In the wake of news reports that leading American academic Norman Finkelstein is publishing an annihilating attack* on Daniel Goldhagen's money-spinning book on "Hitler's willing executioners," an instant - instant - global best-seller, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published this prominent interview with German-born historian
Ruth Bettina Birn,
45, who published in March this
year in the Cambridge University Historical Journal a
devastating critique of Goldhagen's methods, which was
widely repeated by the British newspapers. Since
then, reports the news magazine, "attempts are being made by
psychological and legal means to stop the respected
Nazi-expert, who is employed by the Canadian authorities
prosecuting war crimes, from expressing her
objections." * The book was published by Henry Holt, New York, early
* The book was published by Henry Holt, New York, early in 1998.
RUTH BETTINA BIRN: Yes, for eleven years. When I became a Fellow in Boston after my Ph D somebody introduced me to a young researcher who was planning to work in Germany. I referred him to the Ludwigsburg war crimes centre. He didn't even know the archives existed.
BIRN: Of course, I feel threatened.
BIRN: not in the same journal, which would have been proper. I hear he has published a response elsewhere accusing me of "barefaced invention and "hateful" rhetoric.
BIRN: Our publisher has mentioned once or twice that he is coming under certain hostile pressures.
BIRN: There are two fields: first, the unexampled campaign since 1995 to promote the Goldhagen book. A literary first effort becomes a world sensation, and immediately the newspapers start hinting that there's a Harvard professorship waiting for the views his book propagates. Second, the attempts to stifle the criticisms voiced by me and Finkelstein.. . . You can't take back the Truth, and the pressure on my employer is not going to alter that. The question is, how are we going to deal with each other in future? if Goldhagen gets so hostile even in his book, that cautious, respected researchers suddenly find themselves cast as deniers and revisionists, I find it insulting and disgraceful. And if things go further down the political and legal tracks we see here, it poses a threat to any kind of scientific criticism.