The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

David Irving
Selling Hitler

Harris, Robert. Selling Hitler. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

This 400-page book concerns the forged "Hitler diaries" that were "discovered" in 1983. The book is a telling of those events, and does not discuss the Holocaust or its denial. However, its index has three inches of entries for David Irving; following are some of the more significant. Typos are Nizkor's. All [bracketed] comments are Nizkor's except the last on the Vikinger Jugend, which is Harris's.

"A few days later, back in London, on the afternoon of Thursday 22 April [1982], August Priesack telephoned David Irving in his flat in Duke Street, Mayfair. Priesack explained why he and Price were in Britain and asked him if he would like to come round to their hotel for dinner that night. Irving agreed.

"Priesack had been looking forward to meeting the British historian for a long time. Of all Hitler's biographers, Irving was the most controversial. In Hitler's War, published in 1977, he had quoted one of the Fuehrer's doctors, who described how Hitler had expressed his admiration for an 'objective' biography of the Kaiser written by an Englishman. According to the doctor:

"Hitler then said that for some time now he had gone over to having all important discussions and military conferences recorded for posterity by shorthand writers. And perhaps one day after he is dead and buried an objective Englishman will come and give him the same kind of treatment. The present generation neither can nor will.

"Irving was in no doubt that he was the man the Fuehrer had in mind. Hitler's War, ten years in the making, had been based on a wealth of previously unpublished documents, letters and diaries. Irving's aim was to rewrite the history of the war 'as far as possible through Hitler's eyes, from behind his desk'. This made for a gripping book, but one which was, by its nature, unbalanced. However 'objectively' he might piece together the unpublished recollections of Hitler's subordinates, they were still the words of men and women who admired their ruler. And confined to Hitler's daily routine, the biography had a curiously unreal quality: the death camps, the atrocities, the sufferings of millions of people which were the result of Hitler's war were not to be found in Hitler's War as it was reconstructed by David Irving.

"Irving's stated purpose was to portray Hitler as an ordinary human being rather than as a diabolical figure of monstrous evil. It was an aim which was bound to arouse offence: 'If you think of him as a man,' says one of the Jewish characters in George Steiner's The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., 'you will grow uncertain. You will think him a man and no longer believe what he did.' Irving pilloried earlier biographers who had depicted Hitler as a demon: 'Confronted by the phenomenon of Hitler himself, they cannot grasp that he was an ordinary, walking, talking human weighing some 155 pounds, with greying hair, largely false teeth, and chronic digestive ailments. He is to them the Devil incarnate.' Central to Irving's thesis 'that Hitler was less than an omnipotent Fuehrer' was his argument that Hitler did not order, indeed did not even know of, the Holocaust. It was an assertion which provoked uproar. In Germany, after a dispute with his publishers, the book was withdrawn from sale. In Britain, he became involved in a furious row with a panel of academics during a live edition of David Frost's television chat show. In America, the book was savaged by Walter Laquer in the New York Review of Books and boycotted by the major US paperback publishers. Irving revelled in the publicity, aggressively offering to pay $1000 to anyone who could produce a document proving that Hitler was aware of what was happening in the extermination camps. He claimed that the book upset Jews only 'because I have detracted from the romance of the notion of the Holocaust -- that six million people were killed by one man'.

"Irving admitted that in writing Hitler's War he had 'identified' with the Fuehrer. Looking down upon him as he worked, from the wall above his desk, was a self-portrait of Hitler, presented to him by Christa Schroeder. He did not smoke or touch alcohol. ('I don't drink,' he would say. 'Adolf didn't drink you know.') He shared Hitler's view of women, believing that they were put on the earth in order to procreate and provide men with something to look at: 'They haven't got the physical capacity for producing something creative.' He had married and had four daughters, but wished he had remained single: his marriage had been 'my one cardinal mistake ... an unnecessary deviation.' In 1981, at the age of forty-three, he had founded his own right-wing political group, build around his own belief in his 'destiny' as a future British leader. With his black hair slanting across his forehead, and a dark cleft, shadowed like a moustache between the bottom of his nose and the top of his upper lip, there were times, in the right light, when Irving looked alarmingly like the subject of his notorious biography." [Harris, 187-189]

"Peter Koch's prediction of the hostility the diaries would arouse was already coming true.

"In Stuttgart, Eberhard Jaeckel -- although, like Weinberg, 'shaken by Trevor-Roper's position' -- declared himself 'extremely sceptical'. He had seen a so-called 'Hitler diary' some years before, he said, and decided it was forged.

"'I have not seen their evidence, but everything speaks against it,' Werner Maser told Reuters. 'It smacks of pure sensationalism.'

"'I am extraordinarily sceptical,' announced Karl-Dietrich Bracher of Bonn University. 'It would be a total surprise and I consider it highly unlikely.'

"A spokesman for the Federal Archives in Koblenz confirmed that they had arranged for the examination of 'about ten pages' of Hitler's handwriting for Stern, but denied having authenticated any diaries.

"The loudest condemnations of all were emanating from London.

"`David Irving reckoned he was due for some luck. For two years, everything had gone wrong for him. His marriage had ended in an acrimonious divorce. He was being pursued by the Inland Revenue. His political activities had collapsed due to lack of funds. He was on the point of being evicted from his flat. Most of the furniture had been taken by his wife and entire rooms were left stripped and abandoned while he was reduced to squatting in one corner. By the spring of 1983, he was in desperate need of money and a boost for his flagging career. And now, as if in answer to a prayer, Adolf Hitler came to his rescue.

"Ever since 10 a.m. [April 22, 1983], when a reporter from Der Spiegel had called to tell him of Stern's impending announcement, he had been inundated with inquiries from around the world -- Reuters, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Observer, the Sunday Mirror, Bild Zeitung, Independent Radio News, the BBC.... 'As soon as I rang off, the phone rang again,' he noted in his diary. 'Quite extraordinary.' His answer to all of them was the same: the Hitler diaries were fakes, and he had the evidence to prove it.

"He was 'shocked' by Stern's decision to publish. He was certain that the forgeries he had received from Priesack in December originated from the same source as Heidemann's diaries. Thankfully, he still had photocopies of the material -- letters, drawings, a few pages from the original volume for 1935 (the one Kujau had forged in 1978 and given to Fritz Stiefel). With the Hitler diaries fast becoming the hottest news story in the world, these worthless scraps had suddenly become a potential gold mine. Irving's priority now was to make money as quickly as possible.

"In between constant interruptions from the telephone, he wrote to the Sunday Times drawing their attention to the fact that he had given them an 'exclusive lead to these documents' before Christmas and demanding as commission a percentage of the price paid for the diaries. He then set about marketing his information. Der Spiegel offered to pay him for his photocopies. Bild Zeitung, a mass-circulation West German paper, promised to meet his expenses and provide a fee if he would fly out to Hamburg to confront Stern at its press conference on Monday. One of the Sunday Times's main rivals, the Observer, paid him L1000 for his help in compiling an article which derided the diaries' authenticity; another, the Mail on Sunday, gave him L5000 for his documents and a statement that the diaries were forged.

"This was only the beginning of an extraordinary resurgence in Irving's fortunes. No one now cared about his reputation as a right-wing maverick. Seeing their circulations threatened by the Hitler scoop, newspapers and magazines which would have treated him as a pariah twenty-four hours earlier queued up for quotes. By the end of the afternoon Irving had emerged as Stern's most vociferous and dangerous assailant.

"At 9.30 p.m., a BBC taxi picked him up and took him to Television Centre where he appeared in a live confrontation with Charles Douglas-Home. Irving waved his fakes at the camera. Douglas-Home was unperturbed. 'I have smelt them,' he said of the diaries. 'I'm a minor historian and we know about the smell of old documents. They certainly smelt.'" [Harris, 305-307]

"A few hours after saying goodbye to Kujau [April 29], Heidemann rang David Irving in London.

"Since his return to Duke Street, Irving had been pondering the events of the past few days. He was forced to admit that as far as attacking the authenticity of Stern's diaries went, he had 'squeezed the lemon dry'. He asked himself what he could do to recapture the initiative, and he came up with one answer: he could announce that he had changed his mind and declare the diaries genuine.

"There were a number of factors which made this an attractive idea, apart from the obvious injection of fresh publicity it would provide. One was temperamental. Irving had always relished his role as an enfant terrible. He liked being outrageous, making liberal flesh creep. Now, for the first time in his career, his stand on the diaries had put him on the side of conventional opinion. It was not his style and he found it disconcerting.

"He had also begun to have genuine doubts about the wisdom of the uncompromising line he had adopted. He had been shaken by the sheer quantity of Stern's archive when he had seen it in the ZDF studio on Tuesday night. Perhaps there was a genuine set of Hitler diaries somewhere, which had served as a model for the forgery in his possession? One of his objections to the Stern material had been that Hitler had suffered from Parkinson's Disease in the final weeks of his life. Now he had to admit, having seen them, that the final entries did slant sharply to the right, as if oblivious to the lines on the page -- a classic symptom of Parkonsonism. And finally, there was the fact that the diaries did not contain any evidence to suggest that Hitler was aware of the Holocaust -- Stern might help substantiate the thesis of Hitler's War.

"Irving told Heidemann that he was on the point of changing his mind. He had given an interview to the BBC that morning announcing his reservations. Heidemann asked him when it would be broadcast. Next Wednesday, replied Irving. 'Heidemann,' he wrote in his diary, 'urged me to say it now as Peter Koch is going on television in New York on Monday with his counter-attack.' Irving promised to think it over." [Harris, 338-339]

"David Irving spent the day [May 1] sending out invoices to newspapers and magazines, billing them for his work attacking the diaries' authenticity. Shortly before noon, a reporter from the Daily Express rang to ask if it was true that he was suing the Sunday Times for failing to pay him his commission for putting them on to the Hitler diaries. 'Not suing,' replied Irving, 'just asking.' He then told him to 'hold on to his hat' and gave him what he modestly described as 'the story of the day': that he now believed the diaries were genuine.

"The Express ran the story in its early editions, and at 11 p.m. a sub-editor from The Times rang to ask if the report in the Express was correct. Irving said it was.

"The Times immediately put it on its front page.

"The following morning, as The Times in Britain announced Irving's belief that the diaries were genuine, Der Spiegel appeared in Germany carrying his assertion that they were fakes. 'Hitler's Diary: Find or Forgery?' was the title on the magazine's cover; the contents left little doubt of Der Spiegel's opinion as to the correct answer. It was a devastating assault, attacking the Stern scoop for 'bad German, bad punctuation and banality'. Der Spiegel's reporters had tracked down the SS man who discovered the Boernersdorf crash and using his testimony they picked Heidemann's research apart." [Harris, 344]

"The events which would eventually turn Friday 6 May 1983 into 'Black Friday' as far as the participants in the diaries affair were concerned began at 11 a.m. when the two Stern lawyers, Ruppert and Hagen, turned up at the Bundesarchiv to see Hans Booms.

"Booms now had full reports from the scientists at Wiesbaden and Berlin. Reduced to its basic components, Stern's great scoop had proved to be a shoddy forgery. The paper was a poor quality mixture of coniferous wood, grass and foliage, laced with a chemical paper whitener which had not existed before 1955." [many further details of exposure omitted] [Ibid., 354]

"[The same day] David Irving was in Duesseldorf on another speaking tour for the DVU when he heard the news from his secretary in London. It was a disastrous turn of events. He hastily dictated a statement for the press accepting the Bundesarchiv's ruling but drawing attention to the fact that he was the first person to declare the diaries fakes. ('Yes,' said a reporter from The Times when this was read out to him, 'and the last person to declare them authentic.') NBC sent a television crew to interview him after his speech to an audience of right-wing extremists in the nearby town of Neuss. 'They questioned who I was speaking to,' Irving recorded in his diary, 'but I ducked the issue. As I was sitting down for the interview the whole audience streamed past behind the cameraman, several of the nuttier of them wearing the uniform and badges of the Vikinger Jugend [a fanatical sect of young neo-Nazis]. Fortunately NBC did not observe them.'" [Ibid., 359]

"In the aftermath of the Hitler diaries affair, David Irving's American publishers tripled the print run of his edition of the Fuehrer's medical diaries. Excerpts were published in Murdoch's New York Post and in the National Enquirer. But all publicity is not necessarily good publicity: not long afterwards Irving was arrested by the Austrian police in Vienna on suspicion of neo-Nazi activity and deported from the country; he is still banned from entry." [Ibid., 385-386]

Work Cited

Harris, Robert. Selling Hitler. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

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