MANNHEIM, Germany (AP) – The trial of Ernst Zundel, a Holocaust denier who wrote the book “The Hitler We Loved and Why,” opened Tuesday with the judge dismissing a defense lawyer, himself a far-right activist convicted of incitement earlier this year.
Zundel, 66, faces charges of incitement, libel and disparaging the dead. He was deported from Canada eight months ago after authorities there ruled he posed a threat to national and international security.
Shortly after the trial opened, Judge Ulrich Meinerzhagen ordered defense attorney Horst Mahler dismissed on grounds he was barred from practicing earlier this year after he was convicted of incitement for distributing anti-Semitic propaganda.
Meinerzhagen further questioned whether the rest of Zundel’s lawyers would be prepared to mount a “regular” defense after one of them described Jews as an “enemy people” in a motion.
The trial was adjourned until next Tuesday to allow for a ruling on a defense motion calling for the judge’s removal. The judge, defense attorney Juergen Rieger said, “only wants defense lawyers who adopt the views of the prosecution.”
Zundel said little as he sat among his attorneys, but he has insisted he is a peaceful campaigner being denied the right to free speech. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to five years.
Dozens of his supporters packed the courtroom, and Meinerzhagen threatened to clear them all out when many shouted “Shame!” as the defense complained it was being muzzled.
“These are measures not even used in the gulags in the Soviet Union,” Rieger told the judge. He said that Zundel was targeted for “stepping on the toes of the Jewish community.”
A prominent white supremacist and Holocaust denier since the late 1970s, Zundel ran Samisdat Publishers, a leading distributor of Nazi propaganda. He also provides content to The Zundelsite on the Web, which has followers around the world – hundreds of whom demonstrated against his arrest by German authorities in March.
Before the trial, the International Auschwitz Committee said survivors of the death camp see the trial as “an important success” in the international campaign against Holocaust deniers who use the Internet to spread anti-Semitism.
The 20-page indictment cites Zundel’s texts dating from 1999 to 2003, which prosecutors say demonstrate his attempts “in a pseudo-scientific way, to relieve National Socialism of the stain of the murder of the Jews.”
Zundel “denied the fate of destruction for the Jews planned by National Socialist powerholders and justified this by saying that the mass destruction in Auschwitz and Treblinka, among others, were an invention of the Jews and served the repression and blackmail of the German people,” it says.
Born in Germany in 1939, Zundel emigrated to Canada in 1958 and lived in Toronto and Montreal until 2001. Canadian officials rejected his attempts to obtain citizenship in 1966 and 1994.
He then moved to Tennessee, where he married Ingrid Rimland, a fellow right-wing extremist. He was deported to Canada in 2003 for alleged immigration violations.
German authorities, who had already arrested Zundel during a visit to Germany in 1991 and fined him about $7,500 for agitation, obtained a new arrest warrant for him in 2003.
Because Zundel’s Holocaust-denying Web site was available in Germany, he is considered to have been spreading his message to Germans.
Rimland, who runs his Web site from the United States, said in an e-mail the charges were “politically tainted and unworthy of a country that calls itself a democracy.