The Year that Never Was
Josefstadt prison, Vienna. In fourteen months David Irving never saw the outside of this prison building in the heart of Vienna. Brought there by Nacht und Nebel in November 2005, it would be December 2006 before he was driven away in a windowless prison van
IN RETROSPECT, the months of my imprisonment in Austria were months which did not happen. But at the time, the jail existence extended forwards like a featureless landscape; and seen in reverse there was nothing that stood out to distinguish one day from the next.
I wondered how Nelson Mandela and Albert Speer had fared for twenty years, and Rudolf Hess for forty-seven. Even now, I find myself saying, "Last summer, when ," and then correcting myself, "I mean, the summer before last "
The whole year just vanished from my life.
At least I had my thoughts, and then my writing, to occupy me. "I was recently wondering," I wrote to a friend as the bitter prison winter was left behind, and then the spring turned into summer,
"why I was taking prison so very much in my stride, then found this passage in Decline and Fall (by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1928) in which our hero Paul Pennyfeather similarly muses, whilst in jail:. . .anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.
So my public-school years had prepared me well for this mild ordeal. I sometimes wondered too how the common criminals, accustomed to neither writing nor thinking, could survive; the answer was that some did not -- they killed themselves in the first week or two of their captivity, and the jail staff in Austria did not make that too hard: unlike in British prisons, where your tie, shoelaces, and belt are taken away from you, here there were always electric cables, cords, belts, hooks, window bars.
One of my fellow prisoners, I called him Ratty -- seven years for robbing a bank and firing two shots during the raid -- told me that his own cellmate at Karlau (the other prison in Graz) had hanged himself, and he had caught stick from the prison administration next morning for not preventing it. "I woke up, and he had hanged himself during the night. What was I supposed to have done about it?"
I don't know how many committed suicide in Josefstadt while I was there. I do know that in my last two weeks, in December 2006, two more prisoners hanged themselves -- one on our floor, Trakt C-1, and one a week earlier two floors above us.
We heard of it only indirectly. I protested mildly one afternoon to a jail officer that we had been locked down for twenty-four hours, although a bright December sun was shining; "staff shortage," was his excuse, but he looked past me as he said it.
A Hausarbeiter, a trusty, whispered the truth -- a man had hanged himself, the body had to be removed, the prisoners were not to know. The Austrian press of course published none of this.
I TAUGHT myself to regard the six-inch thick steel door as a friend: it was shutting out the outside world, and for my benefit. It was a matter of ones Weltanschauung, a little psychological trick. The door was keeping out all those disturbing things that a writer learns to hate -- unexpected visitors, bailiffs, Jehovah's Witnesses, bill collectors, letters, e-mails, and of course the ringing telephone. For fourteen months -- in this respect they were months of pure bliss -- I never heard the irritating ring of anybody's cell phone.
Our cells were occasionally ransacked for mobile phones and other contraband smuggled in by prisoners on outside work-details or by crooked lawyers -- and there were those too. Once or twice lawyers helped their clients escape (a few weeks after I arrived one brought a clean shirt and tie into Josefstadt prison for his client, and they walked out together through the main doors. After that scandal Josefstadt introduced modern biometric ID cards for all visiting lawyers).
Prisoners caught violating regulations would be sent down to the Bunker for a week or two. I was told it was a bare cell with a mattress on the floor and a bucket in the corner. I only once saw a prisoner being frog-marched off in that direction, his arms buckled back behind him, I don't know what he had done to deserve it.
My cell was searched four or five times in the first months, gefilzt is the word I used, having picked it up it from researching in the private diaries of Field Marshal Erhard Milch during his stay in the Allied prisons of Nuremberg and Dachau. After that they seemed to have given up. These searches lasted twenty minutes or so, and the officers were friendly, perfunctory, and informal. Once the leading officer said, "Everything okay, Herr Irving -- except," he said, with an envious jerk of his thumb at my book Hitler's War, on which I was working that day, "that book: it is confiscated."
"-- Just joking," he added.
