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East European Perspectives: June 12, 2002

12 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 12


By Michael Shafir

Holocaust denial in postcommunist East-Central Europe, in most cases, comes in forms and shapes that enable its propagators to claim that they never meant what they said or wrote. Outright negation is rare, but not insignificant. To a large extent, it is part and parcel of what Hungarian sociologist Andras Kovacs calls "imported or re-imported antisemitism" (2002). In general, it is supported and inspired by the aged, ultranationalist exiled communities, many of whose members are linked with exile associations. These people have access to Western negationist literature, and some go as far as to participate themselves in the negationist drive. The Western inspiration is, however, not always acknowledged. Viewed from this perspective, one could possibly speak of "honest" and "dishonest" negationists.

'Honest' Negationism

Politicians usually belong to the latter category. A case in point is Stanislav Panis, the former leader of the Slovak National Unity Party and later a deputy representing the Slovak National Party in the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly (Hahn, 1994, p. 71; Cohen, 1999, p. 158; Mestan, 2000, p. 73). In an interview with Norwegian television in 1992, Panis said it would have been "technically impossible" for the Nazis to exterminate 6 million Jews in camps -- a clear echo of French negationist Robert Faurisson's contentions. Panis also claimed that Auschwitz was nothing but an "invention" of the Jews to make possible the flow of compensations to Israel. His political career did not suffer as a result of these statements, and in the late 1990s he even served as a deputy culture minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 1997).

In Bucharest, Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor in March 1994 professed to have "learned that English and American scientists (sic!) are contesting the Holocaust itself, providing documentation and logical arguments proving that the Germans could not gas 6 million Jews, this being technically and physically an impossibility." The Holocaust, he added, was nothing but "a Zionist scheme aimed at squeezing out from Germany about 100 billion Deutschmarks and terrorizing for more than 40 years all those who do not acquiesce to the Jewish yoke" ("Romania mare," 4 March 1994). In November 2000, Tudor's party became the second-strongest formation in the Romanian parliament, and the PRM leader made it to a runoff with Ion Iliescu for the position of head of state.

Not all Holocaust negationist politicians in East-Central Europe, however, go unpunished. In general, the less significant politically their formation, the greater the chance they will eventually face some sort of judicial accounting. The most famous case in point is perhaps that of Poland's Boleslaw Tejkowski, leader of the neo-fascist Polish National Commonwealth-Polish National Party. In 1995, he was given a two-year suspended sentence for insulting "the Polish authorities, the Jewish people, the pope, and the Episcopate." In Tejkowski's eyes not only Poland's entire postcommunist leadership was made up of Jews and "closet Jews," but the pope himself was Jewish. The Holocaust, he claimed, was a Jewish conspiracy that made it possible for the Jews to hide their offspring in monasteries during World War II in order for them to be baptized and take over the Catholic Church from within. This, he said, was how Karol Wojtila became a Catholic priest (Prazmowska, 1995, pp. 209-210; Szayna, 1997, p. 121; Ost, 1999, p. 96). Outlandish as this may sound, it was nonetheless not singular. In Hungary, two ultranationalist publications, "Hunnia Fuzetek" and "Szent Korona," "unmasked" Cardinal Paskai as being allegedly Jewish (Berend, 1993, p. 131); and precisely the same argument was produced in Romania by Radu Theodoru, who "revealed" that Wojtila's name was in fact "Katz" (Voicu, 2000b, pp. 82, 157). In other words, the Jews themselves are the authors of the Holocaust -- an "argument" by no means limited to the outright negationists.

