London, April 12, 2000
[Pictures added by this website]
David Irving was accused of being a racist zealot who, by denying the Holocaust, had manipulated history. Yesterday he lost the libel action brought to clear his name. Has he changed his mind?
Interview by Michael Horsnell
THE watercolour on the wall behind David Irving's desk is not, as some detractors claim, Adolf Hitler's self-portrait. Irving does own that picture; it was given to him by Christa Schroeder, the Führer's private secretary, who had taken it for safe-keeping at the end of the war. But he has it locked away in a glass case.
Instead, the unframed portrait is of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the avuncular American president. More interesting is the signed photograph of Churchill, whom Irving has condemned as a drunken warmonger, that hangs in the passage and bears the inscription: "Your friendship has been a very great privilege to me." When I remark on it, Irving smiles and raises his bushy eyebrows in a manner curiously reminiscent of Rudolf Hess. "Bought it at auction," he says.
April 12, 2000
Irving is the maverick historian who sees Hitler as "no greater incarnation of evil" than the Allied leaders. He has just spent two months pursuing a libel case in the High Court against the American author Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her publishers, Penguin. The action centred on Lipstadt's assertion in her latest book, Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, that Irving was one of the world's most prominent and dangerous "Holocaust deniers".
Yesterday Mr Justice Gray came down on the side of Lipstadt. Losing will cost Irving dear; though he conducted his own case in court, he has still incurred costs put at £2.5 million. His imposing mansion flat in Mayfair - where he has lived for 32 years and which he shares with his Danish girlfriend Bente, 35, and their daughter Jessica, (right), six -- may have to be sold.
"The consequences of losing should worry me a lot more, but you get to the position where you insulate yourself," he says. "I don't allow it to keep me awake. I have taken no steps whatever, like putting things in my partner's name. No smart accountants have been hired to hide funds away. There are no other significant assets; my assets are my intellectual properties. If disaster strikes, it's true disaster.
Irving, 62, the author of 30 books, professes to have lost £200,000 a year for the past three years through not writing a line while concentrating on his litigation. But he is believed to have raised up to $500,000 on his fighting fund website, where he describes Lipstadt as "the golden-tipped spearhead of the enemies of truth". Irving supporters from America, Germany and Scandinavia have provided individual donations ranging from $5 to $50,000. Unsurprisingly, he wishes to keep the identity of his benefactors secret.
During the High Court case, Richard Rampton, QC, the counsel for Lipstadt and Penguin Books, cited many examples of Irving's zealotry. They included his attempts to pervert the mind of his baby daughter with a racist ditty while walking her in her pram, and a quote from an Irving speech, delivered in Calgary, Canada, in September 1991, in which he asserted
"more women died in the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz".
By being so overtly anti-Semitic, Irving had, Rampton said, prostituted his calling as an historian.
But Irving, as always, is unrepentant. He claims that at the outset of the case he offered to settle if the defendants paid £500 to charity in memory of his late daughter Josephine, (left) one of his four daughters by his Spanish wife Pilar (the couple divorced in 1981), who died last year aged 34 .
"They rejected it," he says. "They wanted a scrap, so I gave them one. I had to take action. I don't find it hurtful being called all sorts of names. But the campaign against me had reached such intensity that I could no longer ignore it. It would have destroyed my livelihood."
Despite having been the one who pursued the libel case, he sees himself as the victim. The reading of extracts from his diaries by the defence counsel, he says, made him feel "violated".
"You keep a diary for your personal use. When my daughter died I reread the entries I made about her when she was one and two. It was very distressing. Now they are public property.
As a dedicated exponent of revisionism, Irving remains defiant in his assertion that Hitler knew nothing of a Final Solution, in which up to six million Jews died. He purports the Holocaust to be a myth deployed by Jews in order to blackmail the German people into paying vast sums in reparations.
At his feet is what he calls the "holy of holies", an enlarged aerial photograph of crematorium No 2 at Birkenau. There is, he contends, no evidence of the manholes through which survivors say the deadly gas pellets were inserted. As he points to the picture, he spits out the words: "The so-called factory of death!"
His beliefs may be considered by many to be outrageously distasteful, but they are not new. In 1970, he faced a bill of £70,000 in damages and costs for reinventing history in his book The Destruction of Convoy PQ17. He had libelled the convoy commander, Captain John Broome, by wrongly blaming him for its destruction by German aircraft and U-boats. At an unsuccessful appeal before Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Phillimore in 1971 Irving was described as a "grasping, conceited and foolish young man".
His empathy with all things German had been evident from his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, published in 1963, written after he had spent a year as a steelworker in the Ruhr for Thyssen. Already a Germanophile, he listened intently to a fellow worker who told him of the Allied air raids, then began his research.
Rampton, who read the book in preparation for his client's libel defence, says Irving had exaggerated the number of deaths in the Allied bombing of Dresden (right) by tenfold -- 250,000 fatalities, instead of the official estimates of 25,000 -- to make a "false equivalence" between the victims and the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz. The Dresden book predicated Irving's career, giving him an entrée to Hitler's inner circle. From those who had survived, and the widows of those who had not, he was to acquire a wealth of documents and accounts that put him head and shoulders above his peers as a researcher of the Third Reich's history.
