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by Lawrence Bush

 

UNITED STATES FEDERAL District Court, District of Columbia, Docket #A3125. Reilly, Dean & Taszak v. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum et al. Judge Thomas Black presiding.

I.

Mr. Gold: You are a docent at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ms. Klempner: Yes.

Mr. Gold: Your job is to orient visitors in a reception area on the main floor.

Ms. Klempner: Among other things.

Mr. Gold: On the morning the plaintiffs were expelled from the museum, did they attend one of your orientation groups?

Ms. Klempner: Yes.

Mr. Gold: How long do the orientations usually last?

Ms. Klempner: Five minutes. Depending on questions.

Mr. Gold: Did my clients say anything to you during that time?

Ms. Klempner: No, but they were staring at me the whole time. It was very hard to . . . I felt very uncomfortable.

Mr. Gold: Ms. Klempner, look around this court. Would you say that people are staring at you now?

Ms. Klempner: Not in the same way.

Mr. Gold: Are all of your visitors well-mannered?

Ms. Klempner: This was completely inappropriate.

Mr. Gold: So you alerted security. Now, your deposition indicates that at first you thought the plaintiffs were military personnel. Marines, you said.

Ms. Klempner: I thought maybe. They were wearing fatigues, boots, and so on. The one with the swastika on this head had it covered with an army cap until he . . .

Mr. Gold: Which one? Mr. Reilly here? Mr. Reilly is, in fact, a member of the South Carolina National Guard, did you know that?

Ms. Klempner: No.

Mr. Gold: The jury may also note that there is no visible swastika on Mr. Reilly’s head, tattooed or otherwise.

Ms. Mahon: Objection, Your Honor.

Ms. Klempner: He’s grown his hair.

Judge Black: Objection sustained. The jury is to disregard comments made about Mr. Reilly’s appearance from anywhere but the witness stand. Move on, Mr. Gold.

Mr. Gold: Thank you Judge. Ms. Klempner, would you have alerted security about Marines being in the museum? Or National Guardsmen?

Ms. Klempner: I doubt it.

Mr. Gold: Were my clients wearing Nazi armbands?

Ms. Klempner: No.

Mr. Gold: Carrying Nazi literature?

Ms. Klempner: Not that I know of.

Mr. Gold: But they were staring at you.

Ms. Klempner: Yes.

Mr. Gold: Ms. Klempner, are you Jewish?

Ms. Mahon: Objection.

Mr. Gold: Your Honor, the plaintiffs are arguing that the museum created an atmosphere of intolerance for their views. This has everything to do with the personnel the museum sees fit to hire or accept as volunteers.

Judge Black: I’ll allow it.

Ms. Klempner: I’m Jewish, yes.

Mr. Gold: Do you consider your work at the museum to be a part of your commitment to Jewish survival?

Ms. Mahon: Objection.

Judge Black: Let’s keep this short, Counselor.

Ms. Klempner: I this it’s an important place.

Mr. Gold: More than just a job, would you say?

Ms. Mahon: Objection.

Mr. Gold: Withdrawn.

 

Cross-examination

Ms. Mahon: Before this incident, have you ever had reason to warn the guards about a museum visitor?

Ms. Klempner: Yes. I alerted them once about a woman who seemed schizophrenic or something.

Ms. Mahon: How did you report it?

Ms. Klempner: I told the guard in reception to keep an eye on her.

Ms. Mahon: That’s Mr. Jefferson. The guard in reception.

Ms. Klempner: Usually, yes.

Ms. Mahon: And what did you say this time to Bill Jefferson about Mr. Reilly and his friends?

Ms. Klempner: I said, “There are three skinheads going up in the elevators.”

Ms. Mahon: That’s all.

Ms. Klempner: I described what they were wearing.

Ms. Mahon: Including the swastika on Mr. Reilly’s head?

Ms. Klempner: Yes. And I definitely saw it. After the orientation, he came up to me and tipped his hat.

Ms. Mahon: And you saw a swastika on Mr. Reilly’s skull, whether it was painted on, removable, whatever.

Ms. Klempner: Definitely.

 

II.

Mr. Gold: Mr. Jefferson, as a guard at the Holocaust museum, what sorts of situations are you asked to deal with?

