German court gives Holocaust denier five-year sentence for hate crimes

When a German court hammered Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel with a five-year prison sentence yesterday, few were more interested than Toronto's Arnold Friedman. In 1945, Mr. Friedman left the Auschwitz extermination camp as a 15-year-old -- his two brothers, three sisters and parents had died at the hands of the Nazis.

Forty years later, in 1985, Mr. Friedman testified against Mr. Zundel in a Toronto courtroom, only to watch him slip through the cracks of the Canadian justice system and continue preaching his hateful beliefs.

And so the German court's verdict against Mr. Zundel provided a special, long-awaited satisfaction: "It took a while, but a dog has been taken off the street," said Mr. Friedman, a 78-year-old retired businessman and grandfather of five. "Some justice has been done."

Yesterday's conviction of Mr. Zundel on 14 hate-crime charges is the latest chapter in a long, twisted narrative that was played out largely in Canada, only to be concluded in Germany, the country where Mr. Zundel was born. Mr. Zundel immigrated to Canada in 1958 as a 19-year-old, and spent more than four decades here as the self-described "godfather" of the Holocaust denial movement.

From his Toronto home, widely known as the Zundelhaus and The Bunker, he organized rallies, worshipped Hitler and produced pamphlets and books questioning the Holocaust -- among them tomes such as The Hitler We Loved and Did Six Million Really Die?

Although he was widely known among the far right by the late 1960s, Mr. Zundel first came to the attention of the Canadian public in the 1980s when Jewish groups pressed the Ontario government to charge him under the hate-propaganda sections of the Criminal Code.

"A lot of people learned about him because of the trials and the controversy," said Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "That was an unfortunate part of the process."

After the Ontario attorney-general refused to charge Mr. Zundel, fearing that the hate-propaganda law would be ruled unconstitutional, Holocaust survivor Sabina Citron laid a private complaint against him before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1983.

In 1984, he was charged by the Ontario government, under a section of the Criminal Code that forbids the spreading of false news. He underwent two trials, in 1985 and 1988, and was convicted both times. The Supreme Court of Canada later overturned the convictions, ruling that the law he was charged under violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Despite that victory, Mr. Zundel's troubles were far from over. In 1995, his house was firebombed, causing an estimated $400,000 in damage. In 1999, he came under investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for promoting hatred against Jews through his website. In January of 2000, before the commission had completed its hearings, Mr. Zundel married an American woman and moved to Sevierville, Tenn., vowing never to set foot in Canada again.

In 2003, U.S. immigration authorities charged him with overstaying his visa, and he was deported to Canada.

Although he had been in Canada for decades, he had never become a citizen. In 2003, the Canadian government issued a national security certificate against him, indicating that he was a threat to Canada's national security because of his links with violent neo-Nazi groups. Mr. Zundel filed two constitutional challenges, both unsuccessful.

In 2005, Mr. Zundel was deported to Germany. When he arrived at Frankfurt airport, he was arrested and charged under German hate-crime laws.

Back in Toronto, Mr. Friedman, the Holocaust survivor, shook his head yesterday. "Never mind the prison," Mr. Friedman said. "They should lock him in a mental institution. Even after all this, he's still yelling that it didn't happen."

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