Historian pleads guilty to denying the Holocaust

Right-wing British historian David Irving pleaded guilty on Monday to criminal charges of denying the Holocaust and conceded in court he erred in contending there were no Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz.

“I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,” Irving told the court as his trial opened in Vienna. He said the Holocaust was “just a fragment of my area of interest”.

“In no way did I deny the killings of millions of people by the Nazis,” Irving testified.
Earlier, he told journalists he considered it “ridiculous” that he was standing trial for remarks made 17 years ago.

But Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived at court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books—Hitler’s War, which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.

Before the trial began, Irving (67) told reporters he now acknowledges the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during World War II. “History is like a constantly changing tree,” he said.

Later, he expressed sorrow “for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War.”

Irving 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 six million Jews.

A verdict was expected later on Monday, with a conviction almost certain because of Irving’s guilty plea. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Freedom of expression

Irving’s trial comes 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.

Irving’s lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said last month the controversial Third Reich historian was getting up to 300 pieces of fan mail a week from supporters around the world, and that while in detention he was writing his memoirs under the working title Irving’s War.

Irving was arrested on November 11 in the southern Austrian province of Styria on a warrant issued in 1989. He was charged under a federal law that makes it a crime to publicly diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust.

Irving had tried to win his provisional release on â,¬20 000 bail, but a Vienna court refused, saying it considered him a flight risk.

Within two weeks of his arrest, he asserted through his lawyer that he had come to acknowledge the existence of Nazi-era gas chambers.

‘Not one shred of evidence’

In the past, however, he has claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little, if anything, about the Holocaust, and has been quoted as saying there was “not one shred of evidence” the Nazis carried out their “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish population on such a massive scale.

Vienna’s national court, where the trial is being held, ordered the balcony gallery closed to prevent projectiles from being thrown down at the bench, the newspaper Die Presse reported on Sunday.

It quoted officials as saying they were bracing for Irving’s supporters to give him the Nazi salute or shout out pro-Hitler slogans during the trial, which will continue into Tuesday if a verdict is not reached on Monday.

Irving, the author of nearly 30 books, has contended most of those who died at concentration camps such as Auschwitz succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.

In 2000, Irving sued American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court, but lost. The presiding Judge in that case, Charles Gray, wrote that Irving was “an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist”.

Irving has had numerous run-ins with the law over the years.

In 1992, a judge in Germany fined him the equivalent of $6 000 for publicly insisting the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz were a hoax.—Sapa-AP

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