By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– A Hungarian-born Nazi death camp survivor, who claims Nobel Peace Prize author Elie Wiesel lies about his Holocaust past and stole the identity of an inmate, has lost a defamation case in Hungary.
Nikolaus (Miklós) Grüner, 83, sued a prominent Hungarian rabbi who helped organize Wiesel’s historic visit to Hungary in 2009 while “knowing that this man is not a genuine Holocaust survivor.”
Grüner, who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and other suffering, launched the case after Rabbi Slomó Köves accused him publicly of “falsifying history”.
The rabbi also compared him to American academic Norman Finkelstein who wrote ‘The Holocaust Industry’. Finkelstein’s controversial book alleges that Jewish leaders are fueling Europe’s antisemitism by forcing German and Swiss banks to pay new compensation to those who suffered under the Nazis.
Grüner demanded that the rabbi takes back his words and publicly explains “the truth” about Wiesel.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Yet, an appeals court in Budapest upheld a previous court ruling saying while Köves remarks were “harsh” they were ‘within the boundaries of freedom of expression.” The court also said this week it was up to historians to decide if Wiesel was a genuine Holocaust survivor.
Rabbi Köves, who leads the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, shares that view. “How can you steal someones identity?”, he asked BosNewsLife. “He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his books, not for who he was or where he was born.”
Grüner condemned the court’s decision. “This ruling is bull s…” he told BosNewsLife. “It tells a lot about Hungary. All my work of more than 25 years is disregarded.”
Grüner plans to continue his judicial battle against Wiesel in the United States. “This case in Hungary could have helped that process. However one day the world will learn the truth. This is important for the next generations.”
Grüner says Wiesel stole the identity of his friend and fellow concentration camp inmate
The first names “Elie” and “Lázár” are similar to the Hebrew name, Eleazar. Grüner suggests that Wiesel commits deception by impersonating his friend Lázár Wiesel who was born 1913 in Marmaros, Hungary.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
“Lázár helped me survive. Later this so-called Elie Wiesel published Lázár’s book…That was ‘Night’ for which Elie Wiesel — or whatever his real name is — received the Nobel Peace Prize,” he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.
Grüner even recalls the number Lázár was tattooed with by the Nazis: A-7713. “In fact that’s part of the title of my book I hope to publish about the Wiesel scam: ‘Stolen Identity, A-7713’.”
In 1986 a Swedish news paper arranged for him to meet what he thought would be his old friend. Instead it was Elie Wiesel, who Grüner claims he never saw before.”Wiesel refused to show me his tattoo. It was a very short meeting.”
Photo’s and film footage have emerged on the Internet showing a man resembling Wiesel in short sleeves without a visible tattoo. But Wiesel claims he still carries the number on his arm.
“I don’t need that to remember, I think about my past every day,” he once told American students when asked about the tattoo. “I still have it on my arm – A-7713. At that time, we were numbers. No names, no identity,” he added.
CONCERNS OVER EXTREMISM
In other comments to BosNewsLife, Wiesel expressed concerns about extremism in Hungary and the rise of the far-right Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) party.
This week a prominent Jobbik parliamentarian, Marton Gyöngyösi, suggested to parliament to draw up lists of Jews who pose a “national security risk”, a proposal resembling the Nazi-era.
Gyöngyösi claimed lists were needed because of the heightened tensions after the brief conflict in Gaza and should include members of parliament and government.
The comments prompted condemnation from the United States and on Sunday, December 2, a massive anti-Nazi rally was to be held in Budapest with speakers from both the opposition and center right government, which is accused of flirting with the far-right, to stay in power.
Earlier this year, Wiesel announced he was repudiating a Hungarian state honor he received in 2004 because of government attempts to honor, and rebury, ethnic Hungarian author and parliamentarian József Nyirő, who was a supporter of Hungary’s pro-Nazi regime.
NO HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR?
Yet, Grüner argues that Wiesel isn’t a real Holocaust survivor and a true representative of the persecuted Jewish community. “Wiesel was never born in Hungary or Romania as he claims and was not in a concentration camp. He doesn’t even speak Hungarian.”
Köves strongly denies the accusations. “I was with him two days and Wiesel spoke with me in Hungarian. He also addressed parliament in Hungarian. These allegations are of an elderly man with some kind of complex,” he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.
Köves made clear however that he sympathizes with Grüner’s personal suffering during World War Two. The rabbi also said he wants to fight for the return of stolen properties of Jews.
This week he announced that he had written to Russian authorities to return some 300 to 400 Torah scrolls and thousands of vestments, crowns and other articles currently being held in museums and storage in Russia.
Seized by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union’s Red Army in 1945, many items had been stored in the Hungarian National Bank during the Holocaust.
LOSING NEARLY ALL
Grüner remembers how he lost everything, except his life. It began as a teenager in May 1944 when he and his family were transported as cattle in an overcrowded train from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland.
His mother and younger brother were gassed immediately in the day-and-night working ovens of the Nazi-run complex. Grüner’s father worked himself to death. As a 15-year-old boy he befriended Lázár Wiesel, who was among those protecting him.
In January 1945, as the Russian army was coming, the inmates were transferred from a satellite camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau to Buchenwald in Germany.
During the ten days this death march took, partly by foot, partly by open train, over half of the inmates died including Abraham, the elder brother of Lázár Wiesel. “We kept warm laying on dead bodies,” Grüner recalled.
U.S. forces liberated Buchenwald in 1945. In April 1945 the U.S. army liberated Buchenwald where they discovered Nikolaus Grüner, Lázár Wiesel and other survivors. “Elie Wiesel is not in that famous liberation photo with us, despite his claims to the contrary,” Grüner stressed.
DIFFICULT LIFE AHEAD
As Grüner had tuberculosis, he was sent to a Swiss clinic and separated from his friend Lázár. “I never saw him again. Perhaps he was killed.” After recovering, Grüner emigrated to Australia, where he worked as a painter and sculptor “even for the Catholic Church.”
He eventually settled in Sweden to help his brother with a food processing business. “I didn’t want to return to Hungary. I even changed my Hungarian first name Miklós into Nikolaus,” he said during a conversation at a Budapest restaurant.
He briefly paused as if to attract attention from Hungarians lunching nearby. “They destroyed our home in the town of Nyíregyháza, nearly exterminated my family and killed hundreds of thousands of other Jewish people. Hungarians were eager to close the carriages of the death trains,” Grüner stressed.
His Holocaust experience and decades of research into Wiesel’s alleged wrongdoing has marked him.
Grüner, who still bares the scars of his own painfully inflicted Auschwitz-Birkenau tattoo on his arm, says he lost his faith in God after the Holocaust “I have nobody…not even God.”
Roughly 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust.”I hope the world will not forget and learn the truth,” Grüner said.