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(DV) McGowan: A Visit in Prison with Ernst Zuendel







A Visit in Prison with Ernst Zuendel 
by Daniel McGowan
December 30, 2006

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During the recent conference in Iran (Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision) I was in prison in Mannheim, Germany interviewing Ernst Zuendel. Labeled a "Holocaust denier," Ernst has been in jail for almost four years without being charged with a violent crime or without even being convicted of a non-violent one. He is 67 years old. 

As a six-year-old Ernst witnessed the Allied firebombing of Pforzheim in which ten to twenty thousand German civilians were killed. As a teenager he became a pacifist; at age 19 he moved to Canada to avoid serving in the post-war German army. In Canada he worked as a graphic artist and publisher, specializing in 20th century German history. Many of the books he republished questioned the Holocaust, such as the underground booklet Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood. Others he merely distributed, like The Rudolf Report by Germar Rudolf, An Eye for an Eye: The Untold Story of Jewish Revenge Against Germans in 1945 by John Sack, and Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question by David Duke. He also sold books on UFOs and alternative medicines. 
Ernst's interest in history and revisionism led him to dispute and challenge specific "facts" about the Holocaust. He claimed:

1.  that Hitler's "Final Solution" was intended to be ethnic cleansing, not extermination. 
2.  that there were no homicidal gas chambers used by the Third Reich. (He did not deny that there were gas chambers used for disinfection.) 
3.  there were fewer than 6 million Jews killed of the alleged 55 million who died in WWII. 
Over the years such firmly held beliefs expressed in writing and later on his wife's Internet site caused him to be charged with incitement. He was tried twice in Canada. In the middle of the second trial in 1988, Ernst sent the first forensic team to Auschwitz. It was this "Leuchter Expedition" and the subsequent Leuchter Report that he believed revolutionized Holocaust revisionism, taking it beyond the "he said, she said..." testimonies and into the realm of solid forensic science. 
Such endeavors made him the target of those who protect the standard Holocaust narrative. He survived three assassination attempts, including by arson and pipe bomb, and although he lived in Canada for 42 years, he was never able to gain Canadian citizenship, even though immigration officials had described his application as "flawless." 
While some consider his views to border on heresy, freedom of speech in both the United States and Canada protected his right to publish and distribute the truth as he sees it.  But neither our Bill of Rights nor the pleadings of his lawyers could prevent his being rendered by the United States, forced back to Canada, and then on to Germany where denying or revising certain aspects of the Holocaust is a crime. 
The Latest Incarceration 
On February 5, 2003, Ernst was arrested at his home in the mountain region of eastern Tennessee.  He was seized on the pretext that he had violated immigration regulations, or had missed an interview date with US immigration authorities, even though he had entered the US legally, was married to an American citizen, had been checked out by the FBI, had been given a health check, a work permit, and a social security number, had no criminal record, and was trying to secure status as a permanent legal resident. 
After being held for two weeks, he was deported to Canada.  For the next two years -- from mid-February 2003 to March 1, 2005 -- he was held in solitary confinement in the Toronto West Detention Centre, on the charge that he was a threat to national security.  Like others who suffer rendition, there was no bail, no public trial, and no appeal.  His mail was censored and the lights in his cell were kept on day and night. 
On March 1, 2005 Ernst was put in handcuffs and leg irons on a private jet and deported from Canada to Germany where he has been held as an Untersuchungsgefangener or a prisoner under investigation.  As in Canada, bail was again denied.  On June 29, 2005, the state's prosecutor, Mr. Grossman, formally charged him with inciting "hatred" by having written or distributed texts that "approve, deny or play down" genocidal actions carried out by Germany's wartime regime, and which "denigrate the memory of the [Jewish] dead."  The trial began on November 8, 2005, eight months after he arrived in Germany. 
Ernst is confined to his cell 22 hours per day. He has no access to phone or Internet and he may not communicate anything about the trial. He is able to receive two 30-minute visits per month, but all conversations must be in German or must be conducted through a prison-approved translator. 