Mr. Jefferson: Some health emergencies. Mostly. There was an attack in 2009 by a white supremacist, which resulted in the death of my friend Stephen Tyrone Johns. So we need to be on guard. We do get some mentally deranged people coming in. We try to keep them in the lounge until the D.C. police show up.

Mr. Gold: That’s a far cry from what happened with my clients, wouldn’t you say?

Mr. Jefferson: Not really. I offered to bring those boys into the lounge. Even offered them some donuts. The boy with the swastika on his head, he said they wouldn’t be eating with niggers.

Mr. Gold: At what point did you make this offer?

Mr. Jefferson: As soon as they came off the elevator.

Mr. Gold: On the fourth floor. How many guards converged on my clients at that point?

Mr. Jefferson: Me, Mr. Williams, Mr. Scott. Later, three more.

Mr. Gold: Six guards, isn’t that right?

Mr. Jefferson: Two of them women, yes, sir.

Mr. Gold: What about the elevators? You locked them, didn’t you?

Mr. Jefferson: Yes, sir. We tried to control the number of people coming on the floor as long as these particular young men were going to be up there.

Mr. Gold: Have you ever had occasion to lock the elevators before?

Mr. Jefferson: No, but it’s part of our training.

Mr. Gold: And the District Capitol police were called. Had the plaintiffs shown weapons, or injured anybody?

Mr. Jefferson: The plaintiffs were looking for trouble. There’s no doubt about that. They were saying Sieg Heil, making antisemitic remarks, applauding Hitler, laughing at the photos, stuff like that. A lot of noise.

Mr. Gold: Noise so that, what? People on another floor might hear them?

Mr. Jefferson: I doubt it.

Mr. Gold: People on the same floor, in another wing?

Mr. Jefferson: Possible.

Mr. Gold: And the people who did hear it, Mr. Jefferson, were they afraid? Were there masses of people running for the stairwells?

Mr. Jefferson: No.

Mr. Gold: In fact, isn’t it true that as people became aware of my clients, they tended to gravitate towards them?

Mr. Jefferson: There was some of that.

Mr. Gold: People were straining to have a look, isn’t that correct?

Mr. Jefferson: We had to do a certain amount of traffic control, but that wasn’t really my part. My part was to get the young men to leave. When they wouldn’t leave, we tried to create a kind of quarantine.

Mr. Gold: A quarantine. In other words, you tailed the plaintiffs from the moment they stepped off the elevator until they were arrested by the Capitol police. And during that time, Mr. Jefferson, did you see them damaging, or even touching, any of the exhibits?

Mr. Jefferson: No, sir.

Mr. Gold: Did they have any weapons at the time of their arrest?

Mr. Jefferson: I didn’t arrest them, so I don’t really know. Just that nothing physical went down between us and them.

Mr. Gold: They didn’t shove or strike anyone?

Mr. Jefferson: Nothing physical went down until the lady started spitting at them.

Mr. Gold: Ms. Joan Finkelstein?

Mr. Jefferson: I think that’s her name.

Mr. Gold: You think? You didn’t interrogate her?

Mr. Jefferson: That’s not my job.

Mr. Gold: Oh? If I were in the museum and began spitting on other visitors, wouldn’t it be your job to stop me?

Mr. Jefferson: I told her to cut it out.

Mr. Gold: To cut it out. Was she charged with assault?

Mr. Jefferson: That was between her and the police.

Mr. Gold: But you did witness her altercation with the plaintiffs.

Mr. Jefferson: I saw her spitting at them, and I asked her to stop.

Mr. Gold: Mr. Jefferson, what do you imagine might have happened had my clients simply been left alone?

Ms. Mahon: Objection.

Mr. Gold: I’ll rephrase. Did you at any time consider leaving my clients alone to tour the museum?

Mr. Jefferson: I wasn’t thinking about that, no.

 

Cross-examination

Ms. Mahon: Mr. Jefferson, you work in a museum dedicated to memorializing the most monumental crimes against humanity. Would you describe the people passing through as emotional?

Mr. Gold: Objection. Leading the witness.

Judge Black: Sustained.

Ms. Mahon: What have you observed among there visitors to the museum in terms of their emotional response?

