Panel Finds ‘No Proof’ Waldheim Committed War Crimes, but Says He Lied About His War Record

An international commission of historians has found “no proof” that Kurt Waldheim committed war crimes, according to the 200-page report it submitted to Chancellor Franz Vranitzky here Monday night.

But the Austrian president was far from an innocent bystander when he served as a lieutenant in the German army occupying the Balkans in World War II, according to several members of the panel who commented on the text of the report before it was made public.

The historians’ report originally was scheduled to be released Monday, but some news reports late in the day said the Austrian Foreign Ministry suppressed the report at the last minute. The ministry obtained an advance summary of the document on Sunday.

The report was later released, but only after the historians reportedly complied with a demand from the Foreign Ministry to excise references to the Austrian president’s “moral guilt.”


According to the news reports, Waldheim himself was briefed about the contents of both the original and the revised reports prior to the final version’s release.

The commission was set up by the Austrian government last year to examine Waldheim’s wartime record in light of charges that he was implicated in the deportation of Greek Jews and others and in atrocities committed against Yugoslav civilians and resistance fighters.

The head of the panel, Swiss military historian Rudolf Kurz, announced Monday that the commission found no proof that Waldheim personally took part in war crimes, but charged that the Austrian president concealed and “even lied” about his wartime activities.

The leaders of Austria’s Socialist-Conservative coalition government each had different reactions to the report. Vranitzky, leader of the Socialist Party, said he was deeply concerned by the findings.

He said that while the panel found no personal guilt, its report contained some very critical passages about the Austrian president’s military service.

Foreign Minister Alois Mock, who is vice chancellor and chairman of the conservative Peoples Party, stressed the fact that Waldheim was absolved of personal guilt. He said that while there were some remarks critical of the president, the commission’s mandate had been solely to determine guilt or innocence of war crimes.


A West German member of the commission, Manfred Messerschmidt, told the West German newspaper Die Welt on Monday that Waldheim “knew his unit committed war crimes.” He said that on that basis, the commission concluded unanimously that Waldheim could be considered “an accomplice.”

Another member, Jan van Welkhuizen of Belgium, said in a French television interview that he believed Waldheim played a significant role in the Wehrmacht’s action, which resulted in the deportation of about 63,000 Yugoslav civilians, including 23,000 children.

“The report will not be a whitewash and at the president’s (Waldheim’s) office, they will not be very happy about it,” said van Welkhuizen.

He said the commission’s findings consist of a “series of mosaics,” not a single report. Observers here said, in that case, Waldheim will be able to stress whatever he finds useful to his case.

A summary of the final paragraphs of the report, obtained by the Austrian Press Agency, reflects a degree of ambiguity on the part of its authors or possibly pressure by the Foreign Ministry to soften or generalize the language.

It states at one point that “a certain guilt may arise” from “sheer knowledge about the violation of human rights” if “the person in question, be it because of a lack of strength or courage, violates his human duty to stand up to injustice.”

Later on, however, the report seems almost to absolve Waldheim, saying he had “only modest means at his disposal for resistance against injustice.”

“For a young member of the staff, the practical possibilities of acting against the orders are very limited and with all probability would have had hardly an effect. His means would have had to be restricted to protests or to a practical denial of his cooperation,” the report says.


Waldheim’s spokesman, Jerold Christian, said Monday “the president will not resign whatever the results of (the commission’s) findings.”

Sources close to Waldheim told Austrian Radio that his decision not to resign “whatever the findings” was bolstered by a public opinion poll taken last week. The poll found that 72 percent of the respondents believed he should stay in office, regardless of the commission’s conclusions.

The poll showed that among members of Waldheim’s People’s Party, 92 percent favored his remaining in office.

Waldheim, who served two terms as secretary general of the United Nations, was elected president of Austria in June 1986.

The first revelations of his Nazi past surfaced during the election campaign in evidence presented by the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups.

