Defamation case brought by ten Holocaust survivors shines light on Austria’s far-right magazines

A European Court ruled in favour of Aba Lewit and nine other survivors claims that Austrian courts had failed to protect their reputation


When the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month that Austrian Holocaust survivors had been defamed by an article printed in the right-wing extremist journal Aula, it shone a light upon the murky world of far-right magazines in Austria. 

In summer 2015, Aula published an article that described those liberated from the concentration camp Mauthausen as “mass murderers,” “criminals,” and “a plague.”

Aba Lewit and nine other survivors brought a defamation case against Aula, but the domestic courts dismissed their claim, finding that Mauthausen survivors were too large a group to be defamed individually.

The ECHR, however, sided with Mr Lewit, awarding damages and arguing in a decision issued on October 10 that Austria’s courts had failed to protect his “right to reputation” covered by the European Convention on Human Rights.

For decades, Aula was the highest-profile right-wing extremist magazine in the country, with The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW), a Vienna-based academic centre, saying it printed articles containing racism, antisemitism, conspiracy theories, revanchism, and the falsification of history.

Its March 2015 issue contained an article about the “Jewish speculator” George Soros, accusing him of harbouring a secret plan to abolish sovereign states and replace them with a borderless world as envisaged by early Marxists, and of supporting “the mixing of the human races” through global migration.

An edition of Die Aula poses the cover headline “Western countries in Muslim hands?” (Photo: Die Aula)

Yet so long as the Aula’s articles didn’t cross over into Holocaust denial or outright Nazism, its content was permissible by law, the DÖW’s Bernhard Weidinger told the JC

An interview with the far-right Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) former leader Heinz-Christian Strache appeared in the same March 2015 issue. He gave three interviews to Aula the following year and was far from the only FPÖ politician to make themselves available.

The journal was underwritten by the Freiheitliche Akademikerverbände, an association of far-right academics and university graduates close to, though not officially part of, the FPÖ.

In recent years, Aula found its position in the far-right media landscape challenged by online publications such as and Wochenblick, as well as newer magazines like Info-DIREKT, self-styled as a “magazine for patriots” whose editorial line the DÖW says is indicative of a “classic far-right extremist worldview.”

Aula closed down in June 2018, leaving space for successor publications.

The first, Freilich, emerged within months and was published by some of the very same academic associations who backed the old Aula. Its initial print run was 10,000 copies. By comparison, Austria’s leading newsweekly Profil circulates nearly 59,000 copies.

The other was the Neue Aula, whose first cover star was ex-interior minister and FPÖ chief whip Herbert Kickl. Its publisher, Martin Pfeiffer, used to edit the Aula.

The human rights organisation SOS Mitmensch argued the Neue Aula picked up where the Aula left off, defending far-right extremism and promoting historical revisionism.

Such publicity and controversy could not save the Neue Aula. The FPÖ was forced to distance itself from the magazine and its main backer, Albert Engelmann, announced on October 23 that for “financial reasons” it would fold after only one issue.

In a difficult market for print magazines, these small-circulation far-right journals are unprofitable. Ronnie Seunig, publisher of Alles roger?, indicated his magazine would soon cease publication in an October 30 interview.

Yet they remain dear to the Austrian far-right, giving their greater German nationalist and revisionist ideas a veneer of respectability.

Alongside political parties and street activism, magazines and online portals are a key part of the far-right’s strategy, Dr Weidinger told the JC.

In order to enact “actual political change you have to lay the groundwork in the field of ideas, in the discourse, in the culture,” Dr Weidinger said, “and that is the task assigned to far-right media.”

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