But by sanitising the Nazis and absolving Hitler of genocide, Irving's stance has led to clashes and controversy. Over the years, demonstrators have paraded placards outside his home demanding "Gas Irving"; he has been assaulted in a restaurant; and when his daughter Jessica was a baby, he says he had to keep a Moses basket handy by a window in order to lower her by rope to ground level in the event of his apartment being stormed.
Irving is the son of a Royal Navy commander who served at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (below) and on Arctic convoys during World War Two. But his parents separated when he was young; John Irving was reunited with his son only in the last two years of his life, from 1965 to 1967, when David was in his late twenties.
The young David was raised by his mother, a commercial artist who had studied at the Slade School of Art, and who was forced, because of the breakdown of her marriage, to bring up her four children in much-reduced circumstances. Irving has a twin, Nicholas, a civil servant, who announced their estrangement in 1992. The family originated from Portsmouth: Irving's earliest memories include cheering with the crowds as the troopships left for Normandy in 1944. Later he became a pupil at Sir Anthony Browne's, a grammar school in Brentwood, Essex, where he achieved notoriety by choosing a copy of Mein Kampf as a school prize, not because he wanted the book, he says, but because he wanted to shock.
He gained 13 O levels, and eight A levels. But despite embarking upon two degrees -- the first at Imperial College London, where he read physics, and the second at University College London, where he took economics -- he dropped out of both courses and failed to graduate.
From his earliest student days he was politically active. At Imperial he joined the Young Conservatives and edited Phoenix, the college magazine founded by H.G. Wells. In 1959, his final year there, he also edited the college's Carnival Times, causing a stink when he engineered it to incur costs that cancelled out the profits of that year's carnival after learning that the proceeds were destined for a South African subversive organisation. At University College, in 1962, he spoke with Oswald Mosley in support of the motion "This House would restrict Commonwealth immigration".
His reputation, as a writer as well as an activist, was already gaining him enemies. In 1964, two Jews -- Manny Carpel, then 20, and Gerald Gable, then 26 -- posing as GPO engineers were fined after breaking into his flat. They believed he was a fascist and had hoped to find political material that they could take to Special Branch. Gable, who later became the publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, remained a lifelong adversary.
After publication in 1991 of the expanded edition of Hitler's War, Irving says,
"it became evident that publishers around the country had pressure put on them directly or indirectly not to publish me".
Undeniably, he has been ostracised by the publishing world; houses such as Macmillan in London and St Martin's Press in New York were not about to ignore protests from Jewish groups about his "repellent" views.
He blames his exile on a "global endeavour" by his most powerful enemies: the Anti-Defamation League in the US, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Defence League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which, he says, have established an "international campaign to destroy my legitimacy". He sees Lipstadt as an ambassador of what he deems the international Jewish conspiracy against him.
Irving has been banned from a host of nations, including Germany, which is seeking his extradition on charges of racial incitement over a lecture he gave to the right-wing NPD at Weinheim. He says his exclusion has denied him access to precious Third Reich archives on which much of his research depends.
But he is nothing if not tenacious. In 1990 he launched his own imprint, Focal Point Publications. With his libel case over, he says he is now editing Vol 2 of his Churchill biography, Triumph in Adversity, and is working on a biography of Heinrich Himmler, based on access he was given in America to 200 letters the SS chief wrote to his mistress.
"I have all the material I need, though being barred from the German archives is a serious matter," he says. "There's a lot of material like this in American homes. US troops captured Himmler's house, looted it and carried trophies home. I want to get into Himmler's mentality rather than the history of the SS."
Irving talks enthusiastically about the "astonishingly good economics" of publishing his own books, an enterprise that involves driving a truck to hundreds of bookshops around the country hawking his work. "I get the author's cut, the publisher's cut and the distributor's cut," he says with relish.
He also sells his books via the Internet, though he mutters about an "Orwellian exercise" by some bodies to filter out his website. "They are trying to stop me expressing an opinion," he says. "My case against Lipstadt has been about free speech."
He is disappointed that Lipstadt did not take the stand during the case, denying him the chance to cross-examine her.
"I'd have asked about her racism, though I'm sure the judge would have intervened. She has written several articles about the importance of Jews marrying only Jews. That's racist. It's the hypocrisy that annoys me.
Ask Irving if he accepts he is a racist and he replies:
"The scumbags say I am but I have had the most terrific blacks, Pakistanis, you name them, working for me, and I haven't seen one working on all the benches occupied by Lipstadt's team in court."
His response to accusations of anti-Semitism is equally well versed. "If I were a Jew, I should be far more concerned not at who pulled the trigger, but why. Anti-Semitism is a recurring malaise. There must be some reason why anti-Semitic groups break out like some kind of epidemic."
The next step in his crusade may be another libel case, against the writer Gitta Sereny over an article she wrote about obssession -- even though she is gracious enough to acknowledge, amid her contempt for his revisionism, that he is a "man of talent, both as a researcher and a writer".
Certainly Irving's greatest accomplishment is that he was the first historian to warn, in 1983, that The Hitler Diaries were fakes. Lord Dacre, who, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, originally authenticated the "diaries", says of him:
"I regard Irving as a very industrious and efficient investigator, and hunter of documents, a hard worker and good writer. That is on the credit side.
Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, (right) adds: "He has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary among historians that he does not deserve to be called an historian at all."
If his peers' views are any sort of template, Irving will be remembered as a pariah, a dangerous falsifier of the blackest chapter in 20th-century history and, ultimately, a man whose veracity could not be trusted.