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]
Bauer 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.
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.