(1939-2017) was a German-born publisher, author and civil rights activist. He was a prominent figure in the worldwide Holocaust revisionist network, and accordingly was routinely described in the mainstream media as a “notorious Holocaust denier.” He was also an unabashed admirer of Adolf Hitler, and an unapologetic defender of the legacy of Third Reich Germany. For seven years he was held behind bars, first in Canada and then in Germany, solely for the peaceful expression of non-conformist views. For some time he was the most prominent political prisoner in the western world.
He was the author of countless booklets, newsletters and essays. He was a prodigious publisher, a one-man public relations firm, and an able public speaker and organizer. Energetic, tenacious and courageous, he was dauntless in struggle against apparently insurmountable odds and seemingly invincible adversaries.
Sometimes describing himself as a “Swabian peasant,” Zundel was an outgoing, good-humored man who was blessed with a rare combination of unflagging optimism and practical ability. He maintained this infectious spirit even under very trying conditions. Although he was often portrayed by adversaries as a boorish “hater,” his real personality was quite different. He was an unusually alert and sensitive individual with a keen understanding of human nature. He knew how to persuade, cajole and encourage others to give their best for a greater mission. He inspired confidence, loyalty and affection.
Ernst Christof Friedrich Zündel was born on April 24, 1939, in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. He emigrated to Canada at the age of 19, where he soon married and became the father of two sons. His career as a graphic artist was successful, with his work appearing, for example, on the front cover of Canada’s national news magazine, Maclean’s.
Setting aside his thriving career, he dedicated himself to the great task, as he saw it, of redeeming the sullied reputation of his fellow Germans. Through his Samisdat publishing house he distributed worldwide a prodigious quantity of books, booklets, leaflets, newsletters, and audio and video cassettes. Simon Wiesenthal, the well-known “Nazi hunter,” called Zundel the world’s number one distributor of allegedly dangerous literature and recordings.
Zundel was perhaps best known as the defiant defendant in the much-publicized “Holocaust Trials” of 1985 and 1988. He was brought to court in Toronto on a charge of “publishing false news,” and specifically for publishing a reprint edition of a booklet entitled Did Six Million Really Die?.
Zundel’s two lengthy trials — the 1985 trial lasted two months, and the 1988 trial lasted four months – were something like full scale debates on the Holocaust issue. For the first time ever, “Holocaust survivors” and Holocaust historians were closely and critically questioned under oath about their claims and views.
To wage the legal battle that was forced upon him, he brought together an impressive international team of researchers, legal specialists, scholars, and many others. From numerous libraries and archives in North America and Europe, this group assembled at the “Zundelhaus” in Toronto one of the most extensive collections of evidence anywhere on this chapter of history.
Among those who testified on Zundel’s behalf in the trials were Robert Faurisson, David Irving, Mark Weber, William Lindsey, Udo Walendy, and Bradley Smith. As a result of the two trials, an enormous quantity of evidence and testimony challenging the prevailing Holocaust narrative was presented to the court and thereby was made part of the permanent public record. Perhaps the most important of this evidence was the historic testimony of American gas chamber expert Fred Leuchter about his on-site forensic examination of the alleged extermination gas chambers in Poland.
Zundel was found guilty in the 1985 trial, but the verdict was set aside by the provincial appeals court. It ruled that the judge in that trial had, among other things, given improper instructions to the jury, and had improperly excluded defense evidence. At the conclusion of the second Zundel trial in May 1988, a jury declared him guilty. A few days later, he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
French scholar Robert Faurisson wrote at the time: “Zundel may once again go to prison for his research and beliefs or be threatened with deportation. All this is possible. Anything may happen when there is an intellectual crisis and a realignment of historical concepts of such a dimension. Revisionism is the great intellectual adventure of the end of this century. Whatever happens, Ernst Zundel is already the victor.”
On appeal, Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the 1988 conviction, declaring on August 27, 1992, that the archaic “false news” law under which Zundel had been tried and convicted was a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights. This was more than a personal vindication by Canada’s highest court; Ernst Zundel secured an important victory for the rights of all Canadians.
His next great legal battle was fought out before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Toronto on charges, instigated by Jewish groups, of promoting “hatred or contempt” against Jews through the “Zundelsite” website, operated by Ingrid Rimland from the United States. In this legal action, as the Tribunal’s presiding Commissioner declared, the truth or validity of the supposedly “hateful” items was not a consideration. (Ultimately the Tribunal declared the “Zundelsite” to be unlawful, but because it is based in the US, the ruling has been unenforceable.)
