Irving v. Lipstadt
David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. EvansTable of Contents
|<< 2.4 Documents and sources||< 2.1 Publishing career||2.6 Conclusion >|
2.5.1 'You may not like my judgments', Irving told an interviewer in 1977; 'My judgments may sometimes be wrong. But, by jove, I've got my facts right.' But on occasion he has at least seemed to take a different line. In 1983 he said: 'They aren't lies, what I publish: they are true, at any rate the truth as I perceive it...Even the most erudite and hard-working historian is never going to obtain one hundred percent truth; he is only going to approximate it....'27During the 1990s, Irving has described himself as waging an 'International Campaign for Real History'. 'My version of Real History', he conceded in 1992, '...may be wrong History!' - and he continued:
I am not so arrogant as to say "thou shalt have no other version of history but mine."...Nobody has the right to stand up and say, only my version of history is right: all other versions are wrong: and nobody has the right to propagate alternative versions....And that's what I say about my book Hitler's War; it may be right, it may be wrong! But is certainly a magisterial work...a book which makes my rivals livid with envy and rage...(It) is not what you would call revisionist history at all, it is a staid, stable, traditional look at history with magnificent photographs...28
2.5.2 Irving is not portraying himself as one professional historian amongst many; he is saying that he is actually better than the professionals, because his research is more thorough than theirs. He does not really believe that he is wrong, because he does not really think that other historians can come up with evidence that will make him change his mind. 'I like seeing the other historians with egg on their face', he has said.29
2.5.3 Irving has said on so many occasions that his aim to discover the objective truth in history, he has discovered it, and the professional historians have not done so, that his concession that he may be wrong cannot be taken seriously, unless it is taken to apply only to matters of detail. Asked in 1993 whether he was a partisan historian, he replied:
Every historian has to be selective; If I write a biography about Adolf Hitler, then the archives have got about ten tons of documents on Adolf Hitler, and you have to select which documents you present. And if you're a Jewish historian, you present the facts one way, because they have an agenda to present. I don't have any kind of political agenda, and really, it's rather defamatory for people to suggest that I do have an agenda. The agenda I have, I suppose, is, all right, I admit it, I like seeing the other historians with egg on their face. And they're getting a lot of egg on their face now, because I'm challenging them to produce the evidence for what they've been saying for fifty years.30
2.5.4 Irving does not appear to believe that other historians can rise to this challenge. Rather, he believes that there is an international campaign orchestrated by the 'Jewish community' ('our traditional enemies') in many countries to stop him from speaking and selling his books because he writes and talks about 'Real History' based on the sources, while they purvey lies and falsehoods about the 'Holocaust', about Hitler, and about other topics in the history of the Second World War. These lies can only be defended against Real History by underhand methods, suppression and censorship, because they cannot be defended by normal historical procedures such as reference to the original sources; because, in other words, they are not 'Real History' but false history.
2.5.5 Irving's main emphasis, despite the occasional concession that he might get some things wrong, has repeatedly and consistently been on his factual accuracy. He presents himself as almost obsessive in his pursuit of the real facts. 'My duty as an historian', he told the Munich court which rejected his appeal against conviction for denying the Holocaust on 5 May 1992, 'is to establish the truth.'31 'Our traditional enemies refuse to debate me', he told an audience in Canada on 1 November 1992; 'they can't debate me.' 'Around the world my traditional enemies have decided to use every means of terror, vandalism and vilification to smear my name and to prevent my books from being published and above all, to prevent me from getting television or radio or newspaper space.' Describing his continuing 'International Campaign for Real History', he went on:Irving actually is saying that in crucial respects all other versions of the history of the Second World War apart from his own are wrong, because they are not based on 'what we find in the archives'. Only 'Real History' is correct.
It is the word real that frightens my opponents, because they have got away with it now for the last fifty years, with their Madison-avenue, their Hollywood versions of history, their television versions of history. Real history is what we find in the archives, and it frightens my opponents because it takes the planks out from beneath their feet.32
2.5.6 The status of a reputable historian, Irving argues, is earned as much by acclaim or accolade as by academic degree. He claims that he himself has earned the right to be recognized as a reputable historian by the many plaudits he has received from eminent academic practitioners of the trade such as the late Professor Sir Harry Hinsley, of Cambridge University, author of the official history of British Intelligence in the Second World War, from Professor Gordon A. Craig, of Stanford University, California, author of the Oxford History of Modern Germany, and many others. The headed notepaper of Irving's publishing house ('History in the Making: Focal Point') indeed has in recent times carried a standard quotation from Professor Craig to illustrate this point ('Such people as David Irving have an indispensable part in the historical enterprise, and we dare not disregard their views', Professor Gordon A. Craig, The New York Review of Books, September 19, 1996). A similar quotation from Professor Hans Mommsen, an eminent German historian, heads Irving's website. Irving underlines his claim to reputable status by citing a 'secret report' on him by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 1991, acknowledging 'Irving's reputation as one of the world's most thorough researchers and an exciting and readable historian'. He cites 'scores of newspaper articles by British and international experts which treat both him and his writings with distinction'.33
2.5.7 Yet the case he makes for his high reputation amongst academic reviewers begins to crumble when subjected to close scrutiny. To get a really accurate perception of the way Irving's work has been received over the years, it is necessary to distinguish between different kinds of reviewers in the historical profession. In particular, there have been those with a general knowledge of modern German and European history, but no direct experience of researching in the subjects on which Irving has written, and no first-hand knowledge of the sources in the field in which Irving has worked; and those with a specific knowledge of the precise area of whichever of Irving's books they have been considering, or at least part of that area, or a very closely related one.
