even more formidable.
Fear mongering and 'Holocaustomania'Hier achieved all this, and so quickly, because he hit on a winning formula for raising vast sums of money from American Jews: highly emotional appeals to raw fear with sensationalistic exploitation of the Holocaust story.
Hier and his colleagues never cease harping on the danger of anti-Semitism (or, as the Center spells it "antisemitism"). In its wide range of propaganda materials, including videotapes and fund-raising mailings, and especially in its glossy magazine, Response, the Center conjures up a paranoid fantasy world in which a sinister international network of neo-Nazis, Islamic extremists and other anti-Jewish forces of "hate" are on the march everywhere, plotting a murderous new "Final Solution" of all Jews.
The Center projects a paradoxical image of American Jewry: Fabulously wealthy and influential, but simultaneously threatened with physical extermination. Only the eternally vigilant Simon Wiesenthal Center, its publications suggest, protects Jews against a dangerous worldwide "hate" conspiracy and a new "Final Solution."
"In America," writes New York Times Deputy Media Editor Judith Miller in her 1990 book, One, by One, by One, "the lowest common denominator often sets the agenda. The Holocaust is not immune from this tendency."
"Marvin Hier and the Center will always cry anti-Semitism," a renowned scholar told two Los Angeles Times writers, who summed up: "To get people to pay attention to his battle against anti-Semitism, Hier refuses to let anyone forget the Holocaust even for a minute."
As even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith has acknowledged, though, the Wiesenthal Center makes "inaccurate" and "exaggerated claims" about anti-Semitism to raise money. In a 1984 internal memorandum, ADL official Justin Finger cited a Center fund-raising letter that is "replete with factual misstatements and exaggerations" about anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States and Europe.
The 1991 Gulf War provided an ideal opportunity for the Simon Wiesenthal Center to trot out sensational new propaganda lies. According to a "shocking revelation" in the Spring 1991 issue of Response, German firms were producing Zyklon B gas in Iraq, "the chemical used by the Germans to murder millions of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust."
Iranian prisoners of war, the Center's slick magazine went on, were being killed with Zyklon B "in gas chambers specially designed for the Iraqis by the German company Rhema Labortechnik." Recycling a familiar Second World War propaganda theme, Response continued: "An eyewitness reported the [Iraqi] gas chambers were tiled to look like operating rooms, with a separated observation room for each gas chamber with reinforced glass visibility."
In fanning the flames of what Jewish American historian Alfred Lilienthal calls "Holocaustomania," the Wiesenthal Center has no peer. "Rabbi Hier and the Wiesenthal Center are, in my opinion, the most extreme of those who utilize the Holocaust," said the director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center in 1988. "The Jewish people does many vulgar things," he went on, "but the Wiesenthal Center [has] raised it to a complete level: The optimum use of sensitive issues in order to raise money ..."
"The enormous success of the Simon Wiesenthal Center," says author Judith Miller, "has given new meaning to what was once a macabre in-house joke ... 'There is no business like Shoah business'." ("Shoah" is Hebrew for Holocaust). "It's a sad fact," adds the Center's chief financial backer, Canadian-Jewish financier Samuel Belzberg, "that Israel and Jewish education and all the other familiar buzzwords no longer serve to rally Jews behind the community. The Holocaust, though, works every time."
In 1989, for example, the Center pulled in some $15 million in contributions. Marvin Hier is generously compensated for his work. In 1994 his annual pay was $225,000 (benefits included). At least six other Center officials were paid more than $100,000 each.
Originally from New York's Lower East Side, Hier possesses no academic credentials beyond his yeshiva (rabbinical school) certification. But he was not ashamed to appoint himself "Dean" of the Wiesenthal Center and of the Center-affiliated Yeshiva University.
Hier has proven to be a tremendous boost to Simon Wiesenthal and his international image. "Before meeting up with Hier," said one Center insider, "Simon was nickel and diming it in Vienna. He couldn't even pay his phone bills."
A Jewish missionWhile the Center makes a feeble pretense of concern for all humanity, its real agenda is narrowly, even chauvinistically Jewish. Hier frankly calls his Center a "full-fledged Jewish defense agency," and Center publications skillfully play to Jewish fears, concerns and sensitivities.
"The phenomenal growth of the Wiesenthal Center suggests that the haunting memory of the Holocaust is, for better or worse, what makes millions of Jews feel like Jews," says Baltimore Jewish Times editor Gary Rosenblatt.
Rival organizations that compete with the Center for money from the Jewish community privately resent Hier's brash, "anything goes" tactics.
Hier "has become a self-appointed spokesman for American Jewish interests," complains Leon Wieseltier, Jewish literary editor of The New Republic. Hier's linkage of the Holocaust and American politics has "vulgarized" both, adds Wieseltier. "He and his operation have no right to desecrate the memory of millions of dead Jews by glibly associating their memory with the Center's politics."
"Critics of the Simon Wiesenthal Center," notes Judith Miller in One, by One, by One, "have also complained about the use of the Holocaust to justify lobbying for Jewish interests ... 'Youmust do this for the Jews because there was a Holocaust'."
Hier and his organization ceaselessly promote Zionist and Israeli interests. "Another implicit message of the Wiesenthal Center is that the Holocaust helped to validate the state of Israel," writes Miller. "Remembering the Holocaust leads to staunch support of Israel." Hier has had a particularly close relationship with Israel's ultra-Zionist Likud party and hard line Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Although Hier and his Center demands dauntless pursuit and punishment of "Nazi war criminals," Hier hypocritically ignores the well-documented records of Begin and Shamir as Zionist terrorists. [Image: At a 1989 White House dinner, President George Bush talks as Wiesenthal Center Founder Marvin Hier, right, greets Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.]
No trust for non-JewsA recurring Wiesenthal Center theme is that non-Jews are never entirely trustworthy. If "it" could happen in cultured Germany, Hier's Center never ceases to suggest, "it" can happen anywhere. Anything less than fawning solicitude for Israeli and Jewish concerns, the Center implies, all but inevitably leads to shoving Jews into gas chambers. Hier's "message is that Jews are never safe, that anti-Semitism is pandemic, occurring everywhere and in various degrees of virulence," the Los Angeles Times sums up.
"We're like the baseball hitter who is up to bat with two strikes against him," says Hier. "That's the proper attitude for Jews. We shouldn't be going around saying: it cannot happen again ... We Americans have never been tested." Regarding a Wiesenthal Center exhibit on the Holocaust, the monthly magazine of the American Jewish Committee remarked: "The message was that Jews have enemies, murderous enemies, and should look out."
In Hier's view, the non-Jewish world -- and especially European Christians -- bears a collective guilt for what the Holocaust lobby insists is the most terrible crime in history. In a 1995 Los Angeles Times opinion piece, for example, Hier took aim at Christian leaders during the Second World War, chastising the "prelates -- from Pope Pius XII down -- who at best looked the other way, protected their own, were bystanders rather than activists and sometimes even assisted the Nazis in carrying out their Final Solution."
Far from promoting "tolerance," says Dr. Frank Knopfelmacher, a leading Australian Jewish scholar, the Wiesenthal Center actually foments "ethnic hatred." Australia government officials, added Knopfelmacher, should have "banned the members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center from entering Australia and should have deported those who were here."
Phenomenal CloutFor an organization founded just 16 years ago, the Wiesenthal Center wields phenomenal political and financial power. "Hier has accrued unprecedented clout in the Legislature, on Capitol Hill, in the city's boardrooms and even in Hollywood," noted the Los Angeles Times Magazine in a 1990 profile article.
Among the many prominent and wealthy individuals who have given public support to the Simon Wiesenthal Center have been President Ronald Reagan, President George Bush, Senator Dianne Feinstein (and her investment banker husband Richard Blum), entertainers Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, columnist George Will, Mortimer B. Zuckerman (publisher of US News and World Report and the Atlantic Monthly), television journalist Barbara Walters, several members of the moneyed Belzberg family, Alan Greenberg (chairman of the investment firm of Bear Stearns), and New York financiers Nelson Peltz, Ronald Perelman and Ivan Boesky. (Boesky, a member of the Center's board of directors, was later found guilty of large-scale illegal stock dealing).
