The Holocaust Historiography Project

Press Round-Up

Media Coverage of the Irving-Lipstadt Trial

Compiled by Greg Raven

Historian Irving Says He’s Been Object of Campaign of Vilification

Associated Press, March 15, 2000

LONDON — Historian David Irving, who has outraged survivors of Nazi death camps by saying the Holocaust was exaggerated, told Britain’s High Court on Wednesday that he had been the victim of a 30-year international campaign to destroy his reputation as a historian…

He said attempts to “suffocate” his publishing career had included “hostile groups” applying pressure to major book selling chains to burn or destroy his books…

Irving told the packed courtroom the case was not about the reputation of the Holocaust but about his reputation “as a human being, as an historian of integrity.”

“A judgment in my favor does not mean that the Holocaust never happened; it means only that in England today discussion is still permitted.”

British Holocaust Trial Ends with Claim of Jewish Conspiracy

Douglas Davis

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 15, 2000

LONDON — David Irving told the High Court in London this week that some of the world’s largest Jewish organizations are involved in an international conspiracy against him.

The self-described Holocaust revisionist’s claim Wednesday was the centerpiece of his 104-page closing address at the end of a two-month libel case against American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books…

The trial, which has attracted international attention, has been described as the most important trial involving the Holocaust since Adolf Eichmann, the chief engineer of the Holocaust, was convicted in Israel in 1961…

The plaintiff and defendant have shown sharply contrasting styles. Irving — who served as his own attorney and appeared to relish the spotlight — wasted no opportunity in and out of court in making statements supporting his claims that Auschwitz was not a death camp or that there was no systematic, mass destruction of Jews; Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, has sat silently throughout the proceedings.

Asserting that Israeli Holocaust specialist Yehuda Bauer paid for and directed Lipstadt’s book, Irving alleged that Bauer urged Lipstadt to incriminate him.

The book, said Irving, is part of a 30-year international campaign, led by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, JTA, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and others, which had aimed to discredit him.

“It is quite evident that the ADL, in cahoots with Lipstadt, set itself the task of destroying my career,” he said, asserting that “the real defendants in this case are not represented in this court.” But, he added, “We have them to thank for the spectacle that has been presented in this courtroom since January.”

Without their financial assistance, he said, it is doubtful whether the expensive defense team could have “mounted this colossal assault on my name.”

“This blinding and expensive spotlight has been focused on the narrowest of issues,” he said, “yet it has still generated more noise than illumination.”

Irving was particularly scathing about JTA. He claimed the news agency provided material in 1992 for Lipstadt’s assertion that Irving was to have participated in a gathering in Sweden, which was later canceled, that would have been a “confluence between anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial forces."…

Irving also claimed that a 1995 JTA report accused him of “having supplied the trigger mechanism for the Oklahoma City bomb.”

Revisionist History

Seth Gitell

Boston Phoenix, March 16, 2000

Reform Party presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan answered questions Tuesday [March 14] on WTKK FM 96.9 with talk-show host Jay Severin, a friend and former aide to the perennial candidate. Responding to a call on the show, Buchanan repeated assertions about the Holocaust that he’s made in the past — assertions that minimize Hitler’s guilt. “If Hitler had won, and overrun the Soviet Union quickly, you might have had no Holocaust whatsoever,” Buchanan said. He added that he’s preparing to write a book documenting his belief — leading this listener to think that Buchanan is preparing to join the ranks of David Irving and other Holocaust deniers.

Holocaust Trial about Freedom, Says Irving

Michael Horsnell

The Times (London), March 16, 2000

David Irving, the controversial Hitler historian, said yesterday that if a judge ruled against him in his libel trial, academics could become too scared to discuss the Holocaust…

He said his editor at Macmillans had issued a secret order in July 1992 to destroy several thousand copies of all three volumes of his Hitler biography worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mr. Irving said his family was placed in constant fear and West End Central Police Station in London had asked to film inside his Mayfair flat in case they needed to be rescued.

He added: “For 12 months after our young child — Jessica — was born, we lived with a wicker Moses basket in the furthest corner of our apartment near a window, attached to a length of wire rope in case the building was set on fire and we had to lower her to safety … I have lived since then with a four-foot steel spike stowed in a strategic point inside my apartment. No historian should have to live with his family in a civilized city under such conditions.”

Irving: 'I Aided Shoah Research'

Helen Jacobus

Jewish Chronicle (London), March 17, 2000

In his closing statement on Wednesday [March 15], David Irving stood by his view that Hitler did not know about the Final Solution.

