In 1942, the Nazis invaded Stolin and ordered 7,000 Jews from in and around the little city to leave their homes and take only what they could carry into a gated section of the city -- a Jewish ghetto. Every day, the men were driven a couple of miles to a forest to dig an enormous ditch. Then, the day before Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that marks the start of the Jewish New Year, 500 Jews at a time were systematically disrobed and taken to the ditch, where they were shot and tossed in like scrap metal. They had been digging their own graves. Those who weren't fatally wounded by the gunshots were simply buried alive.
To understand what drives Sara Salzman, what compels her to confront the kind of hatred that her ancestors had to face, one must think back to "that pit in Poland" where her great-grandparents are buried. Salzman grew up listening to the tale of Stolin and understood from an early age what most other kids only read about in textbooks. For her, the lesson was more than academic: The only reason she lives in a free country now is because her grandparents had to flee an oppressive one.
Although Mendel and Mindle Glouberman and one of their sons were killed in Stolin, three of their other children and their spouses, including Salzman's grandparents, left before the Holocaust. They emigrated to Canada in the 1920s, when Salzman's mother was four or five years old, and then to the United States. The family ended up in Washington, D.C., where Salzman was born in 1957.
Five years ago, while Salzman was living in Ohio with her first husband, she got a job as a copywriter for a company that allowed people to pay their bills over the Internet. She was excited about working in the fast-growing industry of e-commerce and wanted to learn all she could about the World Wide Web, so she started reading print magazines dedicated to all things Internet. Her interest in the Web shifted from a merely professional pursuit to a personal one when she came across an article about the Nizkor Project, which contains the Web's largest Holocaust archive and is dedicated to debunking Holocaust deniers. The article also mentioned a Usenet group called alt.revisionism, a virtual gathering place for people who believe that the Holocaust never happened. The newsgroup eventually became a place for people like Salzman to challenge deniers' beliefs with evidence that the Holocaust did occur.
Salzman, who moved to Aurora with her second husband in 1997, was intrigued by the Nizkor Project, which contains biographical information about everyone from Anne Frank to Deborah Lipstadt (the author of a book called Denying the Holocaust), as well as transcripts from the Nuremberg trials. Salzman knew she wanted to become involved with the then-fledgling site, so she called Nizkor director Ken McVay and offered her assistance. She's been scanning Holocaust-related documents and uploading them to nizkor.org ever since. ("Nizkor" is Hebrew for "We remember.")
At around the same time, Salzman started posting messages to alt.revisionism. Unlike a chat room, the discussions on Usenet are not live; users log on and read the messages people have posted throughout the day, write a response of their own, then check back later to see if anyone has replied.
Despite the extremely opposing views of alt.revisionism participants, Salzman says, there was mutual respect between the "revisionists," who believe that the record of atrocities during the Holocaust has been overblown or that the Holocaust never happened at all, and the "anti-revisionists," who try to convince them otherwise.
"There was a lot of name-calling," Salzman says. "But it was always good-humored."
Until January, that is, when someone entered alt.revisionism and began posting vitriolic messages about Salzman and other legitimate contributors to the site. Sometimes the messages appeared to be from the other legitimate contributors; other times they were merely juvenile attempts to make it look as though a legitimate contributor had posted the message.
For instance, a message posted on February 2 that appeared to come from Nizkor's McVay read: "A question for Sara Salzman; Are you homosexual?" Another was supposedly posted by the Nizkor Project, from the fictitious e-mail address >[email protected] It read: "I am a lesbian fish licker. I enjoy licking the anus of female fish." Still another came in the name of David Goldman, the founder of a Web site called hatewatch.org, which monitors online hate sites: "Sara Salzman is one ugly bitch and smells like a fish. Are you a lesbian?" Then, on February 3, a message was forged in the name of Jeffrey Brown, a longtime alt.revisionism contributor, from the fake e-mail address [email protected]: "Dogs vs. Sara Salzman: Who would you fuck first?"