VIENNA — An Austrian court sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison Monday for denying the Holocaust during a 1989 stopover in Austria, dismissing his argument that he had changed his views.
Irving pleaded guilty, hoping for a suspended sentence, but the Vienna criminal court concluded that he was only making a pretense of acknowledging Nazi Germany's genocide of Jews to escape a jail term.
"The court did not consider the defendant to have genuinely changed his mind," presiding Judge Peter Liebetreu told the court after pronouncing the sentence. "The regret he showed was considered to be mere lip service to the law."
Irving, 67, said he was shocked by the sentence handed down by three judges and eight lay jurors, and lodged an immediate appeal. His lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said that even if Irving lost the appeal he was likely to serve only 1 1/2 to two years because of his age and status as a first-time offender.
Irving was arrested on a return visit to Austria in November, based on a warrant over lectures and a press interview he gave in 1989 in the Alpine republic, where denying the Nazi genocide is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
"I'm not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I've changed my views," Irving told reporters on his way into the court.
Irving acknowledged denying in 1989 that Nazi Germany had killed millions of Jews but said he changed his mind in 1991 after coming across personal files of Adolf Eichmann.
"I said that then, based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991, when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," he said. "The Nazis did murder millions of Jews," added Irving, who addressed the court in fluent German.
A significant number of Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, came from Austria. Critics accuse the country of having glossed over its past for decades after the war.
Prosecutor Michael Klackl contended that Irving was a serial "falsifier of history."
"He's continued to deny the fact that the Holocaust was genocide orchestrated from the highest ranks of the Nazi state," Klackl said, citing examples of statements Irving made in interviews during the 1990s after his supposed turnaround.