The Declaration of Michel Thomas
I, Michel Thomas, declare as follows:
I am an individual and the Plaintiff in the above-entitled action. I have personal knowledge of the facts set forth herein, which are known by me to be true and correct, and if called as a witness, I could and would competently testify thereto.
This declaration is submitted in support of Plaintiff's Opposition to Special Motion To Strike Complaint.
On April 15, 2001, the LA Times published an article by Roy Rivenburg, entitled "Larger Than Life" (the "Article"). In the Article, Reporter Rivenburg presented my WWII experiences and my language teaching system in a way that I found deeply humiliating and damaging to my reputation. To me, and to numerous people in my professional and personal life to whom I have spoken, the Article contained a large number of false and defamatory implications. The Article implied that I was not present at the liberation of Dachau concentration camp; that I did not discover the worldwide Master file of Nazi Party members, along with a vast number of other Nazi documents, in a paper mill outside of Munich in early May 1945; that I was not interrogated by and did not escape from an interrogation by Klaus Barbie in Lyon in 1943; that I did not serve as an agent with the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps during and after WWII; and that my language teaching method is a sham and cannot impart the language skills for which my courses have gained an international reputation.. To me, the overall impression given by the Article was that I am a charlatan, a liar and a fraud and that I have exaggerated or fabricated the story of my life.
My Early Life
I am now 87 years old. I was born in Lodz, Poland as Moniek Kroskof on February 3, 1914, to Samuel & Freida Kroskof. I do not have my birth certificate as all of my personal documents were taken by the Gestapo. I am a Jew. As a young boy in Poland I witnessed hostility directed at my family because we were Jewish. This was very traumatic to me as a child.
These experiences, and the legal restrictions imposed upon Jews in pre-WWII Poland, led my parents to send me to live with my Aunt Idessa in Breslau, Germany, when I was seven years old. My parents remained in Lodz. I last saw my parents and family in Lodz in 1937.
In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, where I was then living in Vienna. Shortly thereafter, the Polish Embassy in Vienna confiscated my Polish passport and I became "stateless" - the German phrase of the time was vogelfrei -- "fair game." As such, I had no legal right to live in either France or Austria or any other country. I was forced to go into hiding in Vienna.
In October 1938, I attempted to escape Austria with my fiancee Suzanne Adler. We were caught by the Gestapo at the Siegfried Line in Germany but managed to get away and walked across the border to a French village in Lorraine. From there we made our way to Paris, where I was able to reinstate my French residence permit. We then moved to Nice. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, I volunteered to join the French Army and became active with French Army Intelligence.
In January 1941, Miss Adler and I were given residence permits in Monte Carlo; during this time I occasionally visited the casino in Monte Carlo. In the foyer, among a number of slot machines, was a boule slot machine, which paid out nine-to-one winnings on each bet. I figured out that by pulling the levers with a precise amount of pressure, I would be able to consistently win on this machine. And I did so during a four-month period in early 1941.
In the Article, Mr. Rivenburg wrote:
Indeed, his biography is laced with vivid recollections, from his first erotic experience at age 3 (reaching up the skirt of a nanny) to teenage travels with Arab camel caravans in Tunisia to playing boule slot machines in the foyer of Monte Carlo's casino in 1941, where he pocketed a tidy sum over four months by "pulling the lever with exactly the same pressure every time." (Casino officials, after consulting their archives and various experts, say the type of slot machine Thomas describes "to our knowledge was never in Monte Carlo.")
Contrary to Article's assertion, Ms. Veronique Fabre', the Archvist of the Monte Carlo casino, researched this question and found that a machine of this type was in fact present in the casino in 1941. Attached hereto as Exhibit "A" is a true and correct copy of a letter from Veronique Fabre' regarding this machine. Imprisonments from 1940 to 1942
From 1940 through 1942, I was imprisoned in four times in concentration camps in Vichy France: Le Vernet; Gardanne, a coal-mining camp run with slave labor; Les Mees, also a slave labor camp where logging was done; and Les Milles, a deportation camp near Aix en Provence.
At Gardanne, I was forced to work for four months in an underground coal mine. In 1993, I was diagnosed by Dr. Gerald Salen of New York with "increased interstitial fibrosis" of my left lung. I understand this to be a complication of exposure to coal dust. It is my belief that this condition, commonly referred to as "black lung" can only have been caused by the coal mining I was forced to perform at Gardanne, as I have never been exposed to coal dust for any significant period of time since then. A true and correct copy of a letter from Dr. Gerald Salen is attached hereto as Exhibit "B."
