David Irving Gets 3 Years in Prison for Denying Holocaust

There has been quite a buzz over the weekend about Holocaust denier David Irving’s sentence of three years in prison by an Austrian court. Here’s the latest from the AP:

The British historian on Monday pleaded guilty to denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison. He conceded that he was wrong when he said there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp. Mr. Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his books, “Hitler’s War,” which challenges the extent of the Holocaust. “I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,” he told the court before his sentencing, at which he faced up to 10 years in prison. “In no way did I deny the killings of millions of people by the Nazis,” testified Mr. Irving, who has written nearly 30 books. He also expressed sorrow “for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War.”

Mr. Irving’s lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, immediately announced that he would appeal the sentence. “I consider the verdict a little too stringent,” he said. “I would say it’s a bit of a message trial.”

Mr. Irving appeared shocked as the sentence was read. Moments later, an elderly man who identified himself as a family friend called out, “Stay strong, David! Stay strong!” The man was escorted from the courtroom.

Mr. Irving, 67, has been in custody since Nov. 11, when he was arrested in the southern province of Styria on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis’ annihilation of six million Jews. He has contended that most of those who died at camps like Auschwitz were not executed, but instead succumbed to diseases like typhus. He was denied bail by a Vienna court, which said there was a risk he would flee the country. He was convicted under a 1992 law, which applies to “whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media.”

Sebastian Holsclaw succinctly captures the standard American view on this one, which I share:

David Irving was recently sentenced to three years in prison for Holocaust denial. The man is a moral idiot. He is a Holocaust denier, racist and a modern Nazi sympathizer. But he ought not be in jail. I say that not because I respect his views in any way–they are intellectually and morally bankrupt. I say that not out of any personal sympathy for him–he is loathsome. I say that he ought not be in prison because speaking loathsome thoughts should not be a legal offense in a free society. The government of a free society should not police the loathsome expressions of its citizenty. Irving should be socially ostracized and intellectually ridiculed, but not subject to legal sanction.

This provides an interesting counterpoint to the recent Muslim cartoon riots. Saying offensive things is permitted in free societies, whether they be offensive to religion or offensive to historical fact. You should argue with people who say such things, or perhaps ridicule them. But you ought not ban them.

Quite.

I haven’t bothered to comment on this because I didn’t find it terribly remarkable. Having lived in Europe numerous times, I have known for twenty years or more that most Western countries make such expression illegal. [Update: Wikipedia notes that, “There are laws against public espousal of Holocaust denial in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.”] Even places like Canada, with no history of Nazi collaboration, have decided that certain hate speech should be prohibited. Even the United States does this at the margins, although merely in the form of increasing the punishment for already-banned offenses by adding hateful intent as an aggravating circumstance. I don’t like any of that, mind you, but I understand that that consensus has been reached in much of the world.

What does strike me as remarkable, however, is that any rational person would deny the Holocaust. While there is debate on its scope and there has doubtless been propaganda associated with it, there’s simply no doubt that it occured.

I don’t mean that merely in the sense that I would say “there’s no doubt that the Theory of Evolution largely explains how life on planet Earth developed.” It’s not just that pretty much anyone who has studied the situation has come to the same conclusion but that, with few exceptions, the perpetrators of the Holocaust never denied it. Indeed, most proudly proclaimed what they were doing in advance and while they were doing it. When the surviving ringleaders were made to reckon with what they had done after the war, they defending themselves on the grounds that they were “following orders,” not that it hadn’t happened.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I toured the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. One room had a collection of artifacts from the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, including a log of people coming in and dates on which they were terminated. My wife was simply shocked that they had kept that level of records given the barbaric nature of what they were doing.

