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

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(b) The 1977 edition of Hitler's War

1. In his Introduction to the first edition of Hitler's War, published in 1977, Irving devoted several paragraphs to 'the Führer's involvement in the extermination of the Jews' arguing that 'the burden of guilt for the bloody and mindless massacre of the Jews rests on a large number of Germans...and not just on one "mad dictator"':
If this book were simply a history of the rise and fall of Hitler's Reich, it would be legitimate to conclude: "Hitler killed the Jews." He after all created the atmosphere of hatred with his antisemitic speeches in the 1930s; he and Himmler created the SS; he built the concentration camps; his speeches, though never explicit, left the clear impression that "liquidate" was what he meant.5
2. But, he continued, historians had largely copied each other's views on this subject, especially in Germany and Austria, where ascribing the extermination of the Jews to the madness of a single individual provided a useful excuse for all the others who had been implicated. Irving concluded that the documentary record showed Hitler was not directly involved:
The killing was partly of an ad hoc nature...the way out of an awkward dilemma, chosen by the middle-level authorities in the eastern territories overrun by the Nazis - and partly a cynical extrapolation by the central SS authorities of Hitler's antisemitic decrees. Hitler had unquestionably decreed that Europe's Jews were to be "swept back" to the East....The Jews were brought by the trainload to ghettos already overcrowded and underprovisioned. Partly in collusion with each other, partly independently, the Nazi agencies there simply liquidated the deportees as their trains arrived, on a scale increasingly more methodical and more regimented as the months passed.6
3. Even so, Hitler expressed no reservations about 'the methodical liquidation of Russian Jews during the "Barbarossa" invasion of 1941', which 'came under a different Nazi heading - preemptive guerilla warfare.' And Hitler's 'failure or inability to act' to stop the wider killings 'kept the extermination machinery going until the end of the war.'7
4. Leaving aside for the moment Irving's view of Hitler's role in all this, it is clear that in 1977 Irving accepted that the Nazis had systematically killed the Jews of Europe in very large numbers. In the Index to the 1977 edition of Hitler's War, for example, there are 17 entries under the heading 'Jews, extermination of, documenting responsibility for and knowledge of', referring to 31 pages of text. Another entry in the Index is for   'Auschwitz, extermination camp at'. Turning to the pages in question, we find that while they are devoted principally to arguing that Hitler did not know about the 'liquidation' of the Jews (to use Irving's preferred term), or in the cases where he did, tried to prevent or halt it, they make no attempt to deny the fact of the extermination itself. When the Jews were deported to the East on Hitler's orders, Irving writes on page 391, their fate was determined by lower-level officials. 'Arriving at Auschwitz and Treblinka, four in every ten were pronounced fit for work; the rest were exterminated with a maximum of concealment.' On page 660 he cites the evidence of the 'ghastly secret' of Auschwitz revealed in the 'horrifying revelations' of 'two Slovak Jews' who escaped in 1944. On page 718, he quotes the wartime report of a lawyer, Dr. Konrad Morgen, on irregularites in the management of the camp system, during which he was given detailed information about four 'extermination camps' including Auschwitz and Majdanek. Neither in the text, nor in the footnote to it describing his postwar interview with Morgen, does Irving betray any doubts about the reliability of his testimony on this point. Nor does he question the testimony of Heinz Lorenz, Hitler's press officer, on a report that one and a half million people had been killed at Majdanek. Similarly, there are Index references to 'Chelmno, extermination camp at' and 'Treblinka, extermination camp at', while on page 332 of the 1977 edition of Hitler's War, Irving refers to 'the extermination program' which, he writes, 'had gained a momentum of its own.'
5. There can be no doubt, therefore, that in 1977 Irving did not question the existence of a programme to exterminate Europe's Jews, nor did he openly cast doubt on the existence of extermination camps in the East where this programme was carried out. Even at this point, however, there are some notable reservations in his account. He did not, for example, refer to gas chambers or gassings: he preferred to use vague terms   such as 'liquidation'. The passages in which he dealt with the extermination were few and short, probably because the programme and its implementation were peripheral to the military policies and campaigns of the Nazis which are the main subject of Irving's work. Far more important in his mind was evidently the question of Hitler's own involvement in the extermination, or rather, his non-involvement. His Index entry for 'Hitler, Adolf, anti-Jewish policy of' in the 1977 edition of Hitler's War is far longer than that even for 'Jews', let alone 'Jews, extermination of' - 55 lines as against 40 lines. Still, his belief in the fact of mass extermination, however it was carried out, is quite clear. He retained this belief for much of the 1980s. Writing about the phenomenon of Holocaust denial or 'revisionism' in 1980, for example, Pierre Vidal-Naquet described Irving as a 'semi-revisionist'.8 Similarly, Gill Seidel, the author of a highly critical account of Holocaust denial, concluded firmly in 1986 that 'David Irving makes a very decisive contribution to the "soft revisionist" literature on the Second World War. His sober writing contains nothing of the vulgar racism which permeates the pamphlets of McLaughlin and Harwood. He does not deny the Holocaust.' 9 Within a short space of time, however, all this was to change, and Irving was to move from 'soft-core' to 'hard-core' Holocaust denial, to quote the words of another observer of the self-styled 'revisionist' scene.10


5. Hitler's War, 1977 edn., p. xiii.
6. Ibid., p. xiv.
7. Ibid., pp. xiv-xv.
8. Vidal-Naquet, Assassins, pp. 89, 124.
9. Seidel, The Holocaust Denial, p. 121. Her references here are to R. Harwood, Nuremberg and Other War Crimes (Brighton, 1978), and M. McLaughlin, For Those Who Cannot Speak (Brighton, 1979).
10. Stern, Holocaust Denial, p. 31.
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accessed 12 March 2013