Troubled Memory: Anne Levy, the Holocaust, and David Duke's Louisiana

Troubled Memory: Anne Levy, the Holocaust, and David Duke's Louisiana

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by Lawrence N. Powell

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This powerful work tells the story of Anne Skorecki Levy, the Holocaust survivor who transformed the horrors of her childhood into a passionate mission to defeat the political menace of reputed neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The first book to connect the prewar and wartime experiences of Jewish survivors to the lives they subsequently made for


This powerful work tells the story of Anne Skorecki Levy, the Holocaust survivor who transformed the horrors of her childhood into a passionate mission to defeat the political menace of reputed neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The first book to connect the prewar and wartime experiences of Jewish survivors to the lives they subsequently made for themselves in the United States, Troubled Memoryis also a dramatic testament to how the experiences of survivors as new Americans spurred their willingness to bear witness.
Perhaps the only family to survive the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto as a group, the Skoreckis evaded deportation to Treblinka, by posing as Aryans and ultimately made their way to New Orleans, where they became part of a vibrant Jewish community. Lawrence Powell traces the family's dramatic odyssey and explores the events that eventually triggered Anne Skorecki Levy's brave decision to honor the suffering of the past by confronting the recurring specter of racist hatred. Breaking decades of silence, she played a direct role in the unmasking and defeat of Duke during his 1991 campaign for the governorship of Louisiana.

Editorial Reviews

Walter Isaacson
[Powell] tells this tale with wonderful narrative grace and moral force. He deftly explores ethical compromises and nuances.
Chicago Tribune
[A] harrowing book. Combines the sweep of history with the intimacy of memoir.
Jewish Book World
[A] vivid story. [Powell] has succeeded in capturing a fascinating slice of American history along with providing a vivid portrait of how racist demagogues can succeed if alert citizens and watchdog groups remain silent.
American Jewish History
Brilliant. Even readers who are knowledgeable about the Holocaust should be warned: Troubled Memory has the power to sting.
Journal of American History
An inspiring story about standing up against evil.
This extraordinary narrative of a Polish family history is recreated by Anne Skorecki Levy, following a 1989 encounter with Louisiana's David Duke. The opening pages of her text juxtapose the extreme right, revisionist views of this state legislator with the pride of a new American who has arrived at the Simon Wiesenthal Center to bear witness to her European roots. In a factual and poignant style, the Polish world of Lodz and the Warsaw ghetto come alive with vivid exactness, detailing the changing laws, military movements and the "historical tragedy unfolding around them." Safety, post-war America, assimilation, a time of "willed forgetfulness," New Orleans, Huey Long, and a "sense of moral urgency" complete Anne Levy's voice. The reader is privy to extensive original documents, photographs and personal reporting that breathes with remarkable details. I was astounded by the breadth of this work, from the perspective of memoir and for the historical significance so accurately presented. Tremendous research is involved and the bibliographic content is exemplary. I finished this work feeling as though this author had shared her intimate daily feelings with me. Shelve this proudly alongside Holocaust memoirs, for students, researchers and those driven to learn in order to comprehend the lessons of history. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 593p. notes. bibliog. index.,
— Nancy Zachary
From the Publisher
[Powell] tells this tale with wonderful narrative grace and moral force. He deftly explores ethical compromises and nuances.

Walter Isaacson, Time

[A] harrowing book. Combines the sweep of history with the intimacy of memoir.

Chicago Tribune

[A] vivid story.

Jewish Book World

Brilliant. Even readers who are knowledgeable about the Holocaust should be warned: Troubled Memory has the power to sting.

American Jewish History

An inspiring story about standing up against evil.

Journal of American History

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The University of North Carolina Press
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1: The Political Gets Personal

During the Great Depression, Governor Huey Long hired some of the best stone carvers and sculptors around to chisel Louisiana imagery into the state capitol. Looming 450 feet above the Mississippi levee in Baton Rouge, the art deco skyscraper fairly drips with historical references. Massive statues of patriots and pioneers guard the portal to the Great Memorial Hall. Inside dozens of historical scenes fill bronze panels on the monumental doors leading to the House and Senate chambers. High up on the walls a frieze depicts Louisiana in war and peace, including a bas-relief of the Kingfish going over plans with the capitol's architects. The most popular visitor's site--a plaque located just off the main hall, behind the elevators--was never part of the original design. Bolted into the Levanto marble wall near three large bullet holes, it marks the spot where Huey and his assassin were gunned down in September 1935.

