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While Americans will be lighting firecrackers this Fourth of July to celebrate freedom, a courtroom in Germany will convene in a very different spirit: the prosecution of a Roman Catholic bishop for expressing an opinion.
Bishop Richard Williamson, of the Society of St. Pius X, is charged with the crime of “holocaust” denial. He has refused to pay a fine and his trial, originally scheduled for this past November, was postponed until July because the bishop was compelled to switch lawyers, the SSPX hierarchy deeming his first attorney unacceptable due to that lawyer’s political associations, described by the media as “radical right wing.”
Williamson gave an interview to Swedish television during which he said he believes the “historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews being gassed in gas chambers” by the Nazis during World War II. He said this on German soil, where “holocaust denial” is a crime, and German authorities are proceeding with his prosecution, which will resume in Regensburg on July 4.
The trial is fraught with interest and one wonders what defense might be mounted for disagreeing with an historical assessment of events that occurred more than a half-century ago and for which there is a paucity of physical evidence. Most accounts of the gas chambers at concentration camps are anecdotal.
Even if these accounts of gas-chamber executions were accepted uncritically as true in all details, the numbers of victims deemed accurate, and expressed doubts concerning such evidence regarded as ill-informed, imprudent and, if the case can be made, motivated by prejudice, by what criteria can a dissenting opinion, even a manifestly mistaken one, be a crime?
Bishop Williamson bases his opinion on a document called the Leuchter Report. This is the publication of forensic evidence presented in the 1988 trial of Ernst Zundel, who was charged in Canada with reporting “false news.” (What infinite possibilities for prosecution would the zealous enforcement of this law now lay before us?)
Zundel disputed the evidence for the “holocaust,” which is a term with biblical resonances. (A holocaust in the Old Testament is a pure offering to God. In Catholic liturgy it stands for Jesus Christ, the pure offering in atonement for sin, which is why some object to its usage to describe the persecution of Jews during World War II.)
Zundel’s attorney hired Fred Leuchter, an American who made his living designing and maintaining execution chambers in state prisons, to determine whether cyanide gas was used to execute people at Auschwitz.
Leuchter determined that such gas had not been used. His conclusions were based on chemical and structural findings, namely, the absence of sufficient residue on the interior walls of the chambers and the absence of proper venting structures in the buildings that the use of poison gas would require.
Those findings have been disputed and, many maintain, thoroughly discredited. One would have to have some knowledge of chemistry and engineering to make an informed judgment on such evidence. I would not do so. Perhaps it would have been wise for Bishop Williamson to have reserved his opinion.
But as in the case of Bishop Williamson, Ernst Zundel and Fred Leuchter discovered that it is dangerous to speak freely about certain things. Zundel’s house was targeted by arsonists. His garage was pipe-bombed. Members of the Jewish Defense League were arrested trying to break into his home. And he was sentenced to prison for spreading “false news”. That conviction was overturned when Canada’s high court declared the law upon which it was based to be unconstitutional.
Leuchter’s life was subjected to intense scrutiny. He, too, faced prosecutions. He does not have an engineering degree, which meant he operated his business without the state licensing required in certain venues. On a visit to England, he was arrested and deported on orders from the Home Office, so odious was his presence on British soil considered.
Experts were engaged to refute Leuchter’s findings about Auschwitz, and most any online search of the subject will provide detailed scientific evidence that contradicts or calls into questions Leuchter’s conclusions.
One might ask: why must there be a law to forbid the questioning of facts that can be so decisively demonstrated? Would it not be enough simply to marshal the evidence in order to discredit and characterize as foolish or malicious anyone who would question such facts? It would seem so.
And is there not something terribly dangerous about the state forbidding the expression of dissent about prevailing opinion on historical matters? Is there not a very slippery slope here? Once the principle of state authority in this realm is established, on what basis can it be contained?
Those Jewish groups so zealous for the Vatican to open its archives to historians interested in investigating the Church’s alleged complicity in the “holocaust” might be wise to grant a similar license to those interested in examining the evidence of that “holocaust”.
If Vatican City were to make it a crime to accuse Pope Pius XII of Nazi sympathies, and to establish by law an official version of its World War II history, a few objections might be heard from certain quarters.
That the Jews suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis is a fact no one in his right mind would deny. It is impossible not to have one’s heart break when one sees newsreels of the survivors of the death camps taken during the allied liberation. That such horrors might prompt us to take strong action to prevent their repetition is understandable. But to adopt a totalitarian policy, such as represented in the “crime” of holocaust denial, is decidedly a step in a very wrong direction.
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