VIENNA, Austria – Right-wing British historian David Irving pleaded guilty Monday to denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison, even after conceding he wrongly said there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books — "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.
"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," Irving told the court before his sentencing, at which he faced up to 10 years in prison.
He also expressed sorrow "for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War."
But he insisted he never wrote a book about the Holocaust, which he called "just a fragment of my area of interest."
"In no way did I deny the killings of millions of people by the Nazis," testified Irving, who has written nearly 30 books.
The court said Irving had three days to appeal his sentence. His lawyer did not immediately say whether he planned to do so.
Irving, 67, has been in custody since his November arrest on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of 6 million Jews. He has contended that most of those who died at concentration camps such as Auschwitz succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.
The convicted Irving after his guilty plea under the 1992 law, which applies to "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media."
Irving's trial came amid new — and fierce — debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered deadly protests worldwide.
Irving's lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said last month the controversial Third Reich historian was getting up to 300 pieces of fan mail a week from supporters around the world and was writing his memoirs in detention under the working title "Irving's War."
Irving was arrested Nov. 11 in the southern Austrian province of Styria on a warrant issued in 1989. He was charged under a federal law that makes it a crime to publicly diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust.
Irving had tried to win his provisional release on $24,000 bail, but a Vienna court refused, saying it considered him a flight risk.
Within two weeks of his arrest, he asserted through his lawyer that he had come to acknowledge the existence of Nazi-era gas chambers. Before the trial began, Irving told reporters he now acknowledges that the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during World War II.
"History is like a constantly changing tree," he said.
In the past, however, he has claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little if anything about the Holocaust, and he has been quoted as saying there was "not one shred of evidence" the Nazis carried out their "Final Solution" to exterminate the Jewish population on such a massive scale.
Vienna's national court, where the trial is being held, ordered the balcony gallery closed to prevent projectiles from being thrown down at the bench, the newspaper Die Presse reported Sunday.
It quoted officials as saying they were bracing for Irving's supporters to give him the Nazi salute or shout out pro-Hitler slogans during the trial.
In 2000, Irving sued American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court but lost. The presiding judge in that case, Charles Gray, wrote that Irving was "an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist."
Irving has had numerous run-ins with the law over the years.
In 1992, a judge in Germany fined him the equivalent of $6,000 for publicly insisting the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz were a hoax.