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
THE story that I had been going to tell the students in Vienna -- had I not been arrested -- was an extraordinary one. In April 1944, a few weeks after the Nazis had marched into Hungary, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann had established contact with the Jewish leaders and proposed a bargain: if they supplied to him a large sum of money, or alternatively ten thousand trucks for use, he promised, only on the eastern front, he would spare one million Hungarian Jews from deportation to Auschwitz. The first six hundred could be released directly to Palestine, the rest to America.
We still cannot determine from the archives how sincerely the offer was meant; I personally suspect it was a Machiavellian attempt by Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler to drive a wedge between London, Washington, and Moscow.
Leaving his wife and children behind in Budapest as hostages, the Hungarian Jewish community leader Joel Brand, left, flew to Istanbul in a German courier plane, carrying details of the offer and taking a Jew who was a Gestapo agent with him. They were soon intercepted by British Intelligence agents in Syria, and Brandt spent the next months in British captivity in Cairo; he was released but only into Palestine in August 1944, by which time it was too late to save the Hungarian Jews.
What made the story I had to tell -- which is quite well known to historians -- unique was that while researching for both my Winston Churchill and Himmler biographies I had discovered in the British archives the evidence that the British codebreakers, who were experts in decoding Hebrew and German SS messages, had quietly watched the whole episode from bases in England and Palestine: the archives in London contained scores of British Intelligence intercepts of the actual code messages exchanged between Brand and his lieutenants, and the Jewish Agency representatives in Switzerland and Istanbul and Palestine.
I had transcripts of the intercepts with me when I was arrested. One for example was a Hebrew message, containing many Hebrew codewords, sent by Nathan Schwalb in Switzerland to the "Committee" in Istanbul, reporting the latest message brought by courier from Hungary:
I received the letter from Joel [Brand] on the 25th April  through a messenger. Willi [the codename for Eichmann] is with him with his plan. . . They succeeded in postponing the deportation and got an answer that in principle there is no objection to the emigration [to Palestine] of 600 persons and to an emigration to Arye [the U.S.].
The British were well aware of this offer, and so shortly were the Americans in Istanbul; the British, at the suggestion of foreign minister Anthony Eden, right, deliberately dragged their feet, while the Americans wanted to investigate how genuine the offer was.
Questioned a few days after my arrest by Dr Seda, the custodial judge, about the subject of my proposed lecture, I sketched for him the Eichmann-Brand story. He was completely ignorant of it.
"Wiederbetätigung!" the Austrian judge shrilled, holding up a shocked hand as a signal for me to stop; that was the name of the crime I was said, absurdly, to have committed -- reactivating the Nazi Party. It left me baffled -- and still remanded in custody.
Austria's prisons are overcrowded, and down in the prison yard it was not hard to see why. Twenty percent of the prisoners are Blacks; most of them told me -- in whatever language we could agree on, English, Spanish or French -- they had been tricked into coming to Europe, and longed to return to their villages in West Africa.
About ten percent of the prisoners belonged in secure hospitals, and not in jail at all. At any one time in our yard I could see two or three mentally-ill prisoners, or prisoners pretending to be ill. While all prisoners walk anti-clockwise round the yard, these two or three walked the other way; one stopped regularly facing into a corner, like a small boy sent there for doing wrong; others shuffled round the yard pocketing cigarette butts that had been trampled into the soggy mud.
Other prisoners were quite obviously innocent, and were it not for the need to provide employment to this overstaffed prison complex and its lawyers I could not see why they were being held here at all. In Austria, prisoners are guilty until they can prove their innocence -- not an easy task for the unfortunates held behind bars, denied access to phones, and forced to use court-appointed lawyers who could not care less about their clients.
