BERLIN (Mar. 21)
The Jewish community and survivors of World War II are outraged by a ruling issued last week by German’s highest appeals court, which said that repeating another person’s denial that the Holocaust occurred was not in itself a punishable offense.
In its March 15 ruling, the Federal Court of Justice reversed the decision of a lower court against Guenter Deckert, the chairman of the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party.
At a rally in 1991, Deckert had served as translator for Fred Leuchter, an American who promotes the theory that the Holocaust never took place.
In addition to translating comments by Leuchter, who tried to cast doubts on whether Nazi war crimes ever took place at the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek death camps, Deckert said he supported Leuchter’s theories.
Under German law, which has been supported by the courts for many years, it is a crime to display the swastika, cast doubt on Nazi war crimes or publish neo-Nazi propaganda.
After the rally, Deckert was arrested and given a suspended one-year sentence by a state court.
Leuchter, who was held in jail, immediately went to Frankfurt upon his release and boarded the next plane for the United States.
Deckert’s suspended sentence was appealed by both sides.
The state prosecutor was seeking a tougher sentence.
Deckert’s attorney wanted the case dropped.
AN ATTACK MUST BE PROVED
Last week, the appeals court reversed the lower court decision and ruled that merely stating the “Auschwitz lie” — that Jews were not gassed in concentration camps — is not in itself a punishable act.
For a crime to have been committed, it must also be proved that the person has attacked a religious or racial group, according to a spokesman for the appeals court, Joachim Seol.
The prosecutors did not demonstrate that this had occurred when they filed the appeal.
Thus, the court decided that Deckert could not be found guilty of inciting racial hatred.
The crime carries a penalty of between three months and five years in prison.
Ignatz Bubis, head of Germany’s Jewish community, was upset at the decision but accepted that the ruling was based on a technicality.
“It was a procedural mistake by the court,” said Bubis.
Nevertheless, he said, “it is still shocking.”
Seol said that the case will now go back to the lower state court.
He predicted that Deckert would get a tougher sentence.
Politicians from various parties said the decision would only encourage neo-Nazis and the radical right.
Jerzy Kanal, the leader of Berlin’s Jewish community, told a local paper that “such a decision delivers the justification for right extremist groups.”