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February 25, 2005

David Irving Responds

In her gripping February 14 opinion article, Deborah Lipstadt shows that one reason she did not speak for three months during the British High Court trial of my libel action against her — a reticence that has puzzled many observers hitherto — was evidently because she was asleep (“60 Years Later, Dresden Bombing Claims Another Victim: Memory”). If awake, she would have heard me tell the court that for 30 years after my book “The Destruction of Dresden” was first published in 1963, no new editions whatsoever appeared, as opposed to reprints, over which an author has no control. So much for Lipstadt’s assertion that “Irving ignored [Dresden official Theo] Miller’s lucid and sober account in the many subsequent editions of his book.”

I did, however, publish a letter in The Times, the London-based newspaper, on July 6, 1966, which quoted new documents that might suggest my figures were high. And although under no compulsion to do so, I paid for a reprint of this letter, which I circulated widely among historians.

The first opportunity I had to revise the content of the book was in 1995, when I published my own updated edition, as “Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden.” We have just commissioned a newly updated reprint. But I confess that I still ignore Miller’s “lucid and sober” account, as I had better sources on the death roll than him, including the man whose job it was to keep the tally at the time.

David Irving

London, England

Dark Days in Lebanon

The February 14 article on the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri depicts the Lebanese reality in the wake of the Syrian occupation and its deadly implications on the country (“Killing of Lebanon Ex-premier Boding Ill for Entire Mideast”).

Being a Maronite Christian Lebanese (now based in Paris) who spent half of his life in a shelter fearing Syrian bombings, I am outraged by the deadly Syrian regime and its well-known “elimination” tactics. I witnessed the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, and al-Hariri’s assassination is a throwback of those dark days that we thought were over.

But this should not deter the will to force the Syrian regime, now isolated by the entire international community, to withdraw its troops from Lebanon and put an end to its meddling in Lebanese affairs.

Lebanon has been one of the few Arab states with a real democracy. My fear is that Damascus’s desperation might lead to a resurgence of violence in Lebanon to justify Syria’s presence. Has there not already been enough bloodshed in the region?

Rony Oneissi

Paris, France

Catalonian Culture

Although of no real consequence, Elizabeth Landau’s statement in her January 28 arts and culture article that Girona “currently claims no practicing Jewish inhabitants” is only partially correct, as there are at least some members of a Jewish family living in Girona that I personally know of, although to the best of my knowledge they are not particularly observant (“Spain’s Other Philosopher-Son Gets Some Recognition”). There might be others that I am unaware of among the immigrant community, especially retirees from elsewhere in Europe. In any case, and thanks to the prominence given to Girona’s Jewish heritage by local authorities, Jewish visitors from all over the world are a common sight these days.

The newfound interest in the Jewish heritage of Catalonian cities — of which Girona is only one example, others being Besalú, Castelló d’Empúries, Olot and Barcelona — has little to do with the cities’ rediscovery of their Jewish identity and a lot more to do with politics. It is seen as a way for Catalonia to differentiate itself from Spain. Indeed, the Jews of Catalonia had a lot more interaction with their co-religionists from Languedoc and Provence than with those from Spain.

Another significant reason was that the former president of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, was a fervent admirer of Zionism and a vocal supporter of the State of Israel, which he visited many times on both official and personal trips. His involvement helped secure financing for Catalonia’s restoration projects, as well as for research by a number of individuals, mainly from the United States and Israel.

Finally, the assertion that access to Girona’s Jewish Quarter was sealed off after the expulsion is misleading. It had been sealed off a number of years prior to the expulsion, in an attempt to avoid any sort of interaction between the Jewish and the Christian inhabitants of the city, a practice that was standard in much of Europe at the time. After the expulsion the houses were bought, or simply taken over, by Christians and the walls at each end of the street knocked off, the windows facing the Christian section of the city reopened.

At any rate, despite the oversights I’ve pointed out, I would like to thank the Forward for its interest in Girona’s Jewish past, which now has become a defining part of the city’s present identity.

Ricard Santell

Roses, Catalonia, Spain

On Torah and Slavery

Gary Rendsburg’s February 4 arts and culture article leaves readers with the impression that the Torah taught opposition to slavery and that “a slave shall serve only six years, after which he gains his freedom (Exodus 21:2)” (“The Fate of Slaves in Ancient Israel”). I believe this is inaccurate.

This portion of the Torah addresses only Hebrew slaves, who were treated humanely. It does not address non-Hebrew slaves, such as Canaanites and other foreigners. On Sinai, Moses was told that the Hebrews should buy slaves from other nations: “And ye shall make them an inheritance for your children after you, to hold for a possession… but over your brethren the children of Israel ye shall not rule, one over another, with rigor” (Leviticus 25:44-46). Josephus wrote that God had made so many nations subject to Israel, there was no reason to enslave fellow Hebrews (Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities,” viii, 160).

That Hebrew slavery was harsh, even against Hebrew slaves, is evident in Jeremiah’s condemnation of his people for re-enslaving Hebrew bondsmen who had been released from service (Jeremiah 34:8-20). The owner’s power over “heathen” slaves was nearly absolute and, contrary to Rendsburg’s assertion, every Israelite was bound to return a runaway slave who had run away from a Hebrew master (Deuteronomy xxii, 3).

The Torah is more compassionate on the issue of slavery than other ancient law codes, but it is well to remember that slavery was an accepted practice in the ancient world, and was not regarded as immoral or wrong. There is nothing anti-slavery about the Torah. Indeed, stealing a Hebrew master’s slave violated the Tenth Commandment of the Ten Commandments itself (Exodus xx. 17; v.21).

Robert Rosen

Charleston, S.C.

The Price of Dating

I enjoyed reading the February 11 “Hapless Jewish Writer” article on matchmaker Shoshanna Rikon (“Matchmaker, Matchmaker…”). Rikon has quite a business, but not for the average gal making ends meet. As a customer-service representative, 43 and looking for my Mr. Right, I wouldn’t be able to spend $700 for 12 matches. I’m not in the same league with men who have huge salaries.

The guy written about in the article was fixed up with many women, and they didn’t work out. Maybe losing the $700 didn’t bother him, but me? That’s two plumber-bill payments and gas for the car. I’m glad the guy ended the article with a mention to try it all. There are single’s weekends, dinners, hikes, etc. Get out there and do what you like, and hopefully you’ll run across your soul mate while looking.

Annette Wolfe

New Haven, Conn.

Study Jewish Survival

What Brandeis University needs, in addition to its excellent Near East and Judaic studies departments, is a Jewish survival department (“Judaic Studies Department Faces Cutbacks at Brandeis University,” January 14).

With all the considerations given to Jewish accomplishment economically, academically, professionally and politically, there is not enough attention given to Jewish survival, which is very important in a world in which influence goes with numbers. China, India and the Muslim countries would not warrant our attention if not for their sizes. And their sizes became so by conquest, industry and simply reproduction. This was also the method employed by Jews in originally conquering Canaan.

How can Jews increase in numbers? Reverse assimilation. The average number of l.9 children per family should be increased to beyond the 2.l figure needed simply for survival. Reverse assimilation means to proselytize, something long thought unthinkable. Today Jews should actually look for converts, should convert spouses, should actively raise their children as religious or secular Jews. Another idea is to simply ask each family to double the number of its children from two to four. Another method is to simplify the conversion.

If something isn’t done to stop the assimilation trend now, Jews will end up, to borrow a phrase from Commentary magazine, like our Indian forebears: memorialized with a tremendous museum.

Jerome Greenblatt

Mission Viejo, Calif.

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