"Genocide," an 88-minute Holocaust motion picture coproduced by the Wiesenthal Center, was awarded the 1982 Academy Award for "Best Documentary Feature." Accepting the Award was "Dean" Hier, the only Orthodox rabbi ever to win an Oscar. A more recent expression of the Center's close Hollywood ties is the 1995 HBO made-for-television motion picture, "The Infiltrator," a highly flattering portrayal of the Center and its work (in which IHR Director Mark Weber is smeared, by name, as a "big time fascist").
Political Pull and Public MoneySuch is the political clout wielded by the Center that California lawmakers recently voted to give it a second $5 million grant of state taxpayers' funds. (The first was in 1985.) This money, allocated for the Center's "Museum of Tolerance," came from funds normally reserved for California public schools. Backing this extraordinary grant were prominent politicians of both parties, including California Governor Pete Wilson.
At a time of belt-tightening across the board, the Wiesenthal Center can count on "special treatment" for state lawmakers. One cautiously indignant Californian echoed the sentiment of many others in a letter published in the leading Los Angeles daily newspaper:
Giving the Wiesenthal Centers another $5 million in state tax dollars when clinics and hospitals are closing, local schools' teaching budgets are being cut and public libraries fight to keep open on even a limited basis is difficult to justify.Financially strapped education leaders and spokesmen for hard-pressed public interest groups were understandably outraged. Responding to Hier's claims of school children visits to his "Museum of Tolerance," a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association sarcastically commented: "70,000 kids might go McDonald's every day, but we don't pick up their lunch tab."
In addition, the Center has received $5 million in federal funds, through legislation sponsored by California Congressman Henry Waxman.
The Center's ties with California Governor Wilson could hardly be closer. A senior political advisor to Wilson is a member of the Wiesenthal Center's board of directors. To show its appreciation, last year the Center awarded Wilson its "National Leadership Award." Among those attending the award dinner was Michael Fuchs, chairman of Home Box Office (HBO) and a member of the Wiesenthal Center's board of directors.
On at least one occasion, Marvin Hier used his influence to help a favored politician. In April 1992 he appealed for money on behalf of Mel Levine, a US Congressman and Democratic candidate for US Senator from California. In a letter sent out to the Wiesenthal Center mailing list, Hier attacked Patrick Buchanan and praised Levine for his unwavering support for Israel and his "sense of history." "Never Again must be America's slogan," wrote Hier. "And Mel Levine, as US Senator from California, will be an important force for a farsighted American foreign policy." (In spite of Hier's appeal, Levine failed to win the Democratic party nomination for US Senate.)
In 1988 Hier and the Center honored Simon Wiesenthal at two gala dinners, one in Los Angeles and another in New York City. At the California gathering, Hier singled out President Reagan for special commendation, and at the New York dinner, which netted $700,000, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl delivered the main tribute to Wiesenthal.
A Wiesenthal Center "National Tribute Dinner" in November 1989 provided another opportunity to manifest the organization's wide-ranging influence. Speakers included Simon Wiesenthal, Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir, and Center Chairman Samuel Belzberg, with awards to prominent media personalities, including MCA President Sidney Sheinberg and actor Ben Kingsley.
"Dinner chairman" Robert Maxwell was unable to attend the event, but the Jewish publishing baron's daughter was on hand to deliver his passionate speech. (It was only after his mysterious death in October 1991, and a state funeral in Israel, that Maxwell's record as perhaps the greatest swindler in history came to light. He had stolen at least $1.65 billion from the public companies he controlled.)
American newspapers and magazines treat the Wiesenthal Center with uncritical deference, accepting at face value its bogus pretense to be an impartial source of reliable information. The Los Angeles Times -- the most influential newspaper in the western United States -- routinely provides space for lengthy "op ed" opinion essays by Wiesenthal Center spokesmen.
Earlier this year the Center flexed its muscles with a stunning display of global power. It acted quickly and decisively after a major Japanese monthly magazine, Marco Polo, published a ten-page article in its February 1995 issue that presented credible evidence to show that there were no execution gas chambers in wartime German concentration camps, and that many other Holocaust stories are exaggerated or untrue.
