Irving v. Lipstadt
David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. EvansTable of Contents
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(d) Chaim Weizmann's alleged 'declaration of war' on Germany in 1939>
1. In his Pleadings to the court, Irving claims that Deborah Lipstadt in her book Denying the Holocaust presented him as a historian 'who has inexplicably misled academic historians like Ernst Nolte into quoting historically invalid points contained in his writings and who applauds the internment of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps'.33 This too relates to the argument, pursued in various places by Irving, that the Jews were in some way responsible for their own misfortunes in the 'Third Reich'. However, it has a special status because it is a specific subject of dispute between the Plaintiff and the Second Defendant in the present case. Let us first examine the comments by Deborah Lipstadt to which Irving objects.
2. In her book, Lipstadt refers to Irving and Nolte in two different instances. First, she argues that the German historian Ernst Nolte used a declaration given by the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann at the outbreak of war in 1939, in which Weizmann pledged that the Jews would fight on the side of the democracies, to argue that Hitler had 'good reason' to be convinced that his enemies wanted to annihilate him. Lipstadt continues:
When Nolte was criticized on this point in light of prewar Nazi persecution of Jews, he said that he was only quoting David Irving, the right-wing writer of historical works. How quoting Irving justified using such a historically invalid point remains unexplained, unless one wishes to see it as a reflection of Nolte's personal predilections. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, Irving...has become a Holocaust denier.34
3. Lipstadt comes back to this point briefly at a later stage in her book where she argues: 'As we have seen above, Nolte, echoing David Irving, argues that the Nazi "internment" of Jews was justified because of Chaim Weizmann's September 1939 declaration that the Jews of the world would fight Nazism.'35
4. These statements by Lipstadt include three distinct elements: first, that Nolte claims to have drawn in his argument on the works on David Irving; second, that the interpretation by Nolte and Irving of Weizmann's letter as a declaration of war by the Jews of the world against Germany is historically invalid; third, that Nolte (and Irving) regard the declaration by Weizmann as justifying the Nazi 'internment' of the Jews. We will first turn to the interpretation of the Weizmann note by David Irving. In a passage in the English edition of Hitler's War (1977), Irving writes:
Now, in September 1939, Hitler was upon the verge of world war. And Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Jewish Agency, had written to Neville Chamberlain promising explicitly that all Jews everywhere stood by him and would fight on the side of the democracies against Nazi Germany. The Times published Weizmann's letter on September 6, and Hitler no doubt considered it an unorthodox Jewish declaration of war. He often referred to it in later years.36
5. Irving reprinted this passage almost unchanged in his 1991 edition of Hitler's War. One of the few changes is that Irving now argued that Hitler 'no doubt considered it a Jewish declaration of war' - thus Irving has cut the word 'unorthodox' when referring to the Weizmann document.37
6. Irving first referred to the Weizmann note in the German edition of Hitler's War, published in 1975, the version which was apparently later used by Nolte. Here, Irving's account is crucially different from his later versions. In his subsequent books, Irving argues that it was Hitler who saw the note as a declaration of war. But this qualification is missing in the 1975 account. Here, it is Irving who describes the note as a declaration of war. Thus, Irving writes that in September 1939
Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Jewish Agency, had underlined 'most emphatically' in a letter to the British government that all Jews, wherever they might be, stood behind Chamberlain and would fight on the side of the democracies against Hitler. This open declaration of war certainly reached Hitler's cognisance when The Times published the letter on 6 September, for he based his statement in the summer of 1942 that World Jewry was Enemy Number 1 on it.38
7. These claims by Irving were later taken up Ernst Nolte, a retired professor of modern history in Berlin, specialising in the history of fascism. In recent years, Nolte has moved increasingly to the right-wing fringe of the German historical profession. For instance, in an interview with Der Spiegel, Nolte argued in 1994 that radical right-wing thought should be supported and that there had been various positive elements and tendencies within National Socialism.39 Nevertheless, in the past Nolte has distanced himself from Irving's claim that Hitler was not informed of the extermination of the Jews:
