The Politico magazine – Issue 2, Autumn 2002
Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial, by Richard J. Evans, Verso, £14
Julian Lewis on no ordinary author
Few writers have the self-confidence to promote their own work with an ‘endorsement’ like this:
"Evans is a flat, dull, boring, venal, corrupt conformist who willingly sold his soul to the Devil",
but Professor Richard Evans is no ordinary writer – for he is the man who destroyed David Irving, the author of the quoted remarks.
In 1976, I came across an unusual book by Carlos Thompson, The Assassination of Winston Churchill, which exploded the myth that Britain’s wartime leader had organised the death of his Polish counterpart – General Sikorski – in an air crash. Although that attempt to denigrate Churchill had been promoted by two notable Leftists, Rolf Hochhuth and Kenneth Tynan, the shadow of far-Right historian David Irving also loomed large. Later I learned that he had unsuccessfully sued the publisher.
In March this year, Irving was declared bankrupt after failing to pay legal costs arising from his latest libel action – against Penguin Books, publishers of a volume describing him as a Holocaust denier who twisted and distorted the historical record
"until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda".
Professor Evans’s task as an expert witness for the defence was mainly to show that Irving was a deliberate falsifier of history. It involved
"taking his historical statements and claims and tracing them back to the original and other sources on which he claimed they rested"
– something which most historians seldom have the time or motivation to do. Evans’s 740-page report, now edited and reduced to this gripping and readable book, triumphantly succeeded.
Here are just a few of his findings:
In his treatment of Hitler, Irving relied on tainted Nazi sources. Dealing with the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, he also claimed that German police were issued with instructions "to restore law and order, protect Jews and Jewish property", when the opposite was true. He thus "relied on material that turned out directly to contradict his arguments when it was checked … in order to minimize and trivialize the violence … and above all to dissociate Hitler completely from these events".
Similarly, in Hitler’s War, written "as far as possible through Hitler’s eyes, from behind his desk", Irving referred to Goebbels’ diary entry of 27 March 1942 while trying to show Hitler’s ignorance of the Final Solution. Yet, part of that entry actually stated: "It is a struggle for life and death between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus. No other government and no other regime could muster the strength for a general solution of the question. Here too, the Fuehrer is the persistent pioneer and spokesman of a radical solution …"
In 1990, Irving described former camp inmates as "Auschwitz Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust, and Other Liars – A.S.S.H.O.L.E.S." and said that "every survivor is living proof that there was no Nazi extermination programme". Yet, in his libel case against Penguin, he claimed not to be "a Holocaust denier".
- Despite clear evidence that 25–30,000 people had been killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945, Irving chose to rely on figures of 135,000 or even 200–250,000 dead – a tenfold exaggeration, promulgated by Nazi propagandists. Though recanting in the press in 1966, Irving persisted in claiming at various times that "100,000" or "125,000" had perished, and boasted of his "achievement" that "now everybody talks about Dresden in the same breath as they talk about Auschwitz and Hiroshima".
Evans’s book is a forensic dissection of Irving’s
"vast apparatus of deception and deceit",
and shows how painstaking scholarship can defeat the corruption of history.