One was Sal, an elegant, upright, elderly Albanian, one of the leaders of the Kosovo liberation movement. He brought his police file into the yard one day for me to read. He and a friend had legally collected two million Euros to buy arms for the Kosovo liberation movement; a middleman had relieved them of the money, undertaking to procure the arms from a Russian source. They never saw the arms, or their cash, again. After the Kosovo war ended, they angrily insisted on the money's return; the swindler had turned them in to the police, alleging that they had "demanded money with menaces."
It was clear to even the meanest intelligence that he had been set up by his accuser, and the police should have seen that too. Over the next four months I watched as Sal became a physical ruin. He stooped, his hair became bedraggled, his suit was ruined by the weather; his eyes were hollow and his face gaunt with worry about his family, as he faced the last years of his life in jail while the swindler laughed up his sleeve at him.
One Tuesday he was missing from the yard, and I feared the worst. I asked the block-chief, Bezirks-Inspektor Bernhard Hornicek -- a good and conscientious officer. "He had his day in court yesterday," he said. "Freispruch -- acquitted."
My silent prayers for the old man had been answered.
Of course there was no word of these injustices in the Viennese newspapers. They were slavering for the latest news about Natascha Kampusch.
I met another elderly prisoner at Josefstadt during our fortnightly discussion group -- half a dozen academics and white-collar criminals allowed to debate current affairs under the supervision of a police officer, Herr Grobmann (in plain clothes, which did not fool us, of course). The professor was good natured and philosophical about his predicament; I was curious why a professor was a prisoner here on remand like the rest of us, and even more baffled when he told us: he was embroiled in the kind of perennial academic squabbling that abounds among university professors. He was a political economist, and brilliant, but a Querkopf, a member of the Awkward Squad. That was soon plain.
Politics had come into it too, and among his opponents was the president of the university. Our new group members had written a letter to that worthy, advising the president to take his views seriously, adding for emphasis, "-- blutig ernst," or bloody seriously. His opponent underlined the words in red and turned the letter to the Public Prosecutor. He was now charged with threatening bodily harm, and thrown into prison with the rest of us. He was still there five months later, awaiting trial, and I do not know what happened to him. That his career would not have been prospered by this episode was plain.
I was once again glad to have refused an academic career myself.
"We're pretty confident about the outcome of the appeal," I wrote to a German lawyer who followed such cases as mine, Marcus J. Oswald. [German]
The whole world is astonished at the lack of freedom in Austria. The Austrian legal system evidently never reckoned with such a "setback", as The Times called it in its main front-page headline the day after my trial, and certainly never with this international interest in the fate of my person.
TWO or three times a month, a dozen of us were escorted through the prison corridors to the little evangelical chapel on the fourth floor, a strange ceremony conducted partly in English and the rest with Austrian hymns and African tribal songs including the Kum-Ba-Ya chant.
The two pastors became firm friends -- both were actually German-born, not Austrians -- and some afternoons they visited me in my cell.
One day one of them, Mathias, came into my cell looking more than put out and spluttering harsh and even unchristian words about Viennese judges. I asked him why.
"Seven thousand Euros," he said. "That's why."
A Viennese newspaper had quoted him as criticizing the city's judges in general, for their rudeness towards witnesses in court. I interrupted to remark that British judges, on the contrary, leaned over backwards to be courteous, and showed an exaggerated politeness to both the witnesses and the jury.
Mathias clenched his hands. One of the Vienna judges, he said, Mag. Nathalie Fröhner, had charged him with defamation, üble Nachrede, because of this newspaper article, even though he had not mentioned her by name. She had taken his criticism personally. A conviction for üble Nachrede -- a civil offence in Britain, but criminal in Austria -- would have cost him his living as a pastor. She had suggested an out-of-court settlement. He had had no option but to agree.
I said that I had met prisoners in the yard who were accused of obtaining money with menaces. He smiled, then grimaced without comment. The sum that the judge had suggested he pay her was seven thousand Euros, and he had just handed over the cash, that very morning: two months of his modest salary perhaps.
