FAKER: Vile holocaust denier caught in web of lies
The weird and disturbing industry of holocaust denial is usually populated by dorky pretend academics who wear ill-fitting suits and fantasise late at night about being Fuhrer. “Lady Renouf” is a former model from Newcastle, Australia now living in London who breaks that mould, at least presentationally. In an excellent takedown, in the Weekend Australian magazine yesterday, their Peter Wilson shows that telling lies is at the core of Holocaust denial and that only after some pretty intense questioning did the real motivation come out: she doesn’t like Jews.
If only the rest of the filth in Holocaust denial were as honest as this compulsive liar and fantasist.
WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE
Edition 1SAT 14 FEB 2009, Page 018
By Peter Wilson
London socialite Lady Renouf courts global attention as the attractive face of Holocaust denial. Who would guess she was once plain Michele Mainwaring, a beauty queen from the NSW central coast? Peter Wilson meets her.
At 22, Michele Mainwaring was a beauty queen from the NSW central coast whose titles included “Miss Zhivago” for being judged the local woman who looked most like Julie Christie in the biggest film then showing. By 42, she was a London socialite with a grand house and ballroom who called herself “Countess Griaznoff” and posed for family portraits with her Russian husband and two daughters in costumes that could have been designed for Omar Sharif’s film.
Now, at 62, she is known as Lady Renouf, from her short-lived second marriage, and on the wall of her apartment in upmarket Kensington, London, is a photo of her being kissed by Omar Sharif during the brief period they dated about a decade ago.
But it is not her glamorous social life that has recently made Miss Newcastle-Hunter Valley 1968 mildly famous in Britain, Germany and Australia. “This woman is especially dangerous,” says Dr Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, “because she is so attractive and can put a pretty face on a very ugly movement.”
That movement is Holocaust denial, a decades-old attempt to play down the Nazi atrocities against Jews and other minorities.
After showing no interest in Jews or World War II until her 50s, Renouf now travels the world speaking at conferences, alongside former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other extremists, arguing that the Holocaust has been massively exaggerated and that in any case the Jews are to blame. The only prominent female denier, the girl from The Entrance, NSW, has met Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and lauded him as a champion of free speech and democracy despite charges by human rights groups that his regime tortures dissidents and stifles free speech.
Some experts are worried that, as the last witnesses of the Holocaust die, the deniers could gain ground in the West by focusing their propaganda on students at university and high school. The deniers were bolstered last month by Pope Benedict’s acceptance back into the Catholic Church of ultra-conservative British bishop Richard Williamson, who claims that historical evidence is “hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler … I believe there were no gas chambers”. The political and public outcry across Europe at the pope’s decision - not least in his native country, Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime - shows the depth of feeling that surrounds the issue.
Other Holocaust historians such as Zuroff say the deniers’ biggest impact is in the Arab world and among Muslims in countries such as Britain. “For political and religious reasons there is just a closed mindset [in the Arab world] and that is where people openly say the Holocaust never happened,” he says. “Or they invert it against Israel - that we are the new Nazis and the conflict right now is us committing a Holocaust against the Palestinians.”
With fears of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and Israel under growing pressure over its conflict with the Palestinians, the denial movement is becoming more than “a loopy fringe group that can be ignored”, says Zuroff. “That is why this woman is just perfect for people like the Iranians … they have this blonde, pretty woman speaking in an English accent in Tehran [at a 2006 Holocaust denial conference] and on Iranian TV telling them they are right and the Jews are evil. This is a dangerous person.”
My first contact with Michele Renouf is via the intercom of her Kensington apartment. I had just learnt that Dr Fredrick Toben, Australia’s best-known Holocaust denier, had been released after 50 days in London’s Wandsworth prison and was staying in Renouf’s apartment.
British police had used a European Union arrest warrant, issued by Germany, to pluck Toben from a plane transiting through Heathrow last year. A legal team organised by Renouf beat an attempt to extradite him to Germany, where he is wanted on charges carrying a fiveyear jail sentence. Renouf tells me through the intercom in her posh English accent that Toben is standing beside her but will not talk to me until he has safely returned to Australia. (Adelaide-based Toben, once back on home soil, would announce his intention to return to Germany to “thrash it out” with prosecutors.)
