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Defense Documents

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

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(c) Systematic nature of the extermination

1. A refusal to accept that the extermination of the Jews was systematic, organized or centrally directed, is a major element in the phenomenon of Holocaust denial. Where does Irving stand on this issue? Even before he changed his mind on the numbers killed and the use of gassing as a murder technique, Irving was denying that the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been carried out in a systematic manner. Thus for example in 1986, two years before his change of mind on these other issues, Irving told reporters in Brisbane, Australia:
I'm not attacking the figure of six million, I'm not attacking the fact that the Jews were killed, but I am attacking or questioning whether in fact it was a tragedy ordered and organized on the very highest German state level, namely by Hitler himself. And I think this is what they find very repugnant. Because if my hypothesis is correct, then it means that all these Jews - and it may be any figure, I don't look at the figure concerned - if my hypothesis is correct, it indicates that the Jews were the victims of a large number of rather run-of-the-mill criminal elements which exist in Central Europe. Not just Germans, but Austrians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, feeding on the endemic antisemitism of the era and encouraged by the brutalization which war brought about anyway. These people had seen the bombing raids begin. They'd lost probably women, wives and children in the bombing raids. And they   wanted to take revenge on someone. So when Hitler ordered the expulsion, as he did - there's no doubt that Hitler ordered the expulsion measures - these people took it out on the person that they could.69
2. Irving did not explain how Allied bombing raids on Germany, could have turned Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians against the Jews. He did make it clear, however, that he thought the mass killings of Jews in the Second World War resulted from local initiatives in East-Central Europe, not from any overall co-ordination by the Nazi leadership or indeed by any part of it.
3. His view that these local initiatives were excusable comes through clearly as well. As he told an interviewer the same month in 1986,
The millions of Jews, or the hundreds of thousands of Jews - I'm not going to name any figure - who were liquidated during the Second World War by the Germans, or the Latvians, or the Ukrainians, or all the rest who carried out liquidations - they were the victims of a large number of nameless criminals into whose hands they fell on the Eastern Front. Mostly around Eastern Europe, the liquidations occurred - and these men acted on their own impulse, their own initiative, within the general atmosphere of brutality created by the Second World War, in which, of course, the Allied bombings played a part.70
4. Other aspects of his 1986 statements were soon revised; this one was not. The extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe during the war, he repeated in 1988, in places like Minsk and Kiev and Riga, was 'conducted for the most ordinary and repugnant motives of greed and thievery', by 'individual gangsters and criminals', for whom the German state and people could not be   held responsible.71 In fact, of course, even those responsible on the ground for directing and carrying out the actual killing operations were not 'nameless' and most of them were not 'criminals' in the sense of having previous convictions; they were responsible officials acting on behalf of the Nazi state and Nazi agencies such as the SS and the police, and their names are very well known to posterity; later on in this Report, a number of them will be mentioned by name and their actions and activities discussed in detail. The signed reports they filed on killing operations are available to historians and have been widely used.72
5. As so often when he deals with these questions, Irving abandons the pretence of original research and resorts to speculation and innuendo. Testifying at the 1988 Zündel trial, for example, Irving said he was
puzzled at the apparent lack of logic: that the Nazis are supposed to have had a government policy for the deliberate, ruthless, systematic extermination of the Jews in Auschwitz and other places of murder and yet tens if not hundreds of thousands of Jews passed through these camps and are, I am glad to say, alive and well amongst us now to testify to their survival. So either the Nazis had no such programme or they were an exceedingly sloppy race, which isn't the image we have of them today. It's another of the logical questions which is being asked in this history which the historians hitherto have not asked.
6. 'I don't think there was any overall Reich policy to kill the Jews', he repeated later on the same occasion.73 Of course, his argument here was fallacious; as we have already seen, Auschwitz was both a labour camp and an extermination camp, so it is not surprising that many Jews interned there survived the experience. On the other hand, Treblinka, Chelmno, Belzec and Sobibor, which is presumably what Irving means by 'other places of murder', were purely   designed for extermination; Irving presents no evidence to show that any Jews at all survived, which is not surprising, for hardly any did.
7. Irving's view that the extermination was not systematic also leads him to dispute a number of specific instances which most historians have taken to show the concerted nature of the killings. Most historians accept, for example, that the extermination of the Jews who lived in, or had been transported to, the General Government area of Nazi-occupied Poland, in the camps at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka, was a concerted operation: Irving rejects this view.74 Irving also disputes the view, commonly held among historians, that the Wannsee Conference, held on 20 January 1942, drew up statistics of Jews in many European countries who were to be taken to Eastern Europe for extermination, either in the near future or, later, when, as evidently expected, these countries fell into German hands. The transcript of the meeting preserved in the Political Archive of the German Foreign Ministry, he says, contains no reference to 'liquidation' or 'agreement with Hitler'. It was, he says, a low-level conference concerned with implementing a change of plan from deporting the Jews to Madagascar to evacuating them to the east, as the foreign ministry official Martin Luther reported afterwards, an impression confirmed by Hitler's Table Talk on 27 January and the Goebbels Diary entry on 7 March.75
8. Irving has repeatedly attempted to argue away the Wannssee conference. He told the 1988 Zündel trial that
Several of the participants in the Wannsee Conference subsequently testified in later criminal proceedings that...none of them had an idea that at that conference there had been a discussion of   liquidation of Jews...There is no explicit reference to extermination of the Jews of Europe in the Wannsee Conference, not in any of the other documents in that file. We cannot take documents out of context...In my opinion, it has been inflated to that importance by irresponsible historians who probably haven't read the document.
9. This is a classic instance of the technique described by Vidal-Naquet in Section 2 above, of taking the euphemistic language of Nazism at face value because it seeks to disguise the fact that mass murder was the subject it was referring to, but casting doubt on any source which speaks directly and in unvarnished terms about murder and extermination. Eichmann testified in 1961 that the talk at the Wannsee Conference had all been of killing and liquidation, disguised in the minutes (written by Eichmann himself but checked over and amended by Heydrich) by euphemisms. However, Eichmann, said Irving, forgetting how he had relied on the Nazi bureaucrat's 1961 testimony on other occasions, 'got confused about what he really recalled and what he had in the meantime been told.'76 Moreover, the Wannsee Conference was in fact a high-level meeting with a wide range of senior officials from different administrative and executive bodies with an interest in the implementation of the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe'.77 Finally, Irving suggests without a shred of justification that historians have neglected to read the Wannsee Conference minutes even though this is one of the most frequently reprinted and widely available of all documents of the 'Third Reich'.78
10. Irving specifically denies on pages 343-9 of his book on Göring that there was anything systematic about killings of Jews by Nazis in Eastern Europe, and he also denies that there is any evidence that these killings were carried out in response to orders from above. As the same passage in the Göring biography also shows, Irving's view has been for many years now that Hitler only wished to deport Jews, not to kill them. On pages 407 and 425-6 of the 1991 edition of Hitler's War, as we have already seen, Irving repeats his view that Hitler and the leading Nazis planned only to deport the Jews.
11. Presented with the orders issued to the task forces or Einsatzgruppen in advance of the invasion of the Soviet Union to kill Jews, Red Army commissars and others in areas which the German Army was to occupy after the invasion, Irving argues nevertheless that such orders, clear evidence of an overall German state policy of exterminating Jews, could not be 'part of an overall German state policy of exterminating Jews...because there is no documentary evidence to support the contention 'that there was such a policy. I don't now believe', Irving said in 1988, 'there was anything you could describe as "extermination machinery" other than the very disorganized ad hoc efforts of the criminals and murderers among the SS who were carrying out the liquidations that we described earlier.'79
12. Thus Irving denies a central element of the Holocaust as it is conventionally understood, by arguing that the Nazis had no concerted or systematic policy of exterminating the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. This is one of the most widely promoted aspects of Holocaust denial. One of the earliest Holocaust deniers, Paul Rassinier, described 'the systematic mass extermination of the Jews in the gas chambers' as an 'infamous accusation'   invented by the Jews.80 Another Holocaust denier, Austin J. App similarly asserted that there was no 'single document, order, blue-print' demonstrating the Nazis' intention of murdering the Jews, and went on to argue, as Irving later did, that the Nazis were so efficient that the fact that some Jews undoubtedly survived proves that they never had any intention of murdering them all: had they wanted to, 'they would have done so'.81