For obvious reasons, Poland is the least prone to outright negationism, Tejkowski's case notwithstanding. Too many of the extermination camps were on Polish soil, and negation would be to question the largely consensual POLISH martyrdom itself. And yet negationist articles began appearing in 1994 and 1995 in "Szczerbiec" (The Sword), the publication of the extreme-right formation that calls itself National Revival of Poland (NOP). That party is led by Adam Gmurczyk and claims to be the reincarnation of the prewar, violently antisemitic youth organization National-Radical Camp, which was outlawed in 1934. The NOP is a member of the neo-Nazi International Third Position, and "Szczerbiec" lists such notorious Holocaust deniers as Derek Holland and Roberto Fiore among its editorial board members. It printed several "classics" among outright Holocaust deniers in the West (Pankowski, 2000, pp. 79-80). The NOP, following the so-called Western "revisionist" tactics, also established a National-Radical Institute which in 1997 published a volume under the title "The Myth of the Holocaust," consisting of translations from the most infamous Western Holocaust deniers. One of the regular contributors to "Szczerbiec," Maciej Przebindowski, in 1997 went as far as to emulate his Western inspirers by claiming that "a group of researchers from the National-Radical Institute" conducted field work at Auschwitz-Birkenau concluding that the extermination in gas chambers was an impossibility (Pankowski, 2000, p. 76).

Dishonest Outright Negationism

Politicians, however, are not alone in indulging in outright Holocaust negation. The phenomenon is far more widespread in publications -- not necessarily party-affiliated -- as well as in journals or weeklies translating, adopting, or embracing the argument of Western negationists. In 1999 a Polish historian, Dariusz Ratajczak, who worked as a researcher at the recently founded University of Opole, was put on trial for publishing a book that embraced the negationist "Auschwitz lie" theory. "Dangerous Topics," as the volume was called, embraced the so-called Fred Leuchter "Report," claiming, among other things, that Zyklon-B gas was used in the camps solely for "disinfecting" purposes. Other arguments of the improperly labeled "revisionists" were also reproduced in the volume. (While "revisionism" is a legitimate and consistent feature of historiography in quest of revising knowledge, Holocaust negationism is obviously an exercise in the falsification of history). In his defense, Ratajczak claimed that he did not necessarily agree with the arguments of the "revisionists," but he considered it necessary to make known all points of view on the Holocaust. "My only objective," he said, "was to present a phenomenon called 'Holocaust Revisionism' without an author's commentary." The court found the claim unconvincing, as it transpired from Ratajczak's own comments in the volume, but nonetheless dismissed the case. The small number of copies (230) produced in the book's first print, it said, was too "insignificant" to cause any "serious degree of social harm," and between the first and the second, larger print, Ratajczak had publicly distanced himself from the "revisionists" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999; PAP, 7 December 1999). Yet just days after the verdict was pronounced, Ratajczak was the guest star at a political meeting organized by the extreme-right National Party, of which he was an active member. Furthermore, his views were embraced and defended by such figures in the "respectable academic world" as Professor Ryszard Bender, who teaches history at the Catholic University of Lublin. Though he represented the Communist Party in the parliament in the 1980s, Bender later switched allegiances to the right and was for some time a senator and the chairman of the State Council on Radio and Television (Pankowski, 2000, pp. 78-79). Bender accused the "Jewish lobby" of persecuting Ratajczak and went so far as to deny Auschwitz was ever an extermination camp. He was eventually disciplined by his university, and Ratajczak himself was fired from the University of Opole. But almost instantly, he was offered a job at the Higher School of Journalism in Warsaw (Pankowski, 2000, pp. 79-80).

