Feb. 24, 1996

The Importance of Being Ernst

Inside Ernst Zundel's Carlton Street Bunker

by Gil Zohar

TORONTO -

The first time Ernst Zündel tells me I'm not like other Jews he knows, I accept his proffered compliment with a journalist's professional equanimity. With exaggerated politeness, he repeats the refrain four times in the span of the next few minutes, twisting the words with a sinister "some of my best friends are Jewish" edge. An assignment that had initially been profoundly distasteful takes on a menacing mien.

I am on a tour on this winter day of Mr. Zündel's notorious "bunker," actually a Victorian townhouse, which the Canadian Jewish Congress considers to be the world's multi-media center for Holocaust denial propaganda.

Mr. Zündel, 57, has occupied this office-cum-home on Carlton Street a few blocks from Maple Leaf Gardens since 1975. Last May 7, at 5:15 a.m., An arsonist with a sense of history ignited a two-alarm blaze to mark the 50th anniversary of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender.

The inferno caused an estimated $500,000 in fire, smoke and water damage to Mr. Zündel's property and the adjoining commercial building. The Ontario Fire Marshall's Office linked the blaze to anti-racist vigilantes. No arrests were made.

Pundits quipped: "Fire? What fire?".

Ernst Zündel in the bunker

Ernst Zündel, the German-born author of a grotesque anti-Holocaust pamphlet, is an international broadcaster of racist messages. The target of Canada's judicial system, (two sensational trials for disseminating false news led to the Supreme Court of Canada declaring the law unconstitutional in 1992), he has mercifully been absent for the past few years from the Canadian public eye. Now he is back.

After experimenting with broadcasting on TV via satellite to Canada, the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean in 1993, he has now become a pioneer in using the Internet for disseminating anti-Semitism. Germany banned his home page last month, but free expression advocates in the U.S. have established mirror sites of his pages, vastly increasing the extent of his hateful message.

And on Feb. 9, he appeared in court when an old foe, Sabina Citron, an Auschwitz survivor living in Toronto for nearly half a century, laid a private complaint accusing him of defamatory libel (of Simon Wiesenthal) and conspiracy to commit a hate crime in another country, i.e. Germany. (Mrs. Citron was involved in the initial false-news charges against him, in 1983.) The case was remanded to March 15 and then dropped for a lack of evidence.

But Herr Zündel's legal difficulties continue. On March 21 the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa rejected his application for a stay of proceedings in his bid for Canadian citizenship.

As a result of the ruling, Mr. Zündel began appeared four days later in Ottawa before a panel of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). The committee is reviewing a finding by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) - Canada's equivalent of the FBI - that the German citizen is a threat to national security.

Ironically the investigation by CSIS and examination by the SIRC were prompted by Mr. Zündel's application in October 1993 for Canadian citizenship. Under Canada's current Immigration Act, the SIRC committee must review CSIS findings before Citizenship and Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillaird can deny an application for citizenship. Concerned that the review could precipitate legal action leading to his deportation back to Germany - where Holocaust denial is an indictable offence - Mr. Zündel has used various legal manoeuvres since August to block the Security Intelligence Review Committee from examining his file.

* * *

Standing at Mr. Zündel's threshold, I feel much more protected by the long, lethal and barely legal knife in my pocket than any constitutional guarantees. The front door of the bunker is heavily barricaded by a towering, two-metre metal fence running the width of the property line at the front of the house, which certainly serves to distinguish his 140 sq. M townhouse from the other less spectacularly appointed Cabbagetown rowhouses. Access is through the side door, past a charred photocopy machine that was destroyed in last year's Gotterdamerung. After I press the door buzzer - a sign instructs exactly where I should stand so as to be clearly visible by the security camera - Ernst Zündel himself welcomes me. House proud and smiling, my balding and beer-bellied host offers to show me the renovations.