The more I heard of the Viennese legal system, the more puzzled I became.
"ANOTHER Thursday," I wrote on April 12, 2006 to a friend in Chicago. It was the day I had just switched lawyers, and I felt good about it.
I was lent a radio by one of the guards yesterday, which brightens the cell a lot, I must say. . . I get a lot of writing done, though sometimes I nearly run out of ink, and start using shorter words in consequence. Prisoners are not supposed to have ink in case they use it for tattooing. Yeah, right, I can just see me tattooing one of these gangsters.
"My writing style," I added, "if not my handwriting, has improved enormously in prison. I have read a lot of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane" -- both American thriller writers.
Schaller did not let me down. A few days later I reported to a friend in London, Lady Renouf:
We served our appeal documents just on time, April 22; the State Prosecutor has also served a rather lame notice of appeal, demanding an increase in the three-year sentence. He has pointed to my "hundreds of lectures around the world" in justification; of course, this pretends that Austria's Banning Law is in force in all those countries too (in fact it holds force only in Austria); and it also pretends that I was talking about the Holocaust and praising the Nazis in all these lectures.
Three weeks later, Dr Schaller had completed the next stage of the appeal:
Dr. Herbert Schaller, 83, has done a magnificent job displaying a legal expertise and fighting energy that was shockingly absent from his youthful (46) predecessor, criminal attorney Dr Elmar Kresbach. Kresbach had previously made a name for himself in narcotics cases. . . Legal experts say that if I appeal to the European Court, Austria will face a massive compensation claim.
Schaller kept me closely informed. I instructed him not to use the word gas-chambers in any of his documents -- it was a red rag to a bull here in Austria, I reminded him. "I don't need to," he rather abrasively replied, but I wanted to be certain.
I became a familiar figure to the guards on the holding tank and to the other prisoners: nearly all of them knew who I was and why I was there.
I recalled my earlier cellmate Bernhard confiding to me during my first week here at Josefstadt what had happened to all the criminals who had disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers -- "They're all here," he whispered.
I did occasionally bump into these VIPs. One of them was Robert Mang, above, the forty-something alarm-systems expert who had been sentenced to four years for a daring burglary of the Museum of the History of Art, stealing the famous golden salt cellar, the "Saliera" sculpted by Benvenuto Cellini and now worth millions of dollars, early one morning in May 2003. The newspaper photos portrayed him as dashing, handsome and masculine, and soon reported that he was receiving hundreds of letters from female admirers.
I met him sometimes in the tank or elevator, and we shook hands, as one VIP to another; I noticed with surreptitious pleasure that his face was lined and wrinkled, which the cameras had not shown. The women were in for a shock.
In the weekly discussion group we speculated on how long it would be before Helmut Elsner, former CEO of the Bawag Bank, would turn up and join us; the elderly Austrian millionaire, under whose regime the trades-union bank had, ahem, mislaid a billion Euros, was fighting extradition from France at that time. The common view was that he would be held in the third-floor sickbay when he did arrive, as the necessary fiction of his illness would be maintained. [Postscript: Elsner was forcibly repatriated to Austria on February 13, 2007].
As the months passed, I settled in. With proper routine, the days passed swiftly. But I was aware that the several major legal actions I had brought while in freedom in London, among them one to force the British government Trustees to return my seized archives to me, were quietly but surely running out of time. "I have issued a High Court Writ against them for compensation," I wrote to my friends, distraught at the knowledge that my forty years of research was at risk.
The dogs are now threatening to destroy the rest. I feel very powerless in situations like this. The London lawyers I hired turned out to be yet another firm of do-nothing deadbeats like the one I first had here (and fired).
MY optimism was forced, and in retrospect I realize that I did not really believe it myself. The prison system was almost designed to feed off itself. Prisoners became institutionalized; they found it difficult to shake it off when released. Everything militated against their escaping re-arrest. They were caught in a vicious circle, an overwhelming vortex.
