The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

David Irving's Hitler
A Faulty History Dissected
Two Essays by Eberhard Jäckel
Translation & Comments by H. David Kirk

© Copyright H. David Kirk


Irving's House of Cards

Facts seldom if ever speak for themselves; they must be interpreted. If errors of fact or interpretation appear in the work of meticulous and conscientious scholars, the errors are rectified when seen and understood. In bad scholarship, faulty interpretations arising from sloppiness, slavish adherence to ideological bias, or artfully altered facts, are less readily acknowledged. Such errors, becoming cumulative, can have deleterious consequences. It is so in David Irving's case, especially in the context of his Hitler's War. In neo-Nazi propaganda these errors become 'new historical facts.' For the merely naive such 'new facts' may become 'eye openers.' For convinced antisemites, the 'new facts' serve as powerful reinforcements for their prejudices.

Even critical and informed readers of Irving's books are not necessarily immune to the lure of his racy and colorful style. Writing style may, however unintentionally, cloak the route by which conclusions and explanations are arrived at. Could such obfuscation have misled a first-rate scholar like Eberhard Jäckel? It seems to have happened in his analysis of Irving's attempted Hitler-cleanup (see Essay 1: Hitler's Counter-order). The issue must be raised, not only for the sake of the integrity of Ja"ckel's scholarly work, but because the answer will illuminate the essential difference between a genuine historian like Ja"ckel and the spurious variety.

Sometime after Jäckel's work had appeared, another historian,<57> Lucy Dawidowicz, followed up Himmler's telephone notes of November 1941. Finding certain additional information there, she concluded that Hitler had never given any order to spare the convoy heading for Riga, that there had been no counter-order at all, not even a temporary one. If Dawidowicz was right, it could only mean that Jäckel had momentarily been taken in by Irving's 'interesting item,' the two lines from Himmler's notebook.

But was it proper for the translator to identify a possible error in Jäckel's main essay? Aside from all other considerations, as the error went to the heart of Jäckel's own argument against Irving, it clearly had to be dealt with. That is why the passage from that first essay is now repeated as it appears there, with part of the sentence containing the apparent error emphasized (in italics):

This interesting item is a page from Himmler's hand-written notebook. At the top it says: 'Telephone conversations 30.X.1941. Wolfschanze.' Himmler phoned five people, one of these (at 1.30 pm) was Heydrich 'from the bunker.' About this conversation Himmler entered this note: 'Jewish transport from Berlin, not to be liquidated.' Note Irving's interpretation: 'At 1.30 pm, from Hitler's bunker, Himmler had to pass on to Heydrich the explicit order that Jews were not to be liquidated.'

It takes no special training and only a minimum of good sense and logic to see the flaws in this totally inadequate bit of source-interpretation. From the order not to liquidate a certain transport of Jewish people Irving concocts a universal order that Jews are henceforth not to be 'liquidated.' Actually, exactly the opposite is true.

If Hitler had not ordered the general destruction of the Jews, it would have made no sense for him to have forbidden it in a single case. That he did forbid it in this case would seem to be proof of the fact that a general order had been given and that in this case an exception was to be made.[Emphasis Nizkor's] (We now know what caused the exception, and that the missed 'liquidation' was soon made up for.)

As mentioned in the notes to the essays, this translator wrote to Professor Jäckel to clarify the meaning of the sentence in parentheses. Jäckel's reply read: 'On November 25, 1941, German Jews, deported from Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, were shot at Kovno. On November 27 the seventh transport of Jews left Berlin. The phone conversation of November 30 concerned that transport. But the call had come too late: these people were shot on arrival at Riga on November 30.'

It is true that these people were shot, but probably not, as Jäckel reasoned, because Hitler's counter-order had come too late. Subsequent independent interpretations by Lucy Dawidowicz, drawing on additional lines in Himmler's telephone notes, suggest that no counter-order of Hitler's was involved. Nor was there any intention of saving the Jewish people being transported to their deaths at Riga.