Several days after talking through the intercom with Renouf she invites me to a press conference that she is holding in the small Cranley Gardens Hotel, near her apartment, to discuss Toben’s victory. Smiling and immaculately groomed in a woollen pantsuit, she is as handsome as one would expect of a woman who has for decades worked as a model in TV and print commercials, now often cast as a well-to-do woman of a certain age.
The British press has stayed away and the small conference room she has rented holds about a dozen Toben supporters, including David Irving, the British historian who was labelled an anti-Semite and a falsifier of history by a High Court judge in a 2000 libel trial.
Renouf announces that Toben has left for Australia “but in his stead we have an expert who has come especially from France”. Dr Robert Faurisson will discuss “the meat of the issue”, the deniers’ rejection of the mainstream account of the Holocaust. At this news Irving scurries from the room - fearful, Renouf explains later, that being involved in such a conference would threaten his ability to visit the US.
“Conference” is a loose description. I am the only reporter listening to Faurisson’s 80-minute speech, which Renouf films for the internet. Like every other dedicated Holocaust denier outside the Arab world, Faurisson is not a professional historian. An 80-year-old former professor of literature, he began disputing the Holocaust in the’70s and has been repeatedly convicted in France, one of 10 countries that outlaw Holocaust denial. Faurisson’s basic claim is that Jewish leaders invented the Holocaust to win sympathy and gain a homeland in Israel. There is no proof that Hitler and the Nazis planned genocide, he says, the toll of six million dead does not add up, and the gas chambers at Auschwitz were not used to kill people. Instead, he insists, the gas chambers were aimed at helping the Jews by using the poison Zyklon B to kill lice in order to fight typhus.
“In Auschwitz I visited by myself what is called Crematorium One,” he says. “I immediately saw that it could not be a gas chamber.” The room was not sealed properly, one of its doors had a fragile glass window, and the holes in the roof through which the Nazis supposedly dropped gas pellets had been added after the war, he says.
He claims that a plaque displayed at Auschwitz in the’70s stated that four million people had been killed there. That number has now been revised down to just over one million but the “Holocaust industry” still claims that six million Jews died, even though the plaque’s toll was out by three million, he says.
Not long after hearing Faurisson I visit Auschwitz. All the time I am there, ringing in my head are Faurisson’s claims that the “Hollywood version” of its terrible history is untrue. The camp, in Poland, does have a powerful effect on a visitor but not the one claimed by Faurisson and Renouf.
The Nazis dynamited the largest gas chambers as Soviet soldiers approached in January 1945 and the surviving chamber that Faurisson refers to is the oldest, smallest and most primitive. His arguments crumble a few seconds after one enters that grim, dark room. The thin glass window that he cited proves nothing: it is obviously a reconstruction.
A guide at the camp confirms to anyone who asks that what one now sees in Auschwitz was largely rebuilt after the war by the Polish communists. The four holes in the roof that Faurisson talks about were also part of a clumsy postwar reconstruction but it is easy to see the outlines of the original holes, which are now sealed up.
Renouf wants a televised debate between Faurisson and Laurence Rees, a BBC documentary-maker who did a six-part series on Auschwitz in 2005. Rees tells me he would never take part in such a debate, a position shared by almost all leading historians, who say it is valid to debate details of the Holocaust but not the basic fact that the Nazis deliberately killed something like six million people, 90 per cent of them Jews, and largely with gas chambers.
“It is pointless discussing history with Holocaust deniers,” Rees says. “It would be like discussing climate change with members of the Flat Earth Society. My experience is that they do not want to know the answers and they want to suck you in so as to publicise themselves and pretend this is a ‘legitimate debate’. It isn’t legitimate and it isn’t a debate.
“Since the existence and working practice of the gas chambers has been established as a 100 per cent historical fact, getting involved with these questions is like trying to debate the Norman Conquest with someone who maintains that the Battle of Hastings never happened and that William the Conqueror might have been a Martian.