I asked my neighbor in Trakt C, Momo, a Gambian, what he would do when released. "Go back to driving a taxi," he said hopefully, flashing his teeth in a bright white smile.
"No you won't," I educated him, passing on what wisdom other prisoners had imparted to me. "Unless you write now to somebody to come and get your driving license out of your possessions in the Depot. Otherwise, just before you are released, they search through them and send your license off to the licensing authorities, with a note that you have not been driving for so many years. So you have to do the lessons and take the test all over again, and -- guess what: you haven't any money."
So informative were the one-to-one discussions we "hardened criminals" had with each other in the yard. Gradually one sensed that one was shifting away from the law-abiding world outside, and helplessly becoming one of them. They came to regard prison as home: no taxes to pay, no family worries, three meals a day.
Occasionally I noticed that a face which had vanished some months earlier had reappeared -- "I done it again," the fellow would say carelessly, in this case a Turkish drug dealer who had earlier been a Hausarbeiter in our Trakt. "What else could I live orf?"
"I got as far as Slovenia," said another, a likeable chap who had robbed a bank.
"You done a runner?" I exclaimed, using the prison argot for escaped (I am a linguist, after all, and High German doesn't go down too well in the yard): you've got to speak, and look, the part. Zoran, the Serbian (thirteen years for cocaine dealing) had shaved my own hair down to a punishing one-millimeter all over so as to make me look tough.
"Nah, I absconded," said my interlocutor. "There's a difference. I was out on a day work detail, and just didn't come back here that night. If they catch you after absconding, there's no added penalty, like there is for escaping. Unless, that is, you abscond wearing prison socks, or a shirt or whatever. Then they tack on another two years for thieving prison property."
"Ah," I said, trying to grapple with the intricacies of prison law.
"Anyway, me and my girlfriend, we had 25,000 Euros between us, and we were heading for Spain and a new life. I phoned Spain from a post office in Slovenia, and that's how they got me next day. Stimmenerkennung. Voice-print identification." There was a hint of pride that he had fallen victim to a high-tech "collar."
"Voice-print identification ?" I echoed.
He nodded. The judge at the extradition hearing had been proud too. "No point in you denying your identity," says the Judge. "Here's the Interpol file on you." "And he done showed it to me. Fingerprints, mug shots -- and voice-print."
It was a graph, a print-out like an electrocardiogram. Every telephone hub in Europe now automatically computer-checks every phone conversation against the Interpol database of criminals' voiceprints. Even in Slovenia.
That's the word from the yard (Josefstadt Prison, not Scotland), anyway.
I WOULD be unable to resume work on "Churchill's War", vol. iii: "The Sundered Dream", because, paradoxically, it was almost finished in London. Working on memoirs would be easier; prison is an ideal time for reflecting and remembering, in peace and total solitude. Recalibrating, I later called it: re-setting all the dials to zero.
Provided that I could get the documents I needed I would also resume drafting my life of the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler -- this strange character of Hitler's Reich, who lived only forty-four years but achieved so much that was both grotesque and spectacular -- building an industrial empire, creating a vast and intricate police state, and raising from scratch the Waffen SS, the most formidable fighting force that history had ever known -- at the same time as masterminding what is now called the Holocaust.
To my pleasure and surprise, the world's leading history institutes rallied round, whether in Munich or in Princeton, and sent me the files I requested, "under the circumstances" without charge -- circumstances which they universally deplored. I sometimes wondered what the Viennese Judge Liebetreu, who was censoring all my inward and outgoing mail, was making of their letters to me.
Fifty or sixty letters were handed in to me each Friday, and I answered most of them that same weekend. On June 9, 2006 I wrote to a Canadian friend,
First, I apologize for using this paper. A coffee disaster this morning has effectively polluted most of my remaining paper -- but you're "family" so I can use it on you without (many) qualms. Next, thank you (to the power of ten) for the attached photographs. I liked the T-shirt, and greatly appreciated the logo, "Austria Sucks!"
