'What Holocaust?'- as the beauty said to the bishop

The former model Michele Renouf tells why she is coming to the rescue of a Holocaust denier

Times Online, UK/March 1, 2009

Richard Williamson, the so-called "Nazi bishop", hurtled through Heathrow so fast last Wednesday that he didn't speak to the mysterious blonde who had come to meet him. Flanked by reporters demanding to know if he would take back his views on the Holocaust, he made a beeline for members of his religious order - the Society of St Pius X - who bundled him into a Land Rover bound for their Wimbledon base.

Had Williamson looked back as he sped away, he might have seen the blonde slip back into the crowd. Her name is Michele Renouf, a model, former socialite and ex-wife of the late financier Sir Frank Renouf. She might still like to be a socialite, but since she took up the cause of Holocaust deniers (or "revisionists") nine years ago, the stiffy invitations have dried up.

The society she now keeps is far from polite. Deny or query the Nazi party's systematic murder of 5m-7m Jews 65 years ago, and Renouf, 62, a one-time beauty queen, shows up with a crack team of lawyers to keep you out of jail. She calls herself a free-speech activist. To others, the former girlfriend of Omar Sharif is an "antisemite", a "neo-Nazi" or worse.

She sat with the infamous historian David Irving during the trial of his libel action in 2000 and has spoken at conferences with a former head of the Ku Klux Klan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. Last November, Renouf was key in getting Fredrick Töben, an Australian Holocaust denier, out of Wandsworth prison after the German government tried to extradite him from Britain.

Williamson, however, could be Renouf's greatest prize. His case is shaping up to be the defining scandal of the current papacy. Trouble began in January when Pope Benedict XVI welcomed back four bishops from the highly traditional hardline Society of St Pius X: all were excommunicated 20 years ago for being consecrated without pontifical mandate. Williamson, who had made little secret of his belief that only 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, was interviewed on Swedish television. "There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers," he cried. "It was all lies, lies, lies."

Cue disaster. He was given 10 days to get out of Argentina, where he had lived for years. Last Thursday he wrote to the Vatican to apologise for the offence he had caused, but made no mention of whether he had changed his mind on the facts.

Quite how Renouf fits into this global scandal is, frankly, bizarre. Yet since his arrival in the UK, Williamson has e-mailed her for advice and, she says, now wants to visit her at her flat in South Kensington. It's a sign of how highly she is regarded in the mad netherworld of Holocaust denial.

Renouf certainly doesn't look mad, though. Stepping out of her taxi at Blakes hotel, she is the epitome of Waspy chic, with her Chanel handbag and cut-glass accent. Over tea, the talk turns straight to Williamson. "When I heard that he was in the kind of bother that he was in, I knew that if there was any question of him being arrested he would need the expertise of a proper extradition lawyer," she says.

The Swedish TV interview was a deliberate "setup" she says. "The setup was that it was just prior [to his being brought back into the church]." People knew he had these beliefs, so someone was bound to ask about them, surely? "That question [about the Holocaust] has got zero to do with Cathology [sic]," she cuts back.

I am uncomfortable. Yet Renouf - who isn't religious - claims she isn't a Holocaust revisionist or an antisemite. She's just annoyed that the Holocaust is, in her view, off limits to the scrutiny of doubters. "There is no other area in history where this kind of utter lunacy goes on. We must reestablish the norm of scientific, forensic and source-critical approach without exception."

Renouf isn't a professional academic. She is a campaigning antiZionist, who explains, in calm tones, that practising Jews are, "antigentile in their spirit and completely deceitful in their intention".

She also believes they are responsible for most of society's ills - "vanity", "lack of empathy" and, of course, "greed". "The Holocaust is utterly key to world Zionist control over us and our governments," she says, matter-of-factly.

Most credible historians would refuse to debate the Holocaust with her as it lends her credibility. Mention survivors' testimonies, photographs, Jewish population statistics and confessions by German officers and a typical response is: "Nazi officers who were tortured - come on!"

She skids further from reality when I ask about the company she has been keeping, such as Ernst Zündel, the German-born neo-Nazi. Zündel once published a book suggesting that after the second world war Hitler decamped to live at the South Pole and dispatches UFOs to spy on mankind.

"If he wants to believe in UFOs I see no harm in that," she says. "For all I know UFOs might exist." There's probably more evidence to support the Holocaust than UFOs, though. "Only because we have not concentrated our media machine on UFOs."

It is tempting to write her views off as too crazy to take seriously, but it strikes me that even though her stance is unfathomable, her manner is plausible. She has a natural authority, and this is a cause for worry.

As witnesses to the Holocaust die, Renouf and her semi-organised gang of doubters are keen to change how it is taught in schools. On the net and at conferences around the world, seeds of doubt are being placed, feeding off a resurgent antisemitism, much of it fuelled, disturbingly, by orthodox Islamic teaching.

Williamson, for example, has regaled his young South American church with tales that the twin towers were detonated in an inside job to kick-start a Jewish-influenced war on terror.

How did Renouf get in with this crowd in the first place? Born in Australia, she was a teenage beauty queen before moving to England in her early twenties. She married Daniel Ivan-Zadeh, a psychiatrist of Russian descent, and styled herself as Countess Griaznoff, based on her husband's dubious claim to noble birth.

She became a fixture on the capital's charity circuit, but the marriage collapsed and she moved on to the millionaire Frank Renouf. Their union didn't last beyond the honeymoon, when Nigel Dempster, the diarist, discovered that the father the "countess" had said was dead was working as a truck driver in Australia.

After Renouf lost her footing in cafe society, perhaps it was loneliness that led her to attend David Irving's libel case against the Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt. Whatever the reason, Irving and Renouf hit it off and sat together in court every day. She thought him "brave" and, I suspect, enjoyed the attention.

The following year she visited Auschwitz, where she was annoyed that the dead were referred to as martyrs, and began attending conferences with antisemites and neo-Nazis. How she admires them. "There are very few people who are willing to risk their reputation, their career and imprisonment," she remarks of their "courage". In 2003 she was kicked out of the Reform Club by a "Jewish cabal" for taking Irving along to a talk. Now she lives alone, spending her days scanning newspapers for Jewish skulduggery and making antiJudaic documentaries. Her two grown-up daughters from her first marriage still visit, but don't understand her.

I shudder as I watch her leave, heading home to monitor the Williamson case. Ear-lier, she had railed against advertising as "a Jewish invention", but I think the most dangerous packaging is her own. Such a lot of hate in such a pretty box.

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