Arrest in Austria
Padfield, Pinkerton, Porteous, Ransome, Rawlings, Sandiford, Siebert, Sibthorpe, Taylor
HUMAN memory is like an onion, I have decided. Once you have peeled off one skin and written it down, you realize the next time you look that there was another layer of forgotten memories just beneath it. As I lay one night in my two-foot wide cot alone in Cell 19, in "C" Block in the notorious "Landl", the grim Josefstadt prison, built in the center of Vienna in 1839, listening to the dim sounds of the Hausarbeiter cleaning the tiled corridor on the other side of the six-inch thick strongroom-type door separating me from the outside world, I found I had suddenly recalled the next tranche of names in my class list at Brentwood School, nearly sixty years before.
It must have been three a.m. I had no clock or watch, or radio or television, with which to judge the time. Just blank walls, with a few snapshots of my children. I still had each name's corresponding face in my memory, but the faces have also aged so I would recognize them instantly today.
Four months had already passed since I arrived in Austria for two days in November 11, 2005, to talk to a Vienna student body -- the powerful Burschenschaft, or student fraternity, "Olympia" -- about the secret watch kept on Joel Brand's negotiations with Adolf Eichmann by British Intelligence and our codebreakers. My trial in the country's biggest courtroom -- chosen to accommodate the world's media -- would begin on February 20, 2005*.
* Accused under a catch-all Stalin-era law of "reviving National Socialism," Mr Irving was sentenced to a three-year jail term. On December 20, 2006 the court of appeal ordered his release.
Apart from three visits lasting a few hours each in 1991, 1992, and 1993 I had not been in Austria since 1989, for which latter visit I was now condemned to serve three years in jail, charged with expressing illegal opinions on World War II history.
Yes, I should have stuck to the consensus view -- the kind of history that the conformist historians peddle. Everybody said that; the judge, the jury, the Austrian and German press, even my own lawyer Dr Elmar Kresbach (right) said that. Then I would not be languishing in jail like this. My own fault entirely.
"However," consoled Kresbach, creasing his face into an oily Viennese-lawyer smile, and referring to the blanket coverage he had won for himself in the international press, and even in the less free world like China, North Korea, Iran and Russia, "you are now undeniably a martyr."
"That was not my intention," I said bitterly. "I just wanted to speak to those students and go home."
I HAD taken Jessica, 11, to the Saint James's Park tube station for school before setting out for Heathrow airport in my rental car. Did I suspect that many moons would pass before I saw her and Bente again? I wrote as much in my diary; I prudently left that in London, with my laptop, before flying over to Basle in western Switzerland.
From the airport I phoned my good friend the playwright Rolf Hochhuth, but he was in Berlin, so dinner with him was out. He had just left Basle after his wife's death, he said, he sounded very cast down, and had not even received my letter.
In another rented car I drove east all night through Zürich and into Austria. I had decided not to risk flying direct. These are all police states now, with state police -- Staatspolizei like the Gestapo with which we historians are familiar.
After nine hundred kilometers I was in Vienna by eight a.m. As soon as it was decent, I phoned Christopher V., my student host, from the West railroad station.
"Rendezvous A," I said, without identifying myself. "One hour from now."
We had prearranged the details six months earlier. Security like this was necessary. The last time I spoke in Vienna, on November 6, 1989, the Jewish, Communist, and far Left organisations had brought five thousand demonstrators out into the capital's streets, and five hundred riot police had had to put a ring of steel around the big Park Hotel.
The rendezvous was inside the ticket hall. It was not ideal; the hall was 500 yards long, but it had a long balcony where I positioned myself looking for any signs of trouble -- the odd furled banner, or any gathering of the unwashed. I knew what signs to look for. Five minutes after the hour I strolled outside to check whether anybody was prowling round the car.
A young student in his twenties emerged from the station and we made eye contact. I nodded with my head towards the car and we drove off down the Ring, with him at the wheel. I wanted to check him out before we went further. "Let's get a coffee at the Café Landtmann," I suggested, in a fit of nostalgia.
That was where I was first arrested at a press conference on the orders of the Minister of the Interior, Karl Blecha, in 1983. It cost him dear; we were awarded heavy damages. It seemed like yesterday.
"You're speaking at six," the student said. He agreed that I could put my head down at the Burschenschaft building for three or four hours first.
Still half suspecting that the function might not take place, I asked him to grab a snapshot under the Landtmann's canopy as proof that I was in Vienna. It would certainly irritate some folks back in London. The Board of Deputies of British Jews had written in June 1992 to the Austrian government, livid at hearing of my recent visit to the country, and demanding my immediate arrest the next time. Some "Britons"!
I had obtained a copy of their letter during a court action against the Prime Minister of Australia, no less. Strange, the things that turn out to have been going on all along unseen, unheard -- like the lice gnawing at the woodwork of a rotten building. Not that they are an International Conspiracy of course, they have always denied that. They are the great hypocrisy-deniers.
FINISHING his lemon tea at the Landtmann, Christopher, a law (Iura) student, picked up his cell phone -- which they call a handy here, in that German mania for inappropriate English -- and said: "I'll tell them you'll be over for a nap right away."
I was uneasy. Mensch, I thought, phoning? On a mobile? Das kann nicht gut gehen.
He expected two or three hundred to come, he said. "Are you sure it is secure?" I asked, and he nodded dismissively. "Our folks don't talk."
Perhaps twenty-five minutes passed between his phone call and our reaching the building.
We parked two blocks away behind it. Instinct made me think ahead. "Is there a rear exit?" I asked. He shook his head. Not good. Still visualizing what could go wrong, I slipped him the car keys: "If we get separated, you drive off," I said, anticipating Red violence otherwise and costly damage to the car. "And I'll phone you later."