2.5.8 Those with a general knowledge have mostly been quite generous to Irving, even where they have found reason to criticise him or disagree with his views; but they have also seldom been entirely uncritical of Irving's work and his methods. Paul Addison, an expert on British history in the Second World War, heavily criticized what he saw in 1977 as Irving's tendency to approach the view 'that Churchill was as wicked as Hitler', and concluded that while Irving was 'usually a Colossus of research, he is often a schoolboy in judgment'.34 Reviewing The War Path in 1978, R. Hinton Thomas, Professor of German at Birmingham University, whose knowledge of the social and political context of twentieth-century German literature was both deep and broad, dismissed the book as 'unoriginal' and its 'claims to novelty' as 'ill-based', but could do no more than speculate about other possible meanings cited by Irving in his attempt to show that Hitler urged restraint in the pogrom of the Reichskristallnacht in 1938, commenting that 'it would be more pertinent to stress Hitler's many venomous statements about Jews over many years'.35
2.5.9 Martin Gilbert, at that time in the middle of writing his official biography of Churchill, noted that 'Irving fails, and fails lamentably', to provide convincing evidence in Hitler's War to back up his assertion that Hitler was unaware of the extermination of the Jews. 'Much of Irving's argument', he wrote, 'is based on speculation.' At the same time, he played down Hitler's antisemitic utterances and omitted key passages of this kind from his discussion of documents such as Hitler's Political Testament. Nevertheless, Gilbert concluded by describing Irving's treatment of this issue as 'a grave blemish on an otherwise scholarly work, the fruit of a decade of wide researches.'36 Similarly, the military historian Michael Howard, subsequently Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, praised the 'very considerable merits' of The War Path, and declared that Irving was 'at his best as a professional historian demanding documentary proof for popularly-held beliefs'. Howard pointed out that Irving's account of an episode such as the enforced resignation of Generals Blomberg and Fritsch before the outbreak of the Second World War was not as original as he claimed and added nothing to the story already told by other historians. 'It would be nice', he wrote, 'if Mr. Irving occasionally recognised that other men had been there before him and done a competent job of work.'37
2.5.10 Gordon A. Craig reviewed Irving's Goebbels in the New York Review of Books. He seemed at first glance full of praise for Irving's work:
Silencing Mr Irving would be a high price to pay for freedom from the annoyance that he causes us. The fact is that he knows more about National Socialism than most professional scholars in his field, and students of the years 1933-1945 owe more than they are always willing to admit to his energy as a researcher...Hitler's War...remains the best study we have of the German side of the Second World War, and, as such, indispensable for all students of that conflict...It is always difficult for the non-historian to remember that there is nothing absolute about historical truth. What we consider as such is only an estimation, based upon what the best available evidence tells us. It must constantly be tested against new information and new interpretations that appear, however implausible they may be, or it will lose its vitality and degenerate into dogma or shibboleth. Such people as David Irving, then, have an indispensable part in the historical enterprise, and we dare not disregard their views.
2.5.11 What Craig meant by this, however, was that Irving's views, which he described as 'obtuse' and 'discredited' in relation to Auschwitz, should be taken as a useful irritant, not as in any way plausible or persuasive, and he went on to quote a statement by Raul Hilberg that Holocaust deniers should not be silenced because they led people who did serious research on the subject 'to re-examine what we might have considered as obvious'.38 Craig found Irving's attempt to exonerate Hitler from responsibility for the extermination of the Jews 'unpersuasive'.39
2.5.12 Craig, however, has carried out little first-hand archival research on the history of Nazi Germany himself; and he is well known as a generous reviewer. Recently for example he was taken to task for his favourable review of a controversial book by the young political scientist Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners, a book which argued in a crude and dogmatic fashion that virtually all Germans had been murderous antisemites since the middle ages, had been longing to exterminate the Jews for decades before Hitler came to power, and actively enjoyed participating in the extermination when it began. The book has since been exposed as a tissue of misrepresentation and misinterpretation, written in shocking ignorance of the huge historical literature on the topic and making numerous elementary mistakes in its interpretation of the documents. Faced with mounting evidence of its unscholarly nature, Craig was forced to publish what amounted to a withdrawal of his first, positive reaction.40 His critical faculties were evidently equally in abeyance when he reviewed Irving's Goebbels, as this Report will demonstrate through repeated and detailed examination of the techniques Irving uses in his book.
2.5.13 Even reviewers who have praised 'the depth of Mr. Irving's research and his intelligence' have found 'too many avoidable mistakes...passages quoted without attribution and important statements not tagged to the listed sources.'41 John Charmley, a right-wing historian at the University of East Anglia, noted on page 675, note 51, of his controversial book Churchill: The End of Glory (London, 1993): 'The current author admires Mr. Irving's assiduity, energy, and courage', and says that 'Mr. Irving's sources, unlike the conclusions which he draws from them, are usually sound', but also notes: 'Mr. Irving is cited only when his sources have been checked and found reliable.' The journalist Patrick Cosgrave, reviewing The War Path, was typical of the more intelligent commentators in this respect. While praising Irving's hard work, and acknowledging a 'considerable debt' owed to him 'for the hidden, lost, and missing records of Nazi Germany that he has unearthed by his patient and eager courtship of many of the surviving servants of the Reich or their descendants', Cosgrave considered that he had an 'uncritical attitude to his own documentation' and went on:
Mr. Irving is ready and willing to change the rules governing his use of evidence any time it suits him; and when one of his characters (and Hitler in particular) does something which even Mr Irving finds reprehensible his whole position in the story is adjusted to shift responsibility. When, on the other hand, he is doing something Mr Irving is prepared openly to approve of, his central responsibility is fully, and even extravagantly, stated.