Evidence continued to mount from many other sources. Despite Waldheim’s vociferous denials, he was forced to admit that for 40 years he had concealed his wartime service.

His name, in fact, appears on the list of 40,000 suspected Nazi war criminals compiled by the Allied War Crimes Commission during and directly after the war.

The War Crimes Commission turned its list over to the United Nations in 1947. The war crimes files remained accessible only to the governments of U.N. member states until late last year, when, at the urging of Israel, they were opened to the public.


Poland’s president visits Krakow JCC amid tensions over Holocaust law

Polish President Andrzej Duda at the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, Nov. 28, 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The president of Poland visited the Jewish community center in Krakow amid tensions with the Jewish community over a controversial new Holocaust law.

Andrzej Duda visited the center on Tuesday and met with Jewish leaders. He said of his government’s relations with the Jewish community, according to the Polish-language newspaper Gazeta Wyborca, “I would not call it a crisis, just a cry which I hope will be quickly resolved.”

The law, which takes effect at the end of the month, criminalizes claims that the Polish nation or state was responsible for Nazi crimes. Violators could face up to three years in prison, though government officials say prosecution under the law is unlikely.

The law, an amendment to the National Institute on Remembrance, “did not raise my doubts as a lawyer,” Duda said at the JCC. “But there have been dramatic interpretations. There were people among Poles who denounced Jews among Poles, but not the entire Polish nation. All simplifications are very painful.”

Duda added that he sent the law to the Constitutional Tribunal and “I hope that it will soon speak on this subject, which will help settle the dispute.”

He met with leaders of the Krakow Jewish community, including Tadeusz Jakubowicz; Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland; and Jonathan Ornstein, the JCC’s director.



The ambassador acknowledged that for the past month, Poland and Israel have been “in the eye of the storm,” but said the two countries have agreed to discuss the matter.

The controversial law outlawing public discussion of Poles’ collaboration with the Nazis will not be enforced in the near future, Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Chodorowicz told the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee on Monday.
“The Polish Justice Ministry committed to not enforcing the new law before there is an in-depth examination of all of its components, including a discussion with Israeli representatives,” Chodorowicz said.
“We will talk about the subject more quietly and peacefully. Too much has been said that was criticized by Israelis,” he stated.
Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee chairman Avraham Neguise (Likud) called for the law to be canceled immediately, and said the Foreign Ministry needs to take steps to fight Holocaust denial.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovski said, “You can legislate whatever you want, but no one can change history. We appreciate those who helped and saved Jewish lives, but there were also people who participated in the Jewish genocide, and no one has a right to say anything else. It pains me… that there are many who can no longer tell the story of what happened to them.”

Chodorowicz spoke at a discussion on preserving World War II sites, an issue of concern to Soviet-born MKs who called the meeting.

At least one Red Army veteran was in attendance, wearing his war medals affixed to his suit jacket.

The lawmakers and veterans took issue with a Polish law that allows the government to take down Soviet-era monuments.

“It’s revenge for the sake of revenge,” Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova lamented. “These are monuments for the Red Army that liberated Poland; it shouldn’t matter who built them. I’m proud of every person who contributed to the victory over the Nazis,” she said.

Svetlova also said that while the government is not touching Red Army graves, it turns a blind eye to those who desecrate them.

Neguise said the discussion is taking place on the background of increased antisemitism and Holocaust denial in Europe.

“It’s important to prevent any violation of the memory of the Holocaust and those murdered in it, and we must preserve its memory in Israel and the world,” Neguise said. “It’s important to learn about the contribution of the Red Army to the victory over the Nazi beast and the allies’ contribution to that goal.”

Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razbozov accused Poland of trying to “change historic facts and allow the gravestones of Red Army soldiers to be desecrated.”

hodorowicz promised that since Poland declared its independence, no Red Army graves have been moved.

“What changed in the new law gives an opportunity for the authorities to dismantle symbolic sites that are identified with the communist regime that ruled Poland after the war and were built in the 1950s and 60s. It’s very different,” he stated.

