Friday 9 December 2022

"To put it bluntly, he is a liar"

AJP Taylor, John Charmley, Hugh Trevor-Roper and other great historians rightly praised David Irving's industry and gift for research, but added, also rightly, caveats. 

Professor Charmley, one of my great heroes, said that he is not to be trusted without checking him. Often, of course, it isn't possible. 

Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre as he became, said much the same.

I read extensive parts of his Churchill's War and learnt a lot, enjoyed it a lot, but one sees that one is being manipulated, to see Hitler in a good light or, in this case, his enemies in a bad one. 

I started reading about the libel case which Mr Irving brought and lost with a very open mind. That is to say, I was prejudiced against all three of the main historians in the case.

I suspect the historian whom he sued, Deborah Lipstadt, is a very annoying woman and a useless historian, if only judging by her outrage that Ernst Nolte considered Stalin as bad as Hitler. 

Sir Richard Evans, the expert witness whom she called and who was paid a cool quarter of a million for his two years of work, can also be very annoying, a histrionic progressive sometimes and wrong about lots of things about the National Socialists. Still one only need read a little of his book Lying About Hitler, the evidence he gave in the trial, to see that David Irving has sinned against the Holy Ghost by playing fast and loose with historical evidence for political purposes.

Or to read the defence counsel Richard Rampton, KC's closing speech.

I am not complaining about bias - 
Deborah Lipstadt and Sir Richard Evans are very biased indeed, as are Gibbon, Lord Macaulay, Tacitus and pretty much all historians - nor of inaccuracy. Everyone is inaccurate sometimes. I complain of distortion and trickery, of not being in good faith. 

From Mr Rampton's speech:

'Eventually, on 16th and 17th April 1943, Hitler and his Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, summoned Admiral Horthy to Klessheim, near Salzburg, in order to put pressure on him to surrender the Hungarian Jews into Nazi hands. The notes of the meetings were taken by a man called Paul Schmidt and are agreed by Mr Irving, who used them for his own accounts of these meetings, to be very reliable.

'According to Schmidt's notes at the first meeting on 16th April, Horthy protested at the Nazi leader's demands. "But they" (the Jews) "can hardly be murdered or otherwise eliminated", he said. Hitler's response was palliative: "There is no need for that", he said, and added that they could be sent to remote work camps or down the mines."

'The next day, 17th April 1943, Hitler's and Ribbentrop's demands became a good deal cruder. Horthy again protested that he "surely couldn't beat the Jews to death". Ribbentrop replied that they "must either be annihilated or taken to concentration camps. There is no other way". Hitler then followed up with this:

'"Where the Jews are were left to themselves, as for example in Poland, gruesome poverty and degeneracy had ruled. There were just pure parasites. One had fundamentally cleared up this state of affairs in Poland. If the Jews there didn't want to work, they were shot. If they couldn't work, they had to perish. They had to be treated like tuberculosis bacilli, from which a healthy body could be infected. That was not cruel", said Hitler, "if one remembered that even innocent natural creatures like hares and deer had to be killed so that no harm was caused. Why should one spare the beasts who wanted to bring us Bolshevism once more? Nations who did not rid themselves of Jews perished".

'Mr Irving's account of this exchange in his 1977 edition of "Hitler's War" (at page 509) is extraordinary. First, as an invented pretext for Hitler's remarks, he introduces the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which did not in fact begin until two days later. Then, immediately following Hitler's brutal assertion of the need to kill the Jewish "beasts", Mr Irving adds this:

'"Horthy apologetically noted that he had done all he decently could against the Jews: 'But they can hardly be murdered or otherwise eliminated', he protested. Hitler reassured him: 'There is no need for that'. But just as in Slovakia, they ought to be isolated in remote camps where they could no longer affect the healthy body of the public; or they could be put to work in the mines, for example. He himself did not mind being temporarily excoriated for his Jewish policies, if they brought him tranquillity. Horthy left unconvinced."'

