Archive/File: people/i/irving.david/press/observer.020224 Last-Modified: 2002/02/25 The Observer Guardian Unlimited http://www.observer.co.uk/review/story/0,6903,655883,00.html Memories are made of this David Irving lost the libel trial that saw him branded a racist. But, as the winners take him back to court to claim their due, Irving seems to have forgotten his defeat. It wouldn't be the first time his memory has been shown to be selective... Tim Adams Sunday February 24, 2002 The Observer On Valentine's Day David Irving offered his no doubt lonely and troubled supporters a little love story. Like all the best love stories, it seems to have been conceived when the whole wide world was fast asleep. Irving posted the tale on his website, a distinctly odd chatroom in which, typically, he converses entirely with his private obsessions, the unappealing voices in his head. He had, he suggested, the previous night, been at work until 2.30am, 'as usual', pausing only at two 'to pray quietly for the souls of the hundred thousand [sic] innocents we British burned alive at this moment in Dresden, 57 years ago', when he heard the news that Adolf Hitler's last private secretary, Traudl Junge, had died. The fact of the secretary's demise seems to have set off in Irving a sense of wistful romance. In particular, it triggered a memory of an encounter with another of the Führer's doting assistants, Christa Schröder, whom Irving met in the early Seventies, while researching his book, Hitler's War. His reminiscence, relayed with a bodice-ripper's sense of titillation and suspense, relates how Schröder once took him back to her apartment in Munich and allowed him to peep behind a curtain 'which she opened only for a few privileged friends'. Behind it hung her little gallery of photos and relics of her beloved Führer. Buoyed by this intimate recollection, Irving goes on to recall for his online audience how Schröder told him that once, while in hospital, 'A.H.' had brought her flowers: '[at this] a smile of half-remembered pleasures flickered across her face, and she added with a wistful chuckle, "He said, 'People are going to think I am visiting a secret lover!'".' Irving can't conceal his vicarious delight in this unconsummated passion, 'which remained a crush, at room's length, no more'. There is a payoff, too. Toward the end of her life, Schröder produced, Irving claims, a stack of 20 or 30 yellowed postcards from behind her secret curtain: 'From his bunker, Hitler told Christa to go through his private papers and destroy everything,' he writes. 'She had salvaged these postcards, sketches by A.H., as mementos: there was Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp, sketched by Adolf Hitler, and a Wandering Jew; a vast suspension bridge he was planning to build after the war... and a deft pencil self-portrait...' For some reason, Schröder wanted Irving to have one of the cards and 'of course' he chose the self-portrait. She wondered if she should sign it to authenticate it, but Irving, never much of a stickler for authenticity, replied, apparently, 'that she knew who drew it, and so did I, and that was good enough'. Hitler's childlike sketch of himself, in shaky profile, is thus reproduced on the website, along with a final footnote to the story. 'Later,' Irving adds, 'Christa must have regretted her kindness, and I was told she had remarked that she could have sold the postcard to pay for an expensive operation that she needed. I gave the person who conveyed this message to me an envelope with cash for Christa (in those days, before the enemy onslaught on Real History began, I was comfortably able to make such donations).' For those familiar with his work, or who followed the libel trial he brought against Penguin Books and the American academic Deborah Lipstadt at the High Court, this is all a classic piece of Irving propaganda. It mixes a sense of intimacy with the thrill of discovery; it is full of provocative detail that is impossible to verify - Hitler doodling a 'Wandering Jew'? - but which is designed to humanise the dictator in the minds of readers (and, as such, is part of Irving's somewhat thankless lifelong project). The final acceptance of the postcard is classic Irving, too, (like the Oi! boys with their swastikas, he revels in Nazi memorabilia, treasures these little love tokens); and, pointedly, it ends by planting in his reader's mind an example both of his 'benevolence' and his outrageous sense of himself as a victim. (Elsewhere on his curiously lavish site - all pop-up windows and Adobe Acrobats - Irving makes this subliminal plea for hard cash to his sad band of international devotees more explicit, offering credit card hotlines and PO Box numbers, and promising that bank statements will record their donation to his lifestyle simply as 'World War Two Books'.) It is all, in other words, very much business as usual. There was a time when David Irving used to content himself with denying the Final Solution in general and Hitler's knowledge of it in particular. (He then went to court to argue that he was in denial that he was in denial.) But these days his selective memory also seems to extend to the recent history of his judicial humiliation. It does not seem to have registered with him that after his three-month libel suit, in which he claimed that Penguin and Lipstadt had defamed him by calling him a 'disreputable' historian, he was told by Justice Gray that he had been proved 'an active Holocaust denier', that he is 