Jewish Groups Criticize Judge After Hate Suspect Flees to US
Jan. 12, 1996
BERLIN (AP) _ The day after a second American evaded trial on charges of spreading hate propaganda, Jewish groups charged Friday that some German judges are too lenient in anti-Semitism cases.
Hans Schmidt, of Pensacola, Fla., was released from jail and slipped out of the country before a court date Thursday. Two years ago, an American who says the Holocaust was a hoax, Fred Leuchter, of Malden, Mass., similarly avoided trial.
``This behavior proves that some judges are not taking seriously enough the criminal energy of the right extremist propagandists,'' said Michel Friedman, a leader of the Central Council of German Jews.
After five months in prison, the 68-year-old Schmidt was ordered released on his own recognizance a week before his trial was to open in the eastern city of Schwerin. On Thursday, the former Nazi soldier failed to appear in court and made it known he was back in the United States.
``It is wonderful to breathe the air of a country that still values the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution,'' Schmidt wrote in a fax sent to The Associated Press in Pensacola.
Schmidt also claimed his health had deteriorated during his five months in prison.
The Schwerin chief prosecutor, Ernst Jaeger, said Friday that he was considering seeking Schmidt's extradition.
Arrested as he arrived in Germany at Frankfurt airport on Aug. 9, Schmidt was charged with inciting racial hatred for allegedly sending anti-Semitic newsletters to politicians and other officials in Schwerin.
Schmidt didn't deny writing newsletters that claim Germany's main political parties are ``contaminated by Jews and Free Masons.'' But he claims he did not send the newsletters to Germany.
Such speech is protected in the United States by the First Amendment but punishable by up to five years in prison in Germany. Defendants rarely receive anything near the maximum sentence.
Judge Horst Heydorn alarmed prosecutors by releasing Schmidt on Jan. 4 without demanding cash bond _ or forcing Schmidt to surrender his passport.
Schmidt claimed to be ill, and Heydorn said he believed the defendant did not pose a risk of flight. The judge also indicated he thought Schmidt had served about as much jail time as he deserved.
Angered when Schmidt failed to show Thursday, Heydorn issued a new arrest warrant.
``It was either a screw-up or a cover-up,'' said Elon Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, from New York.
In a similar case in October 1993, a judge allowed Fred Leuchter, of Malden, Mass., to keep his passport and post bond. He also fled back to the United States and never appeared for trial. Leuchter was accused of denying the Holocaust _ Nazi Germany's systematic slaughter of millions of Jews.
The Schmidt case has received scant attention in German news media and many major papers did not carry a notice Friday on the defendant's disappearance.
Another American rightist, Gary Lauck, 42, of Lincoln, Neb., is jailed in Germany for incitement and is to go on trial in Hamburg next month. German officials say Lauck was the main supplier of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi literature in Germany.