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Richard Evans book reviewed
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EvansOUR READERS will recall that the noted Cambridge professor and hired hand Richard J Evans (left) once wrote a book to which he himself proudly drew attention as an expert witness in the libel action against Prof Deborah Lipstadt, with whom he most surely ranks equal in academic eminence. The title was Death in Hamburg. Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830-1910 (Cambridge, 1987), and it is a worthy and weighty tome indeed.

While we ourselves would never stoop to skunk-baiting, there are those others who do not hesitate. Along now comes a historian, Paul J Weindling, who has just published an equally important book, Epidemics and Genocide in Eastern Europe 1890-1945 (Oxford, 2000). Weindling has done what Evans most feared, subjected his book to a thorough scrutiny. He writes on page 63:

Richard Evans in his study of the Hamburg cholera epidemic of 1892 assumes that Ostjuden [eastern Jews] brought cholera to Hamburg; but this is more a matter of conjecture than epidemiologically proven. Jews were in an overall minority among Eastern European migrants during the 1890s; even though in 1892 numbers of Jewish migrants were high (and possibly exceeded those of other religions), because there were cholera outbreaks in Russia at the time[,] there was no proof that Jewish rather than other migrants and travellers from Russia (or indeed from other cholera areas) were the carriers of cholera. Transmigrants did not "cause" cholera in other port cities, notably Bremen. Russian Jews were scapegoated for the failure of the Hamburg authorities to provide filtration [of drinking water from the Elbe]. But there is no conclusive proof for the view held at the time by anti-Semites that Russian Jews caused the cholera epidemic.

Earlier in the same book Weindling writes on page 58 at note 29:

For the contrast between Bremen and Hamburg see Evans, Death, 299-305. Leidinger points out that Evans overlooks extensive medical controls on transmigrants prior to 1893.

[Leidinger is B. Leidinger's "Auswanderergeschaft und Gesundheitspolitik -- Auswandererkontrollen in der Allgemeinen Krankensanstalt Bremen um 1900," in Stadt, Krankheit und Tod. Stadtische Gesundheit während der Epidemiologischen Transition (Berlin, 1998), cited as preprint.]

At pages 62 et seq. Weindling's book continues:

"Gentlemen, I forget that I am in Europe," was [Robert] Koch's expression of revulsion at the primitive, insanitary conditions in Hamburg. Although Koch pointed to "the Russian emigrants' as the source of the cholera "invasion' in August 1892, he did not blame them for a lack of cleanliness. Indeed, it was because the transmigrants began cleaning their possessions that infected water polluted the harbour, adding to the inevitable sewage. Koch denounced the Hamburg authorities for not disinfecting the waste water before discharge from the migration halls into the river Elbe from where Hamburg's drinking water was taken without being filtered.

Although sporadic anti-Semitism flared up during the Hamburg cholera epidemic of 1892, such prejudices did not infect expert opinion. Koch identified Russian migrants as the source of the epidemic, but their race and religion were irrelevant. Other doctors stressed the effects of local insanitary conditions, or considered that cholera came from the Middle East via French coastal traffic.

Again on page 21 at note 7:

cf. R. J. Evans, Death, 490-507 for the argument that Koch's state-oriented bacteriology triumphed over [Max von] Pettenkofer's localist environmentalism.

Weindling clearly shows that Evan's argument is wrong on pages 20 et seq.


Evans, Death, ignores the crucial role of [Bernhard] Nocht as a link between Hamburg and the wider world [p 66 n60].


* A play on Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady," a cut on a CD by The Marshall Mathers.

David Irving comments:

I CANNOT claim the credit for the above stab in the back for the marxist Cambridge Prof Richard Evans, doyen of Britain's historians, who mindlessly squirted slime over historians of far greater repute than myself (including Gordon Craig, Hugh Trevor Roper, A J P Taylor, and John Keegan) in order to earn the $200,000 fee he was paid by Prof Lipstadt's backers to give his neutral opinion in the libel action that I brought against her. I must admit a certain element of glee in reading the hardly veiled accusation of "anti-Semitism" that Weidling levels against the worthy academic. The Skunk Wore Brown -- It might make a good title for a new Raymond Chandler thriller.

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