The thesis of David Irving is astonishing not least because in Fuhrer und Reichskanzler he himself reported on the basis of Himmler's interview notes that Himmler was obliged to report to Hitler on 19 November 1939 on the 'shooting of 380 Jews in Ostro'. The idea that he was not obliged to report two years later on the planned and in part already executed killing of millions is just absurd.40
8. Nolte also characterised Irving as a holocaust denier. In his 1993 book Streitpunkte, he argued that Irving, after joining the group around the Journal of Historical Review , 'then came more and more to the conviction that the whole final solution as a programme of systematic extermination was an invention of British propaganda.'41
9. However, Nolte did draw on Irving's interpretation of the Weizmann note. He first referred to it*'in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1980 and then in a contribution to a volume edited by the historian H.W. Koch and published in 1985. In this essay, Nolte discussed various books on Nazi Germany, including the (as he called it) 'revisionist' book Hitler's War (German edition 1975) by David Irving. Nolte argued that while Irving's general aim was 'undisguisedly a vindication of Hitler',
not all of Irving's theses and references can be set aside so easily...it can hardly be denied that Hitler had good reasons to be convinced of his enemies' determination to annihilate him much earlier than when the first information about Auschwitz came to the knowledge of the world. The 1940 pamphlet 'Germany must perish' by Theodore N. Kaufman has often been mentioned in the literature, but I do not remember seeing it in any of the more important German books I have read about Chaim Weizmann's official declaration in the first days of September 1939, according to which Jews in the world would fight on the side of England. Anyway, I have to reproach myself for not knowing this statement in 1963 and not having made use of it, although it can be found in the Archiv der Gegenwart of 1939, and it might justify the consequential thesis that Hitler was allowed to treat German Jews as prisoners of war and by this means to intern them...42
10. Here Nolte acknowledges that it was Irving who first brought his attention to the Weizmann note. He repeats this point in several of his later articles and interviews, when challenged about his interpretation of the Weizmann note. In October 1986, he tried to distance himself from David Irving's thesis that Weizmann's note 'was to be regarded as a kind of declaration of war'.403 Nolte now denied that he had accepted this thesis; he had only wanted to discuss it.44 As he explained in an interview on 17 April 1987 with the Israeli newspaper Ha-Aretz: 'Certain statements by Irving are to be regarded as wrong on logical grounds. Of other statements this can not be said, they must be discussed, they require debate.'45 Nevertheless, Nolte clearly continued to be sympathetic to Irving's interpretation, and has come back to it several times in recent years. For instance, in 1994 he argued that Chaim Weizmann's statement might indeed be interpreted as a 'declaration of war against the German Reich' by the Jews.46
11. Nolte is here taking over an element in the Holocaust denial arsenal of arguments that make the Jews responsible for their own fate under the 'Third Reich'. Let us look at the origins and background of Weizmann's note of 1939. Chaim Weizmann was the President of the World Zionist Organisation, as well as the Leader of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. He took part in the Zionist Congress, which opened on 16 August 1939 in Geneva, and wound up on 25 August under the impression of an impending war. He returned to London, and on 29 August 1939, he sent the following letter to Prime Minister Chamberlain, which was later, on 6 September, published in the Times:
In this hour of supreme crisis, the consciousness that the Jews have a contribution to make to the defence of sacred values impels me to write this letter. I wish to confirm, in the most explicit manner, the declaration which I and my colleagues have made during the last months, and especially in the last week: that the Jews "stand by Great Britain and will fight on the side of the democracies."
Our urgent desire is to give effect to these declarations. We wish to do so in a way entirely consonant with the general scheme of British action, and therefore would place ourselves, in matters big and small, under the co-ordinating direction of His Majesty's Government. The Jewish Agency is ready to enter into immediate arrangements for utilising Jewish man-power, technical ability, resources etc.
The Jewish Agency has recently had differences in the political field with the Mandatory Power. We would like these differences to give way before the greater and more pressing necessities of the time.
