Monday, February 20, 2006


Here's something to be conflicted about. On the one hand, I believe in free speech, even when it's repugnant. On the other hand some folks are so repugnant it's hard to be sad about them being punished by a state.

Such a person is historian David Irving, who has gone about making ever more deranged comments about the Holocaust, to the point he was found to be a Holocaust Denier in a relatively famous trial in the United Kingdom in 2000.

Today, Irving was sentenced to three years in prison in Austria.

Irving, 67, has been in custody since his November arrest 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. He has contended that most of those who died at concentration camps such as Auschwitz succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.

The court convicted Irving after his guilty plea under the 1992 law, which applies to "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media."

Irving's trial came amid new — and fierce — debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered deadly protests worldwide.

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 was writing his memoirs in detention 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. Before the trial began, Irving told reporters he now acknowledges that the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during World War II.

As a person with a great interest in history, I have been following, with increasing dismay and disgust, Irving's almost delight in tormenting jewish survivors of the Holocaust, implying they had made up their version of events. Few if any tragedies have ever been as thoroughly documented as the German systemic slaughter of groups not fitting into their idea of humanity: gays, communists, democrats, gypsies, slavs, and most of all and most viciously, evilly, and deliberately Jews. Yet, Irving, a somewhat respected historian went off the deep end and began denying "the final solution" grasping on any nutty theory he came across and did so for years, creating a cottage industry and aiding and abetting such hateful and malicious assertions.

Now, once his mendacity has finally threatened to take away his freedom, he repents. Would Irving have done so, were it otherwise? I sincerely doubt it.

Yet the inprisonment is still troubling, and ultimately I don't know where I come down -- even if it is eased by the fact it was not done in this country where the First Amendment would have prevented prosecution. But, not surprisingly, the situation is different in Austria, where the crimes were committed, and ultimately started by the worst Austrian (and person) of all time.

What do you think?

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