In 1998, he launched an unsuccessful libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher; the judge ruled that characterizations "that [Irving] is an active Holocaust denier; that he is antisemitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism" and "that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" were "substantially true".
As a result of previous statements about the Holocaust, Irving has been barred from entering Germany, Austria, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. On 20 February 2006, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Austria for denying the Holocaust.
Over the years Irving's stance on the Holocaust has changed significantly. Until 1988 Irving never sought to deny the reality of the Holocaust and for this reason many Holocaust deniers were ambivalent about him. Holocaust deniers admired Irving for the pro-Nazi slant in his work and the fact that he possessed a degree of mainstream credibility that they lacked, but were annoyed that he did not openly deny the Holocaust. Typical of the ambiguity felt by Holocaust deniers towards Irving before 1988 when Irving started to preach Holocaust denial openly was a letter written in 1984 by the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson in the Journal of Historical Review (the official journal of the Institute for Historical Review (I.H.R)). In an open letter entitled “A Challenge to David Irving” Faurisson praised Irving as an historian, but criticized him for maintaining that the Holocaust had taken place, and challenged him to take up the cause of Holocaust denial. It has been alleged that the original draft of Faurisson's open letter was more critical of Irving, but Willis Carto persuaded Faurisson to tone down the criticism, lest it alienate Irving (who had spoken at a conference sponsored by the I.H.R. in September 1983) from the I.H.R.. It is not known what Irving’s response to Faurisson’s letter was.
Until 1988 Irving seemed torn between a desire to be taken seriously as an historian and a desire to associate with those he seemed to share an ideological affinity with. In the first edition of Hitler's War, Irving footnotes, "I cannot accept the view... [that] there exists no document signed by Hitler, Himmler or Heydrich speaking of the extermination of the Jews." By the mid-1980s, however, Irving associated himself with the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review, began giving lectures to groups such as the far-right German Deutsche Volksunion, and publicly denied that the Nazis systematically exterminated Jews in gas chambers during World War II. He also alleged that parts of The Diary of Anne Frank might have been forged by her surviving father, and in 1988 testified for the defence at Canadian-based Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel's trial. Irving was later to claim that Zündel had convinced him that the Holocaust had not occurred.
In the 1988 Zündel trial Irving repeated and defended his claim from Hitler's War that until October 1943 Hitler knew nothing about the actual implementation of the Final Solution. He also expressed his evolving belief that the Final Solution involved "atrocities," not systematic murder.
“I don't think there was any overall Reich policy to kill the Jews. If there was, they would have been killed and there would not be now so many millions of survivors. And believe me, I am glad for every survivor that there was.”
As to what evidence further led Irving to believe that the Holocaust never occurred, he cited a report by self-styled execution expert Fred A. Leuchter, which claimed there was no evidence for the existence of homicidal gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the trial Irving published Leuchter's report in the United Kingdom and wrote its foreword. In Errol Morris' 1999 documentary about Leuchter, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Irving said, "The big point [of the Leuchter report]: there is no significant residue of cyanide in the brickwork. That's what converted me. When I read that in the report in the courtroom in Toronto, I became a hard-core disbeliever." In his 1991 revised edition of Hitler's War he had removed all references to death camps and the Holocaust.
Many have considered Irving’s historical arguments to be very convoluted. An example occurred in the above-mentioned interview with Ron Rosenbaum, when Rosenbaum questioned Irving about a memoir that had come into Irving's possession that was alleged to have been written by Adolf Eichmann in the 1950s (the precise authenticity of the Eichmann Memoirs is in doubt, but parts of the book, according to the German Federal Archives, appeared to be genuine). Irving had received the alleged memoir during a visit to Argentina in 1991 and was quite proud of his find. In The Eichmann Memoirs, Eichmann claimed to have heard from Himmler that Hitler had given a verbal order authorizing the Holocaust, thereby contradicting Irving's claim in Hitler’s War that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust. Irving's response to the claim that Hitler ordered the Holocaust in The Eichmann Memoirs was to claim that Eichmann wrote his memoirs in 1956 at the time of the Suez War, and was fearful that Cairo, Egypt might fall to Israel. Irving's reasoning is that if Cairo was taken by the Israeli Defence Forces, then the Israelis might discover the "rat-line", as undercover smuggling networks for Nazis were known, that had allowed Eichmann to escape to Argentina, and that therefore Eichmann had written his memoirs as a potential defense in the event of being captured by the Israelis. In this way Irving argued that The Eichmann Memoirs were genuine but the claim that Hitler ordered the Holocaust was false — only made to reduce Eichmann's responsibility for the Holocaust. Also in the same interview, Irving claimed to want to be accepted as a scholar by other historians and bemoaned having to associate with what he called the lunatic antisemitic fringe groups; he claimed he would disassociate himself from these as soon as he was accepted by the historians' community.
Persona non grata
Irving as he was deported from Canada in 1992 By the late 1980s, Irving was barred from entering Austria. In the early 1990s, a German court found him guilty of Holocaust denial under the Auschwitzlüge section of the law against Volksverhetzung (a failed appeal by Irving would see the fine rise from 7000 DM to 30000 DM), and he was subsequently barred from entering Germany. Other governments followed suit. In 1992, he was barred from South Africa and Canada, where he was arrested in November 1992 and deported back to the United Kingdom. In an administrative hearing surrounding those events he was found by the hearing office to have engaged in a "total fabrication" in telling a story of an exit from and return to Canada which would have, for technical reasons, made the original deportation order invalid. He was also barred from entering Australia in 1992, a ban he made four unsuccessful legal attempts to overturn.