He also said no gas chambers had been used for mass extermination at Auschwitz. And he told Mr. Justice Gray, before a packed public gallery, that there had been “no meaningful research” into the Holocaust until his book, Hitler’s War, in 1977.

“Far from being a 'Holocaust-denier,' my work has directly increased historical research into, and understanding of the Holocaust,” he said.

He said the defense had not proved he had “falsified” history. Though they were backed by “multimillion-dollar research, this does not invalidate me as an historian.”

He maintained an international network — which he later said included the Board of Deputies and the Institute of Jewish Affairs — had waged a campaign against him. Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s book, Denying the Holocaust, had been “the climax of this campaign.”

This had resulted in loss of income. “Because of the inescapable conclusion that Hitler had probably not ordered, or been aware until relatively late, of the ultimate fate of the European Jews, I forfeited “perhaps half-a-million dollars” in publishing deals, he said.

Much of Mr. Irving’s closing submission focused on what he termed proof at the trial that a complex of buildings at Auschwitz was not “a slaughterhouse” — a contention that prompted defense counsel Richard Rampton to intervene, at one point, to contend that the historian was misrepresenting evidence heard in the two-month-long libel hearing. Mr. Irving said there was no forensic evidence to prove the roof of a gas chamber at Auschwitz had been built with holes through which SS guards could have thrown “canisters of cyanide-soaked pellets.”

He said the defendants' “entire case, the untruth that crematorium II was used as a factory of death … has caved in, as surely as had that roof.” He also said the figure of six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust had been a “back-of-the-envelope calculation by American Jewish leaders” whom the prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials had met in 1945.

Referring to right-wing groups in Germany which he had addressed and had since been outlawed, Mr. Irving added: “Germany now has several hundred political prisoners in its jails.”

A Question of History: Why I Spoke Up for David Irving

Peter Millar

Sunday Times (London), March 19, 2000

Playing the devil’s advocate is something most writers can cope with. It is another thing entirely getting an e-mail from him asking you to be his witness in court.

David Irving, of course, is not the devil. Or so he maintains. He has, he says, been demonized by a global conspiracy determined to ruin him and enforce his silence. That has been the essence of his libel case now awaiting judgment in the High Court. As Joseph Goebbels’s biographer, he does not quite echo the man he considers the real architect of the Third Reich’s crimes, and say it is a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy.” But he comes close.

Such is Irving’s ogre status that I had some trepidation even appearing in the witness stand — called by a man who says the greatest crime in human history is largely a myth — in a capacity that shocked friends, described (wholly mistakenly) as “for the defense.” Mistakenly, because Irving is the claimant. I was doing something even more apparently outrageous: appearing, in a loose and non-legalistic manner of speaking, “for the prosecution.”

Unlike me, Sir John Keegan, defense editor of The Daily Telegraph and an eminent historian who praised Irving’s book Hitler’s War for its research, had to be subpoenaed into the witness box. Under oath, he admitted that his refusal to give evidence was based on fears of being “misunderstood.” Irving said that was proof of the strength of the conspiracy against him…

If even half of Irving’s claims were true, it would — as he insists — be evidence of a massive conspiracy of lies and distortion. A conspiracy that, except to Irving and a few others, defies belief.

It would be sad if we allowed political correctness to condemn Irving for thinking (or even saying) the unsayable. Nor is it our affair if he believes the unbelievable. But what if he preaches it…?

Could David Irving Succeed?

Douglas Davis

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 20, 2000

… Was Auschwitz really a death camp where Jews were systematically slaughtered en masse? Did the Holocaust really happen? Did Hitler order, still less know about, the destruction of European Jewry? No, no, no, thundered Irving.

Given the wealth of historical documentation, physical evidence and eyewitness testimonies, including those of former death camp commandants, the questions might have been redundant to most reasonable people. But not, apparently, to Irving.

To Irving, Auschwitz was an awful slave labor camp where most of the 100,000 Jewish inmates — his figure — died of natural causes. To Irving, the Holocaust was the sum total of all the casualties of World War II. To Irving, Hitler was the best friend the Jews had in the Third Reich.

