[VIEWPOINT]There’s no changing the facts“The description of Jewish concentration camps in the 1,000-page history book regarding World War II accounts for a mere two pages. Of them, the part mentioning the gas chambers is only 10 to 15 lines. This is what we call a ‘detail,’ or trivial part.”
Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of Front National, a French far right party, used to openly argue that the gas chambers of Auschwitz concentration camp, the symbol of the Holocaust, were nothing but a detail of World War II. For this reason, Mr. Le Pen frequented the courts like a second home and paid fines worth a couple of houses. Even so, his attitude that Jews should be seen through colored glasses remains unchanged. Jewish people call Europeans who look at the Holocaust from a negative viewpoint “revisionists” or “negationists.”
David Irving, a British amateur historian, became the topic of conversation by interpreting the history of World War II from a revisionist standpoint. From the 1960s to the 1980s, he wrote over 30 books on World War II. His representative book “Hitler’s War” published in 1977 described the Second World War thoroughly from Adolf Hitler’s viewpoint. This is the so-called “intrinsic viewpoint.” According to the author, Hitler was a rational and intellectual politician who had not known about the Holocaust until the end of 1943. Auschwitz was a mere labor camp with a high death rate because of an unfortunate epidemic of typhus. There was no policy to annihilate Jews systemically. At present, Mr. Irving is treated as persona non grata in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as Israel.
Mr. Irving was arrested last November while traveling in disguise in Austria. He was then sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by the Vienna criminal court on Feb. 20 this year. He has been wanted by Austrian police since 1989 when he contended in a lecture in Austria that “the talks of the gas chamber in Auschwitz were fabricated.” Ten European countries, including Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland stipulate the act of openly denying the Holocaust as a criminal offense. In Austria, the maximum punishment for this criminal act is 10 years’ imprisonment.
In court, Mr. Irving insisted that he was no longer what he had been. He said he had changed his mind since he read the personal record, in 1991, of Adolf Eichmann, who led the Holocaust. He revealed a logic deserving a revisionist by saying, “Since history is like a growing tree, we can learn more as we have more access to more materials.” Mr. Irving is not Austrian. Moreover, his remarks in point were made 16 years ago. His lawyer advocated his “freedom of expression,” but the Austrian court sentenced him to a heavy punishment according to its principles. A severe sentence was possible because of the social consensus that Austria should thoroughly reflect on its ugly past of producing Hitler and participating in the Holocaust and that those historical faults should not be repeated.
However, some point out that this ruling shows Europe’s double standards on the freedom of expression. Islamic circles criticize that it is self-contradictory to deny the freedom of expression regarding the revisionist view of the Holocaust while Europeans advocate publishing caricatures of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, based on freedom of expression. They ask whether freedom of expression is like a marble in a pouch, that can be taken out or put in as needed. Others point out that the viewpoint of a conspiracy about the background confining the Holocaust to a sanctuary of taboo provides a stick to support the validity of revisionism. This logic states that history has developed through challenges of dogma.
Nevertheless, it is a luxury to discuss freedom of expression before a crime against humanity that deprived millions of their lives. If religion is a matter of faith, history is a matter of facts. By denying the Holocaust, Mr. Irving turned away from the facts and distorted history. The distortion of history is not a matter of covering the facts citing freedom of expression. Even now, some people argue that the Nanjing massacre did not happen and that there were no comfort women for Japanese soldiers. I wonder what they would have thought while seeing the ruling of the Austrian court.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok