David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

Table of Contents
<< 2.3 Professional historia...2.6 Conclusion >>

2.4 Documents and sources

2.4.1 Historians customarily distinguish between primary sources, which were produced at the time of the events to which they relate, and secondary sources, which were produced afterwards and rely on memory or on the work of other historians. Clearly, primary sources are prima facie regarded as more reliable, although they must of course be assessed critically as to their authenticity, their authorship and their purpose. As far as secondary sources are concerned, the greater the distance in time from the events to which they relate, the more critically they must be examined. On the other hand, evidence given after the event in the form of testimony in a public trial is relatively sound because it has been given in public, participants in the trial have had the opportunity to challenge it, and their challenges are available as a matter of public record. This testimony too must of course be assessed by the historian as to the purpose or purposes with which it was given. Memoirs and reminiscences have also generally been subject to a process of verification in public through the means of publication and review, though the same principles of source-criticism apply to them too. Finally, there are interviews conducted with participants after the event by the historian. This is perhaps the most problematical kind of evidence. Historians must avoid leading questions; they must not   suggest the answers they are looking for; they must try to probe the motives and purposes of those whom they are interviewing; and they must not take everything they are told at face value. Above all, they must interview at length, and in depth. A brief questioning conducted with the obvious aim of eliciting answers favourable to the historian's own arguments will convince no-one.
2.4.2 Historians also have to rely on each other's work. There is nothing wrong with this, where the work relied on conforms to the accepted canons of scholarly research and rests on thorough, transparent and unbiased investigation of the primary sources. So vast is the material with which historians deal, so numerous are the subjects they cover, so consuming of time, energy and financial resources is the whole process of historical research, that it would be completely impossible for new historical discoveries and insights to be generated if every historian had to go back to the original sources for everything he or she wanted to say. This need to rely on each other's work has nothing to do with copying or plagiarism: on the contrary, the conventions of scholarship ensure that footnote and other references are used in scholarly historical work to pinpoint precisely where the historian has obtained information, and to allow the reader to check up on this if so desired. Thus for example the documentation on which this Report rests is extremely voluminous; frequent reference has to be made to works by other scholars on the historical matters with which it deals; the central concern of this Report is in the end with historiographical issues, that is, with the methods used by Irving in writing about the past, and its use of historical subjects is only intended to provide illustrations of these historiographical points.21
2.4.3 In describing his critical approach to the sources for the history of Nazi Germany, Irving has stated that he rejects all 'post-war oral trial evidence', because those who gave it had an axe of some sort to grind. If they were defendants in a war crimes trial, then they would distort the   truth in order to save themselves. If they were witnesses, they may have exaggerated their sufferings as an act of revenge. These are reasonable enough points; but they do not completely invalidate the testimony in question, otherwise all testimony given to a court after an offence had been committed would have to be ruled completely useless as a guide to the truth, an extreme point of view which no reasonable person would surely uphold. If Irving is claiming that war crimes trials evidence is inadmissible because it is oral testimony based on memory, he is incorrect. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials amassed and used a huge quantity of contemporary written evidence on the basis of which the defendants and witnesses were questioned and which served in a variety of ways to underpin their testimony. Irving himself relies extensively on this documentation in his work.
2.4.4 Moreover, as this Report will show, when it suits his argument, Irving makes an exception and actually does use oral testimony from war crimes trials. In any case, Irving does not automatically disqualify oral testimony based on memory. On the contrary, he makes massive use of oral testimony: in particular, over the years he has interviewed a large number of Hitler's former aides and other leading former Nazis, and he places, as this Report will demonstrate repeatedly and in detail a faith in the reliability of their testimony that is almost entirely uncritical. If they were talking to him, after all, they must have been telling the truth! No need therefore to probe too deeply, or to interview for too long. But here too a genuine professional historian has to bring a critical attitude to bear. Former Nazis of all kinds had to construct a version of their own history that would allow them to live in relative peace in the postwar world. In particular, it was in their interest to deny all knowledge of, let alone participation in, the crimes of Nazism, including the extermination of the Jews. If they were part of Hitler's entourage, then it was in their interest to deny Hitler's knowledge or involvement as well, since admitting it would have been to incriminate themselves.
2.4.5 There is no reason to suppose that the story they told to Irving in this respect would have been any different from the story they told to everybody else. If they had an incentive to avoid implicating themselves before a court, they had a motive for persuading Irving to be their   mouthpiece in continuing their personal quest for public exculpation at a later date. Their motives for denying their or Hitler's involvement in the extermination of the Jews were the same when they were talking to Irving as they were when they were being interrogated by Allied officers preparing for the Nuremberg trials. Their testimony has to be subjected to particularly searching critical scrutiny. The need for a critical attitude is borne out by the evidence of the memoirs that many of them published - self-serving, mendacious, dishonest, and designed to minimise their own involvement in the crimes of Nazism. This Report will examine many examples of this kind of evidence, much of it relied on by Irving in an entirely uncritical way.
