Blacks vs. Jews: more
Friday, October 13, 2000
Paul Parks is black, and has been telling us for years how he (and other black soldiers) liberated Dachau (pictures added by website; above). He has spoken to many holocaust and civil rights groups. He's getting an award in Berlin this month. He's a phony.
Parks stands by World War II stories
By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 10/13/2000
As military historians continued to dismiss his claim, Boston civil rights leader Paul Parks yesterday insisted that he helped free survivors of the Dachau death camp in 1945 and intends to collect an award in Germany for that historic duty.
"I was where I said I was," said Parks, the 77-year-old former Massachusetts education secretary. "I was at Normandy and I was at Dachau."
Washington-based B'nai B'rith International is questioning his selection after Dachau liberators said Parks was not among them when the concentration camp fell. The Globe disclosed the allegations in a story yesterday, which also raised questions about his claimed participation in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. As of yesterday, Parks was still scheduled to collect the Raoul Wallenberg award from the B'nai B'rith chapter in Berlin later this month. Some historians suggest that honor would be misplaced.
"There were no black units attached or assigned to any of the units credited with the liberation of Dachau," Mary Haynes, archivist and historian at the US Army Center of Military History, said yesterday. "It's not plausible on its face," added Raul Hilberg, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Vermont and author of "The Destruction of the European Jews."
But Parks said he does not expect the B'nai B'rith review of his award -- expected to take several days -- to lead to its revocation. "I'm not even going to deal with that," Parks said. "I'm going [to Germany]." Parks's refusal to back off his assertions, in the face of evidence that his accounts of his World War II Army service have been embellished, infuriated veterans of the liberation forces.
They called Parks's claim that he was working mine detection duty on the day that US Army forces liberated the death camp "ludicrous." "He is a consummate liar, is all I can say," said retired Brigadier General Felix L. Sparks, who was a 27-year-old lieutenant colonel when he led the liberation of the main camp at Dachau. "The Germans never put out any mines in the last days of the war, because we were deep inside Germany at that time. They weren't laying any mines, and, if they did, I had my own people to take care of them."
Russel R. Weiskircher, who was with Sparks the day Dachau fell, said Parks wasn't in sight that day. "He has lived a lie which was accepted years ago and woven into the unofficial fabric called history," Weiskircher said. But some local black and Jewish leaders contacted yesterday said even if Parks's military claims prove to be a lie, that does not obscure his contributions to Massachusetts for a generation.
Parks, a former Boston School Committee chairman and vice president of the Boston branch of the NAACP during the 1960s, has been an important bridge builder across racial and religious lines, they said.
"He's been an extremely important spokesperson for the survivors as well as the victims of the Holocaust, and that is an important reality worthy of our appreciation," said Rabbi William G. Hamilton of Brookline's Congregation Kehillath Israel, who is chairman of the New England Holocaust Committee. Hamilton said he could not comment on the veracity of Parks's assertions, "but I can comment on the difference he's made in the past several decades of inspiring others to value the important relations between the African-American and Jewish communities and to honor the memories of those who were murdered in the Holocaust."
Royal Bolling Sr., a former state representative and state senator who served in the Army in Italy, said Parks should be judged for the life he has led since the war, not over details of his military service. "A story once told is like a fisherman's story," Bolling said. "The size of the fish increases with the telling. This may be a case like that."
Historians queried agree that if Parks was where he said he was in the spring of 1945, there is no documentation for it. "We're not aware of any African-American soldiers who were there on the day the proverbial gates fell," said a spokesman for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "For those people who were not there initially but claimed to see it at some point, we don't mind calling them witnesses," said Haynes, the Army military historian. "In [Parks's] case, it might be more judicious to call him a witness because nobody can argue with that point."
Parks's vivid and public claims about his role at Dachau have made him a featured speaker before Jewish groups, including Holocaust survivors. Journalist Jonathan Kaufman featured Parks in his 1988 book, "Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America." In it, Parks recalls rolling into the camp atop large bulldozers. Black GIs, Parks said, were hugged by Jews who looked like emaciated ghosts. The ovens were still warm, Parks said.
Kaufman, a former Globe reporter who now writes for the Wall Street Journal, said Parks told his moving story persuasively.
"If it turns out that the claims are false, I am one of a long line of people he apparently duped over all these years and I feel deceived by that," Kaufman said. "I have to say there was no whiff either in his telling of his story or the people I talked to about this story that he wasn't telling the truth."