Traveling exhibits are routinely placed in the Great Memorial Hall, but the forty Holocaust posters ringing the rotunda in early June 1989 set the stage for an improbable clash over the politics of memory. David Duke, the Nazi sympathizer and former Klansman, had just been elected as a Republican to the lower house, and the staff of then governor Charles "Buddy" Roemer thought it was important to remind Louisianians that the destruction of European Jewry was not a matter for debate. For years Duke's mail-order business had been selling such tracts as The Myth of Six Million, along with an audio recording of himself discussing the "so-called holocaust." "This stuff's so sloppy . . . the whole thing comes down like a house of cards because it's just bullshit," Duke told an interviewer in 1985, and he went on to characterize the Third Reich's most notorious killing center as an Elysian experience: "You know, they had a soccer field at Auschwitz. They had an orchestra at Auschwitz, and the band was for the prisoner's enjoyment--pleasure."(1) As well known as Duke's views were to the state's Jewish community, most Louisianians were familiar only with his Klan past. About the neo-Nazi beliefs he had harbored since high school, they were completely in the dark.(2)

Nor were they overly familiar with the Third Reich and Hitler's war against the Jews. Fading fast from living memory, the Second World War's darkest chapter had received short shrift in the local schools. To be sure, Louisianians were hardly alone in their ignorance. According to a 1993 Gallup poll, over half of American high school students were unable to explain the meaning of the term "Holocaust."(3) But the historical amnesia was more extensive in the Bayou State, where, as recently as 1992, more than 90 percent of Louisianians lacking a high school diploma admitted knowing little or nothing about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. If the state's high school dropout rates did not hover at Third World levels, the historical illiteracy might not be cause for concern. But the poorly educated bulk large in the Louisiana electorate, and it was the whites among them who later flocked to Duke during his candidacies for the U.S. Senate and the governorship.(4)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center's branch office in New York had contacted Roemer's staff shortly after Duke's election to offer the state its exhibit The Courage to Remember. Placed on easels at five-foot intervals around the hall, the posters traced the history of European anti-Semitism from the Reformation through the Holocaust. They featured two hundred pictures of gaunt concentration camp inmates, starving children, naked women, burning synagogues, and crematoriums. Quotations from Himmler and Hitler, together with anti-Jewish propaganda, were mocked by testimony from victims, survivors, and liberators. The two posters chronicling the L¢dz and Warsaw Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland showed youngsters being torn away from their parents, and rag-covered women and children lying dead and dying on the cobblestone streets. "It was quite compelling," Roemer's assistant press secretary later remembered. The chiseled and kiln-fired history celebrated by Huey's architects jarred with the tragic memories evoked by the black-and-white imagery of the Wiesenthal exhibit. The posters were a horrific reminder of where racial extremism in modern society can ultimately lead.(5)

Because of Duke's sudden political notoriety, the opening ceremony in the rotunda on Tuesday, June 6, 1989, attracted unusual attention for a traveling exhibit. A Wiesenthal Center representative came down from New York. A forest of microphones towered in one corner of the hall where the governor was slated to talk. Among the approximately two hundred people in the audience were thirty members of the New Americans Social Club, who had come by chartered bus from New Orleans. The club had been incorporated by Holocaust survivors in 1961, just after American Nazi commander George Lincoln Rockwell sent his Virginia-based storm troopers on a "hate ride" from Virginia to picket the local premiere of the movie Exodus. Though originating in political controversy, the New Americans had long functioned informally like one of black New Orleans's social and pleasure clubs. The New Americans have jointly celebrated Hanukkah and the Fourth of July, regularly gathering for cards and small talk at one another's homes. For over four decades club members have served as surrogate aunts and uncles for American-born children severed by the Holocaust from generational roots. Weddings, and increasingly funerals, bring them together. Though the active membership has fallen by half, the New Americans still hold monthly meetings and an annual dinner. It was their idea to organize the annual Warsaw Ghetto uprising observance at the Jewish Community Center, one of the nation's longest-running ceremonies of remembrance. But until recently they have steered clear of politics. Duke's February 1989 election to the state legislature from the nearby white, middle-class community of Metairie reawakened dormant fears. Three decades earlier, Rockwell's "hate riders" had numbered less than a dozen. But Duke had managed to move just far enough away from the extremist fringe to persuade over eight thousand voters from Louisiana's wealthiest suburb to let him make law for the state. The New Americans needed little coaxing to take the ninety-minute bus ride north on the interstate for the Wiesenthal exhibit unveiling. David Duke's political breakthrough was serious business, not to mention an affront to memory.(6)

