Sack reply Goldhagen

By John Sack ’51
(Published in the Harvard Crimson on the Opinion page, page 2,
on March 13, 1997.)

“Holocaust Museum,” said a Crimson headline, “Cancels Sack Speech.”
The story below it, in February, said the Museum had invited, then
disinvited, a journalist name of Sack who’d intended to speak of
Jews who ran concentration camps at the end of World War II and
beat, tortured and killed the German inmates: German men, women,
children, babies. The story, by Associated Press, didn’t mention
that Sack was Class of 1951 and a Crimson former editor, a man who
one month later – today – would try to rekindle his fiery youth by
sending the Crimson his first contribution in almost fifty years.

Hello, future fellow alumni! I am Sack ’51, the heretic author of
An Eye for an Eye. Call it chutzpah, but I wrote there that in 1945
hundreds of Jews wore olive-colored uniforms and ran a Polish
bureaucracy called the Office of State Security. I wrote that they
and the Catholics who worked for them rounded up German civilians,
took them to 1,255 camps, beat them with “beaters-to-death,” put
splinters up their fingernails, put living toads in their throats,
and put gasoline in their hair, then lit it, and I wrote that 60,000
to 80,000 Germans died. Yes, I intended to say all this in
Washington at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, but also I’d say (as I
did in the Crimson) that “God knows the Jews were provoked,” and I’d
say that they soon remembered how Jews should behave and did what
the SS had never done: they deserted, defected. The title of my
soft-spoken speech would be Revenge and Redemption, 1945.

Then the Museum scrubbed me. The cancellation, the Crimson said,
was not necessarily welcome to Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor
of The New Republic, who said, “I want people to see how wrong he
is.” Until I read this, I hadn’t thought of Wieseltier as an
especially staunch defender of my Freedom of Speech. Even before An
Eye for an Eye came out, Wieseltier’s boss at The New Republic,
Martin Peretz, called up my publishers and said, “I’ll destroy this
book,” and Wieseltier himself told New York magazine, “The sooner we
stopped this book, the better.” He then sought to smother it (and
also inspired this Crimson piece) by hiring a zealous assistant
professor at Harvard named Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, who, in The New
Republic of December 27, 1993, let loose a volley of hatchets
against An Eye for an Eye.

Goldhagen hinted that I, a Jew, was an anti-Semite. He said I was
morally sloppy and intellectually tawdry. He called my 65 pages of
endnotes bewildering, and he complained that I’d written, “Hath not
a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew passions?” but hadn’t attributed this to
the English playwright William Shakespeare (“Many readers will not
know”). Goldhagen said I’d done outright fictionalization, although
all the scholars who’d check my bewildering notes at the German
Federal Archives would write, “The story is there,” “The facts are
correct,” “The writing is watertight.” The sharpest of Goldhagen’s
hatchets went at my “outrageous claims” about the Jewish commandant
of the camp at Schwientochlowitz, near Auschwitz, although my claims
that the man killed the Germans with clubs, crowbars, stools, and
the Germans’ own crutches would be confirmed by 60 Minutes, The New
York Times, and the German newspaper Die Zeit.

In The New Republic, Goldhagen lied. He said that I hadn’t written
things that, at a glance, a freshman (in high school) could
ascertain that I had. In An Eye for an Eye I’d written in highly
legible type of the commandant at Lamsdorf, “He insisted (and all
the Jews accepted) that he was a Polish Catholic,” but Goldhagen
claimed, “It is only in the notes, eighty pages away. . . that the
unusually diligent reader will discover [that] he was a Polish
Catholic.” Goldhagen’s hatchets were two-headed ones, for he also
claimed that I’d written things that I hadn’t. Our high-school
freshman could read in An Eye for an Eye that 75 percent of the
officers – the majors, captains, lieutenants – in the Office of
State Security in the province of Silesia in February 1945 were
Jews, but Goldhagen claimed that I’d written that “75 percent of
those in the Office of State Security in Silesia were Jews.” Of
those? Of those what? The adjective in a noun’s disguise was
Goldhagen’s awkward way of concealing from innocent readers that I
had been writing of officers only.

May I go on? Having misrepresented me, Goldhagen then refuted me
with statistics about the officers and the privates, about Silesia
and the rest of Poland, and about an antithetical era. Goldhagen

We know how many Jews were in the Office of State Security.
According to a tabulation of November 21, 1945, by Boleslaw
Bierut, then President of Poland, the Office of State Security
had 438 Jews. 438! Not Sack’s 75 percent but 1.7 percent. . . .

“Uh, no,” says our high-school thirteen-year-old, for I’d clearly
written that Jews left the Office “as early as June 1945,” that
“hundreds of Jews escaped from the Office” by September 1945, and
that “all but a scattering of Jews returned to the Torah and Talmud
and fled from the Office by December 1945.” If, as Goldhagen said,
there were 438 Jews in the Office as late as November 21, 1945,
that’s sixty times more than I’d ever mentioned in An Eye for an
Eye, though when I reported this in a letter to The New Republic,
the editors (my avowed defenders) wouldn’t publish it, and when I
bought a $425 ad, the editors wouldn’t publish that.

All this was Wieseltier’s doing. But what would entice a Harvard
assistant professor to act as Wieseltier’s willing executioner?
“The facts are,” Goldhagen said in The New Republic, his certitude
unencumbered by certainty, “that Jews did not run the Polish Office
of State Security.” Oh? A full professor at Columbia told New
York, “The great majority of…officers were certainly Jews.” A
professor in Warsaw found a who’s who of the 447 top officers from
1944 to 1953, and thirty percent declared they were Jews. (How many
Jews didn’t declare it? How many deserted in 1945?) A professor at
the University of California wrote in The Nation, “Goldhagen
seriously distorts history,” and even the London Jewish Chronicle
said, “Goldhagen strays from professionalism into passion.”

What was the source of Goldhagen’s unprofessional fit? His piece in
The New Republic had such disregard for his University’s motto that
he may just have been seeking to immunize his upcoming book from any
eyewitness evidence that what we must learn from the Holocaust isn’t
that all Jews are good and all Germans are bad. And yet I can’t
swear that a germ of veritas doesn’t lurk in Goldhagen’s screed. Let
Truth and Falsehood grapple, said Milton – let former student and
present professor debate at some forum in Cambridge what we Jews did
or didn’t do after the Holocaust. Professor Goldhagen, I challenge

Oh, one little update. The speech that I didn’t give at the
Holocaust Museum, I gave at the National Press Club, but (doubtless
to Wieseltier’s disappointment) the press didn’t see how wrong I
was. The press applauded.