While recklessly misrepresenting the article's content, the Wiesenthal Center promptly lashed out at the magazine and its publisher, and mounted an international boycott campaign to pressure major international corporations into withdrawing advertising. Quickly capitulating to the Center's campaign -- which the Institute for Historical Review called "an arrogant expression of bigotry and intolerance" -- the publisher took the astonishing step of shutting down Marco Polo magazine altogether. At a packed news conference in Tokyo, Wiesenthal Center "Associate Dean" Abraham Cooper accepted a craven public apology from the publishing company's president.
Attacking the IHRIn many ways, the Institute for Historical Review and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are antipodal adversaries. Not surprisingly, then, the Center has hit hard and often at the IHR.
In a frenzied fund-raising letter mailed out in 1985, for example, the Center cited The Journal of Historical Review as a source of special concern, warning that a goal of the Journal is to "undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel." The letter ominously added:
We must learn the names and location of all neo-Nazis and revisionist leaders in every state. We must both keep careful records of their activities and expose them to the public.Wiesenthal Center official Aaron Breitbart castigated the IHR in an article published in the 1986 Jewish Directory and Almanac. "The jewel in the crown of revisionism," he wrote, "is the California-based Institute for Historical Review." Another widely-distributed Wiesenthal Center fund-raising letter signed by actor Glenn Ford included a furious and lengthy smear against the IHR and its Journal. In a prominently featured "op ed" opinion essay published in April 1995 in a Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times, Wiesenthal Center official Abraham Cooper warned:
With access to the Internet limitless, the scope of hate-group activities is rapidly expanding. The Institute for Historical Review, the leading voice of Holocaust denial in the United States, has set up a site on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet where its literature can be obtained free.Nearly every issue of the Center's "World Report" magazine, Response (with a claimed 1995 circulation of 320,000), attacks the Institute and leading revisionist scholars. Contrary to the Center's bogus "tolerance," Response frequently gloats about legal repression of Holocaust revisionists in foreign countries. Typical is an article in the Summer 1992 issue, headlined "Holocaust Deniers on the March" and illustrated with a color photograph of French professor Robert Faurisson. Several items in the Winter 1992 issue take aim at the Institute, including one specifically devoted to the IHR's Eleventh Conference. Likewise, a snide and misleading article in the Fall-Winter 1994 Response reported on the Twelfth IHR Conference.
Glitzy 'Museum of Tolerance'When the Wiesenthal Center opened the doors of its eight-story, $50 million "Museum of Tolerance" in 1993, American television, newspapers and magazines responded with an outpouring of flattering coverage. California Governor Wilson called the Museum a "treasure," and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky ascribed almost miraculous powers to it. "If every citizen of Los Angeles ... will walk through the halls of this Museum and heed its lessons," he said, "then this city will have nothing to worry about."
The Museum on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles -- also called the Beit Hashoah in Hebrew ("House of the Holocaust") -- draws 350,000 visitors a year, says Hier. This includes more than 70,000 public and private school children who are taken through the Museum yearly. "It's almost a second home to public schools," boasts Hier. "We want to keep them there."
This is no ordinary museum. A slick, high-tech enterprise that "marries theme-park glitz with harrowing themes" (Los Angeles Daily News), it presents a relentlessly Judeocentric version of history, packed with grotesque historical distortions and falsehoods. (A detailed look at the "Museum of Tolerance" will appear in a forthcoming Journal issue.)
ConclusionThe phenomenal growth and impact of the Simon Wiesenthal Center is a reflection of the predominant financial-political forces in American society today, and consequently of its prevailing cultural values and historical outlook. It is a barometer of Zionist-Jewish power and influence in the United States, of the hypocrisy and weakness of this country's political leadership, and of the quasi-religious role that the Holocaust story has come to play, not only in America but throughout the world.
Journal of Historical Review, July/August 1995 (Volume 15, number 4), pp. 2-7. Mark Weber's footnotes have been removed. The complete text is available at the IHR website.