The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Overcast

German Neo-Nazi Sentenced to Prison for Denying Genocide

By Rick Atkinson
The Washington Post
BERLIN

Bela Ewald Althans, once considered among the most alarming figures in Germany's neo-Nazi movement because of his clean-cut looks and slick manner, Tuesday was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for denying that Nazi Germany committed genocide.

A Berlin state court pronounced Althans, 29, guilty of spreading racial hatred and denigrating the state when he confronted visitors at the Auschwitz concentration camp with a claim that the Holocaust never happened - an assertion that is a crime under German law.

That dramatic encounter was captured in a 1993 documentary about Althans called "Profession: Neo-Nazi," a controversial portrait of the neo-Nazi scene that showed the smirking protagonist prowling through an Auschwitz gas chamber and insisting, "What is happening here is a giant farce."

In the film, Althans insisted that Auschwitz "was not a death camp, it was a concentration camp like the Jews have built for the Palestinians in Israel. We didn't kill them. They all survived and now they're taking money from Germany."

Chief Judge Hans-Juergen Bruening of the Berlin State Court called Althans a "mental arsonist" who "is not a violent man but is still just as dangerous to the community."

The defendant's agitation, Bruening said, helped churn the atmosphere of hate that led to murderous attacks against foreigners by German right-wing extremists.

Althans's recent disavowal of Nazism was a tactical ploy rather than a heartfelt conversion, the judge added.

Althans, who conducted most of his own defense with a string of windy monologues, reacted to the judge's pronouncement with a look of astonishment and a cry of, "Incredible!" Already sentenced last winter to 18 months by a Munich court for spreading racial hatred in videotapes that glorified Adolf Hitler, Althans had told the Berlin court his comments in "Profession: Neo-Nazi" were taken out of context.

But the court called Althans's explanation "not credible" and said he was, in fact, "flattered to be considered the new leader of the neo-Nazis."

A slender 6-foot-4, with blond hair and a flair for fashion that earned him a sobriquet of "the yuppie Nazi," Althans projected an image as an articulate spokesman for the far right.

"I am a normal man," he told The Washington Post three years ago. "I am nice. I am friendly, a totally normal man with two feet on the ground and, in spite of that, I am a National Socialist," the formal name of Hitler's Nazi Party.

"Hitler is a hero for me. He opened the door to building a super-civilization, really a paradise on Earth."

Equipped with business cards, cellular phone and personal computer, Althans sought to build links between neo-fascist groups across Germany and around the world.

Although he garnered considerable press attention, Althans's emergence as a new Fuehrer never materialized. The neo-Nazis remain a largely ineffectual fringe movement with an estimated 40,000 followers in a country of 80 million people.