My response was that it was simple German efficiency in action. I didn’t mean that in a cruel sense; my mom was born a German citizen and my maternal grandfather served in the Wehrmacht. It was simply that most of the people who served at the concentration camps looked upon themselves as simple bureaucrats carrying out routine duties. Few of them thought they were doing anything wrong; many thought they were doing good work for the Reich.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I don’t see why many of my fellow Americans are making a big deal about this. Yes, Austria has a law against denying the Holocaust. As far as I can tell, Austrians consider this law on par with our law against falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater. Given Austrian history, they may have a point.

    I find it fascinating that many of those that make a big deal about this are more complacent about other restrictions on free speech all over the Western World. In much of Europe and Canada, you can be jailed for pointing out that homosexuality is a perversion according to most (all?) the major religions and that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the psychologists until the homosexuals applied political pressure to change this definition without any scientific rationale whatsoever.

    In the US, some forms of political speech have been banned right before an election – so much for the 1st Amendment which was specifically written to protect political speech. Our Supreme Court claims that the First Amendment protects virtual pornography and lap dances, but not political speech. Why are the American “defenders” of free speech not more outraged over this local problem than the jailing of one harmful lunatic in Austria? Let’s clean our own house first. We have more serious free speech problems that need to be addressed. If and when we have our own house in order, then we can pay attention to more trivial problems.

  2. denise says:

    In addition to free speech concerns, I have a problem with someone being convicted under a 1992 law for something he did in 1989 (according to the AP story).

  3. DC Loser says:

    James, your wife should read “IBM and the Holocaust” to learn just how detailed the Nazis were about documenting each concentration camp inmate as an “asset” to be worked to death.

  4. Free Speech Hypocrites…

    James Joyner has an interesting post on free speech, or the lack thereof, in Europe. He quotes Sebastian Holsclaw and both make the point that people should be allowed to say even stupid things. I don’t see why many of……

  5. Anderson says:

    Denise, the ObWi thread that JJ links to says that such laws were enacted in May 1945.

    My own thoughts on just how stupid David Irving is, on many levels, are here.

  6. Anderson says:

    In much of Europe and Canada, you can be jailed for pointing out that homosexuality is a perversion according to most (all?) the major religions and that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the psychologists until the homosexuals applied political pressure to change this definition without any scientific rationale whatsoever.

    It would be a shame to be jailed for expressing such mistaken ideas.

    No religion whatsoever held that homosexuality is a “perversion” before the late 19th century, because the word didn’t exist in that sense before that time. It’s a psychological label, not a religious one.

    The problem with the old psychological label was that *it* rested on “no scientific rationale whatsoever.” Once the shrinks were asked to quit ASSUMING homosexuality was a “mental disorder,” and to present evidence therefor, they changed their labeling.

    If you define “mental disorder” as “holding beliefs not shared by most people,” then anyone who approves of Bush’s job performance is mentally disordered. At least, until the polls bounce up, at which time Bush’s opponents will be mentally disordered. Whee!

  7. RJN says:

    No one should be imprisioned for expressing doubt about something that begs for doubt.

    The Holocaust, as we know it; six million Jews gassed and cremated is patent nonsense. There is no evidence for anything like these numbers. There never were that many Jews available to Hitler in the first place.

    The Jews need for the six million figure may have an antecedent:

    http://globalfire.tv/nj/04en/rel…on/ 6million.htm

    …..”This self-imposed prophesy – without fulfillment of this prophesy the return to the Promised Land would not be permitted – led to the 1919 “six-million-prophecy-crash”. Based on the Balfour-Declaration of 1917 the state of Israel was guaranteed, and the Diaspora-Jews would return to the “Promised Land”. The leading Jews at that time expected 1920 a migration of their brethren into “their Land”. But, before the return could take place, “6 million” of them had to disappear, according to the wrongly interpreted prophecy.”…..

    Perhaps this is the reason for the strange insistence the Jews place on the six million dead, and cremated as in burnt offering.

  8. I have just one thing to say:

    I hate Nazis.

  9. Anderson says:

    The Holocaust, as we know it; six million Jews gassed and cremated is patent nonsense. There is no evidence for anything like these numbers. There never were that many Jews available to Hitler in the first place.

