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Star * Times
New Zealand, 27 July 2003
and breakdowns - the Holocaust thesis destroyed my
JOEL Hayward's controversial
thesis about the Holocaust is in the spotlight
again. In his first interview on the affair, the
historian talks to Anthony Hubbard.
Joel Hayward's idol is
Lord Nelson, the maimed hero of Trafalgar.
Hayward's Palmerston North house has pictures of
Nelson on its beige walls. There is even a portrait
of Hardy, his loyal lieutenant, in the
former Massey historian identifies with the British
admiral, and not just because he has written a book
Hayward believes he lost his job and his career
because of the row over his notorious 1993
"revisionist" thesis about the Holocaust. When he
quit Massey last year, "I felt a bit like Lord
Nelson after he lost the sight of his eye and the
use of his arm", he says, sitting in his lounge
beneath an etching of Napoleon, Nelson's great
"Nelson did some dumb things. He had to overcome
some dumb decisions. He went through some very,
very black and depressing periods in his life, and
yet he overcame them and as a human I can relate to
him . . . I've had the same life's roller coaster
as he had."
Hayward's critics will have none of this. The
historian may cast himself as a martyr in the cause
of free speech. He may make unblushing comparisons
between himself and the great naval leader. But, to
them, Hayward has aided the cause of tyranny. As a
student at Canterbury he not only wrote an MA
thesis belittling key aspects of the Holocaust,
they say, but he continued to
associate with Holocaust
revisionists and deniers long afterwards. He
may have publicly recanted and disowned parts of
the thesis - but they are not convinced.
No issue is more
fraught or more explosive. Hayward is accused,
in effect, of helping to whitewash genocide. His
defenders say he merely raised genuine questions
about limited aspects of it.
Last week historian Thomas Fudge resigned
from Canterbury after the history department
destroyed copies of a departmental journal in which
Fudge defended Hayward.
Hayward is a short, slightly pudgy man in blue
tracksuit pants. His dark hair bristles like a
bottlebrush from above a smooth bland face. He sits
with his head down and his shoulders slumped, a
figure of dejection. Only towards the end of a long
interview, and in response to his critics' claims,
does he become animated.
Nobody doubts that Hayward has fallen into
wretchedness. He lives on the dole and has been
unable to find other work. Employers, he says, are
spooked by his reputation. He has had to sell most
of his beloved book collection in an attempt to
provide for his wife Kathy and his
daughters. He has suffered death threats and
humiliation. He has twice suffered mental
But whether you sympathise with the man depends
on how you view his history. If the young scholar
merely blundered or overstated his case, as his
defenders allege, then his downfall is a scandal.
His enemies - the word is not too strong - have a
Hayward emailed all members of the Canterbury
history department after he heard about the burning
of History Now, the journal containing
"I warned them that regardless of the
merits or demerits of that article, the
destruction would be seen as book burning and
New Zealanders aren't book burners."
Fudge says he wanted to draw attention to the
fact that Hayward had been unjustly punished.
Hayward says the department didn't like it
"because it makes clear for the first
time that many members of the department believe
I had been treated unfairly and the grade I
received - an A-plus - was indeed appropriate".
If the article had been critical of him, he
says, "they would have published it with no
problems". Department members, he suggests,
"are scared. Well, I'm scared. I'm
scared. I've had years of being scared so I
understand they were scared to be supportive of
a thesis that has been so roundly condemned by
people who haven't read it I can understand
that. But at what point does fear become more
powerful than academic principle?"
Hayward says he left the university in mid-2002
because "I just broke down". Trouble began as soon
as word leaked out in late 1999 about the thesis,
which he had deposited in Canterbury University
library under a six-year embargo. "There was an
obvious change in my colleagues' attitude towards
me," he says. "I felt they were believing the
reports in the newspapers even though they knew I
was a prolific, hardworking and popular colleague -
and that hurt me.
"Slowly through 2000 fewer people would
speak to me and the tearoom became a very
uncomfortable place for me to go. The threats
against me, my feeling of ruined collegiality
and just the stress of the working party
(Canterbury's inquiry team into the affair)
drove me to the first breakdown of the two that
Sometimes colleagues would walk out of the room
if he entered. More commonly, if it was "a choice
of sitting down at the table with Joel Hayward or
sitting at another table, they would sit at the
other table". One day "a middle-aged man walked
into my office - my door was always open, I had an
open-door policy with the students - he walked in
and said 'you'll get yours mate'. And I said Ooh
really, what will I get?' And he passed me a live
bullet and turned and walked out."
He got hate mail including death threats. 'Die,
you evil scumbag, you don't deserve a long life and
ain't going to have one'. That sort of thing.
Sometimes, and I laughed about this with Kathy
sometimes, I would get hate mail or death threats
with the sender's name and address on the back.
"An anonymous caller
rang Kathy and said 'well, where are your kids
now? And she said 'they're at school'. And the
person said 'well, how do you know they're
there? And how do you know they're safe?' Click
- and then hung up."
By the end of 2001 "my nerves were broken, I
felt physically and emotionally ill. I began making
what I see now to be erratic decisions.
