Photo: AFP
Irving in Austrian court
Photo: AFP

Yes, Austria is different

Best thing about David Irving trial is that he was convicted by young people

I was in Vienna last week to watch the trial of the world's most infamous Holocaust denier, David Irving.


The Vienna District Court found Irving guilty of violating Austria's law forbidding Holocaust denial, and Irving was sentenced to three years in prison.


The trial took just one day, and according with Austrian practice, three judges and a jury of eight heard the case.


Initial worries


To tell the truth, when I saw the make up of the jury I was a bit worried: almost all were young people, even very young, and I was worried they would accept the prosecution's claims about free speech.


Because what do young Austrians have to do with their country's not-so-glorious past, to put it mildly, during the Nazi period in neighboring Germany? They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who voted almost unanimously (99.75 percent) to return to the German fatherland in 1938.


In other words, they chose to unite with the Germany that had been ruled since 1933 by Austrian Adolf Hitler, born and raised in the Austrian township of Braunau.


Why would these young Austrians accept the prosecution’s claims and rule in accordance with a 1989 law? I asked myself.


But I was wrong. This jury of young Austrians unanimously decided to convict Irving, sending him to jail.


Different Austria


In my many conversations with friends in the media, academia and senior police officers and a retired government official, I was surprised to discover that the third generation after the war is actually very interested it the country's past, and is determined to prevent a recurrence of such phenomena.


"Sure, we've got extremist elements amongst our young people, like there are everywhere, unfortunately," they told me. "But the majority rejects racism and is unwilling to forget what happened in the past."


Forbidding law


The law Irving was convicted of is a "forbidding law," the point of which is to prevent the rise of a new Nazi party. It is the only law of its kind in the world.


True, other countries, including Germany, Poland, France and Spain have laws forbidding Holocaust denial, but the Austrian law is harsher and more detailed than any.


Thus, for example, the law prohibiting Holocaust denial is based on the law prohibiting denying historical facts and events, and during the trial itself it is forbidden to bring up theses that contradict the event in question.


Prosecuting denial


Austria deals very seriously with its forbidding law: in each of the last 15 years there have been between 15-40 trials; there were 45 such trials in the year 2000 alone. Two-thirds ended with convictions.


Now, Vienna is preparing a Holocaust denial trail against a former member of the Bundestrat, the Austrian senate and member of the right-wing Freedom Party who told a reporter that the gas chambers should be "investigated" from a physical and scientific perspective.


Austria is different? It certainly would appear to be.


Noah Kliger is a regular contributor to Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth 


פרסום ראשון: 02.27.06, 13:03
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