The Holocaust Historiography Project

German Professor [Werner Pfeifenberger], Accused of Revisionism, Commits Suicide

Mark Weber

Werner Pfeifenberger, a German professor of political science, took his life in Austria on May 13, 2000, a few weeks before he was to go on trial in Vienna for an allegedly revisionist and “neo-Nazi” essay published five years ago. The 58-year-old scholar was scheduled to appear on June 26 before a district criminal court, where he faced up to ten years imprisonment for a 1995 writing that allegedly violated Austria’s anti-Nazism law. His attorney said that Pfeifenberger, fearing an unfair trial, had announced his intention to take his life.

Pfeifenberger, born in October 1941, was once a well-regarded scholar. After studying law, economics and political science, he taught at colleges or universities in Salzburg, Münster, Paderborn, Grenoble (France), Stellenbosch (South Africa), and Taipei (Taiwan). For a time he served as director of the semi-official Austrian Institute for Political Education, and from 1978 to 1983 was responsible for its periodical, “Political Education.”

For years Prof. Pfeifenberger had been under fire from leftist and Jewish groups, which cited his support for allegedly “neo-fascist” or “neo-Nazi” organizations such as the “Austria Cultural Foundation” and the “German-South Africa Society.” Critics also cited his defense of the apartheid government in South Africa, and his writings for “right wing” periodicals.

His troubles became much more pronounced after his essay, “Internationalism and Nationalism: a Never-Ending Mortal Enmity?,” appeared in the 1995 Year Book of the Academy of Austria’s Freedom Party. A prominent Jewish journalist, Karl Pfeifer, took aim at Pfeifenberger and his essay. Writing in the magazine of Vienna’s Jewish Community, Pfeifer accused him of employing “neo-Nazi tones” ("Neo-Nazi Töne"), of extolling the “national community” ("Volksgemeinschaft"), and of reviving “the old Nazi legend of a Jewish world conspiracy.” The Jewish periodical cited Pfeifenberger’s mention of a “Jewish war against Germany,” referring to world Jewry’s 1933 declaration of an international boycott action (economic war) against Third Reich Germany, and his portrayal of former Austrian president Kurt Waldheim as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

The Jewish journalist’s broadside began a campaign against Dr. Pfeifenberger that finally ended with the professor’s suicide.

In Germany, a leading member of the Social Democratic faction in parliament expressed concern about the essay’s supposedly “anti-Semitic tendencies,” and in 1997 the government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia dismissed Pfeifenberger from his teaching post at a specialized college (Fachhochschule) in Muenster. This summary dismissal was overturned in April 1998. and in October 1999 he was given a new position at a specialized college in Bielefeld. However, because this substitute position was only as a researcher, his career as a teacher was effectively finished.

In Austria’s parliament, members of the Social Democratic and Green parties denounced Pfeifenberger’s essay, and pressed for legal action against the Year Book’s publisher, namely the rival Freedom Party of Joerg Haider. And a court in Vienna, affirming a charge made by the Jewish community magazine, found that Pfeifenberger’s essay contained “Nazi tones” ("Nazitöne").

Typical of such cases in Germany and Austria, the accuracy or truthfulness of Pfeifenberger’s writing was not an issue. An offensive “tone” or “diction” is enough to bring legal action against an author.

This was also manifest in a case involving David Irving. At a meeting in Munich in April 1990, the British historian told his audience that the “gas chamber” shown for decades to tourists at the Auschwitz I main camp is a fake. Irving was quickly charged, and a German court duly fined him 10,000 marks. In January 1993 a Munich court trebled the fine to 30,000 marks (about $21,000). It simply didn’t matter that Irving’s provocative statement was, in fact, completely true. Remarkably, even Robert Jan Van Pelt, a major defense witness in the recent Irving-Lipstadt trial in London, has himself acknowledged that the infamous Auschwitz I “gas chamber” is actually a fraudulent postwar reconstruction. (See: R. Faurisson, “The 'Gas Chamber' of Auschwitz I,” Sept.-Dec. 1999 Journal, pp. 12-13.)

The Pfeifenberger case is not only another blow against freedom of expression and research in Germany and Austria, it manifests the hypocritical “democracy” that prevails in much of Europe today.

Even before he decided to commit suicide, noted the Vienna weekly paper Zur Zeit (June 2-8, 2000), Werner Pfeifenberger’s professional life had already been destroyed. Rather than endure further disgrace and ruin, he chose death. The “politically correct” enemies of freedom of expression and scholarly research can proudly claim another victim. Whatever justification there may have been for Austria’s law banning any revival of National Socialism (Nazism), the paper went on to comment, the broadening of that law in 1992 has provided the enemies of intellectual freedom with a “fascism club” to intimidate adversaries. “As one can see,” Zur Zeit continued, the 1992 law has proven to be “a serious mistake, for which Werner Pfeifenberger has paid with his life.”

Pfeifenberger’s death recalls the suicide five years ago of a retired German chemist. On April 25, 1995, Reinhold Elstner took his life in downtown Munich by setting himself on fire in protest half a century of “defamation” and a “Niagara flood of lies pouring down on our nation.” In a statement written before his death, he explained: “Fifty years of ceaseless defamation, ugly lies and demonization of an entire people are enough!… Now 75 years old, there’s not much more I can do. Through my death in flames I can nonetheless still give a final visible expression of my views. If, as a result, even one German comes to his senses and finds the way to truth, then my sacrifice will not have been in vain …” (See “A German Takes His Life to Protest Defamation and Historical Lies,” Sept.-Oct. 1995 Journal, pp. 23-24.)