Anne Skorecki Levy was one of the New Americans who went to Baton Rouge for the ceremony. A child survivor of the Holocaust, she and her husband, Stan, run a large antique import business on the edge of New Orleans's fashionable Garden District. He is from Lowell, Massachusetts. She was born in the old textile center of L¢dz, Poland. They met and married in the mid-1950s while he was serving in the Air Force in Mississippi. She is all of five feet tall in heels, with a radiant smile and a melodic, lilting voice that harmonizes Polish syntax with the distinctive inflections of Uptown New Orleans. In many ways she and Stan are paired opposites. He tends toward L.L. Bean casual. She dresses to the nines, even when running errands to the corner store. He is self-assured and outspoken, with a sardonic wit. Anne is bashful and diffident, a child of war-inflicted insecurities. When she traveled to Baton Rouge to attend the Wiesenthal opening, it was not to provoke an incident; like the other New Americans, she was there to bear witness.

But then the unexpected happened, prompted by a mysterious, almost unappeasable urge to exorcise nightmares by reliving them in the flesh. The impulse struck just before Governor Roemer rose to speak. The House had just recessed for lunch, and Representative Duke had made several passes through the hall, as if to tell the crowd he was not about to be intimidated. "For some reason," Anne remembers, "I turned to my right and there was David Duke looking at the exhibit posters. Something overcame me. This man was at the wrong place. This was not the place for him to be. What is his interest in seeing this when he is denying the whole thing?"

His posture upset her, too. Standing ramrod erect at parade rest, Duke was examining the posters as though he were conducting a selection at a railroad siding. "It's nothing anyone else would ever think about," she says. "But as a kid I remember the German soldiers walking around with their hands behind them as they looked over the people in line or on the trucks or on a train. It triggered something in me."

While the crowd focused on the governor, Anne walked quietly over to the freshman lawmaker. The physical contrast between survivor and Nazi apologist was as striking as their ideological differences. Duke's Aryan makeover included not only a new nose and chin but a health club physique for his six-foot-three frame. The petite, dark-haired grandmother had to reach high to touch his shoulder. "What are you doing here? Why are you looking at this?" she asked. Her voice was tremulous. "I thought you said it never happened." Duke ignored her. She tapped him again. "I touched his shoulder two or three times. And, finally, he kind of lost it and became vehement. He barked, `I didn't say it didn't happen. I said it was exaggerated.'"

Anne lost it too. She raised her voice. By this point her finger was in his face. Her whole frame shook. "What do you mean it's exaggerated? If you think it's exaggerated, I'll be glad to tell you about it!" Duke gazed into the middle distance, no doubt hoping she would go away.

The reporters covering the governor's speech sensed a photo opportunity in the making. The lights and whirring cameras swung from the far corner of the hall where Roemer's podium stood. A murmur swept through the audience. Now that the media was converging on the two antagonists, Duke grew intimidated. He moved away from Anne. She pursued him. He lengthened his stride, bounding past elevator doors paneled with bronze likenesses of thirty-six former governors. She could not move fast enough to keep pace.(7)

When reporters finally cornered Duke in the basement, he was careful to measure his words, conceding the reality of Nazi atrocities but challenging the accuracy of some accounts. For the most part, he repeated what he had told Anne Levy in the rotunda, that the horrors of the Holocaust had been "exaggerated." Duke was merely echoing the propaganda of self-styled "Holocaust revisionists," an international network of far-rightists whose aim is to rehabilitate National Socialism and refurbish anti-Semitic conspiracy myths. Since the late 1970s, deniers have been holding annual conferences at the California-based Institute for Historical Review (IHR).(8) "You ought to go to an IHR convention next year," Duke told an interviewer in 1985.(9) He himself had attended two of its meetings during the 1980s.

