Thursday, March 16, 2000
CHARGES FLY NEAR END OF HOLOCAUST LIBEL TRIAL HISTORIAN IRVING CALLED A LIAR; HE SEES A CONSPIRACY
By Ray Moseley
LONDON -- British historian David Irving was denounced Wednesday in a London court as a liar, right-wing extremist, racist and anti-Semite who has "falsified history on a staggering scale" in his books about Nazi Germany.
Irving, denying all the allegations, said he was the victim of an international conspiracy led by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League "to destroy my position as a historian" and to stifle free discussion.
The comments were made in closing statements of a nine-week trial in which Irving is suing American historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel for branding him a Hitler partisan and Holocaust denier.
Justice Charles Gray said at the end of the hearing that he would need several weeks to reach a judgment.
There were few, if any, clues from Gray's comments as to how his decision might go. Libel law in Britain is far stricter than it is in the U.S., and Irving focused on what he said were factual inaccuracies in Lipstadt's book and an organized campaign to "destroy" him.
But he also produced one of the few outbursts of laughter in the court when he unintentionally referred to Gray not as "my lord," the British court practice, but "mein fuehrer."
Much of the court argument has revolved around Irving's book "Hitler's War," in which he contended that the Nazi dictator was not aware of the mass killing of Jews being carried out by his subordinates until the later stages of World War II.
He also has denied the existence of gas chambers at the Auschwitz extermination camp, saying the facilities in question were used for delousing inmates or as SS air-raid shelters.
Attorney Richard Rampton summed up the case for Lipstadt, author of the 1993 book "Denying the Holocaust," and for Penguin. In a 90-minute presentation, he repeatedly cited examples in which he said Irving had distorted the historical record to show Hitler in a favorable light.
"There are, in relation to Hitler alone, as many as 25 major falsifications of history, as well as numerous subsidiary inventions, suppressions, manipulations and mistranslations," he said.
"Mr. Irving is, as was proposed at the outset of the trial, a liar."
As a historian, he said, Irving has "a deliberate blindness" to evidence. "What he doesn't like, he ignores," Rampton said.
Rampton cited Irving's account of Kristallnacht -- the incident on Nov. 9, 1938, in which Jewish shops and homes were attacked throughout Germany -- as an example of his misuse of historical records.
He said Irving wrote that Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels initiated this without Hitler's knowledge or participation. When national police chief Reinhard Heydrich learned what was happening, according to Irving, he issued orders to police to restore law and order and to protect Jews and their property.
Rampton said Heydrich's telegram to police actually said that Jewish shops and homes could be destroyed, but not looted, and that care must be taken to protect German life and property.
Rampton derided Irving's contention about the Auschwitz gas chambers, citing the testimony of other historians at the trial who said Irving's views were "perverse" and "absolutely absurd."
The attorney offered this explanation of Irving's alleged distortions: "Mr. Irving is a right-wing extremist, a racist and, in particular, a rabid anti-Semite."
Later, he said: "Mr. Irving is a Hitler partisan, who has falsified history on a staggering scale in order to 'prove' Hitler's innocence."
His anti-Semitism and Hitler apology together, he said, "have led him to prostitute his reputation as a serious historian . . . for the sake of a bogus rehabilitation of Hitler and the dissemination of virulent anti-Semitic propaganda."
In his own four-hour statement, Irving said the media and the defense had falsely attempted to present the trial as having to do with "the reputation of the Holocaust."
"This trial is about my reputation as a human being [and] a historian of integrity," he said.
Irving said he had always accepted that Hitler, as head of state and government, was responsible for the Holocaust. But others, he said, were involved at different stages.
Hitler, he said, had "a Richard Nixon kind of complex," a desire not to know what his subordinates might be doing to Jews.
He quoted British historian A.J.P. Taylor as saying the destruction of the Jews may have been designed more by Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, than by Hitler.
The defense, he said, had engaged in "a time-wasting and needless effort" to rake over "the embers of what may be one of the greatest crimes known to mankind."
Irving took exception to two particular points in Lipstadt's book not mentioned by Rampton.
One was an assertion that he keeps a portrait of Hitler on the wall behind his desk. Irving said that libel first appeared in the Russian newspaper Izvestia. The only portrait on his wall, he said, is that of Winston Churchill.
The second point concerned a report by Lipstadt that Irving had agreed to speak at a meeting in Sweden in 1992 along with American black nationalist Louis Farrakhan, members of the Russian anti-Semite organization Pamyat and representatives of two Mideast terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Swedish government canceled the planned meeting.
By linking him to terrorists and anti-Semites, Irving said, Lipstadt had not only written a "reckless lie" but also exposed him to possible assassination.
Irving said that various organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, had compiled dossiers on him "with the intent of destroying me, with no concern for accuracy," and that Lipstadt had used such information without checking it.
He said he had been subjected to "a campaign of vilification" unprecedented for any other historian. Under pressure from the ADL, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other organizations, he said, his last book on Goebbels had been suppressed, thousands of copies of "Hitler's War" had been destroyed by the publisher [Macmillan Ltd] and he had been expelled from various countries, thus denying him access to research sources.
Irving said he had made errors in his books but said that these were "innocent mistakes" and that most works of history could not stand up unblemished from the kind of scrutiny to which his had been subjected. But on his major conclusions, he said, nothing he heard in the trial convinced him he was wrong.
Chicago, March 16 2000