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In the High Court of Justice

DJC Irving

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Tuesday, January 11, 2000, opening statement by David Irving, part 4


Twenty-five years later, I had the conversation which was to lead the retrieval of the Goebbels diaries in Moscow, and indirectly to our presence here in these Courts today.

In May 1992, I invited a long-time friend, a leading historian at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, to have lunch with me at a restaurant in Munich. We had been good friends since 1964, and she is still in the Institute's employ. As my diaries show, this friend and colleague, Dr. Elke Fröhlich, had dropped several hints during the previous twelve months that she had traced the whereabouts of the missing Goebbels diaries.

We all knew, those of us who had engaged in research in Hitler, Goebbels, and the Third Reich, that Dr. Goebbels had placed these diaries on microfiches -- photographic glass plates -- in the closing months of the War, to ensure that they were preserved for posterity. But they had vanished since then. His Private Secretary, Dr. Richard Otte, whom I had questioned over twenty years earlier in connection with our search in the forest in East Germany, had told us about these glass plates. I should mention that he was one of the small burial party who had hidden the jar, but he was unable to accompany us, as at that time he was still in West German government employment. We could only presume that the glass plate microfiches were either destroyed in the last weeks of the War, or that they had been seized by the Red Army.

During this lunchtime conversation in Munich in May 1992, Dr. Elke Fröhlich revealed to me that the latter supposition was correct. She had seen them herself a few weeks previously -- had held them in her hands! -- on a visit to the archives in Moscow.

My recollection of the conversation at this point is, that she continued by saying that the Institute's Directors were unwilling to fund a further expedition to procure these diaries.

Now that I have seen some of the documentation provided to the defendants in this action by the Russians and by the Institute, it is possible that my recollection on this point is wrong.

My recollection of the following is however secure: Dr. Fröhlich informed me that the Director of the Russian "trophy" archives, as they were known, Dr. Bondarev, was in a serious predicament, as he was faced with the economic consequences of the collapse of the Soviet system; he no longer had the means necessary for the upkeep of the archives and the payment of his staff.

The plates, in my view, were seriously at risk. Dr. Fröhlich indicated that if I were to take a sufficient sum of foreign currency to Moscow, I could purchase the glass plates from Dr. Bondarev. It was clear from her remarks that Dr. Bondarev had already discussed this prospect with her.

Dr. Fröhlich added that the glass plates were in a fragile condition and needed to be rescued before they came to serious harm. I recall that she said "If you are going to this deal with the Russians, you will have to take a lot of silk paper with you from England, to place between the glass plates. The plates are just packed into boxes -- with nothing between them."

I asked how much money we were talking about, and either she or I suggested a figure of 20,000 U.S. dollars. I immediately contacted my American publishers in New York, who seemed the most immediate source of money; I informed them of this likely windfall, and asked if we could increase the cash advance on my GOEBBELS manuscript accordingly.

My manuscript of the Goebbels biography was at that time complete, and undergoing editing by myself. It was already ready for delivery to the publishers.

The American publishers responded enthusiastically at first, and upon my return from Munich to London I began negotiations through intermediaries with the Russian archivist Dr. Bondarev. (Dr. Bondarev will not, unfortunately, be called by either party in this action; he seems to have vanished, and is certainly no longer at the trophy archives).

The first intermediary I used was a Russian-language specialist employed by Warburg's Bank in Moscow; he undertook the preliminary negotiations with Dr. Bondarev. I instructed him to tell Bondarev as openly as was prudent of my intention to come and look at the glass plates, and also to make it quite plain that we were coming with a substantial sum of hard currency. Many American institutions were currently engaged in the same practice, as I knew from the newspapers.

At about this time it became plain that the German Government was also keen to get its hands on these glass plates. Naturally I desired to beat them to it: first, because of professional pride, and the desire to have a historical scoop: and secondly, years of working with the German Government Archives had proven both to me and many scholars that as soon as high-grade documents like these dropped into their hands they vanished for many years while they were assessed and catalogued and indexed; and sometimes they were even squirreled away for later exploitation by the Chief Archivists themselves (the "Hossbach Papers" were one case in point).

