== TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL -- OP ED 02.05.00 FOCUS He haunts us still By equating the likes of Joerg Haider with Adolf Hitler, we devalue the currency of evil, says Harper's publisher John MacArthur John MacArthur Toronto Globe & Mail http://www.globeandmail.com/services/site/index.html 02/05/2000 The Globe and Mail I've always considered libel suits to be a refuge for cowards, bullies and scoundrels and, so far, the "Holocaust denial" trial under way in London, instigated by David Irving, the "revisionist" historian of Nazi Germany, has done nothing to change my opinion. Mr. Irving belongs in the subcategory of publicity seeking scoundrels; his crocodile tears about the supposed offence given by U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt (she called him "one of the most dangerous spokesman for Holocaust denial") obscure his great talent for creating sensation and selling books. I'm not qualified to judge Mr. Irving's extensive research on the Third Reich -- he has, it must be said, his defenders among mainstream academics -- but the very idea of suing somebody for criticizing your writing or your speeches strikes me as intellectually fraudulent. If Mr. Irving is so sure of his ground, why can't he win his argument with Ms. Lipstadt in ordinary public debate, instead of tying up the British law courts for months and wasting a great deal of money? Why can't vindication in the court of public opinion restore both besmirched honour and lost book sales, if that is what Mr. Irving seeks? We can guess that, besides free publicity, Mr. Irving would like to extract some money from Prof. Lipstadt , but his case seems so weak that it's hard to believe he expects a favourable ruling. According to D. D. Guttenplan's excellent article in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Mr. Irving "cheerfully admits to having said 'There were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz' and 'the structures which you can now see as a tourist at Auschwitz were erected by the authorities in Poland after World War Two' and are 'a fake.' " At best, this is the voice of a crank and political provocateur, at worst that of a Nazi propagandist. What it's not is the voice of a rational man with a good legal case. A Freudian psychoanalyst might find something in the fact that Mr. Irving's Royal Navy officer father went off to fight the Nazis in the Second World War, survived the sinking of his ship, but then decided to abandon his family. Childhood rage against an absent father could have turned Mr. Irving toward twisted ends, including, I suspect, the search for substitute patriarchs inside the German Fatherland. Of course, there's more involved here than can be found in the voluminous legal briefs now before Judge Charles Gray, or in Mr. Irving's tangled psyche. Mr. Irving's, shall we say, skepticism about Hitler's campaign to exterminate the Jews does force us to consider some ugly aspects of contemporary politics, the Nazi legacy and the differing libel laws in the English-speaking world. Among other things, it reminds us that, in the United States, where being a right-wing crank or crypto-Nazi can lead to elective office or your own AM radio talk show, Mr. Irving's lawsuit wouldn't survive the first defence motion to dismiss. I prefer the U.S. system of special protection for public figures and the press to the stricter British and Canadian libel laws precisely because the great difficulty of winning a libel suit deters thugs, especially the well-known rich ones or ones backed by rich people, from stifling criticism. Besides, there is something fundamentally absurd about a dignified British jurist in a white wig seriously entertaining Mr. Irving's "arguments," which, in true crank fashion, are being made personally by the plaintiff rather than a lawyer. But the greater stakes in the Irving trial concern not legalities, but the way in which the Holocaust is exploited for present-day political purposes. This week, in just a day's worth of newspapers, I found a remarkable number of stories about Nazis: One told of a memorial dedicated to the 4,000 Jews massacred by the Waffen SS on the beach at Yantarny, Russia, a story hidden until recently by the inane postwar realpolitik of the Soviet Union in which Jews killed by the Nazis were reclassified as Soviet resistance fighters. Another concerned European fears about the rising fortunes of Austria's Joerg Haider, the far-right Freedom Party leader who once reassured a group of Austrian war veterans, including officers of the Waffen SS, that "our soliders were not crminals; at most they were victims." Yet another summarized an official Syrian newspaper's editorial calling the Holocaust a myth; and, finally, one reported on a British Catholic cardinal's denial that he really meant to compare political lobbying by British homosexuals to the German Blitz of 1940. The Nazi legacy is everywhere, taunting and tempting the world with its horror, enticing the vilainous among us to reduce its breadth or eliminate it altogether. Paradoxically, in challenging Prof. Lipstadt to a legal duel over her scholar's interpretation of his writing, Mr. Irving has also forced a thorough re-examination of his own scholarship, until now given at most grudging respect. The key defence document has been produced by eminent British historian Richard Evans, whose lengthy analysis of Mr. Irving's work declares that he "was not prepared for the sheer depths of duplicity which I encountered in Irving's treatment of the historical sources, nor for the way in which this dishonesty permeated his entire written and spoken output." This is bracing stuff that couldn't have been accomplished outside of the trial discovery process that granted Prof. Evans access to Mr. Irving's private diaries, letters and primary historical documents obtained from friendly Nazis after the war. I doubt, however, than even a complete legal repudiation of Mr. Irving will do much to reduce the powerful impulse to reject the unique nature of the Holocaust. Holocaust denial comes in many forms, the most insidious being the current campaign by Communist-obsessed historians to equate the mass, often random political murders of Stalin to the Nazis' systematic and wholly calculated racial murder of the Jews. If Stalin can be proved to be just as bad as Hitler, and Stalin was our military ally, then maybe Hitler wasn't quite so awful. If Hitler the staunch anti-Communist and Stalin-hater wasn't so awful, then maybe McCarthyism and U.S. atrocities in Vietnam can be excused as mere idealistic excess. (Vietnam revisionism is all the rage in the United States these days -- just a losing battle in an overall victorious campaign against the Evil Empire.) Besides Stalin's victims, the Holocaust equivalency movement lobbies for every well-known group that suffered in the past century: Armenians, the Chinese of Nanking, homosexuals, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Cambodians, Tutsis and Kosovo Albanians. While one set of well-meaning opportunists searches for victims equivalent to the Jews, another not-so-well-meaning one looks for tyrants to match Hitler. Thus are the preposterous comparisons made between the facist leader of highly advanced Germany, who very literally set the world on fire, and relatively small-time bad guys such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic (with Mr. Haider soon to be inducted into the ranks of these new "Hitlers"). Besides justifying military intervention to defend "human rights," such propaganda serves to undercut the enormity of the Holocaust while lightening the guilt of self-righteous nations such as my own that did nothing to prevent it when they had the chance early on. And what's so different about Hitler's war against the Jews? For the Jews caught in the Nazi web, there was no escape, no faking identities, no deferment, no switching sides, no accidental mercy. In the final analysis, however, it is the Auschwitz gas chambers and crematoria that set the Holocaust apart and it is the existence of these gas chambers that David Irving seeks to erase. As the great Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg told D. D. Guttenplan: "People are shot or hacked to death in other countries, even after World War Two -- Rwanda, for example. You built the gas chamber with a view to killing a mass of people. Once you have a gas chamber, you have a vision, and the vision is total annihilation. In a gas chamber you don't see the victim." John R. MacArthur is the publisher of Harper's Magazine. TORONT0 GLOBE & MAIL Broadcast Week ON THE FRONT Remembrance Five Hungarian Jews revisit the Holocaust in The Last Days Michael Posner http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ 02/05/2000 The Globe and Mail The broadcast of The Last Days, the Academy-Award winning documentary of the Nazi liquidation of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War, could hardly come at a more opportune moment. Airing Sunday night on CBC Newsworld's The Passionate Eye (7 p.m.), this powerful film chronicles the war-time nightmare of five Hungarians who managed to survive the infernos of Auschwitz and the rain of bombs that fell on Budapest. And its arrival is especially timely because of the libel suit, now being tried in London, brought by Holocaust revisionist David Irving against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin, publisher of her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust, The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Irving has made many absurd and fraudulent claims about what happened during the war, none, perhaps, more reckless than his