    RJN, you are a liar.

  10. I’m not trying to get into a debate about homosexuality, especially on James’ site. My main point was that people are making a big deal about Austria and ignoring our larger domestic free speech problem.

    However, two quick points:

    1 – the dictionary definition of perversion is a sexual practice or act considered abnormal or deviant. Yes, all major religions considered homosexuality abnormal and deviant well before the word perversion was coined (or even before the English language was established if you want to take your nitpick to its logical extension). If you truly doubt this, I’ll be glad to provide you with some references.

    2 – In layman’s terms, the APA generally defines a mental disorder as a behavior that generally results in “significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability” etc. If you want me to provide references to the average life expectancy of an American homosexual, I’ll be glad to do so. I have gay friends who I do not expect to live to 40 – this is not a healthy lifestyle and most gays admit it. Whether or not they have a choice in the matter is a huge, long, complicated topic, but the question as to whether or not homosexuality meets the normal definition of a mental disorder (i.e., behavior that significantly increases risk of suffering death, pain, and/or disability) is an empirical question to which all evidence cries “YES”

  11. Anderson says:

    (1) Just pointing out what “perversion” means. Reducing it to synonyms, as you did, fixes the implications of your original statement. A sin is not a mental disorder.

    (2) generally results in “significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability”

    The bolded words refute your argument, I think. Though your references would be interesting.

    Certainly, some gays (for ex.) engage in risky sexual practices. So do straights. But there is nothing about being gay, per se, that leads one to have anonymous unprotected encounters at highway rest stops, etc.

  12. RJN says:

    Anderson: Prove it gasbag. Show some demographics that put six million Jews within Hitlers reach at the time these murders took place.

  13. RJN says:

    I don’t think anyone who considers himself a serious person should take the holocaust for granted.

    This is the web site of Arthur Butz a prominent, and respected, revisionist. You can learn much from this guy.

    http://pubweb.northwestern.edu/~abutz/

  14. denise says:

    Anderson — 1945 law would certainly make more sense. I wonder where the 1992 reference comes from (but not curious enough to chase it down). Strange.

  15. Anderson says:

    RJN’s link tells you all you needed to know, if his own comments didn’t suffice.

    I won’t argue with him (why bother), but lest the onlooker be misled, here’s a page with some handy refutations on many Holocaust-denial subjects. The population issue is at 2.18, scroll down. The page cites the numbers from the Wannsee memorandum drawn up by Eichmann.

    Here’s a handy map. Note that the figures for Russia and Poland differ from those in the Wannsee memo b/c Russia and Germany divided up Poland in 1939, and the map shows prewar borders.

    Finally, here’s a great site that was created re: Irving’s suit against a professor who called him a Holocaust denier. She proved her case handily. The section by Christopher Browning is especially pertinent.

    RJN, I hear the skiing is wonderful at Innsbruck this time of year ….

  16. Anderson,

    Thank you for being civil – too many people are not when discussing contraversial issues.

    You said:

    (1) Just pointing out what “perversion” means. Reducing it to synonyms, as you did, fixes the implications of your original statement. A sin is not a mental disorder.

    You are confounding what I originally stated. I never claimed a sin was a mental disorder. My original statement on homosexuality [again not my main point] was In much of Europe and Canada, you can be jailed for pointing out that homosexuality is a perversion according to most (all?) the major religions and that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the psychologists until the homosexuals applied political pressure to change this definition without any scientific rationale whatsoever.

    I hate to go back to seventh grade English, but let’s dissect the sentence. In part 1, of the sentence, I mention that the world’s major religions consider homosexuality a perversion. In part 2, I mention that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by psychologists. I never made the leap that sin (your word, I said perversion) was a mental disorder although that would be an interesting discussion. (And I took the time to look around your site – anyone with your obvious command of the English language surely understands how to dissect sentences, probably better than I. I suspect you simply misread my original post).

