A for­mer acolyte re­calls a life lived on the al­tar of hate

For all his lies, the world’s most pro­lific pur­veyor of anti-Semitic pro­pa­ganda taught me one hard truth


Istepped through the black iron gate and walked up the path lead­ing to the tall, cen­tury-old Vic­to­rian at 206 Carl­ton. Tak­ing a deep breath, I pushed the door­bell. In the se­cu­rity cam­era bolted above the for­ti­fied door I eyed my re­flec­tion: a scrawny, 16-year-old girl with long red hair and torn Good­will jeans.

The door buzzed open and I stepped into a re­cep­tion area plas­tered with World War II-era Nazi pro­pa­ganda posters. A pow­er­ful voice with a thick Ger­man ac­cent com­manded my at­ten­tion. “So you’re Elisse. Wel­come to the bunker!”

Ernst Zun­del was wear­ing fuzzy slippers and a knit­ted sweater. A bald­ing, stout man in his 50s, with a ruddy face and the belly of an Ok­to­ber­fest gnome, he looked like he could be your favourite un­cle.

Only he wasn’t. He was the most no­to­ri­ous Holo­caust de­nier and pub­lisher of anti-Semitic pro­pa­ganda in the world. Zun­del, a man who placed his life on the al­tar of hate, died Au­gust 5 in Ger­many, re­port­edly of heart fail­ure. He was 78.

When­ever I think back to my tur­bu­lent teenage years, I re­mem­ber the day I first met Zun­del. That me­mory will stay with me for­ever as a re­minder of how eas­ily I could be se­duced by hate, only be­cause I wanted to be loved.

I was a high school dropout with no friends or fu­ture. It was the fall of 1991 and, af­ter a two-year stint in group homes, I’d run away from my last fos­ter home and back to my abu­sive mother’s apart­ment in Re­gent Park.

I had em­i­grated from Com­mu­nist Ro­ma­nia when I was 11 and, like many im­mi­grant kids, felt alien­ated, lonely and hope­less – just the in­cen­di­ary mix that ex­trem­ist groups are look­ing for in re­cruits.

That’s when I saw a TV pro­gram about the Her­itage Front, a Toronto na­tion­al­ist group that ad­vo­cated pride for Euro­pean cul­ture and lob­bied for a White His­tory Month. I left a mes­sage on their “hot­line” and within days was en­listed by the group’s leader, ex-Klans­man Wolf­gang Droege, who be­came an in­stant father fig­ure to me. Back then I was known as Elisse.

Af­ter learn­ing about my volatile home sit­u­a­tion, Droege ar­ranged to in­tro­duce me to his close friend, fel­low Ger­man ex­pat Zun­del, who needed help around the house. A fiveminute walk from my roach-in­fested apart­ment block, Zun­del’s Cab­bage­town manse was a safe place to spend my after­noons and get away from my mother’s rage.

The “bunker” was an ex­ten­sion of Zun­del: shelves lined the liv­ing room walls stacked floor to ceil­ing with re­vi­sion­ist books like The Hitler We Loved And Why, and Did Six Mil­lion Re­ally Die?, the book­let that had earned him his rep­u­ta­tion and fortune.

I didn’t hate Jews, not at first. But Zun­del told me ev­ery­thing I’d been taught about his­tory was wrong. “Canada’s pub­lic school sys­tem brain­washes chil­dren,” he said, in­sist­ing that he would teach me the real truth, not the one crafted by the ne­far­i­ous Zion­ist elites who he said con­trolled the world.

My new ed­u­ca­tion started that first day. It in­volved watch­ing Zun­del’s col­lec­tion of Third Re­ich pro­pa­ganda films like Tri­umph Of The Will and Hitler Youth Quex, and grainy footage from the eu­gen­ics move­ment that de­picted Jews as hooknosed bankers and rats scur­ry­ing in city sew­ers.

By the se­cond week, I was con­vinced the Holo­caust had never hap­pened and The Diary Of Anne Frank was a hoax. I’d also learned to pound out Horst Wes­sel Lied, the Nazi Party an­them, on the keys of Zun­del’s base­ment pi­ano.

At the bunker, I spent most of my days in the liv­ing room stuff­ing news­let­ters so­lic­it­ing do­na­tions into en­velopes ad­dressed to anti-Semites across the planet. Hitler’s beady eyes watched over me from or­nate oil paint­ings hung on the wall. I col­lected news­pa­per clip­pings, folded pam­phlets, mailed pack­ages at the post of­fice and ran to the cor­ner store to fetch Zun­del’s favourite liver paté.

He paid me in sand­wiches and kind words. I fi­nally had a place to hide from my mother’s blows, a cot in the base­ment to sleep in­stead of the streets. For a girl who’d never had any­thing, that was enough.

By the time I was 17, I had be­come the new, fresh face of the Her­itage Front – not an an­gry, tat­tooed skin­head but a girl-next-door who looked younger than my age.

