Italian Historians Ignite Debate over Holocaust Denial

A group of Italian historians has raised a potential intellectual furor by defending the right of Holocaust deniers and revisionists to publish their beliefs.

The free-speech defense came in a letter published last week in the Turin daily La Stampa. The letter was signed by 11 professors from universities across the country.

The letter was a response to the French government, which had barred the distribution of a book on World War II by German author Jurgen Graf on the grounds that it denied the existence of the Holocaust.

The writers of the letter indicated that they had not read the book in question, but that their concern was for the broader issue of free speech.

“What is certain is that the episode forms part of a very worrying tendency that for some time has been under way in Europe, that of resolving historiographic debates by judicial means,” the letter said.

“We feel that in Europe as in Iran, in Germany as in Italy and France, historical research must be free of any chain, and must be guaranteed the most complete freedom of circulation of ideas.

“We are appealing, therefore, to the scientific community to which we belong, but also to the political world and to the press, so that they react to this state of affairs, and put an end to a tendency that wherever it develops may put the freedom of speech, press and culture in European countries at risk.”

The signatories to the letter made clear that they did not deny the Holocaust and that they condemn all forms of racism.

La Stampa last week devoted a lengthy article to the letter, calling it a “provocative protest.” The paper noted that the letter’s singatories came from the left, right and center of the Italian political spectrum.

“The historians who signed the letter are challenging a taboo,” the newspaper said.

“Until now, no one in the scientific or academic world and outside the extreme right has objected to the banning of `negationist’ texts, a ban codified in Germany and France by regulations that consider denial of the Holocaust a crime.”

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