In Austria, as in other European countries, the struggle for freedom of expression and historical truth continues — with victories as well as setbacks.
In March 1992, a prominent Austrian engineer made headlines because he had written a detailed essay, “Holocaust: Belief and Facts,” that rejects key elements of the Holocaust gas chamber story.
In his essay Walter Lüftl presents detailed technical arguments to support his conclusion that the well-known stories of mass extermination of Jews in gas chambers at the wartime camps of Auschwitz and Mauthausen are impossible. Such claims are incompatible with the laws of nature, explains Lüftl, a court-recognized expert engineer who heads a major engineering firm in Vienna.
Often-repeated allegations of Jews being gassed with Zyklon B or with diesel engine exhaust (at Treblinka, for instance) could not possibly have taken place as some “eyewitnesses” claim, concludes Lüftl. Similarly absurd, he writes, are often-heard stories about flames “shooting” from crematory chimneys at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In fact, crematory chimneys simply do not produce flames of any kind. (The complete text of the “Lüftl Report" was published, in English translation, in the Winter 1992-93 Journal of Historical Review.)
Newspapers both inside and outside Austria lost no time assailing the engineer. Typical was a sarcastic attack by a Holocaust survivor named Koenig in the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post. Without actually seeing it himself, Koenig castigated the report of “Walter Luftel” as “disgusting and abhorrent.” In refutation, Koenig did offer one bit of documentary evidence: “a photograph of an invoice sent by the Degesch Co. of Frankfurt to Herr Obersturmführer Kurt Gerstein in Berlin.” (This well-known invoice simply confirms delivery of Zyklon B, a widely used disinfestation agent.)
In the wake of such public attacks, Lüftl was obliged to resign as president of Austria's 4,000-member association of professional engineers. In April 1992 he was changed with violating the section of Austria's criminal code that makes it a crime to “deny, grossly play down, approve of, or seek to justify … National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity.” A short time later the charge was amended, and he was accused instead of violating the criminal code section against attempts to revive or restore National Socialism.
In a June 1993 order explaining the amended charge, Vienna's District Criminal Court declared that Lüftl had attempted, “in a way that appears to be scholarly, to refute important historical facts of the National Socialist killing machinery,” and to make available his report to others whom “he must have known” would use it “publicly to whitewash and justify the National Socialist killing machinery.”
In Austria “Holocaust denial” is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment. In Germany this crime can bring a punishment of up to five years in prison. Such laws reflect the favored status of Jews in Austria and Germany these days. Comparable laws do not exist to punish persons who “deny” crimes of Soviet Russia, Communist China, Zionist Israel, or any other regime.
As part of its investigation, police raided Lüftl's residence, turning it inside-out in a search for additional “incriminating” evidence.
Responding to the accusations, Lüftl defended his essay as responsible, serious and scholarly, and pointed out that he did not deny National Socialist crimes as such but dealt only with some technical aspects of “Holocaust” killing methods.
In June 1994 the case ended with an important victory for the cause of free speech and truth in history. Vienna's District Criminal Court ordered the termination of legal proceedings against Lüftl.
Austria's Ministry of Justice acknowledged that it was unable to find evidence to show that Lüftl had written his essay with an intention to promote National Socialism. Authorities affirmed that, on the contrary, he had written his report “for purely scholarly motives.” (In Austria, as in Germany, “scholarly” or “scientific” work is exempt from the laws against “neo-Nazi” or anti-Semitic writings.)
Some people, of course, were disappointed with the outcome. Dropping the case against Lüftl, said the director of the “Document Archives of the Austrian Resistance,” is “a severe setback in fighting Holocaust denial” and a “license for all future Holocaust deniers.” He expressed concern that “in the future the right-wing extremists will spread their National Socialist propaganda under the cover of a scholarly report.”
Lüftl's report provides further authoritative confirmation of the findings of American gas chamber expert Fred Leuchter, who carried out the first on-site forensic examination of the supposed execution “gas chambers” at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and at other sites. He concluded that the supposed gas chambers at these sites were never used to kill people as alleged, and could not have been used for this purpose. Leuchter testified on his investigation in the 1988 “Holocaust trial” in Toronto of German-Canadian Ernst Zündel, and his “Leuchter Report” has been widely circulated. (For more about Leuchter, his investigation and persecution, as well as the corroborating studies of others, see the Winter 1992-93 Journal.)
More recently, the findings of Lüftl, Leuchter and others have been confirmed by Germar Rudolf, a chemist associated with Germany's prestigious Max Planck research center. (See the Nov.-Dec. 1994 Journal, pp. 14-15.) A detailed report about the Lüftl case appears in Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte, a valuable 400-page large-format anthology. (For more about this work, see the May-June 1995 Journal, p. 43).
While Walter Lüftl's legal troubles appear to be over, this case is not. A one-page report about the engineer's essay and travails in the Austrian magazine Aula (July-Aug. 1994) brought swift legal action. As a result of this article, headlined “Laws of Nature are Valid for Nazis and Anti-Fascists,” the magazine's business manager was charged with “grossly playing down … National Socialist crimes against humanity.” The court was not persuaded by the defendant's plea that he was responsible only for the magazine's business affairs, and that during the period in question he was away on vacation. In August 1995 a court in Graz fined him $24,000, and imposed a ten month prison sentence, suspended for three years. He is appealing the sentence.
At the same time that authorities were abandoning their case against Lüftl, legal proceedings were also dropped against Emil Lachout, another Austrian who had been charged because he publicly contested the Holocaust extermination story.
On the witness stand in the 1988 Zündel “Holocaust Trial,” Lachout testified about the “Müller document,” ostensibly a circular letter issued by the Military Police Service in Vienna, Oct. 1, 1948. It reports that Allied investigation commissions had established that no one was ever killed by poison gas in Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen and several other German wartime camps, and that “confessions” by “witnesses” about such gassings were obtained by torture.
Serious questions have been raised about the authenticity of this document, and its origin has not yet been definitively established.