Ernst Zundel, who became a virtual household name in Canada’s Jewish community for his denial of the Holocaust, died Aug. 5 at his sister’s home in the German Black Forest of an apparent heart attack. He was 78.
A notorious German-born publisher of neo-Nazi material that denied the genocide of Jews in the Second World War and who delighted in needling Jews and Holocaust survivors, Zundel was the focus of two high-profile criminal trials in the 1980s in Toronto.
His legal woes began in 1983, when Sabina Citron, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, filed a private complaint against Zundel before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Ontario’s attorney general joined the case a year later and Zundel was charged under Section 181 of the Criminal Code’s prohibition against “spreading false news” for his booklet Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last.
The charge explored whether Zundel knew his views were false and “likely to cause mischief to the public interest in social and racial tolerance.” Following a much publicized trial in 1985 that caused considerable anguish in many quarters of the Jewish community for its sensational media coverage, Zundel was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in jail.
But the conviction was set aside by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which cited errors in jury selection and the judge’s directions to the jury. Ontario’s attorney general then ordered a new trial.
At his 1988 trial, the court took judicial notice of the Holocaust, noting it was “a fact” and not up for debate. Zundel was again found guilty and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.
Appeals went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 1992 struck down the false news section of the Criminal Code for violating Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the late 1990s, Zundel again found himself the subject of an investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for promoting hatred against Jews via his website. In January 2000, before the commission could complete its hearings, he left for the United States, vowing never to return to Canada. He settled in Tennessee.
But he ran afoul of his visa restrictions and was punted back to Canada by American immigration officials (his applications for Canadian citizenship had been rejected in 1966 and 1994 for undisclosed reasons).
In 2005, Federal Court Justice Pierre Blais found Zundel to be a hatemonger who posed a threat to national security because of his close association with white supremacist and violent neo-Nazi groups. His activities were “not only a threat to Canada’s national security but also a threat to the international community of nations,” the court ruled in upholding a National Security Certificate.
Zundel was deported to his native Germany in March 2005 and was immediately arrested and detained in Mannheim prison. He was later charged with 14 counts of inciting racial hatred. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2007 and released three years later. Canada would not allow him to return.
Zundel’s death “brings to a close an especially pernicious saga that plagued Canadians for decades,” said the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in a statement.
Zundel was “an unrepentant anti-Semite and defender of the evil Nazi regime, denying the Holocaust while at the same time fomenting hatred towards Jews. Zundel serves as a reminder of why civil society must remain vigilant in its battle with the purveyors of hate,” said CIJA.
Sidney Zoltak, co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants added: “Ernst Zundel’s life’s work of denying the Holocaust was an abject failure. The Holocaust was the most well documented genocide in history by both victim and perpetrator. Those who deny it are an affront to truth and decency and they remain on the outer fringes of society.
“Today, Holocaust education is firmly entrenched in school curricula around the world and Holocaust remembrance is engrained in Western culture. The memory of the Holocaust will long outlast Zundel’s legacy of anti-Semitism, hatred, and evil.”