As, my Lord, will immediately be apparent, this was a quite brazen piece of manipulation: as Mr Irving knew perfectly well, because he was familiar with Schmidt's notes, this exchange had, in fact, occurred on the previous day (the 16th April), not the 17th. It is apparent, therefore, that Mr Irving quite deliberately transferred it to 17th April in order to mitigate the chilling impact of Hitler's stark observation about the need to kill the Jewish "beasts".

This passage from D.D. Guttenplan's 'The Holocaust on Trial' is very
 interesting. It shows Irving finding evidence that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz and keeping quiet about it.  


  1. John Lukacs, who was by no means a leftist, wrote a review of Irving's Hitler's War forty-five years ago in the National Review, which dealt harshly with the book and Irving. The review is collected in Lukacs's Remembered Past.

    1. Sounds an admirable man with much in common with me and many big differences.


    3. David Irving is an amateur historian, and an indefatigable collector of documents. There is nothing wrong in this: Many of the best historians are not, and have not been, professionals. However, Mr. Irving is one of the worst contemporary historians. Such a damning contention must be illustrated. Despite the long list of sources at the end of the book (including a ''David Irving Author's Archives'' that wags like the tail of an eager dog), the book does not include a single reference for his quotes; they are not verifiable. Furthermore, Mr. Irving often pretends to know not only what certain people may have said but what they may have imagined. ''(Patton),'' he writes, ''actually dreams of using the surviving German divisions in his army sector for a drive against what he now considers the true enemy - the Soviet Union.'' ''It would be a tragedy, (Eisenhower) thinks, if the shameful realities should leak out. He has pledged himself to prevent it. ... The big cover-up is beginning.''
      Mr. Irving's factual errors are beyond belief. He says that ''forty per cent of the prisoners'' in southern France ''turned out to be Russians who had volunteered to fight for Germany against Stalin.'' Mr. Irving writes of the ''famous tank country'' of Lower Saxony (there is no such thing), and that in April 1945 ''the German resistance was becoming increasingly determined'' (at a time when the Germans had begun to surrender in droves). He writes that the Battle of Verdun ''annihilated hundreds of thousands of both British, French, and German youth. An eighteen-year-old Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler was wounded there.'' There were no British troops at Ver-dun. Adolf Hitler never fought at Verdun. In 1916 he was 27, not 18.Now we come to the essence of the matter, which is that one cannot separate the history from the historian. Mr. Irving's methods are not merely bad; they are abominable. In this book, as in certain of his earlier books, one of his purposes is to rehabilitate Hitler. No writer should be condemned merely because of his opinions. I can imagine a writer (though I have not yet read one) who might say: ''Look, there is something to be said for Hitler's vision of the world. He was wrong in many ways, and what he said often led to awful and evil consequences, but he also said ...and ...and ...- therefore we must admit that he was not a madman, and that he was not wrong in everything.'' But this is not how Mr. Irving proceeds. He not only tells his readers that Hitler was an able man (which, alas, in many ways he was), but tries to convince them that he was a man morally superior to his opponents.

    4. He does this, in a sly way, by denigrating Hitler's opponents. Hitler was ''unlike his myopic generals.'' The attempt of the German patriots to kill Hitler was ''treachery.'' Charles de Gaulle was ''shabby.'' And it seems that the French did not really wish to be liberated: ''The French - at least in Normandy - were none too pleased to be invaded. Things had apparently not been so bad before the Allies came.'' ''In a reflective act of self-preservation,'' many of the Frenchmen ''seized arms to aid Rommel's army against the death-dealing newcomers ...'' The Resistance in France was ''a witchhunt ... a winter of long knives''; in Belgium it had turned into ''a Frankenstein creature.'' The liberation of Paris consisted of the French ''looting and rioting.'' The Americans ''vandalized, robbed, raped, murdered,'' and ''bored GIs used their firearms indiscriminately against the French.''
      Mr. Irving's language gives him away. His list of American atrocities against German prisoners is long; German atrocities against American prisoners are insubstantial rumors. There are ''the proud SS divisions,'' while ''GI morale was breaking down.'' ''Several hundred'' American pilots deserted to Switzerland and Sweden. ''Most of the wounds'' in one American field hospital were ''self-inflicted.'' Again and again he refers to American ''cowardice,'' and to ''the American crime wave sweeping France.'' ''At about this time, Eisenhower had offered pardons to the American soldiers in military prisons if they would take up arms and fight. He was not encouraged to hear that only a few, those with long sentences, had accepted the offer.'' In Italy, the American black troops ''had turned and run.'' The Women's Army Corps was ''promiscuous,'' and the women of the Red Cross were ''hangers-on and camp followers.''