In the Czech Republic, proceedings were launched by police in 2000 against Vladimir Skoupy, leader of the far-right National Alliance, a majority of whose members are skinheads. At a meeting in October 1999, Skoupy denied the existence of the Holocaust. As everywhere else in East-Central Europe, in the Czech Republic there is no specific (like Fabius-Gayssot) legislation prohibiting Holocaust denial. But again, as almost everywhere else in the area (in late 2002 Slovakia passed an amendment to the Penal Code specifically making Holocaust denial a punishable offense, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2001), there are articles in the Penal Code that can be used for the purpose of prosecution, provided authorities are willing to do so (which is not always the case) and provided the courts are willing to interpret those legal provisions as applying to Holocaust denial (which is even rarer). Offenders can be prosecuted on grounds of "incitement to hatred against a community," "defamation of a people or a race," or "propagating a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of other citizens." In the Czech Republic, both advocacy of fascism and of communism are grounds for indictment. But a Prague district prosecutor ruled against Skoupy's prosecution (CTK, 2 November 1999, 5 January 2000; "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). Skoupy was arrested in February 2001 after ignoring the prohibition of a Prague demonstration at which his supporters carried Nazi symbols, however, and soon thereafter the Interior Ministry rejected an application by the National Alliance to be registered as a political party under the name National Socialist Alliance (CTK, 26 February, 19 April 2000). In June, Skoupy, who was kept in detention for several months, was indicted for incitement to racial hatred, propagation of a movement aimed at suppressing citizens' rights, and the defamation of a people. The prosecution's evidence figured an article he had authored in the skinhead weekly "Vlajka" (The Flag) under the title "Such a Happy Journey," in which he offered Jews free transportation to extermination camps on livestock wagons with straw. The court convicted him on 7 June to one year in prison and four years of probation, but he was released on 22 June, his earlier detention being considered as sentence-serving. Skoupy made it clear that he did not intend to refrain from participating in demonstrations, though he would not speak there (CTK, 8, 21 and 22 June 2001).

Criminal proceedings were also initiated in Hungary against negationists Albert Szabo and Istvan Gyorkos. Szabo claims that the Holocaust is a hoax and that Europe's Jews have all emigrated to America. In turn, Gyorkos has had contacts with U.S. Nazi and Austrian neo-Nazi leaders and, in his publications, denied the Holocaust was ever perpetrated (Kovacs, 2002). They are both leaders of the far-right Hungarianist Movement, an organization claiming descent from Szalasi's Hungarian National Socialist Party-Hungarianist Movement, as the official name of the Arrow Cross had been (Gruber, 1995, p. 20). Together with Gyorkos, in March 1996 Szabo was acquitted by a tribunal of violating a law banning incitement to racial hatred and use of prohibited Nazi symbols on freedom-of-speech grounds ("OMRI Daily Digest," 5 and 11 March 1996).

In Hungary, negationist articles were quite frequently printed in the weekly "Szent Korona" and in the monthly "Hunnia Fuzetek." The former ceased publication in 1992 , and its editor in chief, Laszlo Romhanyi, was convicted in 1993 for various crimes, as were several members of the weekly's staff. In 1991, "Hunnia Fuzetek" carried an article by Australian-exiled Arrow Cross sympathizer Viktor Padanyi, written in the best "scientific" tradition of Holocaust denial. The article -- including the main theses of a book Padanyi had published in Australia -- stated that 1.2 million of the 1 1/2 million Jews acknowledged to have lost their lives in World War II were killed by the Soviets while "just" 300,000 were killed by the Nazis. The latter had anyhow acted in self-defense, because the Jews had "been working" for the "enemy" both inside Germany and outside its borders (cited in Kovacs, 2002). The monthly's editor in chief, Ferenc Kunszabo, and one of its regular contributors, Janos Fodor, were charged in 1993 with "incitement against a community," but the court ruled that to convict them would be tantamount to restraining the freedom of the press (Kovacs, 2002).

In Slovakia, outright negationist articles were occasionally printed, purporting to unmask the "Hoax of the Century" (the title of negationist Arthur Butz's infamous 1976 volume). For example, the weekly "Zmena" in 1992 carried a series of articles by one Patrick Mehrenturk, who frequently invoked in support of his argument the "authority" of Robert Faurisson and other negationists. The gas chambers never existed, according to Mehrenturk, and, as "Zmena" put it (allegedly relying on "KGB sources"), the number of Jews who perished at Auschwitz was not higher than 74,000. The extermination camps, according to the "Zmena" series, were nothing but "well-maintained gardens with barracks" and the inmates "people employed in useful work" (cited in Mestan, 2000, pp. 117-118). All that needed to be added was "Arbeit macht frei."

For quite some time, Slovakia also used to be a provider of negationist literature to the Czech Republic, since the AGRES publishing house printed for the leading Czech anti-Semitic and negationist weekly "Tydenik politika." In December 1992, criminal charges were filed against the weekly's editor in chief, Josef Tomas, for having printed a list of 168 prominent Jewish intellectuals labeled "Slavs from Jordan River." After nearly a decade, the case is still pending before the courts, but the weekly has since suspended publication (Hahn, 1994, pp. 71-73; Vago, 1994, pp. 190-191).

