A government-sponsored bill that would penalize anyone who denied Nazi genocide or claimed the Holocaust was a hoax came under fire from both right and leftwing elements on its first reading in the Bundestag. It is also opposed by Jews who see it as a watered down version of legislation first proposed by Chancellor Helmut schmidt when his Social Democratic Party (SPD) governed West Germany.
One of the main points of contention over the draft law is its equation of Nazi crimes against Jews with crimes by “other totalitarian regimes” against Germans. This is directed primarily against the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies. The law as written would make it an offense to deny that genocide was also committed against Germans.
According to Manfred Schmidt of the SPD, the government bill is a farce. He faulted Justice Minister Hans Engelhard for failure to specify what war crimes the government has in mind when it seeks to punish individuals who publicly claim those crimes were never committed.
Schmidt also charged that Engelhard, a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a coalition partner with the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had been forced to make far-reaching concessions to rightwing elements in the government. The original draft, aimed at effectively combatting neo-Nazi propaganda, lost its character, he said.
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But Eicke Goetz, of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian partner of the CDU, defended the draft law. He contended that it would be a mistake to penalize only those persons who deny crimes against Jews and not those who deny crimes against Germans. According to Goetz, people who say the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II was “just an act of resettlement” deserve the same penalties as those who claim the Holocaust never occurred. Otto Schilly of the opposition Green Party, a coalition of ecologists and pacifists, objected to the law in principle. He said that while many of his party colleagues support the idea of tightening existing laws against neo-Nazi propaganda, the proposed new legislation reflects a typical German belief that this objective can be achieved by imposing still more regulations. Neo-Nazism should be opposed by political, not legal means, Schilly said.
The Jewish community is urging Parliament to adopt the original law proposed by the Schmidt government. They point out that unlike the new version, the SPD bill would have punished not only written but verbal neo-Nazi propaganda. The Jewish community is also strongly opposed to any comparison of the Holocaust with crimes committed by other regimes against Germans.
The Munich-based neo-Nazi weekly National Zeitung condemned the draft law as the product of pressure on the government from “Zionist quarters.” However, it praised Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s regime for seeking to punish individuals who claim that no crimes of the magnitude of genocide were perpetrated against Germans.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.