Was Paris’s Chief Rabbi rescued from an axe-wielding Nazi mob? Police and Jewish authorities in Paris say Vanity Fair’s article about alleged anti-Semitic attack “has nothing to do with reality”
It is among America‘s most prestigious magazines, renowned for its exposés on the tobacco industry and the identity of Watergate informant “Deep Throat”.
But Vanity Fair is facing criticism after a special dispatch on anti-Semitism claiming that commandos were forced to rescue a Chief Rabbi from a Nazi mob in Paris was dismissed as false by French authorities.
According to an investigation published in the magazine’s August edition,Chief Rabbi Michel Gugenheim, 65, was said to have heard the ‘axe’ and ‘iron bar’ wielding mob chanting: ‘Hitler was right’ and ‘Jews get out of France’.
He was then rescued by anti-terrorist commandos who left other terrified Jews trapped inside a synagogue, according to the investigation by American journalist Marie Brenner.
But, despite the detail offered by Ms Brenner, Jewish groups and Paris police and prosecutors have united in branding her claims as false.
Ms Brenner, an American based in New York, claims Rabbi Gugenheim spent an hour barricaded inside the Roquette Synagogue on July 13 last year.
The 66-year-old said the Nazi sympathisers were then given free rein to threaten some 200 worshippers inside the synagogue for at least three hours.
She claims: “After an hour, a counterterrorism force rescued the Chief Rabbi, but everyone else was left inside, behind doors barricaded from the inside with chairs and tables.”
According to Ms Brenner, all then had to be rescued by members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a religious-political group banned in Israel and the USA, where it is classed by the FBI as a ‘terrorist group’.
In her report, Ms Brenner’s also claims ‘dozens of pictures’ were taken of youths making ‘Nazi-style’ salutes outside a Kosher supermarket where four Jews were murdered by an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) linked gunman in January.
Ms Brenner alleges that there are pictures of Isil flags being openly flown in central Paris, and she said videos have been shot of crowds regularly chanting “Death to Jews”.
But there are no images or sound recordings to back up Ms Brenner’s published claims, police say, and Jewish groups in Paris have joined them in describing them as untrue.
Serge Benhaim, the president of the Roquette synagogue, denied Ms Brenner’s version of events, saying that no troublemakers “got within 150 metres of the synagogue”.
The press secretary for the Chief Rabbi of France said the allegations about Michel Gugenheim were “absolutely not true”.
The spokesman said: “There was no counter-terrorism unit present [and] there was no Nazi mob outside the synagogue. The Chief Rabbi of Paris has not made any statement in relation to this claim.
“It’s the first time I’ve read about these allegations and this report has nothing to do with what the worshippers experienced; nothing to do with reality.”
Paris police and prosecutors denied that anti-terrorist police were anywhere near the synagogue, or that anyone committed “anti-Semitic crimes” nearby.
“There is no evidence whatsoever to support these claims,” said a Paris police spokesman. “If crowds were chanting these hateful slogans, and waving these flags, then there would be videos which would be used in criminal prosecutions. But they do not exist.”
The police spokesman also invited Brenner to produce the “dozens of pictures” of people making Nazi-style salutes outside the Hyper-Cacher supermarket.
It was targeted by a gunman during the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, and has been surrounded by police officers ever since.
The police spokesman said there were five arrests around the Roquette synagogue on July 13 last year, all for public order offences, but none at all for anti-Semitism.
A spokesman for the US magazine said: “We stand by our story.”
Ms Brenner did not respond to requests for comment.