'anti-Semitic' and 'racist', and that 'he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism'. At the time of this verdict, a series of cartoons appeared in newspapers picturing Irving denying that the trial, and its damning verdict, had ever actually occurred. These caricatures were, it seems, prescient. Despite having lost leave to appeal against the Penguin/Lipstadt verdict last summer, and though he still owes in the region of £2 million costs, of which, nearly two years on, not a penny has been paid, Irving insists on telling his acolytes and donors that the action against the publisher is 'ongoing'. It is one of half-a-dozen cases that Irving claims still to be involved in, and that he apparently requires funds to fight. On 5 March, Penguin will press a bankruptcy claim on him, in an attempt to recover at least a long overdue 'interim payment' of £125,000. They despair a little of ever seeing the balance. Worse, despite his defeat, Irving continues to behave as if he still has a reputation to defend, and unfortunately, this idea seems infectious. In the years before the Penguin trial, Irving attempted to bully and intimidate publishers and newspapers from criticising his work by threatening pre-emptive legal action. Even after being destroyed in court he has continued in this practice, and publishers continue to be cowed, presumably in the knowledge that even if they won a court battle with Irving, they would still, given his record of non-payment, have to foot the bill. The key defence witness in the Penguin trial, Richard J. Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge, spent nearly three years tracking down Irving's original sources, to prove his concerted and deliberate efforts to pervert the historical record and to bend fact to his own political ends. This paperchase, which led Evans around the libraries and research institutes of Europe, was collated in a 750-page dossier, the basis of the defence against Irving: a catalogue of instances of his deliberate mistranslation and selective quotation that proved beyond any doubt the assertion that Irving's historical method was directed, as his detractors claimed, by his obsessive mission to 'rehabilitate' Hitler. In the weeks after the trial, Evans turned this dossier, and his astute reflections on the case and its implications, into a compelling book, Lying About Hitler, one of the most exhaustive and important pieces of scholarly investigation in modern times. The book immediately found a publisher in America, won dazzling reviews and sold 10,000 hardback copies. Nearly two years on, however, it remains unpublished in Britain, and, though it can be ordered from Amazon, Irving continues to use the anomalies of the British libel laws - which place the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the litigant - to keep it from bookshops. Evans's manuscript was first bought by Heinemann, part of the Random House conglomerate, who despite describing it in their blurb as 'a major contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust', opted to pulp it, apparently after receiving threats of writs from the already discredited Irving. Other publishers - with the notable exception of Granta Books, who were happy to accept the negligible risk but could not reach an agreement with Evans for other books - have refused to touch it, even though lawyers are offering to defend the book pro bono, and despite the fact it contains little that was not in the High Court judgment. Evans's experience was not unique. In terms similar to those Jeffrey Archer or Robert Maxwell were apt to use, Irving also wrote to potential publishers of the American academic John Lukacs's book The Hitler of History, which contained a devastating attack on his methods, telling them: 'A major British Sunday newspaper [the Sunday Times ] was [once] obliged to pay me very substantial damages for similar libels... I put you, and through your agency any such publisher, herewith on notice that I shall immediately commence libel proceedings against any publisher who is foolish enough to repeat these libels within the jurisdiction of our courts.' In January 2001, nine months after Irving was demolished in one such court, Weidenfeld & Nicolson published Lukacs's book - but not without significant emendations to the Irving section. Irving's website still suggests that a writ is pending. At the time of Justice Gray's ruling, solicitor Anthony Julius, who had run Penguin's case, claimed the verdict was 'a sparkling vindication of the libel laws' and one which 'softens one's attitude to the courts and the litigation process... everything looks rosy'. While Julius was crowing, however, Irving, as Evans points out in his book, was celebrating what he saw as a PR victory, too. In the week after the trial, he was listing the international media who wanted to interview him - 'BBC Radio 3... Italian Radio... Los Angeles radio...Radio Tehran... how very satisfying it has all been' - and claiming 'I have managed to win' because 'two days after the judgment, name recognition becomes enormous, and gradually the plus or minus in front of the name fades'. As it stands, with the genuine victors in this case, Penguin, still #2 million out of pocket in legal fees, and Evans without a publisher prepared to touch his inspired and watertight research, it would be hard to dispute Irving's own verdict. Particularly as he continues to divide his time between his country house and his Mayfair flat, when the donations keep coming in