THE steel door was painted dark green, and totally smooth and featureless on the inside, apart from a covered peephole. I deliberately never tried the door, to see if it was locked. It was. Looking at the peephole I recalled with a silent chuckle how the British Judge Gray had declared that since the architect's drawings showed that Morgue Nr. 1 at Auschwitz was to be provided with a peephole in its door (it was in fact a standard air-raid shelter door), it was therefore quite evidently a homicidal gas chamber. Unlike that door in Auschwitz however, I had no handle on the inside of mine.
On the door of the WC next to this smooth steel door a previous inmate had expertly drawn a small boy piddling into a potty, just like the statue I recalled from Nuremberg. He, and the hardy little family of cockroaches inside, were my only cellmates now. The drawing was still there when I walked out free fourteen months later; the cockroaches were less fortunate.
Later that year I wrote,
"Normally I begin by saying I'm fit, but I'm not -- my muscles are all beginning to ache; lack of proper and variegated exercise (cell is only 2 by 2.5m, and mostly filled with its double bunk [illegal under EU prison regulations] -- the cot is two inches too small for a 186cm man -- cupboard and table and two iron chairs) and yesterday for no reason being given we were locked down for twenty-four hours altho' it was sunny outside; worst, in the long run, is the cheap food, mostly cast-offs and out of date, rice, rotten fruit, thin soups with the powder still floating etc. It is impossible to get any salads or greens -- none is provided and none is for sale; in the long run this will do me no good.
A few minutes after Judge Peter Liebetreu had pronounced his -- to me inaudible -- judgment in the Grand Courtroom in Vienna on February 20, 2006 we had given formal notice of appeal to void the sentence (to the Supreme Court) and an appeal of sentence (to the OLG). My attorney Dr Elmar Kresbach (above) told me we could do nothing until we received the written judgment of the court, and that took, as he predicted, four weeks.
In Britain the protocol is a verbatim record by skilled court stenographers; the transcript of the Lipstadt trial fills several thousand pages, and it cost me many thousands of pounds for permission to post it on my website. In Germany, Austria, and other European countries it is a summary, it is a post facto concoction. Much monkeying-around is habitually done with the questions and answers therein, to defeat possible appeals; traditionally however this protocol then becomes what actually happened, and not what, uh, actually happened.
The protocol which reached us in about mid-March stated on its very first page that I had admitted having carried out Nazi activities in Austria in 1989; this was absurd, as I had not, and the two hundred people in the public galleries could testify to that. But there was nothing we could do about it.
More disturbing to me when I glanced much later at the document -- I labor under a profound distaste of all such judicial papers -- was what I found tagged on at the end: here were four print-outs of newspaper articles privately downloaded by Judge Liebetreu in the days before the trial, all from distinctly left-wing sources: he had even printed out the lengthy entry about me in the German Wikipedia, blissfully ignoring that while it referenced a dozen other websites attacking me, it dared not even give the address of my own website "for legal reasons."
As for the others, the Süddeutsche Zeitung for example had printed a raving article by the young journalist Eva Menasse. On behalf of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung she had covered the Lipstadt action in London in 2000 and had even written the first of seven books published about the trial. She was a clever writer, and the first interview she published in the FAZ after spending the evening with us in our then home, off Grosvenor Square in London, was -- although she is a Jewess -- remarkably friendly and positive. She had evidently received a reprimand for that and perhaps a reminder not to do it again. For the rest of that trial her writings just poured concentrated bile and slops over me.
Writing for the Süddeutsche now, Eva Menasse had recalled that lesson. She used her space to demand that I should receive a severe jail sentence in the forthcoming trial, as I was clearly guilty -- European Law and the United Nations Charter of Human Rights did not enter into it, she declared pre-emptively (and suspiciously well informed) as the Austrian Verbotsgesetz, or Banning Law, had constitutional character, which overrode the laws of Europe. In Britain, a journalist would instantly go to jail for contempt of court if she prejudged a case like that.
In Britain too, for that matter, a judge would be sent packing, if he informed himself extra-judicially by cruising the Internet before a trial even began. But Liebetreu was no friend, for all that Kresbach kept assuring me that he was.
