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London, Thursday, May 18, 2000


University gave MA for thesis denying Holocaust

David Cohen in Wellington

New Zealand's University of Canterbury -- an institution that has long prided itself on its reputation for being more English than England -- has said this week that it regretted any distress caused by its award of a master's degree to a student for a thesis that denied the Holocaust.

But the university, based in Christchurch, has not accepted a call from a national Jewish group for the degree to be revoked. Canterbury now has the dubious distinction of being the only known accredited university in the west to have conferred an MA for a thesis that even its author now admits was a work of Holocaust revisionism.

Although written in 1994, the contents of the thesis by Joel Hayward -- now a military historian at Massey University in New Zealand -- were embargoed for five years at the request of its author and with the support of his university supervisor.

The work might still be under wraps were it not for the recent libel case in London brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. She had called him a "falsifier of history" for his claim that the Holocaust never happened.

Mr Hayward was invited but refused to testify for Mr Irving, whom the judge in the case described as an avowed anti-Semite. Irving lost.

Mr Irving had been impressed with the arguments in the thesis, which claimed that the idea of gas chambers being used to kill Jews during the second world war was propaganda invented by Britain, the US and Jewish lobbyists in the thrall of Zionist forces.

In his work, Mr Hayward argued that far fewer than 6m Jews, perhaps fewer than 1m, perished in concentration camps during the time of Nazi rule across most of Europe. He also said that Hitler could not be held personally responsible for any suffering experienced by European Jews. He has since apologised for the thesis, The Fate of Jews in German Hands: An Historical Inquiry into the Development and Significance of Holocaust Revisionism.

In a letter to a national newspaper last month, The New Zealand Jewish Chronicle, Mr Hayward expressed remorse over the "mistakes I made as an inexperienced student".

He was, he said, "inexperienced in the historian's craft and knew relatively little about the Holocaust and its complex historiography."

He has also asked the university to withdraw his thesis from its library, a request the institution turned down. He has not endorsed the call for his degree to be annulled.

Citing traditions of academic freedom and independent inquiry, officials have said their institution cannot, even if it were of a mind to, rescind Mr Hayward's degree.

Daryl Le Grew, the vice-chancellor, announced this week that an independent inquiry would be held into the situation and whether the request for the degree's annulment has any legal standing.


Related stories: Varsity leader defends historian | Joel Hayward web page (mirror) | Making History | University won't revoke degree for student who queried the Holocaust
 © Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000


Comment: The Guardian Newspapers Ltd are of course a defendant in the next libel action being brought by Mr Irving, and have every reason to vilify him while they still can.

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