International Campaign for Real History

Among documents collected by David Irving for his libel actions against both Deborah Lipstadt and the Hungarian born Gitta Sereny is this article which the latter wrote for The New Statesman about a symposium in Aschaffenburg, Germany, organised by the young media expert Guido Knopp (currently one of the chiefs of Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen).

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Plaintiff's Discovery


The New Statesman

London, July 7, 1978

Gitta Sereny:

Building up defences against the Hitlerwave

A few weeks ago in this magazine, I wrote about the 'Hitlerwave' in Germany, and the deep need of young Germans for information about their country's past -- a need satisfied too often by mere commercialisers, and sometimes by people who are little more than apologists for Nazism. Last weekend, in the 12th century North Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg, the Hitlerwave gave birth to a remarkable phenomenon.

In the first of what are planned as annual 'Discussions on Controversies of our Time' -- funded by the municipality -- a panel of speakers from several countries and several disciplines debated the theme of 'Hitler Today'. From Britain, the best-selling writer David Irving arrived, and defended his hare-brained argument that Hitler was not aware of the fate of the European Jews.

What was heartening was that before an audience amplified through 32 newspapers and three television channels, Irving's arguments -- and his approach to history -- were totally rejected. 'This has cost me thousands of sympathisers in Germany', he said over lunch. It was, no doubt, all the more of a shock to him, coming after the relatively kindly reception in British academic reviews, of his book Hitler's War, in which he purports to have represented the Second World War from 'Hitler's point of view'.

There have of course been thousands of TV and university discussions about Hitler in Germany, but this was probably the first in which the public was promised, and given, a voice. The experts on the platform -- among them the historians Eberhard Jäckel of Stuttgart and Albrecht Tyrell of Bonn, the Germanist J. P. Stern of London University, former Observer columnist Sebastian Haffner, and prize-winning film-maker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg -- showed remarkable feeling for the largely lay audience, many of them young.

Dr Werner Maser, recently much-publicised for his 'discovery' of a possible Hitler son, did little better than Irving. For 38 minutes, Maser lamented his supposed maltreatment by the international press over a discovery which he admitted to be trivial. 'I don't believe a thing you say about him', snapped Professor Jäckel. 'But if he is so unimportant, and I so agree with you, why do you persist in dishing him up?'

David Irving had proposed to invite some 50 former Nazi bigwigs to lend him their support. The organisers reduced this to five -- among them a former Hitler aide, Richard Schulze-Kossens, who last year -- though unwittingly as be hadn't understood Irving's thesis -- lent Irving a hand on the David Frost show. Another Irving guest, who slipped in under an assumed name, was the aged SS general Karl Wolff, one-time head of Himmler's personal staff, whose deplorable record contrasts with his charm of manner.

Called on by Irving to authenticate Himmler's masseur, Kersten, Wolff declined on the grounds that he needed to keep his knowledge till he could find a publisher for his memoirs. 'As you know' he said, 'the German government has refused pension rights to former men of the Waffen SS.' 'I should hope so', commented Professor Tyrell audibly.

Irving gained some sympathy with a crisp attack on the 'old-fashioned' research methods of establishment historians, claiming that they merely copied out each others books. He, on the other hand, spent long hours listening to the stories of aged widows, admiring their bric-a-brac and the views from their windows -- so as to be able to come out with valuable, unpublished diaries of field marshals and politicians. He immediately lost all sympathy by claiming that only he consulted original sources, and that German historians otherwise were merely climbing on a conventional bandwagon of all-embracing Hitler-condemnation.

Irving clearly has little understanding of contemporary Germans: he lives in a world of has-beens, plus perhaps a few neo-Nazi sympathisers, failing to see that special pleading on Hitler's behalf does not pass muster merely by clothing it in laborious detail.

When during Sunday's public forum, one young member of the audience asked Professor Jäckel to take Irving on in general debate, Jäckel replied that he was willing, but that he had already twice refuted Irving's thesis in print. Turning to Irving, he said: 'On your own admission, you are a man who does not read books; you cannot hear arguments; you only listen to yourself. With a man such as you a dialogue is impossible.'

Finally, one of Irving's guests from yesteryear -- an urbane Austrian, formerly of the Nazi Admiral Canaris's staff -- rose to regret the possibility that Irving's controversial thesis, representing only a small part of his work, might overshadow the remarkable contributions he has made to Hitler research.

The question of what sort of Hitler research is worthwhile is not one which it is easy to answer. It is, however, one very much worth asking. It is certainly true that Irving has a nose for documents, and is somehow able to afford the time and money for searching them out. But the question which troubles people in Germany, if nowhere else, is whether it is right to compose and publish -- for publishers too must be responsible -- books on Hitler which assume entirely Hitler's viewpoint? However interesting the documentation may appear, unless it is presented in conjunction with material from other viewpoints, what results is not history, but an exceptionally subtle, even insidious, form of propaganda.

The whole remarkable weekend closed with a showing of Syberberg's epic Hitler, a Film from Germany. Entirely unlike Joachim Fest's Hitler, A Career, which, again, and dangerously, shows Hitler from the Nazi's own perspective, Syberberg's film is a ruthless analysis of the social morality which made Hitler's brief success possible.

There has been some doubt in Syberberg's mind about whether this complex, difficult film can be shown generally in Germany. He now believes that it is possible.

One left Aschaffenburg with the feeling that at least in Germany, a counter attack against the sentimentalising of the Nazi past had begun.


Mr Irving had nothing to do with the former SS Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff's attendance. As his diary shows, he was mildly puzzled when a lady brought a silver haired gentleman over to shake his hand in the interval. Flashbulbs popped, and the lady -- Gitta Sereny -- cackled to the journalists: "Did you get that! Great!" (The gentleman was Wolff, whom Mr Irving had not met before or since). She needed the picture for her story in The Sunday Times. That is how newspapers work.

Fora more balanced account see Karl-Heinz Janssen in Die Zeit, July 8, 1978; for a verbatim transcript of the Aschaffenburg proceedings, see Guido Knopp (ed.), Hitler Heute (Aschaffenburg, 1978).

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