Still Ernst remains upbeat and convinced that he has made a contribution to the truth surrounding WWII and the Holocaust. He does not deny that millions of people suffered at the hands of the Nazis, including millions of Jews, who were worked to death and suffered from disease (especially typhus) and who were often deliberately murdered both inside and outside of concentration camps. But he does not regard Jewish suffering as unique. He considers his efforts to tell the truth about the Holocaust as ground breaking and is satisfied to let others continue the research. 
Ernst believes that Zionists treat the Holocaust as a sword and a shield to deflect criticism of their racist quest to build a Jewish state in Palestine, a state in which over half the people today are not Jewish, "the state" being defined as all the land currently controlled by Israel, including West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. He regards himself as a political prisoner of Zionists who try to erase his contributions and punish him with defamation and imprisonment. 
A Day in Court 
An admirer once described Ernst Zuendel as "an outgoing, good-humored man who is blessed with a rare combination of unflagging optimism and practical ability. He maintains this infectious spirit even under very trying conditions. He is an unusually alert and sensitive individual with a keen understanding of human nature. He inspires confidence, loyalty and affection." On December 7, 2006 I witnessed his trial in Mannheim and found this description to be uncannily accurate. 
On that particular day those in the courtroom included Ernst, three judges, three jurors, a court reporter, three defense attorneys, four armed guards, twenty-four spectators, and one prosecutor, Mr. Grossman. Ernst wore an old blue suit with a red tie; he was attentive; he often smiled approvingly when something was said with which he agreed. The guards were friendly but disinterested. Facing the court, all the participants sat on the left hand side, except the state prosecutor who sat all by himself at a table on the right side. The jurors and the court reporter sat in line with the judges on an elevated platform along the front and the spectators sat in rows along the back wall.  No media were present. 
The spectators were clearly there for Ernst. Most were German men in their late 60s or 70s; there were also a couple of younger women. Several men commented that they were proud of having been to every court session with Ernst over the past 21 months.  Although they had not met him personally, they were following his trial closely and were supportive of him. They were helpful to my American Jewish colleague and me and guided us through the security outside the courtroom and made sure we got front row seats so that we could fully appreciate the courtroom experience. Many spoke English and had sons and daughters in America. Most were retired but one younger man had taken time off from work to witness this day of the trial. 
Ernst and his attorneys have not been allowed to discuss or challenge the veracity of the facts about the Holocaust, including facts that Ernst disputes and about which he would like to submit scientific evidence and expert-witness testimony. Offenkundigkeit, the German version of judicial notice, precludes it. The court is only allowed to consider if Ernst denied these particular facts and if so, when and where and how. During our visit, one of Ernst's attorneys, 84-year old Dr. Herbert Schaller [1], read a lengthy and impassioned statement saying that he believed in the same facts of the Holocaust as does Ernst and by so stating this he too is guilty. He ended by saying that in over 53 years of practicing law, he had until now never been guilty of the same crime as the man he was charged to defend. The head judge, Ulrich Meinerzhagen, appeared tired, agitated, and ready to explode. 
Visiting Ernst in prison 
It is not easy to visit Ernst Zuendel. He is allowed only two 30-minute visits per month, one hour if the visitor travels more than 100 km. Though I wrote and faxed the prison a dozen times beginning in February 2006, the answer was always the same, no answer. But through his wife, Ingrid, Ernst knew that a colleague and I wished to visit him and he asked the judge to grant us permission to do so. Finally on September 23rd Judge Meinerzhagen told Ernst to tell his wife to tell me to fax him and formally request a visit. We were to each include a copy of our résumés and a copy of our passports. 
Another month passed before we received the visitation permission. Once we had that document, stamped and signed by the judge, we were able to make an appointment at the prison in Mannheim. 
On arrival the guards filled out a long form on each of us. They took our passports and had us put everything else in a locker. Then we were searched, warned against speaking English, and told to cross the courtyard to the visitation rooms. There we sat on one side of a table with a plastic shield in the middle; they brought Ernst from the other side and allowed him to sit across from us while a guard sat at the end to monitor both parties. We asked if it was permissible to shake hands and the guard smiled and said that would be all right. 
