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Posted Saturday, August 29, 1998



WE REPRODUCE with acknowledgements these two pages from Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler (The Random House, New York, 1998).

© 1998 by Ron Rosenbaum
232   Explaining Hitler


he does use the rhetoric of cleansing -- "stone cleaning," he calls it. One can trace his evolution from respected amateur historian to sporadic Holocaust denier in the way he redefines "stone cleaning" from erasing grime to erasing crime. The "stone cleaning" image came up when I asked Irving if his sympathetic attitude toward Hitler might be a reflection of his captivation, if not captivity by the Magic Circle. "Is it possible there's a kind of 'Stockholm syndrome' going on?" I asked him.

He professed himself unfamiliar with the phrase: I explained its origin in the report of a Swedish bank robbery that turned into a prolonged siege after which hostages held by the robbers emerged from captivity speaking remarkably sympathetically of their captors.

"In the same way did they [the Magic Circle] gain your sympathy and -- "

"Oh, undoubtedly," he said without hesitation. "Every time I've written a biography you find you become close to the character you're writing about because you're his ambassador then. You're his ambassador to the afterlife.[1] Or to the next generation. And if you do your job conscientiously then you bend over backward to do it." After a pause, he adds, "I don't think it should lead you to adapt an unobjective position," although it's hard to see how being Adolf Hitler's self-anointed Ambassador to the Afterlife conduces to objectivity. "I think that people who say I'm whitewashing Hitler," he continues, "or that I'm a Hitler apologist -- these words I find deeply offensive. I'm stone cleaning, not whitewashing."

"Stone cleaning?"

"Cleaning dirt off." It's an English expression which, he says, came into use after the limitations on sulphurous coal burning cleaned up London's grime-affixing smog: "The buildings are being cleansed of sulfuric grime." he tells me. Similarly with Hitler. he says. 'There's been a lot of slime poured over him, both during and after the war.

For Irving, however, stone cleaning has meant far more than that. The turning point in the evolution of his views on the question of gas chambers and the extermination came in 1988, he tells me. Until then. he'd always adhered to the line that Hitler hadn't ordered extermination by gas. Then he came to question whether there had been any extermination or gassing at all. The occasion was the 1988 trial of Canadian Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel. Irving had come to testify there had been no Führer order. But "I was shown the reports on the tests on the walls of the gas chambers at Auschwitz" -- these were tests performed forty-five years after the fact by America's self-proclaimed electric-chair expert Fred Leuchter, an engineer rather than a chemist -- "and I became quite satisfied having studied forensic[2] chemistry at university that this is an exact science and that there's no trace of cyanide compounds in the walls of those gas chambers." That was enough to convince him: "That was the turn-


David Irving   233


ing point for me. That's when we decided we had to cut the word 'gas chamber' out of my book."

Irving says he doesn't "regard myself as a Revisionist because I'm not a Holocaust specialist." But he seems happy to take credit for the recent high visibility of Revisionism, arguing that his claim in Hitler's War that an absence of a written Führer order for extermination became the basis for a Revisionist view which denied that the killing process ever happened.

"So what started out as a historical footnote in my Hitler's War in 1977 has now become so important that prime ministers and presidents have to [denounce] it," he says proudly. He's proud, but surprisingly he's also somewhat ashamed, ashamed at least of some of the company he keeps in the Revisionist camp.

"Let me ask you about that," I said. "You know historians often speak of you as someone who's dug up a remarkable number of important documents, speak of that with great respect, but -- "

"Then they say, 'Pity he flipped'?" he asked me almost plaintively

"Well, they probably do say that in one way or another, but aren't you uncomfortable with the kind of people who are drawn to support you, many of whom are not interested in evaluating this objectively but are flat-out anti-Semites who would -- "

"Yes -- " he began, as our voices overlapped.

" -- would, if there was no Final Solution, have wanted one anyway?"

To my astonishment, he said, "You're absolutely right. The word 'uncomfortable' I think is an understatement. I find it odious to be in the same company as these people. There is no question that there are certain organizations that propagate these theories which are cracked anti-Semites."[3]

He then proceeds to make another amazing assertion: He's only using these "cracked anti-Semites" cynically. He plans to jettison them as soon as he can find more respectable forums.

"What else can I do?" he said, but speak at the gatherings of these "cracked anti-Semites" for the moment. "If I've been denied a platform worldwide, where else can I make my voice heard? As soon as I get back onto regular debating platforms I shall shake off this ill-fitting shoe which I'm standing on at present. I'm not blind. I know these people have done me a lot of damage, a lot of harm, because I get associated then with those stupid actions."

Fascinating: association with cracked anti-Semites experienced by Irving as the minor discomfort of ill-fitting footwear. Fascinating as well his candor (if that's what it was) about the manipulation he claims to be practicing upon the cracked anti-Semite allies he plans to discard like an ill-fitting shoe. He'll use them, these vile true believers, use them, manipulate them to give him a platform for his views and then when he -- it's not clear how -- becomes respectable

Our comments

  1. Writer David Irving frequently stated that unlike modern journalists, when writing about people he has been in greater awe of writing about the Dead than about the Living, because the Dead can no longer protect themselves. Therefore their reputations deserve greater caution in handling. The biographer, particularly the first biographer of a personality, is in the position of that person's ambassador to Posterity -- trying to explain his subject's motives and methods, if and when he can. Perhaps Rosenbaum heard wrong, or Mr Irving may have expressed himself awkwardly to him.  [RETURN TO PAGE]
  2. Mr Irving would not have said he studied forensic chemistry: he spent a year at the Royal College of Science, London University, studying for (and passing) examinations in quantitative and qualitative chemical analysis, precisely the matter at hand here. Whether Leuchter had such knowledge is of course irrelevant: his function was to obtain the samples from the fabric of Auschwitz, with hammer and chisel; the forensic analysis was done by commercial laboratories in New England whose expertise has never been challenged. [RETURN TO PAGE]
  3. David Irving did not use the phrase cracked anti-Semite, which is meaningless. Another phonetic error? There is of course little doubt that a number of people were propelled into the Revisionist camp by anti-Semitism. Others became anti-Semitic after their arrival, because of their ordeal. Both the New York based Anti-Defamation League and the Board of Deputies of British Jews concede in internal policy documents [ vide ADL | BoD ] that Mr Irving is not anti-Semitic. [RETURN TO PAGE]

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