Weisel testifies in attacker's trial

July 8, 2008 2:00:59 PM PDT
Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel told a San Francisco jury today that he was shocked when he learned that the man he claims accosted him in a hotel in 2007 had reportedly done so in the name of Holocaust denial.

In the second and final day of his testimony in San Francisco, Wiesel read from a document that was posted online shortly after the Feb. 1, 2007 encounter at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco.

The essay, posted on a Web site that promulgates denial of the Holocaust, was purportedly written by Eric Hunt, a 24-year-old New Jersey man who has been in custody since his arrest in the weeks following the incident.

San Francisco prosecutors say Hunt confronted Wiesel, then 78 years old, in a hotel elevator during a conference on conflict resolution at which Wiesel was speaking.

Hunt reportedly asked Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and author of the acclaimed memoir "Night," for an interview and then allegedly tried to force him into Hunt's hotel room.

Wiesel, who was not physically injured in the attack, yelled for help and Hunt fled.

A few days later, an associate of Wiesel's forwarded him a copy of the online posting, Wiesel said in court this morning.

"All of the sudden, I understood the incident," Wiesel said. "I understood the motivation, Mr. Hunt's motivation."

Hunt's attorney John Runfola objected that prosecutors had not established that the words were Hunt's, but Judge Robert Dondero allowed the document's admission, pending a later defense motion to have it stricken from the record.

"I realized that he had a system, he had a plan," Wiesel continued. "And the plan was personal, but it went beyond me." "He was going to take me into his custody and force me to admit my testimony (regarding the Holocaust) is false," Wiesel said. "He joined the anti-Semites in saying that the Jews invented their own suffering, their own tragedy, their own death, in order to gain all kinds of things," said Wiesel. "When I read it, I was flabbergasted."

"What a pity," Wiesel said. "A young man, who has his future before him, that he should endanger his career ... that he wanted to be the first Holocaust denier ... to use violence."

Wiesel later told prosecutors that he believed this was the first instance of a member of the Holocaust denial movement physically attacking someone.

"But it was beyond me," he said. "This attack is against the Jewish people."

Wiesel testified Monday that Hunt dragged him by the wrist out of the elevator, but that he was able to free himself and scream for help.

Hunt's attorney has contended the incident was mere "touching" and that Hunt backed off after Wiesel began shouting for help.

Prosecutors have charged Hunt with several felonies, including attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, elder abuse and stalking. Attached to the charges are special allegations of hate crimes.

Hunt has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Runfola contends that Hunt suffers from an undiagnosed bipolar condition and was suffering "a psychotic break" at the time.

If convicted and not found to have been insane at the time, Hunt could face a maximum of seven years and eight months in prison, according to prosecutors.

Outside the courtroom, following his testimony, Wiesel declined to say what outcome he desired in the trial.

"I accept the court's verdict," Wiesel said.


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