| Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
“”Hitler? He was good[.]
|—David Irving on selective quotations.|
David Irving (1938–) is a "historian and a neutral observer"
and American football player most famous for participating in the Holocaust denial movement. A "historian and a neutral observer" who believes that the Jews asked for it.
- PRESENTER: At times in your speech to these groups you speak at, you ask if the Jews have ever looked at themselves.
- IRVING: Yes.
- PRESENTER: To find a reason for the pogroms and the presentation and the extermination. In other words you're asking: "did they bring it on themselves?"
- IRVING: Yes.
- PRESENTER: Thereby excusing the Germans, the Nazis.
- IRVING: Why... well, let us ask that simple question, why does it always happen to the Jews?
- PRESENTER: But isn't that an ugly, racist sentiment?
- IRVING: It is an ugly, of course it's an ugly, racist sentiment, of course it is, you're absolutely right but we can't just say therefore let's not discuss it, therefore let's not open that can of worms in case we find something inside there which we're not going to like looking at.
... that Jews control the world:
- INTERVIEWER: When one reads your speeches, one had the impression that Churchill was paid by the Jews, that the Jews dragged Britain into the war, that many of the Communist regimes have been dominated by Jews subsequently, and that a great deal of control over the world is exercised by Jews.
- IRVING: Right, these are four separate facts, to each of which I would be willing to put my signature. They are four separate and unrelated facts. When you string them together like that, you might be entitled then to say: "Question five, David Irving, are you therefore an antisemite?" This may well have been –
- INTERVIEWER: No, this wasn't my question.
- IRVING: But the answer is this, these are in fact four separate facts which happen to be true, in my considered opinion as a historian. And I think we can find the historical evidence for it.
... and made up the Holocaust to cover up their money-grubbing schemes:
- And that's what it is all about. The big lie is designed not only to distract attention from even bigger crimes than what the Nazis did, the big lie is designed to justify, both in arrears and in advance, the bigger crimes in the financial world and elsewhere that are being committed by the survivors of the Holocaust.
Other illustrations of his neutrality:
- The whole rabble, all the scum of humanity stand outside. The homosexuals, the gypsies, the lesbians, the Jews, the criminals, the communists, the left-wing extremists, the whole commune stands there and has to be held back behind steel barricades for two days.
- INTERVIEWER: ... you were quoted on, Mr Irving, you were quoted on radio in Australia yesterday saying it makes you queasy seeing black men playing cricket for England. Can you explain to us what you mean by that?
- IRVING: Well I think probably if you spoke to a lot of English people they'd, they'd find the same thing but not many of them are prepared to say it in public. You see there's so much intimidation in our so-called liberal free democratic society that that people are forced to live an almost schizophrenic existence. They make statements in public which they consider to be safe but privately at the back of their heads they think differently and I say what I think. And, I'm queasy when I see, now you see I was born in England in 1938 and people will know what I'm saying now, 1938 England was a different country from the way England is now and I'm unhappy to see what we have done to England. We've abdicated, we've committed a kind of international hari kari, we've inflicted great misery on ourselves with coloured immigration and we've inflicted, let's be frank, we've inflicted misery on the coloured immigrants as well. It's a kind of 20th century slave trade. I don't like it and I'm queasy about it and I'm frank enough to say it and no-one's going to prevent me from speaking my mind about it.
- So I said "before I answer your questions, would you tell me what you believe in, as a journalist, an Australian journalist? Do you believe in mixing up all God's races into one super, kind of mixed up race? Are you in favour of racial intermarriage and racial mixing?" And he said: "well, I believe in multiculturalism", of course that’s the buzzword, it will come here sooner or later.'
The Lipstadt Affair
(Note: Much of the information in this section is drawn from Richard J. Evans's account of the trial and its context. Evans was an expert witness for the defence and is an internationally respected historian of the Nazi period. Irving, as can be imagined, has a rather different opinion of what happened.)
