I knew a little about this guy, but didn’t know his full story until now. It’s always satisfying when a phony and liar is exposed.
For truth to win, lies have to come to the light. In the US, libel laws only protect a person until their death. I’ve always been uncomfortable with that, since it sometimes leads to salacious accusations following a person’s death when they can no longer defend themselves. On the other hand, Michel Thomas’s life is an argument in favor of the current arrangement: he had a habit of suing people who exposed his lies.
A scarringly skeptical report appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2001. Its reporter questioned Mr. Thomas’s war record, claiming among other things that another man saved the cache of Nazi records from destruction.
Mr. Thomas filed a defamation suit against the reporter and the newspaper, which refused to admit an error in the article. A judge threw out the case and ordered Mr. Thomas to pay legal fees.
That wasn’t the first court to find Thomas’s forthrightness wanting:
In the 1980s, he testified against Barbie at his trial for crimes against humanity. Barbie received a life sentence but not before the French prosecutor, Pierre Truche, took a swipe at Mr. Thomas’s credibility.
“With the exception of Mr. Thomas, all the witnesses are of good faith,” he said, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune.
Elsewhere in the biography, Thomas portrayed himself as a real-life Hogan’s Heroes, able to escape concentration and slave labor camps repeatedly at will. In one story, after learning his girlfriend secured his release by granting a romantic favor to a diplomat, Thomas claimed he voluntarily returned to imprisonment because he didn’t want to be freed under such circumstances.
If some old guy wants to sit around the bar and tell tall tales, that’s one thing, but Thomas tried to influence history, and told his stories in court as sworn testimony. The old fraud even managed to get people to hector the government into giving him a silver star – presented by Senator Bob Dole – despite the fact that he was apparently not in the military. UPDATE: Roy Rivenberg writes to note that civilians can receive the silver star, which is true, though that was not my whole point.