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Tales of Vengeance

(by Eric Blair)

Being old and gray and burdened with failing eyesight, I was obliged to read Elie Wiesel's latest offering Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea in its large print format. It's just as well, since some of the claims he makes in it had me looking again at a passage or sentence I had read.

This one, for instance, on page 250. In reference to Jewish vengeance against Germans in the aftermath of the Second World War, Wiesel writes:

"Jewish avengers were few in number, their thirst for vengeance brief."

Wiesel's book of memoirs was published in 1996. The above statement makes it seem like he was totally unaware of John Sack's 1993 work An Eye for an Eye: The Untold Story of Jewish Revenge Against Germans in 1945. Or, for that matter, of similar histories, such as The Avengers by Michael bar Zohar or Legions of Death by Rupert Butler. Or of the genocidal Morgenthau Plan for a defeated Germany.

Jewish vengeance against Germans and others was certainly unabashedly celebrated in Michael Elkins' 1971 book Forged in Fury. On the page opposite the page containing the author's Foreword (of which more in a moment) is a quote by Mordechai Tennenbaum Tamaroff, who is described as the leader of the Jewish Fighters' Organization in Bialystok. Tellingly, the word vengeance appears twice, and is printed each time in italics. It reads:

"We conjure you: In the name of the shed blood of our children--take vengeance! Avenge our tortured mothers, avenge our profaned martyrs--take vengeance for us!"

That sets the moral tone for the rest of the book.

In the 3-paragraph Foreword which follows Elkins tells his readers what his book is all about. In the first paragraph, he describes a secret cell of avengers, men and women who "hunt and kill other men and women." In the second, he informs his reader that what he has produced is a "history" of this secret cell, but that: "In telling it, I have changed some names, some dates and places; I have invented some details; I have done this to protect the people involved and to enable their work, of which I approve, to continue."

In any event, this Ballantine Books product is designated as "Non-Fiction" and so labelled on its cover at the top righthand corner.

Having warned his reader that he will be reading a text in which fiction and non-fiction overlap (with the boundaries nowhere demarcated), Elkins rather fatuously and smugly concludes by insisting: "And since no man lives outside his time, I have also told something of the history of that time [the book lists 144 footnotes]. In telling this, I have changed and invented nothing."

What Elkins was unaware of, writing some time before 1971, was how his recycled "history of that time" would thereafter be changed anyway, since, much like his narrative, it too had simply been invented by propagandists.

For example, here was Elkins' description of the gassing procedure employed at Auschwitz:

"Everyone now knows that these shower rooms were the gas chambers where Zyklon B sprayed down from the deceptive nozzles as the victims strangled, fell, and lay befouled by the spasms of their profane and agonizing death until they were dragged off to the final searing cleansing of the cremating ovens" [p. 130].

The story of the toxic showers had long been accepted as true, but no longer. It has since been replaced by the story of the "porous pillars," expelling lethal Zyklon B emissions.

Forged in Fury contains the stories of several Jewish avengers; but I will focus on only one of them, that of Arnie Berg.

Born into an affluent Jewish family in America, little Arnie grew up to become a firebrand union organizer during the Dirty Thirties. He was later to become even more radicalized by his participation, on the Republican side, of course, in the Spanish Civil War.

Then, in 1942--or so the author claims--Berg was recruited by the FBI and army and naval intelligence to join a small counterespionage cell where, like a Mafia hitman, he was dispatched to kill off alleged enemy spies in both North and in South America.

In Toronto, he "killed the Nazi agent Walter Haag" [p. 163]. In Seattle, Berg tortured Erich Schaeffer "when that spy refused to give information Arnie thought he had to have quickly." In Mexico, he supposedly gunned down a spy posing as a Japanese businessman "in the streets of San Luis Potosi." Later, he killed an Argentine citizen at the Bogata airport in Columbia. There is a riotous quality to the narrative at this stage, as though Elkins was a kind of adult-child engaged in a murderous game of Nintendo, as he lists all of the lives Berg managed to snuff out "for the good of the service."

Berg's handlers, apparently, were displeased by his sloppy homicidal efforts: "...he was bluntly told that since he couldn't seem to arrange his assassinations in a manner private enough to qualify as clandestine, he ought to find some other line of work, and he was discharged..." [p. 165]. But only to be taken in by the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, where his predatory nature and pathological hatred for the enemy were regarded as assets to be used to psychologically mold and condition other agents. "So they used him to teach hatred."

What is also interesting about this book is an allegation Elkins made that caused a ripple of sensation in Canada a few years ago, after a citizen had made a formal request to police authorities that they investigate Elkins' allegation. An extraordinarily cynical passage toward the end of the book describes the murder of a Winnipeg man allegedly committed by Arnie Berg sometime in 1960. It reads [p. 302]:

"Arnie Berg flew from South America to Canada and on to Winnipeg [sic], to arrive before Alexander Laak could run further for fear of retribution for the hundred thousand Jews he had ordered killed when he had been commandant of the Jagala death camp in Estonia. Berg took his man into the garage of Laak's suburban home, and told Laak just how he intended to kill him--and his wife, when she got home from the cinema. After fifteen minutes of this, Laak begged for the mercy of being allowed to kill himself "decently." So Berg gave him a rope; and left him hanging there...a clear case of suicide."(1)

Not surprisingly, nothing came of the police investigation into the "murder" of Alexander Laak. The story is obviously a fabrication, another Nintendo fantasy. What's remarkable about it is the profound cynicism. Berg allegedly toyed with his intended victim before he drove him to "suicide." The author clearly relished this torture scene, and others like it, and probably expected his reader would, too.

Michael Elkins' Forged in Fury has the saturnine atmosphere and amorality of a Heavy Metal comic-book. It pretends to honour Jewish avengers of the Holocaust, but what it really does is wallow in gratuitous cruelty and bigotry.

I wonder if it received any special awards or even an honourable mention from some human rights organizations?


(1)(Editor's Note: Alexander Laak was indeed murdered, according to police and media reports)

July 1996