They're out for blood
I NOW do, or at least I did before all this happened, most of my writing in the Old Town of Key West, a sub-tropical island town a few hundred metres from the southernmost point of the USA.
As I lay on my cot in Cell Block "C", looking at the rungs of the empty cot above me, I reflected that I still had three bicycles chained to a tree in Key West waiting for my friends and me to return. And here I was in Cell 19, in what the Americans dismissively called "Old Europe", locked down for twenty-three hours a day, imprisoned for an opinion I had expressed sixteen years ago -- no, now seventeen.
I had made friends here among the prisoners, and tried not to prejudge them, though I eventually learned to believe none of them.
One good-looking young African from Guinea-Bissaut -- apart from his Creole he could speak only Spanish -- muttered softly that he'd been caught with one just one gram, I did not ask of what.
Over the weeks, I helped him, translated occasional letters to the officials for him, and gave him some of my meagre rations.
A few mornings after he left, as I sat on one of the two iron chairs from my cell in the corridor outside and Zoran, a Serbian trusty (thirteen years for cocaine dealing), mowed my hair down to one millimetre all over, he whispered to me that the lad had in fact raped a thirteen year old Viennese girl.
"They'll all make up stories rather than admit to that in the prison yard," he said.
My other existence, as a professional historian, had by this time resumed. The monastic existence gave me a great opportunity for analyzing the more complex sources.
I had obtained from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich the verbatim transcript of one of Heinrich Himmler's secret speeches, in August 1944, and I could now take the time and trouble to analyse its text and language, and to ponder what was really going on in the Reichsführer's mind as he spoke -- to see beyond what he actually said, to why.
At the same time I continued my own long-range battle with the government-appointed trustees in London who had seized my correspondence files and archives and either destroyed them -- or sold them to my enemies.
I kept no count of the passing months. So long as I was working productively, the days and weeks no longer mattered.
A friend had sent me Gitta Sereny's book about Albert Speer's twenty-year imprisonment (seen at right, with Mr Irving in 1979). Other prisoners sketched calendars on their cell walls and marked off the weeks and months with crosses. My walls were freshly painted and blank, apart from my family's photos.
BY October we had a date: Dr Herbert Schaller, my lawyer, told me the next time he visited, that the OLG, the Oberlandesgericht or court of appeal, would hear my appeal on December 20, 2006.
We wondered why they had set a date so far ahead, and one well hidden in the penumbra of Christmas too: it was clearly not by chance. As I was escorted back to my cell I remembered the first cynical reaction of one of Tony Blair's ministers on hearing the shocking news from New York on September 11, 2001 -- that this was a God-sent opportunity for Blair's government to "bury the bad news" -- to release a particularly unpopular decision in the press, knowing that it would most likely never be read.
Who reads trial reports at Christmas? What was the bad news that the ministry of justice was hoping to bury? In Austria and Germany any increase in my sentence would be reported as good news, but not in the free world outside.
There was however another, even darker shadow lifting above the horizon. Dr Schaller showed me the court file on the second charge -- the remarks I had made on history in my post-trial interviews with Die Presse and the BBC.
His face was set in granite, it lacked its usual boyish grin; and I could see why: although he did not specifically draw my attention to it, I noticed that the Public Prosecutor Michael Klackl was calling for an indictment under section 3(h) of the Banning Law, the Verbotsgesetz, a new section which could carry a twenty-year sentence or even life imprisonment for repeat offenders, such as Klackl maintained I was.
It would be up to the court to rule whether the indictment could go ahead. Things could hardly get worse.
I kept this development from Benté and young Jessica in London. The next time I spoke with her -- I could now telephone her for five minutes sometimes if she was well enough -- she told me that some enemy had reported her plight to the Social Services and recommended they take Jessica, now 12, away from us; a Black social worker had visited her, and had even suggested that Jessica's name should be changed from mine, Irving, to her mother's, Høgh, "to protect her". Bente was still seething.
As I waited, back outside my cell, to be locked in I noticed that my hands were clenched and the knuckles were white with anger. I recalled how Heinrich Himmler had ordered the Stauffenberg children taken away from their mother after the 1944 Attentat, and their name changed, as a peculiarly inhuman form of psychological punishment.
I NOW knew all the guards by name, though it was not wise to be seen to be too friendly. Long-term prisoners did not take kindly to it; they were sensitive about such things. It was them and us, and that cake was sliced in several different ways. In the yard the different nationalities clustered together. An eastern European once loudly accused me of speaking too kindly with a Black prisoner who was a new arrival.