"And I felt the university ignored my health
because I told them 'I can't cope'. I told one of
my lecturers that I felt suicidal and I watched him
write it in his desk diary. And his response was,
'look, you're just going to have to buck up and get
He resigned in early 2002, partly because he
thought he had another job lecturing naval
officers. But then the job fell through, apparently
because the person who offered it was not
authorised to do so. He asked to withdraw his
resignation a week later but it was refused.
Massey, he believes, was glad to get rid of him
because he was an embarrassment, despite the fact
that he was a prolific author - writer of six
books, including a critically-acclaimed book on
Stalingrad. Whereas most scholars produced only one
article a year in academic journals, he says, he
averaged four. And he was popular with students.
Some have publicly supported him in letters to the
But he cannot even get shortlisted for jobs. In
one case - he had a job at Fonterra - the job was
withdrawn on his first day.
Hayward says his thesis contained "some errors
of interpretation". But he points out that he wrote
it before he did his master's papers - the reverse
of the usual order. He had asked to do this because
his baby daughter was sick and he wanted to work
from home. But if he had followed the usual route
by doing papers first - on historical research and
methodology - he might have done a better
He is reluctant to blame his thesis supervisor,
Canterbury historian Vincent Orange, now
retired from the university. Orange also supervised
his PhD on Stalingrad and became his friend. But
Hayward does suggest the department let him down by
allowing him to tackle too difficult a topic and by
failing to see the political ramifications.
Orange, who until now has remained publicly
silent, told the Sunday Star-Times:
"I'm not going to deny I made mistakes,
several mistakes, in my supervision. I could
have done, and should have done, a better job."
Hayward says he particularly regrets the part of
his thesis casting doubt on the numbers of Jews
killed in the Holocaust. He suggested that the
number was more than one or two million, but much
less than the symbolic figure of six million. He
admits he had not properly investigated those
figures in the body of his paper.
"It was dumb. It was dumb. That's the
line I've regretted making in the thesis more
than any other line. Now where were my
supervisors when I made that? Hayward says he
learned more about the Holocaust later and came
to see that "perhaps I'd made - or been allowed
to make - some booboo".
The working party into the affair decided the
thesis was flawed and should have been resubmitted,
but that it should not be revoked because Hayward
had not acted dishonestly.
WAIKATO University political scientist Dov
Bing, who first revealed the thesis to the
world, has a different view. Hayward published an
article in the Jewish Chronicle in 1990
denouncing British historian David Irving
and other Holocaust deniers. But, a few months
later, in his thesis, Hayward took the opposite
view. "How could he possibly have changed his mind
in such a short time?" asks Bing.
In 2001, a photograph appeared on a revisionist
website showing Hayward shooting a handgun on the
property in Alabama of Robert Countess, an
activist revisionist. The photograph dates from
1994, Countess says in the German-language website.
He refers to Hayward as "my friend". In 1998,
Hayward published a defence on a website of David
Irving as a military historian. And in 1999 he
published an article about Hitler's campaign in the
Crimea in a neo-Nazi magazine edited by a
well-known Holocaust denier, says Bing.
The young Hayward had also claimed to be Jewish
or of Jewish heritage when writing his thesis, but
this claim now seemed doubtful. His mother's mother
was Jewish, he says, "but I have never pretended to
be Jewish, and I have never pretended to be not
Jewish". His religion was a private matter between
him and his creator. Hayward says Countess had
invited him to meet the family of the great
athlete Jesse Owens, a long-time hero of
his. Countess had heard that Hayward was studying
on a fellowship at an Alabama airbase.
Hayward says he had known Countess was a
revisionist, "but he was a nobody in the
revisionist world. He wasn't like David Irving".
After the visit to the Owens' family - "one of the
greatest days of my life", says Hayward - he had
fallen into a debate with Countess about handguns
and accepted his invitation to fire the gun because
as a defence specialist he was interested in such
Does he now regret it? "Of course I do. But all
I thought I was going to do was meet the family of
a great man." His public defence of David Irving
concerned only his reputation as a military
historian, not as a Holocaust denier. And he had
not known that the magazine that published his 1999
article was a revisionist one. Its editor had used
a pseudonym when inviting him to submit the
At the very least, all of this shows poor
political judgement. But Hayward says he has been
hoodwinked by neo-Nazis and revisionists desperate
to use his academic good name to boost their cause.
He had spent years trying to remove his thesis from
He is, he says, a liberal Labour voter - "I
voted for Helen Clark twice before and I
will do it again" - who loathes racism. "If I could
go back in H G Wells' time machine," he
says, "I would never do that thesis". It had been a
catastrophe for him and his family, but once again
he finds comfort in his hero. Nelson overcame his
mistakes and his depressions, and so, he says, will
he. After years of silence, he has resolved to come
out and defend himself. "I refuse," he says,
lifting his head from its habitual bowed position,
"to be a victim."
Our dossier on the Joel
July 2003, NZ Herald: "Holocaust
thesis ruined my life says historian"
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 |