for his self-inflicted 'freedom fight', and while he keeps on peddling his prejudices to all those disturbed enough to listen. And, of course, in Irving's mind, he is not finished yet. The pattern of his writs , increasingly desperate over his career, is that he has always sought to silence those who he believes can damage him most. In this sense, the Lipstadt suit was a prelude to an assault on his most long-standing adversary, the indefatigable journalist Gitta Sereny, now 76, who he is suing along with The Observer, where her article about him and others with a 'kind of obsession for the Third Reich' appeared in 1996. In advance of the Penguin/Lipstadt case coming to court, The Observer sought, with Sereny, to fight Irving's claims that the article had libelled him. To date, in preparing an initial defence for this case, which covers much of the same ground as the Penguin trial - how Irving has deliberately falsified historical record - this newspaper has had to spend #800,000 in legal fees. To apply to have the case struck off, because the allegations have already been heard and proven, would, with the prospect of a counter appeal by Irving, cost a further #50,000. In theory, The Observer might, if this application was successful, claim costs against Irving, (who, by defending himself, incurs none), but it would have to stand in line with Penguin and others, with little hope of receiving a penny. Sereny, speaking from Vienna, believes that for Irving to continue to pursue the case would 'of course be a monumental waste of everyone's, particularly the court's, time and money', but she is aware that this has not stopped him in the past, and that his animosity towards her runs deep. In part, this animosity seems to be a result of her gender. It is no coincidence that the two major suits Irving has brought have both been against women, who he believes, have been put on earth to bear men's children: 'They haven't got the capacity to produce something creative themselves...' He reserves a particular loathing for Sereny, however, because he knows she beats him at his own game. Like him (and, as he says, 'like Tacitus, like Thucydides, and like Pliny'), Sereny is not a professional historian, in that she does not have a history degree and is not attached to a university. For a long time, Irving used his streetwise independence to dazzle career academics with the arcane quality of his research. He could unearth the unlikeliest documents to support his claims. Even Sereny was initially impressed by his methods - 'He's so good at cross-searching,' she once observed. 'Take the Kommissarbefehl [the order to kill captured Soviet party cadres]. He would go in 12 different directions; he would check through what everyone was doing on the day it was issued, on who Hitler saw or phoned that day and where.' Even so, she was deeply suspicious of his findings and she had the skill and courage to deconstruct them. The pair's direct history goes back to 1977, when Sereny took it upon herself to examine the sources of Hitler's War. In doing so, she tracked down the document that up till then perhaps most embarrassed Irving. In support of his contention that Hitler knew nothing of the Final Solution, Irving had dwelt on a diary note he had discovered written by Ribbentrop in his prison cell about Hitler. The note read: 'How things came to the destruction of the Jews I just don't know, but that he ordered it I refuse to believe, because such an act would be wholly incompatible with the picture I always had of him.' The quotation seemed a direct support of Irving's fiction of Hitler's 'innocence'. However, when Sereny dug through the obscure archive and found the original source, she discovered that Ribbentrop went on to write that: 'On the other hand, judging from Hitler's Last Will, one must suppose that he at least knew about it, if, in his fanaticism against the Jews, he didn't also order it.' Irving said he did not use this caveat because he 'didn't want to confuse the reader' but such revelations by Sereny began the process of dismantling Irving's reputation, which finally folded for good at the Penguin trial. Irving, ever attempting to make his fanaticism seem urbane, would like you to believe that his continued antipathy to Sereny is simply a matter of authorial rivalry: 'I often get bigger notices than her. I end up getting better sources than she does,' he suggested in 1997. In fact, his loathing is far more visceral. While Sereny is often generous to Irving's intelligence - 'He does wonderful research and has a talent for writing. The tragedy is that he has misused these talents' - Irving, when cornered, like all bullies, resorts to vicious personal attacks. He refers to Sereny in letters as 'that shrivelled prune' or 'that shrivelled Nazi hunter' (the latter, in his grotesque world, a pejorative). When he interviewed Irving on Radio 4, the psychologist Oliver James suggested Irving's hatreds and arrogance derived from the fact that he was 'actually very short of self-esteem,' and suffered great feelings of 'inferiority' which made him 'far more anxious about who [he was] and far more in need of kicking everyone and trying to make a big fuss and being the centre of attention than [he] actually realised'. In a profile for the New Yorker, Ian Buruma argued that Irving's insecurity was rooted in class, and 'a very English sense of feeling excluded'. D.D. Guttenplan's wonderful book The Holocaust on Trial traces this sense of betrayal back to Irving's dull childhood in Ongar, Essex, where he grew up in thrall to the Boy's Own exploits of his family in the colonies: 'A maternal uncle was in the Bengal Lancers. A great-great-uncle on his father's side followed Livingstone to Africa... where he was supposedly eaten by his bearer.' More telling, perhaps, was the story of Irving's father, whose ship, HMS Edinburgh, was torpedoed in the war. He survived, but he did not return home to his wife and young son, and Irving subsequently saw him only twice more. He was, instead, set adrift at a minor public school where he was beaten for his attention-seeking. ('It never,' he claims, somewhat contentiously, on his website, when describing a bizarre trip this year to his alma mater to discuss Goebbels with the senior boys, 'did me any harm.') It might not take too much in the way of amateur psychology to see how Irving's hurt at his absent father might have become so obliquely directed at the global events which took him away. Certainly it made him a sort of second-hand adventurer, forever playing up his schoolboy exploits behind enemy lines. What no doubt unnerves him about Sereny is that she had no need for these kinds of self-publicising thrills. While Irving was still playing pranks - unfurling a hammer and sickle over the main entrance, asking for Mein Kampf as a prize on speech day - at his stifling suburban school (also the alma mater of Noel Edmonds, and of Jack Straw), Sereny, a Hungarian national, was receiving an education of a far more telling kind. When war broke out, she was a teenager studying in Paris; she volunteered as an auxiliary nurse during the Occupation, working with a Catholic charity. In 1945, she joined the United Nations Relief administration, to work as a child welfare officer in camps for displaced persons in southern Germany. There, she cared for children liberated from Dachau, and had the task of tracing 'racially valuable' children kidnapped from Polish families and given to childless German ones. Her experiences of this horror never left her and informed every sentence of her extraordinary and unflinching investigations into the psychology of the Nazis: in particular her two masterpieces, Into That Darkness, a portrait of Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, and her life of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect. Sereny's first-hand experiences of the atrocities provided her, too, with the moral certainty that Irving has long sought to undermine. 'We use the same sources,' she said at the time of Irving's original writ. 'I know many of the same people as he does who were of Hitler's circle. That is scary for him. He says we jostle at the same trough. The difference is that he loves that trough, and I don't... There is, I think, [for him] despair in all of this.' In a famous passage from The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi remembered the words of a guard at Auschwitz: 'Even if someone were to survive, the world would not believe him. re will be perhaps suspicions, discussions, research by historians, but there will be no certainties, because we will destroy the evidence together with you.' The crucial importance of the work of Evans, Sereny and Lipstadt has been to try eliminate those 'suspicions and discussions' that Irving, as the most visible Holocaust denier, has been so keen to propagate. In trying to cast doubt on the biggest certainties of the Final Solution - that it was a wilful, industrial programme of genocide, dictated by Hitler; that around six million died; that there were working gas chambers at Auschwitz - Irving had apparently set out to to make everything else seem open to question, and Hitler to appear like 'an ordinary walking, talking human,' only 'as evil as Churchill, as evil as Roosevelt, as evil as Truman'. In this enterprise, Irving, who, in his sick after-dinner tone, is still apt to dismiss witnesses such as the late Primo Levi as 'members of the Association of Spurious Survivors of the Holocaust and Other Liars (Assholes)', had fashionable academic theory on his side. In dissecting the minute documentation of the Holocaust - days of the Penguin trial were spent discussing the precise phrasing of a translation - Irving sought to present history and, in particular, this most crucial history, as a text like any other, freely open to interpretation, and, as the Auschwitz guard suggested, lacking 'certainty'. It was as if, recalled Evans, he believed he was 'writing a book review'. One of the triumphs of Evans's book - and Sereny's lifelong endeavour - lies in the stubborn belief that there are such things as verifiable historical truths. Certainties that go beyond the linguistic relativities suggested by poststructuralists (and pressed into service by Irving). Sereny's Observer article concerned itself with a kind of obsession: 'The curious and, in some cases, I think, sad passion about Hitler and his Third Reich which has ruled and continues to rule the lives of a considerable number of people who write or inspire books.' This kind of passion, of course, will not go away or be easily defeated. Still, one of the saddest ironies of the outcome of the Penguin case is that Britain's libel laws seem, in effect, not only to favour poststructuralists - Evans's book still, in this country at least, 'does not exist' - but also to help further the cause of those, like Irving, who can't bear to hear the truth about themselves.
Site Map ·
What's New? ·
Home · Site Map · What's New? · Search Nizkor