Former German Lawyer Imprisoned for Holocaust Denial for Second Time

A visitor walks between electric barbed-wired fences at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and former concentration camp November 18, 2013. Kacper Pempel/REUTERS

A former-lawyer who has previously been convicted for denying the Holocaust in Germany has been sentenced once again for the offence at a court in Munich.

Sylvia Stolz, 51, was convicted for inciting racial hatred when she denied that there was sufficient evidence for the Holocaust in a 2012 speech at an anti-censorship congress in Switzerland. She has been sentenced to 20 months in prison.

In footage that was recorded at the event and which was used during her trial, Stolz made references to the "so-called Holocaust", denied that the Holocaust had ever been legally defined or proven, and contested whether there was any solid evidence that the Nazis intended to wholly or partially destroy European Jews.

A Swiss lawyer filed a criminal complaint three months after the event, accusing Stolz of transgressing race law. Yet she argued during her trial that she was exercising her right to free speech.

Judge Martin Rieder rejected Stolz's claim that she was protected by her rights to freedom of speech. He told the court that hardly any other event in world history had been so thoroughly researched and examined as the extermination of Jews in Europe, and said that Mein Kampf served as evidence for Adolf Hitler's intentions to eradicate European Jews and other sections of society.

In 2008, Stolz was sentenced on the same charge and served three years and three months in a prison in Bavaria in a conviction related to her legal defence of the infamous Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, who was convicted himself of the crime in 2007.

During Zundel's initial trial, she repeatedly denied the Holocaust in court and signed off a legal document with "Heil Hitler." Stolz was barred from practising law after her first conviction.

Her husband is also a Holocaust denier and has also served time in prison for the offence.

Laws concerning Holocaust denial varies throughout Europe. In 2007, the European Union approved legislation that made Holocaust denial a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, but also gave individual countries the option to not enforce the law if such a prohibition did not exist in their own laws. There is currently no specific legislation outlawing Holocaust denial in the UK, or the Nordic countries.

Yet some experts believe that due to the alarming rise in antisemitic attacks throughout Europe, it is more important than ever for EU member states to crack down on Holocaust denial.

Claire Fernandez, deputy director for policy for the European Network Against Racism, believes that although freedom of speech is fundamentally important, this does not mean that things can go unchecked. "Obviously freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of democracy in Europe, but Holocaust denial is particularly sensitive and damaging for social cohesion especially with the rise of anti-semitic violence across Europe," she says.

"When it leads to hatred and violence, violence and hate crime against Jews is re-enforced. It is crucial that EU member states take Holocaust denial seriously. Freedom of expression is not without its limits."

However, others argue that prosecuting those who deny the Holocaust amounts to censorship, and is ineffective.

According to Rosalind English, a former academic who now co-edits the UK Human Rights Blog, prosecuting people who deny the Holocaust is counter-effective. "Freedom of speech should only be curtailed when it incites harm, not when it causes offence. While I go along with not allowing hate preachers into the country, once you start patrolling people's thoughts, then we could start policing all sorts of other thoughts. From a legal perspective, it is completely unenforceable," she concludes.

In 2000, David Irving lost a £2m libel action against the U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. The judge ruled that Irving was "an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist". Five years later Irving was sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for once again denying the Holocaust.