January 18, 2000
by George Szamuely
"Senior editors at...publishing houses still welcome me warmly as a friend, invite me to lunch in expensive New York restaurants and then lament that if they were to sign a contract with me on a new book, there would always be somebody in their publishing house who would object." Thus the English historian David Irving, famous for his histories of Nazi Germany. He made these remarks last week in the opening statement to the lawsuit that he has brought against Penguin Books and Prof. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University.
He claims that Lipstadt fatally damaged his career and jeopardized his livelihood by labeling him a "Holocaust denier" in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. "Irving is one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial," she wrote there. "Familiar with historical evidence, he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda."
Irving refuses to accept the "Holocaust denier" label. He does not dispute that Jews were murdered on a massive scale by the Nazis. He does question the numbers involved as well as the means used. "By virtue of the activities of [Prof. Lipstadt] and of those who funded her and guided her hand," Irving argues, "I have since 1996 seen one fearful publisher after another falling away from me, declining to reprint my works, refusing to accept new commissions and turning their backs on me when I approach." To be called a "Holocaust denier," he says, is "like being called a wife-beater or a pedophile. It is enough for the label to be attached, for the attachee to find himself designated as a pariah, an outcast from normal society."
Irving is a scholar of enormous energy and dedication. He has published innumerable works, most of which have been praised by leading historians of the period. He is a controversialist who refuses to accept the orthodox doctrine on anything. To many this makes him a hateful figure. John Keegan, however, has written that "Irving is a historian of formidable powers, having worked in all the major German archives, discovered important deposits of papers himself, and interviewed many of the survivors or their families and intimates No historian of the Second World War can afford to ignore Irving. His depiction of Hitler...is a key corrective to the Anglo-Saxon version, which relates the war's history solely in terms of Churchillian defiance and of the Grand Alliance."
This cuts no ice with our cultural vigilantes who would spoon-feed us what information they think we need. Back in March 1996, St. Martin's Press was looking forward to bringing out his book, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich. Irving had been the first historian to get access to the 75,000 pages of Goebbels' diaries that had been lying unread in the Red Army's archives in Moscow since 1945. Irving was one of the few people in the world capable of deciphering the Nazi propaganda minister's handwriting, not to mention his peculiar elliptical references.
The book would have been a fascinating read. But it was not to be. Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League led the charge of the pious bullies. He fired off an angry letter to St. Martin's: "Surely you must know that Mr. Irving is a well-known Holocaust Denier and an apologist for the Nazi regime. A pseudo-scholar, he has no academic credentials as a historian and his writings on Hitler, Nazis and the Holocaust have been consistently shown to be replete with errors, oversights, poor research and fantasy."
The usual crowd of smelly little orthodoxies immediately chimed in. Frank Rich announced in The New York Times that publishing Irving's book would be "the willing execution of the truth." Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post declared that Irving "has the right to speak his mind in whatever dingbat fashion strikes his fancy, but no one is obliged to listen to him, much less to give him a pulpit from which to preach." Tina Rosenberg wrote that the "issue is not one of censorship... David Irving...is not just wrong, he appears to be engaging in deliberate distortion. Worse, he is a sneak; the uncautioned reader will absorb a version of history exonerating Hitler and minimizing the evil of the Holocaust without knowing it." And Lipstadt herself made the sonorous announcement: "In the Passover Hagadah, it says in every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us... David Irving is not physically destroying us, but is trying to destroy the memory of those who have already perished at the hands of tyrants." The onslaught in the media was followed by death threats to the publisher.
Inevitably, St. Martin's caved and withdrew the book from publication. Irving is right to be upset that an influential minority with a political agenda succeeded in destroying his career. It is one thing if people do not want to buy your books. It is something else if people are denied the chance to buy your books. Irving is also right to be outraged by the promiscuous use of the phrase "Holocaust denial." As Lipstadt uses the term, it means whatever she wants it to mean. If you believe that fewer than six million died, are you still a Holocaust denier? Are you a Holocaust denier if you have questions about the precise means of death? In Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt wrote that Pat Buchanan's "attacks on the credibility of survivor' testimony are standard elements of Holocaust denial." Yet, a few years ago the director of Yad Vashem's archive told a reporter that most of the 20,000 testimonies it had collected were unreliable: "Many were never in the places where they claim to have witnessed atrocities, while others relied on secondhand information given them by friends or passing strangers." Is he also then a "Holocaust denier"?
We now know that many of the most lurid stories of the Holocaust are not true. Jews were never made into soap. Jewish skin was not used to make lampshades. Deaths at Auschwitz, once estimated at around four million, have been scaled back to about 1.1 million. There were no gassings at Dachau. Holocaust scholars no longer accept the six-million-Jewish-dead figure; two leading figure - Raul Hilberg and Robert Jan van Pelt - believe the figure is probably closer to 5.1 million. Is this Holocaust denial or merely addition to our knowledge? While Irving's motives repeatedly come under scrutiny, his factual claims stand unchallenged. For instance, in his opening statement Irving declared: "We now know that the gas chamber shown to the tourists at Auschwitz is a fake built by the 1995."
Whether Irving wins or loses his libel case, we will probably find out that our current knowledge of the Holocaust is much flimsier than we had believed. Today, David Irving is banned from entering Canada, Australia and Germany. If our politically correct globalists have their way, he will probably be banned here and everywhere else as well soon. Why? Irving is a scholar, not a criminal. There is something contemptible about democracies terrified of anyone challenging their prevailing pieties. Outlawing him only serves to make him look good and our rulers shabby.
January 18, 2000