Meeting David Irving's nemesis
interview with Professor Richard "Skunky" Evans,
right, the well-rewarded Third Reich "expert" who did
not even know who Albert Speer was]
UP until [sic] the year
2000, David Irving was the Henry Ford of
the Holocaust denial industry. But a lawsuit brought by
Irving against a critic effectively put a spanner in his
production line of hate.
Professor Richard J. Evans, who visited
Australia in July , played no small part in
the downfall of the loathed titan.
In 2000, Irving brought a
libel suit against Prof. Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin
Books for publishing her 1993 book Denying the
Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
Irving alleged that Lipstadt's book defamed him by
claiming that he had deliberately distorted, misquoted
and falsified history.
The lawsuit was a monumental blunder on Irving's part,
turning the focus onto the bona fides of his claims to be
a historian and not a racist
David Irving comments:
AMAZING to read that I was the "Henry Ford"
of the Holocaust denial industry (oops: that
phrase belongs to Norman Finkelstein, doesn't
When Deborah Lipstadt
first submitted her draft manuscript for Denying
the Holocaust, I was not mentioned with even one
Yad Vashem, who were paying
her (along with Robert Maxwell) wrote her
a letter, which I have seen, requiring that my
name be shoe-horned into her book. She complied,
and the Trial was the consequence.
As for the much-praised
Richard "Skunky" Evans, the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reviewing
the same book, titled its review, "Kein
feines Ohr Richard einfach
Evans was paid a quarter of a
million dollars fee [his initial
payment was £70,000]; he signed a
one million pound publishing deal with Penguin
(which became known only after the trial was
over), and maintained on oath that he was a
neutral expert with no animus toward Mr Irving.
Readers of his book and of this interview may
Lipstadt and Penguin Books hired
Prof. Evans, a Cambridge University expert on modern
German history, to trawl through Irving's writings.
Analysing Irving's works and the original sources
cited in the footnotes, Prof. Evans produced a 750-page
report that pulled apart the web of deceit, deliberate
obfuscations and distortion and selective quoting
perpetrated by Irving to further his
Holocaust denial activities.
Irving lost the trial, and was branded
by the court "anti-semitic and racist" and a "right-wing
pro-Nazi polemicist," who "for his own ideological
reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and
manipulated historical evidence."
He was so thoroughly
discredited by the finding and Prof. Evans' 24-hours
of courtroom testimony that one can comfortably
delineate a pre and post-trial period in both Irving's
influence and the number of mainstream fence sitters
who had equivocated on Irving's "scholarship".
Prof. Evans explained that, essentially, because the
trial was not concerned with the veracity of the
Holocaust, but whether Irving had been libelled,
Lipstadt's lawyers could delve into his writings and
"I went into it thinking that it would be a very
interesting exercise in how and where you draw the line
between an imaginative reinterpretation of the sources
and the deliberate falsification.
"So I thought it would help me give a concrete example
of what is objectivity in history and how you go about
defining and approaching objectivity," Prof. Evans
The clinical activity of dissecting Irving's works
took on an emotional hue for Prof. Evans when he entered
"Of course as the trial went on, it became clear that
it had a much wider human significance. You couldn't go
into court every day and see the Holocaust survivors on
the public benches without realising its profound
importance for them by extension."
The modus operandi of the
Holocaust denier is to
distort, selectively quote or invent original sources,
not merely putting a spin on what is there, Prof. Evans
"There is a kind of interplay between the historian
and the documents, which I think is the essence of
writing history. If you simply go to history with a
thesis and you look up the documents to try to prove it,
then you are not really being a historian, you are being
a propagandist because that will then involve you
ignoring or trying to bypass the records. That's why we
have footnotes. We have to provide our critics with the
means of disproving what we are saying.
"I think what you have to do if you want to pursue the
history of the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of
Europe, then you have to take the documentary record as
it is and you must not put words into documents or take
words out or rearrange them or ignore them or neglect
them or invent stuff. It is quite clear that is what
Irving was doing, as the judgement in the case concluded
in the [British] High Court."
