German publisher capitulates to press censor

Today, after a public and legal campaign by The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a German publisher agreed to shut down a pulp magazine that illustrates tales of German soldiers and their adventures during World War 2. [Algemeiner]    [New York Times]

Der LandserBauer Media has published Der Landser since shortly after the Nürenburg trials. Early in the Magazine’s history, some material—or at least its inspiration—was drawn from narratives of former SS officers. Early subscribers included history buffs and strategy enthusiasts. But critics claim that, in recent decades, consumers more likely include Nazi sympathizers and hard core Neo-Nazis. Far from innocent war pulp, they assert that that the publication fans the flame of prejudice and intolerance.

Actually, the magazine looks more like a serial comic book than serious literature. In my opinion, it is a close cousin to those 1960s “Detective” magazines that titillate readers by sensationalizing and exaggerating lurid back-stories of serial murderers and rapists. You know the type—a woman in a bra adorns the cover. With fear on her face, a dark shadow or knife-wielding man lurks behind her. For added effect, the man is almost always shirtless, just like his victim.

Detective Magazine

Der Landser doesn’t need a vulnerable, partially-clad woman on their covers. Instead, they show German soldiers gazing from a trench at Allied troops in the distance and describe Aryan heroics in defending the Fatherland. Enormous planes with Swastikas on the tail provide cover from the skys.

The problem, according to The Simon Wiesenthal Center, is that individuals or army units involved in the stories were provably involved in unspeakable atrocities. Stories that glorify them violate a German, post war, hate law.

There is no doubt that The Wiesenthal Center’s successful effort to banish publication places a spotlight on hate the glorification of mass-murderers. But does that light contribute to reason and debate—and, ultimately, to widespread education, civility and tolerance? I certainly appreciate their position and motive. The Weisenthal Center is all about teaching tolerance. So it certainly seems like their actions are laudable…

The Wiesenthal Center’s goal is laudable, but I question their method. In fact, I feel that it subverts the goal.

I cringe when any goal—even an honorable one—is attained by exploiting the German law which prohibits a free press. In this case, the publisher agreed to fold the magazine, not because it was hurtful or hateful, but because an American organization used an ill-conceived gag-law to put them in fear of their own government. Yes. In Germany, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust and it is illegal to promote Nazi history or even to buy & sell most Nazi paraphernalia. Any display of Nazi symbols or Hitler artifacts is also illegal.

Moreover, Germany has enacted repentance by telling its citizens what not to do and how they must behave in matters of expression. By forbidding citizens to trade historical symbols of hate on Ebay or gaze on the twisted cross in a school room, they contribute to ignorance and limit discussions which might guide a postwar generation to better appreciate the sins of their ancestors.

A sister law to this press prohibition forbids Holocaust denial any platform, public or private. Is this supposed to limit hate or ignorance? It does not. It doesn’t even reign in denial. Rather, it drives intolerance underground where it continues to fester. How can the German government fail to recognize this? Germany invented rocket science. But here is a simple axiom that doesn’t require a rocket scientist: Hate and intolerance are countered by a bright light. Exposure, explanation, evidence and rebuttal. Apparently, under German law, these things are verbotten.

In retrospect, I am not too surprised that the German government fails to understand the mechanisms of hate, but I expect more from The Simon Wiesenthal Center. They should not, themselves, use a restricted press and an intolerant government as tools of education & outreach. What’s more? When all is said and done, it simply cannot work.

2 thoughts on “German publisher capitulates to press censor

  1. Ellery — I read your comments in which you expressed thoughts that the Simon Wiesenthal center may be using the wrong tools to fight antisemitism in the case of Bauer Media.

    In an absolutist view of free speech, an individual cannot be held accountable for falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. After all, any prosecution would infringe on shouter’s the freedom speech. Likewise, in this case, I don’t particularly share the viewpoint that free speech trumps all circumstances.

    Falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater was not a crime in the USA until several actual events occurred (one of which was the 1913 Italian Hall disaster left 73 dead). In 1919, under direction of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., our Supreme Court agreed that there is not an unlimited freedom of personal speech; “false and reckless” speech which presents a “clear and present danger” to society, or is “likely to incite imminent lawless action” may be restricted. When past circumstances, events, and societal norms have shown that certain types of speech will probably result in the related deaths or maiming of other citizens, or high-treason to the United States of America, then even speech may be limited, or at least may be countered by law suits for damages caused and directly tied to such speech.

    In the United States, we do not have a predominant history of Nazi hate-speech which has repeatedly incited injury to others. Although, you might point out that the KKK and other white-supremacist groups did reach that level of false and reckless speech which likely incited a number of “good old boys” to lynchings, black-church burnings, and other lawless actions. Even in Illinois, we have experienced a number of specific incidents, such as when the invectives by Matt Hale, leader of the East Peoria, IL, “World Church of the Creator”, led to one of his gullible followers, Benjamin Smith, going on a three-day shooting spree in which he randomly shot nine Orthodox Jews, walking to and from synagogue in West Rogers Park. [citation]

    There are scores, of these types of incidents with various hate-mongers either taking credit for their duped followers, or disavowing credit in an attempt to escape successful legal prosecution. But, generally as a nation, we have not followed suit—although some states governments have been very vocal against desegregation in past years, they did not encourage people to murder and mayhem.

    However, in Germany—even today—there is an overwhelming history of the general population being complicit in the persecution and extermination of Jews, primarily at the behest of slander and propaganda against the Jews. Mein Kampf was not the beginning of hatred toward the Jewish people, but it was sensationalized, nationalized (as with Mao’s red book in China), and given foundation by the acquiescence of a majority of the German nation. In my opinion, this makes Germany a special case, and laws to outlaw the denial of the holocaust are every bit as legitimate there, as affirmative action was here in the USA, where the Supreme Court felt that for a certain period in history, it is necessary to help correct an injustice by a certain limitation on our freedoms. There is an end in sight for affirmative action (now, reclassified as the “need for diversity”), and there will someday be an end in sight for some of the German laws pertaining to hateful speech and denial of the Holocaust. But, for now, I concur with German legislatures and courts, that higher-level restrictions of hate-speech are continued necessities in a nation with the proven, higher-propensity to act upon that type of speech with results witnessed during the Holocaust.

    In an ideal world, it would not ever be necessary to limit speech. But we don’t live in such a world, and it is fitting and apt that we take into consideration wrongs of the past and our attempts to atone for and correct some of those wrongs, and try to honor the memories of those who lost their lives during dark times in which hate-speech was not effectively countered and a nation was unable to protect many innocent lives of its own citizens.

    You are also aware that we are not just focusing on the sins of slander within Nazi Germany. For nearly two-thousand years, the Catholic Church, in the name of G-d, severely slandered and persecuted Jews, misrepresented both Torah and Talmud, and made Jews to wear special identification (long before Germany), tortured, burned, drowned and exiled them during massive inquisitions. It was not until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), under the auspices of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul, that the Catholic Church took responsibility for the hateful-speech which it had propagated for so many years and built into catechism, and made the apologies and changes necessary to turn around relations with the Jewish people, that we were able to experience dramatic improvement in perception of Jews.

    Special, historical circumstances sometimes demand compromises on our freedoms of speech—which vary from country to country. I suspect that The Simon Wiesenthal center is using various tools and strategies they have available on a country-by-country, case-by-case basis. In general, I share their point of view and tactics…not always, but most of the time.

    Someday, we can look forward to a future when speech limitations may not be necessary, and our history no longer requires legislators to contemplate special restrictions.

  2. I get your point, GDR and I accept that certain limits to free speech may be a debatable necessity under certain circumstances. However, I cannot think of an exception and I don’t feel that this is one of them.*

    By suppressing the free wheeling discussion of a major historical event, including the handling and exchange of artifacts, and the in-your-face experience of symbols and hate speech, I feel that the opportunities for powerful, teachable moments are also suppressed.

    * Incidentally, I don’t feel that the argument of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is analogous at all. In my opinion, laws and courts can draw a reasonable distinction between speech and a capricious, insane act. I would classify the person yelling “Fire” into the latter category.

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