In Romania, translations of negationist articles were printed in both ultranationalist and allegedly "mainstream" publications; what is more astonishing, intellectual figures generally perceived as identifying with democratic, pro-Western postures uniquely came out in defense of the dissemination of negationist literature. The PRM weekly "Politica" serialized translations by Leonard Gavrilu from the French periodical "Annales d'histoire revisionniste" in eight consecutive issues between February and March 1995. The publication of the now-defunct, far-right Movement for Romania, "Miscarea," in November 1994 published an article by Silviu Rares reviewing such "milestones of Holocaust contestation" as the works of David Irving, Maurice Bardeche, Paul Rassinier, Pierre Guillaume, Richard Harwood, Udo Walendy, Ernst Zundel, as well as of Faurisson and Butz. Roger Garaudy's "The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics," with its well-known negationist tunes, was welcomed not only by the neo-Iron-Guardist monthly "Puncte cardinale" but also by Professor Nicolae Manolescu, at that time a leading National Liberal Party (PNL) figure and the editor in chief of the weekly "Romania literara," as well as by "mainstream" journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu, editor in chief of Romania's largest circulation daily, "Adevarul." For Popescu, criticism of Garaudy's works abroad amounted to nothing less than questioning "freedom of thought," and the condemnation of "The Founding Myths" was on par with passing sentence on Descartes ("Adevarul," 2 March 1998). The book landed its author before a court of justice in France -- he was sentenced to a 120,000-franc fine -- and its Swiss distributor before a similar court in Switzerland (Shafir, 2000). If the book's Romanian defenders could argue, as Manolescu did in 1998, that Garaudy did not entirely negate the Holocaust in "The Founding Myths," having only objected to "some exaggerations," the claim could no longer be made for a 1999 translation of his volume "The Trial of Israeli Zionism: Unmasking the International Zionist Conspiracy," in which the negationist argument is embraced full-scale (see Voicu, 2000a, p.137).

Outright Negationism 'Full Steam'

Yet no one among Romanian authors embraced the negationist argument more eagerly and more fully than Radu Theodoru (see also Constantinescu, 1998). A former air force officer, a founding member of the PRM, and for some time one of Tudor's deputies, Theodoru was expelled from the PRM after he quarreled with Tudor. For a brief period of time, in 1993 he became chairman of the extraparliamentary Party of Social Democratic Unity (Shafir, 1993) but eventually fully dedicated himself to repeated negationist productions, occasionally combining those with attacks on the country's Hungarian minority -- of course depicted as being "in league" with the Jews (see Theodoru, 1997, 1999).

Theodoru is an "honest negationist." "I am the partisan of the revisionist school headed by the French scientist (sic!) Robert Faurisson," he wrote in 1995 in the anti-Semitic weekly "Europa." He added that Faurisson "is the victim of disgusting moral and physical pressures, only for having questioned the existence of the gas chambers." Theodoru then proceeded to produce the list of Western negationists and their main "demonstrations," starting with the "Leuchtner Report" and then going back to Leon Degrelle, the leader of the Belgian Rexist fascist movement and his 1979 "open letter" to Pope John Paul II. In that letter, Degrelle, who served as a volunteer in the "Walonia Waffen SS" unit on the eastern front, claimed that as an eyewitness he can testify that there were neither gas chambers nor any mass annihilation of Jews in Hitler's Third Reich and in the territories occupied by Germany -- Jews rather having been killed by American and British bombings (Lipstadt, 1994, p. 11). Degrelle, Theodoru added, produced two "comparative columns" which demonstrate that the "real genocide was that committed by the British-American bombings, by the two American A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the mass assassinations in Hamburg and Dresden" and not at Auschwitz, which is used by "Zionist propaganda to squeeze out of defeated Germany fabulous amounts of money." It was "Zionist propaganda" that "imposed on [international] public opinion the fabulous number of 6 million assassinated Jews." The "revisionist school," however, "demonstrates," according to Theodoru, that the number of victims packed into a gas chamber could not have physically fit to reach the number of gassed victims attributed to the Nazis. This, as is well-known, is one of Faurisson's main claims. The "revisionist school," he wrote, is nothing short of "an A-bomb thrown by conscientious historians" on the propagandistic construct put in place by the craftsmen of the "Alliance Israelite Universelle," for "having demonstrated that at Auschwitz and the other camps no genocide by gassing had occurred, [they implicitly] pose the problem of revising the Nuremberg trials." In turn, that revision calls for "revising the trial of Third Reich Germany" as a whole and hence questions "the tribute paid by postwar Germany to Israel and world Jewish organizations -- from pensions to all sorts of subventions" (Theodoru, 1995).