Weeks later, Kresbach's successor drew my attention to what had happened in the jury room at the trial. Reported in the body of the trial protocol, which I had not bothered to read, the record showed that Liebetreu had agitated for the stiffest possible sentence against me, and he had urged the jury to disregard all statements that had been made in open court in mitigation.
THERE was little I could do to humanize the cell that was now my home.
After a few weeks I had posted snapshots of my daughters on the wall next to the barred window and later, as they wrote me, the latest pictures of their children too. I used to chuckle when I first read in the fact-starved British press -- The Sunday Express started this particular legend -- that "Mr Irving's children are estranged from him." Or: "Irving's twin brother Nicholas, a retired civil servant, and older brother John, a retired RAF officer, have both disowned his views," as The Daily Telegraph reported a few days after the trial, "while he is understood to have seen little in recent years of his daughter s by his Spanish wife Pilar."
The newspapers even invented things my children were supposed to have said. I had long given up correcting such things. The gap between press image and reality is constantly widening, like a seismic fault-line in California or Mesopotamia; once the chasm has first opened it seems impossible to close it again.
My oldest daughter is with the angels -- she took her own life eight years ago, legless and paralyzed after a terrible accident; there was not a day that I did not think of her while I was held in this Austrian jailhouse. Her three sisters now lived with their husbands in Spain or Australia, and the fourth, Jessica, who would soon be 12, in London.
In the spring Beatrice flew up from Brisbane to Vienna to visit me and show off her first daughter; they were permitted the same fifteen-minute visit as the rest after their 20,000 km flight, speaking with me through a soundproof, 60 cm wide window; the phone was abruptly cut off at the end before I could say goodbye. Her Australian husband had come with her but was not allowed in. Ordnung muss sein.
Benté unfortunately could never visit, being too chronically ill to leave London. To my added grief, that meant of course that Jessica, even when she turned twelve, could not visit either.
Daughter Paloma visited me, flying in from Madrid early in May.
She asked if I had received the presents the family had all sent via Dr Kresbach for my birthday in March -- she herself had sent a good CD player and classical music discs. As I hadn't heard about them until now, and that puzzled me, I asked Kresbach the next time he next visited; he loftily admitted that yes, he had received and opened the gifts and letters and contributions some months before. I never did receive them, and eventually lodged two formal complaints with the Bar Association in Vienna about this chaotic lawyer.
How bitterly I now regretted not having engaged Dr Herbert Schaller (right) when I had the chance.
THE cell door remained locked for twenty-three or twenty-four hours a day. It was unlocked briefly twice during the day -- to hand in breakfast (a mug of hot drink and a quarter-loaf of black bread) at seven, and a hot lunch at 10:30 a.m. At two-thirty p.m. a jailer pushed supper through the small, square, bowl-sized hatch. On weekends they handed in supper together with lunch at 10:30 a.m; it was a small pot of turkey paste for the black bread, or a matchbox-sized piece of cheese and perhaps a whole onion.
In the afternoon, after supper had been delivered and the jail officers had all gone home, the vast building was empty but for a skeleton staff of three or four. (We inmates were not supposed to realize this). Then the cacophony started, as the prisoners clung to the bars of their windows and communicated across the prison yard in thirty-nine different languages with their accomplices, getting their stories straight for the judge.
Gradually the patch of sky over the courtyard darkened, and the coils of razor wire were bathed in the light of the floodlights on the roof. The searchlight beams glared mercilessly down into our curtainless cells all night long. Sometimes during the night I could hear a baby's cry, or the sound of women prisoners calling out of windows from the fourth floor; they had given birth here in prison, but we rarely saw them -- unless we came across them being shepherded in little shuffling columns of five or six, with downcast eyes, unkempt clothes, and disheveled hair, down the prison corridors.
For several nights there came from the cell next door, Number 20, the doleful singing of a gypsy, who chanted Romany laments out of the window until long after midnight each night. Under different circumstances it might have been inspiring, but now it was not.
THE days all melted in retrospect into a gray, seamless blur. Occasionally the door would be thrown open by a jailer, with one word: "Anwalt!" or "Besuch!"