2.5.14 Thus as A. J. P. Taylor had pointed out, Irving considered that Churchill could be proven guilty of murdering General Sikorski even though there was no direct documentary evidence of an order from him to do so, but he simultaneously insisted that Hitler was not guilty of murdering the Jews because no single document in which he signed an order to do so could be found.42
2.5.15 Historians with first-hand research experience and expertise in Irving's field have been more critical still, even where they have agreed with some of what he has been trying to argue. An early, prominent instance of criticism from such a quarter came with Hugh Trevor-Roper's review of Hitler's War in 1977. Trevor-Roper, originally a specialist in seventeenth-century English history, had worked in British Intelligence during the war and had been charged with heading an official mission to find out the true facts about the death of Hitler. The result of his researches, published in 1947 as The Last Days of Hitler, immediately established him as a leading authority on Nazi Germany. Over the coming years, despite his limited speaking knowledge of German and his relative lack of familiarity with manuscript sources, Trevor-Roper, appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford in 1956, continued to write on Hitler and Nazism, and his view that the German dictator was not, as was often supposed, merely interested in power for its own sake, but was driven by strong ideological convictions, has stood the test of time.
2.5.16 Reviewing Hitler's War, Trevor-Roper paid the by now customary tribute to Irving's ingenuity and persistence as a researcher. 'No praise', he wrote, 'can be too high for his indefatigable scholarly industry.' But this was immediately followed by devastating criticism of Irving's method. Trevor-Roper continued:Trevor-Roper made it clear he found Irving's method and judgment unsound.
When a historian relies mainly on primary sources, which we cannot easily check, he challenges our confidence and forces us to ask critical questions. How reliable is his historical method? How sound is his judgment? We ask these questions particularly of any man who, like Mr. Irving, makes a virtue - almost a profession - of using arcane sources to affront established opinions.
2.5.17 To begin with, he took exception to Irving's claim that Hitler never attempted or condoned the assassination of foreign opponents while the democracies did. What, Trevor-Roper asked, of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss, who many argued had been murdered by Hitler's personal bodyguard unit, the SS, in 1934, or 'the Danish pastor Kaj Munk, whose "assassination" is directly ascribed to Hitler later in this book?' Moreover, Irving's claim that the democracies had no hesitation about killing their foreign opponents rested, it seemed to Trevor-Roper, on the killing of Admiral Darlan by a young Frenchman with no known connections to foreign governments, the poisoning by persons unknown of King Boris of Bulgaria, and the supposed murder of General Sikorski on the orders of Winston Churchill. As Trevor-Roper pointed out:
Not a shred of evidence or probability has ever been produced for this theory, and when it was tested in the courts, Mr. Irving's only "evidence" (which was very indirect at best) was shown to be a clumsy misreading of a manuscript diary (I have myself seen the diary and feel justified in using the word "clumsy"). And yet here is this stale and exploded libel trotted out again, as if it were an accepted truth, in order to support a questionable generalisation. I have dwelt on this trivial detail because at once it puts us on our guard. In all the rest of his book Mr. Irving may be an exact and scrupulous historian. He may read his manuscript diaries correctly. But we can never be quite sure, and when he is most original, we are likely to be least sure.
2.5.18 After casting doubt on the quality of Irving's scholarship, Trevor-Roper declared that Irving's portrait of Hitler was in most respects far less original than he seemed to think, and in the area where it really was original, namely its denial of Hitler's knowledge of or responsibility for the extermination of the Jews, it was extremely implausible.
2.5.19 He pointed out that Irving omitted key passages from extracts he quoted from the Goebbels diary, and that the Himmler phone log for 30 November 1941, which Irving mentioned four times in the book, clearly referred not, as Irving claimed, to the 'liquidation' of the Jews in general, but only to a particular trainload of Jews from Berlin. 'Generally speaking', Trevor-Roper remarked, 'one does not veto an action unless one thinks that it is otherwise likely to occur.' He went on:Thus Irving's claim to be a scrupulous and objective historian was, in Trevor-Roper's view, entirely false.43
Mr. Irving's argument about the Jews typifies his greatest weakness as a historian. Here, as in the Sikorski affair, he seizes on a small and dubious particle of "evidence"; builds upon it, by private interpretation, a large general conclusion; and then overlooks or re-interprets the more substantial evidence and probability against it. Since this defective method is invariably used to excuse Hitler or the Nazis and to damage their opponents, we may reasonably speak of a consistent bias, unconsciously distorting the evidence.