The article in "Europa" was said to be the first in a serialized new book by Theodoru, whose title was announced as "Romania, the World and the Jews." The book itself was published in 1997 but under the title "Romania as Booty," and it apparently sold well enough for a second, enlarged version, to be brought out by a different publisher in 2000, with the article in "Europa" serving as the volume's introduction (Theodoru, 1997, p. 9, 2000a, p. 6).

But "Romania as Booty" by no means exhausted Theodoru's outright negationist emulation. In a volume published in 2000 whose title was obviously of Garaudian inspiration, he expanded on the argument. In "Zionist Nazism," Theodoru told his readers the Holocaust was turned into "the most profitable Jewish business" that ever existed, a business that "enriched the so-called witnesses, who fabricated series of aberrant exaggerations and pathological descriptions of life in Nazi camps." The managers of that "business" had "introduced the Holocaust in school curricula, Ph.D.s are being written on the subject, writers engaged in fiction on the topic make a nice profit from it," and "so-called documentary movies such as [Claude Lanzmann's] 'Shoah' -- in fact nothing but subtle or gross mystifications" are constantly produced, alongside the holding of "so-called scientific conferences" and articles in the mass media. The combination managed to "set in place a complex system of misinformation, of brain-washing, of psychological pressure" and "succeeded in imposing forgery as an emotional reality." The reaction of "human dignity" to this state of affairs, Theodoru went on to write, "is called HISTORICAL REVISIONISM," and its courageous partisans were turned into "the target of Nazi Zionism, who employ against revisionist historians physical terror, media lynching, judicial terror, assassination attempts, social isolation, economic strikes." The revisionist output "analyses the whole Nuremberg trial, proving that it has been a trial of the revenge of the victors over the vanquished. I myself characterize it as the trial of German Nazism by Zionist Nazism. To be more precise, the trial staged by Judaic Nazism against Aryan Nazism. Nothing but a scuffle among racists" (Theodoru, 2000b:23-24; author's emphasis).

Summarizing the gist of the so-called "revisionist" argument, Theodoru concluded:
No document on the Holocaust can be found. No order signed by Hitler, Himmler or other German leaders. The much-heralded FINAL SOLUTION had two versions: that preceding the war against the USSR and consisting on the deportation of Jews to Madagascar; and that following the war's outbreak, consisting in their deportation to the Far East (sic!). The gas chambers were delousing and disinfecting chambers, and the much-heralded Zyklon B was a pesticide, as demonstrated by American engineer Leuchtner in the two analytical reports he produced after visiting all camps in Germany, Austria and Poland. The crematoria burned the corpses of those who died of typhus. (Theodoru, 2000b, pp. 25-26; author's emphasis)

Theodoru ended this section in "Zionist Nazism" by welcoming the publication in Romanian translation of "The Founding Myths," authored by the "excellent philosopher, sociologist and politologist Roger Garaudy" and expressing the hope that this was just the beginning. Other important "revisionist" authors, such as Irving, Butz, Faurisson, Jurgen Graf, Carl O. Nordling, and Carlo Mattogno await their turn, he wrote (Theodoru, 2000b, pp. 27-28).

As it turns out, "globalization" has already succeeded when it comes to denying the Holocaust.


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