statement that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz." The Last Days, which bears the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg as executive producer and is the third film produced by The Shoah Visual History Foundation, also comes in the wake of Mr. Death, Errol Morris's recently released documentary film on Fred Leuchter Jr.; the American Holocaust denier once testified at a trial of the infamous Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel that there were no crematoria at Auschwitz and that the Final Solution and the death of six million Jews was a myth. If nothing else, a screening of The Last Days should provide convincing historical instruction for all but the willfully or ideologically blind. With a minimum measure of sentimentality, director James Moll adroitly interweaves the major events of the Second World War and the stories of five Hungarian survivors, now American citizens, including Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos. Like other Jewish communities of Europe before them, Hungary's Jews had watched the Nazi prosecution of the war with an unjustified confidence. After all, weren't they fully integrated into Hungarian society? Did they not consider themselves as much Hungarians as Jews? Surely, this mad war would soon end, the race laws would be abrogated, and everything would return to normal. Even when refugees or escapees arrived with stories of concentration camps and ovens, of children physically ripped apart by the Gestapo, they listened -- but disbelieved. And then, in March 1944, with alarming speed and efficiency, the Germans seized control of Hungary and began the transfer of Hungarian Jewry to the death camps of Poland. The general outline of these stories is not new, but they are told here with a simple eloquence and an affecting sharpness of detail: the march to the train station, past the anti-Semitic jeers of their former gentile friends and neighbours; the long train ride to Poland in cattle cars crammed top to bottom with frightened humanity and a single, inadequate pail for waste; and the moment of judgment on arrival at Auschwitz, where the flick of a Nazi doctor's hand, right or left, determined life or instant death in the gas chambers. Lantos, then a youth of 16, managed to avoid transfer and spent the final months of the war either in labour camps or in one of several diplomatic safe houses created by Swedish envoy Raoul Wallenberg. The others were forced to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the camps -- starvation diets, forced marches, endless roll calls in freezing temperatures, summary executions, epidemics of typhoid and lice, and sadistic medical experiments. One woman clung tenaciously to a handful of family diamonds, hiding them from the omnipresent guards by repeatedly swallowing and recovering them from her own excrement. Another was saved from the gas chambers because, on the day she arrived there, the crematoria malfunctioned. In part, it is clear that Moll intends to use The Last Days to rebut the Holocaust deniers. Thus, we hear as well from a member of the sonderkommando, those Jews assigned to remove bodies from the gas chambers and take them to the crematoria -- a job that kept them alive but made them objects of contempt in the eyes of their fellow Jews. We hear from Dr. Hans Munch, a former Nazi doctor who conducted experiments at Auschwitz; he's a curious figure, acknowledging the facts but never expressing even a hint of apology or remorse. Against the background of harrowing, archival footage, we hear the vivid testimony of three U.S. Army officers who helped liberate Dachau -- their shock at coming upon the shrunken-eyed skeletons and the heaps of unburied bodies. And in the company of their children and grandchildren, we travel with the survivors on their emotional journeys back to the camps and to their home towns and villages. The composer Hans Zimmer has written a score for the film that is a model of melodic restraint, subtle and muted. Most of the time, director Moll just lets the camera roll and gives us the unadorned image -- the image of a world beyond imagining, whose shadows cover us still. Michael Posner is an arts reporter for The Globe and Mail. Illustration TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL The accidental crusader Errol Morris is only trying to craft dazzling filmic essays -- but somehow his documentaries keep making legal history. His latest, for instance, has dealt a severe blow to Holocaust deniers. DOUG SAUNDERS The Globe and Mail Saturday, February 5, 2000 http://www.globeandmail.com/gam/Arts/20000205/SAERRO.html A courtroom is the last place you'd expect to see an Errol Morris movie. He is a director who populates his feature-length documentaries with eccentric, seemingly insignificant people, figures he uses to