Shvat 22, 5766
VIENNA, Austria -
Right-wing British historian David Irving goes on trial Monday on charges
of denying the Holocaust occurred - a crime punishable by up to 10 years'
imprisonment in this country once run by the Nazis.
Irving, 67, 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. An eight-member jury and a panel of three judges will hear the proceedings, which are expected to produce a verdict on Tuesday.
His trial opens amid fresh - and fierce - debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has triggered violent protests worldwide.
Irving had tried to win his provisional release on $24,000 bail, but a Vienna court refused, saying it considered him a flight risk.
His 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 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.
Within two weeks of his arrest, Irving asserted through his lawyer that he now acknowledges 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.
"What was he doing in Austria? God only knows. Possibly looking for an audience," Austrian state television said in a pre-trial commentary.
He is the author of nearly 30 books, including "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust, 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.