February 22, 2006
Well, what do you
know! Three years in jail for professor David Irving. One part
of us wishes they would construct a little cell for him at Auschwitz.
Been there, and know just where it should be placed. Just opposite
the one (there were four) remaining crematorium where dead Jews
were consumed at the rate of one every four minutes, dragged in
15 yards from the gas chamber. The remains were, for a while,
dropped into the handy river a kilometer away, until the sheer
bulk of human cinders brought complaints that touched the heart
of the Gestapo, who found other means of disposal.
The other part of
us has to say: What is going on -- contemporaneous with the general
indignation, in the educated set, over the publication of those
cartoons in Denmark? Muhammad departed this Earth 1,400 years
ago, but concern for his image extended to protests around the
globe at mere caricatures in a small newspaper. One defender of
the faith has offered a million-dollar reward for anyone who kills
one of the cartoonists. Not many people have applauded their publication
-- why do something that offends the faithful of another religion?
But there has certainly been unanimity in Europe on what is thought
the transcendent point, namely the right of several cartoonists,
an editor and a publisher to decide for themselves what taboos
to observe, which to ignore.
Two things are certain.
One, that it will be a very long time before any editor in Europe
(and, for that matter, in the United States) publishes lighthearted
depictions of the prophet. The other, that everyone will defend
the proposition that in the free world, people are entitled to
express themselves as they choose, even if they choose malevolence
Well, where was Austria
during the Muhammad uproar? We don't, in general, know. But it
is likeliest that Austrian editors and intellectuals took the
Western party line. Free press is free press, and what is your
But then, last November,
Mr. Irving was driving in Austria and showed his passport at a
routine checkpoint. Clickety-clack, the computers whirred, and
he was placed under arrest. A warrant had been issued in 1989,
after Irving delivered two speeches reiterating his position on
Hitler's genocide. He was charged with having violated a law that
applies to "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves
or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National
Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast
or other media."
Auschwitz was liberated
61 years ago. Hitler was born 117 years ago. But the wretched
man was born in -- Austria. Perhaps if he had been born in Missouri,
we'd have tried to enact a law that held criminally liable anybody
who doubted that millions of Jews were killed under Hitler's command.
But in order to enact such a law, we'd have needed to amend the
Mr. Irving testified
to a court of three judges and eight jurors that in fact he had
revised his position on genocide. He had lately been convinced
by the evidence that he had been mistaken, that indeed, at Auschwitz
(and other camps), Jews had been slain by the millions. Before
that, Mr. Irving, a historian who has published many books, contended
that what had happened at Auschwitz was that a lot of prisoners
had succumbed not to poison gas, but to diseases such as typhus.
But the jury did not
consider Mr. Irving as having expunged the crime of denying the
Holocaust in his book, "Hitler's War." You cannot, the
prosecutor successfully contended, undo a crime by regretting
it. He might have been sentenced to 10 years in prison. In deference,
it is said, to his age (67) and his profession, he was given three
We will perhaps hear
many protests about what has happened under Austrian justice.
Henk Ruyssenaars of the Foreign Press Foundation is burning with
indignation and points out the dangers of ordained history. The
journalist cites, of course, Galileo, "who is closely associated
with the scientific revolution but who 373 years ago had to stand
trial for what he thought, said and wrote. It took the Vatican's
'Ringling Brothers' in Rome 359 years to agree with Galileo. On
31 October 1992, Pope John Paul II officially announced 'that
the Church had mishandled the case.'"
Austria is wrong,
of course. Though one can still believe in the free press and
take discreet pleasure that, when it is violated, things can happen
to the David Irvings of this world.
2006 Universal Press Syndicate