London, Thursday, January 13, 2000
The Claimant | The Judge | The Defendant
Irving says Holocaust 'logistically impossible'
BY MICHAEL HORSNELL
Irving arrives at court with
THE Hitler historian, David Irving, denied yesterday that the Nazis killed millions of Jews in concentration-camp gas chambers. The SS may have had gassing experiments, he said, but such mass murder was logistically impossible.
Mr Irving, 62, said that the massacre of Jews - as occurred in the East when Germany invaded Russia - was by shooting, but was without the knowledge of Adolf Hitler and was not part of any systematic extermination by the Third Reich.
On the second day of his libel trial at the High Court, he said that he had never done anything to exculpate Hitler and in his book, Hitler's War, he gave a list of crimes committed by the Führer.
"There was a time when he was on the right course and then went off the rails," he said. "You can't praise his racial programme or penal methods. But he did pick up his nation out of the mire after World War I, reunified it and gave it a sense of pride again."
Mr Irving is suing Deborah Lipstadt, the American academic, and Penguin Books, who published her book, Denying the Holocaust, which claimed that he is a "Hitler partisan" who has twisted history by denying the Holocaust occurred. In the windowless Court 37, the judge, Mr Justice Gray, who is sitting without a jury, listened as Mr Irving tangled with defence counsel Richard Rampton, QC, over the vast numbers of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis.
Was it six million who died in one of the blackest chapters of 20th-century history? "A lot of the numbers are very suspect," the historian said. The judge put it to him: "It's said against you that you tried to blame what was done against the Jews by the Third Reich on Jews themselves." Mr Irving replied: "I have said on a number of occasions that if I was a Jew, I would be far more concerned not at who pulled the trigger, but why. Anti-Semitism is a recurring malaise in society. There must be some reason why anti-Semitic groups break out like some kind of epidemic."
Mr Rampton asked him: "Do you accept that the Nazis killed by one means or another - murdered, hanged, put to death - millions of people during World War II?" "Yes," Mr Irving said. "I hesitate to speculate. It was certainly more than one million, certainly less than four million." Mr Rampton: "Do you deny the Nazis killed millions of Jews in gas chambers in purpose-built establishments?"
Mr Irving: "Yes, it's logistically impossible." He added: "One million people weigh 100,000 tonnes - it's a major logistical problem. I deny that it was possible to liquidate millions of people in gas chambers as presented by historians so far." Asked about the Holocaust, the historian said: "I find the word is misleading and unhelpful. It's too vague, imprecise and unscientific and should be avoided like the plague."
Pressed on his own definition of the Holocaust, he said that although tragedy befell the Jews "it was the whole of the Second World War and the people who died were not just Jews but Gypsies and homosexuals, the people of Coventry and the people of Hiroshima". Asked how many innocent Jewish people he thought the Germans had killed deliberately, Mr Irving brought up the name of Anne Frank, who died of disease in a camp at the age of 15. "She was a Jew who died in the Holocaust and she wasn't murdered unless you take it in the broadest sense."
At the start of five hours in the witness box, Mr Irving, who claims to be the victim of an international conspiracy to ruin him as an historian, described himself as a "laissez-faire liberal". He said: "I don't care about political parties as long as they spend the money on hospitals and not the Millennium Dome. I don't look down on any section of humanity, coloured immigrant or females. But I can't say I applaud uncontrolled coloured immigration. I regret the passing of old England.
"I sometimes think if sailors and soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches could see what has happened since, they wouldn't have got 50 yards up the beach. They would have given up in disgust." He said that he paid no attention to Professor Lipstadt's book until 1996 - three years after it was published - when his own new work, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich, was being marketed. He found that bookshops began to show an aversion and refused to stock his work.
He accused the defendants of blackening his reputation by labelling him a spokesman for the forces of Holocaust denial, who spent his time with anti-Semitic groups.
Mr Irving claims that word was put about that he was an ardent admirer of the German dictator who "conceived himself as carrying on Hitler's criminal legacy".