On August 1, 1942, I was taken in chains from Les Mees to Les Milles, a deportation camp from which regular cattle car shipments of men, women, and children were sent to Auschwitz. For six weeks, I avoided being caught by the guards in this camp, and finally escaped. To my knowledge, I am the only living survivor of Les Milles. Among the worst experiences of this camp was seeing hundreds of children forcibly separated from their parents. Their next stop was Drancy, and their final destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. The parents knew they were seeing their children for the last time. Those memories are with me to this day. Service in French Resistance/Interrogation by Klaus Barbie
In September 1942, after I escaped from Les Milles I made my way to Lyon, where I joined the French resistance, or Maquis. I was given the nom de guerre of Michel Sberro, using identification papers provided by the Resistance. I worked for the Secret Army of the Resistance in Lyon and the Grenoble area.
On February 9, 1943, I went to the Union Generale des Israelites de France ("UGIF") office at 9 Rue St. Catharine in Lyon to recruit young Jewish refugees to a Jewish unit in the Resistance. The UGIF provided relief to Jewish refugees. On that day, Klaus Barbie, the head of the Gestapo in Lyon, raided the UGIF and remained there all day to collect anyone else who arrived. Virtually all of the refugees present were German-speaking. Carrying some of the paintings I used to sell at the time, I went into an upstairs office at the UGIF building and walked into this trap: Klaus Barbie questioned me in German and one of the Gestapo agents present threatened in German to shoot me on the spot. I told them I had come there to meet a man I had met at a cafÈ the day before who had asked me to bring some of my paintings to show him at his office. I feigned ignorance of German and pretended to be a French painter. Barbie was convinced and, after he interrogated me for two hours, he allowed me to leave. Because of this narrow escape, I was issued another false identity by the Secret Army and went back to Grenoble. Because of this experience, I was called to testify at the trial of Klaus Barbie as a witness for the prosecution in 1987.
On March 30, 1943 in Grenoble, I was arrested by the Milice, the Vichy French police force that served in a similar capacity as the Gestapo in Germany. I was tortured for a period of over six hours by Milice officers, but managed to hide my Jewish identity and convince them I was merely a Polish soldier. Attached hereto as Exhibit "C" is a true and correct copy of a report concerning my activities in the French Resistance, and the torture I endured by the Milice. It is entitled, "Report on the service and activities of Michel Kroskof-Thomas in the Resistance and Maquis, French Forces of the Interior, Isere, Section IV: signed by Captain Dax, St. Ismier, December 4, 1944. Copy read and certified by Secretary General of the Departmental Committee of National Liberation of Grenoble, August 22, 1957" "Captain Dax" is the nom de guerre of Jean Berfini.
Because I was able to conceal my true identity as a Jew under torture, I was released on parole as a mere black marketeer. The Secret Army then gave me another new identity, as Michel Thomas, the name I have retained to this day. For the next two years, I fought with the Secret Army of the French Resistance in the Gresivaudan region of the Alps. Service in U.S. Army Infantry: 1944
On August 29, 1944, I was detached from the French Secret Army to the S-2 (Combat Intelligence) section of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, of the 45th Division of the U.S. Seventh Army. The 45th Division, of approximately 15,000 soldiers, was nicknamed "the Thunderbirds." They had come ashore in Europe in July 1943 in Sicily. I served with them through November 1944.
As a combat intelligence officer, my duties included obtaining information about enemy troop locations and concentrations. My contacts from my work in the French resistance, and my fluency in French, German, and English, among other languages, were of great help to me in this work. I was greatly honored that Capt. Martin F. Schroeder recommended me for a Silver Star medal His recommendation particularly focused on the intelligence information I obtained that helped U.S. forces to capture a bridge near Aubry, France in September 1944. (Attached hereto as Exhibit "D" is a true and correct copy of this recommendation.) This document was with the materials I showed to Mr. Rivenburg in either or both of our two meetings. Service with U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps: 1945 - 1947
On March 28, 1945 I joined the 45th Division Counter Intelligence Corps, or CIC. Attached hereto as Exhibit "E" is a letter dated 20 July 1945, signed by Captain Rupert W. Guenthner. Captain Guenthner states in this letter that "The devotion of Kroskof-Thomas to the assigned mission of this unit far exceeded the demands placed on other personnel." (Emphasis in original.) I provided a copy of this letter to Mr. Rivenburg.
