Anti-Semitic voicemail left anonymously for WU librarian
An anonymous caller left an anti-Semitic voicemail for a Washington University librarian March 15, prompting the Washington University Police Department to notify local and federal authorities.
The voicemail was left less than a month after 150 headstones were vandalized at a University City Jewish cemetery last February.
In the two-minute long message, which seems to have been left in response to the librarian’s involvement with a recent exhibit in St. Louis addressing Jewish issues, the male caller denied the existence of the Holocaust and seemed to threaten the librarian.
“We need to get these Holocaust studies stopped because they’re f—ing lies,” the caller said. “I would get really nervous if I was you.”
After receiving the voicemail, the librarian reported the incident to both the library’s human resources department and WUPD. After WUPD determined the voicemail did not constitute an immediate threat to the librarian, what Interim Leader of University Libraries Marion Crain called a “mechanism” was placed on the librarian’s landline phone to provide more information on incoming calls.
“We can’t stop people on the outside from making those kinds of comments,” Crain said. “What we can do is support our staff, faculty and students when they are the recipients of hateful speech.”
In addition to increased phone security, the librarian was given access to counseling and support services through the University.
“We did everything in our power to make sure that this librarian was supported and that person has let me know that the support that the University provided at all levels was very welcomed and that the person felt very safe as a result of that,” Crain said.
In addition to notifying local and federal authorities, WUPD also contacted nearby Jewish organizations to make them aware of the voicemail.
In his 40-plus years studying Jewish history, Hillel Kieval, a professor of Jewish history at Washington University, says he has heard his fair share of anti-Semitic remarks. Up until recently, however, he says he considered hate speech like this voicemail relatively rare.
“Overt anti-Semitic expression was muted,” Kieval said. It didn’t come to the fore with any strength or vitality, and that [has] changed a lot. It changed over the course of the presidential campaign.”
This latest instance of anti-Semitism, while less widely publicized than the destruction of headstones in University City, falls closer to home for the University and shocked both the librarian and those close to him.
To Kieval, however, the contents of the voicemail are fairly standard.
“There is nothing original in this message,” he said. “It’s all classic Holocaust denial, tinged with accusations about American Jews, especially those who promote the ‘myth’ of the Holocaust.”
The caller denied the credibility of Holocaust information, saying it was provided by the Soviet Union, in the call.
“Everything, all the camps, were behind Soviet lines. So how can we believe the Soviets were giving the true information when they lied about everything else?” the caller said. “No evidence of gas chambers, no evidence of mass graves. The Nazis just wouldn’t have had the resources to dig up these mass graves, pound them into dust and then scatter it everywhere.”
“It’s a kind of wishful thinking,” Kieval noted. “[The Holocaust denier thinks] ‘I wish there were no evidence so I am going to say out in a very loud voice that there is no evidence.’ This particular genocide is probably the most documented genocide in human history.”
The caller also touched on themes of white nationalism.
“You openly advocate for white genocide and you’re not silenced on that, but any contradictions to the ‘Holohoax’ and you go apes—. You’re flipping your s— all over the cage and everything, screaming ‘anti-Semite’ and ‘Nazi’ and all this other f—ing stupid s—. It’s all a f—ing lie, and it’s being exposed and I think maybe you guys maybe better run for the exits,” the caller said.
Kieval points out that using the Holocaust as a cultural bullhorn is nothing new, but the linkage to “white genocide”—the conspiracy theory equating diversity to the destruction of the white “race”—is more unique and tied to the rise of white nationalism in the United States.
“What I hear when I’m listening to something like this is a kind of Holocaust envy,” Kieval said. “Which is perverse, of course, but there is a kind of Holocaust envy like, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we could also be victims?’ or ‘Wouldn’t one have more political leverage if one could claim victimhood?’”
The caller also asserted that Jewish people are not truly white, which Kieval said represents a common theme of white nationalist anti-Semitism.
“One of the major claims of racial anti-Semitism is that Jews are distinctive from Europeans and that they represent a distinctive racial group—a non-white racial group.”
According to Crain, the voicemail shows the importance of education.
“The fact that this kind of speech happens, hateful as it is, actually shows how important is for university faculty, students and staff to be out there in the community and elsewhere working on these issues and educating people about them,” she said. “But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing when someone gets a call—no one should have to deal with something like that.”
At press time, authorities had not identified the caller.
The librarian who received the voicemail declined to comment.
Full transcript and audio of the voicemail can be found here.