Wednesday, April 12, 2000
A case of 'forensic' madness
AS AN academic, David Irving presents the strangest kind of paradox. He is a documentary historian whose expertise with documentation cannot seriously be questioned. Yet this same expertise is put to a purpose which at the time defies commonsense, or is applied in so narrow a forensic context that the result is reductio ad absurdum.
His argument is that, because there is no filmic or photographic evidence of actual gassing, Its existence and any statements describing its widespread use must be highly questionable, if not actually invalid. To me, such a case can only be described as "forensic" madness.
The resort to gas-chamber technology had its roots in the Wehrmacht policy in Russia after 1941, when the killing could not proceed fast enough,
hence the first "gas-vans". The command: "Jews and Commissars, one pace forward" summoned those human beings to their death. In fact, summoned a tide of killing which swelled to monstrous proportions.
I am not sure that I go along with this phraseology about Irving "denied" the Holocaust. What Irving has done has been to dive into more and more "forensic" evident, defending himself on a narrow front, if you like, "whittling down" the scope of the Holocaust.
Irving does not deny mass killing of the Jews, ascribing the greater part of it to the atrocities committed in the Soviet Union, but he distances himself from any admission of mass industrial murder.
The charge I would level against David Irving, from one historian to another, and as one long engaged in attempting to account for some of the worst battlefront horrors generated in the last century, is not that he has "denied" the Holocaust,
which seems as fatuous as it is juvenile, but that he has contributed to diminishing an experience which had profound significance and which, as yet, has not been fully explained.
Let me now be a little "forensic". Much new material is now becoming available from former Soviet archives, Lviv oblast archives, Odessa, oblast, Kharkiv, material from the Belarus Central State Archives, to cite but a few primary collections. II may well he that David Irving will finally be hoist on his own documentary petard..
I am not Jewish, but I am deeply concerned about the fate of the Holocaust at the hands of historians. While the Irvings of the world ram-raid the plausibility of the available evidence relating to the scale and form of Jewish loss, other historians claim an exclusivity for the Holocaust which defies and contradicts what my long-time friend and colleague, Omer Bartov, has observed of it.
In his essay, Defining Enemies; Making Victims: Germans, Jews and the Holocaust, published in the American Historical Review (June 1998) he insists the Holocaust is "an event which, defies conventional explanations" but not only that, it is an event which has been "appropriated by many groups, yet ultimately it belongs to us all".
Consequently, the Holocaust has been used "to justify the unjustifiable". It has served as a "measuring rod for every other atrocity, relativising and trivialising what would otherwise be unacceptable; repeatedly mobilised to perpetuate victimhood".
The Irving approach is one of contrived trivialisation for its own sake, a virtual parody of the Holocaust experience, damaging the historical profession in the process.
In the final analysis, I submit that none of this business has done anyone's reputation much good.
John Erickson is Emeritus Professor of Defence Studies at the University of Edinburgh
April 12, 2000
Website fact: The stamina of the defence team was aided by a six million dollar fund provided by Stephen Spielberg, Edgar J Bronfman, and the American Jewish Committee, which enabled them to pay 21 lawyers and "experts"; the experts like Evans, Longerich were paid up to £109,000 each to testify as they did (while the defence's star legal team was paid considerably more). Nobody was paying for Mr Irving, who has been fighting this battle for three whole years. Nor did he pay his defence witnesses one cent or sous: they testified from conviction, not for reward. [Help!]