David Irving: "Historian" for Hitler
Is David Irving a legitimate historian or a Holocaust denier? The answer may be: both.
Irving does not have a college degree and has never been a part of academia, but his books about Nazi Germany have attracted praise from mainstream historians. His 1977 book, Hitler's War, was widely applauded, though many critics were concerned about its defense of Hitler as a man who knew nothing about the Holocaust until late in the war. One critic called Hitler's War "the autobiography Hitler didn't write."
But in recent years, Irving's anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials have become more explicit. According to Irving, the Final Solution was masterminded by lesser Nazi leaders such as Goebbels without the knowledge of Hitler. Irving claims that the gas chambers at Auschwitz are a myth, and only 600,000 to 1 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust - a word he refuses to capitalize, and uses only once in the Goebbels book (referring to the Allied firebombing of Hamburg.)
The controversy over Irving reached a boiling point earlier this year, when Irving's opponents pressed St. Martin's Press to withdraw his new book about Joseph Goebbels. Publishers' Weekly called the book "repellent" and Kirkus Reviews said it was "scurrilously misleading."
The book was finally canceled when St. Martin's Chairman Thomas McCormack read it himself: "I hated it," he said "It seemed to me that the subtext was the ugly one: that Jews brought it on to themselves." McCormack called it "inescapably anti-Semitic", and said St. Martin's made a mistake in agreeing to publish the book.
Christopher Hitchens criticizes David Irving's "depraved opinions" and calls him "a sort of toxic substance," but Hitchens adds that Irving is "probably one of the three or four necessary historians of the Third Reich and of the Nazi period." But the more one learns about Irving, the more difficult it becomes to trust his history of Nazi Germany. Historian Gitta Sereny observes that Irving uses "selected quotes from Goebbels's diaries, while carefully avoiding passages which show clearly that Goebbels was only informed by Hitler himself of the annihilation of the Jews many months after it had begun." In attempting to prove the innocence of the Fuhrer he admires so much, Irving has sacrificed historical truth.
Irving's home in England is a monument to Nazism, with framed front pages of the Nazi party newspaper, a self-portrait of Hitler, and a small tin statue of "the Fuhrer: which Irving calls "rather sweet." Donald Cameron Watt, a professor of history at the London School of Economics and a onetime collaborator of Irving's, says: "Hitler is his hero, or so he wrote me at one point." According to Irving, "I was taught that Hitler was the incarnation of evil. I now see him as no greater an incarnation of evil than Churchill, Truman or Roosevelt." He calls Hitler a "reluctant anti-Semite."
Irving has a long history of anti-Semitism and pro-nazi sentiments. In 1959, Irving printed a publication full of articles admiring Nazi Germany, defending apartheid in South Africa, and asserting that "the national press" in Great Britain "is owned by Jews." At that time he said, "you can call me a mild fascist if you like," and declared that he "visited Hitler's eyrie at Berchtesgaden. I regard it as a shrine."
Irving's Holocaust denials have become more explicit since 1988. Irving now says, "I do not think there were any gas chambers or any master plan. It's just a myth and at last the myth is being eroded....eyewitness evidence is a problem for psychiatrists." Irving has said, "the holocaust of the Germans of Dresden was real. The holocaust of the Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers is a fabrication." In February 1992, Irving declared, "The Jews are very foolish not to abandon the gas chamber theory while they still have time." He warned that there would be anti-Semitic violence because of how the Jews "have exploited people with the gas chamber legend."
Irving says the Holocaust never happened and writes in his book that Auschwitz was the "slave labor camp" with "the highest mortality rate"- which is like saying that the electric chair is a piece of furniture with the highest mortality rate.
In the Oct. 21 New Republic, Jacob Heilbrunn writes about the disturbing anti-Semitism expressed by Irving. At a recent luncheon, Heilbrunn reports that Irving blamed the Jews for "a Jewish declaration of war on Germany. The Nazis were simply retaliating." Heilbrunn notes, "Irving's books cannot be divorced from the man and his historical mission."
One of Irving's publications is a particularly vile newsletter called, David Irving's Action Report, which includes letters from admirers, such as a fan in England who writes, "An Auschwitz survivors touring schools in my area, showing the film Schindler's List. That's what I'd call propaganda brainwashing of young children." A college student in Arlington, Massachusetts reports, "Along with a classmate at college I have become very issue-oriented and we are not content with the 'answers' of the big political parties nor their media promoters."
Irving's Action Report also prints the last letter from Reinhold Elstner, a mad German "hero" who committed suicide last year by burning himself to death in order to awaken German nationalism against "judicial zionist revenge" and "insults to former German soldiers."