Mr. Gold: Objection.

Judge Black: Overruled. Please answer the question.

Mr. Jefferson: I see tears. Lots of head-shaking. Certain amount of anger, maybe.

Ms. Mahon: In what ways were you trained to be effective in that environment?

Mr. Jefferson: Low-key. That’s how we’re supposed to act. Let people be in the place, don’t say nothing unless there’s a danger situation or you got someone, you know, ready to carve their name on the wall. We’re sort of like the air-conditioning — keeps you comfortable without you noticing. Now, I find a certain number of Jewish people want to talk to me because I’m black. They’re glad to see me in this particular museum and they want to express something. A lot of people, in fact, Jewish or not, they want to say something to me as a black man. Maybe the museum is teaching them about racism, I don’t really know. But I’m there to let them have the experience, and if they want to talk, I talk.

Ms. Mahon: Mr. Jefferson, you’re a decorated veteran of the Afghan War, is that true?

Mr. Jefferson: Yes, ma’am, I am.

Mr. Mahon: Your job immediately before being hired by the museum was as an instructor in a karate school here in Washington, where you specialized in teaching self-defense to women. Is that true?

Mr. Jefferson: Uh-huh. So if we’re looking to subdue these guys, it’s no problem. We weren’t looking for that. That’s the last thing we were looking to do.

Ms. Mahon: Did you have any physical contact with the plaintiffs?

Mr. Jefferson: A little bit of bumping, yeah. We were moving them through a crowded gallery. Where the exhibit begins, they built it narrow to give people a feeling of being, like, cattle.

Ms. Mahon: How far into the exhibit did the plaintiffs actually proceed before the Capitol police arrived?

Mr. Jefferson: Mosaic of Victims room.

Ms. Mahon: There’s an exhibit case in there filled with Torah scrolls — the holiest of Jewish objects — from various German synagogues that were desecrated by the Nazis. Did you hear the plaintiffs comment about those scrolls?

Mr. Jefferson: Uh-huh. Mr. Dean there was saying how he’d like to wipe his behind with them.

Ms. Mahon: He said this as a quiet aside?

Mr. Jefferson: Louder than I’m talking to you now.

Ms. Mahon: I have here a floor plan of the fourth floor of the museum, where the exhibit begins. Do you recognize it?

Mr. Jefferson: Uh-huh.

Ms. Mahon: The elevators are here . . . the narrow area here . . . the Torah scrolls here. The plaintiffs actually toured the entire fourth floor, didn’t they?

Mr. Jefferson: Just about.

Ms. Mahon: What was it like for you, Mr. Jefferson, to be accompanying three neo-Nazis through the Holocaust museum?

Mr. Gold: Objection. My clients’ membership in any organization has not been established in this court.

Ms. Mahon: Let me put it differently, Mr. Jefferson. What was it like for you to accompany the plaintiffs through the museum?

Mr. Jefferson: I was just doing my job. I had to hope everybody would understand there security needs, the position I’m in, and so they’d cooperate, try to make it easy for us, you know. I was very glad when the police showed up.

 

III.

Mr. Gold: Ms. Finkelstein.

Ms. Finkelstein: Yes.

Mr. Gold: How many times have you visited the Holocaust museum?

Ms. Finkelstein: Five times.

Mr. Gold: Really. Why do you keep returning?

Ms. Finkelstein: I live in D.C. What’s more important?

Mr. Gold: Do you think some of the museum personnel recognize you by now?

Ms. Finkelstein: Oh, I don’t think so. They’re very busy. It’s always so crowded.

Mr. Gold: Have you ever said anything to any of the guards?

Ms. Finkelstein: Sure.

Mr. Gold: Learned any of their names?

Ms. Finkelstein: I’m very bad with names.

Mr. Gold: Have you attended an orientation during each visit?

Ms. Finkelstein: Sure.

Mr. Gold: So the docents have seen you close up. Now, Ms. Finkelstein, do you remember what you were wearing on your last visit to the Holocaust museum?

Ms. Finkelstein: My Jews for justice t-shirt. I wear it always to the museum.

Mr. Gold: Jews for justice.

Ms. Finkelstein: It’s an organization I started.

