LOS ANGELES -- A jury awarded $5.2 million Friday to a Nazi concentration camp survivor who claimed he was emotionally tortured by the taunts of a man who kept telling him the Holocaust never happened.
The Superior Court jury deliberated only three hours and 45 minutes before finding unanimously that Swedish publisher Ditlieb Felderer should be held responsible for damages to Mel Mermelstein for libel and emotional distress.
Mermelstein's hands trembled and he choked back tears while the clerk read the panel's decision awarding him $500,000 in compensatory damages and $4.75 million in punitive damages.
'This sends a message to those who are looking forward to using and abusing this barbaric event and seeking out survivors like me to mock and ridicule,' Mermelstein told reporters. 'When we hit them in the pocket, it'll hurt.'
Felderer was not represented in court for the two-day trial because he never answered the complaint. Mermelstein's attorneys -- one of whom is a child of Holocaust survivors -- hope to have the default judgment against him enforced by the Swedish government.
Mermelstein's attorneys had asked for $5 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages.
Jury foreman Delia Hackett said the jurors agreed 'absolutely' that Mermelstein deserved monetary damages, but their discussion centered on how much.
'What Mr. Felderer did is despicable and horrific,' she said. 'I don't think there's any amount of money that can compensate for someone who was subjected to the acts of someone like Mr. Felderer.'
The attorneys said Felderer was convicted in 1982 of criminal libel in Sweden for defaming Holocaust survivors and served a brief prison term.
Mermelstein, 59, sued Felderer in 1981 for statements the Swede made about Mermelstein in a revisionist publication called the Jewish Information Bulletin. Felderer is a member of the editorial advisory committee to the Institute for Historical Review, the Torrance-based organization that claims the Nazis never had an extermination policy for the Jews.
One of the pamphlets Felderer sent to Mermelstein included an open letter to the Long Beach resident calling him a racist and 'exterminationist.' With hand-drawn cartoons, the letter mocked his claims that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
Wednesday, Mermelstein tearfully recalled his experiences at the campduring World War II, which included losing his brother and father in work camps and watching his mother and sister led away to gas chambers.
Thursday, Mermelstein's psychiatrist testified that the survivor struggled for years with his anguish over the atrocities he had seen at Auschwitz, but that by 1973 he was cured.
But Dr. Daniel Borenstein testified that Mermelstein regressed completely in 1980 when he began receiving pamphlets from Felderer claiming that Mermelstein was 'peddling the exterminationist hoax.'
'It was like reopening wounds we had worked four years to heal,' the psychiatrist said.
Mermelstein's 1981 lawsuit initially included as defendants the Institute for Historical Review and several of its officers, but they settled before trial by agreeing to pay Mermelstein a promised $50,000 reward for the proof he offered that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
They also agreed to write a letter of apology to him and all other Auschwitz survivors for the pain the reward offer might have caused.
Felderer, however, remained as a defendant because he never answered the complaint and did not show up for the settlement conference.