These vital Nazi diaries would therefore vanish from the public gaze possibly for five or ten years; my fears in this respect had been amply confirmed by events, because many of those glass plates which I saw in Moscow in 1992 have since vanished into the maw of the German Government and the Munich Institut für Zeitgeschichte and they are still not available even now.

I considered therefore that I should be rendering to the historical community the best service by doing the utmost that I could to extract those glass plates, or failing that copies of them, or failing that copies of the maximum number of pages possible, by hook or by crook, from the KGB archives before a wind of change might suddenly result in the resealing of all these former Soviet archives (and once again this apprehension has been largely confirmed by the attitude of the Russian Archive Authorities, who have resealed numbers of these files and made them once again inaccessible to Western historians).

The second intermediary upon whom I relied was the former KGB Officer, Lev Bezymenski. I have known Mr. Bezymenski for about thirty-five years, and over these years we have engaged in a fruitful exercise of exchanging documents: I would hasten to add that the documents which I furnished to Mr. Bezymenski were entirely of a public-domain nature: Mr. Bezymenski in return extracted from Soviet archives for me vital collections of documents, for example, their diplomatic files on Sir Winston Churchill, and the private papers of the Commander in Chief of the German Army, Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch. From the Russian archives I obtained, via Mr. Bezymenski, Fritsch's personal writings during and about the "Blomberg--Fritsch scandal" of 1938, which had historic consequences for Germany, for Hitler and ultimately for the world. I immediately donated a complete set of those Fritsch papers to the German Government archives, where they can still be seen.

Dr. Bezymenski proved unfortunately to be something of a "double agent". Fearing that Dr. Bondarev was not properly getting my message, I asked Mr. Bezymenski to approach him, and to inform him that there were certain documents he held in which I was interested, and that I was coming as a representative of the Sunday Times, well armed with foreign currency. Mr. Bezymenski inquired what those documents were; I refused to tell him, and he replied, "You are referring to the Goebbels diaries I presume".

This I affirmed. Ten minutes after this telephone conversation from me in London to Mr. Bezymenski in Moscow, I received a telephone call from Dr. Fröhlich in Munich, complaining very bitterly that I had revealed our intentions to Mr. Bezymenski. Instead of acting as I had requested, my friend had immediately sent a fax to the Institut für Zeitgeschichte to alert them to what I was "up to." This set the cat among the pigeons, and the Institut für Zeitgeschichte left no stone unturned to prevent the Russians from providing me with the diaries or other materials, for reasons which this Court can readily surmise.

I had in the meantime approached the Sunday Times after my American publishers got cold feet, and I had succeeded in persuading Mr. Andrew Neil that I could obtain The Goebbels Diaries from the Moscow archives, and that I was by chance one of the very few people capable of reading that handwriting.

Two years previously, in 1990, my Italian publisher, Mondadori, had commissioned me to transcribe the hand-written 1938 diary volume of Dr. Goebbels, a copy of which they had purchased from a Russian source. I was thus acquainted with the difficult handwriting of the Nazi propaganda Minister. At that time there were probably only three or four people in the world who were capable of deciphering it.

The negotiations with Andrew Neil proceeded smoothly. He did express at one stage nervousness at the prospect of entering into another "Nazi diaries" deal -- his newspaper group having been made to look foolish for its purchase and publication in 1983 of the forged "Hitler Diaries". I pointed out that I had warned them in writing months ahead, in 1982, that the diaries were fakes. I added "I am offering the 'Sunday Times" the chance to rehabilitate itself!"

Armed with the prestige and the superior financial resources of the Sunday Times I went to Moscow in June 1992, and negotiated directly with Dr. Bondarev and his superior, Professor Tarasov, who was at that time the overall head of the Russian Federation Archival System.