2.5.20 The same view was taken by Martin Broszat, Director of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History) in Munich and one of the world's leading historians of Nazi Germany. Broszat began his critique of Hitler's War by criticizing Irving's much-vaunted list of archival discoveries. The evidence Irving had gathered from Hitler's entourage might provide more exact detail of what went on at Hitler's wartime headquarters, he wrote, and it might convey something of the atmosphere of the place, but it did little to enlarge our knowledge of the important military and political decisions which Hitler took, and so did not live up to the claims Irving made for it.44 Broszat went into considerable detail about the documentary evidence presented by Irving in his book. He pointed out, like Trevor-Roper, that Irving misrepresented a specific ban ordered by Himmler on the execution of a particular trainload of Jewish deportees on 30 November 1941 as a general ban on all such executions, and that Irving's idea that he had done this after talking to Hitler was thoroughly questionable.45 He went on to show how Irving failed to quote a passage in the Goebbels Diary referring to Hitler's championing of a radical 'solution' in the 'life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus', and indeed in the manner of quoting and commenting on the rest of the passage turned it into the opposite of what it said.46 He pointed out that there was plenty of evidence that people in Hitler's circle knew of the extermination of the Jews, and he described Irving's claim to the contrary as 'fantastic'.47 Irving's double standards in dealing with evidence were particularly clear in his extensive use of the postwar statements of Hitler's entourage while at the same time failing to use, or dismissing as worthless, the postwar statements of the people who actually participated in the killing of the Jews.48 Indeed, Broszat continued, 'Irving does not shrink from manipulating documents' in the service of making his thesis seem plausible.49 Thus for example he relegated to a footnote statements made by Hitler to the Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy, set them in a misleading context, and reversed their chronology, in order to draw away attention from the fact that Hitler here was personally and openly stating that large numbers of Jews would be shot.50 All these detailed points of criticism will be taken up and expanded below. The point here is that already in 1977, Irving's work was clearly recognized by a leading authority on Nazi Germany as biased, factually incorrect and based on the manipulation and falsification of the documentary evidence.
2.5.21 In 1978, Irving's work was reviewed by the diplomatic historian D. C. Watt, subsequently Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, and later author of an exhaustively documented study of the outbreak of World War II in Europe, How War Came. Watt praised Irving's 'uncanny gift for ferreting out new sources of evidence, and the assiduity with which he has mined the vast collection of captured documents before which lesser mortals quailed'. A real specialist on the history of German foreign policy in the 1930s, who had himself brought out and added a commentary to an English translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf, Watt also criticised Irving because, he wrote, 'by avoiding the work of other historians, he has missed any indication that there are questions that need answering'. He went on to list the most important of these in the following three paragraphs of his review before criticising Irving for concentrating on 'inconsequentials' and concluding that The War Path gave no more than 'a readable rehash of what is generally known'.51
2.5.22 Reviewing the same book in 1978, another historian with a good knowledge of the diplomatic sources for the 1930s, the Oxford don A. J. P. Taylor, praised Irving's 'unrivalled industry' in research and his 'good scholarship', but dismissed his documentary discoveries as adding little to what was already known. Moreover, Taylor noted severely, 'A scholar who condemns the inaccuracies of others should be accurate himself', and Irving wasn't: Taylor had space to note three errors of fact in The War Path and also criticized the vagueness of one of his footnote references and the misleading impression given of Germany in the last days of the war in a passage in which, he commented caustically, Irving 'abandons his researches and goes in for fine writing'.52 Historians with a first-hand knowledge of the sources for the diplomatic history of the 1930s therefore found much to criticise in The War Path.
2.5.23. When specialists with a first-hand knowledge of the sources for the history of the Second World War came to consider the 1977 edition of Hitler's War, they found far more to criticise. Most critical of all was the American Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. who at the time of writing his review had just completed a lengthy study of Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945, published by Princeton University Press. Sydnor's thirty-page demolition of Irving's book deserves lengthy consideration because it is one of the few reviews of any of Irving's books for which the reviewer has manifestly undertaken a substantial amount of original research.53 Sydnor described Irving's dismissal of other historians' work and his claims to originality, mastery of the sources and exposure of forgeries and frauds accepted by his predecessors as nonsense:
To assume, as Mr. Irving does, that the most important books of Hitler scholarship consist only of the biographies, and that the best works of historical literature related to Hitler, which he anonymously dismisses, were not worth consulting, is - to put it generously - naively amateurish. By seeking to discredit the literature, Mr. Irving evidently excused himself from a good deal of reading, and thus from any confrontation with inconvenient facts contradictory to his thesis. This appears to make the revisionist task easier, but at the same time has led Mr. Irving into a series of egregious errors and has demonstrated either his ignorance or his disregard of basic aspects of Hitler's role in German history.54
2.5.24 Starting with his own field of expertise, Sydnor noted that Irving 'seriously misrepresents the origin, nature, and scope of the SS role in Poland in the autumn of 1939' on pages 12-14 of Hitler's War. To give an indication of the seriousness of Sydnor's criticisms it is worth quoting them at some length:
Hitler, not Himmler and Heydrich, initiated the campaign of terror and mass murder in Poland, as is clear from the records of Hitler's Berghof speech to his assembled generals on August 22, 1939. The Einsatzgruppen used in Poland did not later run the extermination camps in the east (p.12), but conducted mobile killing operations in Russia. There were in fact two separate categories of Einsatzgruppen in Poland in 1939, neither of which was subordinated directly to the Army generals, and neither of which was commanded by SS General Udo von Woyrsch, who directed only a single Einsatzgruppe (p.13). One group, consisting of three SD Einsatzgruppen and two SS Death's Head Regiments, was subordinated to Heydrich as Chief of the Security Police and the SD, while the other, composed of the SS Death's Head Regiment "Brandenburg" and SD Einsatzgruppe III, operated under the command of Theodor Eicke, the prewar head of the SS concentration camp system. Significantly, Eicke issued orders to his units via SS General Günther Pancke from aboard Hitler's headquarters train "Amerika" throughout the Polish campaign. In addition, there were at least six thousand SS soldiers and SD and police personnel active in Poland instead of Mr. Irving's "hundred officials in Waffen SS uniform" attached to each corps (There was no "Waffen SS uniform" during the Polish campaign, since there was no Waffen SS.) Their primary functions were not intelligence gathering, seizure of documents, and counterinsurgency operations (p. 13), but the liquidation of Polish poitical leaders, intellectuals, professionals, priests, and Jews; and their major killing operations did not begin in October as a result of the British rejection of Hitler's peace offer (pp. 14, 37-38, 70), but were well advanced by the end of September, as the records of one such Einsatzgruppe clearly indicate.55
