Telling lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial
-Richard J Evans
How do we know that ‘history’, as read in the history books, is real? How do we know when historians are being honest with the truth, or if they are subtly pushing their own agenda? The trial of David Irving, the controversial historian of WW2, exposed such questions to public scrutiny for the first time. Richard Evans, an expert witness for the defence, has written this account of the issues behind the trial and what happened in the court.
The book begins with an overview of the work of Irving. Irving began his career as an ‘amateur historian’ and conducted extensive research in the German achieves. Author of over thirty books, Irving’s work slowly degenerated into pushing a more positive view of Hitler, who Irving clearly admired. The author makes the very good point that it was Irving who brought the libel suit, but most people consider it his trial, not the authoress, Deborah Lipstadt, of the book he wanted removed.
The next few chapters discuss the ‘reality’, as compared with Irving’s books. It becomes clear to the person who can be bothered to wade through them (Evans’ is not the best writer, even though its clear he knows his history), that Irving has constantly made ‘mistakes’ that always benefited Hitler. Whenever there was a shadow of a doubt, Irving gave it to Hitler, commenting in court that ‘a man is innocent until proven guilty’. Evans notes that people had to pinch themselves to remember that it was Hitler Irving was talking about. Irving also reduced the numbers of Jews killed by the Nazis, while increasing the number of Germans killed at Dresden, attempting to press the view that the war crimes of both sides in the war were roughly equivalent. Evans convincingly debunks his claims.
Evans them discusses Irving’s membership – although it’s not clear if Irving is a member or a guest lecturer – of various right-wing/anti-Semitic groups. Irving was clearly an important spokesperson for them and the whole cause of holocaust denial, representing their best chance to alter the historical record, and he was clearly involved with them. Evans is hesitant about detailing how involved he was, perhaps because of obstructionism, or perhaps he was never sure himself.
The final two chapters discuss the trial and its aftermath. Irving was a determined and impressive prosecutor at first glance, but faced with constant, probing, questions, he crumbled. Irving won minor points, but lost on almost all of the major points – and he accidentally addressed the judge as ‘mein furhur’! Irving lost the trial and was ordered to pay costs, although, as he was bankrupt, that might not have been a real issue. The aftermath of the trial saw Irving vilified and soundly trashed, most of his interviews saw him being mocked and degraded, while he had little prospect of recovering. Those two chapters are the most readable of the book.
The trial does raise some important points though. Is there too much holocaust-reminding going on? The holocaust was tragic and barbaric, but it does not compare with the extermination of the Cathars, or with the rampages of Genesis Khan. With Israel’s behaviour in Palestine, do they have any rights to claim special treatment any longer? As Germany becomes more assertive, they might return to Jew-hating, simply because they are reminded of their grandfathers crimes at every step. (Those who watch Faulty Towers will know what I mean.) There were other victims of Hitler and his cronies, blacks, Russians, homosexuals, not to mention many Germans whose only crime was hating Hitler, so why are the Jews so important?
As a supreme irony, this book has been withdrawn in some places. Why? Because Irving has threatened legal action!