Dr. Bondarev expressed willingness to assist us, although there could no longer be any talk of the clandestine purchase of the plates which we had originally hoped for, since Mr. Bezymenski had let the cat out of the bag. I say "clandestine," but I understand that the same archives sold off many other collections of papers, for example to the Hoover Institution in California, and to U.S. publishing giants, and to my colleague the late John Costello. But my own little deal was not to be.

Professor Tarasov is one of the witnesses in this case, My Lord, and your Lordship will be able to study the documents exhibited by him to his Witness Statement; I confess that I fail to see the relevance of very many of them, but no doubt we shall see that difficulty removed by Mr. Rampton in due course.

The Moscow negotiations were not easy. We negotiated with Professor Tarasov for access to the glass plates. The negotiations were conducted in my presence by Mr. Peter Millar, a freelance journalist working for the Sunday Times, who spoke Russian with a commendable fluency. He will also be giving evidence in this action. With my limited "O"-level Russian, I was able to follow the gist in conversation and also to intervene, speaking German, after it emerged that Professor Tarasov had studied and taught for many years at the famous Humboldt University in Communist East Berlin.

By now both Dr. Bondarev and Tarasov were aware, if they had not been aware previously, that these Goebbels Diaries were of commercial and historical value. The negotiations took longer than I had expected.

I produced to Professor Tarasov copies of the Soviet edition of my books, which had been published years earlier, and I donated to him, as well as later to the Archives staff, copies of my own edition of the biography of HITLER'S WAR.

This established my credentials to their satisfaction, and Tarasov gave instructions that we were to be given access to the entire collection of the 'Dr. Goebbel's Diaries'.

It was quite evident to me, when I finally saw the glass plates, that the diaries had been hardly examined at all. It seemed to me, e.g. from the splinters of glass still trapped between the photographic plates, that there had been little movement in the plates for nearly fifty years; the boxes were the original boxes, the brown paper around them in some parts was still the original brown paper. The plates were in total disarray and no attempt had been made to sort them. I have seen no work of history, Soviet or otherwise, that has quoted from them before I got them.

My excitement as an historian, getting my hands on original material like this, can readily be imagined.

There is now a dispute as to the nature of the Russian permission, -- and this alleged agreeement is one of the issues pleaded by the Defendants in this action.

It is difficult for me to reconstruct seven years later precisely whether there was any verbal agreement exceeding a nod and a wink, or what the terms were, or how rigid an agreement may have been reached. There is no reference to such an agreement in my contemporary diaries. Certainly the Russians committed nothing to paper about such an agreement. Professor Tarasov's word was law, and he had just picked up the phone in our presence and spoken that word to Bondarev.

My own recollection at the time was that the arrangement was of a very free-wheeling nature, with the Russians being very happy, and indeed proud, to help us in the spirit reigning at that time of GLASNOST and PERESTROIKA, and extreme co-operativeness between West and East; they were keen to give us access to these plates, which they had hitherto regarded as not being of much value. Tarasov did mention that the German Government were also interested in these plates, and that they were coming shortly to conduct negotiations about them.

I remember clearly, and I think that this is also shown in the diary which I wrote on that day, that Tarasov hesitated as to whether he should allow us access without first consulting the German Authorities; I rather mischievously reminded Dr. Tarasov of which side had won the War, and expressed astonishment that the Russians were now intending to ask their defeated enemy for permission to show to a Third Party records which were in their own archives, and this unsubtle argument appears to have swayed him to grant us complete access without further misgivings.

There was no signed agreement, either between the Russian authorities and us, or at that time between the Russians and the German Authorities.

I would add here that I was never shown any Agreement between the Russians and the German Authorities, nor was I told any details of it; nor of course could it have been in any way binding upon me.

We returned to the archives the following morning, Mr. Millar and I, to begin exploiting the diaries.

Millar went off on his own devices. I had brought a German assistant with me to act as a scribe.

Her diary is also in my Discovery, and I admit I have not yet found time to read it (I have an odd aversion to reading other people's diaries). I must admit that I was rather perplexed by the chaotic conditions that I found there -- in the Russian archives. There was no technical s means whatever of reading the diaries, which the Nazis had reduced to the size of a small postage stamp on the glass plates.

