Thursday, May 05, 2005

How David Irving became a Holocaust denier

Holocaust Remembrance Day has gotten me to thinking about Holocaust denial again, specifically Holocaust deniers, particularly as it coincides with a recent E-Skeptic article discussing David Irving

I've never understood David Irving. Clearly a highly intelligent man who can be quite engaging, he is nonetheless a Holocaust denier. Although not a historian, early in his entry into writing books about World War II history Irving demonstrated a talent and diligence for research, as well as for writing, such that even an historian like Hugh Trevor-Roper recognized these talents. Even Judge Charles Gray, who presided over his lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt wrote of him:
As a military historian Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War Two is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable.
Yet this same judge found Irving to have misrepresented historical evidence and to be a "Holocaust denier," just as Professor Lipstadt had represented him in her book, Denying History, which had triggered Irving's lawsuit. This same judge ruled against him, finding for the defendant. There is no doubt that Irving knows a hell of a lot about World War II and the Holocaust. Given that, how can he have been quoted saying things like “more women died in the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz”? How can he have gone from a potentially promising new voice in World War II history to Holocaust denier and laughingstock, one who has been known to repeat this doggerel on occasion:

I am a Baby Aryan
Not Jewish or Sectarian;
I have no plans to marry an
Ape or Rastafarian.

Irving didn't emerge full blown as a Holocaust denier. His descent began when, back in the 1970's, he issued a challenge to produce the written order from Hitler ordering the extermination of the Jews. At the time he didn't deny that the Nazi regime killed millions of Jews, only that Hitler directly ordered it. As a self-proclaimed expert in all things Third Reich, he should have known that that's not the way Hitler ran things. Hitler would make his wishes known, sometimes obliquely sometimes directly, and let his underlings figure out the rest. Indeed, Ian Kershaw has termed his method of operation of getting his underlings to "work towards the Führer." He would make his wishes known to multiple underlings, who would then compete with each other "work towards the Führer" and obtain his favor by coming up with the most radical solution to whatever problem they were trying to solve. Hitler's orders were rarely written down. Indeed, one time when Hitler did commit a signed order to paper authorizing the T4 euthanasia program in 1939 (which served as a precursor to the Holocaust, because it was in this program that medicalized killing and gas chambers were first developed), it later came back to haunt him. As unexpected and mysterious death notices filtered out into the German populace, it led to protests by churches and families of those with mental illnesses or retardatino and an increasing mistrust of state medical facilities, all of which was laid at Hitler's door, not that of his underlings or his ministries. Hitler decided to rescind the order. (The involuntary "euthanasia" program did not stop for long; it was soon resurrected without a formal order.) After his experience with T4, Hitler was loathe to commit orders in matters involving ordering the killing of Jews and enemies of the state to writing. That way, he could have plausible deniability for unpopular policies, thus maintaining the astounding myth that unpopular policies of the regime were being carried out without knowledge of the beloved Führer. Indeed, this paucity of written orders by Hitler regarding the Holocaust is a frequently used denier canard used to "prove" that Hitler supposedly didn't know that millions of Jews were being murdered in his name or that there was a systematic plan to exterminate European Jewry.

Later, after reading Fred Leuchter's pseudoscientific Leuchter Report, which denied the existence of homicidal gas chambers, Irving began to deny the Holocaust altogether and start to speak to Holocaust denial groups, like the Institute for Historical Review. As Michael Shermer pointed out, thus began a Faustian bargain. The more he downplayed or denied Nazi atrocities, the more in demand by neo-Nazi and Holocaust denying fringe groups he is for speaking engagements and the more books he sells. Because mainstream historians have rejected him for intentionally distorting history (which he definitely has done (and here), he accepted the embrace of these groups. As Irving himself it:
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 antisemites.
But that is the bargain he has made, his pact with the devil. In one way, it makes me have some sympathy for him. He is a brilliant man who perceives himself as having been forced to throw his lot in with people that he abhors because he has been "rejected" by mainstream historians, all the while still craving their acceptance and acclaim, which he was once briefly able to obtain 30 years ago. But the key word is "perceive." That may be the way he perceives himself, but just because that is his perception doesn't make it so. Indeed, in another, more primal way, Irving's choice to make a Faustian bargain with the worst anti-Semites and racists only deepens my disgust at seeing a clearly brilliant intellect devoted to distorting history to deny Hitler's crimes.

6 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 5/05/2005 4:01 PM, Blogger Socialist Swine said...

Orac,

Great post.

 

At 5/05/2005 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orak - check out Evans' _Telling Lies About Hitler_, and you'll find that Irving's trail of porkies began way before the 1970s. His work on Dresden was based on dubious sources, whose inconsistencies had already been brought to his attention when he published further editions in 1967. He was always a fraud.

 

At 5/06/2005 4:08 AM, Anonymous firefall said...

I agree with Anon - he was always a fraud. I suspect that he was driven by his ego and his knowledge that he wasn't as brilliant as he was seen by others, into ever more extreme stances. A disgusting fate really, but one he truly earned for himself.

 

At 7/02/2005 1:24 PM, Blogger Orac said...

You guys are right; I forgot to mention David Irving's exaggerations in his book on the Dresden bombing. Indeed, it was some of the same sorts of exaggerations that found their way into Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.

 

At 11/18/2005 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet the jews want Irving jailed.
We are pagans.
Christians are presecuting people for the same reasons that they have been for centries, How dare one of our tribe question the holy hooknosed preist class.

 

At 2/21/2006 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Holocaust is a huge money maker for Jews; one they do not wish to lose. Irving's and Zundel's struggle in our time is analogous to Galileo's struggle with discovery that threatened the TPTB's power structure.

 

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