But, since his breakthrough into mainstream respectability, Duke was desperate to avoid even a hint of ideological extremism. Thus, standing in the basement, he abruptly cut off further interrogation about his views on World War II. "The Holocaust was not really an issue," he told capitol reporters. "It's not part of my political agenda." He had turned over a new leaf. He was now a born-again "Christian" conservative, whose opposition to "reverse discrimination" and welfare illegitimacy differed little from that of leading Republicans. Whatever he had said or written concerning Nazism and the Klan was musty history, a chapter of "youthful indiscretions" in a book he was determined should remain closed.(10)

But for Anne Levy, whose immigrant success story was self-confirmation of the American dream, Duke's views on the Holocaust were the issue. They hinted at darker subthemes in American history--an angry counterpoint of nativist intolerance that, like Europe's ethnic nationalisms, crests during social and economic crises. How could someone who glossed over genocide against ethnic minorities be entrusted to make laws for a melting pot society such as America? Anne was incredulous. In her view Duke's attempt to minimize what he had said and written about the Holocaust had less to do with politics than with democratic decency and civility. The charade defamed her experience as a survivor and a new American, and the anger welling up inside her was both personal and political, bordering on rage.

But Anne Levy's face-off with Duke awakened deep-seated terror as well. It was not simply that Duke's political success represented the survivor's worst nightmare: that it can happen again, "that the moment of horror will recur," to quote psychiatrist Judith L. Herman. Just as distressing was the way Anne's encounter with Louisiana's foremost neo-Nazi had summoned to the surface traumatic memories she had long ago sought to block from consciousness. Torn between terror and rage, she decided to let rage have its way.(11) Hers was a classic illustration of how political commitments are forged: first you get angry, then you find courage.

Shadow campaigns had been Duke's trademark ever since he began running for office in 1975. The charades became more sophisticated--and believable--after he left the Ku Klux Klan in 1980 to found his "white civil rights" organization, the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP). Thanks to cosmetic surgery, he had acquired the good looks of a television anchorman. His rhetoric began to sound more mainstream, partly because conservative Republicans had made racial codespeak the lingua franca of current politics.(12) As for his Klan past, he often brought it up himself, as if to let audiences know he was a politician who would actually deliver on his campaign threats. But Duke kept his extensive record of Nazi extremism, including a lifelong advocacy of ethnic cleansing and master-race eugenics, hidden in the shadows. Like his views on the Holocaust, they were not winning issues. "If they can call you a Nazi and make it stick," he cautioned a fellow racist in 1986, less than three years before his election to the legislature, "it's going to hurt the ability of people to open their minds to what you're saying."(13)

Duke's masquerade of respectability was more than personal opportunism. It reflected a strategic shift on the part of the wider neofascist movement. By the 1980s far-rightists in both Europe and America were running stealth campaigns similar to Duke's in order to take advantage of the conservative electoral trends of the Reagan-Thatcher era. In the United States the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby, headed by Willis Carto, a founder of the IHR, even spearheaded the formation of an independent party called the Populists (modeled after Jean-Marie Le Pen's ultra-rightist National Front Party in France). For Carto, third-party politics represented an ongoing effort to channel white supremacist politics back into the conservative mainstream, from which he and other right-wing extremists had been excluded by William Buckley during the 1960s, when American conservatives began the coalition building that eventually placed Ronald Reagan in the White House. Duke had long been close to Carto's Liberty Lobby, so it was hardly surprising when the Populist Party in 1988 chose the Louisianian as its presidential standard-bearer. Six weeks following the general election, after Duke filed as a Republican for the legislative seat he eventually won, the Liberty Lobby gave him access to its mammoth mailing list. Right-wing money and cadres from around the country poured in to aid the Duke campaign.(14) "His race . . . takes on national significance," proclaimed a neo-Nazi writer who visited New Orleans during the campaign.(15)

Duke's legislative victory galvanized the far right because his house seat represented real power, not just another ephemeral primary victory of the kind neofascists had been scoring throughout the 1980s. It meant the movement now had a regular forum for reaching the media and shaping policy debates. That the beachhead had been established in Louisiana, where antielite insurgencies seemed as commonplace as Gulf-borne hurricanes, added to the excitement. Huey P. Long had set the standard during the New Deal, amassing dictatorial powers over Louisiana while building a mass following with real potential for toppling Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. Few right-wing observers expected Duke to replicate the Kingfish's feat, at least not any time soon, but there was a general anticipation that his election would spawn a school of Duke-like candidacies throughout the country, and they pointed to his campaign as a model for similar guerrilla forays against the two-party system's underbelly. Duke himself invited the flattery of imitation when he told a Populist Party gathering in Chicago a few weeks after his election that his Louisiana success "can be repeated in many, many other states in the United States."(16)