make oblique, witty, sometimes profound reflections on the nature of being, the limits of truth and the place of humans in the world. His is the sphere of funhouse mirrors and complex ideas, not of proof and refutation. In fact, his movies are not so much documentaries, a term he hates, as filmic essays. In the past 20 years, he has reinvented the non-fiction film and created an entirely new genre of cinema. Works like Gates of Heaven (1978) and The Thin Blue Line (1988) are often cited among the most influential films of our age. Yet his films keep showing up on the witness stand. Twelve years ago, it was The Thin Blue Line, which used Texas police to examine the way people shape truths to fit their needs. As it happened, the film also proved beyond a doubt that a teenager could not have committed a murder for which he was serving time. The case was reopened, and Morris's film freed the young man. Now we have Exhibit B, a film titled Mr. Death, making its mark in a British courtroom this week (in a case whose tendrils extend from Germany to Toronto), and appearing in a theatre near you on Friday. It is familiar Morris terrain: a strange middle-aged American suburbanite named Fred Leuchter, who drinks 40 cups of coffee a day and is prone to building things in his basement, becomes a leading expert on the design of execution machines -- and, then, somehow, a hero of the Holocaust-denial movement. "Well, here's the story I meant to tell," Morris says in his insistent New York twang, sitting in his office in Cambridge, Mass. Constantly shifting his position nervously, he sculpts the story in the air with his hands. "At the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, the moratorium on capital punishment comes to an end, and executions become more and more frequent. And Fred enters this milieu, and defines a job for himself that no one saw worth defining before. He says, A-ha, I'll become the Maytag man from Hell!" "Maytag man from Hell" could be the title of the movie's first half -- a laugh-evoking weirdo who fixes your gas chambers, electric chairs and gallows, and reassures you that they're not causing undue discomfort in their terminal tasks. Fred is happy, in demand across the U.S., and oblivious to any of his job's larger implications. And then he finds a new client, a very bad client indeed. In the mid-eighties, the notorious Toronto neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, facing a hate-crimes charge in the Ontario court, hires Leuchter to apply his talents to a new task: He is to travel to Auschwitz and "prove" that the German government couldn't have systematically executed six million Jews. Leuchter, ever the handyman, complies, and his report on the construction of the gas chambers immediately becomes the central text in the Holocaust-denial canon. Here we have the tale of an American Eichmann, sort of. "The difference," Morris says a bit irritably, waving away any suggestion that he might be parroting Hannah Arendt, "is that this isn't a guy who's indifferent or disconnected. Think of him as Tristan and the electric chair as Isolde: This is a love affair, an obsession." And that was the tale he wanted to tell, an Errol Morris tale about the potential for deeply destructive moral opacity in everyday enthusiasms. "What I do is to just let people expose their own fundamental weirdness, and if you give them enough time they'll reveal what insane things they really believe -- things that a lot of us believe. "Fred Leuchter, once you listen to him, is this quintessentially American entrepreneur: Find a need and fill it. But his moral blindness, the moral vacancy, I would not say is American. I'd say it's universal." Yet the film also ended up containing expert evidence, amounting to irrefutable scientific proof, that Leuchter's report on the gas chambers was incorrect. Mr. Death, a movie meant to be abstract and reflective, has ended up kicking a central leg from the rickety table of Holocaust denial just as its top-ranked practitioner, British historian David Irving, is appearing in court in a notorious British libel case. Irving has been defending himself by "proving" that the Holocaust was exaggerated; last week, he told the court that he would not be using the Leuchter report, which was to be a central argument, apparently because of the evidence presented in Mr. Death. Once again, it's Morris in the role of Perry Mason. By putting paid to this noxious document, Morris has won the applause of human-rights leaders and scholars, especially Ron Rosenbaum, author of the acclaimed history Explaining Hitler. But by bringing in outside testimony, Morris has also broken one of his own key rules. Right from his first film, 1978's Gates of Heaven, Morris has stuck to a rigorous set of principles: Don't move the camera or record the questions during interviews; don't