- About the author:
- John Sack WAS one of America's most eminent literary
journalists. His reporting over more than half a century, from North and
South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, has appeared in such periodicals
as Harper's, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He has been a war correspondent
in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Yugoslavia, as well as CBS News bureau chief
in Spain. He is the author of nine non-fiction books, including M, Lieutenant
Calley: His Story, and Company C, as well as An Eye for an Eye (available
from the IHR.org). The founding editor of Esquire magazine has compared
his writing to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernst Hemingway. For more
about Sack and his career, see his Web site: http://www.johnsack.com.
- This essay, slightly edited, was presented on May 29,
2000, at the 13th IHR conference. For more about his travails with the
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, see
- "Suppressing the Story of Genocide Against Germans,"
in the Sept.-Oct. 1997 Journal. "Inside the Bunker," a lengthy
article by Sack based on his participati on at the 13th IHR Conference,
appeared in the February 2001 issue of Esquire.
- John Sack:
- Three years ago, I was scheduled to speak at the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The speech was announced in this brochure
and also on the Internet. But then the Museum canceled it.
- For the next forty-five minutes, I'll say here what I'd
planned to say at the Holocaust Museum, and then, just as I'd have done
at the Museum, I'll stay here as long as you'd like, answering questions.
The audience at the Museum would have been historians, mostly, and I'd
have said something like ...
- Thank you. Thank you for inviting me, thank you for listening
to me. What I'm going to talk about happened fifty years ago. And for fifty
years, no one, no historian, no one at all has spoken about it in public
anywhere in the world. Not until now.
- Now myself, I'm not an historian, I'm a reporter. And
what I write is the raw material of history, something that historians
will -- I hope -- someday make some sense of. I go places. I watch events.
I listen to people. And then I tell stories. And I'll start by telling
one now. A true story about a teenage girl.
- Blonde hair, brown eyes, very pretty. In high school
she's doing the flying rings, trapeze, acting in Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs. She's one of the title characters. She comes home. She's skipping
through the streets singing, "On the Good Ship Lollipop ..."
Not exactly. She's really singing [in accented English], "On the Good
Ship Lollipop ..." Because she's a Polish girl, and she's in Bedzin,
Poland, in the 1930s. Her name is Lola Potok.
- And when she's 18 years old, the Nazis invade. Lola is
put on a train to the town of Oswiecim -- we know it as Auschwitz. Her
baby, one year old, is ripped from her arms; she never sees the baby again.
She isn't sent to the cyanide chamber, but her mother is. Her mother is
killed, her brother and sister, nieces and nephews are killed. Fourteen
- (You know, I wasn't going to say this at the Holocaust
Museum, but in this particular room I know there are people who don't believe
there were cyanide chambers at Auschwitz. I believe, and Lola believes,
there were cyanide chambers at Auschwitz.) Her mother was killed. Her brother
and sister, nieces and nephews were killed.
- Fourteen people. The one brother at Auschwitz who's still
alive stands on the gallows and says in Yiddish, "Nem nekumah! Take
revenge!" Then he's hanged.
- In January 1945, Lola escapes. She weighs sixty-six pounds.
Her eyes are hollow. Her hair is this short. Her back has been broken.
Her hand is mangled. She's wearing two left shoes. All the people she loves
are dead, or she thinks so, and she is just bursting with hate. She wants
to release that hate, to spew it onto the Germans. One of her childhood
friends is in the Polish government, and Lola goes to him and tells him,
"I want revenge."
- And two months later the war is still going on, and Lola
is now in Germany, the part occupied by the Russians and administered by
the Poles. Lola's in an olive-colored uniform. On her jacket are brass
buttons. On her collar, what the GIs call scrambled eggs. On her shoulders
are stars. On her hip is a Luger. Lola is working for the Polish government,
she is the commandant of a prison for Germans, and she is attempting to
take revenge for the Holocaust.
- Now, Lola is a Jewish girl. She's studied the Torah,
and the Torah says, "You shall not take revenge." Lola knows
that. She's disobeying that. But is there any of us here who'd condemn
her? Any of us who can't understand her? I can understand her, and I can
have rachmanis, compassion, for her.
- I met Lola Potok. It was in April 1986. I'm living in
Hollywood. I'm a writer, and I have a meeting at Paramount. And the secretary
there, she's reading something I wrote about the Billionaire Boys Club.
She tells me, "I like it. It reminds me of my family."
- I say, "The Billionaire Boys Club? Your family?"