“Can you ‘prove’ that William the Conqueror wasn’t really a Martian? How can you ‘prove’ he didn’t have a funny green pointed head - in fact, isn’t that almost certainly why the Normans wore those funny helmets?”
“Can you ‘prove’ that William the Conqueror wasn’t really a Martian? How can you ‘prove’ he didn’t have a funny green pointed head - in fact, isn’t that almost certainly why the Normans wore those funny helmets?”
A few days after Renouf’s press conference I sit down with her in the foyer of the Cranley Gardens Hotel for what turns out to be a five-hour interview over several cups of tea. Polite and friendly but with a well-mannered reserve, she is quite guarded at first. When she appears on extremist and anti-Semitic radio programs and Iranian TV shows she is billed as a “human rights activist”, “political commentator”, or “filmmaker”, as she has begun making and selling her own films questioning the Holocaust and slamming Israel.
She says she is not anti-Semitic because, while she criticises Judaism, she has nothing against Jews. Her critics “always say I am charming but sinister. But if you meet me you actually don’t find this hate that they speak about. You find criticism but you don’t find hate … Jews who know me like me.”
That’s a view not supported by my conversations with several Jews who know her. Their anger is not hard to fathom. Over a few hours of conversation an increasingly relaxed Renouf expresses views that do not make her popular in polite society, Jewish or otherwise.
Jews, she says, follow a religion which is dishonest, inhumane, supremacist, hate-fuelled, predatory and treacherous. In fact “it does not deserve to be called a religion at all”.
“The definition of a Jew is antigentile,” she insists, and it is their own selfish behaviour which has provoked anti-Semitism over the centuries, making them responsible for their own persecution.
While we share biscuits with our tea she trots out cliches - how Jews control Hollywood, the media, banking, advertising, academia and Western foreign policy. “Australia, like Britain, is an occupied country: occupied by proZionist policy,” she says. What is more, Hitler had no choice but to put Jews into concentration camps because international Zionist leaders had “declared an economic war on Germany in 1933 to try to destroy Germany”.
“So you have to, to protect your own people, put the enemy into the camp. And when you put people into a camp, the risk in close quarters of disease and so on are multiplied. So there were gas chambers, sure, but for delousing. Whether there were gas chambers for murderous intent I cannot say because I have not heard a proper debate.”
A shared view of Judaism has made her something of a fan of hardline Islamists. Israel has no moral right to exist, she insists, Hamas and Hezbollah are “wonderful and noble”, and jihadist suicide bombers “are reacting to our appalling decision to go to war [in Iraq] on a lie. So we are the culprits”.
Praising Muslim attitudes to women, she volunteers that she “would be on the side of the Muslim leader in Australia who said our women are looking like meat” - a reference to Sheik Taj Din alHilali, who provoked a storm in 2006 by saying that women who did not dress conservatively were like “uncovered meat” and invited sexual attack.
The life-long advertising model says she disagrees with compulsory burqas but feels that “the way Muslim women dress basically is better for us than the way women are encouraged to dress in the Western, Judeo-influenced societies, consumer societies which promote the baseness of us … The Jewish influence in fashion, in Hollywood and so on creates the ethos of this kind of women serving-men value system.”
Renouf, who has received death threats, expresses these views without any open anger or venom, and often seems surprised when people take offence. She complains that she has been cast as “the most notorious woman in London”.
That clearly rankles with someone who values social status - she mentions more than once that she can trace her father’s family back to 1086 and the Domesday Book - but it does not worry her enough to make her tone down her views. In 2003 she was expelled from London’s prestigious Reform Club for using the club to champion Irving and his views on Hitler, and she has been kicked out of other social groups.
She admits her two adult daughters disagree with her views and “can’t bear what I do … because they obviously don’t want me to be at risk, and also they have been conditioned like anybody else”.
She met their father, Daniel Ivan Zadeh, an Australian psychiatrist of Russian descent, during a trip to the Gold Coast in 1968 as part of her prize for winning Miss Radio 2HD Newcastle Beach Girl. The couple shifted to London in 1970, where they married.