    With that clarification, I do not think using the definition of the word perversion (not synonyms, but the definition) changes anything. However, if it makes you happy, let’s look at the English translations. I went ahead and looked up a few references for you. The Jews called male homosexuality an “abomination” (for example, Leviticus 18:11) while the Christians called it “vile”, “against nature”, and the result of a “debased mind” (for example Romans 1:26-28). I’m not as familiar with the Koran, so I found a link with some cites.

    Then you stated (first sentence was originally mine with you applying the bold):
    (2) generally results in “significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability”
    The bolded words refute your argument, I think. Though your references would be interesting.
    Certainly, some gays (for ex.) engage in risky sexual practices. So do straights. But there is nothing about being gay, per se, that leads one to have anonymous unprotected encounters at highway rest stops, etc.

    I disagree with your last statement. If it were true, there should be no difference is behavior between straight men and gay men other than the target of their amorous affection. In which case, I would agree with you. However, the facts do not lead to this conclusion. Here are a few quotes that support my case.

    A 1997 article published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that in one Canadian urban area, the expected life span for a homosexual man at age 20 was 8 to 20 years less than that for all men.

    So the general case (homosexuality) leads to a significantly increased risk of death, pain, and/or disability (8 to 20 years of shortened lifespan).

    The Centers for Disease Control reported last year that new cases of HIV among homosexual men rose for the third straight year. Homosexual men accounted for 42 percent of new HIV cases in 2000 and 60 percent of all cases among all men — despite the fact that homosexual men make up no more than 1 to 3 percent of the population. Among all new cases heterosexuals accounted for 33 percent, injection drug users 25 percent. In addition, homosexual men account for two-thirds of new syphilis cases, the CDC reported this year.

    Again, the general case (homosexuality) leads to a significantly increased risk of death, pain, and/or disability (vastly increased chance of catching HIV, syphilis, and other STDs).

    I think it very clear that this meets the APA definition – which is why homosexuality was originally classified as a mental disorder.

    OK, I have spent some time looking up a few stats. If you still disagree, provide some legitimate reasons why homosexuality does not meet the APA definition of a mental disorder. Or even find some statistics showing that gay men have the same number of sexual partners as straight men. That would go a long way toward refuting my argument. However, if you discover that homosexuals have many more sexual partners than straight men, that would reinforce my case.

    Now I’m going offline for a bit, but I will definitely check back when I have time. Again, a pleasure discuss this civilly with someone with a different point of view.

  17. RJN says:

    The population map that Anderson supplies a link to above has some value to you. The six million gassed and cremated Jews figure can be seen to be impossible, in fact ridiculous. If one considers the number of Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish Jews who went to Israel, or the United States, the six million claim is an insult to the reader.

    If you care, please go to the Arthur Butz site I link above.

  18. Anderson says:

    Doubtless it seems to RJN that Jews are everywhere, but of course he cites no evidence for these supposed emigration totals.

    More stats for the curious; the table is on the high end, 5.9 millions Jews murdered. As the source acknowledges, the Nuremburg tribunal came up with about 5.7 million.

    Wikipedia is also worth consulting.

  19. Anderson says:

    Just one more: a page of questions about the number of Jews murdered, with answers by different historians.

    Strangely, no professional historian appears to have been persuaded by “Arthur R. Butz, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science” at Northwestern U. I blame the Elders of Zion (who somehow failed to stop this guy from getting tenure … you’re slipping, Elders!).

  20. RJN says:

    The reason I urge anyone interested in the truth of the holocaust to go to the Prof. Butz site is that it actually is scholarly, not pretend scholarly like the site Anderson links to above.

    I am learning that pretend scholarly is something Anderson is good at.

  21. Homosexuality and Mental Disorders…

    Yesterday, as an example of the infringement on free speech, I briefly mentioned that homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the psychologists until the homosexuals applied political pressure to change this definition without any scientific …