By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– A Budapest court is to rule next month in a case of a Nazi-concentration camp survivor who claims Nobel Peace Prize winning author and human rights activist Elie Wiesel “lies” about his Holocaust past, BosNewsLife learned Friday, January 27.
After decades of research, Nikolaus (Miklós) Grüner had his first-ever opportunity to make his case this week in a libel lawsuit against a Hungarian rabbi who helped organize Wiesel’s “homecoming” visit to Hungary in 2009.
Grüner said Rabbi Slomó Köves invited the author to Hungary while “knowing that this man is not a genuine Holocaust survivor.”
He told the Metropolitan Court Budapest that Wiesel stole the identity of his friend and fellow concentration camp inmate Lázár Wiesel, who helped him survive the horrors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau and satellite camps in Nazi-occupied Poland and in Buchenwald camp, in Germany.
The first names “Elie” and “Lázár” are similar to the Hebrew name, Eleazar. Grüner, who lost his parents and a brother in Auschwitz-Birkenau, suggested that Wiesel has committed deception by pretending to be his friend and former fellow prisoner.
Wiesel allegedly also stole the manuscript of his friend for his famous book ‘Night’.
The Hungarian-born Grüner, who holds an Australian passport, is angry that the rabbi accused him of “falsifying history”, comparing him to American academic and author Norman Finkelstein.
In his controversial book ‘The Holocaust Industry’ 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 during World War Two. Finkelstein was denied entry into Israel over the controversy.
Additionally, the rabbi described the 83-year-old Grüner as “an elderly man with some kind of complex”.
Grüner told BosNewsLife Friday, January 27, that he wants the court to force the rabbi to take back his words. “He should tell who Wiesel really is. He basically called me a liar. As a rabbi he should know better. I have been working 26 years on this case.”
During the January 24 hearing, Köves’ lawyer played down his client’s public remarks, saying he had not used the term liar. The lawyer, Nyizsnyovszki Alexandr, added that Wiesel’s background was never questioned internationally, including by the United States, where he now lives.
“How can you steal someones identity?”, wondered the rabbi in separate remarks to BosNewsLife, adding that Wiesel received the Nobel Prize for his work, “not for who he was or where he was born.”
He stressed however that he sympathizes with the “horrible suffering” of Grüner, who lost his parents and a brother in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Grüner said Köves’ statements undermine his efforts to launch legal action against Wiesel as early as the end of next month. “I will fly to Los Angeles and speak with the lawyer representing Holocaust survivors. I want Wiesel to show who he really is. There were only two ways to leave a concentration camp. Either via the chimneys or through the gates,” he explained.
“There are no records that Wiesel was in a concentration camp. In my opinion he isn’t even Jewish and doesn’t speak Hungarian. If American authorities want, he should be extradited to Hungary.”
Köves, who declined to attend this week’s hearing in person, told BosNewsLife that he had heard Wiesel speak Hungarian, for instance during a speech in parliament. Additionally, Wiesel told BosNewsLife in 2009 that he saw Hungary also as the country where he was born, but expressed concerns about growing extremism here.
He has said he was born in Máramarossziget or Sighetu Marmatiei in Romanian, which was briefly returned to Hungary during World War Two.
Grüner began his research after a Swedish paper arranged a meeting between him end Elie Wiesel in 1986. “I thought I would meet my friend, but I didn’t recognize this man,” said Grüner who now lives in Sweden.
Photo’s and film footage have emerged on the Internet showing a man resembling Elie 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.
Grüner contest this in his book ‘Stolen Identity, A-7713’. He told BosNewsLife that he realized far right groups may misuse his research, but added that he wants to ensure that generations hear the truth.
“I don’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 earlier. BosNewsLife was not able to varify the mentioned payments.
Hungarian Judge Árpád Pataki said he would not rule on Wiesel’s background but only on the allegations against the rabbi. A ruling was due February 6. Grüner told BosNewsLife he fears “a negative ruling” but pledged to appeal.
The case comes at a sensitive time for Hungary, which has just begun observing the Raoul Wallenberg Year, to commemorate the centenary of the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War Two. He later died in Soviet captivity.
At least 600,000 Hungarian Jews died during the war when Hungary, for the most part, was a close ally of Nazi-Germany.