Exhibit "F" is a true and correct certified copy of an "Officers' Pay, Allowance and Mileage Voucher" dated September 1945. This document also bears Captain Guenthner's signature as of that time. This copy is certified from the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
A third example of Captain Guenthner's signature is attached hereto as Exhibit "G." This is a true and correct certified copy of a pay voucher of Ernest T. Gearheart, Jr. from the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. This document also bears the signature of Captain Guenthner.
While I am not a handwriting expert, I am familiar with Captain Guenthner's signature and I recognize the signatures in Exhibits "E" "F" and "G" to be that of Captain Guenthner.
As a member of CIC, I was given the duties and powers of an official Agent, and wore the uniform worn by all CIC Agents. CIC Agents did not wear rank insignia, but we did wear the "U.S." collar tags worn by Army officers. I was fully aware that my being a CIC agent as a non-citizen was a highly unusual arrangement, perhaps unique, and was informed that no one outside of my CIC unit should be told I was not an American citizen, and that my reports should be signed by other CIC officers. I explained this to Rivenburg in my interviews with him. Attached hereto as Exhibits "H" and "I" are true and correct copies of photographs of me wearing my CIC uniform. All of these photographs were shown to Mr. Rivenburg during my interviews with him. Attached hereto as Exhibit "J" is a true and correct copy of my CIC identification card. Also, a copy of my CIC identification card appears on the dust-jacket cover of "Test of Courage." I showed this document to Rivenburg as well.
As a CIC agent, I was attached at a divisional, rather than a regimental level. This allowed me great freedom of movement. In addition, all CIC agents enjoyed great freedom of movement, as described in an order issued in December 1944 by Adjutant General Richard P. Fisk, citing the authority of General Eisenhower. Attached hereto as Exhibit "K" is a true and correct copy of this order. (See also, Declaration of Walter Wimer at 7)
My work for the CIC is mentioned in the unpublished history of the CIC, which is available at the National Archives and at the Military Intelligence Museum in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. Page 2862 of that history describes how Agent Frederick J. White and I entered the town of Hersbruck, which is near Nuremburg, discovered it was still in German hands, and nevertheless succeeded in obtaining full surrender of the city. (See Exhibit "L", CIC History ):
Agents Thomas and White, on their way to pick up an automatic arrestee, were informed at Hersbruck that the town for which they were heading was in German hands. They collected tactical information about the situation ahead and forwarded it to Target Force Headquarters, along with a report of initial security measures they had instigated in Hersbruck. In addition to the normal arms collection, curfew, travel restrictions, and communications disconnection, the two Agents arrested an official of the Organization Todt and indicated the existence of a war crimes' situation in the town. Agent Schiff was performing all interrogations as the day ended. Most of this work had been performed in suburban areas.
Liberation of Dachau: April 29, 1945
On April 29, 1945, the 3rd battalion of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division of the Seventh Army liberated the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich. I accompanied these troops; however, my presence would not necessarily have been known to the Commander of the infantry, then-Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Sparks. Because of the freedom of movement we enjoyed as CIC agents, we did not require orders allowing us to go to any particular place within our zone of operations. I explained this repeatedly to Rivenburg in our interviews, because he kept insisting that I tell him what orders I had and what military unit I was "attached to."
One of the reasons I went to the camp was because my friend Michael Nelken, whom I had met during my University days, had suffered so grievously as a prisoner at Dachau before the war - he committed suicide after his release from Dachau when he could not get his accounts describing conditions at the camp published. Another reason I went to Dachau was that I was searching for information about my parents and family from Auschwitz survivors I knew might be at Dachau. As Jews, I knew they had almost certainly disappeared somewhere into the abyss of the Nazi concentration camp system, and might well have been murdered. At the time of the liberation of Dachau, I still held out hope some members of my large family might somehow have survived. I later learned they were all murdered at Auschwitz.
I took a number of photographs at the liberation of Dachau. Many of these photographs depict gruesome images of piles of stacked, emaciated corpses in the crematorium and other areas of the camp. I still have the original large-format negatives for most of them. I showed these prints and negatives to Rivenburg in the course of my two interviews with him, and I saw him look at them. I also saw the Times photographer, who accompanied Rivenburg to his first interview with me, look at these prints and negatives. Attached hereto as Exhibit "M" is a set of copies of some of the photographs I took at Dachau, and showed to Rivenburg and the photographer.
