Recently in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg found himself at the centre of criticism after claiming that
posts from Holocaust deniers should be allowed on Facebook. Why do nations ban the
denial of the Holocaust? Before we go onto the details, we initially have to know about
Holocaust denial. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party committed mass
genocide; although many consider the Nazi regime to have forced millions to live in pain, the
existence of neo-Nazis has continued to this day. They advocate the revival of Nazism in
Europe and believe in the possibility of the reconstruction of the ‘ideal world’ composed of
Aryans – the ‘superior’ race. Therefore, the presence of the neo-Nazis – those who deny the
Holocaust and support anti-Semitism – was enough to persuade the German government to
pass the law against Holocaust denial.
Despite the good intentions, the policy was initially ineffective in sentencing Holocaust
deniers mainly because the German judicial system was still full of officials who started their
careers during the Third Reich. Accordingly, both the liberal and conservative
administrations made attempts to pass more effective policies in the 1970s. The ratification
of the law allowing the prosecution of Holocaust deniers in 1985 led to a wider impact:
nations such as Austria, Belgium, and the Czech Republic also banned the denial of the
Holocaust and prohibited the use of signs and symbols including the German Swastika.
Although the UK did not ban the denial of the Holocaust, its stance on this issue was clearly
revealed during the trial of the British author David Irving in 1996 where he asserted that the
American historian Deborah E. Lipstadt had disparaged him in her book ‘Denying the
Holocaust.’ However, the court ruled that Irving’s claim regarding the English defamation law
and Holocaust denial was invalid since Irving had deliberately distorted evidence. In other
words, while Irving had asserted that Lipstadt’s claim was false, numerous evidences
presented from Lipstadt and her lawyer had turned out to be true.
The disparity between the nations’ decisions can be explained by how Holocaust denial
imposes a direct harm on the victims of the Holocaust. Denying the Holocaust not only
ignores the pain of the people but also diminishes the right to mourn for the loss of families
and friends. One’s freedom of speech can only be respected when it doesn’t harm others.
The victims of the Holocaust should be able to protect themselves from such comments that
insult all those who were killed and oppressed.
Furthermore, Holocaust denial contradicts past government actions. From 1939 to 1945,
various nations fought against the Nazis and the Axis of Power; millions of casualties were
produced, and in the Battle of Stalingrad alone two million were injured and killed. After the
war ended in 1945, the countries opened the Nuremberg trials to exert retribution on war
criminals who contributed to the Nazi party during World War II. The purpose of these efforts
was to punish Nazi supporters who had committed serious crimes. Even Italy, a member of
the Axis Powers, banned the denial of Holocaust in 2016. Therefore, legalising the denial of
the Holocaust would be a step backwards when so many countries have already invested so
much in correcting past mistakes.
Finally, allowing the denial of the Holocaust can lead to more serious outcomes. Allowing it
sends a message to the public that the government can tolerate offensive comments
directed at a particular race or gender group. This then allows a whole new field of hate
speech by people who claim that it is unfair to ban other forms of hate speech when the
government is allowing Holocaust denial. As hate speech tends to limit an individual’s
freedom of speech, societies cannot be healthy. Afraid of the deconstructive criticism from
people who do not agree with their arguments, individuals cannot express their thoughts out
loud. Holocaust denial will result in a greater amount of hate speech and an antagonistic
society where nobody will discuss their own identities. Accordingly, society is going to lack
an understanding of each other since there will be no opportunities for them to debate about
Holocaust denial has been illegal in many countries for over decades. In some nations, it has
played a highly successful role in eradicating radical anti-Semitic ideas. On the other hand,
neo-Nazism is growing popular even when the countries ban the denial of the Holocaust.
This caused people to question the effectiveness of this policy. There are two cases.
Romania first banned Holocaust denial in 2001, which was one of the fastest among newly
liberated European nations. However, the Romanian government discovered that these laws
were not being implemented at all. For instance, despite the presence of laws against
Holocaust denial, Romanian authorities failed to prosecute Gheorghe Funar, a former mayor
of the city of Cluj in Romania, who said, in a filmed speech, that the claims that the Jewish
made about the Holocaust are all fake and non-existent. Therefore, the Romanian
government strengthened the legislation in 2015. While Romania’s case of laws against
Holocaust denial was a problem that occurred due to flaws in the legislation, there recently
has been a rise of neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial even with strict laws regarding
Holocaust denial and neo-Nazism in Germany. These actions were mainly led by the
National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Founded in 1964, the NPD is a far-right and
ultra-nationalist political party in Germany. The party is a successor to the German Reich
Party which originated from West Germany – they self-identify themselves as Germany’s
“only significant patriotic force”. Furthermore, Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the largest
opposition party in the German parliament and is a located towards the far-right of the
political spectrum. Therefore, we can see that even with such strict laws, Holocaust denial
and anti-Semitism are still present in Germany. Those who practice and believe in such harmful notions should be harshly punished and prevented from expressing these ideas. A government legislation that simply benefits a few toxic believers for society should definitely be prevented for the good of all. Consequently, laws against Holocaust denial should be established in every nation to stop neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.
The ‘189 Disparagement of the Memory of Deceased Persons’: a legislation resolved in
1985 by the German Parliament that highly focuses on hate crime punishment and laws
related to crimes that defame the dead.
According to the ‘189 Disparagement of the Memory of Deceased Persons’, “whoever
disparages the memory of a deceased person shall be punished with imprisonment for not
more than two years or a fine. An insult shall be prosecuted only upon complaint.
Especially, if the person is disparaged under the National Socialist Party or another rule by
force and decree, this group is a part of the population and the insult is connected with this
persecution. The objection may not be withdrawn.” This shows that Germany is intolerant
towards speech to people that offend people who have passed away. Therefore, it is clear
that in 1985 the German Parliament came up with a strict law banning hate speech
towards a deceased person, especially targeting people who offend deceased Jews or a
certain race or culture group because of their belief in the Nazi party.
Definition of Key Terms
Anti-Semitism: discrimination against Jews
Third Reich: Third Reich, official Nazi designation for the regime in Germany from January
1933 to May 1945, as the presumed successor of the medieval and early modern Holy
Roman Empire of 800 to 1806 (the First Reich) and the German Empire of 1871 to 1918
(the Second Reich).
National Socialist Party: the official name of the Nazi party.
German Swastika: the Flag of the Nazi Party (1920-1945), used by numerous anti-semite
and neo-Nazis across the world.
Neo-Nazism: consists of post-World War II of militant social or political movements
seeking to revive and implement the ideology of Nazism. Neo-Nazis seek to employ their
ideology to promote hatred and attack minorities, or in some cases to create a fascist