Conflicts of interest

April 7, 2011

The Toepfer affair at the University of Oxford ("Tainted money?", 10 March) raises important questions about the way universities handle complaints about allegedly tainted donations and also about the "greywashing" of the Holocaust.

The four-person Oxford-Cambridge subcommittee set up to consider my concerns about the Alfred Toepfer Foundation of Hamburg was neither a fair nor a credible body. Two of its members were the respective heads of fundraising at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The only historian involved, Richard J. Evans (the author of your article), should have disqualified himself because he was a former Hanseatic scholar and thus the recipient of a Toepfer grant.

Evans' claim that I approved of his participation in the subcommittee is disproved by corres-pondence with one of Oxford's legal officers; with Michael Earl, the institution's pro vice-chancellor at the time; and with Sir Ivor Roberts, then chairman of the Oxford Committee to Review Donations. Because of my disapproval of the procedure, I declined to meet with the subcommittee and did not submit my formal memorandum until after it had disbanded.

Evans is also wrong in reporting that my objective was the discontinuation of the Hanseatic scholarships. In fact, I requested a "truth and reconciliation" process on the South African model, a key feature of which would have been an apology for Toepfer's misdeeds.

Conflicts of interest can affect the judgement of even the most respected people, such as Evans. In "Tainted money?", he seems to lack the authority he showed in his evidence to the David Irving-Deborah Lipstadt libel case. He even makes the mistake of stating that Hans-Joachim Riecke was convicted at Nuremberg.

His article contains so many distortions that they cannot adequately be covered in a single letter. Therefore, I will be considering Evans' case in a forthcoming article in Standpoint magazine, in which my original article on Toepfer was published.

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Oxford

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