During the 42 years he lived in Canada (1958-2000), Ernst Zundel was never convicted of a crime. He was, however, repeatedly a victim of violence and hate. He survived three assassination attempts, including by arson and pipe bomb. He also endured years of legal harassment and repeated jailings.
An arson attack against Zundel’s Toronto residence on May 8, 1995, resulted in $400,000 in damage. No charges were ever filed against the perpetrators. A group calling itself the “Jewish Armed Resistance Movement” claimed responsibility for the crime. According to the Toronto Sun newspaper, this shadowy group had ties to the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which the American FBI identified as a terrorist organization. The leader of the JDL in Toronto, Meir Weinstein (known also as Meir Halevi), denied involvement in the attack. Five days later, though, Weinstein and American JDL leader Irv Rubin were caught trying to break into the Zundel property, where they were apprehended by police. Some weeks after the arson, Zundel was targeted with a parcel bomb, which was detonated by the Toronto Police bomb squad.
After more than four decades in Canada, including a failed effort to acquire Canadian citizenship, Zundel moved to the United States, where in January 2000 he married Ingrid Rimland. His wife, a gifted writer and noted author in her own right, was born in an ethnic German Mennonite community in Ukraine. As a child she and her family were victims of Soviet rule and the ravages of World War II. After the war she lived for a time in Paraguay and Canada, and then for years in California. Ingrid Rimland, a naturalized US citizen, holds a doctoral degree in education.
On February 5, 2003, Ernst Zundel was arrested at their quiet home in the mountain region of eastern Tennessee. US authorities seized him 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 no criminal record, and was acting diligently, and in full accord with the law, to secure status as a permanent legal resident.
After being held for two weeks, he was deported to Canada. For two years — from mid-February 2003 to March 1, 2005 — he was held in solitary confinement in the Toronto West Detention Centre as a supposed threat to national security.
His arrest and detention generated wide media attention. A few Canadian newspapers and several independent analysts acknowledged the injustice of his incarceration. The country’s most prestigious daily, the Toronto Globe and Mail, affirmed in an editorial (“Zundel doesn’t warrant a security certificate,” March 6, 2004 ) that he posed no risk to people or property, and that he was being held unjustly on a bogus “guilt by association” pretext. “He has never been charged with a violent crime and does not urge others to commit violence,” the editorial noted. “The real danger to Canadians,” it concluded, comes not from individuals like Zundel, “but from a government that casually discards their most precious rights.”
In another editorial (“The Zundel Case,” Oct. 23, 2004) the influential paper called Canada’s treatment of Zundel an “abuse of the secret-trial legislation.” The Globe and Mail editorial went on: “What little [evidence that] has emerged suggests the Crown is arguing not that he has incited violence, but that his material might be read by people who might incite violence – guilt by association . The willingness of Canadian authorities to twist the narrow purpose of the security-trial legislation to go after Ernst Zundel is a blot on Canadian justice.”
Bill Dunphy, a veteran investigative journalist and editor for the daily Hamilton Spectator, also protested the injustice. He spent six years probing Canada’s “white supremacist” movement, and got to know Zundel well. Although he has no sympathy for Zundel’s views, in a hard-hitting column (Hamilton Spectator, May 14, 2003) he told readers:
“Our government has seized and branded Ernst Zundel, stripped him of his human rights, tried him in secret and found him wanting, and will now hand him over to a foreign government anxious to throw him in jail …
“… Zundel – who did this country a favour by wiping off the books our disgraceful False News laws – has never once been convicted of a criminal offence in this country, never once found to have violated the hate crime laws that rest snugly around the throat of free expression in this country.
“Calculating correctly that there was no political cost, no ‘down side’ to slipping on the jackboots to kick a reviled old man out of our country, our government cobbled together their best insults and innuendo, and Lord knows what secret ‘evidence,’ and branded Ernst Zundel a threat to national security.
“I know this man, his local and international contacts and I know this movement. And after reading the 58-page ‘unclassified’ summary of the government’s case, I can assure you there is no justice here. Their ‘evidence’ is riddled with errors and misinformation, hearsay and inflammatory innuendo. Dead men walk again, and the shattered bits of shoddy secret networks long since collapsed under the weight of their own ineptitude are made whole and menacing once again. It is a shameful piece of dishonest, unreliable tripe.”
The Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE), a free speech advocacy group, fought for Zundel’s release. “Mr. Zundel is quite literally a political prisoner,” said CAFE director Paul Fromm, who also served as Zundel’s legal representative in his detention hearings. “He is being held in solitary confinement solely for the non-violent expression of his political views.”
The allegation that Zundel might be a threat to national security “is mischievous nonsense,” said Fromm. “Zundel has been politically active in Canada for 40 years. He’s a public figure. His writings and speeches are available on-line. He’s been investigated for years by the police. He’s an open book. Zundel has never advocated or practised violence, nor have his followers,” Fromm added. “He’s a pacifist and a publisher.”
Zundel was held in Canada not because his views are unpopular, or because he was a “security risk.” He was in prison there because Jewish groups wanted him there, and because he promoted views that the Jewish-Zionist lobby considers harmful to its interests.
This lobby was the decisive, critical factor in the decades-old campaign to silence him. The only sustained and institutionalized effort in Canada to imprison Zundel came 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 (Canada’s counterpart to the US-based “Anti-Defamation League”).
On March 1, 2005, Zundel was deported to Germany, just as Jewish groups had been demanding. Upon his arrival at Frankfurt airport, he was immediately arrested and taken to Mannheim prison to await trial for the “thought crime” of “denying the Holocaust.” (“Holocaust denial” is against the law in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and some other European countries.)
A few months later the public prosecutor in Mannheim formally charged Zundel 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 indictment cited, above all, texts posted on the “Zundelsite” website, which is registered and maintained by his wife in the United States, where all such writings are protected by law. .
Zundel’s three-month trial concluded on February 15, 2007, when a court in Mannheim sentenced him to five years imprisonment for the crime of “popular incitement” (Volksverhetzung) under Germany’s notorious “Holocaust denial” statute. The 14 specific violations cited by the court included postings on the US-based “Zundelsite” website. The court thus upheld efforts by German authorities to punish individuals for writings that are legal in the country where they are published. Jewish groups quickly, and predictably, expressed approval of the verdict.
In recent years, a growing number of scholars, intellectuals and newspapers — especially in Europe — have condemned the laws under which Zundel and others have been imprisoned, fined and forced into exile for expressing skeptical views on “the Holocaust.” These laws, critics point out, are selective, hypocritical, and violate generally recognized principles of free speech and free expression.
Zundel was released from prison on March 1, 2010 — five years after his deportation to Germany, and three years after his conviction by a court in Mannheim. Banned from returning to either Canada or the US, he went to his family home in Germany’s Black Forest region, where he resided until his death.
In a rare visit beyond the borders of his homeland, he traveled in 2015 to Mexico to address the “International Identitarian Congress” in Guadalajara (May 1-3). In a vigorous talk that reflected what he called his “unbroken” spirit, he provided a cogent, moving retrospective on his activist years, including his ordeal as a “thought criminal.” The 200 men and women who gathered for this event — including speakers from Argentina, Spain, Germany, Italy, Britain, Mexico and the US — expressed their appreciation for this extraordinary man’s courage and steadfastness.
Ernst Zundel died peacefully on August 5, 2017, in the same family home in Germany where he had been born 78 years earlier, and where he had been living since his release from Mannheim prison.
More about Ernst Zundel and his life, his fight for freedom, and his ordeal, is posted on the “Zundelsite” website, and at Ernst Zundel: Prisoner of Conscience, Victim of Thought Crime
- Americans Rally for Zundel’s Freedom [ http://www.ihr.org/news/050207report.shtml ] – Feb. 2005
- Photos from the Demonstration in Los Angeles for Zundel’s Freedom
[ http://www.ihr.org/news/050207demonstration.shtml ] – Feb. 2005
- Ernst Zundel: Letters From Prison [ http://www.revisionists.com/zundel/letters.html ] – Five letters, from Feb. 2004 to August 2005
- Who is Ernst Zundel, And Why is He in Jail [ http://www.ihr.org/news/030923Zundel.shtml ] – Sept. 2003
Updated on Feb. 15, 2007, and on June 2, 2016, and on August 17, 2017