Secretary says, "Yes, all those murders. My mother, Lola, was at Auschwitz."
I say, "Oh." Secretary says, "And after that, my mother
commanded a prison full of Nazis." I say, "What? She commanded
- I say, "Do you know there's a movie there?"
I say, "You should tell Lynda," Lynda is the producer, the secretary's
boss, but the secretary tells me, "I know there's a movie. I won't
tell Lynda. I want to produce it myself!"
- There's a saying in Hollywood: a producer is someone,
anyone, who knows a writer. I'm a writer, the secretary knows me, and therefore
she's a producer. We're in business together. The deal is, I'll write a
magazine article on Lola, her mother, and the secretary will make a movie
- Cut. A few days later. Hollywood, the Moustache Cafe.
I'm having spinach crepe. I'm having dinner with Lola. An elegant woman.
Coral lipstick, black eyeliner, like on a femme fatale. Speaks five languages
fluently. She's sixty-six years old. And Lola starts telling me her story.
- At the end of World War II, she tells me, she commanded
a prison in Gleiwitz, Germany. She says the inmates were German soldiers.
But she says some were Nazis, even SS, pretending to be German soldiers,
and Lola was looking for them. Looking for Höss and Hössler,
the commandants at Auschwitz. Looking for Mengele, the man who once said
to her mother, "Go left, you die"; who said to Lola, "Go
right, you live." And if Lola ever found him, she didn't know what
she'd do. But she'd do it.
- And Lola tells me: One day in her prison she found a
Gestapo man. Fat, forty years old. Under his arm was a tattoo. It said
A or B. It was his blood type. Everyone in the Gestapo had it. Lola freaked
out. She started screaming, "Du schmutziges Schwein! Du verfluchtes
Schwein! Du ... How many Jews did you kill?" She slapped him. The
man was down on the floor. He was hugging her boots, saying, "Gnade!
Gnade! Have mercy on me!," and Lola was kicking him and kicking ...
- This story of Lola's: Is there anyone here who likes
it? I didn't like it. I didn't want to write it. I thought it was ugly.
Lola didn't like it. She told me her mother, if she were alive, wouldn't
like it. Her mother used to read to her from the Torah and tell her, "You
mustn't hate. It only hurts you. It corrodes your soul."
- And Lola said that after some months in Gleiwitz, she
remembered this. She was in the prison one day. And there was a Jewish
guard there. His face was red. His teeth were bare. There was spit on his
teeth. Ugly, ugly. The man had a whip. He was screaming in Polish, "You
son of a whore." He was whipping a German prisoner. Lola said, "Stop."
Lola said, "Why are you whipping him?" The man said, "Well,
the Germans did it to me!" Lola said, "And now you hate them?"
The man said, "I despise them!" Lola said, "Well, if you
despise them, why do you want to be like them?" Because to Lola, to
Lola, this man, this Jew, he looked, talked, acted just like the Nazis
she'd known at Auschwitz.
- At that time, Lola didn't care about the Germans, the
German prisoners. They could have dropped dead for all she cared. But she
told me she cared about the Jewish guard. For years the Nazis had called
him a pig, a dog, and if now he'd truly become a beast, then who had won,
the Jew or the Nazis? So according to Lola, she called all the guards to
her office and said to them that from now on, we'll treat the Germans like
human beings. And from then on, Lola told me, that's what she did.
- Writing Lola's Story
- Now, this story I liked. If it was true, this was a story
worth telling. I had this dream: maybe the Serbs and Croats will read it,
the Irish Catholics and Protestants will read it, the Hutus and Tutsis,
the Israelis and Palestinians ... Maybe they'll read it, and maybe they'll
learn, as Lola did, that to hate your neighbors may or may not destroy
them, but it does destroy yourself. And maybe these people will stop their
revenge, stop their genocide.
- We Jews always say of the Holocaust, "Never again.
Never again will people hurt us simply because we are Jews." But Lola
was apparently saying, "Yes, and never again will I hurt a German
simply because he's a German." Fifty years ago, Lola was apparently
saying, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
This story I wanted very much to write. So ...
- I start interviewing Lola. At the Inn of the Seventh
Ray in Los Angeles. At a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey. On the Champs Elysées
in Paris. I interview Lola on and off for two-and-a-half years. Her memories
just pour out, and she also introduces me to a dozen other people, all
Jews: people who knew her in Gleiwitz, prison guards in Gleiwitz, even
the man who appointed her the commandant in Gleiwitz.
