Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reaction to Latest Austrian Holocaust Denial Trial

The BBC has posted an European press review on the latest Holocaust denial trial in Austria.

Holocaust denier

Austria's Der Standard praises a court decision to hand down a suspended one-year prison term to a former politician for playing down the Holocaust.

John Gudenus, a former member of Austria's upper house, was tried for suggesting that the existence of gas chambers in the Third Reich should be verified. Later he said there had been gas chambers in Poland but not in the Third Reich.

The paper argues that these two remarks are "cynical and humiliating and show contempt for the Verbotsgesetz", Austria's Holocaust denial law.

"He has rightly been convicted for this," it says.

The paper adds, however, that comparisons with Holocaust denier David Irving, who was jailed for three years by an Austrian court in February, are not warranted.

It feels that while David Irving has caused "great ideological damage", John Gudenus is more of a marginal figure who has "learned absolutely nothing from history".

Austria's Die Presse agrees that the two cases are different.

The paper observes that David Irving has written books and "is admired as an icon" in neo-Nazi circles.

John Gudenus, on the other hand, is regarded as an "eccentric", it adds.

The paper believes that, as a result, the jurors did not take him seriously, and "this helped Gudenus in court".

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/04/27 03:09:12 GMT


A moving moment: Visiting with Paola Castagno

As readers of this blog know, I have just returned from a few months in Rome. While there I made contact with Paola Castagno who wrote me a very moving email after my trial. Below is the story of that enconter.

About a week after I arrived in Rome I began trying to find Paola Castagno. Paola is the young woman who sent me the incredibly moving email which I include in my book. She talked about her grandfather Aldo having been in Auschwitz for 8 months and that “he didn’t say me nothing about it.”

I sent her an email but heard nothing. The email did not come back. So I tried again. Still no response. Then I asked Flavia, our secret weapon, to help. She sent her an email in Italian. I am not sure if it was Flavia’s email that did it, but shortly thereafter she called the office.

I immediately called her and she said she would try to come to Rome. Turns out she lives in Torino [Turin]. My student Syliva Haya, who works in the Roman Jewish archives, told me that Castagno was not a Jewish name. So we began to surmise that either Aldo has not been Jewish or that he was her mother’s father and that her mother had married someone named Castagno, who was not Jewish.

A few days later I received an email that she was coming down from Torino with her mother and would arrive in the afternoon. Since the trip is about 5-6 hours, I figured that they would stay overnight. Turned out that they were planning to go back that evening. So, in essence, they were making a 10 hour train ride for a three hour visit.

They were coming on a Tuesday when I teach. It was the day we were scheduled to discuss Primo Levi’s Se Questo e un Uomo [If this is man]. I told her we would be doing so. She emailed me that she was excited about being there for that.

I told them to have the receptionist call me when they arrived. I immediately went down to find them. As soon as I walked into the area I spotted her. She is a tall, dark haired, long legged beautiful young woman with large dark eyes. Her mother is also a beautiful woman. She has a great spirit about her – but I knew that from the fact that she went to the trouble to find my email address after the trial and wrote me that beautiful email.

We got some coffee and I showed her that I had included her email in my book. She was touched. Her mother seemed quite proud. Turned out that Aldo was not Jewish and that they truly know virtually nothing about his Auschwitz experience or even why he was deported. It is obviously a big hole in their lives.

The mother brought a picture of Aldo. He was a stunningly handsome man. The picture was taken about six or seven months after he came back from Auschwitz.

At one point I asked her if she came to Rome often. She said, a bit sheepishly, that this was her first trip. People from Piedmont go North she said jokingly. She has traveled much – London, Germany, France, Oslo – but not Rome. I told that she was a couple of blocks from the Coliseum and the Roman Forum and since she had shlepped so far to see me, I felt obligated to show them some of Rome. So on this bright, beautiful late winter/early spring day we walked over to these ancient sites. I gave her a “tour.” We laughed at how the American was showing the Italian Roman history.

Paola told me how in life he suffered terribly from stomach problems which he attributed to his time in the camp and the terribly poor nutrition there. She stressed how he never told them anything. She described how she would ask him to come to her class to describe his experiences, as other Italian survivors did, but he refused adamantly. Every April 25th, the day on which the Italians mark the Holocaust, he would sit in front of the TV and cry. When she talked about it was as if she was relieving it.

I was struck by the fact that she talked in the present tense and as if she had personally experienced. “When he came back he was so much sadder than when he went.” “When he came back he was so much skinnier.”

When we returned to the Gregg [the University] a TV crew was waiting to film me. They had already done an interview and wanted some shots of me in front of the school and in my class. The reporter, who had attended my talk and read my book, knew about Paola. She was touched to meet her.

In the class we talked about Levi’s experience. A number of things struck me: First of all, we were discussing Levi in 3rd person, not dispassionately but certainly analytically. For them it was Aldo’s experience. We were discussing the author of this important work. They were hearing Aldo’s story.

Secondly, it also struck me that technically one could say that Aldo was not part of the Holocaust per se. After all, he and his entire family were not destined for death, as Jews would have been. Paola and her mother know he “did” something but did not know what it was. For a Jew it was not a matter of “doing” something, it was simply because they were Jews. Yet watching them sit there listening – with tears in their eyes – to our discussion of Levi’s experience, I realized that while my distinction was historically correct on a personal level it was somewhat irrelevant.

It was a brief but moving moment.

New Holocaust Denial Trials

From Ha'aretz:

John Gudenus, a former legislator in Austria's upper house of parliament, was sentenced on 26 April 2006 to a suspended one-year prison term for denying aspects of the Holocaust. Gudenus had declared in April 2005, during an Austrian television interview, that the existence of gas chambers in the Third Reich should be "seriously debated." Later he amended his remarks to say that "there were gas chambers, though not in the Third Reich but in Poland." According to Austrian law, Gudenus could have faced up to 10 years in prison for denying the Holocaust had he been found guilty by the eight-member panel of jurors.

Two weeks earlier, on 11 April 2006 Spanish Holocaust denier Pedro Varela was arrested in his bookstore Libreria Europa in central Barcelona and hundreds of books denying or minimizing the Holocaust were seized by the police. After posting bail, Varela was released. He may be subject to 5 years in prison if convicted. On 16 November 1998 Varela was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, Spain's first conviction for Holocaust denial.

Sources: Ha’aretz, 26 April 2006;, 16 April 2006; Journal of Historical Review, 1998