The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Zündel Affair

Manuel Prutschi


The Nielsen Incident

In late 1980, Zündel launched an attack on History 398Y, the Holocaust course taught at the University of Toronto by two Jewish history professors, Jacques Kornberg and Michael Marrus, using his follower, Ernst Nielsen.

In a Zündel pamphlet, Nielsen is described as having been born in pre-war Germany, and having served during the war as "an air-sea rescue pilot."[77] Shot down on July 1, 1940, he was imprisoned in England, and subsequently in Canada. In the early 1950s, Nielsen came to Canada as an immigrant, no doubt emulating other German prisoners of war who had found their wartime imprisonment in Canada not particularly harsh and had seen the nation as a land of opportunity.

In Zündel's account, however, Nielsen's settlement is portrayed as some kind of noble act for which Canadians should be profoundly thankful, rather than a piece of obvious opportunism. "Mr. Nielsen is not a man to bear grudges." the pamphlet states, "so he returned to Canada in the early 1950s and went to work as a productive member of our society."[78]

In the 1979-80 academic year, Nielsen audited History 398Y; in 1980-81, he enrolled formally in the course. It is quite clear that his purpose was not the pursuit of knowledge but to instruct the instructors and the rest of the class that the Holocaust was a hoax and a fraud. His tactics consisted of constant interruption and harassment. As a result, he was asked to withdraw from the course in both years.

On November 10, 1980, in a letter to Professor William Callahan, Chairman of the Department of History, Nielsen appealed his second removal. His two-page letter, a precis of Holocaust denial, describes the books on the class reading list as "nothing but hate literature." The works "are not factual, but are Zionist incitements to hatred of Germans - living, dead, and yet unborn." Most of the authors cited in the course are "virulently anti-German, Zionist fiction writers, not historians."[79] Nielsen further argued that a professor teaching a course on this subject should "not be a member of any ethnic group or organization directly concerned with the Holocaust legend," adding that "no teacher be a Jew or a German, a Zionist or a Nazi."[80] (The apposition and the equation of Zionist and Nazi is significant.)

The letter also provides a list of notorious Holocaust deniers in the guise of "recognized scientific authorities," adding the suggestion that the University of Toronto sponsor a 'Holocaust Symposium.' Nielsen concluded by offering to procure a number of his "authorities" for the benefit of the university community.

This offer, as well as the entire affair, was almost certainly masterminded by Zündel; Nielsen was merely his mouthpiece and agent provocateur. Indeed, Nielsen's letter to Callahan, both in form and content, is typical of Zündel's style and method. Nielsen, for example, wrote that he had "been assured of the backing of several local and international German ethnic organizations," but the only organization actually mentioned is the German-Jewish Historical Commission - one of Zündel's fronts.[81]

Furthermore, another of Zündel's fronts, Concerned Parents of German Descent, avidly took up his defence. In a pamphlet titled "Holocaust Course Stirs Controversy," Zündel referred to the professors in History 398Y as "Biased predatory and mendacious Zionist advocates who write Holocaust fiction for profit," and railed against the "misallocation dollars." [82] Declaring that "the abuse of our University system through the inclusion of hateful, biased, unscrupulous Zionist propaganda posing as history must be halted," he listed the names and telephone numbers of a number of university officers and administrators, urging his supporters to phone in protest even on weekends.[83]

The incident, however. although unpleasant or the instructors, as well as for the Jewish students in the class, only confirmed the importance of the course by providing an in-class illustration of the pathological antisemitism and nationalism that had kindled the flames of the Final Solution in the first place. As far as Zündel and Nielsen were concerned, their efforts were an exercise in futility.



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