show any people except the film's subjects; never have anyone say what the film is "about"; do not include voiceovers, narration or any form of "expert" explanation. It has been a winning formula. A Morris documentary can be a magical experience, in which you spend 90 minutes laughing and gaping at strange people spouting apparent banalities, and then leave the theatre contemplating something much more fundamental and heavy, if hard to express in words. This magic owes much to Morris's editing-room gifts. His better films have the contrapuntal structure of a baroque canon, building simple themes into complex patterns through repetition, overlapping and layering. It is not coincidental that Morris studied cello before earning his Master's degree in philosophy, or that his films feature scores by Philip Glass and other minimalist composers. In person, Morris could easily be mistaken for a character in an Errol Morris movie, a little guy with a furrowed brow and a caffeinated intensity. He dresses in rumpled work clothes and worn-out shoes, and has the look of someone who might forget to button his shirt because he's engrossed in his work, like a character for an R. Crumb cartoon, or perhaps like that other unstarched resident of Cambridge, legendary linguist and polemicist Noam Chomsky. It seems to be a look common to the obsessively creative, though the Morris obsession is with creating works of beautiful simplicity, rather than political force or expressive shock. He brings to his work the impossible obstinacy of a great filmmaker. Only Morris could have forced Werner Herzog (the German tyrant-director of Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God) to boil his boot in water, slice it up and devour it in front of a screening-room audience. Herzog had bet Gates of Heaven could never get made and distributed; he lost, and his humiliation was documented for posterity by fellow filmmaker Les Blank in a short called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Morris has that kind of effect on people. "He is one of the smartest people I've ever met, but I would never, ever work with him again," says screenwriter Howard Rodman, expressing a popular sentiment among those who have tried to collaborate with Morris. His is not a collective project. The finest example of pure Morris craft was 1997's Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, in which four men talking plainly about their unusual jobs are woven into a sublime essay on the nature of human existence. Initially, Leuchter was going to be part of that film, but it quickly became apparent that he did not fit. Not only that, but Leuchter's distasteful associations wound up forcing Morris to abandon his austere filmmaking regime. "I'd wanted to tell Fred Leuchter's story entirely through his eyes, so you'd only see his obsession and observe his moral universe," Morris says. He made the film that way, and then, at a Harvard student screening early last year, was horrified to find that audience members either considered Morris a Leuchter sympathizer, or were actually won over. "I couldn't leave the film the way it was, in good conscience, so I went out and found some experts to put in the film," he says. "It's not the movie I'd wanted to make, but I had no choice." He chose his experts well. In particular, he found a chemist who studied Leuchter's "research" -- he had crushed up bricks stolen from the Auschwitz gas chambers and had them analyzed for poison content -- and shown it to be utterly wrong. These authorities don't end up interrupting the film's flow too much, and actually provide a tonic to Leucher's disturbing lack of reflection or self-doubt. However, they have become the main subject of public interest in the film, until quite recently obscuring the larger and more significant question: Why make a movie about Leuchter at all? For many viewers, that is a key question, since the film seems to give this distasteful footnote of a man more publicity than he deserves. For Morris, the existence of such a question is an answer in itself. "It's very simple. Who is Fred Leuchter? Why is he doing this?" The Holocaust has long fascinated Morris, a Jew whose Polish mother lost relatives to the camps. "To me there is a mystery here. It's not the mystery of whether the Holocaust happened -- that's not a mystery -- the mystery is how it possibly could have happened. And by that I mean, what were the Nazis thinking? How did they envision this crime?" The answers, he feels, are to be found today in people like Leuchter. Not that Morris makes any connection between capital punishment and the Holocaust -- he has spent much of this year playing down such associations -- but he believes that it is intensely focused, technically capable but morally uncentred men such as Leuchter who are capable of grave acts. Which