So who was to blame for the suffering of the Jews? Why, says Irving, the Jews themselves who, by their unspeakable behavior and insatiable greed, have invited the hatred and persecution of their hosts wherever they have lived over the past 3,000 years…

Whatever the outcome, it would be entirely wrong to assume that Irving is a cardboard cut-out fascist or a raving lunatic. His public speeches might be intemperate, but his actions are carefully calculated. He is a prolific author, an articulate spokesman for his cause and he has a presence — physical and intellectual — that commands attention.

In other circumstances, Irving might have been a front-line academic, a political leader or an effective courtroom advocate. Instead, he has found a niche for himself as the jewel in the crown of right-wing extremism, its intellectual guiding star.

Holocaust Deniers Can’t Be Ignored

Kenneth Lasson

Baltimore Sun, April 2, 2000

… Irving maintains that he is a legitimate historian who challenges orthodox views. Here are a couple of his statements:

“I don’t see any reason to be tasteful about [the gas chambers at] Auschwitz. It’s baloney. It’s a legend… I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz… The holocaust of the Germans of Dresden (right) was real. The holocaust of the Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers is a fabrication.”

“I would say that [Jews are] a clever race. I would say that as a race they are better at making money than I am. That’s a racist remark, of course. If I was going to be crude, I would say not only are they better at making money, but they are greedy."…

… the trial has serious ramifications. “I used to wonder why one must even dignify such an absurd position,” says British historian Eric A. Johnson. Given the deniers' increasing numbers and influence, he now feels they can no longer be ignored.

Indeed, Irving has been recognized by some as a meticulous researcher. By his own account, he’s “scrupulously fair.” But if Irving is able to dismiss the testimony of tens of thousands of witnesses, where does that leave history?…

But Irving is hardly a lone wolf in the academic wilderness. Many university libraries classify Holocaust-denial books under “Holocaust.” Ignorance about what happened is widespread and growing; recent polls found that 38 percent of American high school students and 28 percent of American adults could not identify the Holocaust.

There can be little doubt that Holocaust denial will gain strength once there are no more victims alive to supply eyewitness testimony about Nazi atrocities.

The need to remember is made all the more critical by the existence of well-known political figures who at various times express sympathy for accused Nazi war criminals or doubt the extent of the Holocaust, such as Patrick Buchanan and Louis Farrakhan…

In 1947, Thomas Dodd, the former U.S. senator who was one of the American prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, said of the evidence he was about to present that “the proof will be so overwhelming that I venture to predict not one word I have spoken will be denied.” Of course, Dodd hadn’t countenanced Irving, who himself is living proof that one may be both a scholar and a bigot. As the generation of survivors dwindles, whose words will win?

Lipstadt: Libel Trial Strengthened Me

Janine Zacharia

The Jerusalem Post, April 4, 2000

PHOENIX, Arizona — Deborah Lipstadt, the US professor of Holocaust studies who is fighting a libel suit filed by Holocaust denier David Irving in England, told The Jerusalem Post this week she has been strengthened by the experience…

Asked about Israel’s decision to release the prison papers of Adolf Eichmann to help her case, Lipstadt said she was grateful to the Israeli government for the decision, but her lawyers had not used them. “The Eichmann papers were important. But we didn’t use them in the trial really because they came in very late,” she said.

Faux Historians' Political Agendas Deserve Exposure

George Will

The Washington Post, April 6, 2000

… Irving, whose current ideological purposes prevent him from writing real history, fancies himself a “revisionist,” a term of scholarship that he and kindred spirits have hijacked for their anti-Semitic purposes. Lipstadt is author of the 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, in which she called Irving “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” He is dangerous because he is indefatigable, skillful and cunning in mining archival material to give his tendentious arguments a patina of scholarship…

Holocaust denial and revisionism is a tangle of assertions, many of them made simultaneously and never mind the mind-bending contradictions. The assertions include:

The Holocaust (the killing of both sexes and all ages of an entire human group as quickly as possible using the full employment of the resources of a modern industrial state) never happened; many people died in camps but only as a result of wartime stresses (excessive labor, inadequate hygiene, misguided security measures); the gas chambers were only for showers or fumigation; the gas Zyklon B was too weak to produce mass deaths, or so strong it would have killed persons emptying the chambers; the Holocaust happened but not on the scale propagandized by Jewish interests for political and financial gain (German “confirmations” were made to curry favor with their captors); it happened but it was not Hitler’s fault (overzealous subordinates acted without his knowledge); it happened but it was the Jews' fault (for frustrating Hitler’s attempts to achieve Germany’s reasonable aims diplomatically)…

What worries Lipstadt most is not the historical amnesia of millions of barely educated people. And what worries her most is not the epistemological indeterminacy of ignorant sophisticates in academia who preach that there are no facts, only “interpretations” based on individuals' “perspectives,” so everything is a matter of mere opinion and all opinions, including Irving's, are created equal.

