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.
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.