Fortunately, Dr. Fröhlich had alerted me about this possibility, and I had bought at Selfridges a 12 x magnifier, a little thing about the size of a nail clipper, with which by peering very hard I could decipher the handwriting. It was even more alarming to someone accustomed to working in Western archives -- with their very strict conditions on how to handle documents, and cleanliness and security -- to see the way that the shelves and tables and chairs were littered with bundles of papers; at one stage the Archivist brought in bottles of red wine and loaves of bread and cheese which were scattered among the priceless papers on the tables for us to celebrate the end of the week. That would have been unthinkable in any Western archive building.

My German assistant had worked with me in the U.S. National Archives previously. We spent the first day cataloguing and sifting through all the boxes of glass plates and identifying which plates were which -- earmarking, figuratively speaking, the glass plates which were on my shopping list to be read and copied.

Very rapidly, we began coming across glass plates of the most immense historical significance, sections of the diaries which I knew had never been seen by anybody else before. I was particularly interested in the Night of Broken Glass, November 1938, and the Night of Long Knives, June 1934. I also found the glass plates containing the missing months leading up to and including the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, diaries whose historical significance need not be emphasised here.

Given the chaotic conditions in the Archives, I took the decision to borrow one of the plates overnight and bring it back the next day, so that we could photograph its contents. I shall argue about the propriety of this action at a later stage. I removed the plate, its contents were printed that night by a photographer hired by the Sunday Times, whose name was Sasha, and the glass plate was restored to its box the next morning, without loss or damage.

The Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil was coincidentally in Moscow at this time, and I showed him one of the glass plates at his hotel, the Metropol. He stated, "We really need something spectacular to follow the Andrew Morton book on Princess Diana, and this is it!"

The next day Dr. Bondarev formally authorised the borrowing of two more such plates anyway, so it was clear to me that nobody would have been offended by my earlier action.

I returned to London and over the next few days a contract was formalised between myself and the Sunday Times under which the newspaper was to pay me £75,000 net for procuring the diaries, transcribing them and writing three chapters based on the principle extracts from the diaries. The contract with the Sunday Times contained the usual secrecy clauses -- nobody was to learn of the nature of the contract, or its contents, or the price, or of the existence of the diary.

For reasons beyond my knowledge the Sunday Times, when it came under extreme pressure from international and British Jewish organisations, subsequently put it about that I had only been hired to transcribe the diaries -- with the implication that they had obtained them on their own initiative. I was not, however, just a hired help: this was my project which I took to them and which they purchased, as the documents before this Court make quite plain.

It may be felt that seventy-five thousand pounds would have been a substantial reward for two weeks' work; but my response would be that it was for "thirty years plus two weeks' work" -- we are paid for our professional skills and expertise and experience and reputation. For our track-record, in short.

I returned to London, with arrangements to revisit Moscow in two or three weeks' time.

The Court will find that I have have stipulated, in what I believe is known in legal terms as an Admission, that I carried with me two of the glass plates from the Moscow archives to the Sunday Times in London -- informally borrowing them in the same manner as previously --, namely those vital records recording the 1934 Nazi "Night of Long Knives".

The reasons for doing so I have already hinted at earlier --the fear that they would either vanish into the maw of German Government, or be resealed by the former Soviet archives, or be sold off to some nameless American trophy-hunter, and thus never see the light of day again.

I took these two borrowed plates straight to Munich, to the Institute of History (the Institut für Zeitgeschichte), where I knew that they had a microfiche printer and reading machine; together with the institute's Dr. Zirngiebel, who was their expert in the archives, we inserted the appropriate lenses in the microfiche printer for a microfiche of this magnification, and I printed out two copies of each of the hundred or so documents on those two microfiches.

There was no secrecy about this. I at once sent two of these pages upstairs to the experts in the Institute of History itself, and two more to the German Federal Archives, with the written request that they formally identify these pages as being in the handwriting of Dr. Joseph Goebbels. This was a necessary part of agreement with the Sunday Times, who were being no less cautious than I.

