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

Table of Contents
(iii) General Problems o... >>

(i) Introduction

1. We now turn our attention from Irving's treatment of one particular historical event to his use of one specific type of historical evidence. We have repeatedly seen how Irving uses double standards when evaluating the post-war testimony of survivors of the 'Third Reich'. He dismisses the evidence of victims, while giving serious consideration to the evidence of the perpetrators. He uncritically accepts the testimony of members of Hitler's entourage when it is suitable to his arguments, but ignores it, suppresses it, manipulates it, or attempts to discredit it when it is not. The centrality of this evidence to Irving's arguments requires that it now receive a more systematic consideration.
2. When Hitler's War was first published in 1977 the claim which caused most consternation was that Hitler, although ultimately responsible for the murder of the European Jews, had known nothing about the crime itself:
There are documents which strongly suggest that Hitler's responsibility - as distinct from Himmler's - was limited to the decision to deport all European Jews to the east, and that responsibility for what happened to the Russian Jews and to European Jews after their arrival in "the east" rested with Himmler, Heydrich, and the local authorities there - who took full advantage of the atmosphere of hatred and contempt for human life created by their Führer.1

Irving expressed his thesis more clearly in a letter in February 1974:  
It is important for me to ascertain if there was a difference in Hitler's eyes between the 'deportation' and 'liquidation' of the Jews at the turn of 19411942 and also later. From the documentary material available so far one could almost suspect that as far as the Jews of Western Europe were concerned it was only a matter of deportation in his eyes, and he believed that there in the East they were being put to work, albeit under hard circumstances. This belief seems to have stayed with Hitler for the whole of 1942. Only in April 1943 does one find formulations, which might possibly point to a different attitude on Hitler part.2

3. Irving's thesis rested on three strands of argument. First, the absence of a written order signed by Hitler, such as existed for the euthanasia action. Second, the 'chain of documents' discussed earlier in this report. Third, the argument that Hitler had never talked about the destruction of European Jewry in the close private circles surrounding him.
4. This part of the Report concentrates on the third point, namely, Irving's claim that Hitler's surviving adjutants, secretaries, and staff stenographers have all uniformly testified that never once was the extermination of either the Russian or the European Jews mentioned, even in confidence, at Hitler's headquarters.3 Irving clearly makes use of the alleged testimony of Hitler's retinue as to the absence of any discussion of the extermination of the Jews amongst Hitler's intimate circle to support his thesis that Hitler did not know about the matter. In his dispute with the Sunday Times in 1977, over an article written by Lewis Chester and Gita Sereni, Irving wrote to the Press Council a letter which appeared to deny the connection:  
But the matter is totally unimportant, as I never, at any time, anywhere, based my case on these five staff members and it is dishonest of Miss Serenyi [sic] to suggest that I did. Let her state precisely where I claimed that these people supported my case. Once they informes me, as they did, that they never heard any mention of Jewish liquidations at Hitler's HQ, and that they themselves learned of it only after the war, what possible purpose was there in my questioning them further about it, let alone basing my case on them?4
5. If we refer to the structure of the relevant passages in the 1977 edition of Hitler's War this is pertinently not the case. The passage falls squarely in a section of the book which sought to propound Hitler's ignorance of the ultimate fate of those Jews deported to the east.'[...] no direct report by Himmler or Heydrich to Hitler on the barbarous massacres of Russian Jews they themselves had witnessed has ever come to light.'5 Irving then added (and it is to be borne in mind how unequivocal he is): 'Hitler's surviving adjutants, secretaries and staff stenographers have all uniformly testified that never once was the extermination of either the Russian or European Jews mentioned - even confidentially - at Hitler's headquarters.'6
6. Irving relies on four varieties of evidence from these people: contemporary documents, such as letters and diaries; his own 'exhaustive' interviews; post-war interrogations, interviews and affidavits (usually in connection with one or other of the post-war Nuremberg trials); and memoirs composed after the war. Of the four, contemporary documents are, without doubt, of most value to the historian, as Irving himself has argued in a general manner; the other categories of evidence are not to be dismissed, but have to be treated with a high degree of critical caution.
 
