Guilty of Holocaust Denial. Negligible public harm?
On Tuesday, Dariusz Ratajczak was again found guilty in court of Holocaust Denial. However, in view of the negligible public harm involved, he was placed on probation for a year.
Guilty of Holocaust Denial
Ratajczak, a former member of the University of Opole faculty, published 350 copies of his book Dangerous Subjects, in which he denied the killing of Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers, in March 1999. Ratajczak wrote that Zyklon B was used at the camp as a disinfectant and not for murdering people, that the showers were for bathing and not for genocide, and that survivors' accounts of gassing are unreliable.
The public prosecutor called for Ratajczak to be punished by ten months' imprisonment, public notification of the sentence, and the forfeit of 25% of his income to the Auschwitz Museum. Ratajczak declared himself innocent and claimed that he had refrained from authorial comment when presenting the views of Holocaust revisionists.
"The court holds that there are no doubts as to the guilt or agency of the accused," stated the judge. "In the introduction [to Ratajczak's book - ed.], we find several interesting formulations that show that he introduced his own commentary. He himself says: 'I am aware of extreme, provocative opinions that could evoke public protests. It is all a matter of strong nerves and a sense of humor.' [Ratajczak] also states that he has 'a few bitter truths to convey to [his] elder brothers.'"
However, the Regional Court in Opole found the public harm caused by Ratajczak to be negligible, since only five copies reached in the university bookstore, and only two of these were sold. This is why he was placed on parole for one year. Should Ratajczak again deny the Holocaust in that period, he will find himself back in court.
For now, Ratajczak must pay 300 zloty to an orphanage in Tarnów Opolski, and cover court costs of 82 zloty. In passing sentence, the court considered the fact that Ratajczak had no criminal record and enjoyed a good reputation where he lived and worked.
The sentence is not final. Both Ratajczak and the prosecutor have stated that they plan to file appeals. This was Ratajczak's second trial. After Gazeta revealed the contents of his book, the Auschwitz Museum protested. Prof. Witold Kulesza, head of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish Nation, filed charges. The public prosecutor accused Ratajczak of Holocaust Denial, punishable by three years' imprisonment under article 55 of the Law on the Institute of National Remembrance.
In December 1999, however, the regional court in Opole froze the case, stating that Ratajczak's acts caused too little public harm to qualify as a crime. The prosecutor appealed, and Ratajczak himself appealed for a finding of not guilty. The district court in Opole sent the case back for re-examination, recommending an investigation of Ratajczak's motives in publishing the book and of whether the harm done was in fact negligible.
In his first trial, Ratajczak plead innocent. "My intention was a short recapitulation, on the basis of literature that is known and accessible to historians - and is found in university libraries - of the theses advanced by the so-called "revisionist school of history." He also stated that he took a "clear and critical standpoint on some of the these propounded by the revisionists" in the second edition of his book.
It should be noted that the second edition was published by Leszek Bubel, known for his anti-Semitic, racist publications.
[Gazeta Wyborcza, Maciej T. Nowak, Dec. 11, 2001]
Prof. Andrzej Paczkowski, historian from the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Historical Studies
- The sentence is a partial evasion; with a guilty verdict but no punishment. Personally, I would be cautious about punishing people for what they say. I do not know if it is a good idea to punish people for what they publish, even if what they say is untrue and forbidden by law. I am cautious in passing sentence, but not in entering into polemics. It is worth doing so and exposing the falsehood. I looked through Ratajczak's book. It is trash. He not only lies, but also does his job badly. What his true views are, I cannot say.
Jerzy Wróblewski, director of the Auschwitz Museum
- What upset me most about the things Ratajczak wrote is that he has no respect for things that are sacred, and that he denies the testimony of living people who were in those camps. I would not like to enter into polemics with the court verdict. I think that Ratajczak did wrong, and all the more so because he was a teacher at a university. He was preparing young people for a life in which they would someday teach other young people. He injected them with venom.
Prof. Witold Kulesza, chairman of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation
- In assessing the verdict, it is necessary to look into how the court understood the good that Ratajczak violated. In this case, the good consisted of three elements: our memory of the victims of genocide, the feelings of the relatives of those who were murdered, and our memory of ethnic and racial groups. The law protects the feelings of family members who have a right to remember. In this case, for the first time, the industrial method of killing people is being questioned. Personally, I cannot imagine how this good could be violated in a way that is negligible.
[Noted by MAN, Gazeta Wyborcza]