The “Verbotsgesetz”

It’s When the Relationship Gets Closer That Many Men Begin Staging a Way Out

Opinion | Lukas Hofer Moreno | February 2008

If you come to Austria equipped with a curious and sceptical mind and get involved in discussions about the Holocaust, you will be soon confronted with a legal phenomenon that might strike you as odd: the so called "Verbotsgesetz" – the Law of Prohibition. This law emerged as a consequence of Austria’s painful lessons during the time of the Third Reich, intended to prevent any re-enacting of the twisted values of National Socialism. A worthy enough goal, to say the least.

But unfortunately, the law goes much further than that.

While the primary purpose of the "Verbotsgesetz" of 1947 is to prohibit "the founding, supporting and financing of National Socialist organizations," it also provides that "denying, marginalizing, justifying or approving National-Socialist crimes against humanity in public" is punishable with at least one year in prison.

Two years ago, for example, British Journalist David Irving was convicted and sent to prison for publicly denying that there were gas chambers in Germany’s concentration camps, serving 13 months of a three-year sentence.

While it is understandable that the re-establishment of National Socialist paramilitary organizations would be   prohibited – just imagine people dressed up in SS, SA, or Nazi uniforms equipped with bats, crossing your path on a Vienna street – it is not clear why people should be sent to jail for challenging facts or ideas the population and legislators consider to be true.

The state, for instance, does not prohibit a private citizen from having his or her own view of the Holocaust, but condemns the propagation of such beliefs in public. This seems to indicate that Austria’s society is seen as too immature, or too easily influenced, to realize the incorrectness of those wild claims.

Austria’s record under National Socialism is not particularly distinguished.  Austrians weren’t particularly resistant to the Nazi regime – turning away from the deportation of Jewish friends, neighbors, and colleagues – falling for, or at least cooperating with an insane and despicable ideology.

But that does not give today’s government the right to exercise the "Verbotsgesetz" so harshly. Considering the desperate living conditions of the inter-war period, and Austria’s misguided support for Hitler in hopes of a better future, we shouldn’t draw false conclusions, and let ourselves be forced back into a totalitarian system, where opinions are controlled by the state.

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