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At Least 20 Are in Austrian Jails Awaiting Trial on Neo-nazi Charge

February 19, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

At least 20 people are in Austrian jails awaiting trial for illegal neo-Nazi activity while the Parliament prepares to enact legislation that would reduce the penalties for such offenses.

The reasoning behind the proposed new laws and amendments to existing ones is that the conviction of neo-Nazis by juries would be more likely if the penalties mandated by law were eased.

That may be tested in the case, among others, of Gunther Reinthaler, arrested in Salzburg a week ago.

Reinthaler, a 32-year-old student, was named by the neo-Nazis to be “gau-beauftragter” — the old-time Nazis called it gauleiter, meaning provincial boss — for the provinces of Salzburg and Oberosterreich, or Upper Austria.

Reinthaler was reputedly one of the most important neo-Nazi organizers in the former East Germany. The police nabbed him in his Salzburg apartment with a large collection of incriminating neo-Nazi material.

A close associate was arrested shortly afterward with neo-Nazi propaganda material and a list of militant extremists and their specific functions.

One of Reinthaler’s closest cronies is the self-styled “Nazi fuhrer,” Gottfried Kussel, arrested earlier. Police said they had been “after him for years.” He was nabbed after boasting of his Nazism and making statements denying the Holocaust on American television.

Two days ago, another 15 men were detained on suspicion of neo-Nazi activities.

Austrian legislators are expected to act in about 10 days on the proposed legislation. But Jewish leaders have already voiced strong reservations about some contemplated changes in the law.

Paul Grosz, president of the Jewish community, said, “We are very restrained in our approval of this new amendment, because we feel it contains quite a few loopholes.”

Grosz was referring to draft legislation that forbids denial of the Holocaust or the existence of gas chambers “in public.”

The term “in public” is much to broad, he said. It could be open to all manner of interpretation — for example, that one might minimize, deny or justify Nazi crimes in front of a classroom or a small group, if not at larger forums.

Those objections were dismissed by the chairman of the Parliamentary Judiciary Committee, Michael Graff, who said other laws exist that could be applied in specific cases.

But Grosz noted that his position is shared by Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, head of the Vienna-based Nazi War Crimes Documentation Center.

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