Extolling his virtue as an historian who excelled at recovering original documents - from archives to collections of letters retained by the widows of German officers - he said that his opponents and rivals were jealous of the fact that he got to them first.
He maintained that he had never knowingly or wilfully misrepresented any document nor suppressed information that did not support his case and said that he always passed the information he gathered to other historians.
The case continues.
THE main plank of David Irving's case rests on Deborah Lipstadt's claim that he is a "Holocaust denier". Mr Irving says that he has never claimed that the Holocaust did not take place, although he has questioned the number of Jewish dead and the system by which the victims were killed (Tim Reid writes).
A Germanophile since his teens, Mr Irving won many plaudits with a string of Second World War books. But his 1977 book, Hitler's War, provoked a storm of controversy when he alleged that Hitler had not known about the mass murder of Europe's Jews until 1943. In 1979 his German publisher apologised for printing in Hitler's War that Anne Frank's diary was a forgery.
From the mid-1980s Mr Irving regularly addressed right-wing groups in Austria and Germany. In 1988 he testified on behalf of Ernst Zundel, a Canadian on trial for spreading "false news" about the Holocaust. Zundel also called Fred Leuchter, who claimed that Zyklon B cyanide gas was never used at Auschwitz.
The judge dismissed the evidence, but Mr Irving published a version of the Leuchter report, writing in the foreword that British intelligence had spread the "propaganda story that the Germans were using 'gas chambers' to kill millions of Jews and other undesirables".
When he repeated the claim at a meeting in Munich he was charged by the German authorities, found guilty in May 1992 and heavily fined.
Mr Irving says he is a victim of a "global conspiracy", led by Jews, of which Professor Lepstadt is a major part. Her claim that he "denies" the Holocaust threaten to destroy his reputation and leave him penniless, he argues.
Unlike most libel trials, this case is not being heard by a jury but by a sole judge: Mr Justice Gray, one of the most senior High Court libel judges. Under the civil procedure rules, the judge in charge of a case has the power to dispense with a jury if the case's length and the volume and complexity of evidence appear to be too onerous for a jury.
This libel trial, dealing with one of the most controversial and complex episodes of the past century, is expected to take at least three months. Both sides will call a host of eminent historians. "The documentary evidence will be enormous," one lawyer said. Neither side opposed the judge's suggestion, made before the trial, to dispense with a jury.
A good example of a judge only trial was the marathon "McLibel" case, when the hamburger giant McDonald's sued two environmental activists over claims about its business practices. Mr Justice Gray, a former top libel silk, said recently that the balance of success in British libel actions has shifted to defendants - unlike the past, when plaintiffs could expect big rewards.
THE libel case was triggered in 1995 when Deborah Lipstadt published Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The book grew from her concern about the worldwide proliferation of claims that there was no systematic mass murder of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. The book is the first full-length study of the history of those who attempt to deny the Holocaust.
Postwar attacks on the veracity of the Holocaust began in 1948 with the publication in France of Le Passage de la Ligne (Crossing the Line), by Paul Rassinier, who had been sent to Buchenwald as a member of the Resistance. He argued that there was no extermination policy towards the Jews, only an emigration policy.
In 1965, Austin App, an American professor, published the Six Million Swindle, arguing that no more than 1.5 million Jews had been killed, and that the Nazis had not planned to kill all Jews; and in 1973, Thies Christopherson, a former Wehrmacht officer, published Die Auschwitz Luge (The Auschwitz Lie), which claimed that no more than 200,000 Jews were killed.
Many more "denials" have followed, but in her book Professor Lipstadt referred extensively to Mr Irving, whom she considered one of the most vehement exponents of Holocaust denial. His mastery of historical documents made him a particularly dangerous exponent of the claim, she said. She asserted that he was associated with well-known Holocaust deniers - she deliberately rejects their preferred term of "revisionist" - and distorted, suppressed and manipulated history for a noxious ideology. She said that he had denied the Holocaust as an historical fact.
Thursday, January 13, 2000