Mr. Gold: An organization with a reputation for anti-Israel activities.

Ms. Finkelstein: Please. We support peace.

Mr. Gold: You support a boycott of Israel, do you not?

Ms. Mahon: Your Honor, what’s the point of this?

Judge Black: Get to the point, Mr. Gold.

Ms. Finkelstein: We’re a very small organization.

Mr. Gold: Ms. Finkelstein, has any museum staffer ever suggested to you that your Jews for justice t-shirt might offend other visitors?

Ms. Finkelstein: Please.

Mr. Gold: You also wear a kipper — a head covering, which is customary for Jewish men to wear, not women.

Ms. Finkelstein: Do you see what he’s doing?

Mr. Gold: Ms. Finkelstein, wouldn’t a majority of Orthodox Jewish men who visit the museum be offended by the sight of you?

Ms. Mahon: Objection!

Ms. Finkelstein: He’s comparing a woman in a kippah to a neo-Nazi!

Mr. Gold: I’m trying to post out that the museum practices a double standard, Your Honor, insofar as dress code is concerned.

Judge Black: Point taken, Mr. Gold. Move on.

Mr. Gold: Thank you, Your Honor. Ms. Finkelstein, when did you first become aware of my clients in the museum?

Ms. Finkelstein: Right away. The girl was talking to us, the docent, and the three of them sat there looking at her like a bunch of rapists.

Mr. Gold: Rapists?

Ms. Finkelstein: Rapists, that’s right. I’m not shy about the word. You go watch the videos. In the museum, the videos. it’s the same ugly leers on the faces of the SS when they’re rounding up the Jews.

Mr. Gold: Did you feel personally threatened by my clients during your visit?

Ms. Finkelstein: No. They’ve got very good guards, very nice people. Only as soon as the elevator door opens, I hear your Nazi friends saying whoopee Adolf . . .

Mr. Gold: Whoopie Adolf?

Ms. Finkelstein: Whoopie my man Adolf. Something like that.

Mr. Gold: By then three guards had converged on my clients.

Ms. Finkelstein: Your clients, right. Your clients are calling them the n-word, faggot, blah blah blah. It’s disgusting. They see Hitler, they cheer. They laugh at Jews getting murdered and beaten. Everyone is standing around wondering what to do. Hitler on one wall, Goebbels on the other, and they’re worried about the ACLU.

Mr. Gold: So you spat at Mr. Reilly.

Ms. Finkelstein: My aunt used to tell me about the Nazi American Bund, whatever their name was, before the war. The progressive women used to line up and spit at them. Spitting brigades.

Mr. Gold: You liked that idea.

Ms. Finkelstein: I had to do something. I was boiling.

Mr. Gold: Did the museum make you feel that way?

Ms. Finkelstein: Oh, please. Sure. There’s a video old the next floor down, the killing squads. Naked women, Jewish women, getting picked to pieces. These bastards get to stand there laughing? I’m just sorry it took so long to get near them, with all these people gawking.

Mr. Gold: How near were you, finally, when you spat at them?

Ms. Finkelstein: I got the one with the swastika on his head. He felt it.

Mr. Gold: A foot away, maybe two? Six guards surrounding them, yet you came within spitting distance of Mr. Reilly?

Ms. Finkelstein: I keep limber.

Mr. Gold: What does that mean?

Ms. Finkelstein: I ducked under.

Mr. Gold: I see. And then?

Ms. Finkelstein: They called me names, I called names back. A couple of others, seniors like me, they spit a couple of times, too. It was interesting. Only believe me, I didn’t want a riot, the guards would probably be the ones hurt. Enough that they’re doing our dirty work. I was glad when the cops got there.

Mr. Gold: Did any of my clients touch you at any point?

Ms. Finkelstein: Are you kidding? I would’ve ripped out their eyes.

Mr. Gold: Did the museum staff question you? Were you taken into custody?

Ms. Finkelstein: For what?

Mr. Gold: You nearly started a riot. You said so yourself.

Ms. Finkelstein: I did? So sue me. Young man, whatever your name is with the swastika, you want to sue me? I’m not pleading the Fifth. You want to sue me? Sue me, it’s a free country.

 

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and is the author of BESSIE: A Novel of Love and Revolution.