Gibson follows 'anti-Semitic' film with series on Holocaust

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Mel Gibson, the actor and director whose film The Passion of the Christ provoked charges of anti-Semitism , has caused a new stir with news that his production company is working on a mini-series about the Holocaust for the ABC television network.

ABC confirmed that it was working with Con Artists Production, headed by Mr Gibson, to produce a made-for-television epic based on the wartime experiences of Flory van Beek, a Jew who was sheltered from the Nazis in the Netherlands by her non-Jewish boyfriend and neighbours.

The project is causing a furore despite the fact that it has not yet been formally approved by the network and, even if it is, is unlikely to run until the 2006-07 season at the earliest. Its putative spot on the schedule was reported yesterday by Daily Variety and The New York Times.

It is not clear whether Gibson will involve himself directly with the film, let alone personally produce it. Yet even the fact of his company making it is raising eyebrows - and, perhaps not unhelpfully generating early publicity for the network.

In addition to the concern voiced by Jewish groups in the wake of The Passion - which became a surprising hit - there is the matter of Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, who has declared that the Holocaust was exaggerated and that there were more Jews in Germany after the Second World War than before it.

Gibson, who is in Mexico making a film for Disney about Central America before the Spanish, tried to defuse the row, noting that some of his best friends "have numbers on their arms". He said: "Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them Jews in concentration camps." He also insisted that his father had never lied to him and Jewish groups said he had failed explicitly to disassociate himself from Nazi apologists.

The saga was first recorded by Flory van Beek in a book published in 1998 called Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death. It relates how she and her boyfriend - now husband - tried to flee to Chile at the start of the war, only for their ship to be sunk. They survived and returned to the Netherlands where they were sheltered until the war's end and rescued by Canadian troops.

Christians who flocked to The Passion may similarly be drawn to this film because of its portrayal of all those non-Jews who protected Mrs Van Beek, said Daniel Sladek, a producer who first pitched the idea to ABC. "It is a tremendous nod to non-Jewish partisans, the citizens of Holland, who helped this couple, again and again, without any reason other than being human," he said.

Leaders of Jewish groups are sceptical about Gibson's connection. "For him to be associated with this movie is cause for concern," said Rafael Medoff, director of the David S Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Pennsylvania, and the author of an annual study of Holocaust denial.