London, April 12, 2000
Judge delivers a devastating condemnation
BY MICHAEL HORSNELL
THE libel trial judge labelled David Irving a "right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist" who had manipulated the historical record to make it conform to his own political agenda. Mr Justice Gray said that the maverick historian was a Holocaust-denier with anti-Semitic and racist views, and berated him for his "offensive" assertion that no Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. "No fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt" that hundreds of thousands were gassed at the Nazi camp, he said.
Reading a 66-page extract of his full judgment, the judge said: "Over the past 15 years or so, Irving appears to have become more active politically than was previously the case. He speaks regularly at political and quasi-political meetings in Germany, the United States, Canada and the New World. The content of his speeches and interviews often displays a distinctly pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish bias.
"He makes surprising and often unfounded assertions about the Nazi regime which tend to exonerate the Nazis for the appalling atrocities which they inflicted on the Jews.
The judge said that he "has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards, and responsibility for, the treatment of the Jews".
Mr Irving, in his shirtsleeves and a black and red waistcoat, sat in the row that was also occupied by his adversary, the defence counsel, Richard Rampton QC. The historian of the Third Reich stared into the middle distance as the judge said that he also found him to be "an active Holocaust-denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist".
The judge said there were certain imputations in Deborah Lipstadt's book which he had found to be defamatory of Mr Irving. But he added that the charges against him which have been proved true were of "sufficient gravity" for it to be clear that the failure to establish the truth of other matters did not have any material effect on the author's reputation.
The judge said that the issue with which he was concerned was Mr Irving's treatment of the available evidence. "It is no part of my function to attempt to make findings as to what actually happened during the Nazi regime. The distinction may be a fine one, but it is important to bear it in mind."
On the credit side, he told the court: "My assessment is that, as a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history, Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years."
He added: "It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War Two is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and intelligent."
But, Mr Justice Gray told the court: "The questions to which this action has given rise do not relate to the quality of Irving's military history but rather to the manner in which he has written about the attitude adopted by Hitler towards the Jews, and in particular his responsibility for the fate which befell them under the Nazi regime."
The judge said the defendants had selected 19 instances where they contended that Mr Irving had distorted the evidence. "I have come to the conclusion that the criticisms advanced by the defendants are almost invariably well-founded".
He was satisfied that "in most of the instances cited by the defendants Irving has significantly misrepresented what the evidence, objectively examined, reveals. The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has, for his own ideological reasons, persistently and deliberately misinterpreted and manipulated historical evidence."
He accused Mr Irving of "double standards" when assessing historical evidence and said his account of matters "flies in the face" of available evidence. He "deliberately skewed the evidence to bring it into line with his political beliefs". He added: "Irving appears to take every opportunity to exculpate Hitler."
He quoted from the "undeniably racist" ditty composed by Mr Irving for his daughter, putting into her mouth the words: "I am a baby Aryan. I have no plans to marry an Ape or Rastafarian." There was also his queasiness about black men playing cricket for England. "I accept that Irving is not obsessed with race. He has certainly not condoned or excused racist violence or thuggery. But he has on many occasions spoken in terms which are plainly racist."
Branding him anti-Semitic, the judge said: "His words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turns hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to Semitic people."
As an example, he said Mr Irving claimed that Jews deserved to be disliked and had brought the Holocaust on themselves, that Jewish financiers were crooked, that Jews generated anti-Semitism by their greed and mendacity, and that the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal (left) had a "hideous, leering, evil face".
The judge rejected Mr Irving's claims that the gas chambers were a propaganda lie invented by British intelligence and that few Jews died in them. "It appears to me incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust-denier," he said. "It is my conclusion that no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews."
He added: "Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms. By way of examples, I cite his story of the Jew climbing into a mobile telephone box-cum-gas chamber; his claim that more people died in the back of Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz; his dismissal of the eyewitnesses en masse as liars or as suffering from a mental problem; his reference to an Association of Auschwitz Survivors and Other Liars or 'ASSHOLS'."
Mr Irving had also made broader claims which "tend to minimise the Holocaust". He had minimised the number of those killed by means other than gas at Auschwitz and elsewhere. The judge said it appeared to him undeniable that most, if not all, of the statements made by Mr Irving and cited by the defendants as demonstrating his anti-Semitism revealed "clear evidence that, in the absence of any excuse or suitable explanation for what he said or wrote, Irving is anti-Semitic".
He added: "His words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turns hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to Semitic people, their characteristics and appearances."
Mr Irving's principal justification for his comments about Jews was that he was seeking to explain to Jews why anti-Semitism exists, and not himself adopting the anti-Semitism, the judge said. "But I do not think that this was the message that Irving was seeking to convey to his audiences, and it was certainly not the sense in which his remarks were understood."
The judge agreed that Jews were as open to criticism as anyone. But Mr Irving had "repeatedly crossed the divide between legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification".
April 12, 2000