Rather, what worries her most is hatred and the political agenda of the haters. Holocaust deniers usually espouse a generalized racism but particularly aim to vilify Jews and delegitimize Israel. As survivors of the Holocaust and others with firsthand knowledge of it die, Holocaust deniers will redouble their efforts. But their task has been made more difficult by what Lipstadt has achieved — an emphatic denunciation of those who torture history in order to rehabilitate torturers and open careers for future torturers.

Historians Fight Battle of the Books

T. R. Reid

The Washington Post, April 6, 2000

LONDON — The emotional and engrossing legal battle playing out here this spring was initially billed as “the Holocaust on trial.” In fact, it has turned out to be “history on trial,” as the litigants argue over what historians should be allowed to write about World War II and about each other…

The case, with some of the world’s leading World War II historians in the witness box, was initially expected to put the fact of the Holocaust itself on trial. But Irving scotched that issue in his opening statement. “No person … can deny that the tragedy actually happened,” he said, “however much we dissident historians may wish to quibble about the means, the scale, the dates and other minutiae.”

Instead, the courtroom battle dealt mainly with why Irving and his books are now so vilified. Is it because Irving is “a liar … a racist and a rabid anti-Semite,” as Lipstadt’s lawyer argued? Or is it, as Irving sees the issue, because “an international conspiracy” determined that “there is a single politically correct view of that war, and no historian will be allowed to challenge it."…

In one of the more stunning moments of the trial, Irving argued that no one has ever found a signed order from Hitler calling for the extermination of Jews. Turning toward the transfixed spectators, he said: “I have to remind you of a basic principle of English law — that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty.”

Irving does not stop there. He maintains that Anne Frank’s diary is “a romantic novel rather like Gone With the Wind.” He says the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was “far smaller” than the widely accepted figure of six million; in an interview, Irving said the number was “of the order of one million.” He says that most of the victims died of disease or were shot to death, and “there was no industry-scale gassing of Jews.”

Finally, Irving fills his books with comparisons that Lipstadt calls “immoral equivalencies.” He denies that the Jews suffered uniquely in World War II. He compares the Nazi killing of Jews to the Allies' killing of German civilians in bombing raids. He argues that the word “holocaust” should be used to describe the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Years ago, Irving received respectful attention for his research from some mainstream historians…

But over time, Irving became increasingly isolated. He was convicted of violating Germany’s Holocaust-denial laws and barred from several countries. Publishers dropped his books and backed out of contracts for new ones.

Irving concluded that these sanctions were the work of a conspiracy, at the heart of which was Lipstadt…

Lipstadt’s book became a central element of contemporary Holocaust studies, and publishers worldwide brought out local editions. Penguin Books published a British edition in 1995…

The result has been a trial studded with long lectures, angry exchanges and bitter insults …

At one point, Irving … launched into a long exegesis on the ballpoint-pen markings found in the manuscript of Anne Frank’s diary. Rampton stood up and complained: “Really, my lord, I really do think this is becoming the most frightful waste of time.”

“Well,” Gray responded, “at least this one is relevant.”

Even if Irving wins, it’s difficult to imagine that any trial result could make up for the losses he has sustained in recent years.

Verdict Looms in Libel Trial of Emory Scholar

Bert Roughton Jr.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 9, 2000

… On the surface, the lawsuit by writer David Irving against Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt has been a test of his charge that she libeled him in her 1994 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Yet, in many ways, the case has been an exploration of basic assumptions about what happened in Germany and Eastern Europe during the World War II era.

The Israeli government considered the trial important enough to provide Lipstadt’s lawyers with the unpublished prison papers of Hitler lieutenant Adolf Eichmann to help undermine Irving’s assertions. However, the documents were too late to be used in the case.

The witness box has been filled with experts who packed the record with documents and analyses to sustain accepted accounts of the Holocaust…

Irving contends the Nazis didn’t kill as many as six million Jews in a systematic extermination effort. But he accepts that the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of many Jews, maybe one million, most of whom were killed by malnutrition, disease or firing squads.

Furthermore, he contended the scope of the Holocaust has been overblown by Jews seeking to boost reparations from Germany.

