More Schadenfreude: David Irving now admitting that there were gas chambers?

Yesterday's festivities left me with a distinctly depressed feeling. Oh, I was rather amused that JB Handley would think me worth spending the few bucks it took to buy up the domain and redirect it to his own anti-mercury website, but the reaction of at least two of JB's supporters to my shining a little light on their hero's little trick was depressingly similar to tactics that I had seen during my Usenet days again and again. (Ask one of my commenters, The Probe, if you really want to know how nasty things could get--and can still get--there.) In any case, my purpose has been served, and JB's deception revealed. That's enough for me.

Moving on to other topics, lightening my spirit this morning was this story about the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving:
A lawyer for British historian David Irving said on the eve of a court hearing that Irving admitted past statements could be interpreted as denying the existence of Nazi gas chambers - but now acknowledges they existed.

Prosecutors charged Irving earlier this week under an Austrian law that makes denying the Holocaust a crime.

The charges stem from two speeches Irving delivered in Austria in 1989 in which he allegedly denied the existence of gas chambers. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Irving has changed his views on gas chambers in recent years, his attorney, Elmar Kresbach said.
The History News Network has also referenced a Guardian story on the issue, which gives a little more background:
In the past, Irving has claimed that Adolf Hitler knew nothing about the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews, and has been quoted as saying there was ``not one shred of evidence'' the Nazis carried out their ``Final Solution'' to exterminate the Jewish population on such a massive scale.

He is the author of nearly 30 books, including ``Hitler's War,'' which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.

Kresbach said Irving is now ``correcting himself,'' adding the historian now ``sees himself as somebody who can influence marginal groups who have difficulty believing in the Third Reich.''

He said he will argue at a custody hearing Friday that Irving should be released on bail.

No trial date has yet been announced. In Austria, suspected violations of the law banning attempts to publicly diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust are heard by an eight-person jury and three judges.
Before I comment, let me just reiterate how much I detest laws against Holocaust denial. They are an abomination against free speech. Worse, they give the vilest scum, Holocaust deniers, a plausible-sounding reason (plausible, at least, to people who don't know much about the Holocaust, which is most people) to don the mantle of free speech martyrs. I can see the purpose of these laws decades ago, when there was a real danger that Nazi-ism might rise again and Germany and Austria no doubt wanted to show the world that they would not allow this to happen. These days, however, such laws do more harm than good.

Nonetheless, once again it is hard not to feel yet a bit more schadenfreude to see David Irving suddenly backpedaling, now that he's in jail, and pleading that his writings and speeches given over three decades were all just some sort of misunderstanding, that he believes there really, truly were gas chambers. (A better question to ask him is whether he's willing to retract his previous statement that he believed the death toll of the Holocaust to have been exaggerated by roughly a factor of ten.) In actuality, Irving's splitting hairs here. One of the techniques of Holocaust deniers is to admit the existence of gas chambers in the camps, but then to claim that the cyanide was used to fumigate clothing, not to kill Jews and other enemies of the Nazi state. Alternatively, another technique is to claim that diesel exhaust can't kill. (It is not widely known among the general public that many Nazi gas chambers used exhaust from diesel engines, rather than cyanide.) Irving has always conceded that gas chambers existed; he has in actuality denied that homocidal gas chambers existed or were used to kill Jews.

In fact, a story this morning shows that Irving is willing to plead guilty in the hopes of leniency:
He [Irving] is to be tried under a 1947 Austrian law banning Nazi revivalism and criminalising belittling or justifying the crimes of the Third Reich. No trial date has been set. The case should be heard in January. Irving faces a jail term of one to 10 years if found guilty.

Mr Irving has 10 days to appeal against the indictment but is not likely to lodge an appeal. His strategy is to plead guilty before a jury trial, but to declare his remorse and insist that he has revised his views on the Third Reich in the years since he made the Austrian speeches in 1989. "This might be a big case, but it's not very difficult," his lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, told the Guardian yesterday. "There are the transcripts of his speeches, there is a newspaper interview that he gave [in 1989]. It's pretty black and white.

"But Irving told me that he has changed his views after researching in the Russian archives in the 1990s. He said, 'I've repented. I've no intention of repeating these views. That would be historically stupid and I'm not a stupid man.'

"He said, 'I fully accept this, it's a fact. The discussion on Auschwitz, the gas chambers and the Holocaust is finished ... it's useless to dispute it'."
The problem with this defense is, of course, that his "revelation" that the Holocaust did indeed happen must have come quite recently. Just reading his website shows that as recently as early 2005 Irving was still denying the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

If David Irving's gambit works, and he's given a lenient sentence, look for him to go back to his old ways as soon as he's released. Even if that happens, though, no doubt he will be diminished--perhaps fatally so, as far as being a leader in the Holocaust denial movement goes--in the eyes of his admirers. After all, for his "I repent" gambit to have a chance of working, Irving is going to be forced to state in unequivocal terms in open court that homicidal gas chambers did exist in Nazi death camps. Such an admission won't endear him to the hard core neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers upon whom he's been relying to support him through the purchase of his books and attendance at his speeches.

Posts on this issue:
  1. Schadenfreude
  2. More schadenfreude: David Irving now admitting that there were gas chambers?
  3. David Irving to stand trial in Austria


  1. I too am against laws that limit the right of these idiots to spout their dreck. Every time they surface and say something it provides an opportunity to oppose them with the facts. It also keeps the issue alive. This must be done. We must not forget, and never allow others to forget that evil will flourish when good people do nothing.

  2. Prosecution of deniers under "false news" laws also gives them a public platform. Before his 1985 Ontario trial Ernst Zundel was known only to his fellow kooks and those who watch such kooks. But his trial made him a public figure in Canada, someone the news media paid attention to.

  3. There are no doubt more worrisome laws out there than this.
    One of the reasons the Nazis could come to power and carry out the Holocaust was the "free speech" they enjoyed at the time.
    It doesn't necessarily hurt to have courts document the absence of evidence in support of these people, and also to document them attempting to recant.

  4. Orac wrote:
    'no doubt he will be diminished--perhaps fatally so, as far as being a leader in the Holocaust denial movement goes--in the eyes of his admirers. After all, for his "I repent" gambit to have a chance of working, Irving is going to be forced to state in unequivocal terms in open court that homicidal gas chambers did exist in Nazi death camps. Such an admission won't endear him to the hard core neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers'.

    I hope Orac is right. I have this vision of Irving getting off scot-free then once safely home in Britain using his experience as proof of the "worldwide conspiracy" so beloved of his ilk.

  5. How fortunate for Irving that his historical research has turned up the facts of the matter ten years prior to their being useful for his defense, though it is a pity his hectic schedule didn't allow him to mention this turnaround once in the past decade. Why, a man less prone to self correction; a man less honest than Irving, would be in some jolly hot water now.


    A huge part of me would love to see him forced to squirm and make his current stance absolutely clear. That being said I agree with your sentiment about criminalising Holocaust denial being a disturbing breach of freedom of speech. It's just that, well, it couldn't happen to nicer folk.

    -The Rev. Schmitt.


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