Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
writes from Camden, London, Wednesday, July 14, 1999
I am a Religious Studies teacher at a Jewish school called JFS. I would like to ask you a couple of questions:
a) You have offered a reward to anyone who proves that Hitler ordered or knew about the extermination of the Jews. Isn't it likely that Hitler just gave his orders verbally? After all, in his speeches and writings he didn't keep it a secret that he despised the Jews, but actually revealing plans to exterminate them would have left him open to punishment if he would have been captured after the war.
b) Isn't it rather far-fetched to suggest that all the survivors around the world are making stories up about gas-chambers, mass shootings etc? We have had tens of thousands of survivors in the last 50 years saying similar stories about several Concentration Camps. Are you suggesting that they're all tricking us?
If you could answer quickly I would appreciate it, as I could share your answer with my Year 9 class before the end of term.
Dear Rabbi Chevins: Thursday, July 15, 1999
. . . your school is of course well known to me; I receive nearly 200 e-mails every day, and overlooked the initials in the rapid reading. Incidentally your class or you might like to turn to the Auschwitz-related index I have placed on my website at
Now here are your questions and my answers:-
Question (a) You have offered a reward to anyone who proves that Hitler ordered or knew about the extermination of the Jews. Isn't it likely that Hitler just gave his orders verbally?
Answer: It is possible-but-not-probable, rather than likely.
My arguments against the likelihood are
(i) the Germans under Hitler were a nation of moral cowards, who looked for alibis and cover whether they needed it or not -- what I call Deckungsschreiben proliferate in the archives, a letter somebody has obtained from his superiors to cover him, just in case. In the case of the extermination of the Jews, had Hitler given such a verbal order, one would have expected Himmler, or Heydrich, or Mueller, or somebody of that ilk to make a Note for the Record, "just in case"; or, less formally, to have mentioned it in a letter-home, or in a private diary (Goebbels!). Even a cypher-clerk or telegraphic operator might have written a letter home about a message he had seen. Or we British could have intercepted and decoded such a reference to a verbal order. That is why I made my offer: not tongue in cheek, but just to concentrate the minds of thousands of researchers around the world since 1977 (when I first made it, on the David Frost Programme), in looking for any scrap of such wartime contemporary evidence. Proving a Negative is difficult, and it is not my one aim in life; but I am challenging my raucous opponents in this argument to prove their Positive, to find that scrap of evidence. Even the recent discovery of Himmler's pocket diary for 1941-1942 has not helped them, merely confused the issue further ("Judenfrage. Als Partisanen zu behandeln.")
(ii) I questioned in the 1960s every surviving member of Hitler's staff, whose confidence I had indubitably gained, on precisely this issue: did they ever hear him even discuss the extermination of the Jews, let alone give any orders for it? The Americans carried out similar interrogations, particularly of his staff stenographers, in 1945-6. All of these staff members stated quite sincerely that they had heard no such thing. (They could undoubtedly have profited highly from saying the opposite, particularly in latter years). His SS adjutant Richard Schulze, now dead, was in the audience of the Frost Programme on June 9, 1977, on my invitation, and he confirmed what I have just said above: Hitler had ordered him to be present during every secret Fuehrer conference 1941-1944, including those "unter vier Augen" with Himmler, so he too might be expected to have heard something. He did not. All of this disturbed me, and encouraged me in my offer, which still stands. I may add that they heard other things of an atrocious nature, which they did not hesitate to relate to me.
Question (b) Isn't it rather far-fetched to suggest that all the survivors around the world are making stories up about gas-chambers, mass shootings etc? We have had tens of thousands of survivors in the last 50 years saying similar stories about several Concentration Camps. Are you suggesting that they're all tricking us?
Answer: I am not a Holocaust-expert or -historian, I am glad to point this out. I have never written any books about the tragedy. I have not read all the survivor-testimony, and one day I may get round to doing so. Those testimonies I have had cause to read do not encourage me, as they seem self-serving, emotional, contradictory, and -- the early ones -- difficult and often impossible to reconcile with known facts (i.e. facts known from the archival documents, aerial and ground photographs of the buildings). Many of the more prominent ones appear to be concocted by congenital liars like Wilkomirski or Wiesel, and should be avoided. Others are more impressive. The overall corpus of survivor- and eye-witness testimony on Auschwitz is roundly condemned as a useful source by historians far more august than I, including Yehuda Bauer, Raul Hilberg, and Arno Meyer.
I extend my best wishes to your Year 9 class and wish them well for the future. Were I in your place, I would wish to investigate a far more sinister question than Daniel Goldhagen attempted: He asked merely Who Pulled the Trigger, and came up with the answer "the Germans". If I were a Jew, I would want to know the answer to the question of the millennia: "Why?"
David Irving (now writing at Key West, Florida, USA).
[Please feel free to make whatever use, private or public, that you care to of the above, and to ask supplementary questions if you wish, always bearing in mind that I am in litigation on closely related issues and may decline to answer.]