Three years for British historian who described Auschwitz as a fairytale
Irving, who appeared in court confidently yesterday morning carrying his book Hitler’s War and a PG Wodehouse paperback, immediately vowed to appeal against the sentence. “I’m very shocked,” he said as he was led from Vienna’s biggest courtroom back to the cells where he has been held for the past three months.
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“Stay strong David, best of luck to you,” an English supporter shouted after the sentence was read.
Irving, 67, had started the day affecting the image of an English gent arraigned before a foreign court. “Frankly, questions about the Holocaust bore me,” he said. He clutched a copy of Hitler’s War – “my flagship, 35 years of work” – and from his blazer pocket he fetched the Wodehouse book Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets. The trial was “ridiculous”, he claimed, adding that the Austrian law under which he was being tried would be scrapped within a year.
Austria has Europe’s toughest law criminalising denial of the Holocaust. Irving went on trial for two speeches he delivered in the country almost 17 years ago. He was arrested in November last year after returning to Austria to deliver more speeches despite an arrest warrant against him and being barred from the country.
In the two 1989 speeches he had termed the gas chambers of Auschwitz a “fairytale” and insisted that Adolf Hitler had protected the Jews of Europe. He referred to surviving witnesses of the Nazi death camps as “psychiatric cases”, and asserted that there were no extermination camps in the Third Reich.
State prosecutor Michael Klackl said: “He’s not a historian, he’s a falsifier of history.” Arguments over freedom of speech were entirely misplaced, he added: “This is about abuse of freedom of speech.”
Irving’s defence lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, appealed to the jury for mercy for an ageing man with a 12-year-old daughter and an ill young wife. Even if he did voice views which were “horrible” or “repellent”, he was no danger to Austria.
Last night Irving’s wife Bente Hogh said he had brought his imprisonment on himself by going to Austria despite the ban. She said: “He was not jailed just for his views but because he’s banned from Austria and still went. David doesn’t take advice from anyone. He thought it was a bit of fun, to provoke a little bit.”
Irving pleaded guilty but under Austrian law the trial went ahead. Judge Peter Liebtreu called Irving “a racist, an anti-Semite, and a liar”, citing the verdict delivered by Justice Charles Gray at the high court in London in 2000 when the historian lost a libel case against an American writer and academic and was bankrupted.
Irving said that defeat had cost him $13m, but supporters were sending donations to help him fight yesterday’s case.
The judge repeatedly asked Irving if he still subscribed to the views articulated in the 1989 speeches. “I made a mistake saying there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz,” he conceded. He claimed the Holocaust figure of six million murdered Jews was “a symbolic number” and said his figures totalled 2.7 million.
He said he was not sure how many died at Auschwitz, but he mentioned a figure of 300,000, a fraction of the accepted total. And he still believed Hitler protected the Jews and tried to put off the Final Solution – the systematic killing of all European Jews – at least until after the second world war.
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