leaves us with one prickly point: The sense of similarity, in comportment and intensity, between Fred Leuchter and Errol Morris. Did Morris, with his impossibly steady movie-camera gaze, ever feel like the Maytag man from Hell? "I am unlike Fred in one sense, and one important sense, which is that I am not convinced of my infallibility," Morris says without pause, as if it's something he's contemplated before. "I have great self-doubts, and find myself often wondering about what I'm doing, and the moral implications of what I'm doing. That goes on endlessly." Leuchter, by contrast, has still not admitted to a shred of self-doubt -- even after losing his career, even after being thoroughly refuted, even after seeing this movie. In fact, he reportedly enjoyed it. ERROL MORRIS: A FILMOGRAPHY 2000. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. 1997. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. Intercut monologues and montages about four obsessive specialists -- a lion tamer, a robot builder, a topiary gardener, an expert on "naked mole rats" -- escalate into a moving, puzzling inquiry into just what life is. 1993. The Dark Wind. Morris's generally undistinguished fiction film, from a Tony Hillerman crime novel, with Lou Diamond Phillips and Gary Farmer. 1992. A Brief History of Time. Morris adapts the unadaptable: Stephen Hawking's famously underread bestseller about the nature of the universe. (With a companion documentary, The Making of A Brief History of Time.) 1988. The Thin Blue Line. Morris undoes a murder conviction with nothing but the power of deftly edited talking heads, and turns the documentary world upside-down. 1981. Vernon, Florida. Sleepy small-town eccentrics spied on with Morris's characteristic droll, unjudgmental camera. 1978. Gates of Heaven. The subject of Morris's debut seems lightweight: two rival pet cemeteries in Southern California, and their patrons. But its drily sympathetic look at utterly off-the-wall behaviour earns it a place on many critics' best-ever documentaries list, and influenced everyone from Michael Moore to your local cable-specialty channel. ### Court 73 - where history is on trial The controversial historian, David Irving, is questioning accepted beliefs about the Holocaust. Can truth and justice survive an onslaught of such denials? The David Irving libel trial: special report Jonathan Freedland Saturday February 5, 2000 http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/irving/article/0,2763,132906,00.html The setting is light and modern - all blondwood tables, laptops and flipcharts. Yet here, everyday from 10.30 till 4, the talk is dark and ancient: of 3,000 years of suffering and of the greatest crime in human history. For Britain's high court is witnessing a trial like no other. In court 73, from now until mid-April at the earliest, truth itself is on= trial. Officially, the defendant is the American academic Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books. The plaintiff is David Irving, pre-eminent historian of the Third Reich or respectable face of international extremism, depending who you ask. He is fighting a one-man libel action against Lipstadt, over her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, in which she branded Irving "one of the most dangerous" of the men who call themselves "revisionists." "Familiar with historical evidence," she wrote, "he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda." He says that is not only a slur on his reputation; it is also untrue. The result is a daily performance of extraordinary theatre. Moved to one of the high court's largest rooms to accommodate the press and public, Lipstadt sits surrounded by a team of 11, among them solicitor Anthony Julius - who won fame as the divorce lawyer to Princess Diana - and barrister Richard Rampton. Their opponent sits alone. David Irving, florid in pinstripe suit and bouffant hair, has a PC for company but no-one else. He is acting for himself, a struggle, he likes to believe, of the English David against the Goliath of world Jewry. He has nothing - no tenured professor's job to feed his young family, he protests, no pension - while Lipstadt enjoys the financial support of several affluent Jews. To the plaintiff this is further evidence of that hoary anti-semitic notion, a world Jewish conspiracy - in general and to silence him in particular. To those rooting for the defence, it is proof of the moral gravity of this trial: the Jewish people is uniting to defend the truth of its experience. They could not save their fellow Jews 60 years ago: now they will at least save their memory. Shocking images Irving insists he is not a denier of the Holocaust outright. He admits that some Jews were treated badly by the Nazis and that quite a few died. Beyond that, he says, he is not a Holocaust historian and the