Monday, May 27, 2013

Sarkozy and Uris

This past Weds we went to Netanya Academic College to attend the ceremony for the conferring of an Honorary Degree on the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  It was quite a grand ceremony, carried out in their large, open-air but covered amphitheater, with a choir singing, flags flying and many well-known representatives, including the Mayor of Netanya Miriam Fierberg-Ikar.  There was a large friendly francophone audience, because Netanya has the largest concentration of French speakers in Israel.  Speeches were delivered, the degree was bestowed and then M. Sarkozy gave his acceptance speech.  Although we could not understand all of it, and there was only translation from French to Hebrew, it was clearly an impassioned and polished performance.  M. Sarkozy stated his strong support for the State of Israel and mentioned his own Jewish grandfather from Salonika, who had helped raise him. 
Not only did the ceremony start late and take much longer than expected, but the crush to leave at the end due to many cameramen and journalists caused further delay.  We rushed to get to our synagogue where Leslie Portnoy, a retired Barrister from the UK, was delivering a lecture on the famous libel trial against Leon Uris, entitled "Dering v. Uris - the real QB VII".  Although we missed the introduction and background we heard a detailed comparison of the differences between Uris's fictional account in his book "QB VII" and what actually happened in the trial in 1964.  The plaintiff was a Polish doctor named in Uris's book "Exodus" as having performed thousands of surgical experiments on Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Wladislaw Dering denied this and hence sued Uris. This was the first trial in England in which victims of forced castrations and sterilizations testified about their experiences. 
The trial was made more complex because Dering had evidently done good work in Africa and claimed to be a dedicated humanitarian and asserted that he had no choice, but was compelled to operate by the Nazis.   However, the testimony of the victims, about a dozen of whom were found by the defense, was compelling.  Also, another doctor of French origin who was imprisoned there at the time, testified that she refused to carry out such operations and received no punishment for this, and there was another doctor who did the same and was not harmed.  So Dering's excuse was unacceptable, as the Judge pointed out.
In any trial for libel there is not only the verdict as to proven or not, but also the matter of the damages assessed.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the trial was the fact that the defense deposited a sum of 2 pounds into the court prior to the trial, and the fact that the jury awarded only a derisory halfpenny in damages, the smallest coin available, indicated that although they had not proven their case, the defense had shown that Dering's character was sufficiently depraved that it could not be damaged any further by Uris's revelation.  The entry of this prior sum into the court resulted in Dering being assessed for the costs of the defendants, a lot more than the actual damages and a major victory for Uris.


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