2.5.25 Sydnor went on to identify numerous other 'gaffes' in Irving's book. These ranged from Irving's misidentification of the early nineteenth-century Tyrolean peasant leader Andreas Hofer as a German nationalist shot by the French in the Ruhr in 1923 (p. 315) and his misdescription of the Nazi film Kolberg as dealing with the Seven Years' War (p. 764: in fact, it dealt with the Napoleonic War) to his mistaken assumption that the death camp at Treblinka was already operating in March, 1942 (p. 392) and his 'undocumented assertion' that the surviving Jews in the Warsaw ghetto prepared their uprising in 1943 with weapons sold to them by Hitler's allies as they fled westward through the city (p.509: in fact, Sydnor pointed out, there was no evidence that anyone was fleeing through Warsaw at this time, nor that the resistance movement in the Ghetto ever obtained arms directly from any of Hitler's allies).56
2.5.26 Sydnor identified many other minor errors in Irving's work. But, he went on: 'Inaccuracy becomes distortion in Mr. Irving's handling of Hitler's basic racial and ideological objectives.' Thus, wrote Sydnor, Irving's narrative presentation of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941 as a 'preventive' war launched as a response to Stalin's aggressive plans against the West, involved a 'twisting of the facts' only possible on the basis of ignorance of the exhaustively documented scholarly literature on the subject. Irving's account of the Wannsee Conference, wrote Sydnor, was 'brief, incomplete and wholly misleading', omitting key passages from the relevant documentation and drastically underplaying its importance.57
2.5.27 Sydnor went on: 'The most disturbing technique Mr. Irving employs in the effort to exculpate Hitler is the mistranslation of the German language to misrepresent the meaning of Nazi terminology for the destruction of the European Jews.' For example, Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Eastern Occupied Territories, noted that in a conversation with Hitler on 14 December, 1941, that 'I would stand on the standpoint, not to speak of the extermination of Jewry'. Hitler, he reported, agreed with this, adding that the Jews had caused the war and so it was not surprising that they would suffer the consequences. Irving leaves out the later part of the report, relegates the first part to a footnote, and translates the key phrase as 'I took the view that I shouldn't mention the stamping out of Judaism.' This is not an accurate translation of the original German, as Sydnor pointed out. In the sentence Ich stände auf dem Standpunkt von der Ausrottung des Judentums nicht zu sprechen, the word Ausrottung means extermination, and Judentum means the Jewish race. Sydnor noted that when the terms Ausrottung and ausrotten were used by people other than Hitler, such as Himmler's adjutant Rudolf Brandt and indeed Himmler himself (on pages 867 and 575-6 of the book), Irving translates them without equivocation as 'extermination' and 'exterminate'. 58
2.5.28 Sydnor went on to make some devastating criticisms of Irving's use of contemporary witnesses. He pointed out that (for example) Karl Wolff, chief of Himmler's personal staff and liaison officer at Hitler's headquarters, who Irving said had told him that Himmler conducted the "Final Solution" without Hitler's knowledge and that he himself had been ignorant of the killings, had been exposed as a liar when evidence emerged of visits he paid to Auschwitz and Lublin in Summer 1942 and of a letter he had received in April 1942 describing the killing of Serbian Jews in mobile gas vans.59 Similar evidence from Heydrich's successor as head of the Security Service, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, was equally tainted and equally implausible. As for Heydrich himself, Sydnor demonstrated in a lengthy demolition of Irving's account of the circumstances surrounding his assassination that almost everything that Irving wrote on the subject was demonstrably wrong as well as being completely undocumented. Moreover, Irving omitted to mention in his account that Hitler himself had ordered first ten thousand Czechs to be executed as a reprisal for the assassination, then the obliteration of the village of Lidice, which Irving presented without any evidence as having harboured the assassins.60
2.5.29 When Irving reached the conspiracy to kill Hitler which culminated in the Bomb Plot of 20 July 1944, Sydnor remarks that 'the further one perseveres into the account, the more difficult it becomes to disentangle what Hitler said about the conspirators from how Mr. Irving feels about them.' Irving relied uncritically on Gestapo descriptions of the conspirators and invents incidents which demonstrably never happened, notably the champagne party at the conspirator General Olbricht's house after the conspirators thought their plot had succeeded, when the General was known to have been elsewhere.61 In his efforts to present Hitler in a humane light, Irving, wrote Sydnor, manipulated sources, invented incidents (such as Hitler's supposed rebuke of the judge at the conspirators' trial, Roland Freisler) and once more, as so often, failed to give proper documentary references. 'The technique of excising damning statements and relying uncritically on dubious sources and witnesses', concluded Sydnor, 'deepens the impression that an inflexible bias is the shaky foundation of Mr. Irving's revisionist edifice.'62 This extended in particular to his presentation of Hitler's Political Testament, whose virulent antisemitism he delberately minimized. And Irving's description of Hitler's final days followed the first edition of H. R. Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler so closely, paragraph for paragraph, that he even repeated minor mistakes which Trevor-Roper corrected in later editions of his book, although he never cited Trevor-Roper in his notes, only the sources which Trevor-Roper had used, thus giving the unwary reader the impression he had done the research himself.63 In this respect, as in others, Sydnor considered Irving's boast to have outdone all other Hitler scholars in the depth and thoroughness of his research to be 'pretentious twaddle'.64
2.5.30 Peter Hoffmann, the world's leading authority on the conservative resistance to Hitler and the individuals and groups behind the bomb plot of 20 July, 1944, and a profound student of the German archival record of the wartime years, was strongly critical of Irving's biography of Hermann Göring:
Mr. Irving's constant references to archives, diaries and letters, and the overwhelming amount of detail in his work, suggest objectivity. In fact they put up a screen behind which a very different agenda is transacted....Mr. Irving is a great obfuscator....Distortions affect every important aspect of this book to the point of obfuscation...It is unfortunate that Mr. Irving wastes his extraordinary talents as a researcher and writer on trivializing the greatest crimes in German history, on manipulating historical sources and on highlighting the theatrics of the Nazi era.
