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 , 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previously unpublished documents, letters and diaries.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he might piece together the unpublished recollections of Hitler’s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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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]
“[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]
Harris, Robert. Selling Hitler. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
Subject: David Irving: Selling Hitler