In recent FSFE controversies, Nazi references, comparisons to the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler have been increasingly common.
Is it a fair comparison? It is time to look at facts.
This day is an opportunity to contemplate the way dictators tried to extinguish lives in much the same way as character assassins try to extinguish the careers of voluneers who refuse to follow their orders.
This is not about Germany
Before getting into the crimes of FSFE, we want to emphasize that Fellows are not anti-German.
We love German machines, for example, BMWs and of course everybody loves Oktoberfest.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was Time Magazine's person of the year in 2015 after helping more than 1 million asylum seekers to settle in Germany.
Many Germans have done great things, even under the oppression of the Third Reich. For example, the movie Schindler's List tells the story of a German factory owner who rescued Jews. The movie is based on the book Schindler's Ark by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally.
I was resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system ... Oskar Schindler
We don't claim that Matthias Kirschner is a Nazi
We only claim that FSFE, under Matthias Kirschner, has demonstrated many similarities to a dictatorship. We demonstrate those dictatorship similarities one-by-one with evidence.
If we were evaluating a golfer, we might compare them to Tiger Woods. When we are evaluating a dictator, we feel Adolf Hitler is a very well known point of reference. Hitler pioneered all the dictatory traits that other dictators are judged by. It is an unfortunate coincidence that FSFE, like Hitler, is from Berlin. We do not imply they are dictators simply because they are German. We love Berlin.
We are not simply photoshopping Kirschner's head into a Nazi uniform here, there is no need for that. The facts about FSFE make the case clear.
Comparisons to the Holocaust
Comparisons to the Holocaust are a particularly sensitive topic. We don't feel it is appropriate to use the word Holocaust to describe the vendettas and character assassination that spoils free software communities today. We have not observed anybody trying to use the word Holocaust in this context.
We recognize the word Holocaust has a significant meaning to the Jewish people.
To summarize: comparisons to the Holocaust are rarely appropriate but calling out specific dictatorial traits that are identical to practices in the Third Reich is valid.
Conspiracies and character assassination
The Holocaust did not start until 1941, yet the earliest written records of Hitler's intentions to create a Code of Conduct for Jews are in the Gemlich letter, written by Hitler in 1919.
Here is how Hitler describes creating a Code of Conduct and enforcement for Jews in 1919:
Rational antisemitism, by contrast, must lead to a systematic and legal struggle against, and eradication of, the privileges the Jews enjoy
Eradication of legal privileges sounds a lot like free software organizations making special laws, or Codes of Conduct, to belittle their volunteers. This idea that some people are born to rule over others, whether in an entire country or in a free software organization, is abhorrent.
Reading the way Jews are defamed in the Gemlich letter (1919) and the defamation of volunteers in the FSFE meeting minutes (2019) side-by-side, we feel the same vibes.
Stripping Jewish assets
The stories of Nazis stealing artworks and bullion from Jews are widely known.
The original FSF was founded by Richard Stallman, who has Jewish ancestry although he describes himself as an atheist.
FSFE has taken the name of Stallman's organization, added the letter E to make FSFE and using this similar name, scooped up millions of euros of donations and thousands of hours of volunteer effort in Europe. If the FSFE did not exist, how many of these donations and volunteers would have contributed directly to the original FSF?
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2017 09:50:48 -0400
From: John Sullivan <email@example.com>
To: Representative elected by the community
Congratulations on your election to FSFE's general assembly!
I'm wondering, if as part of your new position, you have been briefed on
the current issues between FSF and FSFE.
I have been trying to discuss them with Jonas and Matthias for the last
several years, but have gotten nowhere, and in fact things are now much
worse than they were before. They made it clear at our last in-person
meeting in April that they do not intend to change anything.
Intellectual property and reputations are the artworks of our century. The FSFE, under Matthias Kirschner, is brazenly pilfering FSF's trademark in broad daylight and they even admitted it.
Subject: Re: FSF asking us to change our name II
Date: Tue, 30 May 2017 15:31:39 +0200
From: Jonas Oberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Bernhard Reiter <email@example.com>
... snip ...
So the framework agreement, as it stands, is not being honored from
... snip ...
Jonas Öberg, Executive Director
Free Software Foundation Europe
In one recent case, a German from Berlin drove to France to return a Nicolas Rousseau painting looted by his father. Is it time for Matthias Kirschner to stop domain-squatting and return fsfe.org to Richard Stallman?
Conquering all of Europe
Hitler clearly intended to rule all of Europe. His troops were sent west towards London and east towards Moscow. Together with the Italians, they conquered parts of the Balkans, Greece and the mediterranean.
