Irving's Juiciest Catch: Christopher Hitchens
A Holocaust Denier Reels In a Journalist
Published: 1997-05-17

New York — David Irving started by carefully baiting his hook and casting his line. The bait was taken by St. Martin's Press, but it managed to squirm free at the last minute. It looked for a moment like Mr. Irving would go home with his bucket empty. Then came another nibble. One can only imagine Mr. Irving's surprise when he discovered dangling from the end of his hook one of the juiciest catches ever to flop into the revisionist boat, the celebrated journalist Christopher Hitchens.

In the latest twist in the great David Irving debate, Mr. Hitchens and Vanity Fair have been suckered by the Holocaust deniers. Writing in the June number of the trendy monthly owned by S.I. Newhouse Jr., Mr. Hitchens argues that the most recent addition to the canon of Holocaust-denial literature, "Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich," deserves to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. He goes so far as to state that St. Martin's "has disgraced the business of publishing and the practice of debate" by deciding to pull the plug on this new biography of the Nazi propaganda chief.

This may not sound surprising. Vanity Fair, after all, is the magazine that rose to the defense of John Demjanjuk in its infamous article "How Terrible Is Ivan?" It is nonetheless disturbing that Mr. Irving is still trolling for a publisher—Random House's Times Books division has apparently agreed to take a close look at the book. And then, of course, there's an absurdity the likes of which we haven't seen since the Nazis tried to march on Skokie, Ill. David Irving, Holocaust denier, is poised to emerge as a poster boy for First Amendment rights.

The trouble is, this is not a First Amendment debate. No one is suggesting that Mr. Irving be censored. He is free to write and publish whatever he wishes. Indeed, "Goebbels" has already been brought out by a "vanity press" in London. The real issue is whether a reputable publishing house wants to lend its imprimatur to a "historian" who has made a career out of denying the Shoah.

Whether Mr. Irving is worth his salt as a historian is a separate question. Mr. Hitchens would, no doubt, answer yes. "David Irving is not just a Fascist historian," he writes in Vanity Fair, "He is also a great historian of Fascism." While it is true that Mr. Irving claims to have done original archival research for "Goebbels," he includes in the book material intended to bolster his own misguided conclusion that the Führer was somehow "out of the loop" in Nazi Germany.

"There is this representation of Irving as a great scholar who every now and then produces a 'quirky conclusion,'" says the editorial page editor of the New York Post, Eric Breindel, a leader of the camp that opposes Mr. Hitchens. "But the 'quirky conclusions' animate his entire opus." And what of the latest addition to Mr. Irving's oeuvre? "This book is effectively anti-Semitic," asserts Mr. Breindel. "Above all else, that is why it shouldn't be published."

In other words, it's no coincidence that Mr. Irving believes that Hitler never gave the order for the genocidal policy known as the Final Solution or, for that matter, Kristallnacht. Nor is it an accident that the gas chambers are never mentioned in this 500-plus-page book. Perhaps it's not even a coincidence — though Mr. Irving insists that it is — that the author of "Goebbels" elected to hold his book party at his flat in London on the eve of Hitler's birthday. No, all of this fits neatly into Mr. Irving's perverse understanding of what Nazism was all about.

In May 1988, Mr. Irving testified on behalf of the defense in the trial of Canadian Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. He stated under oath that he had found "no document whatsoever indicating the Holocaust occurred." A few years later, Mr. Irving addressed a convention sponsored by the Institute for Historical Review. "My dear ladies and gentlemen," he began, according to a report in the April 1990 edition of the IHR's newsletter, "survivors and children of the survivors of Dresden, the holocaust of the Germans of Dresden was real. The holocaust of the Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers is a fabrication." In an interview with the London Jewish Chronicle in 1992, Mr. Irving said, "the Jews are very foolish not to abandon the gas chamber theory while they still have time."

As for Mr. Irving's latest effort, a research analyst for the Anti-Defamation League, Marc Caplan, puts it this way: "The book is consistent with the main trends in Irving's writing....He blames everyone but Hitler. It's a very perverse reading of a totalitarian society."

For example, Mr. Irving writes that "Nowhere do [Goebbels'] diary's seventy-five thousand pages refer to an explicit order by Hitler for the murder of the Jews." It is well-established among historians that a document containing such an order does not exist—only Holocaust deniers insist that its absence somehow undermines all of the documentary evidence that proves that Hitler was indeed responsible for ordering the Final Solution.

Mr. Irving's treatment of Barbarossa, the military operation that Germany undertook against the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II, is also suspect. Following a popular line among Holocaust deniers, he conflates the Jews and the communists, thereby shifting to Eastern Europeans the blame for pogroms carried out by S.S. units.

To be sure, Mr. Irving does all of this in rather subtle ways. Rather than filling the book with eye-popping fabrications, he decontextualizes events, tweaking them to conform to his conclusions. "The bigotry is there, but the untrained eye may not be able to pick it up," says Mr. Caplan. Therein lies what is perhaps most insidious about this "great historian of Fascism" and his fellow Holocaust deniers. It's a familiar tactic, one that Deborah Lipstadt details in her book, "Denying the Holocaust."

And yet, Mr. Hitchens and the redaktia at Vanity Fair were apparently willing to gloss over Mr. Irving's sordid past.

Mr. Hitchens made something of a splash not long ago with a piece mocking the obsession with political correctness at The Los Angeles Times. No doubt he will seek to write off critics of his support for David Irving as proponents of a new kind of anti-Nazi PC. If he succeeds, left and right might again be joined in a way they haven't since 1939, when Molotov shook hands with Ribbentrop. Won't they have a merry time when that ship comes in.


Copyright © 1996, Forward.

Copyright © 1996, SoftLine Information Inc., all right reserved.

Title: Irving's Juiciest Catch: Christopher Hitchens; A Holocaust Denier Reels In a Journalist
Summary: NEW YORK — David Irving started by carefully baiting his hook and casting his line. The bait was taken by St. Martin's Press, but it managed to squirm free at the last minute. It looked for a moment like Mr. Irving would go home with his bucket empty. Then came another nibble. One can only imagine Mr. Irving's surprise when he discovered dangling from the end of his hook one of the juiciest catches ever to flop into the revisionist boat, the celebrated journalist Christopher Hitchens.
Source: Forward; Ethnic News Watch
Date: 17-MAY-1996
Regular Price: $3.00
Subscriber's Price: $3.00
Document Size: Short (up to 2 pages)
Document ID: GG19970829030054860
Subject(s): CRIMES/CRIME (HOLOCAUST); LITERATURE (HISTORICAL, NON-FICTION)
Citation Information: V. C; N. 31,080; p. 1
Author(s): Mahler, Jonathan
Document Type: Book review

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Author(s): Jonathan Mahler
Title: Irving's Juiciest Catch: Christopher Hitchens, A Holocaust Denier Reels In a Journalist
Sources: Forward, 17-MAY-1996, p. 1
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Published: 1997-05-17
First posted on CODOH: May 15, 1997, 7 p.m.
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