Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment: Electronic Edition, by Charles GrayTable of Contents
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Irving's response: Hitler's knowledge of and complicity in the gassing programme
6.133 Turning to the issue of Hitler's knowledge of and complicity in the gassing programme, Irving argued that there is no evidence that Hitler was personally involved in the decision to transfer the gas vans which had been used in connection with the euthanasia programme to the East to assist in liquidating Jews there. Longerich replied that Hitler was intimately involved with the euthanasia programme, so it is logical to assume that he would have been similarly involved in the transfer of the equipment and personnel to the eastern front once the euthanasia programme was halted. The documents show that the Fuhrerkanzlerei was involved in the transfer and the Chancellery reported to Hitler.
6.134 Irving argued that, at least until October 1943, it remained Hitler's preferred solution to the Jewish problem that the Jews should ultimately be deported but not until the war was over. Whilst he accepted that, at least in general terms, Hitler was aware that Jews were being shot in large numbers by the Einsatzgruppen, he contended that the evidence does not establish Hitler's involvement in or his knowledge of Operation Reinhard, that is, the operation involving the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews in gas chambers at the Reinhard death camps. Irving's stance was that, whilst Hitler had no excuse for not knowing about the extermination programme from October 1943 onwards, the documents are unhelpful as to his state of knowledge over the previous 18 months or so. In this context Irving again emphasised that there is no "Hitler Befehl" (Hitler order). The eminent German historian Hilfberg originally claimed that there had been but in later editions he took out all references to there having been such an order. Irving criticised Browning's claim that Hitler gave signals and set expectations as "frightfully vague". But he did recognise that, if Hitler had been informed of the killings prior to October 1943, he would have raised no objection.
6.135 As to the Wannsee conference, said Irving, Hitler was not present and there is no evidence that he was apprised of the discussions which there took place. Heydrich's claim to have the authority of Hitler was either pro forma or a false claim designed to provide reassurance to those present.
6.136 Irving underlined the fact that from 1938 right through to 24 July 1942, as evidenced by his Table Talk for that day, Hitler continued to talk of the Madagascar plan. Browning agreed that until about 1940 that was a concrete plan on which the Nazis people were working which they might have attempted to implement but he asserted that after 1940 it became an anti-semitic fantasy. Irving maintained that Hitler's preferred solution to the Jewish question was deportation and not genocide.
6.137 Irving accepted that SS General Wolff, one of whose roles was to act as a conduit between Himmler and Hitler, would have told Hitler about the transports of Jews to the death camps. But he relied on the post-war recollection of Wolff (dismissed by Longerich as self-serving) that he was certain that Hitler did not know what was going on. Irving produced an extract made in manuscript from a document contained in the Munich archive in which Wolff is recorded as having said in 1952 that only 70 odd people ranging from Himmler to Hess (whose association went back to the 1920s) were involved in the extermination of the Jews. When the complete document was obtained, it became apparent that Wolff had said that "probably" (wohl) only those 70 had been involved. Wolff is also recorded as having said that Bormann and Himmler were the real culprits; they had taken the view that the Jewish problem had to be dealt with without Hitler "getting his fingers dirty". Himmler is said by Wolff to have taken the whole burden on his own shoulders for the sake of the German people and their Fuhrer. Irving relied heavily on this document, emanating from someone close to both Himmler and Hitler, as convincing evidence that Hitler was not implicated in or even aware of the killing in the death camps.
6.138 Dealing with the Wolff document, Longerich described it as "interesting" in that it refers to millions of Jews having been killed and to "the gassing idea" probably having emerged when an epidemic broke out. He observed parenthetically that in his translation Irving translated Ausrottung as "extermination". But Longerich was distinctly unimpressed by the record of the interview as a whole: Wolff was plainly concerned to distance himself from the events of the Holocaust. Unless he placed on record his denial that Hitler had any knowledge of the murders, it might be inferred, since he was the conduit between Himmler and Hitler, that he was himself implicated. Moreoever Wolff was and remained an admirer of Hitler anxious to portray him in the best light. Longerich was unable to accept that Himmler was acting unilaterally, not least because he had himself referred to the burden of carrying out this very hard order placed on his shoulders by Hitler, when writing to Berger on 28 July 1942. In any event Longerich considered that the figure of seventy for those involved in the "ghastly secret" was too low. Wolff in the interview himself described Himmler as subservient. Longerich observed that this description ill accorded with the notion that Himmler was acting on his own initiative. The interview of Wolff is in his opinion worth little and should be discounted.