- I write a twenty-page article on Lola's revenge and Lola's
redemption. Lola reads it and likes it. The story runs in California magazine.
Lola, at her own expense, comes to Washington to promote it on National
Public Radio. The story is sold internationally, and it's reprinted in
Best Magazine Articles, 1988. We have movie offers. Bette Midler and Suzanne
Somers want to play the Lola part.
- And then I write a book proposal. I write, "It's
Lola's redemption, not Lola's revenge, that this book's about." I'll
go to Germany. I'll find some prisoners maybe. I'll go to Poland. I'll
find some more guards, maybe. I'll write a book. The title will be Lola.
And in August 1988, the publisher Henry Holt in New York City says, "Okay!
We want it!" Good news, and I phone it to Lola.
- And Lola on the telephone says, "Listen, John, I
don't want you to write it." I say, "Lola? Lola, this is the
first time you've told that to me." I say, "Lola, we signed a
contract." We had signed one. Lola had written, "I grant you
the exclusive right to write and to publish a book about my life."
- That night I go to Lola's apartment in Hollywood. Anyone
here ever been in an encounter group? Remember your first night? Everyone
shouting and screaming. You're just sitting there stupefied. You're thinking,
"What is going on?" Well, I'm in Lola's condo. Lola is saying,
"Lookit, John. I don't like the way you write. You write like a reporter.
If you start writing this book, I will stop you. I will stop you!"
- Lola's daughter is there. She's saying, "John, give
it up. I'm begging you to give it up. John! Give it up!" Another daughter
of Lola's is there. She's a lawyer, and she says, "John! You're going
to have instantaneous and very expensive litigation!" Lola's saying,
"I'll go to court." The daughter's saying, "John, I want
you to sign this release. John! Sign the release!" The other daughter's
saying, "John! Just leave us! Just go!" Lola's saying, "John!
Get out of our lives!"
- I leave. I telephone Lola but she doesn't answer. I write
her, but she sends the letters back, unopened, inscribed "refused."
- And not just Lola. Lola's second-in-command at the prison
in Gleiwitz was Moshe, also a Jew. He won't talk to me. His wife on the
telephone says, "We don't give you the permission to write this."
I say, "I ... You ..." That's what I say, "I ... You ...
One doesn't need permission!" I have permission, from the Constitution
of the United States. Moshe's wife hangs up.
- And then there is Jadzia, also a Jew, she was one of
Lola's guards in Gleiwitz. Jadzia says on the telephone, "I was never
in Gleiwitz!" Then she says, "Yes, I was in Gleiwitz, but I'll
never talk about it!" And then she talks for an hour saying, "I
don't know nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing! Nothing!"
- People won't talk to me. People tell other people, "Don't
talk to John Sack." People talk to me, and they lie to me. People
say they'll sue me, they'll destroy me, they'll kill me. One man takes
my driver's license, writes down my address, and says, "If you write
about me, I will call the Israeli Mafia."
- Here's some advice. Never tell a reporter, "You'd
better not write this." I have a contract with Henry Holt. I've made
a promise to Henry Holt. I keep my promises.
- Doing the Research
- In April 1989, I fly to Germany. I go to this castle,
this concrete castle, high on a hill above the Rhine. It's the German Federal
Archives, and they've got forty thousand statements there by Germans who
lived in what now is Poland during World War II. The statements of course
are in German, in German script, and I find five statements from Germans
who were in Lola's prison.
- I go to another place in Germany: a great medieval hall,
with banners on the stone walls. It's a reunion of a thousand people from
Gleiwitz. They're drinking beer. They're eating sausages and sauerkraut.
They're laughing and singing, "Ein prosit, ein prosit ..." And
I'm like a little flower girl. You know, the girl who goes from table to
table selling roses? I'm going around asking, "Uh, excuse me. Anyone
here who was in prison in Gleiwitz?" Yeah, I am a party pooper. I
admit it. But eventually I find five of Lola's prisoners.
- I take the train to Gleiwitz. Now it's Gliwice, Poland.
And going through Communist East Berlin, I'm arrested, taken off the train,
and locked up in a little room because with me I have a copy of the book
Die Vertreibung der deutschen Bevölkerung aus den Gebieten östlich
der Oder-Neisse ["The Expulsion of the German Population from the
Territories East of the Oder-Neisse," published in the 1950s by the
Bonn government]. Hours later I'm let out and I get to Gleiwitz/ Gliwice
at four in the morning. It's a city of two hundred thousand people, almost
none of whom speak English. I don't speak Polish, but I find three of Lola's
guards. They remember her well.