Among these are photographs of the crematorium, which was located outside the main walls of the concentration camp. Several of the photographs are of crematorium workers who insisted that I take photographs of them performing their grisly duties of dragging corpses onto metal frames and putting them into the crematorium ovens.
I gave prints of these photographs to a number of my CIC colleagues. Recently, I learned that at least one of them, Frederick J. White, kept some of these prints. (See Declaration of Doris White) Doris White, the widow of former 45th Det. CIC Agent Frederick J. White, gave me photographs of the Dachau concentration camp that her husband kept since 1945. I took these photos, and have in my possession the negatives from which some of these prints were made.
Additionally, Dr. Theodore Kraus ("Kraus"), another person with whom I served in CIC has prints of the photographs I took at Dachau that I gave him in 1946 (See, Kraus Declaration at 12)
At the time of liberation, I also interrogated four of the crematorium workers, and obtained typed statements from them regarding what they had been forced to do by their Nazi captors. The crematorium workers' names were Eugen Seybold, from Munich, Franz Geiger, from Augsburg, August Ziegler, from Mannheim, and Johann Gopaz, from Yugoslavia. I kept the German originals of these typed statements, titled "Berichts", one of which is signed by Eugen Seybold. I showed these originals to Rivenburg when I met with him prior to the publication of his article, and told him what they were, yet they were not mentioned in the Article. Exhibit "N" are true and correct copies of these statements.
Within a few days of the liberation of Dachau, using information I had obtained there, I located Emil Mahl and arrested him in Munich. Mahl was the head of the crematorium, and was nicknamed the "Hangman of Dachau". I obtained his handwritten statement, and showed the original of this document to Rivenburg during one of his interviews of me. This document was not mentioned in the Article. Attached hereto as Exhibit "O" is a true and correct copy of the statement I obtained from Emil Mahl.
Emil Mahl was subsequently sentenced to death at the Dachau war crimes trial in November 1945; however, his sentence was later commuted to ten years. In 1949 or 1950 an article appeared in the U.S. Army newspaper Stars & Stripes that mentioned my arrest of Mahl, SS Major Gustav Knittel, and many others. Apparently, Mahl learned of this article. In 1950, the prison censor passed on a letter Mahl wrote to me from Landsberg prison, care of the Stars & Stripes newspaper. In the letter, Mahl complained about my arrest of him and falsely alleged I had stolen his personal property. (Attached hereto as Exhibit "P" is a true and correct copy of this letter, in German and English.)
Despite being shown all these documents and photographs, none of which are mentioned in the Article. Rivenburg implied in the Article that I was not at the liberation of Dachau. Among the tactics he used to create this implication was to write that I told him about tanks that entered the camp, that I could not remember a river nearby, or that I mixed up which way I came into the camp. He writes at Paragraph 38, "On the day Dachau fell, Thomas says, he was a U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps officer who temporarily joined two columns of tanks and infantry rolling through the German town to the camp."
I never made such a statement to Mr. Rivenburg. However, "Test of Courage", at page 186, states that "On April 29, 1945, a cold Sunday, two columns of infantry, riding on tanks and armored bulldozers, moved through the eerily silent town [of Dachau] toward the camp itself."
In the Article, Mr. Rivenburg quotes Lt. Col. Hugh F. Foster, who allegedly stated that "there were no tanks because the bridges between the town of Dachau and the military camp across the river had been blown up." The Article is not specific about where and when "there were no tanks" and falsely leads the reader to believe that I stated tanks entered the concentration camp. I did not make that statement.
While neither I nor the text of "Test of Courage" ever stated tanks went into the concentration camp, there were tanks that approached the town of Dachau, contrary to the impression made by the Article, which states "there were no tanks" without specifying when or where. Discovery of Nazi Party Master File: May 1945
In the first week of May 1945, just after Munich was overtaken by the Allies, I received information from an intelligence source, Fritz Spanheimer, that a convoy of SS trucks was en route to Munich with unknown but important cargo; in the first few days of May, he told me it had arrived at a paper mill in the town of Freimann, on the outskirts of Munich. I went to this paper mill, owned by Josef Wirth. I ordered a man, apparently the plant manager, who was there alone, to open the doors to the plant and went in. Inside, I found mountains of documents that had been shipped there for destruction by pulping. When I examined the cards and documents more closely, I saw that they contained membership cards, with photos attached.