We turned the last corner. I saw three burly goons peel off the wall on the other side of the otherwise empty street across from the entrance. Phrases from Raymond Chandler skidded through my brain. What would Philip Marlowe have done?
In their early forties, they were stubble-faced and wearing weatherproof jackets -- they were hard to place. There was something about them that reminded me of the thugs with baseball bats who smashed my Chicago dinner in September 2000. After a moment's hesitation, they crossed the street diagonally towards us.
Ignoring them, we walked right through them. "Mahlzeit," I nodded: Good afternoon. "Let's drop into that Kneipe," I murmured -- the bar on the next corner.
"Too late," said Christopher, dropping the car keys furtively into my hand. "They're following. I recognize one. Staatspolizei!" I doubted it. How could he know the Stapo by sight?
This was no time for "The Long Goodbye." We split at the corner. Briefly out of sight, I quickened my pace. The Ford Focus was round the next corner. One of the goons was following me, a hundred yards behind; two were pursuing Christopher.
Round the final corner I speeded up again, walking briskly in the middle of the street, not visibly aiming for anything. I pressed the remote, and heard the soft answering clunk of the car doors unlocking. I ripped open the front right hand door and dropped in and locked the door. The goon was ninety yards away, and he had begun to trot. Suppose he took out a gun?
My hands reached for the wheel -- it wasn't there. It was not a British car. I was on the wrong side. Jeez, I'm getting senile, perhaps just exhausted. Impossible to climb across.
Fifty yards. I leapt out, and hurled myself into the other side, displaying as much nonchalance as I could, commensurate with the urgency of the moment. The engine started first time, the man was twenty yards off, then ten, but with wheels skidding in the gravel I was already moving. I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror, and it was not good. He had a pad in his hand, and he was writing. So he was Staatspolizei, as Christopher had said.
An Israeli newspaperman later learned from his contacts that a senior, older, member of the "Olympia" had tipped off the police -- a dueling offense if ever there was one.
Left: Michael Klackl, who prosecuted Mr Irving, and vastly superior to defence lawyer Kresbach (photo: George Kádar)
SO I was on the run from their secret police, and this was Vienna. It was not a happy moment. I am a professional, and I have never let down an audience yet. In the prison yard the old hands told me, "Yer should've dumped the car right then, Dave." Easily said. I could have phoned Sixt and told them where their car was. In practice, I had only forty euros on me, fifty dollars; the students owed me a lot of expenses, but had not had time to pay; forty, fifty would not have got me far.
I stuck with the car, and travelled fast. I took the next four corners on two wheels. It would be easy to submerge in Vienna. I could not get this zither music out of my head. The Harry Lime Theme. I wanted to put distance between myself and those burly gentlemen, because in this scenario they were definitely not the Good Guys. I parked back at the rendezvous point, and cautiously phoned Christopher. "Shall we meet in an hour's time," I suggested, "at that place you took the photo?"
"I don't think that would be advisable," he said in a strained voice.
"You can't speak?" "No."
In Staatspolizei custody, but it puzzled me that they had left him his mobile, his handy. The inappropriate name still irritated me, the more I thought about it. Handy? Handy for whom?
HOME therefore, and don't spare the horses. London via Basle, and calling at no stations in between. I assumed that all routes due west would be watched, if they were really looking out for me. It seemed hard to believe, after sixteen years. After all, these are the much vaunted "free democracies". I bought a map book, checked the freeways and decided I could still get back to Basle in time for my return flight next day if I drove nonstop south, west through Italy, and then north, adding perhaps 1,000 kilometers to the normally 900 kilometer journey.
It was time for the Third Man to make his final getaway -- from Austria's new "democratic" Stapo. I waited until darkness fell and the Ring was choked with rush-hour traffic; I figured I could just make it. I set out down the A2, the southern freeway, toward Italy. I was glad I carried no mobile phone myself; they now all have built in GPS chips as an aid -- to the authorities.
I gassed up, and put the tape recorder on the seat next to me, so I could dictate over the next few hours. As the lights of Vienna fell behind me, the Harry Lime Theme began to fade too.
After an hour or so my gaze fell on the instrument panel. "YOU ARE ON THE A2, 140 KM SOUTH OF VIENNA," the sat. navigation screen told me -- and whom else, I suddenly wondered. There seemed to be no way to switch off the treacherous instrument. But it was a Swiss car, I reasoned, and the Stapo were Austrians.
After another hour I settled down to a steady 110 km per hour, and there was now a police car some way in front. It obviously was not chasing. After another hour, a second police car showed up in my mirror, and I was not so sure.
They both maintained my exact speed, no matter how I modestly slowed or accelerated. Using the standard "box" manuvre -- a simple "please" would have sufficed -- they suddenly forced me off the freeway at speed, and halted me on the hard shoulder in a cloud of dust and gravel.
As the other cars sped past inches away in the darkness, eight uniformed cops jumped out and began running towards me, shouting hysterically.
I do so hate unpleasantness. I reached for my tape recorder. It glinted on the passenger seat next to me. I saw that the running cops thumping on the Ford were all carrying drawn automatics, nine-millimeter Glocks, and they were actually pointing them at my head. It was a most uncivil sensation. I decided that it might be unrewarding to point something metallic at them after all. The recorder slipped from my nerveless fingers -- that's how Chandler would have put it.
It was now evident to me that I would not be seeing London, Bente, and Jessica any time soon after all.
© Copyright David Irving and Focal Point, 2007