Posted Monday, May 19, 2003

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  Evans had two research assistants and at one point 40 people were employed by the legal team to nail Irving. Evans is critical of those who did not have the historical scholarship, expertise and knowledge to see through him.

Hero of the Proletariat: Professor Richard "Skunky" Evans at ease for a newspaper interview

[images and caption added by this website]


Capital & Class, Spring 2003.
The journal is published by the Conference of Socialist Economists:


[In which one of Prof "Skunky" Evans's soulmates reviews his book]


Telling Lies about Hitler -- The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial.
Evans, RJ.
Verso Press, 2002
ISBN 1-85984-417-0 (pbk) £14.00 pp 326

by Andrew McCulloch. [homepage]
Andrew McCulloch teaches sociology at Northumbria University.

I DEVOURED this book guiltily one weekend when I was a rather rude houseguest. Fortunately, my friends seem to have tolerated my bad behaviour in creeping off to read in secret. Perhaps I was not missed that much and therefore not found out.

The Hitler devotee David Irving, however, definitely has been exposed in this book as a cheat, charlatan and indefatigable liar by the patient detective work of Richard J. Evans and his team. Irving would not be much missed either, although I doubt that he will easily go away. Guilt and shame are not part of his character.

Most people will believe that they know about the circumstances that occasioned this book. Evans chides those sections of the media that misunderstood the situation. It was Irving, contrary to many accounts, who instigated the libel action against the publishers of Deborah Lipstadt's (1994) Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and Memory. To their great credit, Penguin did not capitulate before his libel action threats.

They engaged a legal team to defend Lipstadt's claims in her book that Irving was one of those, and a very prominent and poisonous one, who had falsified and manipulated the historical record about the Holocaust to serve his ideological commitment to fascism, antisemitism and Hitler's memory. It was not, therefore, Irving who was the victim of those out to get him -- but this did not stop him constantly presenting the case publicly in that light. Evan's book is an account of the case. It includes his devastating investigations of Irving's work as a popularising ficto-historian and some comments on the nature of historical investigation.

Those claiming to have been libelled -- that is defamed, lowered in the esteem in the eyes of that legal fiction, the reasonable man -- are in a strong position in English law. To make defamatory statements in good faith is not a defence as everyone rich enough to use the law courts is deemed to have a good reputation until proven otherwise. At the end of the book, Evans calls for a long overdue change in the English libel laws. The only defence open to Penguin Books was to prove the overall accuracy of Lipstadt's claim and thereby discredit Irving as a historian. Lipstadt was not asked to appear in court by the defence and Irving did not subpoena her. The central issue was Irving's claim to be a historian of integrity.


Prof Richard Evans RICHARD Evans, Professor of Modem History at Cambridge University, was engaged by the defence as the expert witness who could put Irving's historical work to the test. Irving's central claims are that the number of those killed in the Endlosung has been vastly exaggerated and that Hitler did not know about the extermination of the Jews and other groups. Indeed, there was no Nazi industrial process of extermination. Irving also claims that the fire bombing of Dresden by the allies was a similar crime, if not worse, when compared to those unfortunately committed by the Germans in the heat and chaos of warfare. In order to do this Irving has consistently falsified the death toll in Dresden.

For those who do want to wedge the door open that Hitler did not know, there are some chinks or openings.

  • Bauman accepts in Modernity and the Holocaust (1991: 15), for instance, that the functional logic of the Nazi system of 'polycratic' government led inexorably in the direction of genocide and that therefore there was no d ocument which Hitler needed to sign to achieve his terrible aims.
  • Another chink is suggested by Inga Clendinnen: 'There are many difficulties in the way of understanding a Hitler, not least because we know that had there been no Hitler there would have been no Holocaust. This fact is at once obviously true, and so grossly incommensurate with our notions of adequacy regarding historical cause and effect that we recoil from it' (Clendinnen, 1999: 95).

