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Boston, December 6, 1999

Springtime for Hitler - and the History Channel

By Mark Greif

front coverMOST historians agree that the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, was one of the darkest chapters in the Allied struggle to liberate Europe from Nazism. On that day, as many as 135,000 civilians may have been killed, and a city with an irreplaceable architectural heritage was utterly destroyed -- all at a point so late in the war that the justification for the carnage seemed painfully lacking. Certainly any documentary that would seek to make sense of the tale would need the guidance of a historian who could convey both the cruelties of war and the horrors of Nazism.

History ChannelSomehow, though, the History Channel came up a bit short when it chose David Irving, the pre-eminent Nazi apologist of the last quarter of the twentieth century, to provide the historical commentary for its recently aired documentary Inferno: The True Story of Dresden. Irving, whom the documentary identifies merely as a "controversial" historian, has denied that Auschwitz was a death camp and that Anne Frank's diary is a "historical document of any value." He penned the introduction to the "Leuchter Report," Fred Leuchter's infamous statement of Holocaust denial. The most telling judgment on Irving's intellectual pedigree is the fact that he is no longer allowed even to set foot in Australia or Germany because of his long history of Holocaust revisionism.

Dresden holocaust victimsThe History Channel, it seems, applies a looser standard. And they can't even plead that they didn't know who Irving was when they signed him up. "We thought twice about it," said Charlie Maday, the show's executive producer. "Obviously we were aware that he had this past. . . . We discussed it and made the decision to go ahead and do it." The Los Angeles production company that got the contract for the job, Termite Art Productions, convinced Maday that as long as they didn't ask Irving about the Holocaust itself, he would make a fine expert.

But then again, Termite Art doesn't have impeccable credentials either. They're best known for reality programs like Busted on the Job, which included surveillance camera footage of a woman taking revenge on her boss by urinating on his office furniture. The documentary they created for the History Channel is equally sketchy, if more subtle. Low points include Irving describing Sir Arthur Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command, as "a born killer" and likening pictures of the Dresden dead to photos of Dachau -- and all against a backdrop of eerily familiar looking black-and-white images of emaciated corpses and refugee children, and a mournful violin tune straight out of Schindler's List.

Cable-television documentaries are famously ill-equipped to provide the historical context for the topics they confront, but in choosing a Holocaust aesthetic to tell the story of ordinary Germans, the producers at Termite Art didn't do themselves any favors. In a culture such as ours, obsessed with victimology but lacking the political understanding to put these stories into proper perspective, this was TV drama at the expense of good history -- and good sense.- Mark Greif

[Dresden illustrations from Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden]

Our opinion
THE American Prospect is a well produced two-weekly journal of left of centre leanings, and with a similar writing clientele and readership to such publications as Commentary and Forward. We have however replaced their NS-softporn illustration of a grim, saluting Adolf Hitler with photographs more pertinent to the issue.

Dresden, it seems, gets under the skins of the Jewish community, of which Mr Greif is a literate member. Whether because that 1945 air raid was a real holocaust to rival their own, or because they are ashamed never to have written anything about it themselves, by their actions -- articles like the above -- they dishonour their entire community.

Dresden victim disposalThe History Channel documentary (for which Mr Irving asked and received no payment) has had a checkered run. Nameless gremlins in the digital department of The History Channel, where the US and British libel laws hold no sway, inserted in its on-line television guide the description of David Irving as "the neo Nazi" historian; Termite Art Productions apologised to Mr Irving and were swift to condemn this smear, writing to the Channel to demand an inquiry.

THE article recoils upon itself: it adopts Mr Irving's own widely criticised death-roll figure ("135,000", the estimate cited to him by a Dresden official closely involved with the 1945 task of tallying the dead); and talks about "most historians agreeing", without Downloadreflecting that without Mr Irving's 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden [click icon, left, for free download] they and the rest of the western world would probably still not have heard of the atrocity even now.

Why, one wonders, should the producer of a television documentary about the Dresden air raid have asked Mr Irving for his views on the other (Jewish) holocaust? Has that now become an obligatory media ritual?

As for the diary kept by the tragic Anne Frank and published with much profit since her untimely typhus death in 1945, no historian can regard it as an historical document, except as to mute tetimony to matters which the Jewish comunity would surely not wish to see aired at length: the business-obsessed exploitation of the tragic writings of a pubescent girl.

These writers are destroyed by their own lies and distortions. To state that Mr Irving denies that "Auschwitz was a death camp" overlooks the fact that Downloadin his book Goebbels. Mastermind of the Third Reich [click icon, left, for free download] (which the self-appointed US Jewish comunity leaders succeeded in having banned there in 1996) he refers to Auschwitz as a slave labour camp with a horrifying mortality rate; they are of course the same people who secretly applied pressure to the governments of Australia, Germany and other countries to ban the British historian's physical presence from their soil as well.

If you write to a newspaper don't forget: 1. keep it short; and 2. add your mail address and a daytime telephone number; they will not print it otherwise.

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