In a related event, Svetlova and United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev launched a Knesset Caucus for Preserving Jewish Sites and Cemeteries Abroad. The meeting was held to discuss the desecration and misuse of Jewish burial sites in Europe.

“There are no disputes on this issue. We all see eye-to-eye and want to help,” Maklev said. “As the years pass, the worse the problem gets… In many places, there are no longer Jewish people there to protect Jewish sites.”

Paul Packer, chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, said the US is in dialogue with many countries on this issue and is working on a database to track Jewish and non-Jewish cemeteries across the world.

“I didn’t know what to expect in the Knesset and I’m shocked. Good for you,” Packer said. “What I love about Israel is they talk about the future and pride themselves on helping the world. A strong America means a strong Israel, and a strong Israel means a strong Jewish people. America is here for you.”

The discussion was held in conjunction with the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF) and was backed by the US and German governments as well as private donors. It was founded by Rabbi Isaac Schapira, son of a former UTJ leader who was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 2014. Former justice minister Yossi Beilin has also taken an active part in the organization’s work, helping it connect with foreign governments.

The ESJF’s central goal is to build fences around as many Jewish cemeteries as possible in Eastern and Central Europe. The group has built 102 fences since its founding in 2015 and has found a total of 1200 relevant locations.

Some sites, however, have been plowed over and turned into agricultural land or school grounds.

“In Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, we reach these places and there’s no cemetery anymore,” ESJF CEO Philip Carmel said. “We want to finish our work before all these places disappear. We think we can do it in 10 years.”

Beilin recounted visiting the town of Frampol, in Poland: “We talked to children there and they had no idea there were ever any Jews. They had never met any Jews… We built access roads and fences around the cemetery and the locals took an interest. Now the school nearby is protecting the cemetery. The children researched and wrote reports on the Jews of Frampol. They sang to us [in Hebrew],” he said.

“This project is more than just a cemetery. The unexpected results are bigger than the project itself. Without it, the contribution of Jews to the development of Eastern Europe will simply disappear,” Beilin added.

Chodorowicz, who also attended the caucus launch, said the Polish Ministry of Culture decided last year to create a database of all cemeteries in the country and create “unified and dignified” ways to mark them.


Owner unveils Albert Einstein letter thanking Chicago man for saving Jews

Albert Einstein, circa 1946. (Central Press/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A letter from Albert Einstein to a Chicago man thanking him for helping Jews to escape Nazi Germany has been made public by his daughter.

Enid Bronstein has kept the letter penned by Einstein in a safe deposit box for the last 50 years, she toldChicago’s WGN TV.

The letter was written to David Finck, a New York financier who helped fund the emigration of Jewish refugees from Europe in 1939 before the outbreak of World War II.

“May I offer my sincere congratulations to you on the splendid work you have undertaken on behalf of the refugees,” Einstein said in the letter written in June 1939. It is one of three such letters known to be written by Einstein, himself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

“The power of resistance which has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years has been based to a large extent on traditions of mutual helpfulness. We have no other means of self-defense than our solidarity and our knowledge that the cause for which we are suffering is a momentous and sacred cause,” the letter also said.

Bronstein said she guarded the letter carefully after he died 50 years go. “I wanted to keep the letter to show it to my children and grandchildren so that they would get the message that every contribution, no matter how small, is important,” she told WGN.

She said she will donate it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. She could have sold it for thousands of dollars.


Poland said to deny freezing controversial Holocaust law

After Israeli TV report, government spokesperson says law to come into force as planned, but confirms Warsaw sending team to Jerusalem for discussions

Jewish inmates of the Lodz ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland at labor making baskets (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Poland on Sunday reportedly denied an Israeli media claim that it would freeze its controversial new Holocaust law amid a dispute with Jerusalem, but confirmed that an official Polish government delegation would fly to Israel in the next few days to discuss the matter with an Israeli team.