The information on the cards in the mill indicated clearly to me that they were Nazi Party membership cards. The enormous volume suggested that these documents were of major importance. In fact, it turned out that I had discovered the worldwide membership file of the Nazi Party, the so-called Master file. I later learned that the volume of these documents was tens of thousands of kilos, and that they became the heart of the collection of the Berlin Document Center, which was maintained under U.S. military guard and later run by the U.S. State Department in Berlin until 1994, when it was turned over to the German government.
I reported my discovery of these documents to a Captain or Major named Baer, who was the responsible Public Safety officer of the Office of Military Government of the U.S., or OMGUS. OMGUS was in the earliest stage of being established in the Munich area, which had just been overtaken by the Allied forces. Baer was the appropriate official to follow up on the discovery of these documents, which would involve replacing the military guard I had posted at the mill with military guards supervised by the Public Safety department, and reporting the discovery to higher authorities. In the ensuing weeks, I grew concerned that Baer had not followed up properly on the discovery. To put pressure on him to act, I took what was for me the unprecedented step of leaking information to the press. I informed certain members of the press of the existence of the documents. I thought at the time that the information I had leaked led to published accounts of the discovery, or that at least members of the press had spoken to Baer about them. I spoke to Baer again after this and he reassured me that the documents in the mill had received the proper attention.
At the paper mill, I took a number of items that I have kept with me to this day. These include: (1) a Nazi propaganda recording on a plastic disc; (2) a lithograph and anti-Jewish description of the public execution of "Jud Suss,"a Court Jew in Stuttgart in 1738; (3) an album of watercolors given by Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler to Hitler's adjutant, Julius Schaub, commemorating the SS campaign in Greece; (4) a letter written by Himmler to a Dr. Ludwig Dittmar on Jan. 10, 1945; and (5) a court case filed by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering against Julius Streicher, the editor of the infamous anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer. True and correct copies of these documents are attached hereto, collectively, as Exhibit "Q."
Official Army records from the U.S. National Archives credit the original discovery of the Master file to "the 45th Detachment of CIC" in May 1945. (A true and correct copy of those records is attached hereto as Exhibit "R". The records, entitled "Seventh Army / Western Military District / Annex No. 2 / Part 4 of 8 -- CIC Reports / Reporting Section G-2 / Period 20 May - 20 June 1945 / Compiled by Historical Section, Headquarters, Seventh Army" states: An estimated 68,000 kilos of Party records and documents of Reichsleitung SA were discovered by agents of the 45th CIC Det in a paper mill at Freimann (X-8763). Included among the papers were all Party membership cards with identification photos, documents relating to the Party, SA courts, and SA administration.
As I explained to Mr. Rivenburg, and as "Test of Courage" documents repeatedly, the 45th CIC Detachment was the unit I served in, from the end of March 1945 until September of that year. There were fewer than twenty men in this unit. Service in CIC Ulm Subsection: 1945 -- 1947
In September 1945, I was transferred to the Ulm subsection of the 307th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment; referred to as the Seventh Army Ulm CIC Detachment, Team 970/35. My service in the unit was recognized in a letter dated 5 November 1945 by Ernest T. Gearheart, Jr., who was Special Agent in Charge of this unit. A true and correct copy of this letter is attached hereto as Exhibit "S". I provided a copy of this letter to Rivenburg in one of our interviews.
One of my fellow agents in the Ulm subsection 970/35 was Dr. Ted Kraus, (See, Declaration of Kraus). In February 1946, Dr. Kraus ("Kraus") became the commander of the Ulm subsection. On October 2, 1946, Kraus wrote a letter on CIC letterhead, recognizing my service in his unit. This letter states at paragraph 3, "Mr. Thomas was particularly co-operative in working closely with new agents and imparting his experience and knowledge of CI activities to them." A true and correct copy of this letter is attached to Dr. Kraus' declaration as Exhibit "T" A copy of this letter was shown to Rivenburg in one of our meetings Further, I am aware that Rivenburg also interviewed Kraus. (See, Kraus Dec. at 13) However, Rivenburg made no mention of his interview with Kraus or the letter Kraus wrote in the Article.
During my service in the Ulm subsection, I was called by Frankfurt CIC Headquarters and given sole authority to organize the search for and apprehension of S.S. Major Gustav Knittel. Major Knittel had been implicated in the Malmedy-Stavelot massacre of more than 130 American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. On January 5, 1946, Special Agent Kraus was present with me when the trap I had set for Major Knittel was sprung. Accompanied by a detachment of the local constabulary, who were called to surround the area, I arrested Knittel at an isolated home near Ulm. I interrogated Knittel for several weeks after his arrest. In July 1946, Knittel was sentenced to life in prison by the American military tribunal at Dachau; later his sentence was commuted.
