A Los Angeles jury today awarded $5.25 million to a Nazi concentration camp survivor who claimed he was emotionally tortured by the taunts of a man who kept telling him the Holocaust never happened.
The Superior Court jury deliberated only three hours and 45 minutes before finding that Swedish publisher Ditlieb Felderer should be held responsible for damages to Mel Mermelstein for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Mermelstein's hands trembled and he choked back tears while the clerk read the panel's decision awarding him $500,000 in compensatory damages and $4.75 million in punitive damages.
Felderer was not represented in court for the two-day trial because he never answered the complaint. Mermelstein's attorneys hope to have any default judgment against him enforced by the Swedish government.
On Advisory Committee
Mermelstein, 59, sued Felderer in 1981 for statements the Swede made about Mermelstein in a revisionist publication called the Jewish Information Bulletin. Felderer is a member of the editorial advisory committee to the Institute for Historical Review, the Torrance-based organization that claims the Nazis never had an extermination policy for the Jews.
One of the pamphlets Felderer sent to Mermelstein included an open letter to the Long Beach resident calling him a racist and "exterminationist." With hand-drawn cartoons, the letter mocked his claims that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
During the trial, Mermelstein tearfully recalled his experiences at the camp during World War II, which included losing his brother and father in work camps and watching his mother and sister led away to gas chambers.
Mermelstein's psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Borenstein, testified that the survivor struggled for years with his anguish over the atrocities he had seen at Auschwitz, and that he regressed completely in 1980 when he began receiving pamphlets from Felderer.