British Holocaust Denier Sentenced to Three Years

Despite publicly recanting some of his most outrageous assertions, British writer and long-time Holocaust denier David Irving was sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison after pleading guilty to telling audiences that there were no gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz.

Irving, 67, looked shocked as the sentence was announced Feb. 20 in Vienna, and his lawyer vowed to appeal. He was the 159th person convicted of Holocaust denial in Austria since 1999, but one of the few to be ordered to prison.

Irving's trial followed his arrest in November, after he sneaked into Austria to give a speech to a radical student group. He was jailed on outstanding warrants relating to two 1989 speeches he gave in Austria denying the Holocaust.

The author of almost 30 books, Irving came to world attention in 2000, when he brought a libel action in Britain against American scholar Deborah Lipstadt, who had accused him of deliberate falsification. After a lengthy trial, a London court declared Irving a pro-Nazi anti-Semite and "active Holocaust denier," and ordered him to pay all court costs. He lost his large Mayfair house as a result.

Shortly after his arrest in Austria, Irving began to roll back his claims, saying that he had come to learn of the existence of the gas chambers. As his February plea date drew nearer, he went further, saying he now understood that "millions" of Jews had been murdered by the Nazis, although he once claimed "more women were killed in the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car in Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz." He didn't mention his claim that Anne Frank's diary was a forgery, or discuss his many associations with neo-Nazi leaders.

The court did not appear sympathetic, with prosecutors and a judge grilling Irving on his current views. It may be even less so when it considers a prosecution request to lengthen Irving's sentence to 10 years, given his "special importance to right-wing radicals." A week after his plea, he defiantly told The Times of London that he'd been subjected to a "show trial," that far fewer Jews died at Auschwitz than most historians believe, and that Hitler had nothing to do with the Holocaust.