Germany takes legal action to stop printing of Nazi newspapers

23rd January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Germany says it is concerned about the possible offense to Holocaust survivors and the potential misuse of the material by neo-Nazis.

Berlin -- German authorities have launched legal action against a British publisher who reprinted and sold a Nazi newspaper featuring fiery remarks by Adolf Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

The paper -- the Voelkischer Beobachter (People's Observer), from March 1, 1933 -- is the second in a series of Nazi-era newspapers republished in annotated facsimiles that has sparked a row in Germany over freedom of the press.

The latest edition in the series hit German newsstands early Thursday, with a photograph on the front page of the Reichstag parliament building in flames -- a moment which is seen as a pivotal in the rise to power of the Nazis.

Hitler -- who had been sworn in as chancellor four weeks earlier -- used the fire to “prove” that Communists were hatching a plot against the German government and justify a swift crackdown.

"Murder, terror, fire and destruction: these are the terrible things this fanatical party (the Communists) leaves behind it," Goebbels writes in the commentary on the first page.

"We've had enough," cries the headline. "Now we're going to take ruthless and dramatic measures."

Bavaria's finance ministry, which holds the rights to all publications from the main Nazi publishing house, said in a statement it would seek to press charges against the publisher, Peter McGee, for copyright infringement.

In addition, the ministry said it would lodge a civil action to stop future papers being published.

On January 16, the ministry issued an order banning any further publication of Nazi material but the publishers ignored the instruction.

The southern state said it is concerned about the possible offense to Holocaust survivors and the potential misuse of the material by neo-Nazis.

While the publication of excerpts of documents from the period is allowed, the complete reprinting of these papers "risks being misused and is not acceptable," the ministry said.

The chief editor of the series, Sandra Paweronschitz, said the argument that the papers could fuel extremist activity is "as short-sighted as it is wrong."

She pointed out that the series is accompanied by commentary from leading historians that puts the papers in their proper historical context.

"We will fight this attack on the freedom of the press with all legal means -- if necessary not only in civil courts but also before the Federal Constitutional Court," she said.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said she supported the publication of the paper but hoped that people would read the historians' comments alongside the articles.

"As a Holocaust survivor, these texts are much more to me than just interesting historical documents,” she said in a commentary on the publishers' website. “They are part of a harrowing reality that I can still recall."

However, Knobloch acknowledged that if people read only the propaganda, it could be "disastrous."

With many financial commentators comparing the current economic crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the paper also contains a headline about the "American financial scandal" that would not be out of place in today's news.

The Mellon bank -- now Bank of New York Mellon -- was ordered to pay 400 million dollars in a tax-evasion scandal, the paper reports under the headline: "Banking crisis expands even further."

The row over the republished papers follows a similar spat last year over the republication of Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf (My struggle), which has been banned in Germany since the end of World War II.

Bavarian authorities hold the rights to the book until 2015, 70 years after the author's death. Historians and Jewish groups have agreed that the book should be reprinted before then but with commentary from historians.

Richard Carter/AFP/Expatica

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