Evans concludes that 'It was only when...I followed Irving's claims and statements about Hitler back to the original documents. on which they purported to rest, that Irving's work in this respect was revealed as a house of cards, a vast apparatus of deception and deceit. Lipstadt was therefore right to describe Irving as a Hitler partisan who manipulated the historical record in an attempt to portray his hero in an unwarrantedly favourable light' (p. 110). Evans and his team showed to the satisfaction of the judge that in 19 separate instances Irving had deliberately falsified or manipulated the historical record. The general effect was to minimise the Holocaust and shield Hitler from guilt. This was not a passing blind spot; it is a consistent feature of Irving's mendacious historical writing from the very beginning.

David Irving comments:

THE suggestion above, that "Lipstadt was not asked to appear in court by the defence and Irving did not subpoena her," betrays the reviewer's ignorance: a defendant cannot be subpoena'd: if they choose to Plead the Fifth, they cannot be forced to testify. But in describing "Skunky" Evans as a writer who "obviously heartily despises and loathes" me, he hits the nail on the head.
   I put this as a challenge to Evans in the witness box on the very first day. Perjuring himself, he denied he nurtured any dislike for me.
   This lie would have been one of the main planks of our appeal, had the Court of Appeal permitted it to go ahead (it refused).
   The "expert opinion" of a witness -- in this case the head of the team of expert witnesses -- who reveals in his subsequent book that from the very outset he despised the subject of his inquiries is quite worthless, and should have been disregarded by the Court.
   Evans perjured himself, a criminal offence.

Related file:

Extract from Trial Transcript, David Irving challenges Prof. Evans -- testifying on oath -- about his manifest bias

Irving is a fascist autodidact of almost irrepressible energy whom Evans obviously heartily despises and loathes. Irving's morals in regard to historical truth are, and always have been, those of a virus. But although part of the excitement of reading this book revolves around the encounter of two immiscible personalities in the court room, its significance is far wider than that. Verso, therefore, are to be congratulated (Tariq Ali in particular) for having the courage to publish it. (Other publishers were previously offered this volume and backed out. Indeed, it is not published by Penguin.)

Despite his comprehensive legal defeat (which left him bankrupted by the costs) and a damning 350 page judgement, Irving still has his supporters, even amongst historians. They see a fellow historian with tenacity and talent who unfortunately suffers from an ideological flaw. They should see someone who has used the apparatus of scholarship as a smokescreen and that they have been duped.

Despite the fact that Evans had two research assistants and that at one point 40 people were employed by the legal team to nail Irving, Evans is critical of those who did not have the historical scholarship, expertise and knowledge to see through him. It is not historians as a profession but those proponents of 'Holocaust Studies' and the popular enthusiasm for knowledge about the Second World War that, in Evan's view, have helped to create the atmosphere in which the repellent Irving could ply his dubious trade. Evans is especially contemptuous, therefore, of those professional historians who do give Irving some credit.

Hitler's trial in 1924 after a failed putsch presented an opportunity that proved to be the making of him. Fortunately, Irving has not yet been able to make any political capital out of his failed libel case. This book is a slap in the face to all those fascists (neo- or otherwise) who think that Irving is a person or historian of any worth. For those amongst them who can read and who scream that their opponents are liars, this book might, just might, make them think about what the truth really means. This book is also a rebuke to the supporters of absolute relativism, to those who uncritically support post-modernism and to all those who have not accepted Norman Geras's fundamental point that if we cannot find that some statements are the truth, then there is no possibility of claiming that some acts are unjust. All we have are the claim and counterclaim of contending stories (Geras, 1995: 107). Not here in this book, however.

Andrew McCulloch teaches sociology at Northumbria University.


Bauman, Z (1991) Modernity and the Holocaust, Polity
Clendinnen, I (1999) Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge.
Geras, N (1995) Solidarity in the Conversation of Mankind -- The ungroundable liberalism of Richard Rorty, Verso


Footnote: The US edition of Evans's book Lying about Hitler has already been remaindered. It is available from Hamilton Books, the primary/largest book remainder service in the US, for $7.00. Its sales were evidently abysmal. I am proud to say my books have never been remaindered. -- David Irving


Index on Richard "Skunky" Evans
Richard Evans praised a book which says Eichmann's word is not proof enough against Hitler
 Sunday Telegraph: Irving's home is repossessed as libel debts mount
 Michael Burleigh writes: It is time for the David Irving libel case to be consigned to history

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