Wiesel relives attempted attack by alleged assailant

Screaming for help and seized with a level of fear he hadn’t known since the Holocaust, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was struck by the impassive expression of the man trying to kidnap him, the human-rights activist testified Monday.

“I didn’t see anything else except his face. He did not look surprised when I was shouting. I could have shouted till the end of my life as far as he was concerned,” Wiesel said.

The 79-year-old professor, human-rights activist and author of 50 books, including the Holocaust memoir “Night,” took the stand in San Francisco as the first witness in the trial of his alleged assailant, Eric Hunt.

Hunt, 23, is charged with attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, elder abuse, stalking and hate crime allegations in connection with the Feb. 1, 2007, incident.

Assistant District Attorney Alan Kennedy said that after stalking Wiesel at other speaking engagements, Hunt accosted Wiesel in an elevator in the Argent Hotel in San Francisco after a conference. Hunt, who had been obsessed with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, attempted to drag Wiesel back to his hotel room, prosecutors claim.

On Monday, Wiesel testified that Hunt turned to him in the elevator and said, “You come with me to my room.” Wiesel said he refused, and Hunt repeated himself in a voice that was “forceful, but not threatening.”

When Hunt asked for an interview, Wiesel suggested they go to the lobby, he said. But when the elevator doors opened, Hunt pulled him out by his wrist, he said.

Wiesel testified he was quickly able to free himself and screamed for help for three minutes. Hunt appeared to reach for him a few times but otherwise stood silently before walking away as the elevator arrived again, Wiesel said.

Hunt was arrested in a New Jersey mental hospital about two weeks later. Prosecutors said he bragged about the attack on a Holocaust denial Web site.

Wiesel said Monday that while he refuses to let the incident destroy his trust in people, he now travels with security — a practice he hates.

John Runfola, Hunt’s defense attorney, said his client had never been a member of an organized hate group and had never expressed any problem with Jews before his psychotic break due to undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Hunt became plagued by delusions that Israeli agents were following him and believed Jews were about to start World War III, Runfola said. Hunt was also convinced he would be elected president if he videotaped Wiesel admitting the Holocaust was a lie.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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