Hadashot news on Saturday said that, in the wake of pressure and protests from Israel over the legislation, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro had stated that the law will not be implemented “at this stage.”
It said a Polish delegation was due in Israel within days to instead try to hammer out an agreed text of the legislation, which has passed Poland’s parliament and been signed by its president but not implemented to date.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem called the development “an achievement” for Israel, the TV report said, following considerable discussion of the law between Warsaw and Jerusalem in recent weeks.

However, the Polish government’s spokeswoman, Joanna Kopczynska, rejected the report on Sunday and said the law would come into force as planned on March 1, Channel 10 reported.

“There is indeed a good chance for a meeting between a Polish team and an Israeli team to discuss the issue, but a date for that hasn’t been set,” Kopczynska said, adding that the Polish team had already been established.

Poland’s justice ministry spokesman, Jan Kanthak, also responded to “media reports” about the Holocaust law, writing on Twitter that “any law passed by the parliament and signed by the president becomes a law that comes into force according to the date mentioned in it.”

Poland’s president on February 6 signed the controversial legislation, which outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

President Andrzej Duda’s office confirmed he had signed over protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world. But Duda also said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.

The legislation, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

“Israel noted the fact that the Polish president referred the law to the Constitutional Court for clarifications on the matter, and hopes that in the period before the verdict is, it will be possible to agree on changes and amendments to the law,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time it was signed. “Israel and Poland have a common responsibility to investigate and preserve the history of the Holocaust.”

There have been reports for days that Poland was offering to send an official delegation to Israel to hammer out agreed-upon amendments to the law. The delegation could reportedly include Poland’s deputy foreign minister and the legal adviser of the prime minister.

Last Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki exacerbated the crisis over the law by declaring that, alongside Poles, “Jewish perpetrators” also bore responsibility for the Holocaust.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of the new law when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation. “Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Morawiecki the next day, and told Morawiecki that Israel did not accept the statement. “I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters following a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Responding to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said last week the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”


Polish senator suspended for klezmer-themed video of Nazi violence to Jews

(JTA) — Poland’s ruling party suspended a senator who posted online footage from a Nazi propaganda movie depicting violence against Jews to the sounds of klezmer music.

On Thursday, the Law and Justice party suspended Waldemar Bonkowski for posting the video on Facebook earlier in the week amid an acrimonious argument between many Poles and Jews over the Polish government’s passing this month of a law criminalizing blaming Poland for Nazi crimes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested the law and called “outrageous” a remark by his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, who said in defending the law that there were also Jewish perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Morawiecki in an interview Feb. 18 was addressing claims that the law whitewashes complicity by some Poles in the Holocaust.

The debate around the law, which is opposed also by the World Jewish Congress and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel, has generated an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric in Poland, according to Jonny Daniels, a commemoration activist from the From the Depths group with friendly ties to Morawiecki. Bonkowski’s post, which Daniels said was “hateful,” is part of that increase.

Daniels, who had slammed Morawiecki’s remark as a form of “Holocaust denial,” welcomed what he called the “swift action” by Law and Justice.

But provocative and “extremist rhetoric was rising on both sides,” Daniels added, citing the production of a video posted this week by the Ruderman Family Foundation that featured Jews saying the words “Polish Holocaust” in promoting a petition urging the United States to suspend its ties with Poland. The film was taken offline following protests by Polish Jews and non-Jews.

Also last week, 23 Jewish groups signed a statement saying their members felt less safe in Poland following the fallout of the debate.

“I understand how someone could feel afraid,” Daniels said. He added, however, that the hate speech that erupted in the wake of the debate has yet to lead to physical violence.


