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The Jerusalem Report

February 28, 2000

An Interview with David Irving

Confronting Hitler's Defender

Eric Silver / London

David Irving tells Eric Silver why he's 'more interested' in the 'innocent' victims of World War II 'than in the Jews'


THE CHILL SETS IN AS SOON AS I mention that I'm going to interview David Irving. Old friends -- one a leading Israeli Holocaust scholar, another a child survivor of Auschwitz -- try to warn me off. Not because Irving should be ostracized as a pariah, but because he is clever and knows more about the Third Reich than I ever will.

The thrice-married son of a Royal Navy officer who fought in both world wars, Irving is all they say, but our hour-long interview in his rambling Mayfair apartment (not a piece of Nazi memorabilia in sight, though he is proud of owning a rare Hitler self-portrait) clarifies just what he does and does not believe about the destruction of European Jewry.

He details how he graduated from author of a best-selling 1963 study of the Royal Air Force's controversial destruction of Dresden in February, 1945, to Hitler biographer, uniquely trusted by the Führer's surviving personal staff, to become what Professor D.C. Watt of the London School of Economics labelled "Britain's most hated historian." His affair with Germany began after he dropped out of university and became a steel worker for the Thyssen company.

The Report: What was the bridge between writing about Dresden and embarking on a crusade to challenge the accepted version of the mass slaughter of the Jews?

Irving: The more you become involved in that history, the more you realize there's a lot of history that's either been not told, or a lot of history that's been told wrongly. Because I had written the Dresden book, I was persona grata with a large number of Germans. They thought I was capable of thinking honestly, so they were more willing to show me their files and their private papers. They wanted to trust someone, and they decided to trust me with the stuff.

And that led you to Hitler's aides?

Yes, I was introduced to Otto Guensche, the man who burned Hitler's body. And Guensche, an SS officer on Hitler's personal staff, introduced me to the rest of the team. Gradually a ring of confidence built up among these people. They were willing to talk to me when they weren't willing to talk to anybody else.

Do you admire Hitler?

There are things you admire and things you don't admire. You have to admire his steadfastness in defeat. And viewed from a German viewpoint, he reunited the country, brought it back to greatness and restored a sense of national pride after the humiliating defeat of 1918. Then there's the way he took the Allied leaders one by one for a ride from a position of enormous weakness. Even as a warlord, he didn't do too badly until Stalingrad. There were one or two specific military operations that have the seal of Hitler's military genius -- the campaign in France in the winter of 1940, then the Ardennes offensive in December, 1944, which took the Allies completely by surprise. It very nearly came off.

What about the other side of the ledger?

On the other side of the ledger you have inexplicable qualities. The criminality of his actions, the callousness and brutality. Winston Churchill had exactly the same contempt for human life. So did Roosevelt. The ability to issue an order which they knew would by morning kill tens of thousands of people who had not asked for this war, who were completely innocent. I'm far more interested in these innocent people than I am in the Jews.

But Hitler promulgated a doctrine of racial supremacy. He dehumanized and demonized the Jews, in his speeches and his writings. And by so doing he made it legitimate for people to kill unarmed, vulnerable Jews.

You're right, and I've made no secret of this in my books. But even then you've got to start splitting hairs and saying when did he make the speeches, when did he write the writings. And the answer is that as the years of his rule progressed, once he was in power, the speechmaking against the Jews subsided. The writing against the Jews totally vanished.

Did they really? On January 30, 1942, Hitler delivered a speech at the sports palace in Berlin in which he said: "The result of this war will be the complete annihilation of the Jews. They will be finished for at least 1,000 years." The speech was broadcast. Millions of Germans heard it.

This particular passage appears in just about every speech Hitler made. It's like an old gramophone record. It was totally meaningless. His tongue wagged, his lips opened, he breathed the words. They had no real meaning. I think he was alluding to the fact that three or four months earlier, the Jews were having an extremely hard time in all the Nazi-occupied areas, not necessarily just because the Germans were shooting them into mass graves, but because all the indigenous populations were taking revenge on them as well.

But they were encouraged to do so.

I didn't know this at the time I was writing.

But you don't deny it now?

No, a new document has arisen. In the SS files recently opened in Moscow they have found an instruction by [Nazi security chief] Heydrich to local commanders saying: "If the local population desires to take action against the Jews, you are not to intervene. Indeed you are actively to encourage and assist them."

Doesn't this fostering of genocide under Hitler's authoritarian rule override the question of whether he was a brilliant strategist who fooled Chamberlain?

Certainly, in the eyes of history it has condemned him unfortunately for all time.

But in your eyes?

The crime that was inflicted on the Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Europe undoubtedly outweighs all the achievements that can be credited to Hitler's name in the same period. And this is what made it absolutely essential to establish precisely what his role had been. I don't contest that there was a total linkage, from Himmler downwards, to the killings. But 55 years from the end of World War II, nobody has yet managed to bridge the final link between Hitler and Himmler when it comes to the Final Solution.

Before the war there were three million Jews living in Poland. After the war, only one tenth of that number remained. The story was repeated elsewhere. Camps were set up. There was a whole technology of forced labor and of murder. There was an apparatus, a bureaucracy. There were senior SS officers involved. Surely, you can't say that Hitler was unaware of this, that Hitler wasn't encouraging this, that this wasn't the fulfillment of Hitler's vision of wiping out the Jews.

His vision was just to get them out of Europe, either beyond the Urals or down to Madagascar. This is the documentary link we have with Hitler, talking about geographical solutions. We also have Hitler intervening to stop ugly things happening to individual groups of Jews.

But he could have stopped the killing of all the Jews just as easily if he had wanted, couldn't he?

I'm quite happy to say that Hitler had not the slightest interest in preserving the lives of the East European Jews. He'd made a distinction in his own mind between the high-grade German Jews and the low-grade Eastern Jews. Hitler made this distinction. One grade, as far as he was concerned, had no right to continue to exist.

Yet you still claim that Hitler was innocent until proven guilty?

Nobody has proved it. Nobody has come forward with evidence that would even satisfy a British court as to his culpability.

Israeli and German researchers tried independently to estimate how many Jews died. They came to similar conclusions, between 5.6 million and 6.1 million. If you don't accept such figures, how many Jews do you think did die?

I'm quite satisfied that the shootings on the Eastern Front happened, that these probably reached a total victim figure of one million.

What about the people who died in concentration camps?

We have to ask two infuriating questions. Who is a Jew? And what do you mean by died? I appreciate the criminality of being taken out of your home in Vienna or Budapest and sent to Auschwitz, where you died of typhus. But is that being killed, or is it dying?


Related articles: The Holocaust on Trial -- A Hitler apologist claims there were no Nazi death factories


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