Just like public school in England; that was what Evelyn Waugh had written, in his novel Decline and Fall, about prison. My mind often wandered back to London, hundreds of miles away. Until my homes were lost, one after the other, I had lived in the heart of the historic district for forty years: I knew it inside out. I used to ask the drivers of black cabs if they knew what the anonymous red-tiled building at the lower end of Down Street was, facing our old home.
"It is the old Down Street tube station," I educated them, "which Winston Churchill shut down in 1940 to use as a deep shelter for himself."
The dark red glazed tiles are typical of stations on the Piccadilly Line. London cabbies are always happy to have something they can tell their passengers (one told me the mayor had recently sent a circular letter forbidding them to call themselves Black-cab drivers -- "racism").
I tried the same kind of riddles on the jailers. "What's twelve times eleven?" I challenged Inspector John one afternoon. For us English, it's a simple sum: every English infant has learned his eleven- and twelve-times tables, because Old England had twelve inches to the foot, and twelve pence to the shilling.
The jailer spluttered, shook out his fingers, and began to work it out.
"Hundred and thirty-two," I prompted, and explained why we English knew. "Won the war for us, that did," I suggested facetiously. "While you Huns were working it out, twelve times eleven, we had the answer already."
He grinned foolishly as he locked me back in.
The next morning, at seven a.m. he was still there, this time with the breakfast cart. "Hundred and thirty-two," he bellowed as he opened the door. He was king of the hill. "I had night shift, Herr Irving, and not one of the others knew the answer."
"Told you," I said. "Won the war that did."
DECEMBER 20, 2006 approached, the day of the appeal. I did not mark it off on the wall; for me one day was the same as the next.
What did I expect as the outcome? The brain works at many conflicting levels, and mine was no different: on one floor it was realistic, and expected that things would in fact only get worse, as I was in "their" hands now, and they were working to that end.
On another floor, my brain was listening to Dr Schaller who remained obstinately optimistic. He had found that the appeal hearing had been allocated only a thirty-minute slot. "That can mean only one thing, Herr Irving," he said as he settled himself into his chair on the other side of the glass panel on the nineteenth, the day before the hearing: "They are going to order your immediate release."
I groaned silently. "They can't do otherwise," he insisted, which made it worse, rather than better. Optimistic lawyers, I had now seen enough of them to last me a lifetime.
I said, "Herr Dr Schaller, I must be realistic -- so I can tell the family in London. Are they to expect me home tomorrow, or will I be here for many more years?"
He grinned his engaging boyish grin, for all his eighty-four years, and repeated his prognosis. "A short hearing means only one thing -- appeal allowed."
"It takes just as long to say No as Yes," I retorted.
He could not be shaken. "If they are going to deny the appeal," he reasoned, "then I am entitled to call for a full reading of all the papers and my own submission, and that would take far longer than the thirty minutes allotted."
That made more sense. With a spring in my step I went back to Cell 19. I phoned Benté in London and confirmed that the general view was that I would be home the next day. I washed the cell's walls and floor, and began to go through my papers and package things up -- the manuscripts I had written here in captivity, throwing away much dead paper, and tidying things for a quick getaway if the appeal succeeded, yet aware all the time that by doing so I was tempting Providence.
LATER that afternoon Police Officer Grobmann called to escort me to our last discussion group before Christmas. The Viennese newspapers and radio were bookmarking the coming appeal widely, while making no predictions. The other five participants all knew that my appeal hearing was slated for the next day; there was a tinge of envy about their remarks.
Grobmann brought a case of beer into the room -- none of us had seen alcohol since we arrived. He plonked a can of Schwechater lager on the table in front of me, and I pushed it aside.
"No offence," I said, "but a coffee would do me fine."
The others, all meanwhile sentenced to terms of eight and even ten years and waiting for their appeals, were eager to deflate me. One well-informed prisoner loudly scoffed that Dr Schaller was manifestly wrong -- there was no way that my appeal would succeed: "From this prison, only three have got away with an appeal to the OLG in the last five years," he said.
As he said the words "got away", an image of the homemade glider in the loft of Colditz Castle flickered into my mind, but it failed to blot out the preceding words "only three".
Be realistic, they all slyly agreed, forget about it; and Grobmann, the police officer, nodded with a friendly, Christmassy, grin. Their vote was unanimous: the appeal had no chance of success.