- It's 1989, Poland is still Communist, but I get into
Lola's prison, into the prisoners' cells. I tell them, "Djien dobre.
Good morning." I see the prison records. Remember when, according
to Lola, she went to the Polish government and said, "I want revenge"?
Well, I find her application, in her own handwriting. She wrote, "I
want to cooperate against our German oppressors." I find the official
document appointing her commandant in Gleiwitz.
- After that, I go to Germany eleven more times, to Poland
three more times, to France, Austria, Israel, Canada, and all around the
United States. Through interpreters I talk to two hundred people in Polish
and Russian, Danish and Swedish, German and Dutch, French and Spanish,
Yiddish and Hebrew. I left out English. I get three hundred hours of tape-recorded
interviews, and I see thousands of documents.
- And what do I learn? Well: Lola was telling the truth.
She was the commandant in Gleiwitz. And she was taking revenge. She slapped
the Germans around. And just as she said, she stopped. I remember one day
in 1989, I'm having lunch with one of her guards at the Hotel Leszny. We're
eating wienerschnitzel. And out of the blue the man says, "You know,
Lola stopped. She told us, 'Stop!' She said, 'We're going to show the Germans
we're not like them.'"
- The Facts Come Out
- So Lola was telling the truth. But, she wasn't telling
the whole truth. Lola had told me the people in her prison were German
soldiers. And yes, twenty of them were German soldiers, men who worked
as painters, carpenters, and such. But there were a thousand other prisoners
there, and they were German civilians: German men, German women, German
- One prisoner was a fourteen-year-old boy. He had been
out in Gleiwitz wearing his boy scout pants. A man cried out, "You're
wearing black pants! You're a fascist!," and he chased the boy and
tackled him at the Church of Saint Peter and Paul, and then took him to
Lola's prison. Now, the boy was completely innocent. So were most of the
people in Lola's prison. They weren't Gestapo. They weren't SS. They weren't
even Nazis. Out of a thousand prisoners, just twenty were ever even accused
- But the Germans in Lola's prison were slapped and whipped.
And I'm so sorry to have to say it, but they were also tortured. The boy
scout: the guards poured gasoline on his curly black hair and set it on
fire. The boy went insane. The men: they were beaten with a Totschläger,
a "beater-to-death." It's a long steel spring with a big lead
ball at the end. You use it like a racketball racket. Your arm, your wrist,
the spring: they deliver a triple hit to a German's face.
- Lola didn't tell me, but the Germans in her prison were
dying. I found their death certificates in Gleiwitz city hall. One of Lola's
guards told me, "Yeah, the Germans would die." He told me, "I'd
put the bodies in a horse-drawn cart. I'd cover them with potato peels
so no one would see. I'd ride to the outskirts and, after I threw the potato
peels out, I'd take the Germans to the Catholic cemetery. To the mass grave."
- We all know about Auschwitz. But I have to tell you,
the Germans in Lola's prison were worse off than Lola had been at Auschwitz.
Lola at Auschwitz wasn't locked in a room night and day. She wasn't tortured
night after night. She herself told me: "Thank God, nobody tried to
rape us. The Germans weren't allowed to." But all of that happened
to German girls at Lola's prison in Gleiwitz.
- One woman I talked with wasn't even German. She was Polish.
In 1945 she was twenty years old: a tall, blonde, beautiful medical student.
The guards at Lola's prison pulled off her clothes and told her, "Let's
do it!" They beat her and beat her, night after night, until she was
black and blue. One morning, she came back to her cell and fell on the
floor, sobbing. Her cellmate asked her, "What, what is that blue thing
you're wearing? Oh, oh, it's your skin."
- And ten feet away was Lola's office. Lola in her brass,
braid, and stars. I once asked her, "Lola, where did you get that
uniform?," and Lola said, "Well, the Russians must've given it
to me." That wasn't the whole truth either.
- Lola was in the Polish secret police. Its name was the
Office of State Security, in Polish the Urzad Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego.
The Germans called it the Polish Gestapo. One of its missions was to round
up Nazi suspects. But for all practical purposes, if you were a German,
you were a Nazi suspect. So the mission was to round up Germans, imprison
them, interrogate them, and if they confess, prosecute them.
- In the Office of State Security, the lower ranks were
Polish Catholics, but most of the leaders were Polish Jews. The chief of
the Office in Warsaw was a Jew. (When I was in Poland he wasn't alive,
but I met some of his family.) The department directors, all or almost
all of them, were Jews.