Partly because of his decisive defeat in the 1992 Louisiana governor's race, Duke's electoral appeal never crossed state lines. But he was certainly correct to sense that the Sportsman's Paradise offered room to grow. After all, Duke did not get elected in sparsely populated Klan country but in one of those vote-laden, white, middle-class suburbs where state and national elections are now won and lost. Bisected by the Mississippi River, at one time Jefferson Parish had nearly as many illegal casinos as it did dairy farms, until Sun Belt prosperity caused both banks to overflow with shopping malls and tract developments. Metairie (which is on the east bank, immediately abutting the city) paced the explosive suburbanization. The Grand Old Party (GOP) designated it a prime target in the campaign to shatter the Democratic Party's southern base. Campaigns based on race, low taxes, and traditional values forged an alliance between Metairie's bungalow Democrats and the country club Republicans residing in its oak-shaded mansions. In the 1970s Duke's district produced Louisiana's first Republican congressman and governor since Reconstruction. By that time it was already delivering lopsided majorities to GOP presidential candidates. Only George Wallace's 1968 white backlash insurgency, which captured both Jefferson Parish and the state, interrupted the steady march toward Republican dominance. But that had been more than two decades ago, and it was easy to forget how vulnerable this top-down coalition remained to race-coded appeals from the right.

Duke was a Wallace redux. When oil prices collapsed, depressing living standards and causing wholesale disillusionment with the political status quo, Duke deflected economic discontent onto New Orleans's desperately impoverished black underclass. He focused white voter anger over widening inequality on minority set-asides and affirmative action. Because Republicans had field-tested these themes so often in the past, no one should have been shocked when Metairie's white, middle-class majority suddenly deserted the GOP for Duke's backlash alliance against black have-nots. Nor was it surprising, during his U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, when the reactionary populism fueling his appeal ignited other white suburbs and spread to Louisiana's economically distressed country parishes.(17)

When this blame-thy-neighbor protest broke out in nearby Metairie, however, it terrified Anne Levy. It was not because she felt in any imminent danger personally. Voter anger was seldom directed at Jews; African Americans were the target. As elsewhere in the United States, anti-Jewish feeling in Louisiana had ebbed markedly from the high tide of the 1930s, when such radio demagogues as Father Coughlin had railed openly against Jewish financiers. The real source of Anne's disquiet was the readiness of so many white voters to overlook Duke's anti-Semitism. His actual electoral strength was hard to estimate because white respondents gave pollsters misleading and evasive answers. Unscientific intuition often proved a better guide as to who among one's acquaintances might be swelling Duke's soon-to-be-legendary "hidden vote." His supporters, after all, were the kind of people Anne encountered several times a week. They made deliveries to the Levy storeroom or fixed the air conditioning. They checked out groceries at the supermarket. They sold insurance. Some, as members of the local gentility, purchased nineteenth-century mahogany armoires from Stan's store. "They would never say anything to your face, but for the first time it made me stop and think," Anne says. "I felt uncomfortable."

She also ran across Duke supporters in Metairie, where many of the metropolitan area's biggest malls are located. In fact, her first face-to-face encounter with Duke and the populist frenzy he was capable of unleashing occurred in neighboring Jefferson Parish four months before their publicized standoff in the state capitol. A harbinger of confrontations to come, it took place on the day of the legislative runoff. Anne's eight-year-old granddaughter Jesse was visiting from San Francisco, and on election Saturday she brought her to Metairie's sprawling Lakeside Shopping Center, approaching by way of a six-lane boulevard called Veterans.

Veterans is bisected by a grass-covered "neutral ground." Locals have been using demilitarized zone (DMZ) terminology for their median strips since the early 1800s, when hard-driving American entrepreneurs moved upstream from the Creole French Quarter to build a river port. The middle of Canal Street was the original "neutral ground" between the warring cultures, and the sobriquet has stuck. Covering a canal used to discharge torrential downpours, Veterans's midsection is almost as broad as the boulevard itself. That particular election Saturday, however, February 18, 1989, it was anything but neutral. The Duke camp had conquered one of its busiest intersections, taking possession by driving blue-and-white yard signs into the lawn. Pickup trucks with cab-mounted loudspeakers circled the perimeter. Duke was on hand to lead the campaign. Hundreds of friendly onlookers milled around the rally's edge, slowing traffic to a halt. Passing motorists honked approval, many flashing V-for-victory signs to the candidate's legions. The congestion was so bad, Duke did not have to wait for a red light before wading into the clotting traffic. That afternoon he was passing out carnival doubloons stamped with his likeness.