Dawidowicz had thus found new information on the very document which Irving had originally supplied and which he considered his trump card. Here is the passage<58> with her interpretation of that new information:

On November 30, 1941, at 1:30 P.M., Himmler, then in Hitler's military headquarters bunker, 'Wolf's Lair,' telephoned SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich, then in Prague. The gist of the telephone message was entered in four short lines in the log, though Mr. Irving cited only the last two lines:

'Judentransport aus Berlin keine Liquidierung.'

That is: 'Transport of Jews from Berlin. No liquidation.'

From this Mr. Irving concluded that Hitler had somehow learned what Himmler was up to and had ordered him to stop. An obedient Nazi, Himmler had called Heydrich in Prague to transmit Hitler's order. But in view of everything we know about the destruction of the Jews, Irving's construction of events makes no sense. If Himmler continued to kill the Jews long after November 30, 1941, why did he order the liquidation of this one transport stopped? If he deceived Hitler before and after about the murder of the Jews, why should he be honest about this one?

Up to this point Dawidowicz argues substantially along Jäckel's line. But then she asks:

... what became of that transport of Jews from Berlin? Were they returned home?

She seems not to know what Jäckel had found out, namely that the people of that convoy were shot that same day on arrival in Riga. However, Dawidowicz seems to have discovered something new about the Himmler telephone notation, and her interpretation of it makes much sense. She first returns to Irving's attempt at cleaning-up Hitler:

Irving's conclusion fails to provide a satisfactory explanation of those two lines in view of what actually happened....

To understand those two lines it is necessary to read also the first two lines of the telephone conversation. Here is the full German text:

Verhaftung Dr. Jekelius [name not fully decipherable]
Angebl[ich] Sohn Molotovs.
Judentransport aus Berlin.
keine Liquierung.<59>

That is: 'Arrest Dr. Jekelius. Presumably Molotov's son. Transport of Jews from Berlin. No Liquidation.' The last two lines now make sense. Himmler called Heydrich to instruct him that a certain Dr. Jekelius, presumed to be the Soviet Foreign Minister's son, was to be taken in custody by the security police. Jekelius could be located in the transport of Jews from Berlin ... and unlike the rest of the transport, was not to be liquidated. (Perhaps the Germans intended to exchange Jekelius for one of their officers captured by the Russians.)

Had Jäckel, perhaps assuming quite understandably that the first two lines were unrelated to the third and fourth, simply followed Irving in dealing only with the latter? Or had he, like Dawidowicz, unsuccessfully tried to decipher Himmler's Gothic writing, but unlike Dawidowicz who then sought out a handwriting expert, had he given up? Though he evidently agreed with Irving's conclusion that Hitler had forbidden the killing of the Jews on this particular transport, Jäckel strenuously objected to Irving's conclusion that Hitler wanted the mass murder of the Jews stopped altogether. Note again Ja"ckel's objection:

If Hitler had not ordered the general destruction of the Jews, it would have made no sense for him to have forbidden it in a single case. That he did forbid it in this case would seem to be proof of the fact that a general order had been given and that in this case an exception was to be made.
If Dawidowicz was right in her assumption that the four lines on Himmler's phone pad were interconnected, then Jäckel, working with only the last two lines, without the information contained in the first two, could readily reach an erroneous conclusion about the meaning of the notation.

Nevertheless, Dawidowicz and Jäckel agree that Hitler could not and would not have ordered a stop to the mass murder. Both historians, aware of Hitler's more than two-decade-long antisemitic agitation, carried on at home and abroad by an immense propaganda machine, knew that Hitler himself was the unrivalled architect of the Holocaust.

Genuine historians, though each committed to truth, may nevertheless differ in their interpretation of particular events. But unlike the spurious variety, they would not tamper with facts or deny ugly truths about the past.

Genuine historians are readily identifiable: they try to resist the sway of ideology as well as the urge to justify or excuse the past.

Together, Professors Jäckel and Dawidowicz have made Irving's thesis of Hitler's guiltlessness in the murder of Europe's Jews tumble like a house of cards.


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