- In Silesia, the province where Lola was commandant, the
director of the Office of State Security was a Jew. I met him in Copenhagen,
a little bald-headed man. The director of prisons was also a Jew. I met
his whole family in Tel Aviv. The secretary of state security was a Jew.
I met him time and again at his home in New Jersey. And in the Office of
State Security in Silesia in February 1945, of the officers -- not the
enlisted men, not the guards, but the lieutenants, captains and such --
one-fourth were Catholics, and three-fourths were Jews.
- Solomon Morel
- I interviewed twenty-four of them. And I learned that
the Office of State Security ran 227 prisons for German civilians like
Lola's. It also ran 1,255 concentration camps, and I interviewed four of
the commandants. They were also Jews. One was Lola's boy friend, a man
who'd lost in the Holocaust his mother, his father, all his brothers (he
had no sisters), all his uncles and aunts, and all but one of his cousins.
I hope that, like me, you can all have compassion for Solomon Morel.
- But one night in February, 1945, Solomon went to his
concentration camp in the city of Swietochlowice. He went into the Germans'
barracks, and said, "My name is Captain Morel. I am a Jew. I was at
Auschwitz. I swore I would take revenge on you Nazis." They weren't
Nazis, but Solomon said, "Now! Everyone! Sing the Horst Wessel song!"
That was a Nazi anthem. No one wanted to sing it. One boy, fourteen years
old, didn't even know it.
- Solomon had a club. He said, "Sing it!" Some
people began, "Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen ..."
"Sing it! Sing it, I say!" They started singing, "Clear
the streets for the brown battalions. Clear the street for the Storm Section
men." Solomon had all this hate inside him, and he released it. He
picked up a wooden stool and he started beating the Germans to death. For
this one camp, I found the death certificates for 1,583 Germans.
- Death Toll
- In other camps and other prisons, thousands of German
civilians died. German men, women, children, babies. At one camp there
was a barracks for fifty babies. They were in cribs, but the camp doctor,
Dr. Cedrowski -- he was a Jew who had been in Auschwitz -- he didn't heat
the barracks, and he didn't give the babies milk. He gave them only some
soup, and forty-eight of the fifty babies died.
- All in all, sixty to eighty thousand Germans died. Some
were killed by Jews, some by Catholics, and many by typhus, dysentery,
and starvation, but sixty to eighty thousand died in the custody of the
Office of State Security. Now, someone, a German, once told me that this
was another holocaust. Well, I'm sure it seemed like a holocaust to the
- But let's not forget: sixty thousand is one percent of
the number of Jews who died in the capital-H Holocaust. Jews didn't do
what the Germans did. We didn't plot to exterminate the German people.
We didn't mobilize all the Jews and the Jewish state. (There was no Jewish
state.) We didn't send the Germans systematically to cyanide chambers.
- But let's also remember that sixty to eighty thousand
civilians is more than the Germans lost at Dresden, and more than, or just
as many as, the Japanese lost at Hiroshima, the Americans at Pearl Harbor,
the British in the Battle of Britain, or the Jews at Belsen or Buchenwald.
- All this was covered up for nearly fifty years. Jews
who were involved didn't talk about it. For example, the chief of police
in occupied Breslau, Germany, in 1945, who was Jewish, later wrote a book
about the Holocaust. And in telling about his time as chief of police in
Breslau, all he says is, "We moved westward to Breslau and ... from
there ... to Prague." That's it. And Jewish reporters who knew didn't
write about it. There's a working reporter right now in New York City who
was in Poland right after World War II. He told me, "Whatever, whatever
the Germans tell you, believe me, it's true." But he himself, he never
wrote about it.
- The truth was covered up, and was still being covered
up. In 1989, I went to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel's central Holocaust
center. As you may know, they have fifty million documents there about
the Holocaust. I ask them, "Well, what do you have on the Office of
State Security?" They have nothing. I ask them, "What do you
have on the Jews in the Office of State Security?" Nothing. I say,
"Well, there were Jewish commandants, Jewish directors, Jewish ..."
The chairman of Yad Vashem responds, "It sounds rather imaginary,"
and the director of archives says to me, "Imm-possible! Impossible!"
- Denial, denial. I know that denial is a very human thing.
But historically I don't think it's a Jewish thing. When Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob committed sins, we Jews didn't deny it. Yes, Abraham, the father
of our people, sinned. God told him to go to Israel, instead he went to
Egypt, and we admitted it in the Book of Genesis. Judah (the word "Jew"
comes from Judah) made love to a prostitute. We admitted it in Genesis.
