Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
Anne Fullerton of a Sydney, Australia, high school, asks on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 about Magda Goebbels and history revisionism
How to write history, and what about Magda Goebbels?
I ATTEND Burwood Girls High School in Sydney, Australia, and as part of a historiography course I am researching Magda Goebbels, my specific task being to examine how she typified the Nazi ideal of womanhood.
Any views you might have on this area of study would be greatly appreciated. I am also currently reading your Goebbels biography, and any sources I reference in my essay must be discussed in regards to the historian. I would be very grateful if you could reply with a response to the following questions.
1. Do you believe historians are able to maintain an objective viewpoint and would you consider yourself to be an Empiricist?
I don't know what the second question means. Objectivity is desirable but difficult to maintain. A Marxist like professor Richard "Skunky" Evans sees the world through his own pink-tinged glasses. It is a danger that has to be recognised and neutralised in advance.
I always knew that objectivity would be difficult, and I consciously run mental self-diagnoses on my brain as I write, in an attempt to keep its cerebral chalkboard clean. When you think of it, the historian is taking millions of words of source-material and ideas, and making a selection of just a few thousand for a book or paper; it is in this selection process that objectivity matters.
Incidentally, there is another consideration that always weighs with me. Normally editors ask journalists, is the guy dead? And if he is, then it's open season on him. If I am writing about somebody who is dead, I am a thousand times more careful to get the facts straight, because he is no longer able to speak for himself.
When I wrote the Hitler biography, I refused to look at movies or TV documentaries or read other books on him, as I wanted to ensure that my sponge-like brain absorbed only undoctored facts, so that when the time came to distill its content onto paper, I could be reasonably sure it was unadulterated history.
2. How do you think your upbringing and political, social or religious outlook influences the way you interpret history (if at all)?
When I was young I had the usual childhood habit of fibbing, and took a lot of stick for it. See how I remember that even now over a half century later! But I also went to Church every Sunday, and what you learn there sticks. I think that for all their mealy mouthed and sanctimonious utterances, many of the world's leaders today have forgotten the moralities they learned at their Mother's knee. They speak Good, but they act Evil.
3. Could you please tell me something of your methodology?
Good question. When I wrote Hitler's War, it was the old fashioned way: I built up over ten years, around 1965-1975, a substantial card index, a chronological database referencing on about 20,000 cards every utterance and document, every diary entry about him, for the war and pre-war years, and also a personalities index. I did the same for the Goebbels biography. That kind of spadework pays off in the long run, although it does not show.
Next: I did the pre-drafts in ink, in handwriting: I took ledger-style writing books, drew a line down the center of the right hand page, and wrote only on the right of that. That gives you a lot of space -- and you'll need it -- for annotations, additions, and working notes. Next, I try to write as much as possible of the pre-draft from memory, and then go back to the documents to check. The brain has a wonderful synthesizing function. All the time you are asleep, it is chewing things over and masticating and digesting, and rejecting the trite or dubious. You can always tell a word-processor typescript: beautifully typed, slick, spell-checked, and -- like your average American -- 150 percent overweight.
4. What do you see as the purpose of history?
Chiseled into the stone over the old National Archives building entrance in Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, is the inscription, "What is Past is Prologue." They spell it wrong, but that about sums it up.
5. What initially drew you to the subject of Goebbels and Nazi Germany?
Initially: Well, the long answer is that you will find something of a clue in my discussion of how I came to translate the memoirs of Keitel in the mid 1960s, but that is not the whole story, as I recall being interested in the topic when at school.
I describe in the Introduction to Hitler's War how I read the English weekly magazine Everybody's and looked at the regular caricatures of the Nazis in its "Ferrier's World Searchlight" feature, and decided that I needed to know more about the clubfooted dwarfs, fat, bemedalled and clearly evil men portrayed in the strip cartoon who were evidently the ones who were responsible for depriving me, according to my Mother, of toys, electricity, butter, and a whole host of other things in life, and for sending over our rooftops those most interesting devices like pilotless-bombs, rockets, and other weaponry.
But there is also a short answer: It becomes a Rut. You are stuck in it. You are "the world's leading expert" on Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and the whole of the rest of that gang. It is not my fault that there is still this unwholesome interest in the Nazi Gang.