We ask you to accept this declaration in the spirit in which it is made.47
12. Weizmann's offer to use Jewish manpower and technical ability in the war effort, probably with the aim of forming a Jewish army, 'met with an icy response from the outset'.48 Chamberlain did not commit himself in his reply on 2 September. He stated that he noted with pleasure that 'Britain can rely upon the whole-hearted cooperation of the Jewish Agency. You will not expect me to say more at this stage than that your public-spirited assurances and welcome aid will be kept in mind.'49 He refused to go any further than this.
13. This was thus something rather less than a declaration of war. Moreover, in issuing his letter, Weizmann was not claiming to speak for 'all Jews everywhere', as Irving suggests. As is clear from the letter to Chamberlain, Weizmann in the first place spoke on behalf of the 'Jewish Agency', a representative body of the 'World Zionist Organisation' in Palestine.50 Weizmann also mentioned in the letter the support for Britain by his 'colleagues' in the World Zionist Organisation. However, this organisation in 1939 only comprised around 6% of all Jews living in the world, and only a small fraction of German Jews, very many of whom opposed the idea of Zionism.51 Just before the Nazi seizure of power, only around 20,000 of Germany's 500,000 Jews were members of the German Zionist Association (Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland).52 The idea that Weizmann was in any way a leader of world Jewry in 1939 belongs solely to the fantasy world of antisemitic conspiracy theory.
14. Quite apart from the fact that Weizmann could only claim to speak for a small minority of Jews, neither he, nor the World Zionist Organisation, nor the 'Jewish Agency' was in any position to declare war on Germany. The notion that Zionist pressure groups, without territory, army, government or international recognition, could somehow act as a sovereign state with the ability to declare war according to international law, has been widely dismissed by serious historians.53 One also ought to note that Weizmann wrote the letter to Chamberlain before the outbreak of the war, on 29 August 1939, and not after, as Nolte states and Irving implies, or in other words, at a time when no sovereign state had so far issued a declaration of war. Chamberlain, as has already been pointed out, also did not see the letter as a declaration of war on Germany.
15. Irving's interpretation of the Weizmann note as a 'declaration of war' was first advanced by the Nazis themselves as a justification for their murderous conduct during the war. Thus Hitler declared on 24 July 1942 thatIrving's claim that Weizmann's statement was a declaration of war, as well as his equation of Zionism with all Jews living in the world, are both taken straight from Hitler himself.
In this Second World War as a struggle for life and death it must never be forgotten that following the declaration of war of the World Zionist Congress and its leader Chaim Weizmann (in his message to England's Prime Minister Chamberlain), World Jewry is the unrelenting opponent of National Socialism, the enemy Number 1.54
16. After the Second World War, like other claims made by the Nazis, the argument was soon again taken up by right-wing propagandists, Nazi apologists and Holocaust deniers. Irving was by no means the first writer in the post-war period to claim that Weizmann's statement amounted to a declaration of war. In June 1963, a Hamburg Professor of Psychology, Peter Robert Hofstätter argued in an article for the weekly paper Die Zeit that one might be able to describe the Jews exterminated in the 'final solution' as victims who had fallen in the war declared against them by the Nazis. Hofstätter used this argument to call for some kind of amnesty for Nazi criminals, as their crimes had in reality been acts of war, ordered by the Commander of the German troops, Adolf Hitler. In the following months, a heated debate ensued in Germany about Hofstätter's claims. In a letter to the National-Zeitung on 16.8.1963, Hofstätter argued that Hitler and the NS state had 'quasi declared war on the Jews'. In an interview with the magazine Der Spiegel in September 1963, Hofstätter linked Hitler's supposed declaration of war against the Jews (in particular focusing on the Reichtstag speech of 30 January 1939) with Weizmann's letter of 1939 to Chamberlain. Hofstätter declared that he was convinced 'that there was a declaration of war on the German Reich by Chaim Weismann in August 1939.'55 Other commentators in the 1960s used Hofstätter's arguments to advance their claims that the Jews and the 'Third Reich' had been in a state of war, so the Jews were partly responsible for the Final Solution.56 Since the 1960s, the Weizmann note has become a fixed part of the literature put out by revisionists and Holocaust deniers.57
