Trivializing National Socialism

Der Standard (02/21/2006)

Is Not Just an Offense When Holding a Certain Opinion

Hans Rauscher

Recently my old German- and History teacher, Herman Lein, died at the age of eighty-five. He wouldn’t have been happy about the discussion among various commentators and lawyers on whether one shouldn’t have done away with the statute that prohibits advocating NS activity (Verbotsgesetz). He had almost died in a concentration camp and spent his time in the years after the war telling a couple of thousand school children something about National Socialism. That was something of an exception in the early 1960s. Hermann Lein was a so-called Innitzer guardsman. As member of a Catholic youth group, he participated in a celebration on October 7, 1938 called forth by Cardinal Innitzer whereby wreaths of roses were placed at the altar of Vienna’s Stephansdom.

The Cardinal had, incidentally, greeted the Anschluß some time before with "Heil Hitler." About 7,000 young people were demonstrating against NS rule, the only sign of any larger public resistance displayed between the years of 1938 and 1945. Days later the eighteen year-old Lein was arrested due to inciting the crowd and brought to Dachau and then Mauthausen for nineteen months, where he almost died from typhus.

After the war he became a high school teacher and dedicated himself to educating his class in great detail about the nature and crimes of National Socialism. At that time it wasn’t very usual to offer students political enlightenment of any kind. We had teachers who reported proudly of their heroic deeds in the German Army, who struck up songs of an inappropriate political nature during skiing lessons, who allowed for strange ideas about Herrenmenschen to trickle through their lessons (later, at university, one could hear anti-Semitic overtones during introductory lectures given before hundreds of students in the lecture hall or one could listen to a famous professor who made fun of Sigmund Freud).

Authoritarian, anti-Democratic, racist ideas, particularly those appearing intellectual, have a certain appeal to young people, over and over again. That is why it is absolutely necessary to identify the nature of the greatest crime in the history of mankind committed among us. And it is necessary to prosecute those who deny these crimes. There are some conservative and libertarian commentators who, for lack of other worries, wish to permit the neo-Nazis’ freedom of speech. Even a few old leftists have joined their ranks, and ultra cool young people think that one shouldn’t behave this way.

All of this proves the fact that these fighters for freedom of speech never have had anything to do with neo-Nazis and they think of them as merely distant oddballs rather than real preachers of hate with a political agenda. The argument so gladly heard - one cannot bar people from committing a crime of odious speechis no real argument.

People who deny the Holocaust, like David Irving, have no opinion. They know exactly, or at least they are capable of knowing, that these incomprehensible crimes happened and how. They want, however, to deny them, to trivialize them, to make them politically acceptable.

That is the decisive point. Whoever plays down National Socialism, not only once but continuously and with considerable argumentative effort, wants to again make it politically viable as a future possibility. That is resuming NS activity, nothing else. This is also what the Supreme Court decided again in 2003. To tolerate this is asking too much from a democracy. And it is shabby asking it from the victims.