Ernst Zundel, a “patriarch” of the white supremacist movement whose numerous legal battles played a role in overturning a Canadian law against publishing “false news,” has died.
Zundel’s wife, Ingrid Zundel, said her husband died Saturday at his home in Black Forest, Germany, where he was born. German officials later confirmed his death.
Zundel, who was 78, spent decades in Canada before eventually being extradited back to Germany, where he served five years in prison for Holocaust denial — a crime in that country.
George Michael, a Massachusetts-based expert on radical right-wing movements, said Zundel was an early figurehead in the fringe field of historical revisionism.
Zundel came to public attention in the 1980s with several publications, including “The Hitler We Loved” and “Did Six Million Really Die?”
Two attempts at prosecution in Canada ultimately foundered when his case led the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down the country’s laws against spreading false news as a violation of free speech.
The trials catapulted the permanent resident into the public spotlight and Zundel became a familiar figure with his retinue of followers in Toronto. He was the subject of numerous threats, and his home was once firebombed.
Zundel continued publishing his beliefs online, on a website started in the 1990s that remains active to this day — which Michael said makes him something of a pioneer.
“He was one of the first to do that,” Michael said. “He was interested in things like graphics and media, so it’s not surprising that he would be one of the pioneers in that regard, in getting this message out there on the World Wide Web.”
It was those online posts that made it possible for Zundel to be prosecuted in Germany.
But first, he had to get there.
In 2005, he had just been deported from the United States, where he was living with his wife, due to immigration violations. But Michael suggested it was likely that the U.S. wanted him out of the country because of his ties to right-wing extremists, as the government was cracking down on all radicals after 9/11.
The Canadian government, too, wanted Zundel out of the country. Federal Court Justice Pierre Blais in 2005 found Zundel to be a hatemonger who posed a threat to national security because of his close association with white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that resorted to violence to press their causes.
The decision to extradite Zundel was based in part upon a national security certificate released by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service in 2003, which said Zundel was then “considered one of the most notorious distributors of hate material in the world,” and referred to him as a patriarch of the white supremacist movement in Canada.
Zundel was jailed the day he arrived in Germany, and was later convicted on 14 counts of inciting hatred.
Upon his conviction in Germany in 2007, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress called Zundel “one of the most renowned hatemongers.”
“That will be his final epitaph,” Bernie Farber said.
In a statement Monday, the group said Zundel’s death “brings to a close an especially pernicious saga that plagued Canadians for decades.”
“Zundel serves as a reminder of why civil society must remain vigilant in its battle with the purveyors of hate,” said Koffler Fogel, the current chief executive.
Sidney Zoltak, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, described Zundel’s life’s work as “an abject failure.”
“The Holocaust was the most well documented genocide in history by both victim and perpetrator,” Zoltak said in a statement.
“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.”
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press