6. I have so far found no evidence of anti-Semitic sentiment in Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich. What was it that prevented its publication, are there some particular comments that people took offence at?
Tell me about it! If you will look at my dossier on the 1996 St Martin's Press affair you will find that in May of that year the Holocaust book by Daniel Goldhagen ("Hitler's Willing Executioners") was due to appear, in the same month as my Goebbels biography. I think that the US Jewish community which controls -- or at any rate looms large in -- the New York book-publishing and -reviewing industry feared that my Goebbels biography would come up against the Goldhagen book on the TV chat shows, and they decided to suppress it.
This New York clique launched grotesque onslaught on the book, which at that time only six people in the USA had read. That was how many copies were there. I know. Deborah Lipstadt and others wrote campaign letters to the publisher, telling them that the book was "anti semitic". At that the publisher eventually took fright: it is the phrase they fear most -- as much as the Jews fear the question, Why do you think that over the centuries you are repeatedly the object of global hatred, wherever you currently are?
Unless I was unwittingly far more clever with my anti-Semitism in the book than I had believed, I think you are right. I think that what the Jews fundamentally objected to was that the book gave the reasons why Goebbels became anti-Semitic (he was not originally, I believe); the implications of that line of history are serious.
On a different level, the international Jewish organizations have fought a twenty year battle to destroy me as an author, and the Goebbels biography, if published in the USA, would clearly have delivered a major blow to their efforts. So they invented about it just the lies the needed.
7. How do you think Magda Goebbels was represented and perceived at the time? I have found this last question extremely difficult as she seems to have been portrayed as the ideal mother and wife, but was also accused of being a "whore", rumored to be having an affair with Hitler and her marital dysfunction was quite public.
I will make no friends with this Answer: Most females, when you come to think of it, unless they inhabit convents, behave to a greater or lesser degree in their formative years as Magda Goebbels did. Nature has cast upon them the role of continuing the species, and to do this they need to find and nail down a man, using whatever it takes. Ask most men how they found their wives, or vice versa, and the answer can usually be indiscreetly termed: "It was a pick-up."
True, in Magda's case there were interesting variants, some of which have surfaced only recently (since my book was written): her (Jewish) stepfather Friedländer vanished in a Nazi camp; she seems to have done nothing to save him. She herself had a young Jewish lover, Haim Arlosoroff, before Joseph Goebbels; he became a leading Zionist agitator, went to Palestine, and was assassinated during the war. Scratch beneath the surface of most women, and you will find similar dark stories which they successfully conceal from their eventual husbands. The moral is: don't scratch.
I hope I haven't been too demanding of you. I assure you that any response, even a brief one, would be invaluable.
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David Irving also replies (repeating an earlier reply to another Australian student):
YOU WILL not be surprised to hear that you are not alone in your project, as thousands, if not millions of students have been set the same or a similar task; it all seems to have become rather organised, even orchestrated.
I do not think I can provide much more in initial correspondence than you will find in my website, which I have built single handed since 1998, largely with the aim of countering false images provided by the media about myself (particularly in Australia) and it now runs to about 5,500 files. So get a Coke, switch on the music low, and start browsing.
You will be baffled to hear that I have never written books or articles on the Holocaust. But to see what I have written about the fate of the Jews, have a look for example at my Goebbels biography (now out of print again but you can download the book free as a pdf file) and search for the word Jews, as an interesting exercise. Then decide, as another interesting exercise whether in your view I show any hatred of the Jews, or have concealed the Nazis' liquidation of them where it did happen. (Yes, that is why I called Mr Justice Gray's final adverse judgment against me "perverse" to the press).
I am constantly adding to the data on my website, about what really happened. See for example my dossier of interrogations on the men around Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, and you will find some very stark details indeed.
To get the feel of the Holocaust controversy and the Lipstadt trial, I would suggest you first read my trial diary (it is a pdf file) and then read our printed version of the final judgment because we have provided our version of it (which is of course not altered in any way) with illustrations and annotations which you may find useful. [...]
If you have specific questions, come back to me by email! or even phone (if you phone, first jog my over-weary memory as to what you are doing, as I will have forgotten by then.)