"Anwalt" meant a three-hour excursion up to the second floor, and being held in a stinking, smoke-filled holding tank with sad graffiti scrawled on the walls -- "Hang in there, Sisi -- Your Teddy-Bear" -- until Dr Kresbach drifted in for his regular five-minute chat -- he never seemed to discuss tactics or the appeal however -- and then in the tank again waiting for the escort back to my cell and whatever I had been writing.
"Besuch" was visit. The very first visitor, just after the newspapers revealed my arrest, was quite unexpected -- a once-beautiful and elegant cripple now in her sixties. Disconcertingly she greeted me with the words, "Do you recognize me?"
At my hesitant nod she prompted, "Brigitte."
"Brigitte Müller!" I exclaimed -- her married name now is different; she smiled shyly, pleased that I had remembered her name after all these years.
I had last seen her forty-five years ago. I was young and fit, with a family of four young daughters. They had gone on ahead to Spain, and I followed by rail from London three weeks later. On the train from Boulogne I sat opposite this pretty girl from Carinthia, a twenty-year-old, and we chatted all the way to Paris; we had three hours to kill between trains -- hers to Munich and Klagenfurt, mine to Spain, and I invited her to a meal in Paris. Of course I confessed all this to Pilar when I arrived in northern Spain.
Now she was sitting on the far side of the soundproof glass window. I indicated the telephone in front of her and she picked it up. "Did you get my letter?" she inquired shyly. My mind flipped back to a morning all those years ago when the light had flashed on in my Grosvenor Square bedroom, and Pilar had shouted angrily: Who is Brigitte Müller? Yes, I had received a letter from her, many months after that train trip, but it was seven pages long, handwritten in German, and I had tucked it into a pocket to read later.
"I was going through your pockets and I found this!"
Comfortable in the knowledge that the letter's contents, whatever they might be, were in German, I spluttered that this was the girl I had told her about that summer -- quite harmless. "Then how do you explain," she challenged, "her final sentence?"
Final sentence? I hadn't even read the letter's first. Brigitte, it turned out, had innocently closed her letter with a sentence in English -- a sentence which I recalled vividly, as I smiled at the elderly lady now facing me at Josefstadt: "This Christmas I am going to be a ski instructor in the Tyrol," I quoted to her through the telephone. "Why don't you come, and I will teach you a thing or two."
Her face flickered briefly with delight, but how the years had changed us both. She had been paralyzed in an Autobahn accident, and was a hunched cripple, able only to write with her left hand. She forced a painful smile onto her lips, and explained that she had taken the train up from Klagenfurt that morning, a five-hour journey, and would be taking the train back that afternoon. She had tried to see me when I spoke in her city in 1989 -- the fateful tour which had now, sixteen years later, led to my arrest -- but the Marxist mobs had blocked the hall and my lecture was called off.
I asked how she knew I was here. "My son Knut --" she said, adding almost apologetically, "I have three grown-up children now -- he's with the Berlin Philharmonic, a violinist. They are touring China. The newspapers there are full of your arrest -- a violation of your human rights."
MORE visitors followed. Once a month the shout "Besuch" was amplified by the grinning officer: "-- and it's Réka!" She is a young Hungarian widow, a flight attendant with Malev whose father had read my books. She had adopted me. After only a few of her visits, word about her went round the whole prison, she was as good-looking as that. She regularly brought me gifts from her distant destinations like Damascus, or Tokyo, or Beijing. It was mostly clothing, and from it I concluded without much difficulty that even the largest Oriental men are many sizes smaller than we English.
After the February 20, 2006 trial it was the turn of the journalists. Dr Kresbach arranged for them to visit -- I suspect he sometimes did so for a fee -- and the judge, who controlled such visits, seemed to have no objection. The first was an oily, over-friendly English-speaking freelancer from Berlin, writing, he claimed, for the London newspapers. Unlike newspaper staff journalists, freelancers have to spice up their stories to make them marketable: they are therefore a particularly dangerous species of writer.
He was careful not to reveal his name to me -- I later saw that it was Greenfield -- but the slant on his questions put me immediately on guard. Would I not agree, he said in a conspiratorial whisper, that the Jews had once again taken control in Vienna, and that I had them to thank for this whole ordeal? I made a non-committal reply -- I was not familiar with Vienna politics, I said; this did not prevent him from putting those evil words of his into my mouth when he published his article in The Independent (London) a few days later. He knew I could hardly stop him. He could get away with it.