Poland’s Jews fear for future under new Holocaust law

Behind the new law denying Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities, many fear there lies a growing strain of antisemitism

Supporters of the far-right National Radical Camp (ONR) gather in support of the Holocaust bill in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw on 5 February. Photograph: Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta via Reuters

Even on a clear day, history hangs over Warsaw like smog. Flattened during the Nazi German wartime occupation and rebuilt during communist rule, what Poland’s capital may lack in architectural charm it makes up for with a litany of monuments, statues, plaques and shrines dedicated to collective suffering and individual sacrifice.

One lesser-known memorial is a small plaque on the wall of the Warszawa Gdańska railway station, a nondescript socialist-era building on the north side of the city. It was from here that many Poles of Jewish origin departed in the wake of the “anti-Zionist campaign” in March 1968, when cold war politics and a power struggle within the Polish Communist party led to an antisemitic propaganda campaign forcing thousands of Polish Jews to leave the country.

“Loyalty to socialist Poland and imperialist Israel is not possible simultaneously,” prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz had declared in 1968. “Whoever wants to face these consequences in the form of emigration will not encounter any obstacle.” The plaque bears a tribute from the Polish-Jewish writer Henryk Grynberg: “For those who emigrated from Poland after March 1968 with a one-way ticket. They left behind more than they had possessed.”

In a few weeks’ time, Poland’s Jewish community will mark the 50th anniversary of the events of March 1968. They will do so in the wake of arguably the most serious crisis in Polish-Jewish relations since the fall of communism in 1989, after the passage of controversial legislation criminalising the attribution to the Polish state or Polish nation of complicity in the crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

A crowd surround a dead man on the street in the Warsaw ghetto around 1940. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

Although popular at home, the legislation signed last week by President Andrzej Duda has proved a diplomatic and public relations catastrophe abroad, as scholars, Holocaust survivors and friendly governments alike have lined up to voice their criticism and concerns about a potentially chilling effect on the study and understanding of the Holocaust.

The ensuing controversy has sparked a war of words between Polish and Israeli politicians, and an outpouring of antisemitic rhetoric in Poland as nationalist and pro-government media seek to portray the country as under attack from an international anti-Polish campaign orchestrated by foreign powers and Jewish advocacy groups abroad.

Ruling party officials have claimed the row has been confected by Jewish advocacy groups seeking compensation for property restitution claims. An editorial on the rightwing TV Republika website described the crisis as “a big test of loyalty for the Polish Jews whose organisations are linked personally and institutionally with American Jews”, and accused them of “too rarely and too weakly defending Poland and the Poles in the international arena”.

“They want to break us – it’s about sovereignty, truth and money,” read the cover of Sieci, a weekly that has close ties to Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party.

Speaking to the Observer, members of the Polish-Jewish community and activists involved in Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation have expressed their shock and dismay at this deterioration in public discourse. While stressing that the present crisis is not comparable to that of March 1968, many said that, with their loyalties once again being called into question, the echoes of the rhetoric of the “anti-Zionist campaign” were too uncomfortable to ignore.

“We are receiving antisemitic, anti-Jewish statements on a daily basis,” said Anna Chipczyńska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw. “Members of the community feel that their loyalty is being questioned, that people are expecting them to take a side. Some of them also indicate the silence of friends and work colleagues in the face of these attacks, and this really hurts them.”

“In 1968 they talked about an international Zionist conspiracy; now they talk about an international anti-Polish conspiracy,” said Jan Gebert, who wrote an open letter to Polish parliamentarians on behalf of Polish Jews, expressing concern that the legislation would criminalise giving testimony about Poles who blackmailed or murdered Jews during the Holocaust. “When you’ve grown up in Polish culture, you understand that there is no fundamental difference between these two things.”

Speaking from his office in the neo-romanesque Nożyk Synagogue, Warsaw’s only Jewish place of worship to have survived the war physically intact, Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich acknowledged that the rhetoric of recent days had left some questioning their future.

“In the last week I’ve heard more young Jews think about leaving Poland than I have ever before,” he said. “They say, literally: ‘Rabbi, is it time to leave?’ That’s a challenge for the Polish government: some of their citizens no longer feel comfortable living in their country.”

