I first posted a version of this back in August 2006. Since that time not much showed up on the internet to commemorate the story of Mel Mermelstein, nor to burn his deeds into the history books. Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub had many fewer readers each day, then too. This is a story that should not be forgotten about a story that must not be forgotten.
In early August 1985, Melvin Mermelstein struck a powerful blow against bogus history and historical hoaxes. Mel won a decision in a California court, in a contract case.
A group of Holocaust deniers had offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove that the Holocaust actually happened. Mermelstein had watched his family marched to the gas chambers, and could testify. He offered his evidence. The Holocaust deniers, of course, had no intention of paying up. They dismissed any evidence offered as inadequate, and continued to claim no one could prove that the Holocaust actually occurred.
Mermelstein, however, was a businessman and he knew the law. He knew that the offer of the reward was a sweepstakes, a form of contract. He knew it was a contract enforceable in court. He sued to collect the offered reward. The reward was an offer, and Mel Mermelstein accepted the offer and, he said, he performed his part of the bargain. The issue in court would be, was Mermelstein’s evidence sufficient?
Mermelstein’s lawyer had a brilliant idea. He petitioned the court to take “judicial notice” of the fact of the Holocaust. Judicial note means that a fact is so well established that it doesn’t need to be evidenced when it is introduced in court — such as, 2+2=4, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Celsius, etc.
The court ruled that the evidence presented overwhelmingly established that the Holocaust had occurred — the court made judicial note of the Holocaust. That ruling meant that, by operation of law, Mermelstein won the case. The only thing for the judge to do beyond that was award the money, and expenses and damages.
You can read the case and other materials at the Nizkor Holocaust remembrance site.
Appalachian State University takes the Holocaust seriously — there is a program of study on the issue, reported by the Mountain Times (the school is in Boone, North Carolina — not sure where the newspaper is).
Mountain Times, August 17, 2006
As co-directors of Appalachian State University’s Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies, Rennie Brantz and Zohara Boyd are always eager to expand and improve the center’s methods of education. Seldom, though, does this involve airfare.
Brantz and Boyd recently visited Israel to participate in the Fifth International Conference for Education: Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations. The four-day conference was held in late June at Yad Vashem, an institute and museum in Jerusalem that specializes in the Nazi Holocaust. [link added]
“Yad Vashem is an incredible institute,” Brantz said. “It was founded in the ’50s to remember and commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust, and has been the premier international research institute dealing with the Holocaust.”
As Santayana advises, we remember the past in order to prevent its recurring. Clearly, this is a past we need to work harder at remembering.
Despite having been ordered to acknowledge the Holocaust, pay up on their sweepstakes offer, and apologize to Mr. Mermelstein, Holocaust deniers continue to publish claims that Mr. Mermelstein’s account is not accurate, or that it is contradictory or in some other way fails to measure up to the most strict tests of historical accuracy. So it is important that you remember the story of Mel Mermelstein, and that you spread it far and wide.
- Thomas T. Johnson, the judge who ruled that Holocaust history is a fact, died in late 2011
- Leonard Nimoy played Mermelstein in a television move, “Never Forget”
- Dutch Holocaust hero to be honoured in Amsterdam (thejc.com)
- Why Raoul Wallenberg’s centennial matters (timesofisrael.com)
- The man who saved 900 Jewish boys INSIDE a death camp (timesofisrael.com)