Other journalists who interviewed me committed the opposite sin, of omission. When my statements did not accord with what they had expected me to say, or with the line they intended to adopt, and which their editors had instructed them in, they simply left out what I said. This happened when two journalists from Die Presse, a quality Vienna newspaper, and the Austrian Press Agency visited me together one morning, and interviewed me at length -- with difficulty, as there had only one phone between them for communication through the window in the visitors' zone.
What they published was very damaging and led ultimately to fresh investigations against me. Fortunately Michael Klackl was a conscientious prosecutor, and he researched his new case thoroughly. In the court file I discovered, months later, the original manuscript notes of both journalists, and these contained key sentences which I had actually spoken, and which they had for whatever reason refrained from using. For example: "Nobody in their right mind can deny that the Nazis did kill millions of Jews," I had carefully stated.
I had also described how I had been held incommunicado by the authorities unable to contact anybody, just as the Gestapo used to with its method of Nacht und Nebel -- Night and Fog; and I referred to the order of Austria's minister of justice, Frau Mag. Karin Gastinger, that all of my books were to be withdrawn from the prison libraries of Austria and destroyed -- books published by Ullstein, Hoffmann & Campe, Bertelsmann, and other leading publishers.
Die Presse published my bitter comment, "ÖSTERREICH BENIMMT SICH WIE EIN NS STAAT" -- Austria is acting like a Nazi state -- as a banner headline across a whole page, but not my preceding remark about Nacht und Nebel and the books.
The last straw for the police authorities was when the newspapers reported that I had managed to broadcast live several times from our prison wing, "C"-Trakt, to my supporters in England.
I had telephoned Sky Television News in London, at their request, and as soon as their news desk heard my name they announced, "Hang on a second, and we'll put you on live" -- and thus I found myself speaking to the millions from that little phone cell in Josefstadt.
Satellites carried voice and image around the world. I spoke until my phone card ran out. Boosted by this achievement, I spoke to ITN, the biggest news channel in England, and then to the BBC's "Today" programme, their major morning radio show.
The latter fifteen-minute talk with Kirstie Mackenzie was perhaps a mistake, as the Staatspolizei in Vienna were later able to download it from the BBC website, record the audio, and use it against me. The notion of free speech, for which the British -- and the BBC -- had fought so valiantly in World War II, still seemed foreign to some minds in Austria.
I responded freely to Kirstie Mackenzie during this BBC programme when she asked about the evidence to support my view that Adolf Hitler had never planned a total genocide of the Jews: I pointed to the logical evidence that ran counter to any plan of total genocide -- the proof that Nazi Germany had allowed 200,000 Jews to emigrate by 1941; the fact that as late as 1944 there were still several exchanges of thousands of Jews from the camps at Bergen Belsen and Vittel for expatriate Germans released from Allied internment; and the clear evidence that even when the Auschwitz site was finally about to be overrun the Nazis either evacuated the 70,000 Jews still there to the west (including Anne Frank) or left those that so chose (including Anne's sick father Otto) in the camp hospital being tended by SS doctors until the Russians came.
In Austria it is illegal to say such things, it appears. The truth is no defence against the Verbotsgesetz. Unfortunately, my routine warning that "Nobody in their right mind can deny that the Nazis did kill millions of Jews," was edited out when the BBC trimmed down their recording for their hugely popular Internet website, which left my subsequent remark, "Nobody can excuse that," as a non sequitur, orphaned and adrift.
The upshot was ugly. The Austrian press reported with instant fury on my mischievous prison broadcasts. Questions were asked in the Viennese Parliament. For several days the whole "C" Trakt had its telephone privileges withdrawn -- it was perhaps fortunate that my fellow inmates did not know whom they had to thank for this. From the Ministry of Justice emanated a decree dated March 6, 2006, forbidding David Irving any further use of the telephone or visits from journalists.
The decree was formally handed to me in my cell one day, and I had to sign for it. I would be unable to speak with Benté or Jessica for many more months, and in consequence one calamity after another now overtook them in London.
