LONDON, Nov. 17 – The writer David Irving was arrested in Austria last week, according to a statement on his Web site. Although he has not yet been charged, he is suspected of the crime of Holocaust denial.
Mr. Irving, who has written several dozen books about Germany and the Nazis, and who has said Hitler was not responsible for the Nazi campaign to massacre Europe’s Jews, was arrested in Hartberg, in the southern province of Styria, Reuters reported.
Government officials told the news agency that Mr. Irving had been wanted since 1989, when a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with speeches he had made in Vienna and in Leoben, in southern Austria. But they said they had not decided whether it was appropriate to charge him so many years after the fact. If he is tried and found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, officials told Reuters.
Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria, which has a confused history with Nazism and the Holocaust. For decades after World War II the country styled itself the “first victim of Nazi aggression,” even though more than a million Austrians fought for the Axis, including Kurt Waldheim, who later became secretary general of the United Nations and president of Austria.
In addition, many prominent Nazis repackaged themselves as Austrian politicians in the postwar era, like Friedrich Peter, a onetime Waffen SS commander who headed the Freedom Party.
Supporters of Mr. Irving said in the Web site statement that he had been invited by “courageous students to address an ancient university association” in Vienna. The statement said that “the Austrian political police are believed to have learned of the visit by wiretaps or intercepting e-mails.”
Mr. Irving has had other trouble with the law for similar reasons. In 1992 a German judge fined him $6,000 after he publicly asserted that no gas chambers had been used in Auschwitz, a claim he has often made. In the past he has been refused entry to Germany, Australia, Canada, Austria and Italy.
Mr. Irving was once known as a rigorous historian; some of his early works on Hitler and Germany were highly praised. But his views have became more extreme and he has become a hero of neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups across Europe. Mr. Irving says he does not deny that the Nazis killed some Jews, but contends that the death toll among Jews in World War II was far lower than generally accepted.
He also questions whether the Nazis used gas chambers in their concentration camps.
He is perhaps best known for his failure, in 2000, to win a libel case he brought in Britain against the historian Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin.
In her book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” Ms. Lipstadt characterized Mr. Irving as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial” and said “he is at his most facile at taking accurate information and shaping it to conform to his conclusions.”
In a stinging decision that criticized Mr. Irving’s scholarship, methods and conclusions, the judge in the case, Charles Gray of the British High Court, called him “an active Holocaust denier” and said he was a racist anti-Semite who had deliberately distorted the historical record to portray Hitler in a flattering light.
Austrian officials are expected to decide in the next day or two whether to charge Mr. Irving.