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Defense Documents

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

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<< 1.5 Methods used to draw...

1.6 Argument and structure of the Report

1.6.1 Very soon after we had begun our examination of Irving's work along the lines sketched out above, it became clear that Irving did all of these things. Penetrating beneath the confident surface of his prose quickly revealed a mass of distortion and manipulation in every issue we tackled that was so tangled that detailing it sometimes took up many more words than had been devoted to it in Irving's original account. Unpicking the eleven-page narrative of the anti-Jewish pogrom of the so-called Reichskristallnacht in Irving's book Goebbels: Mastermind of the 'Third Reich' and tracing back every part of it to the documentation on which it purports to rest takes up over seventy pages of the present Report. A similar knotted web of distortions, suppressions and manipulations became evident in every single instance which we examined. We have not suppressed any occasion on which Irving has used accepted and legitimate methods of historical research, exposition and interpretation: there were none.
1.6.2 The discovery of the extent of Irving's disregard for the proper methods of historical scholarship was not only surprising but also deeply shocking. As this Report will show, it goes well beyond what Lipstadt alleges. I was not prepared for the sheer depths of duplicity which I encountered in Irving's treatment of the historical sources, nor for the way in which this dishonesty permeated his entire written and spoken output. It is as all-pervasive in his early work as it is in his later publications. In this respect the change of view which, as this Report will note, he underwent in 1988 with respect to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, has done no more than emphasise an already existing pattern. It is clear from all the investigations which I and my research assistants have undertaken that Irving's claim to have a very good and thorough knowledge of the evidence on the basis of which the history of Nazi Germany has to be written is completely justified. His numerous mistakes and egregious errors are not, therefore, due to mere ignorance or sloppiness; on the contrary, it is obvious that they are calculated and deliberate. That is precisely why they are so shocking. Irving has relied in the past, and continues to rely in the present, on the fact that his readers and listeners, reviewers and interviewers lack either the time, or the expertise, to probe deeply enough into the sources he uses for his work to uncover the distortions, suppressions and manipulations to which he has subjected them. The late Martin Broszat and the American historian Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., whose work is referred to below, are virtually the only previous historians to have gone some way down this road; this Report, however, is the first full-length investigation of Irving's work on a large scale.
1.6.3 Because of the scope of what we have uncovered, this Report cannot confine itself simply to the allegations made by Lipstadt, though it does deal fully with each one. The detailed analyses in this Report are all illustrative of the points made at the beginning of this Introduction, but inevitably in some cases they also go beyond them. It should be noted that this Report deals both with Irving's writings and speeches before the publication of Lipstadt's book in Britain in 1994, and in the years since then, up to 1998. As will become apparent, Irving's methods have not changed substantially since Lipstadt completed her book; indeed, however much his views have changed over the years, his methods have remained substantially the same. It is these methods which form the main object of scrutiny in this Report. The fundamental question to which Irving's historical writings and speeches will be subjected is this: do they conform to generally accepted standards of historical scholarship?
1.6.4That is, in other words, does Irving give a reasonably accurate account of the documents he uses; does he translate them in a reasonably accurate and unbiased manner; does he take into account as many other relevant documents as any professional historian could reasonably be expected to read and cite when he is using one particular source to substantiate an argument; does he apply consistent criteria of source-criticism to all the original material he uses, examining it for its internal consistency, its consistency with other documents, its provenance, the motives of those who were responsible for it, and the audience for which it was intended; are his arguments, his statistics and his accounts of historical events consistent across time and based on reliable historical evidence; does he take account of the arguments and   interpretations of other historians who have examined the same documents; does he, in other words, advance his arguments and interpretations in a reasonably objective and unbiased manner?