As I padded back to the cell in my sandals, I realised now with dread that I had given Benté and Jessica the wrong information. I had raised false hopes. I softly cursed Dr Schaller for his forced and misplaced optimism.
December 20 was a Wednesday, and became more immediately memorable for me because it was the first day that I actually saw the Christmas city of Vienna close to whose heart I had been living for fourteen months.
Guards and the sudden ceiling lights awakened me at six a.m. as usual. I dressed in my "best" clothes, such as they were. A beetle had made a meal of one blazer sleeve, I noticed only now.
I disconsolately peeled the last photos of my children off the wall where they had accumulated over the months, sprawling outwards across the plaster in all four directions like new suburbs of Las Vegas across the Nevada desert. Inspector Bernhard Hornicek noticed their absence at once when he came round unlocking the steel doors for the breakfast cart a few minutes later; I think I saw him shake his head slightly, but he already knew what I was thinking, and made no comment.
In my diary I pencilled these lines:
In view of last night's remarks by Officer Grobmann, I now have little hope of the appeal succeeding: only three have succeeded at the OLG in recent years, he said; Dr Herbert Schaller humanely kept that little statistic from me.
The prison officers' escort party fetched me at eight-thirty and a friendly officer with a walrus moustache carried out the obligatory body search. I had tucked an Agatha Christie paperback into my blazer pocket as a prop for the cameras.
"What's the book?" he asked. He had evidently been told not to let me carry Hitler's War into court again. I still managed to slip an open fountain pen into my handcuffed hands however, my trademark, I explain to The Walrus: I am a writer. . .
Toward nine o'clock they drove me through Vienna's late morning rush hour to the Palace of Justice. I found myself sharing the closed prison van with an Eastern European hoodlum; I could not really see his appeal succeeding either.
It was unusual to see people, crowds, cars, trees, birds, and children. I had forgotten all about them. The van delivered me into the closed yard of the building, and after several minutes' delay while they adjusted the handcuffs and waited for the signal to proceed, like stagehands at the Covent Garden Operahouse, we went up in the elevators to the courtroom level.
As I stepped out of the roomy metal-walled elevator, I found that the whole building was filled incongruously with live classical music, inevitably that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A string quartet was playing in the enclosed atrium below us. It was almost surreal, as the delicious baroque music floated up to the marble galleries and ceiling, and the squad of grim-faced police encircled me and forced a way through the crush of press photographers and television cameras. I was conscious that I looked a real thug with my razored-down hair and pallid prison skin.
In the courtroom itself I saw the now usual (though to an English eye, deeply unfamiliar) crush of press photographers and television cameras; flanked only inches away by police officers, I had to stand and then sit there for fifteen minutes while these jackals clicked and flashed and whirred away at me with their cameras.
The five appeal judges were already there. Their president Ernst Maurer (right) looked disconcertingly like me. Throughout the two hours that we were there he ran his tongue around his dry lips as though dying, or at least in need of water; he looked almost frightened of what was going on. It did not encourage me.
Herbert Schaller, my lawyer, bustled forward and warned me to give no interviews, now or later -- not in Austria: "They're out for blood," he whispered.
About fifty members of the public and journalists packed the public gallery; to my surprise, I spotted Réka against the rear wall, very fetching in a powder blue suit. I had not expected her to come from Budapest.
A good-looking Malév flight attendant, she had driven over once a month with her fiancé to chat with me for fifteen minutes from behind a soundproof glass window in Josefstadt prison; she had had to set out at three a.m. to get to Vienna in time for each visit if somebody else was not to beat her to it. She would not understand a word of the German proceedings; I beckoned her over and shook her hand before the uniformed heavies surrounding me could step between us.
As they tugged her away I indicated gratefully that I was wearing the necktie, trousers, and socks that she had contributed for the cause -- mostly bought on her long-haul flights to the Far East.
I recognised too Wolfgang Frölich, a Holocaust revisionist whom Schaller had also rescued from a lengthy imprisonment, standing at the back of the courtroom taking photos, and he was even illegally filming until they stopped him.
The appeal proceedings began. I no longer expected any good to come of it all. Rather alarmingly, the auxiliary judge, a young female, read out the whole of Judge Liebetreu's fifty-page Judgment of February 20, in a toneless, unaccentuated voice. It took her the best part of an hour. My heart sank. It rather destroyed the basis of Schaller's confident prognosis.
