The Publisher in a State of Denial
St. Martin's Defends Book by Historian Who Disputes Holocaust
When he decided to publish David Irving's biography of Nazi propaganda overlord Joseph Goebbels, St. Martins Press publisher Thomas Dunne says, he had no idea that Irving is one of the world's most prominent deniers of the Holocaust.
Nor did he know that advance reviewers -- famous for their gentle notices -- would denounce the book as "scurrilously misleading" (Kirkus Reviews) and "repellent" (Publishers Weekly). Or that best-selling author Jonathan Kellerman would be so repulsed by St. Martin's decision that he'd instruct the publisher not to seek endorsement blurbs from him anymore.
Some historians and fellow publishers scoff at the notion that St. Martin's, which annually publishes 650 books on a broad range of topics, could have been ignorant of Irving's politics. Irving -- who routinely refers to the Holocaust as a "hoax" -- is a hero to neo-Nazis worldwide. His speeches spark demonstrations that attract widespread news coverage; his legal battles are equally infamous.
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Hitler Apologist's Mainstream Publisher
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Irving, who is English, has been banned from Germany, Australia, and Canada. In Germany he has been convicted of incitement to race hatred, libel and defamation of the memory of the dead -- a law prohibiting denial of the Holocaust.
In Britain, he has denounced black participation in cricket leagues and called for "the destruction of the state of Israel."
But while Irving, who calls himself a "moderate fascist," is a pariah among historians, he remains a star on the Holocaust denial lecture circuit. There, he rails against Jews and the truth of the Nazi genocide, calling it a "blood lie." He argues that there were never gas chambers at Auschwitz; instead, he says, they were built after the war by Poland as a "tourist attraction."
This publisher had no such compunction, Novak said. "St. Martin's saw this as a good book by an author with a good sales record. They thought they could make some money off it, and I'm pretty sure they will." Novak would not disclose what St. Martin's paid Irving, but said he "gets more for the kind of books he writes than most historians."
Dunne stands by his decision to print the biography.
"I have been told [in recent weeks] that Mr. Irving is at the center of much controversy of late and has been accused -- and I do not know if this is true or not -- of denying the holocaust." Dunne wrote in a press release, "Joseph Goebbels is doubtless laughing in hell. He, after all, was the man, after all, was the man who loved nothing better than burning books, threatening publishers, suppressing ideas, and judging the merits of ideas based not on their content but by their author's racial, ethnic, or political purity. That is indeed a sad irony."
Dunne contends that publishers ought not consider the "loyalties, politics or personal lives" of their authors. But many historians outraged at the scheduled May publication of "Goebbels" say a publisher indeed should care who writes books.
"They say they don't publish reputations, they publish books," Lipstadt said. "But would they publish a book by Jeffrey Dahmer on man-boy relationships? Of course the reputation of the author counts. And no legitimate historian takes David Irving's work seriously."
Novak, Irving's agent, dismisses the idea that by printing a book, a publisher vouches for the author's credibility. "When Little, Brown published O.J. Simpson's book last year, that argument went out the door," Novak said.
Last year, after Warner Books canceled plans to publish a book by Frederick Lenz, the controversial "yuppie guru" known as Zen Master Rama, St. Martin's immediately picked up "Surfing the Himalayas," which became a bestseller. Warner had dropped the book because of allegations that Lenz engaged in cult activity and sexual improprieties; a St. Martin's spokesman then told Publishers Weekly, "We're publishing the book, not the man."
In defense of the Goebbels biography, Dunne said Irving's depiction of Hitler's propaganda minister shows him to he "evil, satanic, monstrous."
And Michael Stephenson, editor in chief of the Military Book Club, which will send "Goebbels" to its members as a main selection later this Spring, defends the book as a "very strong work of history," according to Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for the club and its parent, Doubleday Direct Inc.
Unlike Dunne, Stephenson was fully aware of Irving's politics when he read the book, Applebaum said. "He certainly judged the Goebbels book on what he read, not on Mr. Irving's reputation.
If he saw any effort at a propaganda job, selling Goebbels as a beneficent figure in history, Mr. Stephenson would have rejected the book outright.
But reviewers and historians say that for all of Irving's criticism of Goebbels, the book also contains considerable sympathy for the Nazi cause. And it uses Goebbels antisemitism and open endorsement of brutality to advance Irving's view of Hitler as an ineffectual leader who had to be prodded into genocide.
The anonymous reviewer who wrote Publishers Weekly's scathing notice said Irving uses "pejoratives to sustain the illusion of objectivity" about Goebbels, "yet suggests that the admittedly bad man had a cause not entirely bad in itself."
Irving is the first author to gain access to the 75,000 pages of Goebbels's diaries [right], which lay untouched in the Red Army's archives in Moscow until the fall of communism.
At Kirkus Reviews, another magazine that evaluates books for booksellers and libraries, the review concluded that Irving's "twisted interpretations . . . along with some selective omissions, obscure the truth."
"Neither the broad German public nor their Fuehrer shared [Goebbels's] satanic antisemitism," Irving wrote. That is the message Irving has been preaching for two decades in books and lectures.
Despite his lack of academic credentials -- he attended the University of London but never graduated according to British historian David Cesarani -- Irving won praise from historians for his early work. But when his "Hitler's War' was published in 1978, Irving was denounced for shoddy sourcing and a dishonest approach. In 1979, was forced to pay compensation to Anne Frank's father after the German edition of "Hitler's War" claimed the girl's famous diary was a fraud.
The late Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz wrote that Irving was a "Hitler apologist" whose "work intended to show that Hitler was kind to his animals and to his secretaries, that he was 'probably the weakest leader Germany has known in this century,' and that he did not murder the Jews or even wish to do so, but that the murder was committed behind his back."
Irving's own family has sought to distance itself from his actions. His daughters have denounced him; one called him "tyrannical." His twin brother, Nicholas, changed his surname to avoid association with David.
A couple of years age, when a journalist asked Irving if he was mad, he said: "When you are on the edge of intellectual hyper-strain, sometimes you must say, 'Have I flipped?' Unfortunately, there is no intellectual thermometer you can slip in your mouth to find out."