1.6.5 Historians, of course, notoriously disagree on many aspects of the interpretation of the past. It is seldom, if ever, the case that one particular interpretation of a past event or a process is irrefutably right and all the others wrong. The records left to us by the past are fragmentary and incomplete and susceptible of a variety of interpretations. Historians have to take all kinds of evidence into account: immediate sources written at the time, eyewitness accounts written down shortly after the event in question, interviews and testimony from long afterwards - all these have their problems, and although historians generally give a greater weight to a source the nearer it is to the event with which it deals, this means neither that such proximate sources are entirely unproblematical, nor that more distant sources are to be dismissed out of hand. That is why gathering as many sources as possible relating to an event, whatever their nature, and comparing them with one another, is the basis of the historian's reconstruction of the past.
1.6.6Historians may disagree with one another for a variety of reasons, and such disagreements are the stock-in-trade of historical controversy. However, such differences of opinion are generally confined within the limits set by the evidence: the number of possible interpretations of an event is not limitless, and historical controversy usually reveals some to fit more closely with the historical evidence than others. Thus for example there has long been a considerable difference of opinion amongst historians as to when the Nazis reached a decision to undertake a systematic extermination of all the Jews in Europe; some, though not many, have put the decision early in 1941; rather more have argued for a date in late July or early August 1941; some have favoured October 1941; more recently one younger German scholar has argued for December 1941 and another for late March or early April 1942. All these estimations have their merits and demerits, and the argument continues, based on a detailed examination and comparison of the documentary record. However, the position can broadly be summed up by saying that there is a general consensus that a decision was taken at the highest level some time between the beginning of 1941 and the Spring of 1942, and most   probably between June 1941 and April 1942. The limits set by the available evidence do not allow of a date, say, in January 1933, or January 1943. The view that, for example, no decision was ever taken, or that the Nazis did not undertake the systematic extermination of the Jews at all, or that very few Jews were in fact killed, lies wholly outside the limits of what it is reasonable for a professional historian to argue in the light of the available evidence.3 Scholarly disagreements often involve accusations of misreading or neglecting sources, or stretching interpretations beyond what the evidence seems to allow; but although there is sometimes room for a certain amount of disagreement at the margins, reasonable historians do not find it difficult to distinguish between interpretation and fantasy, argument and tendentiousness, imaginative readings of the sources and outright manipulations of them, minor errors of fact and deliberate distortions of the documents, or the accidental omission of relevant material and the deliberate suppression of inconvenient evidence. In this Report, these differences will be spelled out repeatedly and in very considerable detail in the course of subjecting Irving's historical work to critical scrutiny.
1.6.7This task is, in a sense, made easier by Irving's repeated insistence that he is not putting forward an argument for debate, but simply telling the truth. His philosophy of history, such as it is, was revealed in a press conference held in Brisbane, Australia, on 20 March 1986:
Journalist: It could be argued, couldn't it, that history is always subjective, and your view of history too.
Irving: Oh yes. Look at the life of Rommel here, the life of Rommel, The Trail of the Fox. In writing that, I used two thousand letters that he wrote to his wife over his entire life....Well, two thousand letters, that manuscript was probably six hundred pages long when it was finally (completed), you're doing a lot of condensing, you're condensing an entire man's life into six hundred pages of typescript, and that process   of condensing it is the nice way of saying, "but of course you're selecting, you're selecting how to present this man." And that is undoubtedly a subjective operation. And this is why I hope that the readers look at the overall image presented of David Irving by the media and they think to themselves: "Well, on balance we can probably trust him better than we can trust Professor Hillgruber, or Professor Jacobsen, or any of the other historians who write on the same kind of period."4
Journalist: Surely the same argument that you're putting up against the bulk of historians could be levelled at you.
Irving: Ah, but then, you see, but this is the difference: they can't prove their points, they can't prove their points. I can prove all my points because I've got all the documents and the evidence on my side, but they can't find even one page of evidence to attack me, and that is why they're beginning to rant and rave instead.5
