An Academic Comment on the Scholarship of David Irving

Published: 1998-11-05

This post appeared on a BBS on the Web and is quoted here to give a good illustration of what an honest intellectual appraisal of David Irving's talents and methodology reveals. Namely, the same kinds of things are pointed out that he was praised for by top historians for thirty years, before his findings began to reveal uncomfortable truths that earned him a smear campaign and pariah status in the international publishing field. We sincerely hope that in time more academics will practice the high ideals of impartiality and a concern for the truth above all else, and not kowtow to the people and groups who employ false character assassination in order to control what is and is not published about Germany and the holocaust topics.

Although it was publicly posted, we have initially omitted his name and location for the reasons he mentions in his comments — to avoid, or at least put off for a time, the "gunsights of his (Irving's) most vitriolic critics" being trained on another honest man who dares to speak the truth.

This effort has become moot, however, after Hayward's thesis about revisionism caused a furor in New Zealand in 2000. Dr. Hayward subsequently resigned from his position as senior lecturer in history at Massey University in June 2002, where he had been respected as an effective teacher and productive scholar. See Thomas A. Fudge's paper "The Fate of Joel Hayward in New Zealand Hands: from Holocaust Historian to Holocaust?"

Posted by Dr. Joel Hayward on November 05, 1998

Dear Forum readers,

I have read the discussion on Irving with great interest. As a professional historian who has written a lot about Holocaust Revisionism in general and Irving in particular (and plenty on WW2), I can speak with some confidence about the issues raised. Although I may discuss particular details of David Irving's scholarship at a later date (knowing a fair bit about it but wanting first to plan my comments carefully to reduce my chance of joining Irving in the gun sights of his most vitriolic critics), permit me at this time to make one or two observations. Irving's enemies claim that he is not a 'real' historian because he lacks higher qualifications in history and has never held an academic position. Consequently, they state, his work should be discounted or at least treated with greater circumspection than that of established historians. It is certainly true he never completed his Bachelor degree at the University of London (where he read Physics), let alone completed a post-graduate degree or Doctorate. It is also true that he has never held a university position.

However, if those grounds are sufficient to call his scholarship into question, then they must also call into question the scholarship of almost all the important and influential writers of Holocaust history from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, upon which supporters of received opinion on the Holocaust still rely. For example, the late Gerald Reitlinger, author of the very influential and still-cited 'The Final Solution: the Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe', was an art dealer with no academic qualifications. Yet Reitlinger's book had a profound impact on both scholarly and popular perceptions of what happened to Eastern European Jews.

A number of those still writing on the Holocaust also lack the 'proper' credentials. Georges Wellers, a prominent French writer on the Holocaust and a bitter opponent of Revisionism, is the former director of a medical research laboratory. He has no historical training. Jean-Claude Pressac, author of several 'seminal' books on the Auschwitz gas chambers, has a diploma in pharmacy but no historical training whatsoever. Walter Laqueur, former Kibbutznik and author of many well-received and best-selling books on the Holocaust and modern European history, may be an academic icon in Israel (the Jerusalem Post has produced glowing full-page feature articles on him, for instance), and he may head his own institute and edit his own journal, but he has never completed a university degree.

Clearly, if Irving is unworthy of the title 'historian', then these Holocaust writers (none of whom has written anywhere near the number of books Irving has) are also unworthy. If Irving's works are to be discounted or treated with unusual circumspection because of his lack of formal credentials, then so are theirs. Do Irving's highly-partisan critics care that their own favourite historians of the Holocaust lack 'legitimacy'; that, like Irving and his ilk, they are not 'real' historians?

Of course, titles and qualifications mean little, as I wish Irving's critics would realise. An author's degree of formal historical training and position within the academic world are unimportant if he or she has employed sound methodological principles. Countless excellent works have been written by so-called 'amateurs' whose careful and systematic piecing together of evidence has cast new light on their objects of inquiry. University-dropout Laqueur, one of my favourite historians, is a case in point. His scholarship is usually terrific and I buy most books he writes.

Unlike many of Irving's detractors, I have actually read his books. In fact, I have critically examined - keeping issues of truth, objectivity and bias at the forefront of my mind - ALL his 31 books, from Und Deutschlands Städte starben nicht (published in Zürich in 1961, when Irving was only 23) to his recently-published biography of Dr. Goebbels.

I have also conducted extensive research into Irving's character and career, this information forming a substantial part of my Master's thesis on the historiography of Holocaust Revisionism. Further, in the course of my doctoral and subsequent research on aspects of Third Reich history, I worked in, or obtained documents from, several of the archives frequented by Irving, including the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg im Breisgau, the Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes in Vienna, the National Archives in Washington and the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency. I have thus been able to check his sources and the way he used them.

Therefore, I can say with confidence that I am as well positioned to comment on Irving's scholarship as anyone. My judgement: I certainly don't agree with all his arguments and conclusions, and strongly disagree with some, but I can't find serious flaws in his methodology and I have never found a single example of deliberate falsification of evidence.

Yes, I have studied all the books and articles that attempt to prove that he has fiddled with sources, but they are generally weak and unpersuasive, reflecting the authors' own biases, preconceptions and, saddest of all, lack of familiarity with the documents they purport to analyse. Deborah Lipstadt's book is hopeless. Very poor indeed. Gerald Fleming's Hitler und die Endlösung: "Es ist des Führers Wunsch" (revised ed., 1992) is easily the best of the anti-Irving books, but even that ultimately fails to prove falsification or improper consideration of evidence.

Regardless of his attention-seeking antics and his tendency to say dumb, insensitive and sometimes inaccurate things to the media (which don't appear in his books, thank goodness), Irving is a researcher, biographer and military historian of outstanding aptitude. Many of his works are excellent. (By the way, none of them is specifically on the Holocaust or even deals with it at length.) Some of his books - Churchill's War, Vol. 1 springs to mind - are not as strong, but, hey, very few scholars in any discipline consistently attain excellence.

Irving once told me by letter that, for financial reasons, he would not travel to New Zealand again unless it formed part of a wider Austral-Asian speaking tour. With the recent decision of the Federal Court in Perth, Australia, to refuse a judicial review of Irving's original ban from Australia, it seems that Irving will never again travel to our neck of the woods.

This is a pity. If Irving had come back to New Zealand, I would have invited him to 'guest lecture' on Hitler's war leadership or the Wehrmacht High Command to my third-year modern German history class. After all, he is a leading expert in that field. I would not have invited him to speak on the Holocaust or the Reich's racial policies, however, because he has no expertise in that field.

Finally, in case anyone accuses me of being one of Irving's many groupies, let me add that I consider him to be a very good historian but an unpalatable person. I don't like many of the things he says. Some of them - on race and nationalism, for instance - offend me deeply. I would not permit him to address my students on those topics, but only because he is no specialist in them, not because of my personal feelings.

I hope my comments are of interest to someone.

Best regards/Hochachtungsvoll,

Dr Joel Hayward,
School of History
Philosophy and Politics,
Massey University,
New Zealand.


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Author(s): Joel Hayward
Title: An Academic Comment on the Scholarship of David Irving
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Published: 1998-11-05
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 3, 1998, 6 p.m.
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