17. Nolte also argued that Weizmann's statement, as a declaration of war, could be used to justify the internment of Jews by the Nazis, a point he had first made in 1985. Thus, he commented that Weizmann's statement 'might justify the consequential thesis that Hitler was allowed to treat German Jews as prisoners of war and by this means to intern them.'58 Nolte again claimed that this interpretation was based on Irving's work. In 1987 Nolte commented on the Weizmann note that 'this statement possibly, as Irving also hints, justifies Hitler interning the German Jews as civil internees, just as it is well known that the French interned the Germans and the English the Germans on the outbreak of war.'59 Nolte repeatedly drew attention to what he described as Irving's thesis that 'Chaim Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain at the beginning of September 1939 is possibly to be regarded as a kind of declaration of war which gave Hitler the right to intern the German Jews as enemy aliens.'60 'Internment', as has been pointed out, 'is far too mild a word for the harsh, brutal, and eventually murderous discrimination meted out to Jews by the Nazis', long before Weizmann even wrote his letter.61 From 1941 onwards, Jews were not treated as 'civil internees' by the Nazis, but gassed, shot and starved to death. And in any case, extreme measures had been taken against them by the Nazis well before the outbreak of war, including the deprivation of citizenship and incarceration of large numbers of them in concentration camps in 1938.
18. Nolte provides no footnotes for his assertion that he based his argument on suggestions made by Irving. As no corresponding argument can be found in Irving's book Hitler's War, it would seem as if Nolte was wrong in attributing this argument to Irving. There is, however, no indication that Irving ever wrote to Nolte to object to this misrepresentation. On the contrary, Irving himself later endorsed Nolte's interpretation. Thus, in 1995, Irving described the Weizmann statement of 1939 as a 'crucial error because - as Professor Ernst Nolte and some other historians have argued - it somewhat justified what the Nazis then did to the Jews: the Jews declared war on Germany and Germany declared war on the Jews'.62 One should note that Irving goes much further than Nolte. Nolte had argued that Weizmann's note might justify the internment in some form of the Jews living in Nazi controlled territory. Irving, however, speaks of the note somewhat justifying 'what the Nazis then did to the Jews'.
19. By inference, this includes not only imprisonment, but also, for example, the mass murder of Soviet Jews by SS task forces from late June 1941 onwards, which Irving accepts as historical fact. Thus, Irving attaches a far wider significance to the Weizmann note than Nolte had done. Also, he presents the supposed German declaration of war against the Jews as a consequence of the Weizmann note, ignoring the years of persecution of Jews since 1933 at the hands of the Nazis and also ignoring Hitler's public threats on the Reichstag of 30 January 1939.
20. Lipstadt's claim that Nolte echoed Irving's argument that Weizmann's declaration justified the Nazi 'internment' of Jews is therefore not quite correct. She repeats Nolte's claim that he had relied on Irving's work, yet it seems that Irving had not made this particular claim about the 'internment' of the Jews at the time at which Nolte wrote his article. However, it is difficult to see the grounds on which Irving can object to Lipstadt's allegation. His claim that the Weizmann letter was an 'open declaration of war' on Germany by the Jews was indeed taken over by Nolte. He has never written to Nolte to complain about the latter's use of his work to justify the 'internment' of the Jews, or repudiated this view in public. Indeed, he has subsequently attached an even greater significance to the Weizmann note than Nolte has, implying that it justified not only the 'internment' of Jews but also their murder.
