Oslo, March 9, 2000
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE EXTERMINATION OF THE JEWS IS PUT TO JUDGEMENT
The gas chambers were not used to execute Jews, and Hitler did not endorse any "final solution of the Jewish question", David Irving maintains in a court in London.
by Thomas Spence, Aftenposten's correspondent in London
The 62 years old English history revisionist David Irving is conducting a three months lawsuit against the American Professor of History Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books Ltd.
In her book Denying the Holocaust Deborah Lipstadt claims that Irving is lying, and that he is dangerous. An English judge therefore has to decide whether it is legitimate to doubt the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.
Court 73 is light and modern. But the case which the historian David Irving has brought to court, is about one of the darkest chapters in history: the Holocaust.
Did gassing of Jews in the concentration camps of Nazi-Germany really take place? Did Adolf Hitler know about the gassing?
Or are the pictures of corpses piled up in reality people who died of "natural causes"?
In short: What is the truth about the greatest crime in the history of mankind: the Holocaust?
That is the question, which is to be answered in the unique libel action which the controversial 62 years old British historian David Irving has brought against the publisher Penguin Books and the American history professor Deborah Lipstadt.
In her book "Denial of the Holocaust" she writes that Irving is "one of the most dangerous" persons among they who call themselves historical revisionists.
Well aware of historical proofs, she writes, he twists them to suit his ideological conviction and political agenda.
According to Irving, she has damaged his professional reputation and made it almost impossible for him to publish his books any longer. Books, which should become his "pension fund".
He looks upon himself as a fearless seeker for truth, and is especially hurt by the characterization "dangerous".
What kind of danger do I represent for them? I do not go around and plant bombs under their cars, he says.
But the battle which now is unfolding in court 73, one of the largest because of the public interest, is of course about far more than how Irving is to feed his family. The trial started in January, and is at the earliest finished in April.
The trial is not about the destiny of four million Jews either. It is History itself, which is judged. If even the Holocaust can be twisted to something insignificant, how can we know anything?, many are asking themselves.
At the one side of the court sits Lipstadt, surrounded by 11 lawyers, among them Anthony Julius [right], who became famous as Princess Diana's divorce lawyer. At the other side Irving is sitting alone, only with a PC as his company.
He is conducting his own defence, and acts in his own eyes as the British David against Goliath, who represents the Jews of the world.
He has no other capacity to lean on, and no rich supporters.
Wealthy Jews support Lipstadt. They did not manage to save their fellow-believers 60 years ago. Now they are fighting to preserve their memories.
Irving insists that he has never denied everything connected with the Holocaust. He agrees that some Jews were treated badly, and that pretty many died.
He is no Holocaust-historian beyond that, he says, and the subject is "boring", he says. His speciality is Adolf Hitler.
Nevertheless he does not decline to deny fundamental sides of the Holocaust:
Firstly, that the Jews was killed by the help of gas in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Secondly, that Hitler gave a direct order to the extermination. Thirdly, that there was a systematic plan to exterminate the Jews.
Irving has also maintained that the trains were comfortably equipped, that the Jews were provisioned with food and equipment to a new life in the East, but that the plan collapsed when they reached their place of destination and the random murders took place.
The opposite party are going to prove that he is wrong. Not before a jury, but before a single judge, Charles Gray.
Both parts agree about one thing: The enormous amount of documentation, not to speak about the complicated political and moral weighing, which makes the case unfit trying before a jury.
Most people will believe that the defence has an easy case. The voluminous stories by thousands of Jews who survived the nightmare are common property.
But no, that is not good enough for Irving, and the court is moving toward the difficult, and for most people puzzling, heart of the matter.
Where other people see victims of industrial extermination, Irving sees victims of typhus and other epidemics, which were spreading in the camps, because of the hard terms of life.
The use of gas shows only, according to Irving, that the Nazis were delousing dead bodies and assets in order to prevent spreading. The Nazis were thorough hygienists. The eyewitness accounts are either invented by the Jews, or they are brushed aside by Irving as a subject for psychologist.
Not even the testimonies by Nazi-witnesses, as Hans Aumeier, second in command of Auschwitz, rocks Irving's sense of reality.
British officers had their ways to make people talk, is his riposte.
To deny that there were gas chambers in the camps, and to glorify oneself as a serious historian, are morally wrong, the defence lawyer Richard Rampton says.
How can a man like Irving be taken seriously? He is no novice in creating controversies around his person and his opinions. For over 30 years Irving, who for one year spent his time as a steel worker in the Ruhr area in order to teach himself German, has been an engaged participant in the academic debate.
The answer is that he is also author of academically acclaimed works about Hitler, Goebbels, Rommel, Rudolf Hess and the bombing of Dresden. Irving is, or was, respected by many because of his indisputable scent and ability to dig out new sources, at the same time as other mocked him as a Hitler sympathizer with a professional bias.
Gradually, as his reputation grew, he was connected with extreme right-wing groups, and he has participated in conferences directed by Historical Review in USA, the leading forum for persons who denies the existence of the extermination of the Jews.
To the audience in the court, the battle is mainly about documents. Irving is here on his own ground, and displays great activity with all his intellectual and social capacity.
He can be very convincing to untrained eyes and ears, when he uses his encyclopaedic knowledge to grill the opponent's witnesses about page numbers, quotations and details, and sometimes find minor errors.
There are few who has read as much, and who has the same outline of the literature about the Nazis as Irving. But does he use his knowledge the right way, in a rational and informing way?
No, most people will think. Testimonies, books and statistics which do not fit his picture are being overlooked, denied or accused of being false.
He does not accept basic facts, not even the criteria to establish facts and connections. The battle therefore appears as shadow boxing, where the parties are not really talking about the same phenomenon.
This time there are few who believe that Irving will survive professionally.
Irving's view of Hitler and the final solution is perverse, the well-known British military historian Sir John Keegan said in court.
During the case, the general public has also received samples of the world of ideas Irving is operating in, as it was known that he sang the following ditty to his little daughter in the pram when they passed by coloured children. "I am baby Aryan, not Jewish or sectarian, I have no plans to marry an Ape or Rastafarian".
At times Irving reminds one of a besieged Wehrmacht general in some godforsaken corner of the Eastern front, while he desperately tries to fight back the Jewish-Bolshevik hordes.
At least, one can assume that is the way he looks upon himself, comments professor in Jewish history David Cesarini.
There are four pictures accompanying the article:
March 9, 2000