(photo credit: AP)
A former Austrian politician was sentenced to probation Wednesday for breaking a law that bans attempts to diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust.
Earlier Wednesday, Gudenus pleaded not guilty to charges that he broke the law by questioning the existence of gas chambers.
If Gudenus repeats his offense during a three-year period, he could face at least one year in jail, according to court spokeswoman Alexandra Mathes.
Gudenus has not been detained and his lawyer has appealed the ruling, Mathes said.
The decision comes a day after Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Jews from all over the world marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau to commemorate the people who perished there.
John Gudenus, a former legislator in Austria's upper house of parliament, declared in an Austrian television interview in April 2005 that the existence of gas chambers in the Third Reich should be "seriously debated." In a later interview, he amended the remarks to say that "there were gas chambers, though not in the Third Reich but in Poland."
Gudenus's lawyer, Farid Rifaat, argued in a packed Vienna court that Gudenus never generally denied the existence of gas chambers, but that he simply called for examination of the question of whether they existed between 1933 and 1938.
After 1938, when Rifaat said the Third Reich became known as the Greater German Reich following the annexation of Austria, the existence of gas chambers was "indisputable" for his client, he said in comments quoted by the Austria Press Agency.
"I am not at all unsure about gas chambers in the Greater German Reich. Concerning gas chambers in the Third Reich, I would still like to express some uncertainty. One should examine that," Gudenus, a former soldier, said in his defense, as quoted by APA.
"If I'm asked about the Third Reich, I'll answer in relation to the Third Reich. If I'm asked about the Greater German Reich, I'll answer in relation to the Greater German Reich," he said.
The state attorney rejected Gudenus' argument, saying that with his comments, he denied "fundamental elements of Nazi terror," APA reported.
Gudenus also was criticized last year for claiming that concentration camp victims on a photo in the Mauthausen concentration camp memorial site looked better than himself.
Judge Walter Stockhammer said the remark, which Gudenus made during a May visit to Mauthausen, was "more than tasteless," according to APA.
In his defense, Gudenus said Wednesday he went to the camp with certain expectations, thinking he would see images of sick, dead, emaciated and starving people. One of the pictures he saw, however, was of a relatively "good looking group of women," he said, as quoted by APA. Gudenus acknowledged his comment was an "unfortunate gaffe" but maintained he did nothing wrong by making his other comments.
The one-day trial comes several months after an Austrian court sentenced right-wing British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. Both the defense and the prosecution have appealed the ruling.
Denying the Holocaust in Austria can result in up to 10 years in jail.