At one point where I quoted in my 1989 lectures a particularly shocking 1942 Foreign Office admission that they themselves -- British propagandists -- had invented the gas chamber story for war purposes ("That too was a lie"), I interjected: "Quote--unquote" -- that was a quotation, namely, it was not I who had said it.
I was not comfortable with what I had heard. There were many points I had made quite forcefully in those 1989 lectures that I would not make today, and the Liebetreu Judgment had included nothing of the balancing arguments I had made for the other case.
Read out in that toneless, flat legal voice, it sounded very extreme, and it soon got worse, as the Chief Prosecutor, the chief public prosecutor, addressed the court, heatedly and with many gesticulations, for half an hour, demanding a much stiffer penalty than the three years already handed down to me (and no doubt wishing that a death sentence could have been possible).
I felt certain now that the sentence would go up, and heard whispers of "fünf"-- "five years" from behind me, which I thought perhaps even an underestimate.
MY own friend and attorney Dr Herbert Schaller, veteran of many a legal battle, fearless and patriotic too, would now deliver the final act. Gathering his black robe around his shoulders like a schoolmaster, he rose to his feet and orated as though he were addressing a public meeting.
Waves of silent applause rolled across the public benches toward him. An oddly droll, proud-looking little man, wiry, red faced and tough, he spoke unlike the Chief Prosecutor without notes -- he was after all a veteran and an expert -- and with great force.
How dare the prosecution, he asked, adduce against me, both now and in February, my lectures around the world (which were not about the Holocaust anyway)? They were not illegal anywhere in the world except in Austria. Austria can not claim to police the world, he thundered, and he repeated twice that I had not been properly defended at the lower level, in February -- a grave rebuke for his lackadaiscal, slipshod, couldn't-care-less predecessor Dr Elmar Kresbach. Quite so.
Even so, I was now without hope. At Judge Maurer's invitation I addressed the court in German, also without notes though only briefly, for perhaps two minutes or more, anticipating that my voice would not now be heard in public for several years.
I pointed out that Judge Peter Liebetreu's February 2006 Judgment, as read out by his female colleague, had of course quoted only the "prosecutable" parts of my two 1989 lectures in Austria, but that the lectures had been, if taken as a whole, properly balanced pro and con, and that this was why the police officials who actually attended at our invitation each time found (and recorded) that I had not broken the law; that I had now been held for over four hundred days in solitary confinement; that Bente is very ill, and that if I were to be imprisoned further I could not be exchanged to a British prison, because the Austrian law, the Banning Law, had no parallel in Britain -- one of the prerequisites for such bilateral prisoner exchanges. In other words, I would not see my family for years, if even then.
The panel retired to consider, and I seized this bleak moment for a final chat with Réka. I said goodbye to my friends in the courtroom too and shook hands all round so far as I could. The police guards made no attempt to intervene.
COURT officials called everybody to silence after half an hour, and the five judges filed back in. Judge Maurer held a sheaf of typed pages in his hands, and when everybody was silent he began to read out their findings. I tried not to betray any emotions either way. He immediately dismissed the prosecution's arguments, one hundred percent, reciting all the reasons that Dr Schaller had enunciated; and in his immediately following remarks he equally accepted all of ours.
I was to be freed immediately. I noticed that he was now licking his lips more frantically than before.
Perplexed, relieved, and frankly shocked at this unexpected outcome, my face unfroze. I half-turned to my right, caught Dr Schaller's eye, and winked. His benign features slowly creased into a Sphinx-like smile. Was this perhaps no surprise to him at all -- what had just happened? The doors swung open and shut as two pressmen rushed out to be the first to phone home. The Austrian press was not going to like this at all.
These five judges could still not overturn Judge Liebetreu's monstrous judgment -- perhaps because Austria would then have had to pay major compensation to me -- but in their findings they had adjusted the sentence to effect an immediate release; time served, in other words.
Still an injustice, but what the hell. The police guards who had been only inches from my chair throughout the proceedings now pulled discreetly back; the cameras flashed, and the photos showed that several of the police officers were wearing broad smiles -- for them, this was a popular decision all round.
Réka disentangled herself from the public gallery and dashed forward to give me a warm hug, which felt so good after all those months alone. Her young fiancé looked on indulgently. Fly Hungarian!