2.5.31 Hoffmann commented that while the 1977 edition of Hitler's War had 'usefully provoked historians by raising the question of the smoking gun: whether an order could be found from Hitler to perpetrate a holocaust against the Jews', twenty-two years on, so much research had been carried out in this area by historians that although he repeated it in Göring, 'it is no longer possible to regard Mr. Irving's thesis as a useful provocation'. Irving, he charged, misrepresented the course of events and misinterpreted key documents.65
2.5.32 Similarly, John Lukács, an American historian who has written extensively on the Second World War, declared in 1981 with respect to The War Between the Generals:
Mr Irving's factual errors are beyond belief. He says that "forty percent of the prisoners in southern France turned out to be Russians who had volunteered to fight for Germany against Stalin." Mr Irving writes of the ""famous tank country of Lower Saxony" (there is no such thing), and that in April 1945 "the German resistance was becoming increasingly determined" (at a time when the Germans had begun to surrender in droves). He writes that the Battle of Verdun "annihilated hundreds of thousands of both British, French and German youth. An eighteen-year-old Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler was wounded there." There were no British troops at Verdun. Adolf Hitler never fought at Verdun. In 1916 he was 27, not 18...Mr Irving's methods are not merely bad; they are abominable.66
2.5.33 Lukács has recently renewed his criticisms of Irving in a general survey of historical writings on Hitler. Here he noted that Irving had gathered a 'daunting quantity of papers' and met 'many survivors of the 'Third Reich''s hierarchy, especially men and women of Hitler's close circle, particularly those who were sympathetic to Irving's views.'67 'Few reviewers and critics of Irving's books', Lukacs complained, not without some justification, 'have bothered to examine them carefully enough. Had they done so, they would have found that many of Irving's references and quotations are not verifiable.'
2.5.34 Thus Hitler's War contained 'many errors in names and dates; more important, unverifiable and unconvincing assertions abound'. There are references to archives 'without dates, places, or file or page numbers'. 'Many of the archival references in Irving's footnotes...were inaccurate and did not prove or even refer to the pertinent statements in Irving's text.' Lukács found many instances of Irving's 'manipulations, attributing at least false meanings to some documents or, in other instances, printing references to irrelevant ones'. Often 'a single document, or fragment of a document, was enough for Irving to build a very questionable thesis on its contents or on the lack of such'. 'While some of Irving's "finds" cannot be disregarded,' Lukács went on, 'their interpretation...is, more often than not, compromised and even badly flawed.' He convicted Irving of 'frequent "twisting" of documentary sources' and urged 'considerable caution' in their use by other historians.68
2.5.35 Similar conclusions were reached by Professor David Cannadine, currently Director of the Institute of Historical Research at London University, when he came to consider the first (and so far, the only) volume of Irving's book on Churchill. In putting what Cannadine describes as the case for the prosecution, Irving, he notes, consistently applies 'an evidential double standard, demanding absolute documentary proof to convict the Germans (as when he sought to show that Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust), while relying on circumstantial evidence to condemn the British (as in his account of the Allied bombing of Dresden)...Every Churchillian fault and failure...is magnified one thousand fold, while every virtue and victory is disregarded, disparaged or only grudgingly admitted.'69 As a result of Irving's extremely antagonistic account of Churchill, Cannadine notes, the publishers to whom the book was contracted (Michael Joseph in London and Doubelday in New York) turned the manuscript down and it had to be published by an unknown Australian company. 'It has received almost no attention from historians or reviewers', and, Cannadine adds, 'It is easy to see why'.
2.5.36 According to Cannadine, Irving portrays Churchill in this book as drunken, embittered, spiteful, excessively belligerent, bent on personal advancement, and the tool of a corrupt syndicate of mainly Jewish financiers. He deliberately provoked Hitler into bombing London and willfully rejected Hitler's peace overtures. All of this, and much more, Cannadine charges, is 'based on ignorance, overstatement and quite inadequate evidence'. Irving's method is full of 'excesses, inconsistencies and omissions'. Even Irving admits that the sources he relies on are 'sparse', 'scurrilous' and 'should be treated with the reserve that all clandestine writings merit'. Many of them are drawn from the archives of 'Churchill's defeatist and disappointed critics'. Irving, says Cannadine, 'seems completely unaware of recent work done on the subject', which is not surprising in view of the fact that, as we have seen, he refuses to read the work of other historians, dismissing them as worthless. However, Cannadine goes on,In Cannadine's judgment too, therefore, Irving is far from being the accurate and impartial historian he claims to be.