During my service in CIC, I also worked with Kraus on a sting operation in which I posed as a "Dr. Frundsberg", commander of a phony "Grossorganization." We persuaded a number of former SS officers that this organization was to function as a centralized command of the underground SS terrorist organization in Germany after the war. Theodore Kraus secretly taped meetings that I staged and conducted with former SS officers; these meetings eventually led to my taking over the whole SS organization. Eventually, after Kraus returned to the U.S., a number of former SS officers were tried and sent to prison on the basis of the evidence we gathered.
Move to the United States: 1947
After Theodore Kraus left the Ulm subsection in 1947, a new commander was installed. Soon after this time I myself resigned. In July 1947, I left Europe and moved to the United States, arriving in Galveston, Texas. I eventually came to Los Angeles. In September 1947 I opened my language school, then called the Polyglot Institute, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
I lived in Los Angeles for 35 years, until 1982. In 1979, Alice Burns and I were married; we had two children. We moved to New York in 1982 and I continue to live in New York City, although I have also lived in Israel from time to time since the early 1990s. I still maintain an office for my language teaching system in Beverly Hills, as well as the office I maintain in New York City.
LANGUAGE TEACHING SYSTEM
In the Article, Mr. Rivenburg wrote: "Oh, and his New York and Beverly Hills language schools can teach anyone a foreign tongue in just three days." This implies I can teach students to be fluent in three days, which I do not claim. At my language schools, I offer programs in which students can rapidly develop a high level of proficiency in many foreign languages including Spanish, Italian, French, German, (or English for non-English speaking students).
If I am the teacher, my course does guarantee students to acquire a solid, comprehensive knowledge of the entire structure and grammar of a language, and proficient, practical, and functional vocabulary, and the ability to speak, to read, and to write a foreign language within two to three days. With my instructors, this level of proficiency is attained in about eight days of instruction. This is accomplished without rote memorization or note-taking. Homework is not allowed. The responsibility for learning is the responsibility of the teacher, not the student. Since 2000, tapes and CDs of my courses have been sold in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and other countries around the world.
My students since 1947 have included diplomats, business executives, entertainment celebrities, professors and academic administrators, who have paid for my courses. My students have also included at-risk students from junior high schools in Watts, Hispanic elementary students, and California State juvenile probationers, all of whom I have taught for no charge. Evidence for the effectiveness of my teaching system has most recently been documented in a study by the Business School at the University of Bournemouth in England. The Business School there has adopted my teaching system for their foreign language program after a June 2001 study concluded that my system is an "original, creative, and encouraging method."
Falsified or Inaccurate Quotes in the Article
In the Article, at paragraph 25, Rivenburg wrote: "He also says other Holocaust victims could have escaped death too, if only they hadn't given up hope and surrendered to their fate." I never made this statement. This is perhaps the most outrageous thing one could say about a Jew who survived the Holocaust to discredit him in the eyes of others who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. There are sections of "Test of Courage" (see pp. 39, 86-89, 96, 156) which describe the agony I endured fighting the "siren song" of succumbing to the conditions at the Les Milles camp, from which hundreds of people were daily deported to Auschwitz. I did not state to Mr. Rivenburg in my interviews, nor do these passages of "Test of Courage" state that I ever said "other Holocaust victims could have escaped death too, if only they hadn't given up hope and surrendered to their fate", or any words to that effect.
I also never made the statement attributed to me in the same paragraph of the Article, "His own family, he believes, died at Auschwitz." I told Mr. Rivenburg that my entire family was slaughtered at Auschwitz. Former Auschwitz prisoners whom I interviewed at various concentration camps immediately after liberation told me they had been with my parents and other relatives in Auschwitz, and knew they had been murdered.
Paragraph 35 of the Article states: "Thomas' Dachau account relies on a memory system he says he devised as a child that enables him to relive past events in his mind." I never made such a statement, or implied it. This statement is an ugly distortion of two disparate and widely separated matters discussed in "Test of Courage," juxtaposed in the Article to falsely imply that my memory of Dachau is false. On page 5 of "Test of Courage" Christopher Robbins wrote that I developed a system to remember my childhood. Later, in the descriptions of my Dachau experiences, there is no mention of any "memory system." As anyone who was present at the liberation of any concentration camp will attest, no special memory system is required to remember the scenes of horror of the camps.
