By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- A Nazi concentration camp survivor claims Nobel Peace Prize winning author and human rights activist Elie Wiesel "lies" about his Holocaust past. After decades of research, Nikolaus (Miklós) Grüner has a first-ever opportunity to make his case, in front of a Budapest court.
The 83-year-old survivor sued Hungarian rabbi Slomó Köves for inviting Wiesel to Hungary in 2009 while "knowing that this man is not a genuine Holocaust survivor” but “stole the identity of an inmate.”
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Grüner is also angry that the rabbi accused him of “falsifying history”. Köves compared him to American academic Norman Finkelstein who wrote 'The Holocaust Industry'.
In that controversial book Finkelstein says Jewish leaders are fueling Europe's antisemitism by trying to force German and Swiss banks to pay new compensation to those suffering under the Nazis.
Grüner demands the rabbi takes back his words and publicly explains "the truth" about Wiesel, according to a document seen by BosNewsLife.
"I don't seek financial compensation, but I want [Köves] to tell the world who his friend Elie Wiesel really is," he said in an extensive interview with BosNewsLife, ahead of a presentation to the press Friday, November 18. "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. Köves said he had not been invited yet for the January 24 court hearing.
The rabbi hastens to add that he ofcourse sympathizes with "the horrible" suffering of Grüner, who lost his parents and a younger brother in the extensive network of Nazi death camps 'Auschwitz-Birkenau' in Poland.
Grüner says Wiesel stole the identity of his friend and fellow concentration camp inmate Lázár Wiesel. The first names “Elie” and “Lázár” are similar to the Hebrew name, Eleazar. Grüner suggests that Wiesel has committed deception by pretending to be his friend and former fellow prisoner.
“Lázár helped me survive. Later, Elie Wiesel published Lázár's book under his own name. That was 'Night' for which Elie Wiesel -- or whatever his real name is -- received the Nobel Prize."
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 told American students last year 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.
In other comments to BosNewsLife, Wiesel expressed concerns about rising extremism in Hungary, including the rise of the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), now the third political force here.Grüner admits it's better to sue Wiesel directly, but claims that's impossible. "After 26 years of research, the Hungarian court provides the first opportunity to present my case, which I hope to do by suing the rabbi” he said.
“Elie Wiesel, who lives in the United States, is a very hard man to get. The whole world is protecting him, from [U.S. President] Barack Obama to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel. They are all scared the truth will come out, because of prestige and money. I am also pressuring the German [parliament] Bundestag to show me archives about Wiesel's past.”
Wiesel's friend Köves counters the author has nothing to hide. "How can you steal someones identity? He received the Nobel Prize for his books, not for who he was or where he was born."
Grüner views the court case in Budapest as a giant leap in a long, painful, personal journey. 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.
His mother and younger brother were gassed immediately in the day-and-night working ovens of the Nazi complex. His 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 explained.
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 picture with us, despite his claims to the contrary,” Grüner stressed.
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.”
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.”
Grüner “doesn't mind that Wiesel earns 25,000 dollars” for a 45 minute speech. “But I don't want him to make money on the deaths of my family members and the millions of others who perished in the Holocaust,” he said, his voice trembling.
“I want to leave this world knowing that I have told the next generation the truth...I even want a dialogue with Anti-Semites and the Catholic Church for which I later painted and made sculptors as an artist.”
His Holocaust experience and decades of research into Wiesel's alleged wrongdoing has marked him.
The man, 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.