It is not merely that the arguments in this book are so perversely tendentious and irresponsibly sensationalist. It is also that it is written in a tone which is at best casually journalistic and at worst quite exceptionally offensive. The text is littered with errors from beginning to end. Churchill is given the wrong government office in 1922, Lord Willingdon's title as Viceroy of India is incorrect, and names like Montgomery-Massingberd, Lord Cranborne and Lord Cork and Orrery are consistently misspelt. De Gaulle is described as "power hungry" and "amoral", Roosevelt as "sly" and "cynical", Sinclair as "weak and loathsome", Dalton as "distasteful", and Brendan Bracken as Winston's "carrot-topped retainer". Churchill himself is depicted as a "pudgy politician", with a "swelling paunch" and "soft rolls of flesh", who "leers", "gobbles", "loafs" and "sponges". And when we are told that an official followed Churchill after he had visited Paris, "like a street cleaner after a cavalry parade", with "bucket and shovel in hand, cleaning up", we have reached the language of the gutter, not just metaphorically, but literally as well.'70
2.5.37 Another indication of the factual inaccuracy and unreliability of Irving's writings is provided by the extent to which they have landed him in trouble with the law. He was sued for libel by a retired naval officer who considered remarks about him in The Destruction of Convoy PQ 17 to be defamatory, and was forced to pay damages of £40,000, confirmed on the rejection of Irving's appeal. His allegation in the introduction to the German edition of Hitler's War that the Diary of Ann Frank was a forgery led to his publisher being forced to pay damages. In 1968 he was sued for libel by Jillian Page, author of a newspaper article about him, as a result of his allegation that the article was the result of her 'fertile brain'; Irving apologised in the High Court and paid costs as a condition of Page agreeing that the action should be withdrawn. Similarly he was also obliged to pay costs in an unsuccessful libel action against Colin Smythe, publisher of a book (The Assassination of Winston Churchill) attacking Irving's views on the death of General Sikorski.71
2.5.38 Moreover, during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Irving's books were published by a variety of mainstream publishing houses, including Penguin Books, who published the paperback edition of the early version of Hitler's War and its companion volume on the years 1933-39, The War Path, Macmillan, under whose imprint later editions of Hitler's War appeared up to about 1992; Hodder and Stoughton, who published the original hardback; HarperCollins, whose paperback imprint Grafton Books published an edition of Irving's Göring biography in 1991; and Corgi paperbacks, who produced more than one of the various editions of The Destruction of Dresden. Since the late 1980s, however, he has no longer been published by major houses, but instead has brought out all his books under his own imprint, Focal Point. 'If I write a bad book,' he said in 1986, 'or if I write two or three bad books, with boobs in it which the newspapers pick out, which I'm ashamed to admit are probably right, then of course the time comes when publishers turn their back on me.'72 This was not the reason he gave when the publishers actually did turn their backs on him a few years later. Moreover, while he had brushes with the law at various points in his career, most notably in his arrest and deportation from Austria in 1983, his difficulties in this respect have noticeably increased during the 1990s, with his conviction for Holocaust denial in Germany in 1992 and his banning from entry into that country, into Canada, and into Australia, all in 1992-93. None of this would be expected of a reputable historian, and indeed it is impossible to think of any historian of any standing at all who has been subjected to so many adverse legal judgments, or who has initiated so many libel actions himself.
2.5.39 Recently Irving has posted on his website a letter by Hans Mommsen asking him to withdraw the endorsement displayed there, an endorsement about which Mommsen evidently was not consulted and about which he knew nothing until very recently. Like other historians who have championed the 'functionalist' view of the 'Third Reich', according to which Hitler provided the ideological context and ratified, implicitly or explicitly, decisions emerging from below, but did not personally direct or individually order policies, including the extermination of the Jews, Mommsen felt a certain sympathy for Irving's views in the 1970s. Broszat too, for all his criticisms, thought that Irving had at least got away from the previous all-consuming concentration on Hitler as the begetter of everything that happened in the 'Third Reich'. On the right, a handful of German historians such as Ernst Nolte and Rainer Zitelmann, and English historians such as John Charmley, have urged that Irving's views be taken seriously, while distancing themselves from the way in which he arrived at them.73 But these are only a tiny minority, and as we have seen, even a historian like Charmley has harsh words to say about the quality of Irving's scholarship. This reflects Irving's generally low reputation amongst professional historians since the end of the 1980s, and at all times amongst those who have direct experience of researching in the areas with which he concerns himself. In an interview with the American journalist Ron Rosenbaum in the mid-1990s, indeed, Irving himself confessed that his reputation amongst historians was 'down to its uppers', though it 'hasn't yet worn through to the street.'74
27. 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), p. 253.
28. David Irving on Freedom of Speech. Speech at Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, October 28, 1992. Transcript on Irving's 'Focal Point' website.
29. Videotape 206: New Zealand television, Holmes Show, 4 June 193, at 8 mins..
30. Videotape 206: New Zealand televison interview with Irving on the Holmes Show, 4 June 1993, at 7 mins., 15 secs..
31. Reply to the Defence of the Second Defendant, p. 7.
32. Speech by David Irving to a packed ahll in the Primrose Hotel, Toronto, November 1, 1992. Transcript on Irving's 'Focal Point' website.