33. Irving's reply to the Defence of the Second Defendant, lines 258-260.
34. D. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, p. 111.
35. Ibid., p. 213.
36. Irving, Hitler's War (London, 1977), p. 12.
37. Irving, Hitler's War (London, 1991), p. 222.
38. 'Dr. Chaim Weizmann, der Präsident der Jewish Agency, hatte in einem Brief an die britische Regierung "auf das ausdrücklichste" bekräftigt, daß alle Juden, wo immer sie sein mochten, hinter Chamberlain stünden und auf der Seite der Demokratien gegen Hitler kämpfen würden. Diese offene Kriegserklärung gelangte mit Sicherheit zu Hitlers Kenntnis, als "The Times" den Brief am 6. September veröffentlichte, denn er bezog sich im Sommer 1942 darauf als Beweis, daß das Weltjudentum der Feind Nummer 1 sei'; Irving, Hitler und seine Feldherren Frankfurt a.M., 1975), 20.
39. '"Ein historisches Recht Hitlers"? Der Faschismus-Interpret Ernst Nolte über den Nationalsozialismus, Auschwitz und die Neue Rechte', Der Spiegel 40 (1994), pp. 83-103.
40. E. Nolte, Streitpunkte. Heutige und künftige Kontroversen um den Nationalsozialismus (Berlin, Frankfurt a.M., 1993), p. 462, n. 46; italics in the original. German text: 'Die These von David Irving ist nicht zuletzt deshalb verwunderlich, weil er in Führer und Reichskanzler ...selbst aufgrund der Vortragsnotizen Himmlers die Feststellung trifft, Himmler habe am 19. November 1939 Hitler über die 'Erschießung von 380 Juden in Ostro' berichten müssen. Die Vorstellung, er habe zwei Jahre später über die geplante und zum Teil schon ausgeführte Tötung von Millionen nicht berichten müssen, ist schlechthin absurt.' For further criticisms of Irving, see ibid,., pp. 318-319.
41. E. Nolte, Streitpunkte. Heutige und künftige Kontroversen um den Nationalsozialismus (Berlin, Frankfurt a.M., 1993), p. 307. German text: 'kam dann mehr und mehr zu der überzeugung, die ganze Endlösung sei als Programm systematischer Extermination eine Erfindung der britischen Propaganda gewesen'.
42. E. Nolte, 'Between Myth and Revisionism? The 'Third Reich' in the Perspective of the 1980s', in H.W. Koch (ed.), Aspects of the 'Third Reich' (London, 1985), pp. 17-38, here 27-28. Nolte late qualified the term 'prisoners of war'. He claimed he had meant 'civilian internees like the Germans in England from September 1939, or U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage in the United States from 1941 to 1945'; see E. Nolte, 'Between Historical Legend and Revisionism? The 'Third Reich' in the Perspective of the 1980's, in J. Knowlton, T. Cates (trans.), Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? (New Jersey, 1993), pp. 1-15, here p. 8.
43. 'sei als eine Art Kriegserklärung anzusehen'; E. Nolte, 'Die Sache auf den Kopf gestellt', in 'Historikerstreit'. Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung (Munich, Zurich, 1987), pp. 223-231, here 228; first published in Die Zeit, 31.10.1986.
44. See also E. Nolte, Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit. Antwort auf meine Kritiker im sogenannten Historikerstreit (Berlin, 1987), pp. 20-21.
45. 'Bestimmte Aussagen von Irving sind aus logischen Gründen als unrichtig zu betrachten. Für andere Aussagen kann man das nicht sagen, sondern sie müßten erörtet werden, sie bedürfen der Diskussion'; E. Nolte, Das Vergehen, p. 93.
46. 'eine Art Kriegserklärung an das Deutsche Reich'; in "Ein historisches Recht Hitlers"? Der Faschismus-Interpret Ernst Nolte über den Nationalsozialismus, Auschwitz und die Neue Rechte', Der Spiegel 40 (1994), pp. 83-103, here 101.
47. B. Litvinoff (ed.), The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Vol. XIX, Series A (New Brunswick, Jerusalem, 1979), p. 145.
48. N. Rose, 'Introduction', in B. Litvinoff (ed.), The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Vol. XIX, Series A (New Brunswick, 1979), p. xvi; see also C. Sykes, Cross-Roads to Israel (London, 1965), pp. 214-215.
