Toronto, Thursday, March 2, 2000
David Irving holds court on Eichmann, libel case Historian at centre of defamation trial rails against detractors, dismisses the Nazi's diary and assesses his odds of legal success
London -- Sitting in his comfortable flat after another day of fighting to protect his reputation, such as it is, David Irving doesn't hesitate to speak in apocalyptic terms about how people are out to bring him down.
"I don't talk about a global Jewish conspiracy because that's paranoid," Britain's most controversial historian says.
Then, without missing a beat, he makes it clear who he believes is working against him.
"It's a networking by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League in New York, the Australian Jewish Congress . . . Using various legal means in Canada, the United States and Australia, they have been involved in a joint endeavour to destroy my career."
Day 28 of his libel trial against American professor Deborah Lipstadt has just ended. It is the first day of proceedings since Israel released the 1,300-page diary of Holocaust overseer Adolf Eichmann in an effort to help Prof. Lipstadt's case.
At issue in the trial is whether she defamed Mr. Irving in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
Mr. Irving, who has written a series of books on Nazi Germany and is a favourite on the far-right lecture circuit, dismisses the importance of the Eichmann diary with obvious disdain.
Eichmann, he says, was just a "very pathetic worm of a man."
The Nazi wrote the diary while on trial for war crimes. He was executed by Israel in 1962.
The only "troublesome passage" in it, Mr. Irving says, is the recounting of a conversation Eichmann had with a senior Gestapo chief in 1942 to the effect that Hitler had ordered the physical destruction of the Jews.
But Mr. Irving is quick to characterize the passage as nothing more than a "fourth-hand statement being reported by Eichmann 20 years after the event."
Mr. Irving's own views are clear enough -- Hitler knew nothing about the Final Solution for Europe's Jews. Jews were killed by firing squads on the Eastern Front but not en masse in gas chambers. For Mr. Irving, a beefy 62-year-old whose best-known book is a biography of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the Holocaust has been turned into a "legend."
Mr. Irving has not yet read the full Eichmann manuscript but says that in 1991 he saw a 600-page excerpt obtained from one of Eichmann's friends in Argentina, where the Nazi was captured by Israeli agents 40 years ago.
Eichmann wrote that the Holocaust was the "most enormous crime in the history of mankind." But Mr. Irving suggests that Eichmann may simply have been hoping to please his captors as he awaited the death penalty.
The libel case has resulted in vast international attention. Courtroom 37 at the Royal Courts of Justice was packed with journalists and other spectators yesterday. Still, despite the subject matter, it is at times a tedious affair.
Mr. Irving spent almost five hours on his feet during yesterday's proceedings, attacking a report on speeches he made on behalf of neo-Nazi and other extreme German organizations in the early 1990s. The report was prepared by a Berlin professor, Hajo Funke.
Acting as his own lawyer, Mr. Irving utilized a scattershot approach, questioning footnotes in Prof. Funke's study, attacking the accuracy of translations and denying he knew the prominent neo-Nazis who organized the rallies he addressed.
Dressed in a blue pinstriped suit, he stood before a table lined with his works on Hitler and Goebbels, a leather-bound copy of Mein Kampf to one side.
At times, his views came clearly to the fore. Referring to one interview cited by Prof. Funke, Mr. Irving denied that Auschwitz was an extermination camp, adding that "it is a defamation of the German people if one talks of extermination camps or death camps." Mr. Irving insisted that he has been misquoted, saying that he was referring only to Auschwitz, not to all concentration camps.
Lawyer Richard Rampton, who represents Prof. Lipstadt, countered that Mr. Irving isn't just denying the Holocaust but also is trying to absolve Nazi Germany of responsibility for the outbreak of the war and to equate Allied bombing of Dresden with Nazi war crimes -- all favourite themes of the extreme right in Germany.
"Our case is not just that he's a racist and an anti-Semite, but a right-wing extremist with deep sympathies for the Nazi regime," Mr. Rampton said.
Prof. Lipstadt declined to be interviewed, saying she won't speak with the press during the trial.
But Mr. Irving operates under no such compunction and readily invited several journalists to his apartment near the Canadian High Commission after the day's hearing.
In his cluttered study, he railed against his detractors. He said he has a 65-per-cent chance of winning the case. In the next breath, though, he made it clear that he is preparing himself for defeat.
"It's David versus Goliath and this may be the one case where Goliath wins," he conceded.
If he loses, he will face financial ruin, he said, even losing the apartment where he has lived for 32 years. "Everything I have goes."
There's one artifact, however, he clearly does not want to lose. He showed a journalist a pencil drawing -- by Hitler, he said, a gift from the Fuhrer's secretary. He said he will never give it up, even if forced to sell it to pay legal costs.
"I'll tell them it's totally fake."
Thursday, March 2, 2000