Holocaust Denial Gets 3 Years In Jail

Right-wing British historian David Irving holds his book "Hitler's War" when arriving at a court in Vienna, on Monday, Feb. 20, 2006.
AP
Right-wing British historian David Irving has been sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court, which convicted him of denying the Holocaust — a crime in this country once run by the Nazis.

Irving, who had pleaded guilty and insisted during his one-day trial that he had had a change of heart and now acknowledged the Nazis' World War II slaughter of 6 million Jews, had faced up to 10 years behind bars. Before Monday's verdict, Irving conceded he had erred in contending there were no gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," Irving testified, at one point expressing sorrow "for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War."

Irving, stressing he only relied on primary sources, said he came across new information in the early 1990s from top Nazi officials — including personal documents belonging to Adolf Eichmann — that led him to rethink certain assertions.

But despite his apparent epiphany, Irving maintained he had never questioned the Holocaust.

"I've never been a Holocaust denier and I get very angry when I'm called a Holocaust denier," he said.

Irving's lawyer immediately announced he would appeal the sentence.

"I consider the verdict a little too stringent. I would say it's a bit of a message trial," said the attorney, Elmar Kresbach.

Following the verdict, Kresbach told reporters that if actually sent to prison, Irving would likely not serve the full three-year term because of various factors, including his age.

State prosecutor Michael Klackl declined to comment on the verdict. In his closing arguments, however, he criticized Irving for "putting on a show" and for not admitting that the Nazis had killed Jews in an organized and systematic manner.

Irving appeared shocked as the sentence was read out. Moments later, an elderly man called out: "Stay strong, David — stay strong," before he was escorted from the courtroom.

Irving, 67, has been in custody since his arrest in November on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of 6 million Jews.

Earlier Monday, he told journalists he considered it "ridiculous" that he was standing trial for remarks made 17 years ago.

Handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, he arrived at court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books — "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.

Throughout the day, Irving sat quietly and attentively in the stuffy courtroom.

Irving's trial was held amid new — and fierce — debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered violent protests worldwide.

"Of course it's a question of freedom of speech ... The law is an ass," Irving said.

Both the defense and the prosecution also addressed the issue.

"He is everything but a historian ... he is a dangerous falsifier of history," Klackl said, calling Irving's statements an "abuse of freedom of speech."