Under His Skin

Dermatologist Michael Franzblau goes national with claims that a Marin newspaper ran an anti-Semitic column about him

Edward Miller, a retired San Rafael surgeon in his 70s who cheerfully terms himself an "unpaid free-lancer," churns out unsolicited opinion columns and sends them off to small papers hungry for free copy. His words usually end up in nothing loftier than the likes of the Marin Independent-Journal, the 41,000-circulation suburban daily based in Novato.

But on April 17 Miller made the big time. A column of his ran in the New York Times. His column didn't run on the op-ed page with Frank Rich, William Safire, or Maureen Dowd, though. It appeared in an ad, paid for by an old enemy who used the column to claim Miller and the owner of the Marin paper, Gannett Co. Inc., are anti-Semitic.

Michael Franzblau placed the ad. Franzblau, a dermatologist based in Greenbrae, is a peer of Miller and is also in his 70s. The doctors have served together on the staffs of Marin hospitals.

But these two former colleagues aren't being the least bit collegial.
Franzblau's ad, headlined "Why Does Gannett Publish Anti-Catholic and Anti-Semitic Material?" reprints a Miller column from the Aug. 11, 1995, Independent-Journal and a March 1996 editorial cartoon from the Gannett-owned Detroit News. The cartoon spoofed a Catholic bishop in Detroit who'd sided with workers who struck the paper. In the cartoon, a newsboy leaving a confessional with the bishop's name on it tells a friend that he would "burn in Hell for delivering newspapers." The satire drew heated protests from some Detroit Catholics, even though the bishop had injected himself in what was a secular dispute and might be considered fair game for secular criticism.

Miller wrote his column as an unsolicited reaction to a lengthy, glowing profile of Franzblau that had run in the Independent-Journal a week or so earlier. The profile detailed Franzblau's highly visible but unsuccessful efforts to bring to trial a prominent Bavarian doctor who has been linked to Nazi atrocities committed while he was a physician, and a captain in the SS, in the city of Dachau during World War II.

Miller advised Franzblau to "forgive" the doctor, Hans Joachim Sewering. "Franzblau, a Jew, is carrying his people's hatred of the Nazis past healing into vindictiveness and revenge," Miller chided in his column. Whatever happened took place 50 years ago, Miller wrote, "when [Sewering] was young, in wartime and under a fascist regime."

Franzblau says he put Miller's column in his New York Times ad because "I don't like being called a kike."

"When he used the language 'a vindictive Jew,' I don't know what he thinks qualifies as anti-Semitic," Franzblau says. "If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck ...."

Miller isn't surprised at Franzblau's reaction: "I have been writing about the Mideast for some years, and he was always a little cool toward me."

Miller, a Presbyterian, says Franzblau is calling him an anti-Semite because he's unhappy with Miller's criticism of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

"The Zionists have for almost half a century now tried to quiet criticism by calling people names; the name is anti-Semitic," Miller says.

Franzblau, who is active in the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, readily claims the Zionist mantle, but scoffs at Miller's reasoning.

"Dr. Miller has a paper trail of this sort of attack," Franzblau says. "I have a file on him that I've saved since 1970. I would like to smoke him out. I would love for him to try to sue me, but he's too smart for that."

Miller's Independent-Journal opinion piece is stronger on opinion than fact.
To buttress his claim that Franzblau was being vindictive when pursuing Sewering, Miller wrote that Sewering had paid his debts and cleared his name when he stood trial in 1946 in a de-Nazification court. That court found him guilty of being an SS member and fined him.

But the accusations that Franzblau makes against Sewering didn't surface until the '70s. And Franzblau isn't the only source for those charges. A medical history of the time and a number of researchers of the Nazi era have cited documents that show Sewering approved the transfer of at least one child to a hospital known to be a Nazi killing center. Sewering has denied any knowledge of the center's lethal purpose, but witnesses -- two nuns who worked under Sewering during the war -- broke their silence a few years ago and contradicted him.

Sewering resigned the presidency of the World Medical Association in 1993 after Franzblau enlisted other physicians to protest Sewering's election on the grounds of his Nazi service. (The WMA was founded in 1947 to prevent physicians from ever again taking part in government-sponsored medical abuses.)

One hundred and twenty-seven fellow physicians joined Franzblau in signing a full-page ad he took out in the Times in July of 1995 demanding the Bavarian government bring Sewering to trial -- an event that's highly unlikely ever to occur. Sewering, now in his 80s, has held a number of prominent political posts in Germany.

Miller's op-ed piece reported the effort to oust Sewering as "a campaign initiated by Franzblau and other Jewish doctors" and claimed that Sewering had stepped down to avoid a threatened boycott of the WMA by the World Jewish Congress. Miller's article neglected to mention that Sewering has laid the blame for his troubles on a "world Jewish conspiracy."

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