NAZI GERMANY: David Irving v. Deborah Lisptadt


American TV is a wasteland in which there are a few oases, notably C-Span.  It ran a program on the alleged Holocaust denier David Irving, whom I saw at the Hoover Institution some years ago.  The program elicited over 3,000 letters, mostly critical of C-Span for running the program.  I am now writing ton tell C-Span that it has thousands of  listeners most grateful for its excellent service and that it should not be discouraged by opponents of free speech. It is evident that even WAISers feel strongly about the Spanish Civil War and the Holocaust.

David Irving is an interesting character.  He worked at a steel mill in Germany and learned excellent German.  In 1977 he published Hitler's War, in which he tried to see the war through Hitler's eyes. It was praised by distinguished historians, including Gordon Craig of Stanford.  However, he was criticized for saying that Hitler did not know about the extermination of Jews until late in the war.

Here is an extract from a summary of his writing by Mark Weber: David Irving was born in Essex, England in 1938, the son of a Royal Navy Commander. After education at London University, our next speaker spent a year working in a German steel mill to perfect his fluency in German. In the years since, he has firmly established himself as not only one of the most courageous historians of this or any age, but also as one of the most successful and widely read: several of his many books have been best-sellers.  His first work, The Destruction of Dresden, was published in 1963, when he was twenty-five years old. This was followed by many other books, including The Mare's Nest: The Secret Weapons of the Third Reich, published in 1964, The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, The German Atomic Bomb, The War Between the Generals nda The Trail of the Fox, a best-selling biography of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Several of his books have appeared in various languages, and several have been serialized in periodicals including the Sunday Express, the Sunday Telegraph and Der Spiegel.

Over the years he contributed articles to some 60 British and foreign periodicals including the Daily Telegraph , the Sunday Express in London and Der Stern and Der Spiegel in Germany.  He is tenacious in his ceaseless digging in just about every important historical archive in the Western world. He has little respect for colleagues who are guilty of what he calls inter-historian incest, and who have thereby helped to keep alive myths and legends left over from Second World War propaganda. British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once said of Irving: "He is one of the few guys I would entirely trust. Indefatigable in the pursuit of evidence, fearless in face of it, sound in judgment."

Well, Irving's reputation took a beating following the publication in 1977 of Hitler's War, a monumental work that was hysterically criticized for its contention that Hitler did not order the extermination of Europe's Jews: the mass killings must have been carried out by Himmler and his cohorts behind Hitler's back, Irving concluded at that time. So enraged was the Zionist Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith by Irving's book that the shadowy organization promptly added his name to its ever-growing list of enemies. As it turned out, though, the ADL's troubles with David Irving were only just beginning. The campaign against him became even more emotional and intense following the publication, in 1981, of Uprising , an unvarnished history of the 1956 anti-Communist revolt in Hungary. This book enraged the ADL crowd because it does not whitewash the significant Jewish role in the Hungarian Communist regime. In 1987, the first volume of Irving's monumental biography of Winston Churchill, a work representing ten years of research and writing, was published in Australia. And last year Irving's biography of Hermann Goring was published by William Morrow.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet-Communist domination of Eastern Europe, Irving made triumphal speaking visits in what was the East German Democratic Republic. He addressed a large audience in Dresden on the 45th anniversary of the Allied firebombing of that once beautiful, baroque city. Large posters with Irving's picture appeared throughout Dresden to announce his presentation. He was greeted with flowers by the city's cultural affairs director, and was interviewed on East German television. When he appeared on stage before the microphones, more than a thousand people gave him a standing ovation. Speaking in fluent German, he recounted Winston Churchill's campaign to obliterate German cities. Irving's appearance in Dresden on the anniversary of the firebombing was also noteworthy because his first book, the one that launched his career, was about this very event.

RH: He was attacked by a historian Deborah Lipstadt of Emery University.  He sued her in a London court and made the mistake of defending himself without a lawyer. Lipstadt, an aggressive individual, had a number of lawyers-He lost, and was required to pay heavy court expenses, which ruined him financially.  He opened his defense by saying that only a fool would say that the Holocaust did not take place. Lipstadt, who has her own website, told the story of the fight in her book History on Trial. The case was covered by T.R. Reid for the Washington Post, but it received little attention in the US.

Not having read Irving's books, I do not take sides in this argument and I do not defend him. However, it is evident that much of his work has merit, and it is unfair that historians have now ganged up on him because he does not belong to their fraternity. C-Span was right to run a balanced program on him, and criticism of it for running a controversial program was quite unWAIS.

I said: David Irving is an interesting character.  He worked at a steel mill in Germany and learned excellent German.  In 1977 he published Hitler's War, in which he tried to see the war through Hitler's eyes. It was praised by distinguished historians, including Gordon Craig of Stanford.  However, he was criticized for saying that Hitler did not know about the extermination of Jews until late in the war. David Irving was born in Essex, England in 1938, the son of a Royal Navy Commander.

Robert Whealey says: I would be cautious about giving Irving the benefit of the doubt on his sources.  John Lukacs in  Hitler says Irving's  footnotes in Hitler's War are sloppy, if not fake.  Lukacs is a Hungarian Catholic and not Jewish.  There is also a devastating critique of Hitler's War by Gerald Fleming in Hitler's Holocaust (1984). What Irving said at his trial seemed to back off from his own book Hitler's War.  What he does in the book is to say, yes, there was a Holocaust: Himmiler and Heydrich did it behind Hitler's back.  He is able to legally argue this case, by excluding all oral testimony of the Nazis concerning's Hitler's actions and attitudes.  It is true that Hitler did not put the code word "Final Solution" on paper.  This may be good law, but weak historical use of all of the evidence.

So it is not just historians' professionalism that excludes David Irving from the reputation as an honest researcher. I've met two people (English) and (German) who have met Irving, and their oral testimony did not give me much confidence in his objectivity.  He came to his materials in the archives with an ax to grind.  He does work hard, he has been to the archives, but I suspect he selected out the documents he wants and leaves others out. On a first read, his book on Hitler looks good, until one looks at other sources.

RH: Gordon Craig, the dean of historians of Germany, praised his work, as did other reputable historians.  I am simply asking that we be balanced in our criticism of him. He may not deserve and A, but give him a B or a C, don't flunk him.

Harry Papasotiriou writes: Regarding David Irving's Hitler's War, I would suggest that it is a very good and reliable book on Hitler's role in the military aspects of WWII, but certainly not on Hitler's role in the Holocaust.  Irving's argument that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust, or its full extent, has been demolished by historians, as well as at his trial.


Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: June 11, 2005