Ernst began by asking us to contact his wife and tell her that he looked well and that he missed her. He had not been in contact with her for several weeks and he was worried that she would be worried about him. Then he asked if my colleague's family had discouraged him from making this trip. My friend understood what Ernst was asking, but he was unable to answer in German, so I had to tell Ernst that indeed pressure had been put on us both not to have anything to do with a Holocaust "denier." 
We asked Ernst about life in prison and his relationship with guards and other prisoners. He described a typical day and told us that he had only limited contact with other prisoners, but that they were friendly towards him. So too were the guards, especially because he followed the rules and was a threat to no one. He often asked the man monitoring our visit to corroborate what he was saying, almost as if to include him in the conversation. 
He talked about history and philosophy and about recent books he had read. He praised the prison library, which he said was markedly better than the one in the US jail in Tennessee, which had "only Tom Clancy novels and one old book on the US Presidents." I had been forced to leave my notes outside and though I had many questions, I was not allowed to ask him anything about the trial, not even the names of his attorneys. 
The hour passed quickly and the guard soon told us we would have to go. When we stood we looked questioningly at the guard and he nodded to us. We shook hands with Ernst, slowly, he taking each of our hands in both of his. They were big, soft, and warm; although Ernst is only six years older than I, he reminded me of my father saying goodbye when we last parted. 
Holocaust Denial 
Contrary to the warning given to people who currently tour Auschwitz, "Holocaust denial" is not infectious. In many ways the term is used as an epithet to discredit and demean those who question facts surrounding the Holocaust.  Nor is Holocaust denial anti-Semitic; there are many Jews who question facts about the Holocaust and many more who object to its being used to elevate Jewish suffering above that of others. [2] Treating those who question the Holocaust as heretics reveals the degree to which the Holocaust itself has become a religion, a faith to be accepted and worshiped with spectacular memorials, best-selling books, and mandatory curricula for school children. 
Ernst believes that Jewish groups have wanted him jailed for promoting views that the Jewish-Zionist lobby considers harmful to its interests. He claims that the only sustained and institutionalized efforts to imprison him have come from this lobby, which includes the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, and the League for Human Rights of B'nai B'rith (with the Anti-Defamation League, its counterpart in the US). It is noteworthy that even the ACLU refused to defend his right of free speech. [3] 
Ernst Zuendel is neither a monster nor a heretic. He is a man with strong convictions and the courage to express them. He views himself not as a Holocaust "denier," but rather as a Holocaust revisionist. For that he has been rendered by the United States, which otherwise professes to protect the right of free speech and the writ of habeas corpus, and by Canada, both countries in which he broke no law. To force him back to his birth country to be tried for a "crime" which he never committed in Germany is unjust. Those who would incarcerate revisionists like Ernst Zuendel and hold them, without bail, for years on end to drain them of their resources and to silence them as "Prisoners of Zion" could well be labeled as "justice deniers." 
Daniel McGowan is Professor Emeritus at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He can be reached at: mcgowan@hws.edu
[1] Upon his release from prison in Austria on December 21, 2006, the English historian David Irving said, "I have the fine oratory of my 84-year-old defense lawyer Dr. Herbert Schaller to thank for the unexpected victory in the appeal court.  I spent over 400 days in solitary confinement in Austria's oldest prison, sentenced in February to three years' jail for an opinion I expressed in two talks seventeen years ago." 
[2] Of the 63 participants at the recent conference in Tehran, six were Orthodox rabbis. 
[3] Perhaps Benjamin Ginsburg is correct when he infers that the ACLU is an organization, which promotes Jewish interests.  "In the realm of lobbying and litigation, Jews ... play leadership roles in such important public interest groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause.... Their role in American economic, social, and political institutions has enabled Jews to wield considerable influence in the nation's public life." (The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, p. 1)