6.139 Irving rejected the criticism levelled at him that, in his use of Wolff's recollections, he picked that part which fitted with his thesis about Hitler's ignorance about the mass extermination policy and ignored or suppressed the rest, in particular Wolff's references to gassing and to millions of Jews having been murdered. Irving surmised that Wolff referred to the gassing idea because he had read about it in the newspapers since the war.
6.140 Irving argued that, whilst there may be documents which at least arguably incriminate Himmler, they do not implicate Hitler. Moreover he argued that, when Himmler stated on 28 July 1942 that Hitler had placed on his shoulders the implementation of this very difficult order, what he meant was that Hitler had left it entirely to Himmler to decide by what means to empty the Ostland of Jews. In other words Hitler was not involved. Similarly Irving relied on Himmler's remark of 4 October 1943 that "we do not talk about this between ourselves" as indicating that the exterminations were kept from Hitler. Irving notes that in his speech on 6 October 1942 Himmler claims that it was he, rather than Hitler, who took the decision to extend the shooting to women and children.
6.141 Irving rejected Longerich's claim that it is inconceivable that Himmler did not discuss with Hitler the extermination of Jews by gassing. He dismissed that claim as mere speculation based on little more than the fact that they met and spoke regularly. At the time there were many other more pressing matters to attend to. Longerich answered that it is absurd to argue, as does Irving, that Himmler could have carried out the vast, expensive and logistically complex enterprise behind Hitler's back. Browning likewise argued that, from his understanding of the relationship between the two of them, Himmler was not a man to act without the authority of the Fuhrer. Both Browning and Longerich contend that it was a Hitler order which initiated the executions, which were carried out with the full knowledge and approval of Hitler.
6.142 Irving pointed to the absence from Gauleiter Greiser's letter to Himmler of 1 May 1942, concerning the "special treatment" of 100,0000 Jews in his area, of any reference to Hitler having authorised their being killed. The letter talks entirely of authority having been given by Himmler and Heydrich. Greiser, argued Iriving, would have wanted to be sure that Hitler approved the "special action". Longerich agrees that there is no reference to Hitler having given such authority but claims that it is clear that Greiser was only too keen to conduct the operation and did not feel any need for Hitler's go-ahead.
6.143 Irving referred to the evidence given at Nuremburg by Frank, General Governor of the General Government, who recalled having asked Hitler on 2 July 1944 about rumours of Jews being exterminated. According to Frank, Hitler in reply acknowledged that executions were going on but apart from that claimed to know nothing. When Frank persisted, Hitler suggested Frank should ask Himmler.
6.144 In answer to the criticism made of him that he omitted to mention that Frau Schroeder had written to the journalist Gita Sereny that Hitler knew what was being done about the Jewish question by virtue of his private conversations with Himmler, Irving testified in the course of the present trial on 21 February 2000 that he had not done so because Ms Sereny had produced no record or notes or anything of any such interview, so he had concluded that she was making the whole thing up. It was then put to him that in a parallel action he had written to solicitors acting for Ms Sereny seeking specific disclosure of notes of that and other interviews. In reply their dated 10 February 2000 Ms Sereny's solicitors had informed Irving that there were no notes because Frau Schroeder had imparted her information about Hitler by means of a letter which had already been disclosed. The solicitors gave Irving the disclosure number. Irving repudiated the suggestion put to him later that his early answer on 21 February had to his knowledge been false. He claimed that he had not had time to look out the letter to which Ms Sereny's solicitors had referred him. He refused to withdraw the allegation that Ms Sereny had made the whole thing up.
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