"Give no interviews in Austria!" Dr Schaller again instructed, protecting my interests: journalists, as we have found, have a tendency to distort things to create fresh stories. He told me that the police had assured him I would now be freed, and not deported. He handed over one thousand euros, provided by an Austrian supporter, to pay for my necessarily expensive one-way flight back to London, and then this brave and tireless advocate left at once for the eight hour journey to Mannheim, where he was defending Ernst Zündel in that man's mammoth, year-long trial, almost ignored by the media.
The press clung around asking questions that now had an altogether different, more respectful hue. Open season seemed to have ended.
At eleven-thirty, the police drove me back across Vienna to the Josefstadt prison. The officers accompanying me began cracking off-colour jokes, and two even began educating me that they and everybody else knew that I had been the victim of a small religious clique, a people not like us at all. They were the ones really behind my arrest in 2005; I made no response.
BACK in Josefstadt prison I should have been a free man, and yet I was not. Shortly -- despite what Dr Schaller had assured me -- I was escorted before the Aliens Police for expulsion proceedings. The clique had evidently sprung into action again.
Dr Schaller had already left for Mannheim. I refused to sign any documents. The hours passed, and I was still detained, behind locked doors, hanging around in the foyer of our Cell Block. I made a few phone calls, but my phone cards were nearly out of juice.
I phoned the Press Association (PA) in London to arrange a big press conference at the Marriott Hotel on Grosvenor Square, next to our old home, at seven p.m. this evening, and I put my brother John in charge.
Immediately, it occurred to me that this call to the PA might easily yet become another undoing -- I might still be under Judge Liebetreu's prohibition order and not allowed to call the press.
The hours passed. An officer brought me my latest mail, thirty more letters, including one from Benté, and one from Rym (a long-lost Tunisian friend from 1982), and others of great interest. Preoccupied with the inexplicable delay, I put them aside to read on the plane.
I got through eventually to Bente, and she had disconcerting news: the BBC was reporting in London that Judge Liebetreu was livid with the court of appeal for overturning his judgment that morning, and that he was even now casting about for ways to detain me pending a fresh prosecution for the interviews I had given the BBC and Austrian press in February.
I had no way of knowing how true this BBC report was. Inspector Hornicek, our Block Chief, confided to me that there had indeed been an unheard-of development -- Judge Liebetreu was refusing to sign my release order pending the arrival of the actual paper warrant from the OLG. It was a very thin pretext. He had been told the decision verbally by the court, by phone, but he was refusing to accept that. Everybody at the OLG had gone home. Three or four hours had passed since the OLG had ordered my release, and I was still very much a prisoner. It looked to me like another ambush.
So at 2:30 p.m. a most unpleasant interlude began. The prison officers were all going off duty as usual; the whole jailhouse was about to be buttoned down for the night.
Hornicek, now dressed in his street uniform, showed up again and invited me with an easy grin to return to my old cell. I could see that there was already somebody else's name on the door. He slammed the door behind me as I went in; it looked very bare and inhospitable without my family's pictures on the wall.
I was no longer in solitary: My cell now also housed a chain-smoking Viennese thug, mentally unbalanced, and evidently deeply unhappy about his incarceration. He looked like another candidate for the rope, like last week's other two "C"-Block unfortunates.
I made diary notes of the day on scraps of paper.
This intermezzo ended at 4:30 p.m. It was already dark. A police escort extricated me and drove me across Vienna to the Police Building. There was no explanation for the move, except perhaps that this building came under a different ministry than the Josefstadt jail. The driver said that thirty more letters had already arrived for me, but I might now not get them.
The mood seemed different, somehow more restless, than that morning. There was a perceptibly inflated evening shift of officers waiting to receive me, their now notorious prisoner. They told me I was to be held here for one or two more days pending -- an almost imperceptible pause -- formalities.
In this new building I was stripped and searched, and my dwindling possessions were registered once again; it was all the usual chicanery but I was philosophical, resigned, even blasé about it now.
One officer asked, "Who was the beautiful young Hungarian in court?" -- everybody was commenting on her. Prison visitor, I told him, which was true; and perhaps he made a mental note to become a writer too. I weighed in at 110 kilos, six less than when I was arrested in 2005, and height 186 cm; but for the weight, I would have just made it into the Leibstandarte, Hitler's Guards Brigade.
I HAD expected to be in London by this time, with a big press conference to address this evening, but I was going to be locked down in a cell again for the night, and I was getting tired of it.
At five p.m. all my possessions were opened and re-boxed. They told me they would bring the rest of the money in my canteen account over from Josefstadt prison tomorrow.