Moses, even Moses sinned, and God didn't let him into the Promised Land.
We admitted that in Deuteronomy. Solomon -- good, wise, old King Solomon
-- did evil. He "worshipped idols." We didn't cover it up. We
admitted it in the Book of Kings.
- It seems to me that that's the Jewish tradition. How
can we say to other people -- to Germans, to Serbs, to Hutus -- "What
you're doing is wrong," if we ourselves do it and cover it up? I wish
it were someone else who was here today. Abraham Foxman. Elie Wiesel. I
wish he or she would simply say yes, some Jews, some Jews, did evil in
1945. But when the Jewish establishment didn't say it, then I had to say
- I'm a reporter. That's what reporters do. Someone kills
sixty thousand people, we report it. If we don't report it, it might become
common, or more common, than it already is. But also I'm a Jew, and the
Torah says (Leviticus 5:1), that if someone does evil, and if I know it
and don't report it, then I am guilty too.
- So I start writing this book. The title now won't be
Lola. It'll be An Eye for an Eye. And on the third page I write, "I
hope that An Eye for an Eye is something more than the story of Jewish
revenge: that it's the story of Jewish redemption." I write about
Jews taking revenge, yes. But that is one tenth of An Eye for an Eye. Mostly
I write ...
- I write about Zlata, Moshe, Mania, and Pola. They were
Jews who refused to look at, much less work at Lola's prison. I write about
Ada, who visited the prison once, just once, and then fled to Israel. I
write about Shlomo, who was in the Office of State Security and, at the
risk of his life, told people in it, "You must stop doing this."
- I write about Lola. I write that in Gleiwitz she finally
remembered how a Jew should act and, at the risk of her life, she got bread,
her own bread from her own home, and smuggled it to the German prisoners.
Now this isn't something that Lola told me. No, the prison guards told
me. They said that if Lola had been caught, she'd have gone to prison herself.
- And I write that at Yom Kippur, 1945, Lola -- again at
the risk of her life -- escaped from Gleiwitz, just as she had escaped
some months earlier from Auschwitz, and came to the United States. Almost
all the Jews in the Office of State Security escaped, at the risk of their
lives, in September, October, and November 1945. And I write that too.
They crept through the woods into Germany, or climbed the pass into Italy.
They did what the SS never did: they deserted, they defected.
- I was crying while I was writing this. My advance from
Henry Holt was $25,000, and for three years I was writing An Eye for an
Eye. In September 1991 I finally finished it, wrapped it up, and mailed
it to Henry Holt in New York. And I told myself: "Okay. I've done
it. That's the end of the cover-up."
- No. Because then the people at Henry Holt say, "We
don't want it." They don't say it's wrong. They know it's right. They
just say, "We don't want to publish it. Keep the twenty-five thousand."
Okay. My agent and I send the manuscript to other publishers: to Harper's,
to Scribner's -- you name it, we sent it -- to two dozen other publishers.
- And let me tell you. The letters we get from these people,
they're practically blurbs. The publishers say: "well-written,"
"extremely well-written," "chilling," "compelling,"
"disturbing," "dismaying," "shocking," "startling,"
"astonishing," "mesmerizing," "extraordinary,"
"I was riveted," "I was bowled over," "I love
it!" And the publishers all reject it. The letter from St. Martin's
Press says, "I am always moved by Holocaust books, but I'd have trouble
distinguishing this book ... from other books ... in this vast area of
- Okay. My agent and I agree that if we can't sell a book,
we'll try magazines. One of the chapters is on Solomon Morel. Remember?
The man who lost his mother, father, all his siblings, uncles, and aunts
in the Holocaust. The man who had so much hate for the Germans, he had
to disgorge it, who commanded a concentration camp at Swietochlowice, and
beat Germans to death.
- Solomon is still alive. He's wanted by Interpol for crimes
against humanity. Interpol has an international warrant out for his arrest.
But he's fled to Israel. He's taking refuge in Tel Aviv, and no one in
America -- no newspaper, magazine or television network -- has ever reported
- So we send the chapter on Solomon Morel to Esquire magazine.
I've been a contributing editor there, a war correspondent in Vietnam,
Iraq, Bosnia. Esquire says, "No." We send it to GQ magazine.
