IMAGE: David Irving
Heinz-peter Bader  /  Reuters
British historian David Irving, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges of denying the Holocaust, speaks with reporters in an Austrian court on Monday.
updated 2/20/2006 1:09:01 PM ET 2006-02-20T18:09:01

Right-wing British historian David Irving pleaded guilty Monday to charges of denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison after conceding he was wrong to say there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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

“I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,” Irving told the court after his trial opened in Vienna. But he insisted he never wrote a book about the Holocaust, which he called “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.

He had faced up to 10 years in prison.

'Like a constantly changing tree'
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.

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 6 million Jews.

Irving’s trial came 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 Nov. 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 $24,000 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.

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.

Court braces for supporters
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 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 is the author of nearly 30 books, including “Hitler’s War,” and 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.

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