In 1993, Penguin Books published Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, a somewhat strenuous work documenting neo-fascist and Holocaust denial thought, by an American historian named Deborah Lipstadt. This book pulled no punches in its treatment of what Lipstadt considered her target's primary representatives, including Irving, who was described as a "discredited" historian with "neofascist" and "denial connections" and was "an ardent admirer of the Nazi leader". Irving, she maintained, was guilty of "distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes ... of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to ... exonerate Hitler". In response, Irving waited until her book was published in England, where libel laws favour the plaintiff, and demanded a retraction from Penguin. Penguin and Lipstadt refused, and in 1996 Irving issued a writ for defamation. The English justice system acted with its usual celerity, and the case was
rapidly eventually heard in the High Court in April 2000.
In the United States, the claimant has to prove that what the defendant has said about them is libellous – that is, that it would cause a right-thinking person to form a negative opinion of the claimant, and in no way could it be said to be in the public interest. In England, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, as English law assumes that the litigant is entitled to a good reputation until proven guilty – in other words, the defendant must prove that what they said was not libellous. The notorious slant of English libel laws towards the plaintiff has made Britain the libel equivalent of a tax haven, attracting defamation suits because the majority of defendants will not even try to defend themselves. This was what Irving blatantly hoped would happen – that Penguin and Lipstadt would see the case as too much bother and simply retract the statements, thus giving him effective victory. Unfortunately, Lipstadt had no intention of backing down, and Penguin decided that its commercial interests lay in making sure its authors were not sued for airing their opinions in print (which could send a message that Penguin would not publish "dangerous" books).
In the case that followed, Irving made three crucial blunders that led to his downfall. Firstly, he didn't immediately drop the suit and slink back into obscurity. It could be argued that this would have meant that he was tacitly accepting the charge, and the degraded reputation that accompanied it. This might seem a small loss to Irving, but at the time he did have some standing to lose among real historians, including Donald Cameron Watt and Sir John Keegan, who were Irving's expert witnesses for the plaintiff (though, embarrassingly, they had to be subpoena'd to attend) and who spoke highly of Irving's early work Hitler's War. Despite this, the level of public ignorance of the case meant that Irving could probably have got away with dropping it and hoping no one noticed. His second blunder was the inconvenient truth that he was a Holocaust denier (he once declared openly that he was in the business of a "refutation of the Holocaust story") with "neofascist" and "denial connections", and the expert witnesses for the defence found systematic efforts on Irving's part to misrepresent and distort documents in a quite shameless manner. Proving that this distortion was deliberate was another matter, but, as Prof. Richard J. Evans put it to Irving while in the witness box: "All the mistakes are in the same direction in support of a particular thesis ... I do not think that is mere negligence. I think that is a deliberate manipulation and deception." Libel is not libel if it is true, and Irving had said and done far too much to claim that the charges Lipstadt had made were false.
Irving's final blunder was to represent himself in court. Any possible small victories a professional lawyer might have wrung from the proceedings by tripping up witnesses and expertly playing to the courtroom were lost in a comically inept performance that varied between pompous ("we are going to go on a joint journey of discovery over the next day or two", he said to the historian Christopher Browning, an expert witness for the defence, in an attempt to evoke collegiality) and pedantic (spending five minutes arguing over whether Irving or Evans was an "expert in pit-digging" being a low-light), climaxing with Irving inadvertently addressing the judge as "mein Führer" in front of the entire court (something which he has denied).