GQ says, "Yes!" The editor says it's the most important story
in GQ's history. He even tells that to an editor of Esquire at a bar in
Greenwich Village. He tells him, "Ha, ha! You don't have it! We do!"
- For six weeks GQ is fact-checking. They don't find a
single error. They send me the galley proofs, the page proofs, and on Wednesday
the presses will roll. And then the telephone rings at my home in the Rocky
Mountains. The editor of GQ says, "John, this isn't a happy phone
call. We aren't going to run it." He tells me to keep the $15,000
and to sell the story somewhere else.
- So once again my agent and I are making calls, sending
faxes, passing out the GQ page proofs. Harper's magazine says no. Rolling
Stone says no and "I'm sure you'll understand." Mother Jones,
that great exposé magazine ("Extra! Extra! Cigarettes are bad
for you!") doesn't even call back. The New Yorker (which has published
ten pieces by me) refuses even to look at it.
- The Attacks Begin
- But finally, finally, in March 1993, the story of Solomon
Morel is published in the Village Voice. And in November, An Eye for an
Eye is published by Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins. So, thank
God, now it's all over. I can relax now. Not.
- Because one day later there's a telephone call to Basic
Books. It's from the executive director of the World Jewish Congress. He
says he wants an immediate retraction, and if he doesn't get it he'll call
a major press conference tomorrow. He says he'll denounce me, Basic Books,
and HarperCollins, and say, "They are all anti-Semites." Well,
we don't retract, and the World Jewish Congress doesn't denounce. But ...
- Then the reviews come out. And the reviewers say that
An Eye for an Eye isn't true, that what I wrote there never happened at
- Please! Much of An Eye for an Eye had been fact-checked
by California magazine, fact-checked by GQ, and, for the Village Voice,
fact-checked by a woman who is the Fact-Checker from Hell. She and I checked
every single word, even if we had to call up Poland. And when, after two
weeks of this, night and day, we were finally done, the editor of the Voice
gave an interview saying, "This may be the most accurate story in
the history of American journalism."
- Much of An Eye for an Eye was corroborated by 60 Minutes,
which found eight eyewitnesses I hadn't found. It was corroborated by the
New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Historians hired by
major newspapers in Germany went to the German Federal Archives and wrote,
"The facts are true," "The facts are right," "The
facts are iron-bound."
- But in the United States, one review was entitled "False
Witness." Another was headed
- "The Big Lie, Continued."
- The Jewish paper Forward said, "Sack is transparently
writing docudrama," and told readers that Lola Potok was not the commandant
of the prison in Gleiwitz. Well, Lola herself had told me, "I was
the commandant," and thirty-five other people, including the current
commandant, including the current director of prisons, said yes, Lola was
the commandant. I have the document that says, "We appoint Citizen
Lola Potok Commandant," and I have a document signed by Lola Potok,
Commandant. But still the Forward said, "The unlikelihood is overwhelming
but Sack ... seems ... oblivious."
- As I read this, I felt I was being lectured by Chico
Marx. Remember? "Who you gonna believe? Your own two eyes or me?"
I wrote a letter to the Forward. Over the last seven years, I've had to
write, at last count, about 1,500 letters about An Eye for an Eye. And
all those letters, added up, are twice as long as the book is. Maybe you're
wondering. What sort of a crazy man am I? Why don't I just say the hell
with it? Why do I carry on?
- I'll tell you. There are eighty-five thousand books about
the Holocaust. And none of them, if you ask me, has an honest answer to
the question, "How could the Germans do it?" How could the Germans
-- the people who gave us Beethoven, the Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy,
"Alle Menschen werden Brüder, All men will be brothers"
-- perpetrate the Holocaust?
- This mystery, we've got to solve it. We've got to, or
we'll keep on having genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Zaire. Well, what I
report in An Eye for an Eye is that Lola has solved it. The Jews from the
Office of State Security have solved it. Because in their agony, their
despair, their insanity, if you will, they felt they became like the Germans
-- the Nazis -- themselves.
- Wages of Hatred
- And if I had been there, I'd have become one too, and
now I understand why. Lola, like a lot of Jews, understandably, were full
of hate in 1945. They were volcanoes of red-hot hate. They thought if they
joined the Office of State Security, and spit out their hate at the Germans,
then they'd be rid of it.