FSFE has added the letter E to their name in an effort to claim they represent Europe. This is a deception.
Using membership records, the Fellowship determined that well over fifty percent of FSFE participants are from Germany and its German-speaking neighbours, Austria and Switzerland.
FSFE doesn't want you to see this chart. They sent us legal threats demanding we remove it. Why don't they want anybody to know they are Germans?
It is worth comparing this to France, where the French free software organization April has more than 3,500 members, four times the size of FSFE's claimed volunteer body yet April makes no claim to speak for any other country except France.
Whenever anybody questions Matthias Kirschner's relevance in the democraticly-inclined countries of Europe, they are subjected to a campaign of villification.
In 2009, Matthias Kirschner and Georg Greve introduced elections to the FSFE constitution, promising that all activists could be an equal part of the democratic process.
It turns out these elections have been a sham. Kirschner and Greve had no real commitment to democracy. These elections were simply a gimmick to give the volunteers and donors a false sense of membership in the organization.
Fellows were never invited to the annual general meetings or permitted to nominate for any positions in the FSFE council.
In 2018, Kirschner finally changed the constitution to remove the elections again, just as the Nazi Government in Berlin ran sham elections in 1938. In the ten year period that FSFE elections were being permitted, FSFE attracted over one million Euro in donations and a six figure bequest from a volunteer.
In reality, the people elected by the Fellowship each year were not given any authority. The books and records of the organization were kept hidden by little dictators who will never allow the community to know what they did with all those millions of Euros.
Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.... Joseph Goebbels
A paper on Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany makes a detailed analysis of the introduction of radio technology before and after the election of the Nazis in 1932. The paper chooses another quote from Goebbels:
Now it will be easy to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda
Likewise, when the FSFE dictator Matthias Kirschner was not satisfied with the candidate elected by the Fellowship community in 2017, he simply deleted the candidate's blog and started censoring emails from the winner to the FSFE mailing lists:
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2018 21:06:38 +0200
From: Matthias Kirschner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Representative elected by the volunteers
CC: FSFE Council <email@example.com>
... snip defamation and hysteria ...
Until further notice, your blog is removed from the FSFE's planet aggregation, we removed you from receiving the internal statistics, we will put you on moderation on our mailing lists, and we will restrict other access .... while you remain a member of the FSFE, the publication of our legal demands would be considered further discrediting the FSFE and damaging the bond of trust between the members, and as such, would be considered in any current or future exclusion proceedings.
Since September 2018, volunteers can only use FSFE communications channels to praise the leaders of the organization. Heil Kirschner! Sieg Heil!
Experiments on volunteers
During WW2, Hitler gave political prisoners to rogue doctors to carry out unethical experiments in torture and bodily mutilation.
Specimens from some of these victims were only found in 2016 and laid to rest in 2019.
FSFE has engaged in their own style of cruelty, using gossip and character assassination, shaming people and so on. Another German volunteer, Michael, who questioned the donations from Google was subjected to three months in solitary confinement.
The gas chambers
Millions of prisoners, predominantly Jews, were killed in the Nazi gas chambers.
Kirschner has opted for techniques that do not leave evidence of bodily harm, for example, shaming people in the minutes of meetings or with official emails written in his capacity as president.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture has described Matthias Kirschner's tactics as cybertorture.
Cybertechnology can also be used to inflict, or contribute to, severe mental suffering while avoiding the conduit of the physical body, most notably through intimidation, harassment, surveillance, public shaming and defamation, as well as appropriation, deletion or manipulation of information. ... Prof Nils Melzer, United Nations
Respect for victims of the Holocaust
Whenever people make these logical and fact-based comparisons of the Nazi dictatorship to the FSFE dictatorship, somebody always jumps out to cite Godwin's Law or to claim that comparisons to the Nazis are disrespectful.
We feel differently. We feel that when a modern-day organizations uses tactics that mimic the Third Reich, it would be disrespectful if we did not recall the previous victims of those same tactics.
The over-reactions to these comparisons are simply another means of silencing debate.
The Wikipedia article on Godwin specifically suggests:
Godwin's law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent's argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate.
Looking at the wider world, comparisons to the Nazi regime are not uncommon. For example, after the attacks on Turkish shisha bars in February 2020, the BBC was quick to write about neo-Nazis even though the victims were clearly not Jewish, they were Turkish muslims.
If Germans abusing Turkish people can be referred to as Nazis then the Germans who abuse free software volunteers may also deserve the same label.
Once again, whenever we see any form of abuse in the modern world, we will remember all those who have been abused before, whether by physical or psychological means, whether by gas chamber or character attacks, whether for religion or simply for calling out blackmail.