IvanZadeh had always been plain “Mr” or “Doctor” but Renouf says the family had once claimed a title through his great-uncle, so she began styling herself as Countess Griaznoff “for my charity work”. No such title exists in the major lists of European noble families such as the Almanach de Gotha or Burke’s Royal Families of the World.
They divorced in 1990 and the following year, at 44, she married Sir Frank Renouf, the Kiwi financier 28 years her senior who’d recently emerged from an acrimonious split with Susan Rossiter-Peacock-Sangster-Renouf.
The press swooped, obtaining a copy of the new wedding certificate. Michele had listed her father, Arthur, as a deceased hotelier but the press found him alive in NSW. The retired courier driver and photographer for the Port Macquarie News said he had never owned a hotel.
Sir Frank felt humiliated and the marriage did not survive the six-week honeymoon in New Zealand.
Asked about the misleading marriage certificate, Renouf says her grandparents owned a country pub in NSW. Her parents separated when she was 10 and she never really knew what her father did for a living, she says. She’d had no contact with him for several years before the wedding and “I knew that he was dying of cancer and someone had sent me a condolence card so I assumed that meant that he had died”.
She says Sir Frank tried to patch things up but she refused and he divorced her in 1995 on the grounds of her alleged “unreasonable behaviour” with a Bulgarian fencing champion, an allegation she denies. Sir Frank died three years later.
She says she did not ask for a settlement and she now funds her activities “with some difficulty”. Jewish advertising executives have been giving her less work due to her Holocaust views, she says.
She devotes much of her time to the cause of Holocaust “revision”, travelling to Austria, Canada, France and Germany to witness trials of deniers and speaking at a Holocaust review conference held by the Iranian Government in Tehran in 2006.
At that conference she gave a fiery denunciation of Israel and Judaism and afterwards was elected to a committee to organise another conference, alongside Toben and Dr Christian Lindtner, a Danish Holocaust-denier to whom she was briefly engaged in 2007. Theirs was a romance launched by Holocaust denial - they first met early in 2006 at a Danish conference and they next spent time together at the Tehran conference.
What I kept wondering, though, was where her obsession with Judaism had come from. By her own account, “growing up in Australia I never heard anybody even talk about Jews. I certainly had no predisposition, my world was not divided into Jew and gentile. In fact, I thought they all died out like the Pharisees and all the other Biblical sects that you heard about in school.”
She says she first became interested in the Holocaust in 2000 when David Irving lost his high-profile libel action against an American historian for branding him a Holocaust-denier.
But she had already been interested for several years in “the anti-gentile nature of Judaism”. In 1997 she wrote and published a booklet that appalled academics by rejecting the widely held view that Hitler’s favourite composer, Richard Wagner, had expressed antiSemitism in his operas. She met Toben the following year when she was promoting her booklet at the Adelaide Festival.
In 1999 she enrolled in a master’s degree in the psychology of religion at the University of London’s Heythrop College to pursue her obsession.
But where did it all start? According to Renouf, it was a 1997 argument about a dish of suckling pig. She’d set up a committee of 25 friends to help her organise a dinner to fund a new dressing room for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, but trouble blew up over the menu.
“I had asked the caterers, The Ivy restaurant, if they could give us perhaps a choice in the main course,” she says. “And they suggested for an Elizabethan feast why don’t you have suckling pig, a good vegetarian choice and perhaps sea bass, because sea bass is sort of regarded as a glamorous dish.
“When I presented that choice to my coterie one Jewish girl said, ‘We regard your offering a choice in the main course as tyrannical and if you are going to insist upon it I am going to resign.’ Eventually she said, ‘You cannot expect Jews to sit at the table where others might choose pork … ‘
“The really interesting thing was the fear in the room of the other 24 people. They said, ‘Please let’s not pursue this issue,’ and I said, ‘Why, what is your fear?’ They said, ‘It is anti-Semitic.’ I said, ‘But for heaven’s sake, what is antiSemitic about discussing food?’ We weren’t eating eyeballs or something that was frightful to us, it wasn’t such an astonishing thing, we weren’t eating horse or cat or something outrageous.
“It got me terribly interested because it meant that sensible people were being dictated to by this woman’s religion even though I happen to know that she eats bacon and eggs. She resigned from the committee and the two other Jews in the room resigned with her.”