But perhaps the most bizarre part of Irving's Action Report is a story he tells about Bill Casey, Reagan's CIA Director who was the brains behind Ollie North's "Arms for Contras" gun deal with Iran. Irving reports meeting Casey, and says Casey was a fan of the book, Hitler's War, as well as, according to Irving, "something of an admirer of the late Fuhrer."
Irving declares, "People ask me if I'm anti-Semitic. I say, not yet. But it's a mighty and a manful struggle not to become anti-Semitic. I have to remind myself every day, turn the cheek." He says he is "beginning to doubt" the possibility that "Jewish reviewers are capable of reviewing a book by me objectively."
For 30 years, he says, he suffered "a reign of terror" from those "minority groups" seeking to undermine him. "I know the organizations involved. I've come under their pressure and terror methods worldwide." Irving refused to say what these organizations were, and added: "This is the most extraordinary treatment of a historian since what the Iranians did to Salman Rushdie." But he has said, "When I go to Florida for three months I never use my credit card twice in the same place, so that Mossad does not know where I am."
Irving's views about other subjects are equally bizarre. Irving thinks that women were built to produce more men, and should be "subservient to men." His solution to unemployment should be to "declare the employment of a female a criminal offense." According to Irving, "God built women for a certain task, which is producing us. But they haven't lain down to accept that yet."
Irving calls himself a nationalist and a patriot." He advocates "benevolent repatriation" for non-white immigrants: "The jackboot and the whip are not the British way. We have to persuade them by the techniques of persuasion and propaganda that they're on the wrong side of the Atlantic." He has also denounced the participation of blacks in cricket leagues.
Nor is Irving a model of free speech himself. He regularly files libel suits in England against his critics, including the highly respected historian Gitta Sereny because she has criticized his books for twenty years, refuting his claim that Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust. According to Irving, "She was a shrivelled little prune then. And she is a shrivelled little prune now."
There are serious censorship issues involved. The Labor Party in England has proposed a prison sentence of up to two years for anyone who denies the Holocaust. If the anti-denier law is passed, England will join Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France in banning the ideas of Holocaust deniers.
Irving is currently barred from Germany, Australia, Italy, and Canada because of his views, and in 1992 he was fined 10,000 Marks by a Munich court for claiming that the Auschwitz gas chambers were "fakes" built after World War II to lure tourists to Poland. However, Irving has regularly traveled to Germany despite the ban.
Irving bragged to a reporter in 1992, "I have been in and out of Germany 20 times since the ban was imposed. This last time I came across in a rented truck at 4 a.m. and had not difficulty whatsoever. I was bringing in a ton of books."
Ewald Althans, a self-professed neo-Nazi leader in Munich and the guiding force behind a hate campaign against Boris Becker's black girlfriend, helped smuggle him in.
Althans fully endorses Irving: "I support David Irving. The Holocaust is a fabrication. The pictures of the dead, of gas chambers, of mass murder are filmed by Hollywood, narrated by Trevor Roper and directed by Hitchcock." Althans' office includes a huge poster of Irving, and shelves of Irving's books and videos which Althans sells along with his neo-Nazi fare. Irving has told rallies of neo-Nazis that he wished he was "as magnificent an orator as Adolf Hitler."
The danger of the laws banning Holocaust denial is that they turn bigots into free speech martyrs, and do little to alter the climate of anti-Semitism. It is far more important to point out the lies spread by anti-Semites like Bradley Smith and David Irving, than to try to prohibit them from speaking.
However, this doesn't mean that Irving is entitled to have a major publisher print his. St. Martin's Press won't publish a lot of authors, but that hardly means it's censoring them. Instead, it's showing editorial judgment - belatedly, to be sure, in Irving's case.
By printing Irving's book, St. Martin's would have given it a stamp of legitimacy, as is shown by the fact that the University of Chicago library preordered a copy of the book from them. No one is preventing Irving from publishing the book himself (as he has done). No other New York publisher would take his book (he says this is because more and more publishers have names like "Goldberg"), and he intentionally refused to seek out a "lesser" publisher, knowing that if the book was accepted it might threaten his inflated sense of victimhood.
The debate over the fate of Holocaust denial inevitable brings strong passions to the forefront. But it's good to find out that people care so much about an important - perhaps the most important - event in history.
In the end, it is not necessary to refute Irving's defense of Hitler, nor to debate the anti-Semites. But it is necessary to remember what people like Irving are so desperate to ignore.
University of Chicago free press, November 96; University of Chicago
Additional information about this document
|Title:||David Irving: "Historian" for Hitler|
|Sources:||University of Chicago free press, November 96|
|First posted on CODOH:||Oct. 30, 1996, 6 p.m.|