Droege dragged me to press in­ter­views and made sure I spoke at ev­ery rally. He and Zun­del chose me to go on The Mon­tel Wil­liams Show in New York to rep­re­sent the Cana­dian far­right. (We forged parental con­sent forms for that ap­pear­ance.)

I threw my­self breath­lessly into the busi­ness of hate be­cause it earned me Zun­del’s grand­fa­therly af­fec­tion and Droege’s praise. They were my fam­ily. “The move­ment needs smart kids like you,” they told me. “You are our fu­ture.”

No­body had called me smart be­fore. Nat­u­rally, I loved them the way a stray dog loves its new mas­ter.

Ex­press­ing hate made me feel pow­er­ful. Sur­rounded by skin­heads, I was no longer alone or afraid. When passersby saw our bomber jack­ets and black com­bat boots, they crossed the street. It was the first time adults were afraid of me rather than the other way around.

Within a year, the Her­itage Front had be­come Canada’s largest white su­prem­a­cist or­ga­ni­za­tion. Hun­dreds of an­gry skin­heads at­tracted to the cause filled the Lat­vian House for a rally, moshed at RaHoWa rock con­certs, pa­raded through the streets of Toronto and Ot­tawa giv­ing straightarm salutes. Amer­i­can white su­prem­a­cists like Den­nis Ma­hon and Tom and John Met­zger were brought in to speak at ral­lies. In­fa­mous Holo­caust re­vi­sion­ist David Irv­ing flew in to speak to Zun­del’s Nazi fan base.

Be­tween 1992-1993, sev­eral Jewish build­ings, a bookstore and the Na­tive Cana­dian Cen­tre on Spad­ina were spray-painted with swastikas. A

group home for run­away girls and a Jewish ac­tivist’s Kitch­ener home were fire­bombed. The Mor­gan­taler abor­tion clinic blew up, the Front’s tele­phone num­ber tagged on its wall.

Three South Asian men were at­tacked that sum­mer – two beaten to death and one left brain-dam­aged and paral­ysed. Street clashes be­tween skin­heads and anti-racists be­came the norm.

Her­itage Front co-founder Grant Bris­tow in­sti­gated the “It Cam­paign” – a Her­itage Front ter­ror on­slaught against mem­bers of anti-fas­cist group Anti-Racist Ac­tion.

The es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence was a turn­ing point for me. The more in­no­cents who were tar­geted for ha­rass­ment, the more my world fell apart.

Af­ter Bris­tow asked me to ter­ror­ize an ARA ac­tivist who hap­pened to be les­bian, I had to con­front the re­al­ity that I, too, was gay.

But I didn’t just want to drop out of the white su­prem­a­cist move­ment. I wanted to shut it down.

With the help of anti-racist ac­tivists, I spied on the Her­itage Front for months, col­lected in­for­ma­tion on crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties and il­le­gal weapons, and signed dozens of af­fi­davits, which we turned over to po­lice, along with part of Zun­del’s ex­ten­sive mail­ing list.

For over a year, I lived in hid­ing all across Canada and sub­se­quently tes­ti­fied against Droege and two other group mem­bers, lead­ing to their con­vic­tions and jail sen­tences on hate-re­lated charges. My tes­ti­mony, cou­pled with Toronto Sun re­porter Bill Dun­phy’s ex­plo­sive rev­e­la­tion that Bris­tow was a paid CSIS spy, con­trib­uted to the end of the Her­itage Front.

In the years that fol­lowed, I earned a univer­sity de­gree and con­verted to Ju­daism. In March 2017, more than 20 years af­ter I last saw Zun­del, I came across The Hitler We Loved And Why and other Holo­caust-deny­ing books in Chap­ters-Indigo’s on­line in­ven­tory. My com­plaint led to their re­moval. But The Turner Di­aries, the book that in­spired Ti­mothy McVeigh’s Ok­la­homa bomb­ing, con­tin­ues to be sold by the bookstore on­line.

Zun­del’s death, 12 years af­ter his friend Droege was shot to death in Scar­bor­ough in a drug-re­lated shoot­ing, leaves be­hind a le­gacy of in­tol­er­ance that still casts a long shadow on Toronto’s his­tory.

For all his lies, Zun­del taught me one hard truth: words are power. And they have the abil­ity to in­spire or de­stroy. By rewrit­ing his­tory to erase mass geno­cide, he cre­ated an ide­ol­ogy used to jus­tify vi­o­lence against in­no­cent peo­ple. Elisa Hategan is an au­thor, pub­lic speaker and jour­nal­ist. Her mem­oir, Race Traitor: The True Story Of Cana­dian In­tel­li­gence’s Great­est CoverUp, was pub­lished in 2014. news@now­toronto.com | @now­toronto

Ernst Zun­del, circa 1992.

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