She refuses to name the woman who objected to her menu, but mentions that she had been prominent in the International Churchill Society. Through that Churchill link I later track down the woman, a retired American art gallery owner named Wylma Wayne, and I speak to her and two other women who were on Renouf’s fund-raising committee.
Wayne says Renouf’s version of the fight is nonsense. “From what I can remember that [argument] was not really about religion or eating pork at all. She was just being domineering and I objected to her behaviour. I thought it was ridiculous and self-aggrandising to spend all this money on an elaborate menu when the aim was to raise money.”
Another member of the committee tells me that at least one of the other women who resigned in support of Wayne was not Jewish.
I put this to Renouf when I meet her for a second extended interview, a four-hour session in her apartment over smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, tea and scones. She stands by her version of the suckling pig affair, saying she believes that those who resigned from the committee were indeed Jewish.
I raise another question from the past: while she claims to have graduated from Sydney’s prestigious National Art School, I understand that she studied in Newcastle. She says she did some classes in Newcastle but that she definitely graduated from the NAS. The NAS has no record of her studying there, but other archives show that in 1968 she graduated under her maiden name, Michele Suzanne Mainwaring, with a Diploma in Art (Education) from Newcastle Technical College.
Another question concerns her speech to the Holocaust conference in Tehran, in which she said she had been expelled from Heythrop College for criticising Judaism in her essays.
“I was ‘asked to study elsewhere’,” she told the conference, lambasting Christian “collusion” with Judaism.
The Reverend Dr John McDade, the principal of Heythrop College, remembers things differently and checked Renouf’s file to confirm that her account was inaccurate. “She was not expelled at all,” he says. “She failed. She simply did not submit her work so she was failed. I have the letter here in which she was formally told that she could not come back because for two years in a row she did not submit her core work for assessment.”
When I put that to Renouf she is adamant she’d been expelled. She says the Jesuit-run college had appointed a Hasidic Jew with the power to veto any student and that person had rejected her essays. The college’s registrar tells me later it had never had any Jewish person in such a position.
Finally we return to the Holocaust, and the great store she places in Robert Faurisson’s nonsense about the plaques at Auschwitz. Time and again she argues that “there is a deficit now of three million people but it is called Holocaust denial if you point out that six minus three equals three, not six”.
The fact is that the figure of four million on the ’70s plaque was part of Polish communist propaganda and has nothing to do with the current consensus among historians that about six million died in the Holocaust.
Experts say up to 3.4 million were killed at the main death camps - 1.1 million to 1.3 million at Auschwitz, 875,000 at Treblinka, 600,000 at Belzec, 250,000 at each of Chelmno and Sobibor, and 100,000 at Majdanek. At least 1.5 million more were killed by mobile SS death squads in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union, while the rest were killed in various ways such as shootings in Poland and deaths in smaller camps around Europe.
Renouf listens politely but after I have cited those figures she seems not to have heard me. She just repeats that “six minus three does not equal six” then changes the topic.
Perhaps sensing my frustration in the ninth hour of our interviews, Lady Renouf becomes more direct. Her main reason for not believing “the Hollywood version” of the Holocaust, she says, is that she doubts anything said by Zionist leaders. “I loathe Judaism … and I see things through that prism.”
She certainly has no plans to drop her obsession. In fact, she intends to move on to what she considers “the new front line” of the Holocaust issue, the school system. Deniers in Denmark have set up a website encouraging schoolchildren to be sceptical about the Holocaust and she wants to run a similar campaign. “This is what we need in this country and this is what I want to do next,” she says. “I am determined to get the truth out there.”
Peter Wilson is The Australian’s European correspondent. His previous story for the magazine was “The family guy” (December 13-14, 2008), about director Ron Howard.
Caption: “There were gas chambers, sure, but for delousing,” says Renouf (left) about Nazi camps such as Auschwitz (opposite, January 27, 1945).
David Irving, far left, who was censured for twisting historical evidence in his defence of Hitler; Renouf as a model.
Jewish children in Auschwitz; Australian Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
BIOG: Lady Renouf, Michele Renouf