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July 26, 2003
ruined my life says historian
HISTORIAN Joel Hayward says he
wishes he never wrote the thesis
that challenged conventional views of the
Holocaust, and thought at the time that it may have
been "a piece of junk".
told the Herald he remains haunted by his
controversial masters thesis, which appalled the
Jewish community late in 1999.
It queried the gassing of Jews, underestimated
the numbers killed, and found no evidence of an
Dr Hayward says that even in the year he wrote
it - 1991 - he was concerned that the thesis may
have been flawed.
This week, the thesis was back in the news after
copies of a University of Canterbury journal
containing an article
describing the "witch hunt" of Dr Hayward were
The university said it was potentially
defamatory and inaccurate.
The author, Dr Thomas Fudge, resigned in
disgust and the History Now editor,
Associate Professor Ian Campbell, was
Dr Hayward says the university's action was
unconscionable. He thought the Fudge article was
"Anyone who reads the piece will know the price
I paid was too high."
apologised, admitted his mistakes, and surviving
an inquiry which considered stripping him of his
masters degree, Dr Hayward remains vilified in
the academic community.
He admits his thesis choice, which "ruined my
life", was foolish and too ambitious for a masters
"I could have had better advice from the history
At the time, he was warmly disposed to the
He had recently returned from Israel and
passionately believed in a Jewish state. It struck
him as unusual that revisionists could say the
Holocaust didn't happen.
After finishing the thesis in 1991, Dr Hayward
was worried it was no good. In an unusual step, he
had written it before completing requisite honours
papers. He wanted to work from home that year to
help care for a sick child.
"I think that was the first of a lot of errors
... because when I did the papers the next year I
learned a lot about the proper principles of
historical research and inquiry ... making sense of
truth, objectivity and bias."
After earning an A-plus for the thesis and
completing the honours papers, for which he earned
top grades, he graduated in 1993 with an MA in
The thesis was
initially embargoed for three years - because of
threats it would be stolen, Dr Hayward says -
then for another three years by the
Dr Hayward says that in 1999, the thesis came
into the hands of Jewish scholars, who were
disgusted by its contents.
He started receiving emails "full of hatred", to
which he replied that he had never intended to hurt
anyone, and no longer agreed with its contents. He
wrote an addendum admitting his errors. He also
wrote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle
apologising for the distress he had caused.
But the malicious calls and emails kept coming,
and he has had death threats.
Dr Hayward says he is not making accusations
against the Jewish community but believes "one or
two very nasty people" agitated to present a story
that was not true.
In 2000, the Jewish Council complained to the
university, calling for the thesis to be withdrawn
from the library and Dr Hayward to be stripped of
An inquiry, led by retired judge Sir Ian
Barker, summoned Dr Hayward.
He says the inquiry, which found his thesis
faulty and conclusion unworthy, arrived at a
"I was a very naughty man but not quite so that
they could take my degree ... It left me feeling
humiliated and aggrieved and the Jewish Council
The drama has cost Dr Hayward the job he was
enjoying at Massey University teaching defence and
He has had two nervous
breakdowns and now lives on a sickness benefit,
selling his book collection to keep the family
When Dr Hayward heard there was to be an article
about him in the May issue of the history journal
he cringed. But since the publicity, he has had a
flood of support from academics and former students
who did not realise the toll it had taken.
He remains stunned at Canterbury University's
actions. He suspects that the Canterbury academics
did not want it known they had failed to stand up
Despite his regrets, Dr Hayward says no topic is
taboo. "That's what our democracy allows us."
Our dossier on the Joel
July 2003: Profile in NZ Sunday Star
threats and breakdowns - the Holocaust thesis
destroyed my life"
Report of the Working
Party established by University of Canterbury to
Inquire into Hayward Case | summary
at heart of 'book burning' row | 'Book-burners'
feared libel suit
Joel Hayward thesis: 'The
Fate of Jews in German Hands' (zip
Fate of Joel Hayward in New Zealand Hands: From
Holocaust Historian to Holocaust? Part I |