• Reports
  • February 23, 2006
  • 4 minutes read

Historian Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

An Austrian court sentenced the British historian David Irving to three years in prison on Monday for denying the Holocaust during a 1989 stopover in Austria, dismissing his argument that he had changed his views.
Irving pleaded guilty, hoping for a suspended sentence, but the Vienna criminal court concluded he was only making a pretense of acknowledging Nazi Germany’s genocide against Jews in order to escape a jail term.
“The court did not consider the defendant to have genuinely changed his mind,” the presiding judge, Peter Liebetreu, told the court after pronouncing the sentence. “The regret he showed was considered to be mere lip service to the law.”
Irving, 67, said he was shocked by the sentence handed down by three judges and eight lay jurors and lodged an immediate appeal. His lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said that even if Irving lost the appeal, he was likely to serve a maximum of one-and-a-half to two years because of his age and status as a first- time offender.
Irving was arrested on a return visit to Austria last November, based on a warrant over lectures and a press interview he made in 1989 in the Alpine republic, where denying the Nazi genocide is a crime punishable by one to 10 years in prison.
“I’m not a Holocaust denier,” Irving told reporters on his way into the court, carrying a copy of “Hitler’s War,” one of dozens of books on Nazi Germany and World War II that the self-taught historian has written. “Obviously, I’ve changed my views.”
Irving acknowledged denying in 1989 that Nazi Germany had killed millions of Jews but said he changed in his mind in 1991 after coming across the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, during a speaking tour in Argentina.
“I said that then, based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991, when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn’t saying that anymore, and I wouldn’t say that now,” he said.
“The Nazis did murder millions of Jews,” added Irving, who addressed the court in fluent German.
He argued that the case against him was a denial of his right to free speech and that historians in Austria and Germany, which has similar laws against Holocaust denial, were being told by lawmakers how to write history.
“Of course this trial is a question of freedom of speech,” Irving told reporters.
Austria is eager to show it is tough on Holocaust denial since a significant number of Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, came from Austria, and Jews and other critics accused the country of glossing over its past for decades after the war. Austria’s president from 1986 to 1992, Kurt Waldheim, admitted to hiding his service in Nazi Germany’s army in the Balkans during World War II and became unwelcome in many countries.
The state prosecutor, Michael Klackl, contended that Irving was a serial “falsifier of history,” dressed up as a martyr by rightist extremists, and that his courtroom admissions only paid lip service to Austrian law.
“He’s continued to deny the fact that the Holocaust was genocide orchestrated from the highest ranks of the Nazi state,” Klackl said, citing examples of statements Irving made in interviews during the 1990s after his supposed turnabout.
Kresbach had asked the court for leniency because, he said, Irving had moderated his views and posed no threat to a stable Austrian democracy.