On April 27, 1993 Irving was ordered to attend court to be examined on charges relating to the Loi Gayssot in France. The law, however, does not permit extradition and Irving simply refused to travel to France.
Then, in February 1994, Irving spent ten days of a three month sentence in London's Pentonville prison for alleged contempt of court following a legal wrangling over publishing rights. Irving's legal troubles continued as a Mannheim court indicted him for defaming the dead; as a result of this action, he would be fined 20000 DM in mid-1997.
Early in September 2004, Michael Cullen, the deputy prime minister of New Zealand, announced that Irving would not be permitted to visit the country, where he had been invited by the National Press Club to give a series of lectures under the heading "The Problems of Writing about World War II in a Free Society". The National Press Club defended its invitation of Irving, saying that it amounted not to an endorsement of his views, but rather an opportunity to question him. The intended visit provoked an outcry among Jewish groups, who were not appeased by Irving's promise not to speak about the Holocaust.
Irving had visited New Zealand twice before in the 1980s. His intended 2004 visit was refused on the grounds that he had been convicted of offences by a German court, and that at various times had been deported from, and/or refused entry to, Canada, the United States, Italy, and South Africa. "Mr. Irving is not permitted to enter New Zealand under the Immigration Act because people who have been deported from another country are refused entry," government spokeswoman Katherine O'Sullivan had told The Press earlier. Irving rejected the ban and attempted to board a Qantas flight for New Zealand from Los Angeles on 17 September 2004. He was not allowed on board. "As far as I'm concerned, the legal battle now begins," he was quoted as saying. His New Zealand-based lawyer is still waiting on instructions on how to proceed.
Arrest and trial in Austria
Irving was arrested by the Austrian police in the southern state of Styria on 11 November 2005, under a warrant issued in 1989. Irving knew that he was banned from Austria: in the words of his partner, Bente Hogh, "he was not jailed just for his views but because he's banned from Austria and still went. David doesn't take advice from anyone. He thought it was a bit of fun, to provoke a little bit."
On 15 November 2005, Irving was charged by Austrian state prosecutors and shortly afterwards applied for bail. Irving posted the required £26,000 but the application was turned down on November 25, 2005, with concerns cited that he would flee or repeat the offence, and he was remanded in custody until his trial.
Within two weeks of his arrest, Irving asserted through his lawyer Elmar Kresbach that he acknowledged the existence of Nazi-era gas chambers.
On 20 February, 2006 Irving's trial began as he pleaded guilty to the charge of trivialising, grossly playing down and denying the Holocaust. At the trial, the Judge quoted numerous statements of Irving's, including that "There were no gas chambers at Auschwitz" and "It makes no sense to transport people from Amsterdam, Vienna and Brussels 500 kilometres to Auschwitz simply to liquidate them when it can be more easily done 8km from the city where they live". Irving informed Judge Liebtreu that he "regretted the formulation".
Towards the end of the trial, Irving publicly recanted, saying that "I've changed my views. I spoke then about Auschwitz and gas chambers based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that any more and I wouldn't say that now. The Nazis did murder millions of Jews...I made a mistake by saying there were no gas chambers, I am absolutely without doubt that the Holocaust took place. I apologise to those few I might have offended though I remain very proud of the 30 books I have written."
Having made the U-turn, Irving, when questioned by Liebtreu, continued to insist that Hitler knew nothing of the death camps, and that "The figure of six million killed Jews is just a symbolic number". Pressed further, Irving lost direction, saying to the Judge: "I have a 12-year-old daughter, an annual income of £57,000 and draw a £20-a-week pension. I have great worries about the future."
David Irving only uses words, but these words are used by right-wing extremists to give them an ideological position. Mr Irving might have said he has changed his views, but that has all been a show for you. Theatrical exhibition to save himself from the maximum sentence. He has played a role for you today. The thread of antisemitism runs through him.
He showed no signs that he attempted to change his views after the arrest warrant was issued 16 years ago in Austria. We've seen no evidence that he tried to come to Austria to say 'I've changed my mind' and to prove that he was a different person, although he tried to persuade the court, he failed. He is not just someone who sold Hitler statues or who made people do Hitler salutes. He served as an example for the right wing for decades. He is comparable to a prostitute who hasn't changed her ways.
Irving is a falsifier of history and anything but a proper historian. In the world of David Irving there were no gas chambers and no plan to murder the Jews. He's continued to deny the fact that the Holocaust was genocide orchestrated from the highest ranks of the Nazi state.
At the end of the one-day trial, Irving was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in accordance with the Austrian Federal Law on the prohibition of National Socialist activities (officially Verbotsgesetz, "Prohibition Statute") for having denied the existence of gas chambers in National Socialist concentration camps in several lectures held in Austria in 1989. A stunned Irving sat motionless as Liebtreu asked Irving if he had understood the sentence, to which Irving replied "I'm not sure I do" before being bundled out of the court by Austrian police.