subject "bores" him. His real specialism is Adolf Hitler. Nevertheless, he reckons he knows enough to deny three key, defining aspects of the Holocaust: first, that Jews were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz, second, that Hitler directly ordered their slaughter and third that there was any systematic plan to destroy European Jewry. The defence will have to prove Irving wrong. Not to a jury - both sides agreed to dispense with that - but to the satisfaction of Charles Gray, former libel lawyer and now high court judge. You would think that would be a simple enough task. We've all seen the archive footage of the camps, the shocking images of human skeletons bulldozed into pits. Surely that evidence settles the matter? Not quite. For Irving looks at those bodies and sees the victims of typhus, an epidemic that thrived in what he admits were the "ghastly" conditions of the concentration camps. He claims these victims were not gassed, but died of "natural causes." What of the countless volumes of testimony provided by the survivors of the Holocaust, the Primo Levis, Elie Weisels and Hugo Gryns who, along with thousands of others, described the same, deathly process? They all witnessed the train rides that ended in "selection," with those deemed unfit to work herded away for "delousing," into showers that proved to be gas chambers. What of them? No, Irving would say, the Jews have made it all up. Either these accounts are "a matter for psychiatric evaluation" - the witnesses were out of their minds - or the more sinister fruit of a worldwide Jewish plot to guilt-trip the human race. So the defence offers the evidence of the Nazi themselves. On Wednesday, Rampton raised Hans Almeyer, the second highest-ranking Nazi officer at Auschwitz. In his interrogation by British intelligence Almeyer, too, corroborated the witnesses' account of the extermination process. But that is not good enough for Irving either. "British Army officers ... had ways of making people talk," the plaintiff said, happily reversing the cliche. If a Nazi confesses to the Holocaust then, according to Irving, his words were obviously beaten out of him. They are worthless. That leaves two types of evidence, physical and documentary. Physical evidence is hard, since the Nazis took great pains to destroy the death camps - completely in the case of Treblinka, Chelmno and Sobibor - or at least to detonate the gas chambers, as they did at Auschwitz. The ones there are intact, but their ceilings have collapsed, allowing Irving to deny their purpose. Since we cannot see them, cannot examine the ceiling holes through which the gas seeped, we cannot prove they were what thousands of witnesses said they were. All that remains are the documents. Here Irving, acknowledged as a near-obsessive student of Nazi paperwork, takes over. This week he took great delight in cross-examining Robert Jan van Pelt, a Dutch architectural historian who is an authority on the gas chambers. Van Pelt's testimony was crucial to the defence, because he has studied architects' drawings - recently made available - which leave little doubt as to the chambers' function. Irving grilled van Pelt on one document in particular, questioning its authenticity. He rattled off questions: about a serial number out of sequence, an incorrect rank for the signing officer, the initials of the typist (which Irving said exist on no other document), even the precise location of the margin. All these discrepancies, bragged Irving, suggested a forgery. This is where Irving is happiest, rolling around in swastika-embossed paper. He knows these documents so well, he knows their mannerisms. On this terrain, Irving can be frighteningly convincing. It is left to the defence to prove that, despite Irving's intimacy with the Nazi paper mountain, he has deliberately ignored the bits that don't fit his thesis. So they present rebutting documents, an endless supply of them. But Irving either rubbishes these as forgeries or insists he has never seen them. That way he can't be accused of suppressing or distorting them, as Lipstadt wrote. This results in the bizarre spectacle, repeated this week, of Irving claiming never to have read books he owns, even books he has discussed and criticised in public. If occasionally he is forced to admit he has read an authentic document which contradicts his "revisionism" entirely, he simply pleads an innocent, historian's mistake. The Lipstadt team must prove otherwise: that Irving is a man with an agenda, a motive. To that end, Rampton spent much of this week confronting the plaintiff with his own words, building up a portrait of what he called a "perverted racist." There was the headline-grabbing ditty Irving sang to his nine-month old daughter: "I am a baby Aryan/not Jewish or sectarian/I have no plans to marry an/Ape or Rastafarian." There