Evans, who does not view himself as an activist
historian, acknowledged certain aspects of the Irving
trial made his participation appear so, especially the
media coverage which seemed to suggest that Lipstadt had
sued Irving and not the other way around.
"I found myself having to argue against some
journalists who thought otherwise, that the trial was
actually [about] a vindication of
[Irving's] freedom of speech."
The significance of the trial did not extend to
preventing Irving from denying the
Holocaust but removed the threat of legal action
against critics who described him as a
"It allowed Irving to go on saying what he was doing
but it also allowed criticism of what he is saying. If it
had gone the other way, had Irving won, then it would
have been a major blow against freedom of speech."
After the trial, even with the judgement branding
Irving a fraud and liar, mainstream publishers baulked at
publishing Prof. Evans' book based on his mammoth court
"It took 18 months or more to publish it because it
was held up by threats and fear of libel action by
Irving. It was a sobering lesson on the impact of the
British libel laws on the freedom of speech."
Prof. Evans said that Irving's arrest
and subsequent imprisonment in Austria for
Holocaust denial activities
was not helpful in the long run.
"My view was that he should not have been arrested, he
should have been deported. If they were worried about
neo-fascist organisations which he was going to speak to,
then arresting him and giving him more publicity was not
the right way to go about it.
"In general I am sceptical about the usefulness of
laws such as pertain in many European countries and the
Germans have tried in the EU to make it European
The difficulty of dealing with
Holocaust deniers is the
charge by people who claim freedom of speech but are
ignorant of the wider campaign associated with their
activities, Prof. Evans said.
"I'm not a proponent of absolute freedom of speech,
there have to be limitations on freedom of speech. It is
very difficult to weigh up freedom of speech on the one
hand and the fact that somebody is saying offensive
things on the other hand. It's an issue with which we are
confronted continually nowadays. [But] I think
that, in the end, if Australia wants to ban him, then it
is perfectly in its rights to do so."
As an historian, Prof. Evans is currently completing
the final volume in his trilogy on the Nazi era
[for, eh, Penguin Books: see
panel on right] and the impetus for doing
so is more than academic.
"One of the reasons for writing the books is because
of the inevitable devaluation of rhetorical terms like
Hitler, Nazi, Auschwitz; it's often forgotten how extreme
the Nazis were, how total their hatred for the Jews was
and how unbridled their willingness to use extreme forms
of violence against their opponents."
Devaluing the Holocaust is an unfortunate consequence
of the passage of time but also from the allure of Hitler
as a mythological figure, he said.
"I was in Los Angeles a couple of years ago at the Los
Angeles book fair to give a talk and I got a lot of
questions from the people in the audience, did I think
that what was happening in Bush's America was the same as
what was happening in Germany in 1933?
"And far be it for me to defend George W. Bush,
but I had to say 'well, no, actually'. There might be
some infringements of civil liberties. It may be more
difficult in a post-9/11 atmosphere to engage in free and
unfettered speech but if you look at what is happening in
1933, there is no comparison at all. There aren't
hundreds of thousands of storm troopers ranging around
the streets of New York beating up their opponents, for
"The Democrats have not been banned as all the
political parties were in Germany. One has to remind
people at times... because of this devaluation of the
rhetoric, of some of the realities of the situation."
At the extreme end of the spectrum, of course, are the
Holocaust deniers and combating them is more complicated,
said Prof. Evans, who refuses to debate them.
"If you have half an hour, or an hour, or even two
hours on a platform, or 10 minutes in a TV studio, the
whole thing will depend on rhetoric and producing an
effect and you cannot debate these issues in a rational
"It was very different in a courtroom with David
Irving because we had three months and we could go on and
debate every issue sometimes for days on end, until
everything had been said and the judge told us to move
on. I remember two journalists complaining in a report
that we had spent half an hour debating the position of a
full stop in a document because it affected the meaning
of the words on either side. That was a good forum to
debate the issues but I don't think that the normal
locations for debating in the media or the public are
"You have to assume a give and take. An academic
debate depends upon a willingness to concede points when
they are made forcefully and persuasively and that's not
the case in this particular issue. I think Holocaust
deniers have entrenched views they are not willing to
alter and so it becomes a political slanging