The other principal reason that I had borrowed these two glass plates temporarily from the Russian Archives was in order to put them to London forensic experts for the purposes of authentication; in the same manner that others had tested the "Adolf Hitler diaries" and I the Canaris diaries, the Sunday Times quite properly wished to have final proof that the glass plates were indeed of wartime manufacture: namely, that the glass was of wartime origin, and that the photographic emulsion was of wartime chemicals.

The Court may marvel at these precautions that we as, as non-scholars, took; but it seemed perfectly natural to me and to the officials of the Sunday Times. After all, not only were large sums of money involved but also the reputations of myself and a major international newspaper group. We wished to be absolutely certain.

On my return from Moscow and Munich to London, in June 1992 therefore the two glass plates were sent their separate ways, heavily wrapped and protected; one to an Agfa photographic laboratory which tested the age of the emulsion, in a non-destructive manner, and the other to the Pilkington Glassworks, whose laboratory specialists carried out similar tests on the age of the glass. Their reports are part of my Discovery, and these confirm that the tests were appropriate under the circumstances.

My Lord, if I may just anticipate by a few paragraphs what happened to those two glass plates: I returned to Moscow at the end of June, the glass plates were brought out to Moscow personally by a courier of the Sunday Times as son as the tests on them were complete, and handed to me, standing outside the Archives building, as my diary records; and within three minutes I had taken them back into the Archives building and replaced them in the box where they had been for the last forty-seven years.

What follows is not strictly relevant to the glass plates, but it is relevant to this case and it is best inserted here because of its chronology. When I returned to London with the remaining diaries which the Sunday Times had requested, an awkward situation had developed. Our secrecy had been compromised by an astute reporter of The Independent, a Mr. Peter Pringle, who was based in Moscow at the time that I was using the archives. He too has submitted a witness statement, for the Defendants. He stalked me into the Archives, confronted me and learned from Dr. Bondarev of my work on the Goebbels Diaries.

The resulting scoop in the The Independent set the press world about its ears, and before I returned to London on July 4, 1992 the entire Fleet Street press and the broadcast media fell over themselves to print stories about the diaries and my own participation. In order to blacken the name of the Sunday Times and its unpopular editor, I was described with every possible epithet.

It is of relevance to this action, in my submission, because the same organizations which had gone to great lengths to furnish the Defendants with the material they needed to blacken my name in the book, Denying the Holocaust, now applied heavy pressure to Andrew Neil and to Times Newspapers Ltd. to violate their contract with me, and to pay me nothing of the monies which were due to me under the contract.

Under this pressure, which Mr. Neil described to me at the time as the worst that he had ever experienced in his life, the Sunday Times (having in fact paid me the first instalment), welshed on the rest of the payments. I was forced to sue them in these courts for breach of contract. The financial consequences of this violation of the contract, in round terms about £65,000, were serious for me.

When I reviewed all the press clippings, and read all the statements made by these various bodies, boards, campaigns, agencies, and organisations attacking my name both during my absence in Moscow and upon my return, I could only say, sadly, from a lengthening experience: "The gang's all here".

The same gang, whom I loosely describe as the traditional enemies of free speech, were to be seen on the following days behind the metal police barricades thrown up outside my apartment, screaming abuse at myself and other leaseholders in our building, spitting, harassing passers by, and holding up offensive placards and slogans including one reading, in the most execrable taste, "GAS IRVING" -- it can be seen in the newspaper photos. From the photographs of this demonstration, it appears that representatives of every ethnic and other minority were present in these. It was the most disagreeable experience.

On my second visit to Moscow, as Your Lordship will find from the relevant passages of my diary, I found a frostier atmosphere. The boxes with which I had so readily been provided on my previous trip, were said to be "missing" and not found. For three or four days I was unable to do anything, and then one box was released to me, which I devoured rapidly.