That was the least of my concerns. At five-thirty I phoned Bente in London, to tell her I would not be home tonight after all, as I was being held in a different Vienna jail and had not been told why. I would now hold the London press conference in two days' time, on December 22, as I could not even bank on being back tomorrow. "It seems like clouds are gathering," I said; more than that I decided not to tell her.
With one phone card empty and the other looking very frail, I called John again and asked him to rebook the Marriott conference room for Friday; I again phoned the Press Association, still from a payphone in this very obliging Viennese police HQ, and postponed the press conference.
By eight p.m. my new jailers had put a dish with three bread rolls and some cheese-quarters into the cell, and a plastic pouch of toilet articles. The cell had one small window, too high up to see out of. The walls were covered with deep scratches and graffiti. A previous occupant had marked the calendar in Cyrillic script on one wall, and methodically crossed off the weeks and days for seven months. It did not bear thinking of.
The cell was filthy, but it had clean sheets; I was tempted to stand up all night, but I was hungry and exhausted. I lay down and waited for the glaring ceiling light to go out. It stayed on all night.
IF the police officers were telling the truth, I would be on a plane out of Austria the next day or so, but I was still a prisoner, despite our appeal court victory. I was held in a Vienna police jail.
Thursday, December 21, 2006 finally brought this whole unsavoury episode to an end. The tone of the captivity subtly changed -- perhaps the officers had been reading reports in the press and were now thinking for themselves. Shortly before dawn the commandant himself, the prison governor, unlocked the door, shifted barely perceptibly to attention on the threshold, and murmured courteously: "Mr Irving, we are deeply ashamed that this is happening. We do not agree with this at all. We will of course have to treat you the same as any other prisoner. . ."
I rewarded him with a strained smile, and said that I expected no different.
The Aliens Police took me in for final interrogations; no surprises there either, but I answered no questions beyond the absolutely necessary. With Dr Schaller himself in Mannheim, Germany, his daughter Elisabeth, also a fine lawyer, came in to continue the fight. She formally expressed our outrage that the government had broken its undertakings about expulsion.
The police responded that I was to be held one or even two more days, pending flight arrangements; knowing whom we were really up against, we suspected that there were other reasons for detaining me on Austrian soil. The British press too was expressing puzzlement that I was being detained two more days ostensibly "to speed my departure."
The police offered the excuse that they had no escort officers available today, but Elisabeth Schaller insisted: we needed no escort; I must be permitted to fly out today, since the appeal court had ordered my release; using her cell phone in front of the police officials, she calmly booked me on to an Austrian Airlines flight scheduled to leave for London at 5:15 p.m. It would cost 437 euros, nearly six hundred U.S. dollars (not cheap, but British Airways were asking twice as much).
She told me that my appeal victory had dominated the TV discussion panels here in Vienna last night, with the Jewish Cultural Community and all the usual suspects expressing outrage -- acting like Shakespearean Shylocks, furious at being short-weighted on their pound of flesh.
She added that Réka and other loyal friends had asked her to tell me that they had hung around Vienna airport yesterday for six hours waiting to wish me farewell.
The attempted police interrogation continued. On Elisabeth Schaller's cell phone, still in the police office, I took several incoming calls. The BBC asked if they could come with a TV camera to interview me in this building; the officer pinked and panicked, when I asked him, and said no.
I did take a lengthy call from a reporter of Agence France Presse. I fed him some safe morsels -- that the prison commandant had privately apologised, and in a very decent way; that I was no Holocaust denier -- people who said the opposite had clearly never read my books; and that historian Raul Hilberg had declared that 80 percent of the Holocaust had never been researched, and that some historians should not be imprisoned for thinking differently from others.
Asked how I had spent my time, I added that I had done so "recalibrating", resetting all my mental dials to zero; and as a final aside, on an impulse, knowing what journalists need -- namely a headline story -- I fed him the words: "Mel Gibson was right."
He knew what I was getting at, but asked me all the same; I declined to amplify. I knew those words alone would do the trick. It was payback time.
Still from that police interrogation room, I called John in southwest England. My brother said that there had been good coverage of yesterday's appeal triumph and the lively courtroom scenes were shown on the BBC and other television channels, but that the BBC's "Newsnight," Britain's most popular late news programme, had cancelled, so it looked as if the Board of Deputies of British Jews had already put the boot in there. The Marriott had also come under pressure, and were revoking their contract for tomorrow's conference; asked for a reason, they had been rather mysterious about it.