Like the hydraulics of a whirlpool, the traffic flow pulled Anne into the vortex. Before she knew what was happening, Duke had shoved an aluminum coin through the driver's window. It was right in her face. The roar of the crowd surrounded the car. "It happened so suddenly I was startled," Anne says. "I lost my cool and started cursing the man." Then she remembered that her granddaughter was beside her in the front seat. Shaken, she managed to navigate through the hoopla, apologizing to Jesse for the profanity. She wondered why Duke's presence affected her so viscerally. It was as if the memory of the Holocaust was being reexperienced anew, as if the rewind button on a tape recorder was being pressed down against her will. She felt isolated and powerless, which is the essential legacy of traumatic events and their engraved memories. Duke's growing popularity was unraveling a basic trust in a just world that Anne had been trying to rebuild for nearly fifty years.

From his residence across Lake Pontchartrain, near the epicenter of Louisiana Kluxery, the late Walker Percy understood the electoral dynamics that Anne had found so upsetting. The angry irrationality Duke aroused was not a localized aberration. "If I had anything to say to people outside the state," Percy told the New York Times's Wayne King shortly after the former Klansman's election to the Louisiana legislature, "I'd tell them, <'Don't make the mistake of thinking David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He's not. He's not just appealing to the old Klan constituency, he's appealing to the white middle class. And don't think that he or somebody like him won't appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens.'"(18)

Always central to that appeal was Duke's ability to convince would-be supporters of his born-again moderation. The alarming fact to Anne was how easily he was succeeding. Angry about crime, corruption, and the economy, many white Louisianians took his new look at face value. Even conventional politicians winked at his mainstream makeover, preferring to attack his draft record than expose his Nazism. Born of firsthand experience, Anne's foreboding was deep and unshakable. She did not have to consult polls to realize Duke was a sentinel symptom of a deeper malaise. The lessons of history validated her concerns. Hitler had risen to power on the indifference of ordinary Germans to the Fhrer's political reputation. As a famous study of the Third Reich in a small town explains, local residents "were drawn to anti-Semitism because they were drawn to Nazism, not the other way around."(19) On balance, Duke's menace inhered in his movement's potential to recruit alienated voters with seductive programs of reform and renewal and then to focus anger on target groups--the classic scapegoating syndrome.(20)

"It's bad times," Anne said later, "and when bad times come, somebody has to get blamed. It's a vicious circle. It just repeats itself." Irreversible progress is an illusion.

Anne Levy recovered quickly from her brief election day encounter with Duke, but the effects of their run-in at the Wiesenthal exhibit tended to linger. She was still simmering about Duke's dismissive attitude toward the Holocaust a week following their confrontation in Baton Rouge, when she turned on the car radio while running errands in New Orleans and heard him participating in a "Symposium on Racism" with other local politicians, black and white, and the heads of the NAACP and the Urban League, before a live audience in a downtown hotel. The novelist Lucian Truscott, on assignment from ®MDUL¯Esquire®MDNM¯ to write a piece on Duke, was in the studio. Duke dominated the show. He bashed drug users in the projects. He blasted away at affirmative action and took savage aim at welfare. Black audience members in line at the mike were unable to get a word in edgewise. "A block of commercials was the only thing that could stop him," Truscott wrote.(21)

Anne was upset when she drove up to the furniture storeroom. Duke's participation in a race relations forum seemed as incongruous as his presence at the Wiesenthal exhibit. "Why is he participating in this? What has he done in his lifetime to bring people together to be able even to participate in a discussion like that?" she wondered. Her husband was standing on the sidewalk out front when she climbed from the car. "Stan, you should be listening to this radio, to what's going on and the discussion taking place," she told him.

"Oh, God, it must be David Duke," Stan said with a trace of annoyance because the subject upset Anne and distracted her around the office. But he was generally supportive of her efforts to confront Duke personally. "If you want to go, go," Stan told her.

"Do you think I should?"

"Damn right, go on."

