Irving v. Lipstadt

Defense Documents

[The Van Pelt Report]: Electronic Edition, by Robert Jan van Pelt

Table of Contents


(In color): We are moving at a walking pace across a verdant landscape; a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds.
[Narrator:] "A peaceful landscape ..."
Barbed wire nailed to high wooden posts. Then moving along another field; a cottage on the horizon; birds take wing.
"An ordinary field with flights of crows, harvests, grass fires."
Moving along another fence, the wires severed and limp.
"An ordinary road where cars and peasants and lovers pass."
Moving past abundant grass in bright sunlight. Two walls of wire appear, weeds growing high between them, a watchtower in the distance.
"An ordinary village for vacationers--with a marketplace and a steeple--can lead all too easily to a concentration camp."
A camp today, surrounded by wires and posts cutting across the field.
"Struthof, Oranienburg, Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Belsen, Ravensbruck and Dachau were names like any others on maps and in guidebooks."
Still moving, a closer view of the maze of wires, with weeds growing around the fence posts.
"The blood has dried, the tongues are silent. The blocks are visited only by a camera. Weeds have grown where the prisoners used to walk. No footstep is heard but our own."
Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol, Night and Fog 22
The following pages aim to assist the Court in gaining insight in the complex spectrum of issues embodied in the proper name "Auschwitz," and the nouns "Holocaust," and "Holocaust Denial," and seek to establish the way David Irving has engaged this nexus, concentrating on the decade   1987 to 1997.23 The report attempts to provide material and a consideration of that material that can allow us to answer what I see to be the central issue at stake in the complaint of the plaintiff against the defendants where it concerns my own expertise. This can be summarized in the folowing 10 questions:
  • (i) Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz was equipped with homicidal gas chambers, and has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that these gas chambers were systematically used?
  • (ii) Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz functioned between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944 as an extermination camp for Jews?
  • (iii) Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that most of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz were murdered shortly after their arrival in the aforesaid gas chambers?
  • (iv) Has it been established beyond reasonable doubt how many Jews were killed in the gas chambers upon arrival in Auschwitz, how many Jews were killed or died from the effect of incidental cruelty, general deprivation, exhaustion or disease whilst in the camp, and how many others died in the camp as the result of various causes?
  • (v) Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that Auschwitz had homicidal gas chambers   and that these gas chambers were systematically used?
  • (vi) Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that Auschwitz functioned between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944 as an extermination camp for Jews?
  • (vii) Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that most of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz were murdered shortly after their arrival in the aforesaid gas chambers?
  • (vii) Did David John Cawdell Irving deny, without having done any serious research in the matter, the results of studies into the number of people who died in Auschwitz done by responsible scholars?
  • (ix) Did David John Cawdell Irving ally himself with well-known Holocaust deniers, including individuals such as Dr Robert Faurisson, and Ernst Zündel?
  • (x) Was David John Cawdell Irving, by the time Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust went to press, a Holocaust denier?
The report seeks to contribute material that allows us to answer these questions. To that end, it is organized in five distinct parts.
Part One, entitled "Concerning History," seeks to introduce the reader to the most important elements that shape current knowledge of the Auschwitz extermination camp, and discuss the great complexity of the camp's history and the way this occasionally creates confusion for the uninitiated and opportunity for those who seek to deny the Holocaust. In this section of the report, I will discuss why Auschwitz became the symbol of the Holocaust, and the attempts by modern scholarship to come to an assessment of the number of victims.
Part Two, entitled "Concerning Evidence," presents and reviews the blinding evidence of the use of the camp as a site for mass extermination as it became slowly available during the war as the result of reports by escaped inmates, as it was narrated in the eye-witness accounts by former Auschwitz inmates immediately after their liberation in other concentration camps, as it was confirmed in forensic investigations undertaken in 1945 and 1946, and as it was corroborated by confessions of leading German personnel employed at the camp during its years of operation. In this section of the report it will become clear that it is highly implausible that knowledge about Auschwitz was a war-time fabrication by British propagandists, as Irving has claimed. Instead it will be shown how our knowledge about Auschwitz emerged from a convergence of independent   accounts, how it emerged cumulatively, in geometrical progression, acquiring an epistemological status located somewhere in the realm framed on the one hand by a judgement that knows a fact "beyond reasonable doubt," and on the other hand by the always receding horizon that promises unqualified certainty. It will be shown that, in the words of John Wilkins, we may assert as "moral certainty" the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around one million people with the help of gas chambers, and where they incinerated their remains in crematoria ovens.24
Part Three, entitled "Concerning Documents," discusses the few surviving German documents, produced during the war, that confirm the use of Auschwitz as an extermination camp, and allow us to gain an insight into the course of development that changed an "ordinary" concentration camp designed to incarcerate (political)opponents into an extermination camp for a whole ethnic group. Only a few documents survived the general systematic destruction of evidence which took place as the Final Solution unfolded in Auschwitz, and which was completed with the burning of the archives of the Auschwitz Kommandantur in January 1945. Together, the first three parts will amply establish beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz was an extermination camp that claimed by means of purposefully designed crematoria equipped with gas chambers the deaths of at least a million people, most of whom were Jews.
Part Four, entitled "Concerning Denial," analyzes why Auschwitz became the focus of   Holocaust denial, and reviews the most important aspects of the so-called "Faurisson Affair" which brought Holocaust denial into the public eye. It reviews the false dichotomy that forces everything that cannot be established as absolute truth into the rubbish-bin of manufactured falsehood, and refutes the hermeneutical and pseudo-scientific arguments created by various Holocaust deniers such as Paul Rassinier, Arthur Butz, Thies Christophersen, Wilhelm Stäglich, Fred Leuchter and, most importantly, Robert Faurisson to cast doubt or even reject the use of Auschwitz as an extermination site. Since the late 1980s, David Irving has made eclectic use of the trumpery produced by Rassinier, Faurisson, Butz, Christophersen, Stäglich and Leuchter. In his endorsement and subsequent publication of the Leuchter Report, Irving embraced the form of hard-core Holocaust denial developed, refined and propagated by Faurisson in the preceding years--a position that centered on the thesis that the gas chambers of Auschwitz did not work. Irving's position regarding Auschwitz, in other words, is not one of his own invention. He very much adopted Faurisson's line, and therefore one may legitimally claim that the resulting developments--the publicity Irving generated at the time of the trial when he was quoted as saying that as few as 100,000 Jews may have been killed,25 the account of Irving's participation in the trial given in Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust and the present legal case--are to be considered aftershocks of the original Faurisson Affair.
Part Five, entitled "Concerning Irving," finally discusses the way David Irving has used his contacts with Holocaust deniers, and arguments derived from their writings, to further his own ends. It will demonstrate how in the early 1990s he became, as a publisher and a public speaker, the most effective evangelist of the negationist gospel wrought by Rassinier, Faurisson and others, and how he changed his tactics, but not his strategy, in the mid 1990s.
The Conclusion will raise these questions again, and provide my answers.
Whilst having been commissioned by the lawyers for the defendants, I have written this report salvo jure towards the plaintiff. I do not believe that questions of history belong in the courtroom,   and have opposed in the past the prosecutions of Holocaust deniers like Zündel in Canada, Faurisson in France, and Irving in Germany. If Irving had been the defendant in this case, I would not have consented to give, under instructions of a prosecuting attorney, the questions raised by the nexus of "Auschwitz," "Holocaust," "Holocaust Denial," and "David Irving" much thought.
Yet while I set out without prejudice to the plaintiff or the defendants, I did and continue to have a commitment to those who cannot speak for themselves. With Edith Wyschogrod, I believe that the primary responsibility of the historian is not to the living--may they be right or wrong, good or evil --but to the dead. The historian must be the spokesman for those who have been silenced.
The promise to convey the truth about the past presupposes that the presentation of that which was is always already implicated in a pre-discursive ethics before it is a conveying of facts. But this space prior to historical description is one in which signs disappear, of designing. The historian when bound by a responsibility toward the dead for whom she claims to speak becomes what I call the "heterological historian." She assumes liability for the other, feels the pressure of an Ethics that is prior to her construal of the historical object. Responsibility thus interpreted is Janus-faced: its moral authority is expressed in its disinterestedness, but its psychological force is experienced as a sense of inescapable urgency. The heterological historian is driven, on the one hand, by an impassioned necrophilia which would bring to life the dead others for whom she speaks. On the other hand, as "objective," she consciously or otherwise assumed responsibility for a dispassionate relation to events.26
I believe that no historian can responsibly touch the world of Auschwitz without, in some way or another, becoming a "heterological historian." I believe, too, that the first question one should ask about any historian's attempt to deal with the history of an extermination camp--or for that matter any other atrocity-- is the way he or she either accepts or rejects the ethical responsibility   that comes with all history, but especially with the history of Auschwitz. No historian should ever play games with the past--especially not a past such as that marked by the word "Auschwitz," a past marked by the massive betrayal of human solidarity.
And so, while I wrote this report as an amicus curiae without prejudice for the defendant and against the plaintiff, I do declare my loyalty with the victims of Auschwitz and against their murderers. And with that, I declare my purpose to ensure that the aim of the men who conceived, constructed and operated the camp will not come to be--an aim sadly shared by most civilized people, because there is a fundamental collusion between the wish of the murderer to deny the crime, and the wish of the bystander not to bear witness. Alexander Donat, who ascribed his survival of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and his subsequent deportation to Maidanek Auschwitz to his sense of having been "charged with the sacred mission of carrying the Ghetto's history through the flames and barbed wire until such time as I could hurl it into the face of the world," recorded in his The Holocaust Kingdom how a fellow inmate in Maidanek, Dr Schipper, anticipated the difficulties the survivors would have in preserving their story. Even if some were to survive, and "write the history of this period of blood and tears--and I firmly believe we will--who will believe us? Nobody will want to believe us, because our disaster is the disaster of the entire civilized world..... We'll have the thankless job of proving to a reluctant world that we are Abel, the murdered brother...."27
The Italian survivor Primo Levi recorded in his The Drowned and the Saved the following admonishment that the SS guard enjoyed to give to the prisoners.
However this war may end, we have won the war against you; none of you will be left to bear witness, but even if someone were to survive, the world will not believe him. There will be perhaps suspicions, discussions, research by historians, but there will be no certainties, because we will destroy the evidence together with you. And even if some proof should remain and some of you survive, people will say the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed: they will say that they are exaggerations of Allied   propaganda and will believe us, who will deny everything, and not you. We will be the ones to dictate the history of the Lagers.28
I believe that both Dr Schipper, Alexander Donat, and Primo Levi saw the central historiographical problem facing anyone who approaches the history of Auschwitz--historian, lawyer, survivor, bystander, perpetrator. And they touched on a metaphysical problem which, in the early 1980s, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard subjected to his rigorous analysis.
"It's not for nothing that Auschwitz is called the 'extermination camp'." [Auschwitz physician Dr. Kremer in his diary entry of October 3,1942 ] Millions of human beings were exterminated there. Many of the means to prove the crime or its quantity were also exterminated.[....] What could be established by historical inquiry would be the quantity of the crime. But the documents necessary for the validation were themselves destroyed in quantity. That at least can be established.[....] But the silence imposed on knowledge does not impose the silence of forgetting, it imposes a feeling. Suppose that an earthquake destroys not only lives, buildings and objects but also the instruments used to measure earthquakes directly and indirectly. The impossibility of quantitatively measuring it does not prohibit, but rather inspires in the minds of the survivors the idea of a very great seismic force. The scholar claims to know nothing about it, but the common person has a complex feeling, the one aroused by the negative presentation of the indeterminate. Mutatis mutandis, the silence that the crime of Auschwitz imposes upon the historian is a sign for the common person.[....] The silence that surrounds the phrase, Auschwitz was the extermination camp is not a state of mind, it is the sign that something remains to be phrased which is not, something which is not determined. This sign affects a linking of phrases. The indetermination of meanings left in abeyance, the extermination of what would allow them to be determined, the shadow of negation hollowing out reality to the point of making it dissipate, in a word, the wrong done to the victims that condemns them to silence--it is this, and not a state of mind, which calls upon unknown phrases to   link onto the name of Auschwitz.--The "revisionist" historians understand as applicable to this name only the cognitive rules for the establishment of historical reality and for the validation of its sense. If justice consisted solely in respecting these rules, and if history gave rise only to historical inquiry, they could not be accused of a denial of justice. In fact, they administer a justice in conformity with the rules and exert a positively instituted right. Having placed, moreover, themselves in the position of plaintiffs, who need not establish anything, they plead for the negative, they reject proofs, and that is certainly their right as the defense. But they are not worried by the scope of the very silence they use as an argument in their plea, by this does one recognize a wrong done to the sign that is this silence and to the phrases it invokes. They will say that history is not made of feelings, and that it is necessary to establish the facts. But, with Auschwitz, something new has happened in history (which can only be a sign and not a fact), which is that the facts, the testimonies which bore the traces of here's and now's the documents which indicated the sense or the senses of the facts, and the names, finally the possibility of various kinds of phrases whose conjunction makes reality, all this has been destroyed as much as possible.29
Therefore Lyotard defined the task of the historian of Auschwitz as one that forced him or her not only to look at positive evidence, but also to venture forth "by lending his or her ear to what is not presentable under the rules of knowledge." This, of course, applied to every fact of history, in which one moves from the evidential to what it implies. Only in the case of Auschwitz, this applies evenmore. And Lyotard concluded that "Auschwitz is the most real of realities in this respect."30
Given this context, the question of whether Holocaust Denial serves some current purpose seems to me irrelevant compared to the question if it serves the historic interest of the men who conceived of Auschwitz and who operated with the aim of destroying not only countless human beings, but also the evidence of their own acts--men like Himmler, Heydrich, and Höss.


22. Jean Cayrol, "Night and Fog," in Robert Hughes ed., Film: Book 2--Films of Peace and War (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 234f.
23. I do not have any hope nor ambition to convince the negationists. At worst they are of a bad faith and use the issue to support various political and/or ideological agendas that will not allow them to concede their interpretation of Auschwitz even if they were convinced otherwise. At best they are of what I would like to think of as good faith, but of such a mental disposition that they truly believe that the "Auschwitz Legend" was, in the analysis of Arthur R. Butz, a war-time conspiracy created by a allied military intelligence. These latter people who sincerely believe, in the words of one of the founding the Royal Society John Wilkins, that "the rest of Mankind might have combined together to impose upon them by these relations," will not be able to be convinced by anything. Yet, in turn, I hope that those who maintain an unwarranted skepticism will not be able to convince those who are prepared to consider, with common reason and without prejudice, the evidence. And perhaps they will agree with Wilkins that "those who will pretend such kind of grounds for their disbelief of any thing, will never be able to perswade others, that the true cause why they do not give their Assent is because they have no reason for it, but because they have no mind to it." John Wilkins, Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion (London: A. Maxwell, 1675), 26.
24. Wilkins's typology of the various levels of certainty provides a useful compass when one undertakes a journey through a landscape of awful historical facts and offensive lies. For Wilkins neither Physical Certainty, based on the direct experience of the senses, nor Mathematical Certainty, obtained through proof, were epistemologically problematical. But in the realm of Moral Certainty the question of evidence became central. "I call that Moral Certainty, which hath for its object such beings as are less simple, and do more depend upon mixed circumstances. Which though they are not capable of the same kind of Evidence with the former, so as to necessitate every man's assent, though his judgement be never so much prejudiced against them; yet may be so plain, that every man whose judgement is free form prejudice will consent unto them. And though there be no natural necessity, that such things must be so, and that they cannot be possibly otherwise, without implying a Contradiction; yet may they be so certain as not to admit of any reasonable doubt concerning them." Wilkins, Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion, 7f
25. Paul Lungen, "The Zündel Trial: Witness disputes view 6 million Jews killed," The Canadian Jewish News (April 28, 1988), 6.
26. Edith Wyschogrod, An Ethics of Remembering (Chicago and London: The Chicago University Press, 1998), 3.
27. Alexander Donat, The Holocaust Kingdom (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), 183, 211.
28. Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved transl. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 11f.
29. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, transl. Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 56f.
30. Ibid., 58.
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