Irving also rejected as fiction accounts of Nazis gassing Jews at concentration camps and says the gas chambers still seen by tourists at Auschwitz are fakes.

A biographer of Hitler, Irving also argued that the Nazi leader was unaware of the campaign against Jews and other minorities until late in the war. Hitler, in Irving’s words, had “a Richard Nixon kind of complex” and didn’t really want to know what others were doing to Jews.

In his 104-page closing address, Irving asserted that Lipstadt’s book had been financed and directed by Israeli Holocaust specialist Yehuda Bauer, then a professor at the Hebrew University, who, he said, had urged Lipstadt to incriminate him.

He said this was part of a 30-year international campaign against him, led by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and others. “It is quite evident that the ADL, in cahoots with Lipstadt, set itself the task of destroying my career,” he said.

As a result of their campaign, he said, he is banned from Germany, Austria, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“I have been subjected since at least 1973, and probably before then, to what would be called in warfare a 'campaign of interdiction,'” he said… He said his once lucrative career as an author and public speaker has been left in ruins.

Irving’s War

Andrew Walker

BBC News, April 11, 2000

… David John Caldwell Irving was born in 1938, the son of a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy who had seen service at the battle of Jutland. Although he entered Imperial College, London, to study Physics, Irving failed to graduate.

He was rejected by the Royal Air Force as being medically unfit and decided, as an alternative to National Service, to move to Germany, finding employment as a steelworker in the Ruhr.

Returning to Britain, he wrote a controversial first book, The Destruction of Dresden, which described the 1945 air raid on the city as “the worst single massacre in European history.” The book was, nevertheless, popular and Irving followed it with a series of best-sellers, including The Mare’s Nest and The Virus House, about the Nazis' atomic research program. In 1968 he found himself in court following the publication of The Destruction of Convoy PQ17. Captain J. E. Broome, who commanded the doomed convoy’s escort, sued for libel and won.

But Irving bounced back and, in 1977, produced the work for which is probably best known — Hitler’s War. The book looked at the conduct of World War II from Hitler’s perspective, “from behind the Führer’s desk,” as Irving put it.

He berated fellow historians for their idleness over research, as he had unearthed a vast collection of previously unexploited Nazi documents and had conducted many interviews with members of Hitler’s personal staff while writing the book.

The vast work, which took 13 years to produce, contained the astounding thesis that, until late 1943, Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust and that he never gave the order for the physical destruction of European Jewry. He offered £1,000 to anyone who could produce a written document showing that Hitler had given such an order. Indeed in the following years, Irving went even further, stating that gas chambers did not exist and that six million did not die.

At the time, Irving drew high praise. Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote, “No praise can be too high for his indefatigable scholarly industry” and A. J. P. Taylor commended his “good scholarship.”

Most, though, were outraged by what they saw as Irving’s unacceptable views. Irving underwent verbal attacks, the door of his house was smashed with a sledgehammer and he was banned from Germany, Australia and Canada.

Irving now views himself as a champion of what he calls Real History. He blames a vast, largely Jewish, conspiracy of “the traditional enemies of free speech” for losing book contracts and income and now sees his works published free online on his own web site.

History Under Scrutiny

Jon Silverman

BBC News, April 11, 2000

The marathon libel action which historian David Irving lost against American academic Deborah Lipstadt has been about history and truth. And underpinning the trial is what many consider the most heinous crime of the 20th Century — the Holocaust.

However, in his closing speech, Mr. Irving, representing himself, said the case was not about the Holocaust but about “his reputation as a human being, as an historian of integrity.” He told Mr. Justice Gray that a judgment in his favor did not mean that the Holocaust never happened, merely that in England, discussion was still permitted.

His opponents agree that at the heart of the case is the historian’s reputation. But they deny that his freedom of expression is an issue. And they allege that Mr. Irving’s agenda is far wider than an academic interest in the Holocaust…

Mr. Irving also lost ground — if not in court then amongst Holocaust deniers — by admitting that he had been wrong when he said that the gassing of Jews in trucks was done “on a limited and experimental basis” only.

This was the first time in 36 years that the Holocaust had been the central issue of a libel case at the High Court. And for that reason, the judgment is likely to be quoted for many years to come.