33. Reply to Defence of Second Defendant, p. 2.
34. Paul Addison, 'The Burden of Proof', New Statesman, 1 July 1977, p. 46.
35. R. Hinton Thomas, 'Whitewahsing Hitler?' The Birmingham Post, 22 June 1978.
36. Martin Gilbert, 'Unobtrusive Genocide', The Guardian, 16 June, 1977.
37. Michael Howard, 'Hitler and the dogs of war', The Sunday Times, 18 June 1978.
38. Christopher Hitchens, 'Hitler's Ghost', Vanity Fair, June 1996, p. 74.
39. Gordon A. Craig, 'The Devil in the Details', The New York Review of Books, 19 September 1996. In his book The Germans, published in 1982, Craig wrote that Irving's evidence of Hitler's guiltlessness in the matter of the Holocaust 'was of the flimsiest kind' (Gordon A. Craig, The Germans (London, 1982), p. 73).
40. Gordon A. Craig, 'Ein volk von Antisemiten?', Die Zeit, 10 May 1996, p. 5. See Ruth Bettina Birn, 'Revising the Holocaust', The Historical Journal
41. Sir Martin Lindsay, 'Too decent for Hitler', The Sunday Telegraph, 15 January 1978.
42. Patrick Cosgrave, 'Having it both ways', The Spectator, 24 June 1978, p. 17.
43. Hugh Trevor-Roper, 'Hitler: does history offer a defence?', The Sunday Times, 12 June, 1977.
44. Martin Broszat, 'Hitler und die Genesis der "Endlösung. Aus Anlass der Thesen von David Irving', Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeshichte, Vol. 25 (1977), pp. 739-75, reprinted in Hermann Graml and Klaus-Dietmar Henke (eds.), Nach Hitler. Der schwierige Umgange mit unserer Geschichte. Beiträge von Martin Broszat (Munich, 1986), pp. 187-229. References below are to the 1986 reprint.
45. Ibid., pp. 212-4.
46. Ibid., p. 215.
47. Ibid., pp.220.
48. Ibid., pp. 221-2.
49. Ibid., pp.222-3, and footnotes 65 and 66.
50. Ibid., p. 228.
51. D.C. Watt, 'At Hitler's court', The Daily Telegraph 6 June 1978.
52. A. J. P. Taylor, 'Hitler the oppotunist', The Observer, 18 June, 1978.
53. Charles Sydnor, Jr. 'The Selling of Adolf Hitler: David Irving's Hitler's War', Central European History, Vol. XII, no. 2 (June, 1979), pp. 169-99; for the author's acknowledgements of financial suppot and research assistance, see p. 169.
54. Ibid., p. 176.
55. Ibid., pp. 176-77, citing records in the German Federal Archives in Koblenz and the personal file of the commander of the 'Brandenburg' regiment, SS Colonel Paul Nostitz, in the Berlin Document Center, including a report of its activities in Poland dated 28 September, 1939. Einsatzgruppen were task forces charged with the mass killing of Jews, Soviet commissars, 'partisans' and other categories of person found in the occupied Eastern territories during the war.
56. Ibid., pp. 178-80.
57. Ibid., pp. 180-6.
58. Ibid., pp. 187-9
59. Ibid., p. 189, citing Gitta Sereny in The Sunday Times, 10 July 1977, Broszat, pp. 766-7, and Irving, Hitler's War, 1977 ed., pp. 327n., 393 and 858.
60. Sydnor, 'The selling', pp. 190-3. Irving's indefensible claims about Heydrich, and his inaccurate depiction of his assassination, were also pilloried in Trevor-Roper's review: see Hugh Trevor-Roper, 'Hitler: does history offer a defence?', The Sunday Times, 12 June, 1977.
61. Syndor, 'The Selling', pp. 193-4.
62. Ibid., p. 195.
63. Ibid., pp. 196-7.
64. Ibid., p. 176.
65. Peter Hoffmann, 'Hitler's Good Right Arm' The New York Times, 28 May, 1989.
66. New York Times, 8 March 1981.
67. John Lukács, The Hitler of History (New York, 1998), p. 27.
68. Ibid., pp. 27-28, 132-3, 229-30. Irving's use of the British libel laws to deter criticism of his work is exemplified by his reaction to this book. On 25 October 1997 he wrote to Lukács's US publishers telling them that he considered the book 'libellous' and adding: 'A major British Sunday newspaper was obliged to pay me very substantial damages for similar libels eighteen months ago'. He foolowed this up on 28 October 1997 with a letter to Lukács's UK agents asking them if they would 'in their own interests, inform any prospective UK publisher of the risks attendant on pblishing this work in an unamended form...I put you, and through your agency any such publisher, herewith on notice that I shall immediately commence libel proceedings against any publisher who is foolish enough to repeat these libels within the jurisdictions of our courts.' Among statements by Lukács which Irving declared defamatory were his claims in the book that 'almost all of Irving's references...must be considered with caution', and his accusation that (in Irving's words) Irving was 'an apologist, rehabilitator, and unrepentant admirer of Adolf Hitler', and that his books engaged in 'twisting and manipulating documentary evidence...falsifying citations and references...inventing historical sources or printing non-existent archival numbers, and making up quotations.' (correspondence on Irving's website http://www.fpp.co.uk). Lukács;s book has so not so far been published in the UK.
69. David Cannadine, History in Our Time (London, 1998), pp. 223-4.
70. Ibid., pp. 225-7.
71. David Irving and Kai Bird, 'Reviewed vs reviewer', New Statesman, 8 May 1981, pp. 23-6.
72. Videotape 232, Candadian Association for Free Expression, Carlton Inn, Toronto, undated (1986), 29 mins. 10 secs..
73. Lukács, The Hitler of History, pp. 180-1.
74. Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler (London, 1998), p. 226.
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