"Tell me the Old, Old Story," I yodelled to him, and asked him, as my phone card gasped to an end, to notify the Press Association that I would issue new location details at the last possible moment tomorrow.
Elisabeth remarked to me once again, as had her father, that none of this would have happened if I had not fallen for that incompetent charlatan Dr Elmar Kresbach (left) as my first lawyer.
That was true, but possibly there would also have been only one-hundredth of the media noise in consequence.
The journalists' questions showed that my call for an international boycott of German and Austrian historians was hitting home.
I had decided on this tactic two nights earlier. I have not studied the life of Dr Joseph Goebbels for nothing. It was one of his recommended techniques: Always counter-attack, but elsewhere. "If they start asking about the concentration camps," he had dictated to his staff in 1942, "we wade into them about the poverty and starvation in British India."
I was returned to my cell, and an officer brought me real Viennese coffee. A little procession followed, one might even call it a pilgrimage. At mid-day four officers traipsed in, with a Gruppeninspekteur at their head, and a young ordinary Inspector, Markus, bringing up the rear; they asked for my autograph. Two women officers shortly followed with the same request, one wanting the signature for her twenty-three year old son. All stayed to chat, and all expressed private outrage at the whole episode and the worldwide harm it was doing to Austria.
As they left, they made as if to leave the cell door open as a courtesy; I suggested they close it, to observe the formalities, observing that it was all the same to me.
It was now a race between the Public Prosecutor's office and the police -- the former's efforts to get their second indictment against me drawn up in time to serve it, and the police determination to carry out their duty to remove me from Austria. It was not hard to see where the latter's real sympathies lay.
I WONDERED if "the Jews" ever realised the lasting harm they did to their own community's long-term interests by this unbridled persecution fervour against me and other writers; in my case, they had erred, they had stumbled across a famous victim, and one not afraid to hit back.
At noon-thirty a guard brought a tray with lunch -- dumplings and an excellent goulash. Another Gruppeninspekteur came in with a sheet of paper in his hand for an autograph. I complimented him on the lunch, and since he hung around I remarked on the alien scum that I had often encountered in the Josefstadt jailhouse yard.
The officer -- he stuck out a hand to shake, and said his name was Toni -- loosened up at once, and said: "That's the European Union for you, for God's sake. It's the end." One wondered why, and who was behind it, I said; and he nodded in silent endorsement.
As the afternoon dragged on, I began to wonder if I had been foolhardy in feeding that Mel Gibson teaser to a press agency while still on Austrian soil.
I realised that I had heard the agency man typing my answers straight onto a keyboard, so they would be on the wires by now. If he had embellished them in any way, it might well land me back in the goulash. Austria was still a police state. I had been very careful with what I did say and what I did not, but we knew by now what evil-spirited journalists would do to flog their stories.
Before I could leave there had to be yet another medical. Blood pressure 158, pulse normal, in fact "fit enough for sports" as the woman doctor said. Yes, but the muscles, the muscles . . . months of virtual inactivity, and a cot by night that was always four inches too short.
Back in the cell, three more hours elapsed and then suddenly it was clear we were winning the grotesque race with the clock. Escorted to a chilly prison van with new officers and two unspeakable Romanian deportees, I was at last driven out from underneath the building's roll-up doors. We hurtled through the rush-hour streets of Vienna to the airport with police-sirens howling and flashing blue lights, and ran the lights at every intersection as though it were a real emergency.
The Romanians tried to make small talk, but I decided to ignore them for these remaining minutes of purgatory. No more Mr Nice-Guy; or, as the Americans would say, I was fresh out of niceness now. I dug out of my pocket the letter that arrived from Bente as I left Josefstadt yesterday and read it quietly through. It was warm and friendly.
At the airport, we parked on a police stand, and waited. The officers went away. The minutes turned into hours. We were abandoned. There was some kind of problem now in London. The police officers had all gone inside the warm terminal building and were in no hurry to return. When they returned, I even overheard talk of returning me to the jailhouse in Vienna, with all the fresh dangers that that offered.
The police van's engine had long been switched off, and we were held on this outside parking stand for hours on end in the bitter cold; all flights in to London were being delayed by the worst fog there for years. The airport there was shut, with scores of planes moaning around in holding patterns over the Home Counties, unable to get in.
At last two police officers came to fetch me with the tickets. I learned that my boxes of books and manuscripts had just cost me another four hundred euros -- four times what my original return ticket had cost. All my cash had dribbled away again.
