WHY I REFUSED TO BOW OR BE KICKED
I HAVE done what I vowed never to do again and sued for libel.For years after a protracted series of legal tussles I have striven to ignore the insults when people write bad things about me. They hurt my reputation and embarrass my children, but I have held back from writs.
Libel is a thankless fight, often enough. Look at Neil Hamilton he lost everything. Look at Jonathan Aitken he sued, and ended up in prison. Look at Jeffrey Archer he won, and set a timebomb ticking that eventually blew up his career. At the very least, a libel litigant is guaranteed of bringing the ugly accusations to a much wider audience.
At the worst, there is bankruptcy and humiliation and the bitter aloes of defeat. So why am I suing a firm which I believe has been distributing a 20-year-old book written by one of my detractors, and why do I take such deep exception to the writer’s portrayal of a civil action dating back 29 years, over which I did not even appear in court? The past 100 years of Jewish history answer that question. Accept a kick, and another kick will follow. Bow to a blow, and more blows will rain down.
I will not bow and I will not be kicked. It’s ironic that another high-profile libel action is being fought by the historian David Irving. He claims that a book called Denying The Holocaust by Professor Deborah Lipstadt has labelled him a liar and a falsifier of history. Irving’s book Hitler’s War suggests the Nazi dictator did not know how the Final Solution was being implemented until late 1943. Irving subpoenaed the brilliant military historian Sir John Keegan to support his case. Keegan told the jury that Irving’s idea that Himmler kept Hitler in the dark about the Holocaust “was so extraordinary it would defy reason”.
I have taken great strength this week from a book written about the Holocaust, which was assumed by millions to be a true account. It was not. It is a fiction. It is based on facts, but it is not factual. Despite this, and more than 50 years after it was written, this short story has been reissued by one of the biggest publishing houses in the world.
Yosl Rakover Talks To God begins: “In one of the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, preserved in a little bottle and concealed amongst heaps of charred stone and human bones, the following testament was found, written in the last hours of the ghetto by a Jew named Yosl Rakover.”
This introduction is part of the story. It is not a piece of fact, but a part of the whole brilliant invention by a young Zionist writer named Zvi Kolitz. Kolitz, a Lithuanian Jew, was living in Buenos Aires in 1946, raising funds for the Jewish underground in Palestine where he had fought against the British, then recruited Jews as soldiers for the British army, then fought the Empire once more.
His 5,000-word story was written over several days, though the narrator claims to be speaking during a matter of minutes.
It was published in Yiddish and republished in English and Hebrew elsewhere in the world. Somewhere along the way the author’s name was left off the account, and people began to believe that Yosl Rakover was its real author.
The setting was real enough Warsaw in the last hours of the 1943 uprising. This was the first time in almost 2,000 years that a broad Jewish resistance had fought its oppressors. At the beginning of the feast of Passover, the SS stormed the ghetto with flamethrowers and 22 bands of Jewish fighters dug into 1,000 underground bunkers. The Nazis had expected to transport the entire population to the extermination camp at Treblinka.
Instead, they had to fight a hand-to-hand battle against men who were not afraid of death.
The struggle was unequal, the end inevitable on May 16, 1943, SS-Brigadier General Jurgen Stroop told Hitler: “There is no more Jewish Warsaw.” In Kolitz’s story, published by Jonathan Cape at £10, the narrator is holed up in a burning building as stormtroopers clear the rooms floor by floor.
He has a few moments to scribble an account as he squats among the bodies of his fallen comrades, one of them a five-year-old boy.
Before he dies, he will cram his story into a bottle and hide it in the rubble. Yosl Rakover addresses himself, not to the Nazis who slaughtered his wife and four children, nor to future generations of Jews. He is speaking directly to God.
“I bow my head before His greatness,” he admits, “but I will not kiss the rod with which He chastises me. I love Him. But I love His Torah more.” In his last moments, Yosl defies the God who permitted the Holocaust: “You may insult me, You may chastise me, You may be the dearest and the best that I have in the world, You may torture me to death I will always believe in You. I will love You always and forever, even despite you.”
It is possible to forgive and to fight back at the same time. Forgiveness is not acceptance.
I am inspired by Yosl Rakover to put more trust in God. But I am also inspired to fight
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