As the months floundered past, I got organised. Computers or laptops were not allowed to us remand prisoners. I always write in ink anyway, and I had my fountain pen with me -- though not my Mont Blanc; I had written many of my early books with the Mont Blanc which the late Field Marshal Erhard Milch (right) had bequeathed to me after I compiled his biography. When the pen became faulty, I sent it to Mont Blanc for repair, and the firm very kindly, as they thought, replaced it with a brand new pen, as the old one was, they explained, "an antique."
At first I wrote on the back of prison regulations and envelopes. Later, I got paper sent in, and I eventually wrote four thousand pages during the months of my imprisonment.
Ink cartridges were still a problem. For weeks while I had to write in pencil my friends around the world mailed packets of cartridges to me, but they were all confiscated -- with the covering letters -- as contraband. After the affair with the telephone interviews, and my books being found in the prison libraries, they were all jittery about more questions in the Viennese Parliament, I heard later.
Eventually Matthias the other prison chaplain brought me a packet of ink cartridges, and then a prison officer whose name I never knew smuggled in to me fifteen whole boxes of them, enough to keep me going for over a year. The Minister of Justice, Frau Gastinger, would not have approved, though the authorities did impose one final quirky rule on me: I was not permitted to draw any non-fiction books from the library. "Because of your offence," the governor tartly snapped at me after I protested to the court, even before the trial was held.
"-- alleged offence," I corrected him, and asked for the cell door to be closed.
I did have some frustrations. A Munich auction house revealed to me that it was selling Himmler's 1940 pocket diary in October. It is one of the few Himmler diaries not yet found and researched by historians, but the reserve price was 25,000 Euros, and taking copies of it was not permitted.
These months did provide an opportunity to ponder some of the deeper Himmler mysteries. London sent me a copy of his wife's diary. "Work on Heinrich Himmler progresses," I reported to my friends as the summer drew in.
I have finished reading the diaries of his wife, and written one hundred and twenty pages of notes based on them. It is a sad document -- she in her fifties, he seven years younger; she fiercely protective of their daughter, who is still alive today. He began in 1939 to take his custom elsewhere; the other woman (now dead) bore him two children, in 1942 and 1944, of whom one also survives.
It was a difficult diary to exploit, as Frau Himmler had written it in retrospect, often after weeks of silence, and she might refer just to "last Monday" or "Easter," leaving it to me to figure out what day that had been.
Careful analysis of the diary, extending over many weeks, revealed several anomalies: she refers to the Jews only two or three times; Himmler had seemingly not mentioned the Holocaust to her; and on the morning of July 20, 1944 he had instructed her to leave Berlin at once for Bavaria -- she learned only that evening, upon arriving at her home in Gmund, that there had been an attempt on Hitler's life early that afternoon.
From my own collection in the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich I obtained a copy of my notes on my interview with Himmler's older brother, Gebhard, in 1971. I had fortunately donated all my earlier Hitler research files to the Institute.
It struck me that I did not use the word "Holocaust" once in this interview note, but then I realized why -- that word was then unknown; it came into usage only later, in the mid-1970s.
Gebhard told me that Heini had not even told him about the forthcoming campaign in Russia: "We saw the munitions and troop trains passing eastwards through Dresden every day," he said, "but we did not know about the attack until the day it happened."
From a lawyer in Chicago I had already read the two hundred pages of letters that Himmler had written to his mistress between 1938 and 1944. Himmler had concealed the Holocaust from her too (writing to her in mid July 1942 that he was touring Polish sites including Lublin and Auschwitz, over the next week -- "there are some unpleasant things that I have to do, for Germany's sake.") Perhaps readers will one day understand why it always amuses me when I see that my rivals refer to me in the press as a pseudo-historian.
© Copyright David Irving and Focal Point, 2007