O.J. lawyers Hitler speech angers Jews

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O.J.'s winning lead defense attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., drew criticism for raising Hitler and the Holocaust in his final day of arguments last week.

Jewish agencies immediately denounced the rhetoric, while a local Jewish lawyer said the suffering of his family at Nazi hands was a source for Cochran's remarks.

Cochran first alluded to Hitler while denouncing former Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman, a key prosecution witness.

During the trial, Fuhrman had been called a racist. According to one witness' testimony, Fuhrman said that if he had his way, "all the niggers would be gathered together and burned."

Comparing Fuhrman to Hitler, Cochran told the jury that "there was another man not too long ago in the world who had those same views, who wanted to burn people, who had racist views and ultimately had power over people in his country."

Cochran said: "People didn't care. People said he's just crazy. He's just a half-baked painter. And they didn't do anything about it. This man, this scourge became one of the worst people in the world, Adolf Hitler, because people didn't care, didn't try to stop him."

Continued Cochran: "Fuhrman wants to take all black people now and burn them or bomb them. That's genocidal racism."

The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center immediately criticized Cochran's analogy.

The ADL said its offices nationwide had been "besieged with calls of outrage."

"However vile Fuhrman's words have been, the comparison to Hitler's deeds is insulting and demeaning to the millions of his victims and to a world that was racked by war for six years," the ADL said. "The metaphor trivializes a profound historical tragedy."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said: "The whole world knows Mark Fuhrman is a racist and an anti-Semite, to boot. That said, Johnnie Cochran's comparison of one racist Los Angeles policeman to mass murderer Adolf Hitler was, to say the least, completely inaccurate and wholly inappropriate."

Most incensed was Fred Goldman, the father of murder victim Ronald Lyle Goldman.

"We have seen a man who perhaps is the worst kind of racist himself, someone who compares a person who speaks racist comments to Hitler, a person who murdered millions of people," said Goldman, who is Jewish.

Expanding on the controversy, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Charles Lindner, a Jewish lawyer who helped Cochran in fashioning his closing argument, drew on his family history in introducing the Holocaust theme.

Lindner said he told Cochran that his grandmother's German Jewish family "was killed in the gas chambers by a house painter who was crazy and no one took him seriously until it was too late."

"I was trying to get Johnnie [Cochran] into the frame of mind to talk about Fuhrman as the personification of evil," Lindner told the Los Angeles Times.

Though he was surprised by Cochran's reference to Hitler, rather than to Nazis in general, Lindner defended the attorney.

"Remember, Marcia Clark, who is also Jewish, said Fuhrman `shouldn't be on the planet' in her closing argument," said Lindner. "She and I are both Jewish and we understand evil. I am a Jew. I was the stimulus for Johnnie's comments."

Lindner added: "And for those who say that Hitler is proprietary to the Jews, he isn't. What we were trying to convey, what Johnnie was trying to convey, is that we shouldn't allow men like this — either Hitler or Fuhrman — to have control over people's lives."

Cochran told the Los Angeles Times he was deeply hurt by the criticism. When he was younger, he was one of the pioneers of the black-Jewish coalition, he added.

"I have been to Israel on two occasions. I have been to Yad Vashem. That is why this is so painful to me. The Holocaust should never be repeated. I would never trivialize the tremendous loss of lives during the Holocaust," Cochran said.

"But when you have a person who says he would like to burn all black people, is that such a quantum leap to say if this man is left unchecked he would be a scourge?"

Cochran was also criticized privately by some Jews for surrounding himself last week with eight guards from the Nation of Islam, headed by Louis Farrakhan, who is notorious for frequent anti-Semitic slurs. Cochran was seen on one day of closing arguments last week wearing a Star of David necklace.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent