Irving v. Lipstadt
David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. EvansTable of Contents
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6. General Conclusion
6.1 This examination of Irving's work has demonstrated that there is abundant evidence of his beliefs and activities since 1988 as a Holocaust denier; that is to say, he has actively propagated the view that the Holocaust as conventionally understood did not happen. According to Irving, there were no functioning gas chambers, there was no systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, the number of Jews killed by the Nazis in the Second World War did not amount to more than a few hundred thousand at most, and the evidence on which historians have relied for their accounts of the Holocaust was fabricated by the Allies during the war and further invented afterwards in the interests of sustaining the new state of Israel. Irving has manifold connections with well-known Holocaust deniers in a number of countries, and uses his website to propagate Holocaust denial on the Internet. He has repeatedly implied that such antisemitic outrages as did occur under the 'Third Reich' were the responsibility of the Jews themselves, who in his view gave rise to them as a result of various acts of provocation which they committed. And he has consistently sought to portray the crimes of the 'Third Reich' during the Second World War as no more serious, indeed possibly a good deal less serious, than the crimes, if that was what they were, committed by the Allies most notably the bombing of German cities.
6.2 Irving is a particularly dangerous spokesperson for Holocaust denial because over the years he has consistently portrayed himself as a scrupulous historian with an unrivalled knowledge of the archival sources and an unerring eye for forgeries and falsifications. As we saw in Part I, he has repeatedly claimed that he is waging a 'campaign for real history' against legend and myth, truth against falsehood. 'Real history', he says, is based on the archives, not on copying other historians' work, which is how academic, university-based historians in his opinion proceed. Many reviewers, and still more journalists, have been at least partly taken in by this ceaselessly propagated self-promotion and have paid tribute to Irving's skill and energy as a researcher. But even if they have done so, they have often gone on to complain that Irving manipulates and distorts the sources he uses. If, like Peter Hoffmann, Charles Sydnor, Martin Broszat, Hugh Trevor-Roper, David Cannadine, or Eberhard Jäckel, for instance, they have themselves been familiar with these sources, their condemnation of Irving's work for its inaccuracy and bias has been particularly detailed and unremitting.
6.3 Irving has claimed in a posting on his website that there is at least one positive view of him by a professional historian with expertise in the areas on which he works. 'New Zealand's leading Holocaust historian has a word or two to say about David Irving', he proclaims. The competition to be New Zealand's leading historian of the Holocaust is, in truth, not very intense. However, the historian to whom he refers - Dr. Joel S. Hayward of Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, is not a specialist on Nazi antisemitism at all, but a military historian who has worked on the role of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Stalingrad. Irving quotes Hayward as saying that he has read all of Irving's books, and has 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'. Hayward's verdict, based, he says, on a knowledge of many of the documents Irving has used and cited in his work, is that 'I can't find serious flaws in his methodology and I have never found a single example of deliberate falsification of evidence....Irving is a researcher, biographer and military historian of outstanding aptitude. Many of his works are excellent.'1
6.4 However, although he holds an academic post, Hayward is far from being an unbiased witness. In fact, he hovers on the fringes of Holocaust denial, to put it no more strongly, himself. His only work on the Nazi extermination of the Jews was an M.A. thesis entitled 'The Fate of Jews in German Hands An Historical Enquiry into the Development and Significance of Holocaust Revisionism', which was quoted by antisemites in New Zealand as a justification of Holocaust denial. Charged with being a Holocaust denier, Hayward replied that he was young and inexperienced when he wrote the thesis, admitted that it contained errors of fact and judgement, and confessed that he was embarrassed by some of the things he wrote in it. It is clear, however, that the thesis was extremely sympathetic to the Holocaust deniers. Moreover, in his reply to his critics, Hayward admitted that 'European Jews suffered dreadfully during the 1930s and especially during World War II, when Germans and others maltreated, enslaved and murdered great numbers', but did not admit that gas chambers had existed, that five to six million Jews had been murdered, or that the Nazi extermination was in any way systematic. Moreover, Hayward has published an article in the Holocaust Revisionist periodical the Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung (first issue of 1999, pp. 4-16), and is listed as an author by the periodical's publisher, the Vrij Historisch Onderzoek, a Dutch revisionist organization devoted (as it proclaims on its website) to 'Revisionismus pur', alongside well known deniers such as Austin App, Robert Faurisson and Günther Deckert (Irving is another author whose work is available via this website). Neither from the nature of his associations, nor from the quality and range of his research, which insofar as it has dealt with the Nazi extermination of the Jews, has been in considerable measure, if not quite completely, disowned by its author, can Dr. Hayward be called an unbiased or trustworthy witness on the quality of Irving's work. As this Report has made abundantly clear, Hayward's own views on Irving's research are completely without foundation.2
6.5 Irving's claims to be a historian are bogus for a number of reasons. He has repeatedly condemned other historians for supposedly neglecting or suppressing key documents and for merely plagiarising each other; but how can he possibly do this, when on his own admission he never reads their work, and so can have no idea what is in it? At the Zündel trial in Canada, for example, he was even forced to admit that he had not read the standard work on the extermination of the Jews by Raul Hillberg. How can one take seriously the opinions of such a man on what professional historians do or fail to do? In fact, as we have seen, specialist historians do not merely rely on each other's work, but base their investigations on research in the archives that is at least as extensive as Irving's, and in most cases a good deal more rigorous. They cite other historians because other historians have carried out work on archival sources themselves, which it would be otiose to repeat. However, historians always provide precise references to the archival sources on which they base their conclusions, enabling their colleagues to check their accuracy and subject their arguments to critical scrutiny, and this is what commonly occurs when they use each other's work. By contrast, as we have seen, Irving frequently fails to provide proper source references, is often vague about the documents he claims to have used, and sometimes appears to cover his tracks by making it particularly difficult for his readers to track his sources down.
6.6 Moreover, far from reaching his conclusions about the Holocaust as a result of independent research, Irving, who admitted to a conference of the Institute of Historical Review in the mid-1980's that he had never investigated it in any detail since it was not his primary concern, has simply copied them from the existing literature of Holocaust denial, in the kind of incestuous and plagiaristic procedure which he has repeatedly and falsely alleged is common practice among academic historians. Examining the views of App, Butz, Faurisson, Rassinier, Staeglich, Christophersen and others quoted and summarized in this paper, it is clear that many of them have been taken over completely by Irving without acknowledgment and presented as his own. Thus his argument that Zyklon-B was only used for delousing and hygiene - for saving lives rather than taking them, in other words - was put much earlier by Butz. So too was his claim that the failure of Yad Vashem to collect six million names showed that six million did not in fact die. Irving's assertion that Auschwitz was no more than an industrial plant also appears to derive from Butz. His belief that most Jews who died there died of typhus can also be found in Butz's The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, published long before Irving announced in public his conversion to Holocaust denial. He follows Butz in his semantic disputation of the meaning of terms such as Judentum and Ausrottung. He echoes Austin App in the suggestion that a large number of the Jews who allegedly died in the Holocaust went to Israel and were not killed at all. These examples can easily be multiplied with reference to other well-known works of Holocaust denial. All that Irving does in this respect is to repeat the arguments that had become standard clichés of this literature in the decades before his conversion. Indeed he himself, writing in his diary on 24th July 1986, admitted that it was Faurisson who first got him 'thinking very hard' about the evidence for the Auschwitz gas chambers. There is no evidence that he has carried out any serious research on the Holocaust since the late 1980's, and none at all that he did any in the run-up to his 'conversion' in 1988.
6.7 The Holocaust denial literature which he has copied is light-years away from the kind of careful, archivally based historical scholarship which Irving has become accustomed to describe as 'real history'. Take for example the arguments put forward in the 1980s by 'Richard Harwood', quickly revealed as a pseudonym for Richard Verrall, the editor of Spearhead, the journal of the National Front, which at the time was the leading racist and neo-fascist political organization in Britain. In 1974 'Harwood' published a booklet entitled Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth at Last. In 1978 'Harwood' bought out a second pamphlet, entitled Nuremberg and other War Crimes. Among other things, these brief tracts engaged in the kind of semantic disputes which we subsequently find in the work of Irving. Harwood declared, like Butz, that in his trial at Nuremberg, leading Nazi Alfred Rosenberg 'was able to show that "Ausrottung" had been mistranslated; in fact it meant uprooting. Likewise, "Judentum" did not, in Harwood's view, following Rosenberg, mean "Jews" as individuals (this would have been Juden), but should be translated as "Jewry" or "Jewish power".'3 Harwood also claimed, as Irving was to do subsequently, that Nazi antisemitism was a response to attacks on Germany by 'international Jewry'. As Irving was to do later, he argued that the Allies fabricated photographs alleged to be of concentration camp victims.4 Although the author of the pamphlet had never carried out any documentary historical research, Irving subsequently rated it as over 90 per cent factually accurate and took over many of its arguments entirely uncritically, although he himself had not done any documentary historical research in this area either.5 In fact it is a complete falsification of history, as is all the work of the Holocaust deniers, including Irving's.
6.8 An examination of Irving's own work, for example with reference to the origins of such instances of Nazi antisemitism as he is prepared to concede actually did happen, or the statistical calculation of the number of German civilians killed in the Allied bombing raid on Dresden in February 1945, confirms that he shares the principal historical methods of Holocaust denial. These include especially skewing and manipulation of documents, intentional suppression of evidence, conscious falsification of statistics, reliance on sources known to be unreliable if they fit the argument in hand, unjustified dismissal of reliable sources if they do not, false attribution of conclusions to books and sources which in fact say the opposite, knowing mistranslation of German sources and use of known mistranslations when this suits the argument, and deliberate misconstrual or even invention of the historical record. We have repeatedly encountered examples of all of these methods of distorting and falsifying the historical record in Irving's work, both in connection with his contention that Hitler did not know of, or insofar as he did know, disapproved of antisemitic acts during the 'Third Reich', and in connection with other aspects of the history of the time, such as the Allied bombing raid on Dresden in February 1945.
6.9 In looking at one particular kind of source, especially prized by Irving, namely the postwar testimony of Hitler's surviving staff, we have seen again how he lacks all consistency in applying critical criteria to source material and judges it not by its provenance, the intention and position of its authors, or its internal consistency and its consistency with other relevant sources, but solely and simply by the extent to which it supports his attempt to exculpate Hitler. The same can be said of Irving's use of the Goebbels diaries, of which he has made so much in recent years. When Goebbels writes something that fits Irving's argument, Irving praises it as accurate. When he writes something that does not, Irving suggests, usually without any solid grounds for doing so, that Goebbels had ulterior motives in writing it, and that it cannot be relied on.
6.10 Irving's claim to be a scrupulous historian is completely bogus. His attitude to source material which runs counter to his argument is neatly summed up by his discussion of a passage in Eichmann's memoirs which he evidently found somewhat inconvenient to his attempt to argue that Hitler neither ordered nor even knew about the extermination of the Jews. In the memoirs, Eichmann says how in July 1941 Heydrich said to him: 'I've come from the Reichsführer SS. The Führer has given orders for the physical destruction of the Jews. Irving told an audience at the Institute for Historical Review: 'You've only got to change one or two words and you get a completely different meaning.' Eichmann, he claimed, was worried when he was writing his memoirs in case he was later arrested and put on trial. So he tried to place the responsibility on Hitler in order to advance the argument that he had only been obeying orders. 'Eichmann', concluded Irving, 'may well have adapted the sentence that Heydrich actually uttered to him'.6 In other words, if the source doesn't fit, then argue it out of existence if you can't ignore it altogether. If you want to alter a few words in a document in order to make it support your argument, then either do so (which, as we have seen, is the case with some of Irving's translations) or argue that the author would have done so had he been telling the truth.
6.11 There are some, of course, though they do not include Irving, who argue that this kind of way with sources is what historians do anyway, and that arguments about Hitler and the Holocaust are simply arguments of the kind that historians commonly indulge in between themselves. 'Revisionism' according to this view is what historians not only do, but actually should engage in all the time, and the 'Revisionists' such as Irving and his associates at the Institute for Historical Review are doing no more than the customary business of the historian. The libertarian journalist David Botsford, for example, has recently argued along these lines:
Whether one likes the fact or not, these ideas have gained considerable ground since the mid-1970s, and are no longer dismissed by historians as merely the ravings of a neo-Nazi fringe seeking to restore the 'Third Reich'. They are beginning to creep into the margins of respectable academic history....Holocaust revisionism is increasingly considered by historians to be an extreme, radical, dubious and highly controversial interpretation, but an interpretation nevertheless that must be taken into consideration in the writing of the history of the second world war.
6.12 And Botsford goes on to argue against the proposition that 'historical arguments aimed at exonerating Hitler and the Nazi regime simply cannot be equated with those relating to other historical problems'. 'No historical question can ever be regarded as finally settled', he concludes, not even that of the Holocaust.7
6.13 But this is a cynical and in the end inaccurate depiction of the historian's business. Of course historians disagree. One pertinent example is the long-running controversy between so-called 'intentionalists', who argue that everything in the 'Third Reich', including above all the extermination of the Jews, happened because Hitler intended it to happen, and the so-called 'functionalists', who argue that the ideological radicalism of the Nazi movement generated its own dynamic, and that many things, including at least the beginnings of the 'final solution', happened because of various pressures acting upon Nazi functionaries on the ground, whose actions eventually forced Hitler to ratify their policy and give it a systematic character. From this point of view, leading 'functionalists' such as the German historians Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen went on record in the 1970s as accepting Irving's argument that the final solution did not happen because Hitler planned and ordered it from the outset.8 Broszat and Mommsen pointed in support of their arguments to factors such as the casual and often opportunistic nature of decision-making in the 'Third Reich', and the absence of any written order by Hitler for the extermination of the Jews.
6.14 But none of these historians actually disputed the fact that the extermination of the Jews, however it began, eventually, by the middle of 1942 at the latest, became a co-ordinated and systematic action. None of them disputed the fact that between five and six million Jews were eventually killed. None of them denied the fact that millions of them were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and other murder centres. And none of them accepted Irving's contention that Hitler never knew about the extermination, never approved of it, and never ratified it. Botsford is wrong to say that Holocaust denial is one interpretation amongst many; it is indeed unnecessary for him to do so in order to justify his fundamental argument, which is that there should be no law against it, for from his libertarian point of view, it does not matter how absurd an argument is: freedom of speech is absolute. The fact is that academic historians have not come to consider Irving's argument about Hitler, or other elements of 'Revisionism' as in any sense legitimate or come to believe that thay have to be taken into account. The handful who have, such as the German historian Ernst Nolte, or the American historian Arno Mayer, have done so from political motives (respectively, right and left) and their views have not been taken seriously by mainstream historians.
6.15 Two general questions are of vital importance here. They are interlinked and to a large extent interdependent. The first is, what are the boundaries of legitimate disagreement among historians? The second is, how far do historians' interpretations depend on a selective reading of the evidence, and where does selectivity end and bias begin? The answer to both is fundamental to the business of being a historian. Historians bring a whole variety of ideas, theories, even preconceptions to the evidence to help them frame the questions they want to ask of it and guide their selection of what they want to consult. But once they get to work on the documents, they have a duty to read the evidence as fully and fairly as they can. If it contradicts some of the assumptions they have brought to it, they have to jettison those assumptions. The pursuit of history, as Thomas Haskell has argued, 'requires of its practitioners that vital minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, (and) discard pleasing interpretations that cannot pass elementary tests of evidence and logic.'9
6.16 Those historians who have abandoned, or in some cases never acquired, this faculty of self-criticism and the ability to recognise when the evidence confounds their hypotheses, have received short shrift at the hands of their colleagues. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for example, the young American Marxist historian David Abraham was shown by his critics to have cited his own, tendentious paraphrases of documents as if they were the originals, to have committed innumerable egregious errors of transcription, including the omission of the word 'not' from a quotation to make it look as if a document said the reverse of what it actually said, and to have selected material in order to back up his own preconceived arguments rather than to test them against the sources. He was denied tenure at Princeton University as a result and failed to get a job in any history faculty elsewhere.10 Selecting evidence to support a case is one of the worst sins a historian can commit. 'Far from just looking for evidence that may support his thesis', the late J. H. Hexter, Professor of History at Yale University, remarked, the historian '...needs to look for vulnerabilities in that thesis and to contrive means of testing them. Then, depending on what he finds, he can support the thesis, strengthen its weak points, or modify it to eliminate its weaknesses.'11
6.17 It is no use for example merely selecting quotations from the Goebbels diaries to back up your argument; some other historian is bound to read them and refute your argument by selecting other quotations that tell against it. What a professional historian does is to take the whole of the source in question into account, and check it against other relevant sources, to reach a reasoned conclusion which will withstand critical scrutiny by other historians who look at the same material. It is precisely for this reason that there is so much agreement amongst historians on so many aspects of the 'Third Reich', at least as much agreement as there is disageement. Argument between historians is limited by what the evidence allows them to say. Perhaps the point may be best put in a metaphor. Supposing we think of historians like figurative painters sitting at various points around a mountain. They will paint it in different styles, using different techniques, they will see it in a different light according to where they are, and they will view it from different angles. They may even disagree about some aspects of its appearance, or some of its features. But they will all be painting the mountain. If one of them paints a fried egg, or a railway engine, we are entitled to say that they are wrong: whatever it is that he has painted, it is not the mountain sitting in front of him. The possibilities of legitimate disagreement and variation are limited by the evidence in front of their eyes.
6.18 Holocaust denial falls into this category of what is wholly unacceptable in terms of the evidence. It is not, indeed, an interpretation at all, but an attempt to make a statement, or series of statements, about historical fact. As we have seen, 'intentionalists' and 'structuralists' dispute the origins of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Each side is advancing an interpretation based on a different reading of the available evidence. Neither side disputes the evidence for what happened. Holocaust deniers, by contrast, ignore, suppress, misinterpret or dispute the evidence itself. In the same way, astronomers, geographers and geologists argue about how to interpret the history and structure of the Earth and the solar system, but only within the limits imposed by the evidence; none of them argues for example that the earth is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth and not vice-versa. Holocaust denial falls wholly outside the confines of what it is reasonable or legitimate to argue in terms of historical evidence for the events that took place in Europe between 1939 and 1945.
6.19 Matters stand a little differently with the question of whether or not Hitler ordered, knew about or approved of antisemitic actions before and during the 'Third Reich', up to and including the extermination of the Jews. It is no part of this paper to argue that he did any of these things, however. In terms of the allegations levelled by Lipstadt against Irving, all that is necessary is to show that Irving has manipulated and falsified the historical record in order to support his contention that Hitler did none of these things. The point at issue is not what Hitler knew or thought, but what Irving writes and says. The many examples presented in the present paper demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Irving has repeatedly engaged in the falsification of the historical record.
6.20 Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account and if necessary amend their own case accordingly. They do not present as genuine documents which they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious but implausible and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments if this is the case, or indeed abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources which in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability or otherwise, simply because they want for whatever reason to maximise the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures as impartially as possible in order to arrive at a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages in order to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not wilfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents and events for which there is no historical evidence in order to make their arguments more plausible.
6.21 At least, they do not do any of these things if they wish to retain any kind of reputable status as historian. Irving has done all of these things from the very beginning of his career. Not one of his books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject. All of them are completely worthless as history, because Irving cannot be trusted anywhere, in any of them, to give a reliable account of what he is talking or writing about. It may seem an absurd semantic dispute to deny the appellation of 'historian' to someone who has written two dozen books or more about historical subjects. But if we mean by historian someone who is concerned to discover the truth about the past, and to give as accurate a representation of it as possible, then Irving is not a historian. Those in the know, indeed, are accustomed to avoid the term altogether when referring to him and use some circumlocution such as 'historical writer' instead.12 Irving is essentially an ideologue who uses history for his own political purposes; he is not primarily concerned with discovering and interpreting what happened in the past, he is concerned merely to give a selective and tendentious account of it in order to further his own ideological ends in the present. The true historian's primary concern, however, is with the past. That is why, in the end, Irving is not a historian.
6.22 In reaching this conclusion, I have understood that my overriding duty is to the Court. My paramount obligation, as I have been advised by my Instructing Solicitors, is to assist the Court on all matters within my expertise regardless of whom my instructions are from and who is paying my fees. I confirm that this report is impartial, objective and unbiased and has been produced independently of the exigencies of this litigation. I believe that the facts I have stated in this report are true and that the opinions I have expressed are correct.
1. Focal Point website, 6 November 1998, citing letter from Hayward on the following website: http://members.tripod.com/~WhitelightNZ/Hayward-3.html.
2. Hayward to Jeremy Jones, 18 January 1999; Hayward to New Zealand Jewish Chronicle, 4 Dec. 998; website http://www.adam.com.au/fredadin/news82.html; website of the Vrij Historisch Onderzoek: http://who.org/index.html.
3. Harwood, Nuremberg, p. 27.
4. Ibid., p. 61.
5. David Irving's 1988 Testimony at the Trial of Ernst Zündel, p. 28.
6. Jackson, The Case for David Irving, p. 30.
7. David Botsford, Freedom of Expression, Dissenting Historians, and the Holocaust Revisionists (Historical Notes No. 29, published by the Libertarian Alliance, London, 1998), pp. 10-11, 19-20.
8. Broszat, 'Hitler und die Genesis der Endlösung'; T. W. Mason, 'Intention and Explanation: A Current Controversy about the Interpretation of National Socialism', in G. Hirschfeld and L. Kettenacker (eds.), Der Führerstaat': Mythos und Realität (Stuttgart, 1981).
9. Thomas L. Haskell, 'Objectivity is not Neutrality: Rhetoric and Practice in Peter Novick's That Noble Dream', History and Theory, Vol. 29 (1990), pp 129-57, here p. 132.
10. Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (London, 1997), pp. 116-24.
11. Quoted in ibid., p. 121.
12. Jückel, 'Noch einmal', p. 164.
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