Irving held in Austria over Holocaust comments

By Tony Paterson

BERLIN - The disgraced British historian, David Irving, was being held in an Austrian jail last night while state prosecutors decided whether to bring charges against him for allegedly denying aspects of the Nazi Holocaust during a visit to the country sixteen years ago.

The Austrian Interior Ministry said the revisionist historian, who was convicted of Holocaust denial in Britain five years ago, was arrested after undergoing a routine check on a motorway in the southern province of Styria last week.

He had apparently been on his way to address a student's club in Vienna when he was stopped by motorway police.

It was not clear whether his presence in Austria was linked to a meeting of far-right politicians in Vienna earlier this week.

Ministry spokesman Rudolf Golia said Mr Irving was being held in a prison in the southern city of Graz.

He said he had been arrested on the basis of a warrant issued in 1989.

Under Austrian law, denying the Nazi Holocaust is a crime punishable by a maximum 20-year jail term.

Mr Irving, 67, has faced repeated allegations of spreading anti-Semitic and racist propaganda.

He is the author of nearly 30 books on the Nazi era including "Hitler's War" which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.

He has also appeared as a speaker at far-right political rallies in Germany where he is banned from speaking.

The author's personal website claimed yesterday that Mr Irving had been on his way to address a group of "courageous students" in Vienna on the subject of a deal reached between the Nazi official Adolf Eichmann and Hungarian Jewish leaders during the Second World War under which lorries were apparently bartered for Jews.

The website claimed that "Austrian political police" had tracked down the "Expert on The Third Reich" by tapping his phone and intercepting his emails.

It said Mr Irving had managed to visit his friend Rolf Hochhuth, a controversial German playwright whom he had not seen for more than 20 years because of travel bans imposed on the author.

State prosecutors in Graz said it was unclear whether there were sufficient legal grounds to continue holding Mr Irving as the offences, allegedly committed during a speaking tour in Austria in 1989, took place so long ago.

They said were expected to reach a decision next week.

Mr Irving was disgraced at a libel trial in London in 2000 when he attempted to sue the American academic Deborah Lipstadt for having described him as a "Holocaust denier" in her 1994 book, " Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." During the trial, Mr Irving claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were "completely fictitious" and had never existed.

The British Judge cleared Mrs Lipstadt and described Mr Irving as an " active Holocaust denier " who was " an anti-Semitic, racist who associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism".

Mr Irving faced £3 million in costs as a result of his court defeat and was forced to sell his Mayfair home.

He has since been reduced to selling his books on the internet and going on speaking tours in the United States where Holocaust denial does not constitute a criminal offence.

At his trial, he insisted that he had never claimed that the Holocaust did not occur.

He maintained that he had simply questioned the number of Jews killed and denied that they had been systematically exterminated in Nazi death camp gas chambers.

- INDEPENDENT

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