Meetings with Roy Rivenburg
In February, 2001 I was contacted by Roy Rivenburg ("Rivenburg") of the Los Angeles Times ("LA Times") who told me that he had been assigned to write a story concerning my life and my language courses.
I told Rivenburg that I would be glad to meet with him and to provide him with any information he needed or desired. I was later interviewed twice by Rivenburg, on February 7th and the week of March 10th. I spent approximately four to five hours with him during each of the two interviews. I showed him a number of documents and photographs concerning my experiences during World War II, and regarding the language teaching system I have developed. Rivenburg told me, and I could tell from his comments during the interviews, that he had read "Test of Courage."
When we met first, at the Summit Hotel, I was not on an "international publicity blitz" for the book "Test of Courage" or my language classes, as he states in the Article. I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles. In fact, there was no such "publicity blitz." For our second meeting, I flew from Seattle into Los Angeles, at my expense, expressly for the purpose of meeting with Rivenburg. Each of our two meetings was four to five hours long.
At the beginning of our first meeting, both Rivenburg and the female photographer abruptly asked me, "Where's the briefcase?" My briefcase was not in view, and I was puzzled why they were so insistent on seeing it before we had even begun to talk in any depth. When I produced it, they immediately asked me, "Where are the family letters?" I did not realize it at the time, and I only now realize that they were referring to the letters described in the last paragraph of Christopher Robbins' text of "Test of Courage", at page 327, which reads:"But some human pain penetrates so deeply into the soul that courage is not enough. The precious family letters in the battered cardboard folder remain unread." The letters referred to in this passage were written by my parents and family in Europe to other family members in the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s. None of the members of my European family survived the war. To this day, I have not been able to read their letters because I am afraid of the despair they will cause me. These were the first documents Mr. Rivenburg wanted me to show him.
While I did not open these family letters for him, I did show Mr. Rivenburg many documents and photographs during our initial interview. I deliberately brought them to the second interview for the express purpose of sharing them with Rivenburg. Moreover, I told him that I would provide him with whatever additional documentation he requested.
When we met for the second time, it became apparent to me that Rivenburg's tone had changed considerably from our first meeting. It was clear to me that he was intent on a hostile interrogation. He did not appear willing to accept anything I told him as truthful. For example, Rivenburg asked me about an incident described at p. 77 of "Test of Courage." The passage describes how, at a logging camp called Les Mees, I was forced to build a fence around the garden of the Vichy commander's home, along with four other inmates. Mr. Rivenburg asked how it was possible that I could build a wall if I was so emaciated. I explained that we were building a fence, not a wall. I tried to explain to him the difference between being emaciated as a result of eight months of starvation rations at the Le Vernet camp and being constantly hungry cutting lumber in the slave labor camp called Les Mees. (Our diet at Le Vernet consisted of a brown-water "coffee" in the morning; for lunch and dinner, we got a small tin of "soup" -- hot water with a few vegetable roots such as rutabaga, and 120 to 140 grams of hard bread made with one part each of flour, straw, and sawdust.)
In the same vein, Rivenburg asked how it was possible that I had the photo taken of me as a student in Vienna, which appears in "Test of Courage" as plate 4, since I had lost all my personal belongings and photos to the Gestapo. I explained that I obtained this photo from an old friend, Professor Charles Hamburg, whom I visited at Tulane University in New Orleans after the war.
Also during this meeting, Rivenburg asked me to describe my visit to the UGIF office at 9 Rue St. Catharine in February 1943.
No matter how detailed my descriptions, Rivenburg would insist that I provide ever-finer levels of detail. He tried to trap me into what he perceived as an inconsistency in my account of how I was able to escape Barbie and the Gestapo, by getting me to agree that there was a sign on the door. Rivenburg repeatedly asked leading questions such as, "Describe the interior of the building, there was no elevator? You had to walk up the stairs? And then what floor was the Committee meeting on? You walked up to that floor? How many doors were there? Where were they? So, the door of the UGIF Committee was in front? Of course, there was a sign on the door, right?"
At that point, I became very angry and shouted, "What the hell are you trying to do? You are trying to lead me into telling you there was a sign on the door, to prove that I couldn't have told Barbie I made a mistake in going through that door?" There was in fact, no sign on the door, which I told Rivenburg. Even if there had been a sign, it would not have contradicted my account because my story to Barbie was that I had come to meet a specific person who had told me to come there. It was apparent that Rivenburg was intent upon not believing anything I was telling him. When I became angry, Rivenburg grinned at me and said, "I want to put you down." When I got angrier at this, he responded, "I'm taking you down off your pedestal."
