Melbourne, February 28, 2000
In denial of evidence
By ROBERT MANNE
Monday 28 February 2000
On Wednesday a magazine called Australian Style will publish an article by Helen Darville on the British historian David Irving. Irving is the man who claims that Hitler did not instigate the Holocaust and that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz. Darville is the author who, while pretending to be a Ukrainian, won three major Australian literary prizes with a novel that suggested that the Jews were murdered by the Nazis because of their role in the terror-famine Stalin visited upon the Ukraine in the early 1930s. The occasion for Darville's article is a strange defamation trial now being heard in London, where Irving is suing Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the author of a book titled Denying the Holocaust.
Darville's portrait of Irving goes something like this. Irving is a kind of prodigy. Where normal British students take three A-levels and even the very brightest four or five, Irving completed no fewer than 11! His first book, on the destruction of Dresden, was a best-seller. He had no need of a mere academic job. By contrast, Lipstadt is a typical American. She "wears her heart on her sleeve". She teaches at a third-rate university, funded by Coca-Cola. She is supported by serious Jewish money.
Darville is aware of a certain arrogance. For her, however, this calls to mind not Hitler but Churchill. Nor certainly does she share Irving's views about the non-existence of gas chambers. In 1992, she tells us, she spoke to a Ukrainian who told her about the gas chambers at Treblinka and of the pleasure his fellow Ukrainians took in killing Jews.
What, then, does she make of Irving? For Darville he is a victim of fate. Because of the defamation action he has initiated, he faces financial ruin. Recently he buried a retarded daughter, who had committed suicide after losing her legs in a road accident. Darville concludes her portrait with a story Irving told the court. After his daughter's death, someone sent him an expensive wreath. It was signed "Philip Bouhler", the architect of the Nazi "euthanasia" program for killing the mentally retarded and ill. The barrister representing Lipstadt had commented, unwisely, that perhaps Irving brought such unpleasantness on himself. Darville quotes Irving's emotional reply. "This is very similar to saying that the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people was brought on them by themselves."
Here Darville's article ends. In this cultural combat between the isolated, eccentric, ill-fated British genius and the dumb, female American Jewish professor from the Coca-Cola University there is not the slightest doubt where Darville's sympathies lie.
Once more, concerning the writing of Darville, I feel shocked, if not this time surprised. Let me explain.
In 1977 David Irving wrote a book, Hitler's War, in which he claimed to have found "incontrovertible evidence" that Hitler had ordered "no liquidation" of the Jews. Historians soon revealed the fraudulence of this claim. The document Irving quoted came not from Hitler but Himmler, the head of the SS. It was not a general policy directive but referred to a particular trainload of Berlin Jews.
Ten years later an American engineer, with expertise in execution equipment, produced a report disputing the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. Although this report was discredited, time and again, Irving became its leading champion. He now removed all reference to the Holocaust from Hitler's War. In a speech delivered in Canada in 1991 he said that he intended to form "an association of Auschwitz survivors, survivors of the Holocaust and other liars, or the ASSHOLS".
In 1993 Irving was banned from travelling to Australia. His supporters distributed a video of a speech where he talks in code, of Jews as "our traditional enemies". He described the "legend of the Holocaust" as a "blood libel" on the German people, concocted by a "gang of liars" who were using the Holocaust as a means for extorting billions of dollars from Germany. Within six months, he predicted, the legend of the Holocaust would be "dead". He warned, darkly, "if ever I become an anti-Semite it will be their fault".
In 1997 Irving wrote a book in which the following passage occurred.
"They clamour. Ours! Ours! Ours! When hoards of gold are uncovered. And then when anti-semitism increases and the mindless pogroms occur, they ask with genuine surprise `Why us?"'
In 1998 he told a journalist that Jews should ask themselves why, wherever they settled, "visceral, guts-wrenching, murderous hatred" for them invariably rose. Irving denies he is an anti-Semite. Apparently Helen Darville agrees.
About three years ago Irving decided to sue Deborah Lipstadt. In the court last month he claimed that being falsely labelled a "Holocaust denier" was the equivalent of being called a wife-beater or a paedophile. Irving had spoken of the "legend of the Holocaust" a hundred times. In his Australian address, he described himself as "a hard-core disbeliever in the Holocaust". How a hard-core disbeliever in the Holocaust can claim he has been defamed by being called a Holocaust denier is unclear to me.
Helen Darville describes the current trial as "one of the most difficult cases ever to face a court of law". My difficulty with this case is smaller and of a rather different kind. Let me put it thus.
Between 1941 and 1945 between five million and six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime. Several hundred thousand died in ghettoes, through starvation or disease. Perhaps one-and-a-half million were shot in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union. A far larger number were murdered in purpose-built gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor.
Forty-five years after these deaths a British historian becomes famous in the neo-Nazi underworld for his claim that the Jews concocted a myth about the Holocaust and the gas chambers for sinister financial and political reward. In a sober study, an American professor describes him as a Holocaust denier and distorter of history. The historian sues.
A lightweight Australian style magazine now commissions an article on the trial by an author famous for her view that the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves. She portrays the British historian with sympathy, as an embattled, at times wrong-headed, ill-fated genius. She tells us he reminds her of Churchill. She sheds tears on his behalf.
I am lost. Can someone please explain what exactly is going on?
Monday, February 28, 2000