69. Audiocassette 8: Irving press conference, Brisbane, 20 March 1986, 445-458. In the phrase 'this is what they find very repugnant', 'they' presumably, as usual in Irving's speeches, refers to the Jews, or to historians working in some sense or some capacity on their behalf.
70. Audiocassette 89: Terry Lane, ABC 3LO Radio, interview with Irving, 18 March 1986.
71. Audiocassette 99, Irving in Toronto, August 1988, side 1,727-754.
72. See the expert witness statements by Professor Browning and Dr. Longerich for an account of these reports.
73. David Irving's 1988 Testimony at the Trial of Ernst Zündel, pp. 45-6, 88.
74. Reply to Defence of Second Defendant, p. 6.
75. Ibid., pp. 17-18,24-25, citing US National Archives, fol.T-1 20, roll 780, frames 372,024 et seq., and Nuremberg Document NG-2586.
76. David Irving's 1988 Testimony at the Trial of Ernst Zündel, pp. 3, 71.
77. See the expert witness report by Dr. Longerich on the systematic nature of the Nazi persecution and extermination of the Jews.
78. See for example the full translation in Noakes and Pridham, Nazism, Vol. 3. A translation of the Wannsee protocol is also available on the Internet (H-German) under the following address: http://h-net2 .msu. edu/~german/gtext/nazi/wanneng2 .html.
79. Ibid., pp. 95-8; see also the statement, cited above, in Irving, 'Revelations from Goebbels's Diary'.
80. Rassinier, Debunking. p. 288.
81. App, The Six Million Swindle, pp. 7-8, repeating arguments first advanced in App, Morgenthau Era Letters (Tacoma Partk, Maryland, 2nd ed., 1975), p. 101 (first ed., 1965).
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