Schudrich, a New Yorker with Polish roots, is credited with playing a key role in Poland’s “Jewish revival” of recent decades, having served as the country’s chief rabbi since 2004. He was also at pains to warn that inflammatory rhetoric and exaggerated claims, especially in Israel, as regards the true extent of Polish complicity in the Holocaust were helping to fuel a vicious cycle of mutual recrimination.

“What has been very disappointing to me is that we’ve re-entered a kind of a mindset where too many people are not listening to each other. Where we have been successful over the past 25 years is to have an increasing sensitivity to what hurts the other side, and what I’m seeing now is a complete lack of sensitivity, both from the Polish to the Jewish and from the Jewish to the Polish side.”

It is a point echoed by Professor Dariusz Stola, director of the Polin Museum of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is seen by many as a crowning achievement of Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation. “Those who condemn Poles en masse are the best friends and allies of Polish antisemites – they feed each other.”

Sitting in his office in the museum’s iron- and copper-clad structure on a site in the former Warsaw ghetto, on a street named after Mordechai Anielewicz, a leader of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Stola argued that the recent deterioration in Polish-Jewish relations illustrates a wider deterioration in Polish society.

“It is a sign of a deterioration in the capacity to talk, and the ability to talk is the essence of democracy. If you cannot talk, you cannot reach an agreement; you can only force a solution. The erosion of language is the erosion of democracy and the path to violence.”

The question being discussed now is whether the present crisis can be resolved before the achievements of recent decades are undone entirely.

“A lot of people on the Jewish side are now saying that this was not an honest process – they feel tricked,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the Warsaw office of the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group, and a former director of external relations at the Forum for Dialogue, a Warsaw-based NGO focusing on Polish-Jewish reconciliation.

“But it was not a trick! It was real. Poland did immense work, but now there is a risk that it will be treated as a kind of cover-up.”

“It’s a sin to let what’s happened in the last week undermine or destroy everything that we’ve built in the last 25 years, and we cannot permit that to happen,” said Schudrich.

But asked what he tells those who ask him about whether they should leave the country, the chief rabbi signalled that the legislation at the centre of the present controversy had forced him to reflect on his own future as well.

“I tell them it’s time to fight. But if it comes a time in this country where I cannot say what the truth is without fear of being imprisoned, I will leave. That time hasn’t come, and I will fight with all my heart and all my soul to make sure it doesn’t come to that.

“But I’m not hanging around here if I can’t say what the truth is.”


Jewish Republicans want congressman to admit his State of the Union guest is a Holocaust denier

(JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition called on Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida to acknowledge that his guest at the State of the Union speech is a Holocaust denier.

In a BuzzFeed News profile of Gaetz, the Republican congressman said that “Chuck Johnson is not a Holocaust denier and he’s not an anti-Semite. He’s a provoker, I should’ve vetted him better before inviting him to the State of the Union, I regret that I didn’t. That’s my fault. I take responsibility for it. But he is not a Holocaust denier.”

Gaetz invited Johnson to attend the State of the Union after his father fell ill and he had an extra ticket. Johnson had visited Gaetz’s office the morning of the address and angled for the ticket. The congressman said he thought Johnson seemed “polite.”

“This organization is deeply troubled by the comments from Charles C. Johnson, and it is incredibly important for the congressman to acknowledge he is a Holocaust denier and has extensive writings that attest to that and that it was wrong to bring him to the State of the Union,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told BuzzFeed in a statement. “We are deeply troubled by any inference that our organization believes otherwise.”

Johnson denied the Holocaust in an “Ask Reddit” session from January 2017. Asked about the “Jewish Question” and the Holocaust, Johnson replied, “I do not and never have believed the 6 million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic.”

A Jewish friend of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg, the elected tax collector of Seminole County, told BuzzFeed that the congressman is a “champion of Israel and the Jewish people.”

“We may have to retroactively throw him a bar mitzvah,” he added.