Canadian Holocaust denier on trial in Germany for 'incitement to hatred'

The trial of a Jasper, Alta., woman who denied the Holocaust in videos posted on YouTube is underway in criminal court in Munich.

If Albertan Monika Schaefer is convicted, she faces up to five years in prison

Monika Schaefer and her brother, Alfred Schaefer, smile Monday at the outset of their trial for 'incitement of hatred.' (Anne Wild )

A Jasper, Alta., woman who denied the Holocaust in at least one video posted on YouTube is on trial at a criminal courthouse in Munich. 

Monika Schaefer, 59, and her 63-year-old German-Canadian brother, Alfred Schaefer, who lives near Munich, are being tried together for Volksverhetzung, which officially translates in English from the German Criminal Code as "incitement to hatred," said court spokesperson Florian Gliwitzky in an email to CBC News on Friday.

"Both are under suspicion, that they published video clips, in which they denied the genocide of Jews in the Holocaust during World War II," Gliwitzky said.

The siblings' trial began Monday this week and continued Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is scheduled to continue July 12, 13 and 16. 

If found guilty, the German sentence for the crime ranges from a fine up to five years in prison. 

Imprisoned in Germany

Monika Schaefer gained notoriety in July 2016 after appearing in a YouTube video in which she described the Holocaust as the "biggest and most pernicious and persistent lie in all of history." She expressed her view that six million Jewish people did not die at the hands of Nazi Germany. 

At least one hate speech complaint was filed against her with the Alberta and Canadian human rights commissions. ​

Monika Schaefer denied the Holocaust ever happened in at least one video posted to YouTube. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

B'nai Brith, a Canadian Jewish advocacy group, alerted an intermediary in Germany who then went to police about the video, said Aidan Fishman, a director with the organization. He said that when Schaefer visited the country, she would have been on their radar. 

German freelance photojournalist Anne Wild, who contracts with organizations that monitor far-right organizations' activity, recalled Monika Schaefer's arrest in January at the trial of convicted German Holocaust denier, Sylvia Stolz. Since then, Monika Schaefer has been imprisoned in Germany. 

'An outrageous incident'

Wild, one of the accredited press representatives, attended the Schaefer siblings' trial in a low-level criminal court for three days this week. She said it was the first time she has attended the trial of a foreigner for "incitement of hatred."

Wild said the duo had about 15 supporters showing up on a regular basis. 

"There was an incident right at the beginning that was really sort of horrible," Wild said. "When Alfred Schaefer was brought into the room, and he was joined by his sister who was brought in, he showed the Nazi salute three times in a row. This is really an outrageous incident in the courtroom.

"His sister, she was laughing at it, she was laughing." 

Wild said Alfred Schaefer has been vocal throughout the trial so far, telling the court he appreciated sharing his views. Monika Schaefer has been quiet, only speaking when spoken to and smiling every so often at her supporters, she said. 

Born in Canada of German heritage, Monika Schaefer described herself on her Facebook page as a self-employed violin instructor. She ran for the federal Green Party in Alberta's Yellowhead riding in 2006, 2008 and 2011. She was ousted from the party after controversy over the video. 

Sparse media coverage

Wild said there were only three journalists, including herself, in the courtroom. But these type of trials in Germany generally don't get a lot of media attention, Wild said. 

"Some of them think that if you cover it too much, you will just promote it. They don't want to promote it," she said. "It's sort of a mixture. We have to talk about it, but we don't want to talk too much about it."

While Wild said denying the Holocaust in public is rare in Germany, it is a criminal offence. 

She photographed a June 30 protest against the imprisonment of Holocaust deniers. 

A German sign at a June 30 protest against imprisoning Holocaust deniers translates in English as 'free Monika Schaefer.' (Anne Wild)

"Still there's a community of several thousand people who are more or less openly convinced that the Holocaust is a lie," Wild said. 

But "there is a big discussion in Germany about what is opinion and what is a crime," she added.