German Jewish leader testifies in a Holocaust denial test case
By Toby Axelrod
BERLIN, Jan. 16 (JTA) — The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany has faced off in court against a German lawyer charged with denying the Holocaust.
Council president Paul Spiegel was called as a witness last Monday in the trial of Udo von B., an attorney from Dusseldorf. Von B. is accused of Holocaust denial, which is a crime in Germany.
At issue is whether the claim to “not have seen anything” in the period between August 1944 and January 1945 can legally be defined as “Holocaust denial.”
The incident in question took place at a November 2000 dinner for more than 70 German notables hosted by Deutsche Bank.
Following after-dinner remarks by Spiegel, von B. allegedly expressed doubt that there had been any murders committed at Auschwitz. He also suggested that discussion of the Holocaust contributes to anti-Semitism.
“Up to that point, the evening had been fine,” said Spiegel, who told the court that he had been asked to speak at the event about Jewish life in Germany.
In his talk, Spiegel said his sister had been deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Afterward, von B. cast doubt on the claims of atrocities at Auschwitz.
Von B. said he was 15 years old when he was stationed in an anti-aircraft factory near Auschwitz during World War II.
Factory workers were brought regularly to the concentration camp to be deloused, shower, and have a sauna, he said, but he never saw any evidence of cruelty being committed there against Jews.
Finally, he asked if Spiegel didn’t think that constant reminders of the Holocaust — such as Spiegel’s own speech — hindered good relations between Jews and Gentiles in Germany, especially considering the reparations Germany has paid.
According to Spiegel, none of the guests at the dinner reacted to von B.’s comments, which Spiegel called “a subtle form of Holocaust denial.”
For his part, von B. told the court that since the end of the war he had “never denied the Nazi crimes against the Jews,” and added that he had apologized to Spiegel with flowers and a note.
Spiegel confirmed that he had indeed received a bouquet, with a note in which von B. apologized for having “not been in control of his words.”
In the courtroom, von B. said that on his regular visits to Auschwitz he had seen only “large, strong employees” and “workers, criminals” of Hungarian and Russian background.
Spiegel said several things about the incident bothered him: It had been a long time since he had heard someone say, “I was in Auschwitz and didn’t notice that Jews were being murdered there;” because he had been “made responsible for anti-Semitism in Germany”; and because the other prominent guests at the dinner, including Duesseldorf Mayor Joachim Erwin, sat silently throughout the exchange.
“No one said anything like, ‘We don’t share this interpretation,'” Spiegel said.
After hearing Spiegel’s testimony, Judge Sabine Krugerke said she would hear other witnesses before deciding the matter.