Ernst Zündel was born on April 24, 1939, in a small town 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 Zündel the world’s number one distributor of allegedly dangerous literature and cassettes.
Zündel is perhaps best known for his central role in the “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?
Zündel’s two lengthy trials – the 1985 trial lasted two months, and the 1988 trial lasted four months – have been the closest thing anywhere to 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 revisionist scholars, legal specialists, researchers, and many others. From numerous libraries and archives in North America and Europe, this group assembled at “Zündelhaus” one of the most impressive collections of evidence anywhere on this chapter of history.
Among those who testified on Zündel’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 compelling evidence refuting the familiar Holocaust extermination story 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.
Zündel 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. In May 1988, at the conclusion of the second Zündel trial, the jury declared him guilty. A few days later, he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
On appeal, Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the conviction, declaring on August 27, 1992, that the archaic “false news” law under which he had been convicted was a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights. This was not only a personal vindication by Canada’s highest court; Ernst Zündel secured an important victory for the rights of all Canadians.
Zündel’s 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 “Zündelsite” Internet web site (www.Zündelsite.org), 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 “Zündelsite” to be unlawful, but because the site is based in the US, the ruling is unenforceable.)
During the 42 years he lived in Canada, Ernst Zündel 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’s also endured years of legal harassment and repeated jailings.
After more than four decades in Canada, including a failed effort to acquire Canadian citizenship, he 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 holds a doctoral degree in education, and is a naturalized US citizen.
On February 5, 2003, Ernst Zündel was arrested at their quiet home in the mountain region of eastern Tennessee. He was seized because he 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, on the pretext that he is a threat to national security.
His arrest and detention generated wide media attention. A few Canadian newspapers, including Toronto’s prestigious Globe and Mail, and several independent analysts, acknowledged the injustice of his incarceration on an empty pretext.
Among those who protested Zündel’s unjust treatment was Bill Dunphy, a veteran investigative journalist and editor for the daily Hamilton Spectator. He spent six years probing Canada’s “white supremacist” movement, and got to know Zündel personally.
The Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE), a free speech advocacy group, fought for Zündel’s release. “Mr. Zündel is quite literally a political prisoner,” said CAFE director Paul Fromm, who also served as Zündel’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 Zündel might be a threat to national security “is mischievous nonsense,” said Fromm. “Zündel 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. Zündel has never advocated or practiced violence, nor have his followers,” Fromm added. “He’s a pacifist and a publisher.”
On March 1, 2005, Zündel was deported to Germany, just as Jewish groups had been demanding. He was formally charged 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.”
Zündel’s 16 months trial concluded on February 15, 2007, when a court in Mannheim sentenced him to five years imprisonment for the crime of “popular incitement” under Germany’s notorious “Holocaust denial” statute. The 14 specific violations cited by the court included postings on the US-based “Zündelsite” website. The court thus upheld claims 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.
Zündel was held in Mannheim prison for precisely five years When he was released on Monday morning, March 1, 2010, friends and well-wishers were waiting outside the prison entrance to greet him. He currently lives quietly in his parental home in Swabia, separated from his U.S. wife.