Rivenburg questioned me in the same hostile fashion about my discovery of the Master file at the paper mill. No matter what details I offered, he would ask about some other detail and, if I could not answer to his satisfaction, he would act as though he had caught me in a lie. For example, when I described to him what I saw in the paper mill, he asked me what color the cards were. When I told him I did not recall, but that it was obvious what the cards were, Mr. Rivenburg said I could not have known what they were.
Rivenburg's questions about the liberation of Dachau took the same tone. He asked if I was "attached" to the 157th infantry, and if so, with what unit? I explained that as a CIC agent, I did not require orders "attaching" me to a particular unit. He said, "You must have crossed a river, right?" and I told him I did not recall a river. He asked me something about tanks, and I told him I did not remember any tanks. These questions seemed to me ridiculous, and by this point it was apparent to me that he was not asking questions to get answers, he was simply trying to set me up and make it appear that I was lying.
Mr. Rivenburg repeatedly asked me about my military ID number, and I repeatedly told him I did not have one, and that, as described on in "Test of Courage," (at p. 176), my arrangement with the Headquarters of CIC was that no one outside our CIC unit should be informed that I was not an American citizen, and that my reports would be signed by CIC officers within my unit.
Because of Mr. Rivenburg's behavior, I grew concerned that he intended to write a very negative portrayal of me. I spoke on numerous occasions to Christopher Robbins about this, and Mr. Robbins engaged in extensive email correspondence and phone calls with Mr. Rivenburg, and Rivenburg's editor Brett Israel, in an attempt to answer Rivenburg's questions and to insure a factually based article. (See Declaration of Christopher Robbins). Aftermath of Publication
When I read Rivenburg's Article, published on April 15, 2001, I became extremely distressed. I immediately contacted Kenneth Ziffren, my business attorney, and he recommended that I speak to Mr. Anthony Glassman about the Article. Mr. Glassman wrote to the Los Angeles Times on May 2nd, 2001, but the Times refused to publish a correction of the false implications as requested.
Mr. Glassman filed this lawsuit, on my behalf, on October 9, 2001. I instructed him to issue a press release at the time he filed the lawsuit. (A true and correct copy of the press release is attached hereto as Exhibit "U"). I did this because I hoped that by attracting press attention to this case, I would be able to respond and repair the false portrayal of me in the Article. I also hired an experienced public relations consultant, Mr. Jim Mahoney of Los Angeles, in the hope of attracting press attention to counter the impression left in the public mind by the Article. Mr. Mahoney's efforts met with little success.
The publication of the Article has been devastating to me. My family and I, along with tens of millions of others, suffered terribly as a result of the monstrous crimes of the Nazi regime and the policies of Vichy France, and as a young man I fought with all my strength and resources to defeat them. My family was slaughtered and cannot speak, but I survived and can attest to what I saw and what I did, and I showed Mr. Rivenburg ample documentation to back it up. To have my integrity assaulted and my wartime experiences negated and denied nearly six decades later is a character assassination that has been deeply painful to me. It has inspired in me the desire to fight with the same tenacity I used in fighting for the Allied cause in WWII. For this reason, I have been reluctantly compelled to file this lawsuit to protect my name and reputation.
I am aware that many persons, in sports, academia and other professions have been exposed for making misrepresentations about their lives to others. The press has exposed these liars, and their reputations have been, rightfully, destroyed. I have never made such misrepresentations, yet, because of the Article, I am forced to live as though I have.
I am asking the Court to deny Defendants' Motion and to allow my lawsuit to go forward. I have produced evidence to establish that the implications made by Rivenburg and the LA Times are false and defamatory. I have explained that all of this information was provided to Rivenburg before publication of the Article. This lawsuit is the only means available to me to protect the name and reputation I have gained as a result of my life's work.
Although I consider myself to enjoy good health and vitality, particularly for a man of 87, I nevertheless do suffer from a number of serious health problems. I have significant cardiovascular problems and have had five arterial stents implanted, and have had two angioplasty procedures. Several years ago my left hip was replaced. I have also been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Because of my age, and these health problems, I request that the Court expedite my case and allow me as speedy a trial as possible to adjudicate this matter.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.
Executed January 10, 2002, at New York, New York.