Unsurprisingly, given all this, the judge ruled in Penguin and Lipstadt's favour, finding Irving to be exactly what they had said he was and liable for all legal expenses (costs).[note 1] Irving attempted to avoid this by claiming to be bankrupt. Irving initially said that he intended to appeal, but no appeal was heard.[note 2]
Throughout the case, and afterward, media commentary managed to be almost entirely wrong about the facts of the case. The most basic error committed was the almost universal misconception that it was Irving who was on trial. Perhaps this was simply a misunderstanding of English libel laws (understandable, given the predominance of the United States culturally), but it led to many self-serving opinion pieces in which journalists and historians competed with each other to see who could be the most "right on" on the issue. The pseudonymous and appropriately named "Peter Simple", writing in the Daily Telegraph, said mock-innocently that it was "a strange sort of country" in which Irving could be "consigned to the outer darkness" and yet the (at least formerly) pro-Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm would be given the Order of Merit (or made a Companion of Honour, depending whether we're living in the real world or Simple's right-wing parody). ("Simple" had early covered the trial, mentioning that he felt "uncomfortable" watching Irving berating Auschwitz survivors - something that had not occurred, nor anything like it, effectively demonstrating that Simple pulled his "coverage" right out of his arse.) Even some genuine historians, including John Keegan, one of Irving's unwilling witnesses, and John Erickson, leapt into print to "defend" Irving and prove how passionate they were in defence of free speech. Keegan couldn't resist ranting about "political correctness", and Erickson didn't appear to know what he was talking about at all. Ultimately, the trial was a victory for free speech - that is, Lipstadt's freedom to call Irving by what he was.
Commentators even tip-toed into extreme unpleasantness by attacking Deborah Lipstadt, with the Irish Times correspondent Brendan Glacken opining that Lipstadt was "odious" for "her smugness, her dullness and her self-righteous political correctness". Very few journalists really stuck it to Irving in the aftermath. The first was the psychologist Oliver James, who interviewed Irving on BBC Radio 4. When Irving "admitted" to be "self-confident to the point of arrogance", James cheerfully suggested that really Irving was "actually very short of self-esteem" and suffered "feelings of inferiority", leading him to "make a big fuss and [be] the centre of attention". No more annihilating response could be conceived. The second was Jeremy Paxman, who had evidently prepared and easily spotted Irving's attempts to twist the truth ("typical of your methods", he noted) and so successfully demolished Irving's claim not to be an anti-semite and a racist that Irving let his mask slip for a moment, asking of Paxman: "You're not Jewish, are you?" Another was Tim Sebastian, an interviewer who had the facts at his fingertips.
Extracts from the judgment by Mr Justice Grey
1.3 Needless to say, the context in which these issues fall to be determined is one which arouses the strongest passions. On that account, it is important that I stress at the outset of this judgment that I do not regard it as being any part of my function as the trial judge to make findings of fact as to what did and what did not occur during the Nazi regime in Germany. It will be necessary for me to rehearse, at some length, certain historical data. The need for this arises because I must evaluate the criticisms of or (as Irving would put it) the attack upon his conduct as an historian in the light of the available historical evidence. But it is not for me to form, still less to express, a judgement about what happened. That is a task for historians. It is important that those reading this judgment should bear well in mind the distinction between my judicial role in resolving the issues arising between these parties and the role of the historian seeking to provide an accurate narrative of past events.
13.105 The inference which in my judgment is clearly to be drawn from what Irving has said and written is that he is anti-semitic.
13.108 I accept that Irving is not obsessed with race. He has certainly not condoned or excused racist violence or thuggery. But he has on many occasions spoken in terms which are plainly racist. Racism is to be condemned even if it is confined, as in Irving's case, to expressions of the kind which I have mentioned.
13.115 I am satisfied that Irving has associated to a significant extent with the following individuals: Frey, Deckert, Althans, Philip, the Worches, Christophersen, Staglich, Rami, Varela, Zundel [sic], Remer, Weckert and Faurisson. They are described in paragraphs 10.8 to 10.25 above. They are all right-wing extremists. I have no doubt that most, if not all of them, are neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust and who are racist and anti-semitic. I also have no doubt that Irving was aware of their political views. His association with such individuals indicates in my judgement that Irving shares many of their political beliefs.
13.144 Mistakes and misconceptions such as these appear to me by their nature unlikely to have been innocent. They are more consistent with a willingness on Irving's part knowingly to misrepresent or manipulate or put a "spin" on the evidence so as to make it conform with his own preconceptions. In my judgment the nature of these misstatements and misjudgments by Irving is a further pointer towards the conclusion that he has deliberately skewed the evidence to bring it into line with his political beliefs.
13.151 The double standards which Irving adopts to some of the documents and to some of the witnesses appears to me to be further evidence that Irving is seeking to manipulate the evidence rather than approaching it as a dispassionate, if sometimes mistaken, historian.
13.163 I find myself unable to accept Irving's contention that his falsification of the historical record is the product of innocent error or misinterpretation or incompetence on his part. When account is taken of all the considerations set out in paragraphs 13.140 to 13.161 above, it appears to me that the correct and inevitable inference must be that for the most part the falsification of the historical record was deliberate and that Irving was motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence.
13.167 The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.
In popular culture
The 2016 theatrical film Denial was an almost-documentary account of the Lipstadt affair. Written by David Hare and Lipstadt herself, and directed by Mick Jackson, the film was a critical and commercial success. The role of Deborah Lipstadt was taken by Rachel Weisz, and that of David Irving by Timothy Spall. Locations were London and Auchwitz.
In the early 1990s, Irving wrote the following poem for his infant daughter:
The (still) good stuff
His second book, The Mare's Nest (1964), about the German V-weapons program and Allied espionage on it, is still well-regarded by most historians on the subject. He even found out that the Allies broke Enigma ten years before public knowledge (he agreed with the government that this remain a secret). So you don't have to give the hater some of your money[note 3], he has allowed you to download it from his hateful, hateful, "truthy" website. It was followed by The Virus House AKA The German Atomic Bomb, about the nuclear weapons program.
Another good thing to come out of his books (this time, a bad one), in this case Hitler's War (a divisive book at the time of its 1977 publication, judging by its Wikipedia article, and the real beginning of his downfall as a popular historian), was a lesson for real historians to not just assume things, but to actually investigate and come up with evidence for stuff. Thus a Holocaust denier talking point was debunked: that Hitler didn't order the Holocaust.
- David Irving: A Political Self-Portrait: Electronic Edition, Holocaust Denial on Trial
- In English civil lawsuits, the loser routinely pays the costs of both sides.
- There is no automatic right of appeal in English law. Leave to appeal has to be granted either by the trial judge, or by the Court of Appeal on application. The latter rejects unmeritorious cases out of hand.
- although you will give him pageviews.
- 'Hitler? He was good in parts', Grauniad.
- 'David Irving, DT for the Dallas Cowboys at NFL.com'
- Jewish responsibility for anti-Semitism/ pogroms/ Holocaust
- Holocaust "myth" as Jewish extortion
- Money, attention seeking etc.
- Evans, Richard J., Telling Lies About Hitler - The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial (London: Verso, 2002), p.12.
- Evans, p.15.
- Evans, p.153.
- Evans, pp.45-101. Yes all of it.
- Evans, quoting himself, p.212.
- Evans, p.213.
- Evans, p.219-220.
- Evans, p.231.
- Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd. & Lipstadt
- Evans, p.246
- Evans, p.250
- Evans, pp.247-48
- Glacken, Brendan, "It's Never That Simple", Irish Times, 17 April 2000.
- Evans, p.200
- Evans, p.242.
- Paxman Newsnight interview, 25:25
Paxman: ... "We heard in that tape a speech that you were making in Tampa, Florida, in which you said, 'the Jews never asked themselves why they've been disliked for 3000 years.'"
Irving: "It's a very serious question, and..."
Paxman: "Would you like to answer it for us?"
Irving: "They don't like- they don't like- well, you're not Jewish, are you?"
- Slimebag eviscerated live on BBC TV.
- David Irving
- read the WP article