If the Austrian taxpayers had been paying for the ticket, and not I, an officer would have been required to accompany me, handcuffed to me, all the way to Heathrow. Such are the perils of writing real history in Europe today.
The handcuffs were removed for the last time. Inside the brightly lit terminal the officers loosened up, I invited them to coffee and bought Austrian newspapers; I was happy to see that the country's journalists were foaming with obscenities about me. They knew which side their bread was buttered on. What venal cowards they were. The Journaille, as Goebbels called them, and by now I knew why. Nothing had changed since then, just the invisible armbands that they wore.
I HAD paid the extra for a business-class seat, thanks to that kind Austrian supporter. I settled down into the Austrian Airlines leather to sleep for the two-hour flight home.
I had a lot to think about. I went through my pockets, and found the two empty phone cards: I tucked them into the seat pocket in front. Goodbye Austria.
After fourteen months without income, damage-repair would occupy me for many months to come: we had lost book sales, publishing contracts, air tickets, lecture engagements, our home (right), and many of my possessions; Benté had become very unwell and my imprisonment had not helped her. Later this night I would find over six thousand emails waiting for me to read and answer.
In all these months since the moment of my arrest, there had been not one sound, not a peep, from the students who had invited me to speak, the wealthy Vienna student corporation "Olympia": no apology, message, letter, or visitor had come from them. My brief letters to the corporation from prison had gone unanswered. I had been left to fend for myself.
That, and the hundreds of anonymous letters of support I had received, showed that Germans and Austrians believe, deep down, that they are living once again in police states.
The Airbus lifted off the Austrian runway two hours late, but we were served a good meal in this class, with real meat for the first time in months and good wine too.
In my first week of imprisonment, while still in Graz-Jakomini jail, I had once dreamed that I was flying home, and that a flight attendant was bringing me a bottle of champagne with the compliments of British Airways after my ordeal, to the loud applause of all the passengers. This meal was almost as good. I declined the alcohol, of course; I had been weaned off it in prison.
We landed heavily at Heathrow -- a totally blind landing -- around nine-thirty. A jostling, elbowing, politely unruly pack of press and television photographers was thronging the walkway off the plane, rather mystifyingly for the other passengers following behind me. After all, I was no Kate Middleton.
More newsmen waited outside the Customs area. The BBC could not now use me -- I phoned them first -- it was too late. Most U.K. national newspapers had already gone to press. Damn the English fog. Channel 4 was also lost. Here at Heathrow airport I suddenly felt very tired (left). I bought a new phone card and some English money. I stayed for an hour talking to Reuters, and to the reporters in the arrivals area, and to a young lady Associated Press interviewer. In the Americas it was still only afternoon and evening. That was the plus side of the profit-and-loss account of all those days in solitary.
I had banked on getting at least one broadcaster to offer to drive me into the city. Now, with so much baggage, I would have to take a cab to London, which robbed me of another sixty pounds. "Take me to Sloane Street," I groaned, and gave the cabbie the street number. It was long after eleven p.m., and an icy, damp, cold, evening. A chilly sleet had replaced the earlier fog as we pulled out of the airport complex, fourteen months after I had parked my car there -- long since stolen -- for a two-day trip to Austria.
"Four hundred days in solitary," said the cockney driver. "Goreblimey!"
I began to tell him about Rudolf Hess, and Spandau prison, and forty-seven years, but decided not to.
He deposited me with my suitcase and two boxes at the apartment building's showcase front door. Of course I had not yet seen our new home. We had lost our old one on March 20 thanks to my "kidnapping", as I now called it, and ill as she was Benté had made the move here all on her own. The block had a big art deco frontage of the Thirties, in one of London's fashionable streets, and through the glass I could see that the foyer was warm and brightly lit.
The concierge's desk was empty. I thought again of those bikes rusting in the warmth of sub-tropical Key West, I straightened my tie, and I rang the bell of our apartment.
The snow had now reached London's West End and begun drifting down, and I finally noticed how cold it had become. It was nearly midnight, and Benté and Jessica had probably given up and gone to bed.
A minute or two passed. I rang the bell again.
The street was deserted. In the distance I heard a police car's siren, and saw flashing blue lights coming from Sloane Square. For the briefest instant I stiffened, then relaxed: No, I said, you're safe in London now.
© Copyright David Irving and Focal Point, 2007
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