- No. It doesn't work that way. Let's say I'm in love with
someone. I don't tell myself, "Uh, oh. I've got inside of me one,
two pounds of love, so if I love her and love her, then I'll use all of
my love up, and I'll be all out of love." No. We all understand that
love is a paradoxical thing, that the more we send out, the more we've
- So why don't we understand that about hate? If we hate,
and if we act on that hate, then we hate even more later on. If we spit
out a drop of hate, what happens? Well, we stimulate the saliva glands,
and we produce a drop and a quarter of it. If we spit that out, we produce
a drop and a half, then two drops, three, a teaspoon, tablespoon, a Mount
Saint Helens. The more we send out, the more we've got, until we are perpetual-motion
machines, sending out hate and hate until we've created a holocaust.
- You don't have to be a German to become like that. You
can be a Serb, a Hutu, a Jew. You can be an American. We were the ones
in the Philippines. We were the ones in Vietnam. We were the ones in Washington,
DC, for ten thousand years the home of the Anacostia Indians. They had
one of their camp grounds at what now is the United States Holocaust Memorial
- We all have it in us to become like Nazis. Hate, as Lola
discovered, hate is a muscle, and if we want to be monsters all we have
to do is exercise it. To hate the Germans, to hate the Arabs, to hate the
Jews. Hate. The more we exercise it, the bigger it gets, just as if every
day we curl forty pounds, far from being worn out, in time we are curling
fifty, sixty pounds. We become the Mr. Universe of Hate. We all can be
hate-full people, hateful people. We can destroy the people we hate, maybe,
but we surely destroy ourselves.
- That's what the Jews in the Office of State Security
have taught us. That's what I tried to write, what I did write, in An Eye
for an Eye. The very first words are the dedication. I'd like to read them:
"For all who died and for all who because of this story might live."
That's what I'd planned to say at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Questions from the Audience
- Question: I'm very much moved by your presentation. I
wish to commend you for your courage. Did you mention that Solomon Morel
was also the commander at Jaworzno? At Jaworzno, there were young people,
young boys -- fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen -- Poles, Germans,
and Lithuanians -- and other ethnics were tortured and murdered there.
There is now a group of Jaworzno, and also Swietochlowice, survivors (as
they use the term), who are getting together, Poles, Germans, Lithuanians,
- John Sack: Morel was at Jaworzno afterwards. Jaworzno
was a camp for Poles. By that time they were putting Poles in the camp,
rather than --
- Q: There were Germans there also.
- JS: There were? Thank you.
- Q: What would you recommend on the hate train that we're
on here in the United States and the hate laws that are being promulgated?
- JS: Well, I don't think that we're on a hate train. I'm
writing an article for Esquire magazine about the revisionists and in the
three conferences that I've been to, and certainly at this conference,
I have not seen hate manifested. I don't see people who feel hate. Even
people who are called neo-Nazis, like Ernst Zündel, who is not a hate-filled
- Q: No, I mean in the United States, we're seeing hate
laws, thought police, politically correct speech, people are winding up
... as many have here, for that matter ...
- JS: Well, of course I'm for free speech, and even if
what Fred Töben said was hateful -- and it wasn't -- and even if what
Germar was saying was hateful -- and it certainly wasn't -- and what Ernst
was saying and what Faurisson was saying was hateful -- and none of it
was -- even if it was, it should be allowed, of course, and I'm glad it's
allowed in the United States.
- Q: What has Lola's reaction been to the book?
- JS: Lola actually called me right before the book came
out. We had a nice talk. We chatted. I sent her the book. It took her about
half a year to read. Her only comment on it was that I had made a mistake,
that she was first in Germany and then she came to Paris and there she
met her husband and she went back to Germany and got married, and I had
it the other way around. That was her only comment. She's now living in
Australia and I understand she has Alzheimer's disease.
- Q: Would I be correct in assuming that these people should
be brought to justice, given a fair trial, and hanged? After all, we're
still prosecuting seventy-five-year-old German corporals.
- JS: Well, I wish we wouldn't. I think it's too late for
anybody to be brought to justice. But I think there should be a trial of
Solomon Morel, if for no other reason than to bring out the facts. I would
hate to see him go to jail, and as a matter of fact most of his prisoners
at Swietochlowice, his former prisoners do not want to see him go to jail,
but they want the facts to come out. They would like him just to apologize.
- Q: Both the German government and the Polish government
are wishy-washy on this. They aren't really seeking to have Solomon Morel
extradited from Israel.
- JS: That's true. The German government had a prosecution
of him going and that just fell by the wayside, disappeared, and the Polish
government was very strange. They could have accused him of murder. There
were witnesses that saw him commit murder. They just accused him of brutality
and other things that expired under the statute of limitations in 1965.