1.6.8 In other words, Irving admits a degree of aesthetic subjectivity in condensing and organizing his material, but concedes none at all in formulating his arguments (or, as he would put it, proving his points). This Report takes him at his word and asks whether there is indeed any evidence available to disprove his points, or in other words, to demonstrate that his arguments are specious and arrived at not through an accumulation of documents and evidence but by manipulation, falsification, suppression, distortion, mistranslation, misinterpretation and other wilful violations of the basic methods of the professional historian in dealing with the sources on which historical reconstruction and interpretation are based.
1.6.9 The first part of the Report following this Introduction examines Irving's output as a historian, his reputation amongst professional historians, and his relations with the historical profession in general. In the course of the discussion, this section deals on a general level with Irving's   use of historical evidence and the criteria to which he subjects it. The second part of the Report then turns to the question of whether Irving is, or is not, a Holocaust denier. This requires an outline of what is the generally accepted definition of the Holocaust and what Irving's attitude is to that definition. This part of the Report goes on via a survey of the literature on Holocaust denial to establish four criteria by which, it is argued, it is reasonable to judge whether or not someone denies the Holocaust, and then applies each of these criteria to Irving's work as a whole.
1.6.10 A third and longest part of the Report takes the 'chain of documents' on the basis of which Irving has sought to dissociate Hitler from the antisemitic policies of the 'Third Reich', and subjects each of them to an extremely detailed and rigorous examination in terms of Irving's treatment of the document or documents in question and in the light of the other documentation which is relevant to the issue under discussion. The purpose of this third part is to demonstrate at length, and as exhaustively as possible, Irving's admiration for Hitler and his determination to manipulate the available historical evidence in the service of this admiration. In case it might be thought that Irving's manipulations of the historical record in this respect are an exceptional aspect of an otherwise reliable historical oeuvre, the product of a peculiar bee in the bonnet of a generally honest and competent professional historian, the fourth part of the book turns to three other aspects of Irving's work and uncovers a similar story of lies and deceptions in Irving's presentation of past history. It begins by comparing all the available versions of Irving's account of the Allied bombing of Dresden early in 1945 with the evidence on which they rest and the researches carried out by competent and reasonably objective British and German historians of this event. It moves on to illustrate Irving's method by studying a sample of the members of Hitler's entourage on whose testimony, often elicited in personal interviews with Irving himself, he so frequently relies. And it concludes by taking some examples of Irving's explanation of those aspects of Nazi antisemitism which he is prepared to admit actually existed.
1.6.11 Once again, it should be emphasised that these topics, numerous though they are, were not chosen as particularly egregious examples of Irving's disregard of proper historical method.   On the contrary, his account of the bombing of Dresden was selected for scrutiny because his book on the subject has been reprinted many times and did much to establish his reputation. His use of the evidence of Hitler's adjutants was chosen for examination because his access to their private papers, and his use of exclusive interview material generated in his meetings with them, have been presented as strengths of Irving's research not just by himself but by others as well. And finally, his analysis of the reasons for Nazi antisemitism was singled out for investigation because it seemed on the face of it that this might cast light on, or in some way modify or relativise, his insistence that Hitler was not involved in it. In every case, however, as this Report will demonstrate, Irving has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary amongst historians that he does not deserve to be called a historian at all.


3. For these various dates, see Richard Breitman, The Architext of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution(London, 1991); Christopher Browning, The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution (Cambridge, 1992); Philippe Burrin, Hitler and the Jews (London, 1993); Christian Gerlach, 'Die Wannsee-Konferenz, das Schicksal der deutschen Juden und Hitlers politische Grundsatzentscheidung, alle Juden Europas zu ermorden', Werkstattgeschichte 18 (1997), pp. 7-44; Peter Longerich, Politik der Vernichtung: Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozialistischeii Judcnvcrfolgung (Munich, 1998).
4. These were two historians who emphasised Hitler's role in leading and co-ordinating the policies of the 'Third Reich': see Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Nationalsozialistische Aussenpoiltik (Frankfurt am Main, 1968), and Andreas Hillgruber, Hitlers Strategie, Politik undKriegfuhrung 1940-1941 (Frankfurt am Main, 1965).
5. Audiocassette 88: Irving press conference in Brisbane, Queensland, 20 March 1986, side 2, no. 107-126.
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