Anti-Semitic NPD ex-mayor′s acquittal slammed as ′scandalous′ | News | DW | 03.08.2016
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Anti-Semitic NPD ex-mayor's acquittal slammed as 'scandalous'

Saxony-Anhalt's highest court is under fire for a precedent-setting lenient sentence on a former mayor convicted of Holocaust denial. The far-right politician from former East Germany remains unapologetic.

Historians and a prominent Jewish council are protesting the "scandalous" acquittal announced by an appeals court, which threw out an already lenient financial judgment against a former mayor who wrote blogs questioning Nazi Germany's attempt to exterminate Europe's Jews.

Hans Püschel was forced to resign in 2013 as mayor of Krauschwitz, a town of around 600 people, for statements he published on the internet that minimized or denied Nazi crimes. In his writings, he belittled historical accounts of the death toll at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in occupied Poland as "lies" and claimed that it resembled a sports ground equipped with a modern hospital and "60 doctors" for inmates.

The German constitution forbids questioning the existence of the Holocaust or praising the Third Reich.

Püschel, 67, is a member of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), an ultranationalist fringe party that skirts the line between legal political discourse and prohibited speech. Previously a longtime member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), he changed his affiliation only in 2010, when he ran for mayoral office as an NPD candidate.

Referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in central Berlin, Püschel also suggested: "If we put a thousand hunks of concrete in the middle of Berlin for murdered Jews, then at least 3,000 belong there alongside them for murdered Germans." On the current role of Jews in German society, he wrote of "the dubious to virulent and devastating influence of Jews and Zionism on Germany."

Lead judge had previously overturned NPD convictions

In 2013, a criminal court imposed fines on Püschel totaling 3,000 euros for the offensive writings. The amount was calculated as equivalent to 100 "daily rated fines" of 30 euros ($33.70), in line with the German legal principle intended to levy fines according to earnings and without imposing economic hardship.

In 2014, a higher regional court upheld the lower court's 2013 decision. The final decision by the state's highest court overturned the regional court's findings and nullified the penalties.

The Saxony-Anhalt court wrote in its judgment that while Püschel had broken the law, it found no evidence that he had "trivialized" the Holocaust in general.

In 2011, the lead judge of the court, Gerhard Henss, also overturned the convictions of two other NPD party officials who had made slanderous and defamatory statements. The court refused to answer any questions about the decision, citing judicial independence.

Shock among historians at verdict

NPD Wahlflyer Sachsen-Anhalt

The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is usually described as neo-Nazi.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Die Welt newspaper that the case was alarming given the political climate in which rightist forces are on the rise in Germany and the rest of Europe. He said "attempts to rewrite German history and mock the victims of National Socialism are an unacceptable trivialization of the crimes of the Nazis."

Historian Christoph Jahr of Humboldt University in Berlin told the newspaper he could not comprehend the court's sentencing or its "very benevolent tone" in its reasoning. The Holocaust expert said he could only describe the court decision as "scandalous."

Püschel laments his plight of holding unpopular views

In an interview with Die Welt, Püschel said he was not celebrating the verdict, and went on to make further defamatory statements about his displeasure at Jewish participation in German society today. He also lamented the unpleasant consequences of his convictions on his own life.

"There is no pleasure when one gets into trouble everywhere - even within his own family - because of his beliefs," he said.

jar/kl (epd, kna, Die Welt)

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