49. B. Litvinoff (ed.), The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Vol. XIX, Series A (New Brunswick, 1979), p. 145, footnote 123.
50. See also H.-U. Wehler, Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit? (Munich, 1988), p. 227, footnote 41.
51. H. Auerbach, '"Kriegserklärungen" der Juden an Deutschland', in W. Benz (ed.), Legenden, Lügen, Vorurteile. Ein Wörterbuch zur Zeitgeschichte (Munich, 1992), 122-126; R. J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow (London, 1989), p. 39.
52. W. Benz, H, Graml, H. Weiß (eds.), Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus (Munich, 1997), p. 811; J. Noakes, G. Pridham (eds.), Nazism 1919-1945, Vol. 2 (Exeter, 1994), p. 522.
53. For instance, H.-U. Wehler, Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit? (Munich, 1988), p. 84; J. Kocka, 'Hitler sollte nicht durch Stalin und Pol Pot verdrängt werden', in 'Historikerstreit', Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung (Munich, Zurich, 1987), pp. 132-142, here 142; first printed in Frankfurter Rundschau, 23.9.1986; M. Broszat, 'Wo sich die Geister scheiden', in 'Historikerstreit'. Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung (Munich, Zurich, 1987), pp. 189-195, here 191-192; published first in Die Zeit, 3.10.1986; C.S. Maier, The Unmasterable Past (Cambridge, Mass., London, 1988), 67-68.
54. H. Picker, Hitlers Tischgespräche im Führerhaptquartier (Stuttgart, 1976), p. 456. German text: 'In diesem II. Weltkrieg als einem Ringen auf Leben und Tod dürfe es nie vergessen werden, daß das Weltjudentum nach der Kriegserklärung des Weltzionistenkongresses und seines Führers Chaim Weizmann (in seiner Botschaft an Englands premier Chamberlain) der unerbitterlichste Gegner des Nationalsozialismus, der Feind Nummer 1 sei'
55. 'Sind die ermordeten Juden gefallen? Spiegel-Gespräch mit dem Hamburger Psychologieprofessor Dr. Peter Robert Hofstätter', Die Spiegel, Nr. 38 (1963), pp. 37-44. German texts: 'den Juden quasi den Krieg erklärt'; 'daß es im August 1939 eine Kriegserklärung von Chaim Weizmann an das Deutsche Reich gab'.
56. See for example 'Die Teilnahme der Juden am 2. Weltkrieg und ihre Mitverantwortung an der Endlösung der Judenfrage', Deutsche Hochschullehrer-Zeitung 15 (1967), no. 3, pp. 10-15.
57. Lipstadt, p. 110; M. Broszat, 'Wo sich die Geister scheiden', in 'Historikerstreit'. Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung (Munich, Zurich, 1987), pp. 189-195, here 191-192; U. Stern (ed.), Die wahren Schuldigen am Zweiten Weltkrieg (Munich, 1992), p. 450; R. Faurisson, 'Response to a paper historian', Journal of Historical Review 7 (1986), pp. 21-72, here 50-1.
58. E. Nolte, 'Between Myth and Revisionism?', p. 28.
59. E. Nolte, Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit. Antwort auf meine Kritiker im sogenannten Historikerstreit (Frankfurt a.M., 1987), p. 95. German text: ...möglicherweise rechtfertigte diese äußerung, wie auch Irving andeutet, daß Hitler die deutschen Juden als Zivilinternierte internieren durfte, wie ja bekanntlich die Franzosen die Deutschen und die Engländer die Deutschen interniert haben bei Kriegsausbruch.'
60. '..der Brief Chaim Weizmanns an Chamberlain von Anfang September 1939 sei als eine Art Kriegserklärung zu betrachten, die Hitler das Recht gegeben hätte, die deutschen Juden als feindliche Ausländer zu internieren'; E. Nolte, Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit, p. 21.
61. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow, p. 39.
62. Irving, 'Revelations from the Goebbels's Diary', Journal of Historical Review 15 (1995), pp. 2-17, here 13.
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