History Needs David Irvings

Donald Cameron WattEvening Standard (London), April 11, 2000

… Eight months before the case came to court, The New York Times asked a number of leading American and British historians whether they regarded Irving as being a historian “of repute.” The large majority of those polled, ranging from the ultra-conservative Right to the ex-communist Left, answered yes. Only those who identify with the victims of the Holocaust disagreed. For them Irving’s views are blasphemous and put him on the same level of sin as advocates of pedophilia. In a number of countries “Holocaust denial” is a crime. In Britain and America pressure is brought on publishers not to print works embodying this version of history. Irving claimed the accusation to be a threat to his livelihood; he sought compensation; and he sought to silence his critics. Make no mistake, however. Both sides in this action were engaged in what that great historian R. H. Tawney once called “the gladiatorial school of historical controversy.”

Penguin was certainly out for blood. The firm has employed five historians, with two research assistants, for some considerable time to produce 750 pages of written testimony, querying and checking every document cited in Irving’s books on Hitler. Show me one historian who has not broken into a cold sweat at the thought of undergoing similar treatment.

For what it is worth, I admire some of Mr. Irving’s work as a historian. Thirty-five years ago I collaborated with him in the publication of a lengthy German intelligence document on British policy in the 12 months before the British declaration of war on Germany in September 1939. Ten years ago he published, on his own in German, a revised version of the book. From every point of view it was a considerable advance on the work I had collaborated on. He had found a lot more documents and had identified and interviewed a number of officers of the organization in question. In the American archives he had found a lengthy post-war American evaluation of the organization, incorporating a British intelligence document, which will now, we hope, be released to the Public Record Office. Irving’s book, The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, is still recommended by historians of the war in the air. That is one side of Irving.

As a historian he betrays some of the characteristic faults of the self-taught… He has also an encyclopedic knowledge of the truly enormous mass of German documentation which fell into the hands of the victors in 1945. Moreover, his first book, on the bombing of Dresden, opened to him private papers, diaries and so on, previously unknown, of “respectable” German officials who had gone along with the Nazis. No book of his has ever failed to come up with new evidence…

Professional historians have been left uneasy by the whole business. Many distinguished British historians in the past, from Edward Gibbon’s caricatures of early Christianity to A. J. P. Taylor, are open to the accusation that they allowed their political agenda and views to influence their professional practice in the selection and interpretation of historical evidence.

… The truth needs an Irving’s challenges to keep it alive.

The Trial of David Irving — And My Part in His Downfall

John Keegan

The Daily Telegraph (London), April 12, 2000

The news that David Irving has lost his libel case will send a tremor through the community of 20th-century historians. For more than a year now, the gossip between them has been about whether he would lose or not, a subject on which all hedged bets. “It depends whether the judge goes for Holocaust denial or slurs on his reputation,” was the general view. “If the first he'll lose, if the second he might get away with it.”

What this insider talk meant was that Mr. Irving might well persuade the judge of the unfairness of Professor Lipstadt’s accusations of his bad historical method. That was what he cared about and he would no doubt argue his case well. If, however, her accusation that Irving’s version of the Holocaust was so untruthful as to outweigh his merits as an otherwise objective historian, then he would get no damages and have to pay enormous costs…

… Prof Lipstadt’s case was that the bad in Irving was so bad that it robbed all he wrote of value. Irving’s case was that, if some historians of reputation praised parts of his work, the praise extended to all his work. Both positions are, of course, highly artificial.

Fortunately, I did not have to give my opinion of Prof Lipstadt’s work…

I stepped down but stayed to watch the rest of the morning’s proceedings. Mr. Irving’s performance was very impressive. He is a large, strong, handsome man, excellently dressed, with the appearance of a leading QC [Queen’s counsel]. He performs as well as a QC also, asking, in a firm but courteous voice, precise questions which demonstrate his detailed knowledge of an enormous body of material.

There it was all around us, hundreds of box files holding thousands of pages telling in millions of words what had been done and suffered in Hitler’s Europe. Irving knows the material paragraph by paragraph. His skill as an archivist cannot be contested.

Unfortunately for him, the judge has now decided that all-consuming knowledge of a vast body of material does not excuse faults in interpreting it. Irving, the judge said, “repeatedly makes assertions about the Holocaust which are unsupported by or contrary to the historical record.”

… [Irving] wants to be praised for his source notes, for his exegesis, for his bibliographies, for what historians call “the apparatus.”

As a result, his books positively clank and groan under the weight of apparatus. Very good it is too. Irving, never confident enough to believe what he reads about himself, really is admired by some of those whose approval he seeks…

… He has, in short, many of the qualities of the most creative historians. He is certainly never dull. Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again. Mr. Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us.