AT the next evening group discussion, one of the fraudster inmates -- he had married Dr Kresbach's ex-wife, and rather oddly changed his own name to Kresbach -- smirked that he had learned through the grapevine that the prosecution was planning to charge me again, over these interviews with the media.
The prosecutor Michael Klackl had seized upon all these radio and newspaper items, particularly the lies sold to the English press by Greenfield, and he set about polishing this second charge against me. It could now only get worse. The new court file revealed that Klackl demanded that I be charged under Section 3(h) of the Verbotsgesetz, not 3(g) as I had been before: 3(h) carried a minimum sentence of five years, and maximum of ten or even twenty years, with a possible life sentence for "dangerous repeat offenders".
My lawyer Kresbach now remained mute. He was out of his depth.
I was aghast. I slowly began to perceive where this particular journey was heading. The light which had flickered dimly three years ahead, at the end of the darkened prison tunnel, now seemed to have gone out altogether.
The appeal documents against the original three-year sentence had to be served by April 22, otherwise I was in for the long haul. Worried by Kresbach's inactivity, I wrote a letter to Dr Herbert Schaller, (above) the veteran lawyer who had seen me through the Munich battles of the early 1990s, and asked him to come and see me.
By mid April I was uncomfortably aware that the deadline was approaching, and Kresbach had done nothing to discuss the two appeal documents with me. Through the grapevine I learned that he had assured the prosecution that he was in fact not going to make a serious appeal, the nullity appeal, at all; it was a fundamental decision but he had not mentioned it to me, so I discounted the rumours.
Schaller came to see me, and declared himself willing to clean up the mess that Kresbach was making, assuming that I could somehow raise the money to pay his fees. "I am an old man, Mr Irving," he said, "and I must live on my earnings as a criminal defence attorney." It was fair enough.
He started work, still unofficially. Kresbach, he said, had refused to consult him during the earlier trial, or even have him sit at the same table in court. The next time Schaller saw me he revealed that Kresbach had not signed on to read the court file since November 2005, although many new documents had been added to it since then.
I was dumbfounded. I asked him to see me again later that morning, and tackled Kresbach about it that midday, Thursday April 13. "How far have you got with the appeal papers?" I asked. Kresbach lit another cheroot, settled back in the chair on his side of the glass, and flicked the lick of hair back out of his eyes, while avoiding meeting mine.
"My assistant is going to start work on it this afternoon," he said.
"Tomorrow is Good Friday," I pointed out with some bitterness. "Then comes the Easter weekend. The papers have to be filed in court by next weekend. You have had two months since the trial ended, and you have not even started. You're fired."
I rose and asked for the escort to take me back to the holding tank.
"Schaller has never won in the court of appeal!" Kresbach cried out truculently as I closed the door of the attorney interview room.
That too was untrue.
"Arrant nonsense!" snarled Schaller when I told him an hour later. I signed him back on that same day.
As I looked at this wiry, white haired, bull-terrier of a lawyer, I felt encouraged.
That day, April 13, 2006, I signed the formal document replacing Dr Elmar Kresbach with Dr Herbert Schaller as my lawyer. He would conduct all the further appeals.
It was a fateful decision. The Austrian judges might have no greater love for Schaller than did their British counterparts for me.
That same day, over in the offices of the Public Prosecution, at the other end of this large prison complex, public prosecutor Michael Klackl (right) had also signed a document -- he had now formally lodged his appeal against the three-year sentence. It was too low, he said, and he demanded that it be increased.
It was like old times. Herbert Schaller might now be eighty-four, but he was an expert, knowledgeable and more vigorous than a lawyer half his age. As we shook hands and parted, little dots of red lit up his cheeks, betraying his excitement.
I remembered one officer's description of Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel returning to fight his last battle in Tunisia in 1943 -- his mystery illness suddenly gone, reacting like a horse that has heard the distant cry of the hunting horn.
I signaled for the escort. A good and faithful soldier all his life, Schaller worked right through the Easter weekend, and produced the appeal documents in time.
© Copyright David Irving and Focal Point, 2007