A Case of Review Censorship


The present page compiles materials related to a recent case of censorship that occurred in a German court related to a review published by H-Net's German partner site, H-Soz-Kult. As part of our partnership with H-Soz-Kult, H-Net Reviews ingests reviews published on the German site into our system and re-publishes them on our site. According to H-Net's Council Policies (Article V. Section 5.01.h), H-Net considers materials published on our site a permanent archive to be maintained perpetually for use by scholars and the public. H-Net has therefore preserved the original review, as published on H-Soz-Kult, and incorporated an edit requested by the reviewer and mandated by the German court ruling (see materials below for more details). However, H-Net did not follow suit in taking down the review when H-Soz-Kult's editors did so. Readers can read more about H-Net's support of H-Soz-Kult and academic freedom in the Statement adopted by H-Net's officers and Council, as well as the H-Soz-Kult editors' responses to the ruling. We will continue to compile news coverate and commentary on this troubling attempt to suppress an academic review on this page. We thank Anne von Petersdorff for her work translating the H-Soz-Kult materials.

Robert Cassanello, Vice President for Research and Publications, H-Net
Yelena Kalinsky, Managing Editor, H-Net Reviews
November 2017

Statement from H-Net Concerning Flachowsky/Reitzenstein Case and H-Soz-Kult

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online expresses its firm support for the stand taken by our partners at H-Soz-Kult at Humboldt University in Berlin against the attempt by an aggrieved author to use the legal system to suppress academic criticism of his book.

As the oldest online organization dedicated to service for the humanities and social sciences, H-Net is a major distributor of professional book reviews, 43,000 to date, through its 180 scholarly networks. H-Soz-Kult has been a close partner with H-Net since 1996, and the two organizations share a common commitment to academic freedom and professional adjudication of disputes through peer review and open debate.

During the summer of 2016, Julien Reitzenstein demanded changes to Sören Flachowsky’s professional review at H-Soz-Kult’s website of Reitzenstein’s Himmlers Forscher. Wehrwissenschaft und Medizinverbrechen im "Ahnenerbe" der SS, (Paderborn: Schöningh 2014), a study of a Nazi agency that committed crimes against humanity. Reitzenstein rejected offers by H-Soz-Kult to publish a reply from him to the review and instead sought to enforce his demands through the local courts in Hamburg by filing suit against the reviewer. The reviewer was neither present nor represented by counsel when the court ruled in Reitzensein’s favor in a closed session, threatening Flachowsky with heavy fines if one half-sentence in the review remained unchanged. After H-Soz-Kult’s editors made the required changes under protest, Reitzenstein threatened another lawsuit if more changes were not made. The reviewer, again facing threats to his livelihood, asked HSK’s editors to remove the review entirely, which they reluctantly did in November 2016. In February 2017, the editors published a new critical assessment of the book, posted here, https://www.hsozkult.de/text/id/texte-4060

The following month, Reitzenstein’s lawyers, without citing any statutory or legal authority, asked H-Net to remove our copy from the servers at H-Net Reviews. We declined. The review is still available at https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47143.

We refer readers to the editors’ fuller narrative of this sad story, at https://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-23622

H-Net deplores an author’s efforts to censor normal academic discourse when other remedies were and are open to him. The officers, Council, and editors at H-Net fully support our colleagues at H-Soz-Kult as they face a legal climate that is unfriendly to academic freedom and robust debate of historical scholarship. Given that legal climate, we understand and support their decision to stand by their reviewer and to present to the interested public both a full explanation of the matter and a reiteration of their defense of academic freedom. We believe that attempts to substitute threats of legal action for open debate hurt everyone and gain nothing for the advancement of knowledge.

Approved by H-Net Officers and Executive Council on October 30, 2017

Media Reports

Birte Förster, “Angriff ist nicht dies beste Verteidigung,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Feuilleton, 22 February 2017. http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/geisteswissenschaften/reitzenstein-gegen-flachowsky-klage-auf-rezension-14889110.html

Jochen Zenthöfer, “Der enttäuschte Autor lässt seinen Anwalt schreiben,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Feuilleton, 28 June 2017.


Kritika Agarwal, "Error and Trial: One Scholar Takes Another to Court over a Book Review," Perspectives on History, October 2017. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-20...

Blogs & Commentary

Erbloggtes blog: https://erbloggtes.wordpress.com/?s=Reitzenstein

Roger Pielke Jr., "A Litigious Climate Threatens Scientific Norms," The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-litigious-climate-threatens-scientific-norms-1510789511

Social Media