2.4.6 Irving makes great play with his claim that he was the historian who first revealed the 'Hitler Diaries' as fake.22In 1983 - the fiftieth anniversary of Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor - the respected German weekly Stern serialized extracts from what its reporters claimed were diaries written by Hitler and recently made available from East German sources. Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), acting for Times Newspapers, declared them to be authentic. As a result, serialization of an English translation began in The Sunday Times. Confronted with doubts about the diaries' authenticity from a number of historians, Stern organized a press conference on 25 April. Irving had come into contact with the diaries through August Priesack, an old Nazi who had been one of the first to be approached by the forger in his quest for authentication. Priesack's collection of Nazi memorabilia consisted, as Irving immediately recognized, of obvious forgeries. This made it overwhelmingly likely that the 'diaries' were forgeries too. Funded by rival newspapers who wished to preserve their circulation in the face of a threatened scoop, Irving appeared at the Stern press conference and denounced them as a forgery. 'I know the collection from which these diaries come', he shouted from the floor. 'It is an old collection, full of forgeries. I have some here'. Within a short time he was proved right. The diaries were quickly shown by tests carried out on the ink   and paper by the German Federal Archives in Cologne to be postwar products. Their author, Konrad Kujau, was eventually sent to prison for his offence.23
2.4.7 Irving is accustomed to portray his role in this affair as evidence of his unrivalled expertise on of the original source material for Hitler and the ''Third Reich''. Thus while eminent academics had authenticated them, he proved his superior knowledge of the original documents by recognising them for what they were - a crude fake. In fact, however, one of the reasons why the forgery got as far as being printed as authentic in the national press was the fact that eminent academics had not been allowed near them. Those who had, like the American historian Gerhard Weinberg and the Stuttgart expert on Hitler, Eberhard Jäckel, expressed grave suspicions almost from the very start. Even Hugh Trevor-Roper had changed his mind about them immediately after he had sent off his article to the Sunday Times authenticating them, and had used the Stern press conference, much to the discomfiture of the organizers, to give voice to his new-found scepticism.24
2.4.8 Moreover, what Irving fails to mention is that a couple of days after the press conference, he changed his mind. According to Robert Harris, he did this because he was uncomfortable at being aligned with majority, respectable historical opinion, because he was impressed by the sheer size of the diaries - sixty volumes - which seemed almost beyond the capacity of any one individual to forge, and because having finally seen the diaries for himself, they looked more convincing than he had expected. 'Finally', adds Harris, 'there was the fact that the diaries did not contain any evidence to suggest that Hitler was aware of the Holocaust.' Indeed, all the way through, they seemed to give a favourable impression of Hitler. Whereas most historians held Hitler responsible for the antisemitic pogrom of the 'Reichkristallnacht' in   November 1938, the diaries showed him ordering a stop to it as soon as he found out about it. Whereas most historians thought the flight of Rudolf Hess to Scotland in 1941 the act of a madman, the diaries revealed him to have been acting on Hitler's orders in pursuit of a genuine peace mission. On point after point, the diaries seemed to endorse Irving's rose-coloured view of the 'Führer'.25 Soon he was on the front page of The Times declaring his belief in their authenticity. When forensic tests shortly afterwards revealed them definitively as fakes, Irving issued a statement accepting the finding but drawing attention to the fact that he had been the first person to unmask them as forged. 'Yes', said a reporter from The Times when this was read out to him, 'and the last person to declare them authentic.'26
2.4.9 What the affair of the 'Hitler diaries' actually suggests, therefore, is not Irving's skill in unmasking forged Nazi documents, his unrivalled knowledge of the source materials for the history of the ''Third Reich'', or his mastery of the most rigorous techniques of historical source-criticism, but his complete lack of any scruple when it comes to evaluating and making use of historical documents for the arguments he wants to put forward. If an obvious forgery like the 'Hitler diaries' gives credence to his views, he will use it. This Report will detail other, less spectacular but no less telling examples of this unscrupulousness below. Irving will use any argument, no matter how flimsy, to try and discredit genuine source material if it runs counter to his arguments. And if he cannot dismiss it, then he will manipulate it to the point of falsification, or suppress or ignore it altogether. Often he will attempt to disguise what he is doing by rendering his footnote references opaque rather than transparent, flouting one of the most basic requirements of historical scholarship in the process. These arguments will be substantiated at length in the course of this Report.

Notes

21. The historical issues concerning the Nazi extermination of the Jews are dealt with in separate Reports by the expert witnesses Professor Browning, Dr. Longerich and Professor Van Pelt.
22. lrving, 'On Contemporary History and Historiography. Remarks Delivered at the 1983 International Revisionist Conference', The Journal of Historical Review, Vo. 5, Nos. 2, 3, 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 255-6.
23. Robert Harris, Selling Hitler. The Story of the Hitler Diaries (London, 1986), pp. 319-26.
24. See the account in ibid.. Jäckel had earlier accepted some other forgeries from the same collection as genuine; his discovery that they were not was what led to his doubts about the diaries. Irving himself purchased some 800 pages of Hitler documents from the same forger in October 1982 and was on the verge of selling them to Macmillan the publisher when he began to have doubts (Audiocassette 75, side 1, 300-370).
25. Harris, Selling Hitler pp. 339, 344.
26. Ibid., p.359.
Popups by overLIB
<< 2.3 Professional historia...2.6 Conclusion >>

http://www.hdot.org/ar/trial/defense/evans/240/view/print
accessed 11 March 2013