7. As we have seen, it is Irving's stock in trade as a Holocaust denier to become cautious with certain types of evidence when it contradicts the revisionist line.7 For instance Irving criticised Gerald Fleming's book Hitler and the Final Solution (London, 1983), which set out to refute Irving's central thesis that Hitler knew nothing of the 'Final Solution', by pointing out that Fleming relied heavily on war crimes trial testimonies 'which are anything but safe'.8 Yet Irving has presented the court with precisely five such pieces of testimony in document 1856, to support his claim that Hitler's adjutants were as ignorant as Hitler was himself. In his book Goebbels: Mastermind of the 'Third Reich', Irving draws heavily on testimonies and affidavits from the Nuremberg trials.9 Yet he has also said: 'I myself know that one has to be very careful with personal questioning. I put a lot of worth on personal letters from this time, on personal diaries, on war diaries, and on documents, which are demonstrably authentic. Only then come people....'10 Despite this, all of the evidence presented to the court is post-war testimony, and little of it is pertinent other than to establish Irving's contact with certain individuals. It should also be taken into account that none of the documents presented to the court, apart from the correspondence with Hitler's secretary Christa Schroeder and the extract from the Krause memoir, have been presented in an original form. Rather they constitute Irving's notes on the same.
 
8. It is not proposed in this report to tackle each and every member of Hitler's staff individually to prove the extent of their knowledge.11 But, using the printed documents and memoir literature at hand, it will be shown that:
  • Hitler did talk about the 'Final Solution of the Jewish question', or better said aspects of it, to his personal staff.
  • Hitler was often disingenuous in his conversation, but that the listener who chose to understand him, either at the time or in reminiscing after the war, was perfectly able to.
  • Despite the claustrophobia and cloistered nature of life in the Führerhauptquartier, aspects of the 'Final Solution' were common knowledge amongst members of Hitler's staff, either through rumour, gossip, or what they themselves saw and heard at first hand.
  • Members of Hitler's staff were not only witness to Hitler's role in the 'Final Solution', but also perpetrators themselves.
  • While some of Hitler's staff tried to exonerate Hitler in various ways after the war, similarly some of them were in no doubt that the 'Final Solution' could not have taken place without Hitler's knowledge and express orders.
  • Those members of Hitler's staff who sought to exonerate him had many good reasons after the war to disguise or deny what they saw, heard, or did during their time in Hitler's service. This is a factor which Irving conveniently chose to ignore.
  • Irving's findings and interpretations were not the result of a flawed methodology or a naive credulity. In full knowledge of the historical detail Irving subjectively filtered, bent, and manipulated his sources to his own political and ideological desire to exculpate Hitler.12
9. In this section, we will start with a survey of the general background of knowledge about the extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany, and the post-war ideology and purposes of the surviving members of Hitler's immediate circle and the pressures operating on them. These general considerations have an important bearing on the evaluation of the quality of their evidence. We shall then move on to a consideration of selected individual members of Hitler's entourage, and conclude with some wider reflections on Hitler's decision-making process as reflected in the evidence of those who worked closely with him on a daily basis.

Notes

1. David Irving, Hitler's War (London etc., 1977), p. 326.
2. 'Für mich ist ja wesentlich festzustellen, ob es um die Jahreswende 1941/42 und auch später einen Unterschied zwischen "Abtransport" und "Liquidierung" der Juden in Hitler's Augen gab. Aus den bisher vorliegenden Aktenmaterialien könnte man beinahe vermuten, dass - was die Juden aus Westeuropa anging - in seinen Augen es sich nur um den Abtransport handelte, und er glaubte, dass sie dort im Osten zwar unter sehr harten Umständen den Arbeitsprozess zugeführt wurden. dieser Glauben scheint das ganze Jahr 1942 über noch bei Hitler geherrscht zu haben. Erst im April 1943 findet man dann Formulierungen, die eventuell auf eine andere Ansicht Hitler's schliessen lassen könnten.' (document 397, Irving to Dr. Friedrich Kabermann, 2 February 1974).
3. Irving, Hitler's War (1977 ed.), p. 327, and 1991 ed., p. 424.
4. Document 625, Irving to the Press Council, 6 August 1978.
5. Hitler's war, 1977 edn., p.327. See also p. 331.
6. Ibid., p.327. The sentence is retained in David Irving, Hitler's War (1991) p. 424.
7. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on Truth and Menory (London, 1994), p. 181.
8. Hitler's War (1991), p. 20.
9. Irving, Goebbels, p. 281, n. 73 (Schallmeyer), p. 274 n. 27 (Eberstein).
10. Guido Knopp (ed.), Hitler heute. Gespräche über ein deutsches Trauma (Aschaffenberg, 1979), p. 92.
11. Some of the reminischences and documents cited in Hitler's War can be dismissed out of hand in relation to the point under discussion. For instance Nicolaus von Vormann was Hitler's adjutant for August and September of 1939. Max Wünsche's diary recorded 'Hitler's movements and minor decisions' only for 1938. Wilhelm Brückner and Fritz Wiedermann were both released from Hitler's service in 1939.
12. Lipstadt, p. 181.
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