On the last day but one it became plain that I had jealous and envious rivals in Munich to thank for the difficulties that the Russians were now making. Dr. Bondarev's Secretary came into the Reading Room and said that there were allegations that I had "stolen" the glass plates. I assured her that while I had borrowed some, every glass plate which had been in my custody was at that moment back in the Archives and that nothing was missing -- which was true. I also voluntarily wrote a Statement, which was handed to Dr. Bondarev.

Your Lordship will find that this document in both Russian and English, in my handwriting, is in the Discovery both of myself and of the Defendants, as an exhibit to the report by Professor Tarasov. Professor Tarasov is to be giving evidence before your Lordship, and I shall examine him with particular pleasure.

Dr. Bondarev's secretary came back a few minutes later, and said that this was just what they required. She now vouchsafed to me the information: "The information came from Munich."

Your Lordship will see from the "information" which came from Munich, which is in the Defendants' Discovery, that the Institut für Zeitgeschichte had faxed to Moscow a particularly hateful letter about me in an attempt to destroy my relationship with the Russians.

However I already had all the documents that had been on my shopping list. Either in longhand, or by dictating them on to a hand-held tape recorder, or typed onto my portable typewriter, or as photocopies of a few pages of November 1938, or as photographic prints obtained from the glass microfiches, I had collected several hundred pages of the most important Goebbels diary entries that had been missing ever since the end of the war, and I see no reason not to be proud of this achievement.

It is indicative of the general attempt to blacken my name, and to silence me, that when I spoke to a meeting organised by my private "supporters' club," the Clarendon Club, on the evening of July 4, 1992 -- my return from Moscow -- the hall in Great Portland Street was subject to violent demonstrations outside which required a very large police presence to protect the members of my audience. This will be one of the photographs in the bundle that I shall shortly be submitting to your Lordship.

Later on that year when I addressed a further meeting in a West End Hotel, there even more violent demonstrations.

Such demonstrations do not occur spontaneously. Somebody has to pay for the printing and the billposting and the bus rentals. I might mention that on one of the days that followed I was violently attacked by three men who identified themselves to me as Jews when I was having a Sunday at a public restaurant in Mayfair: they had laid an ambush for me.

I only recently learned that on the Monday morning after my return from Moscow, July 6, my long-time publishers, Macmillan Ltd, seeing the clamour and coming under pressure from unnamed members of the Jewish community, panicked and issued secret instructions for the destruction of all remaining stocks of my books, without ever informing me that they had done so.

This particularly repulsive act by a publisher, reminiscent of the Nazis in 1933, cost me of course many tens of thousand of pounds in lost royalties. At the same time as they were taking these secret decisions to destroy all my books, at the cost to themselves of hundreds of thousands of pounds, my Editor at Macmillan's continued to write me ingratiating letters expressing interest in the early delivery of my GOEBBELS biography.

It was altogether a most unhappy period.

My Lord, I would also add one further brief example of how different is my attitude to such documents as the Goebbels Diaries from the attitude of my rivals and the scholars.

Dr. Ralf Günther Reuth approached me, saying that he who was preparing a 5 volume abridged edition of the other Goebbels diaries for Piper Verlag in Germany and had nothing for 1938, and that there were large gaps in the other years too; I foolishly allowed him to have photocopies of some of the most important passages which until that moment we had been exclusive to myself and my as yet unpublished Goebbels biography. The thanks that I received for this generous act were scant indeed.

I provided copies to the German Federal Archives of the entire Goebbels diary extracts that I had brought back from Moscow on July 1, 1993. Ten minutes later the Director of the Archives informed me, in extreme embarrassment, that on the instructions of the Federal Ministry of the Interior I was permanently banned from the selfsame Archives forthwith and in perpetuity, which is to my knowledge the only time that such a sanction has been ever been applied to a historian. He explained that this was "in the interests of the German people".

I mention these facts, My Lord, to show that it was not just one single action that has destroyed my career but a cumulative, self-perpetuating, rolling onslaught, from every side -- engineered by the same people who have propagated the book which is the subject of this action.

continueDefendants' opening statement