Words can be deadly … literally

Pictures at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Photo by Yang Jing on Unsplash

Sometimes words can kill: the 15 high ranking members of the Nazi Party certainly knew this when they met at a villa in Berlin’s up market suburb of Wannsee. The villa would have had an interesting history irrespective of this meeting: built by Ernst Marlier, a corrupt and violent German industrialist; sold to Friedrich Minoux (another German industrialist and swindler); and finally sold to the Nazi Party’s Stiftung Nordhav (run by the notorious Reinhard Heydrich – one of Adolf Hitler’s henchmen and potential successor).

As Professor Mark Rosen stated, the objective of this ultra secret meeting, which took place on 20 January 1942, was nothing less than a ‘signpost’ on the road to the ‘Final Solution’ regarding the Jewish People (or question as the Nazis would have posited things – language, after all, is important here).

A sobering thought, on this Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, is that many of the participants were lawyers or had some form of legal education. They certainly knew the meaning of words and that words have meaning.

Lawyers are used to jokes about their lack of integrity, but many members of the profession regard law as a noble profession, a civilising force or a discipline firmly rooted in the humanities. Precious little humanity would be shown to millions of Jewish People following the discussions at Wannsee.

During the summit, there was an almost comical incident: the participants got bogged down in what seems to be an arcane discussion about levels of Jewishness that a person might have. The discussion was deadly serious – quite literally. The outcome would decide who would live and who would die.

This was, of course, to be entirely expected: the Nazi regime (1933-1945) had already started the process of dehumisation of the Jewish People when the Nuremberg Decrees were passed in 1935. This led to the wholesale removal of Jews from the public square in Germany (and later throughout the expanded Reich and Occupied Territories). Jewish businesses and property were confiscated; Jews were forced out of the professions; they were stigmatised and ghettoised. To be Jewish in Hitler’s Germany would simply become unbearable.

The Nuremberg Decrees and the Wannsee Protocol demonstrate that there is a darker side to the law: in the wrong hands, it can be used to stigmatise and oppress certain groups of people.

At the end of the meeting (which had lasted for about 90 minutes), the participants were served Cognac, fine wines, food and cigars. Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi who chaired the proceedings, ordered that all copies of the minutes be destroyed. Some copies survived as damning evidence of the criminal conspiracy to murder an entire race.

You can find out more about the Nuremberg Decrees at and the Wannsee Conference at the links below:

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/winter/nuremberg.html

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/wannsee-conference-and-the-final-solution

Wannsee reminds us of the importance of the meaning of words and that words have meaning:

Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no one’s jamming their transmission
‘Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

(Lyrics by Gordon Thomas Matthew Sumner (or ‘Sting’); 1980 taken from the track “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”)

Further reading

The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution by Mark Roseman (Allen Lane/Penguin Press: 2002)

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/08/holocaust-denial/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/01/the-problem-with-human-rights/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 27 January 2020

Holocaust denial

Photo by Alexey Soucho on Unsplash

To deny that the Holocaust ever happened (i.e. the murder of 6 million Jews – at least – by the Nazi regime) is not and never can be a protected human right or a genuinely held philosophical belief.

Such a belief (and its expression) is not protected in terms of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which was directly implemented into Scots Law via the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998). Article 10 protects the individual’s right to freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is not an unlimited right and certain forms of expression which constitute, for example, hate speech will not be protected by the European Convention.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France has just issued its ruling in this regard in the case of Pastörs v Germany ECHR 331 (2019).

Pastörs is a former member of the German regional parliament or Land for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. He was sat in the parliament for the far right National Democratic Party (NPD). He made an inflammatory speech on 28 January 2010 about the Holocaust using expressions such:

the so-called Holocaust is being used for political and commercial purposes”.

He also stated during the speech:

Since the end of the Second World War, Germans have been exposed to an endless barrage of criticism and propagandistic lies – cultivated in a dishonest manner primarily by representatives of the so-called democratic parties, ladies and gentlemen. Also, the event that you organised here in the castle yesterday was nothing more than you imposing your Auschwitz projections onto the German people in a manner that is both cunning and brutal. You are hoping, ladies and gentlemen, for the triumph of lies over truth.”

The speech by Pastörs was particularly insensitive and offensive given that Holocaust Remembrance Day had been commemorated the day previously.

Pastörs was subsequently convicted by a German court of criminal offences i.e. “violating the memory of the dead and of the intentional defamation of the Jewish people”. This conviction was upheld on appeal.

Pastörs then lodged a case to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that his Article 10 rights and his Article 6 rights (the right to a fair trial) had been violated by the German legal authorities.

The Court has now found that Pastörs’ legal challenge under Article 10 “was manifestly ill-founded and had to be rejected”. On the matter of the allegation that his Article 6 rights had been violated, the judges by 4 votes to 3 rejected this argument.

The judgement can be appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

If so, it will be interesting to see how the judges respond.

As things stand presently, this judgement confirms that freedom of expression and speech are not unlimited rights.

A photograph of the press release from the ECtHR regarding the Pastörs judgement can be found below:

A link to the actual judgement of the court can be found below:

https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22fulltext%22:[%22pastors%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-196148%22]}

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 October 2019