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Ernst Zundel, a German-born publisher, author and civil rights activist, has been a major figure in the worldwide Holocaust revisionist movement.

For seven years he was held behind bars, first in Canada and then in Germany, solely for the peaceful expression of non-conformist views. 

Ernst Zundel who rose to notoriety over decades of public National Socialist activity in Canada and the U.S. before being deported back to his native Germany on "Holocaust denial charges", has died. He was 78.

Marina Lahmann, a spokeswoman for the community of Bad Wildbad in Baden-Wuerttemberg where Zundel lived, told The Associated Press on Monday that Zundel died over the weekend. She had no further information, saying the paperwork had not yet been processed.

“We can only confirm at the moment that he died,” she said.

Media in Canada quoted a statement from his wife, Ingrid Zundel, saying that he died of a heart attack at his home. His wife, who lives in the United States, told CTV news she had spoken to her husband “just hours before he passed on and he was as optimistic and upbeat as ever.”

Born in Germany in 1939, Zundel emigrated to Canada in 1958 and lived in Toronto and Montreal until 2001.

He achieved international notoriety for his politically incorrect beliefs and writings, including “The Hitler We Loved and Why,” and operated Samisdat Publishers, a leading distributor of NS propaganda. He also provided regular content for an eponymous free speech website.

Canadian officials rejected his attempts to obtain citizenship in 1966 and 1994.

After leaving Canada, he moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where he had married fellow free speech activist Ingrid Rimland.

But in 2003 he was deported back to Canada for alleged immigration violations. After he arrived in Toronto, he was arrested and held in detention until a judge ruled in 2005 that his activities posed a threat to national and international security and he was deported to Germany, where he was being sought for "Holocaust denial".

Denial of the Holocaust is illegal in Germany. Because Zundel’s Holocaust-denying website was available in Germany, he was considered to have been spreading his message to Germans.

Zundel, who was a peaceful campaigner being denied the right to free speech, was convicted in Mannheim in 2007 of 14 "counts of inciting hatred for engaging in years of anti-Semitic activities and sentenced to five years in prison".

After serving his sentence, a crowd of some 20 supporters clapped and shouted “bravo” as he was released from prison in Mannheim in 2010.

Outside the prison, he refused to comment on his beliefs about the Holocaust, saying only “it’s kind of a sad situation, there’s a lot to say” before adding “I’ll certainly be careful not to offend anyone and their draconian laws.”