She reached the studio as the program was winding down. To Duke, Anne looked vaguely familiar, like one of his growing legions of supporters in the white suburbs. He smiled when Anne entered the broadcast area, then pulled up a seat alongside her when the moderator broke for a commercial, saying he wanted to ask a few questions. No doubt he intended to recruit her for one of his phone banks. Anne grimaced, her eyes narrowing. She told Duke she was the woman who had challenged him the week before in Baton Rouge. "You don't remember me, do you, Mr. Duke?" The blood drained from his face, mottling his cheeks with white splotches. Anne said she would like to ask him a few questions too. "Well, that's fine," he answered, fumbling for a phone number in his pocket. "As soon as we finish, I'll be glad to talk to you." But Duke immediately left the room, and when he returned ten minutes later, practically hyperventilating, he was barely able to make one last flourishing speech into the radio mike about our brave boys in Saudi Arabia. Then he grabbed his briefcase and made for the door when she rose to approach him. "As na‹ve as I am, I thought we were going to sit down in the two chairs outside of the broadcast booth and talk one-on-one," Anne says.

Duke hurried from the building, with Anne pursuing him for the second time in a month. "Mr. Duke! Mr. Duke! How can you say the Holocaust was exaggerated?" They descended the curved staircase. "Wait a minute," she yelled, "if you wanted to talk to me, you better stand like a man and come talk to me. I'm not going to chase you." Her voice rose in pitch. Duke barely paused. "I just don't have any time. I can't," he answered.

Later, over a German beer at a Croatian restaurant in Jefferson Parish, Duke told Truscott that Anne Levy had been sent by the Zionist-Jewish conspiracy. "I was set up. . . . It's the Jews! You either know about them or you don't! They don't want me to succeed!"(22)

The neofascist journal Instauration decried the same malign conspiracy, likening Anne to a "political hit woman." "The Duke phenomenon has been giving some Jews a chance to play Hero for the Day," it editorialized, marshaling as evidence "Ann Levy, the feisty 4'11" veteran of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose shtick is to follow Goliath around crying, `Mr. Duke! Mr. Duke! Why will you not answer my questions?'"(23)

The discrimination that excludes Jews from men's clubs and Carnival krewes, as the city's Mardi Gras clubs are called, has served as a status ceiling in New Orleans high society since the turn of the century, when non-Jewish parvenus used anti-Semitism to gain access to the social register. Duke's paranoid delusions, however, had a different lineage, harking back to the conspiratorial anti-Semitism of the 1930s when Jews were depicted as a powerful, alien elite culpable for all modernity's woes.(24) As a troubled teenager coming of age during the desegregation crisis, Duke had absorbed fascistic fears of Jews. Now those visceral fears were becoming unmanageable, causing the facade of born-again moderation to crumble, and all because of one diminutive grandmother's passionate convictions--the sum of who she was and what she represented. For Anne Levy, Duke's panic-stricken reaction to demands that he explain his Holocaust views merely confirmed that the man's political change of heart was sheer pretense. It steeled her resolve to expose his hidden agenda. It became the focus of a special survivor's mission.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The majority of this long, intricate, and compelling narrative follows the Skoreckis from near extinction to a new life as successful emigrees in New Orleans. . . . Powell's analysis of Duke's meteoric career is the most sophisticated account yet published, and sure to be the benchmark for scholars who revisit the 1991 gubernatorial election. . . . Powell illuminates an epic story of trauma and recovery through the lives of everyday people, anything but ordinary—Louisiana Cultural Vistas

A fascinating convergence of history and the author's own years of activism and thought. . . . [Powell] describes the complex psychology of the survivor, the necessity of recovering lost memory and the accompanying difficulty of that process.—New Orleans Times-Picayune

This is one of the most extraordinary works I have read in the last decade. Troubled Memory deals with profound moral and historical questions, but Lawrence Powell tells his story with the grace, style, and dramatic skills of a first-rate novelist.—Dan T. Carter, Emory University

Charles W. Jr. Sydnor
Makes us understand — in a way no other American writer has — how and why the history of the Holocaust bears so directly and importantly upon contemporary American life.... If you want to read one book — just one — about what it means to become an American in the late 20th century, read Troubled Memory .

Meet the Author

Lawrence N. Powell is professor of history at Tulane University and a founding member of the Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism.

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Troubled Memory: Anne Levy, the Holocaust, and David Duke's Louisiana 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago