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Editorial: The Holocaust in court

A revisionist historian sues his critics for libel

Thursday, February 24, 2000

In recent years the Holocaust has embedded itself more deeply into the
world's consciousness. Yet atop the mountain of factual material that
confirms Nazi Germany's inhumanity to man still stand a few individuals who
deny that the Holocaust ever took place or seek to equate it with the
horrors that befall civilians in any war.

In London this winter, one of the less disreputable of the disbelievers is
having his own version of truth tested. British historian David Irving is in
court, suing Penguin Books and professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory
University for libel for accusing him of denying the Holocaust. The
conventional and almost universally accepted view was that Germany
systematically plotted the destruction of Jews, especially as evidenced by a
decision reached at a conference in July 1942.

Mr. Irving says the mass extermination was not official policy and that
Hitler knew nothing about it until October 1943. Forget the huge
extermination camps; forget the mass destruction of Jews; Mr. Irving doesn't
accept it or the use of gas chambers at Auschwitz (they were a post-war
tourist invention, he said). Hitler was a weak leader under whom all kinds
of bad things happened without his intervention.

To put it charitably, this is a minority view. Hundreds of historians blame
the power-mad Hitler as the man who orchestrated the Holocaust. The Nazi
leader allowed no dissent from his attempts at world supremacy and his
attempts to annihilate all races and groups whom he viewed as anathema.

And yet, Mr. Irving is about the best of those who challenge conventional
World War II history. A biography he wrote of Josef Goebbels has drawn
praise from respectable historians. Where Mr. Irving finds his audience is
among the small cadre of right-wing scholars and neo-Nazi followers. Because
Hitler was adept at covering up some of his plans, it creates a loophole
through which men like Mr. Irving can crawl.

Win or lose, Mr. Irving has found a forum for himself in a London
courthouse. It can only be hoped that, as the mountains of documents and
truth pile up, his view of World War II history will look like a molehill by



Copyright 2000 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited
The Herald (Glasgow)
February 24, 2000

Faustian pacts without end

BY:  Frank Mclynn

THE NAZI TERROR: Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans

AS THE current David Irving case shows, the Holocaust remains a battlefield
for historians. At the extreme ends of the spectrum are the Holocaust
deniers and those such as Daniel Goldhagen who posit an entire nation of
frenzied anti -Semitic Germans. Other related issues debated by historians
include: was Nazi Germany a totalitarian state in the same way Stalin's
Russia was?; and was the decision to exterminate the Jews a decision taken
late in his career by Hitler, as seems most plausible, or was it a design he
had been nurturing a full 15 years before he came to power? David Irving, of
course, denies that Hitler knew about the Final Solution at all and claims
it was carried out by a cabal headed by Himmler and Heydrich.

Eric Johnson's scholarly study - a "microhistory" based on Gestapo papers,
denazification reports, and police records in the Rhineland areas of
Cologne, Krefled, and Bergheim - sheds important light on these debates. To
begin with, he questions the model of Nazi Germany as a "totalitarian"
state, a smoothly functioning monument to Teutonic efficiency, at whose
centre was an omnipotent, omniscient, and ubiquitous Gestapo. Contrary to
myth, Hitler did not run a tight ship and his grip on German society was
more tenuous than in the legend of totalitarianism. The Nazi leadership was
divided, both over goals and issues of personal empire-building, and the
German population was not monolithic, with many sectors always jaundiced
about Hitler and his acolytes. Most Germans were not positively anti-Semitic
but simply indifferent to the fate of the Jews, and the Gestapo had less
manpower and fewer resources, agents and spies than was previously thought.

Again, contrary to myth, Nazi "totalitarianism" did not destroy the
judiciary. To be sure, in Roland Freisler's ''People's Court" in Berlin the
accused was virtually assured of a death sentence, but in the rest of the
system law courts acted in the lenient, arbitrary, and often irrational
manner that so infuriates citizens of the UK in year 2000. Overwhelmingly,
ordinary people found ways to make personal Faustian pacts with the Nazis:
they looked the other way or schemed to turn the system to their advantage,
financially or otherwise. Meanwhile, the Gestapo targeted certain groups -
Jews, Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the physically and
mentally handicapped - and left ordinary Germans well alone, even when they
were known to be laughing at the Fuhrer or listening to the forbidden BBC.

Johnson argues that we have gone wrong in thinking of a monolithic Gestapo.
The top brass were committed Nazis, but the middle echelons of the secret
police were largely "jobsworth" policemen or pen pushers in the local
office. The Gestapo may have been more like an ordinary police force than we
care to admit, and in this context Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" has
extra force. Denouncing fellow Germans to the secret police to settle
personal scores did not work; the Gestapo were wise to that tactic. Even for
such crimes as personal abuse of the Fuhrer, the penalty was mild, provided
the accused was a non-Jewish German.

But Johnson is insistent that millions of ordinary Germans did know about
the Holocaust despite their post-war denials. He dissents strongly from
Goldhagen, however, in denying that the average Fritz and Willi were
Jew-haters. Even in the case of those who took part in the Final Solution
and thus could be tagged as "Hitler's willing executioners", the motives
were rarely anti-Semitism but more often cowardice, apathy, and a slavish
obedience to authority. Johnson, it seems to me, effectively torpedoes the
stance of such academics as Goldhagen and Dawidowicz by demonstrating that
the Final Solution was a late decision by Hitler. He argues convincingly
that if the entire German people really was anti-Semitic, the Jews would
have left in droves in the 1930s when it was still Nazi policy to force them
to emigrate. It was precisely because anti-Semitism did not loom large among
ordinary Germans, as opposed to the Nazis, that the Jews foolishly (though
understandably) thought it was safe to stay on.

Johnson reveals the many ways the Nazi leadership had to tread carefully in
their attempts to keep the truth of genocide from the German people, the
many ideological sacrifices they had to make, the many shoddy compromises
and turnings of blind eyes by the local Gestapo. His nuanced picture is
highly persuasive, and his revisionism is such that at times he raises the
question whether Nazi Germany even was a police state in the true sense.
This is a brilliant examination of an evil empire, all the more timely as
Irving attempts to prove the absurd in his libel suit against the American
academic Deborah Lipstadt.


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