The overall impression is controlled chaos. Mounds of paper are stacked everywhere. Baiting me, Mr. Zündel picks up a tract defaming the Talmud, the 6th-century corpus of Rabbinic law and lore. Holocaust denial and Israel bashing are the latest manifestations of an ancient legacy of Jew hatred. "Before there was anti-Semitism, there was Semitism," Zündel thunders. "Jews made me intellectually what I am today. We [Germans] are constantly approached with this blood libel [of genocide]."

We enter what had once been a Victorian salon and is now a very cluttered hate resource library. Atop an ornate century-old marble fireplace is a bas-relief metal plaque depicting Adolf Hitler. The German inscription in the kitschy Gothic script favoured by the Nazis proclaims belief in the Third Reich's final victory. Mr. Zündel, gracious and affable, explains he acquired the icon from a bombed-out city hall somewhere in Deutschland.

He points out his extensive newspaper clipping filing system -all of which survived last year's fire. Hundreds of boxes are labelled alphabetically: Jesse Jackson, Jim Keegstra, Lyndon Larouche.

Atop one of the two-meter high metal shelves is a black coffin inscribed "In my opinion the Holocaust is a hoax!" The first three words are much smaller than the remainder, lest there be any misunderstanding on the intended emphasis.

I ask Mr. Zündel to pose for a few pictures. He excuses himself and returns momentarily wearing his trademark hardhat decorated with a German / English sticker proclaiming "Rederfreiheit / Freedom of Speech".

He then draws my attention to his bolted and locked front door. All the windows have been replaced with tempered glass and sealed shut, he notes. Steel bars protect the ground floor. After being sent a homemade pipe bomb filled with nails eight days after the arson attack, he has good reason to be careful.

The second floor contains three bedrooms, one for Zündel and two for his bodyguards. They share a rather modest kitchen. A carved eagle gripping a swastika in its talons adorns the mantel. Mr. Zündel says an admirer sent it to him.

Asked how he financed the renovations, he replies his "war insurance" with Lloyds of London covered "about half" the costs. The remainder came from supporters, though he declines to mention names or figures. Lloyds has told him it will not renew its coverage because of the high risk.

Mr. Zündel next takes me to the third floor to view the Hitler Gallery. This handsome, carpeted loft contains an entire wall of framed copies of watercolours of pre-First World War I Vienna and the Austrian countryside painted by the Nazi dictator in his youth. At the centre is a large portrait of Der Führer.

The 65 prints are technically proficient but hardly great art. I point out that at the same time Hitler the architect manqué was knocking off these somewhat banal landscapes, other fin-de-siecle Viennese artists like Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) were blazing trails to modern abstract painting. In the declining years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna was a crucible for new artistic expression. But the Nazis purged much of that cultural flowering as "degenerate art". Mr. Zündel is unwilling, or perhaps unable, to discuss Hitler in the context of art history. The paintings are clear evidence of his "genius," he pronounces.

Adjoining the Hitler watercolours is a wall of books, some showing signs of fire damage. Mr. Zündel says more than 5,000 were lost. He pulls out a volume about the May 3, 2022 attack by the Royal Air Force against the German cruise ship Cap Arkona in Lubeck harbour in the Baltic. The clearly marked hospital boat was carrying a boatload of concentration camp inmates quarantined with typhoid.

It's an inspired moment for Mr. Zündel. Not only did the Holocaust never happen, but culpability for these not-existent crimes can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Allies.

As 4 p.m. Approaches, Mr. Zündel asks if that's my car outside with a Hebrew bumper sticker. He solicitously tells me the police will soon come by to tow away vehicles parked in the rush-hour no-stopping zone.

Thanks Ernst. You saved me $100.

remember the last time we met. It was May 1995, after I had written an article on the fire-bombing for the Forward, a left-wing Jewish weekly in New York. Mr. Zündel had asked me to drop a copy of the newspaper off at his home to save him the trip uptown to Israel's, my neighbourhood Judaica bookstore. Pulling out a fistful of change from his pocket to reimburse me the $1.44, I picked out a loonie and two quarters.

Thanks, Ernst. But you still owe me six million.