was his wish that Trevor McDonald be confined to reading news of drugs busts and muggings, his reflections on God using Aids as "a Final Solution" to wipe out "the blacks and homosexuals." The court listens to all this, the Jewish students and pensioners in the public gallery staring straight ahead, the occasional Irvingite letting out a laugh at one of their hero's racist excuses for a joke. In diary entries, video tapes and speech transcripts the evidence has been overwhelming: Irving is a man who regards black people as a different "species" and describes Jews as "the traditional enemies of the truth," a people whose elderly would tattoo their own arms in order to make a few bucks in compensation. Irving tries to slip out of all this, too. An anti-semitic comment is not really that, he says: it's just what he imagines an anti-semite might say. At one point, he explained away a long rant against the Jews as his attempt to put "himself in the skin" of a Jew-hater. Not him, you understand. Dismisses evidence The overall effect is maddeningly frustrating. "I'm hacked off," sighed Rampton, tugging off his barrister's wig at the end of a long afternoon's questioning. Wrestling with an opponent who will not recognise the prejudice in a phrase like "hideous Jewish face" had finally pushed Rampton, who cultivates a manner of curmudgeonly irascibility, into a foul mood. The trouble with Irving is that he refuses to accept the basic rules of evidence. Show him a videotape of a Florida rally by the far right National Alliance, and he'll deny he's ever heard of the organisation - even though the court can see their banner hanging in the very room where Irving was speaking. Irving carries on regardless - denying, denying, denying. This is how he approaches the entire topic. He dismisses the evidence of the witnesses' own eyes: whether Jew or Nazi, they made it all up. He sets a standard of proof for his enemies which no human event could ever fully satisfy. And this is a challenge not only to Deborah Lipstadt. As Martin Gilbert, Churchill biographer and Holocaust historian, who has sat in on the trial throughout, puts it: "It's not every day that history itself gets its day in court." He's right. It is history itself which is on trial here, the whole business of drawing conclusions from evidence. If Irving is able to dismiss the testimony of tens of thousands of witnesses, where does that leave history? If we can't know this, how can we know that Napoleon fought at Waterloo or that Henry VIII had six wives? How can we know= anything? This is a challenge to the law. For if witness evidence is always unreliable, where does that leave the courts or justice? But it is also a challenge to us. If we start to doubt corroborated facts, how can we prevent ourselves being swallowed up in doubt, unable to trust anything we see? It might all be a conspiracy, a legend, a hoax. This is the bizarre, never-never world inhabited by David Irving. Now the court has to decide: is this our world too? Cut and thrust http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/irving/article/0,2763,132905,00.html The David Irving libel trial: special report David Irving V Penguin & Lipstadt Saturday February 5, 2000 Rampton: Mr Irving, you have made a suggestion to the effect that [SS officer Hans Almayer] gave a fallacious account because he was tortured or threatened with torture by the Brits. You have absolutely no basis for that whatsoever. Irving: Mr Rampton, when the time comes to cross-examine your expert witnesses, I shall be putting to them documents which show very clearly what methods were used to extract information from witnesses, including some of the most brutal and horrifying descriptions of what happened to the witnesses in the Malmedy trial. I shall invite them to state whether they consider this kind of evidence is dependable. Rampton: Mr Irving, I am tempted myself to resort to such methods to get a straight answer to my question, I have to say. You have no evidential _ Irving: It included, for example, crushing the testicles of 165 out of 167 witnesses. Is that what you are proposing to do to me? Rampton: We cannot fit that many witnesses into your witness box up there, Mr Irving, I am afraid _ Rampton: Would you like a rest? You seem very =E9nerv=E9 , if I can use the French word. Irving: I can carry on if you can. Mr Justice Gray: Mr Irving, it occurred to me actually whilst watching the film that you said you were up till four or five this morning. I am very concerned that it is a huge physical strain on you and I would be perfectly happy if you said you had had enough. Irving: I can go as many rounds with Mr Rampton as he wishes. Rampton: You do not have to worry going rounds with me, Mr Irving. I have been doing this for 35 years.
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