    5. Mr. Irving is an Englishman: still he is contemptuous of his own people. His bete noire is Churchill: ''lying in an enormous bed, the color of a pink wax cherub.'' He ''was aiming to cut off his nose to spite his face.'' Churchill is ''crabby,'' ''ailing,'' ''peevish,'' on one occasion his ''tears skidding down one fat cheek.'' His brain was ''befuddled.'' Before the Germans were to fire their rockets at England, ''official London began to empty, as word of this ugly development was passed among the privileged few.'' When the rockets appeared, ''once again the maddened London crowds had taken to the subway tunnels.''
      As may now be clear, one of Mr. Irving's most reprehensible habits is to ascribe his own opinions and preferences to others, without a single verifiable quote: Patton ''was torn by the sight of what the Allies had done'' to the Germans. At the end of the war ''there is no question that Patton had come to admire the Germans, the very people he had been fighting. Everything he saw of Russians, Poles, and Jews aroused loathing in him ... By mid-September he was describing the Jews as 'lower than animals' - he had by then toured many of their refugee camps and been sickened by the aspect.'' An American general was supposed to have said that ''the Allied propaganda about the Germans was evidently untrue.'' Here are three items that come in rapid succession: John McCloy telephones Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to tell him that in the matter of the Morgenthau Plan ''the Semites ... had won''; Churchill was ''animated'' by the Morgenthau Plan because of ''the possibility of increasing British postwar exports at Germany's expense''; the discipline of the United States Army was ''already crumbling.''
      Meanwhile, the Allied generals lived in the midst of ''ascending degrees of opulence.'' Montgomery could defeat the Germans only ''by brute force.'' How ''very shallow Montgomery's mind was.'' Patton, too, was ''foul-mouthed ... a swaggering hothead who womanized ceaselessly and lived in dread of his wife's finding out.'' In Sicily, Patton found General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, ''cowering behind a sheltering ridge.'' Later, Smith ''had actually sold U.S. government weapons in order to pay for the fancy shotgun being made for him.''
      All of this sounds like a Nazi propaganda pamphlet, which it isn't. It is an attempt at a thoroughly researched, objective military history, detailing the arguments, the quarrels, the posturings and the incompatibilities of American and British generals. These things existed; yet Mr. Irving relishes strategy less than gossip, mostly sexual, about the generals' mistresses, or about the number of condoms Patton ''ordered'' before going on leave to London. The trouble is not that Mr. Irving is an amateur historian; it is that he is a professional writer. The trouble is not only that many of his ''facts'' are wrong and that his political preferences are often vile; it is that he does not have the courage to admit his beliefs. He knows that neo-Nazi books are hardly publishable, and that they will not make money. In fact, this book is written not for ex-Nazis or neo-Nazis but for the broadest possible American audience.
      And so we arrive at the crowning example of Mr. Irving's dishonesty. How does he end his book? Here is the next to the last paragraph, his summing up of the ''Eisenhower-Montgomery relationship'': ''It would be churlish to dwell on the differences between these two great commanders in chief ... The victory which the Allies won, against fearsome odds, was due not just to the wonders of Ultra, the superiority of Anglo-American air power, and the rightness of their cause. It owed much to the fine generalship displayed by their senior commanders.'' Who were these fine commanders? ''Generals,'' he wrote earlier, who ''paid courtesy visits to each other, compared notes and plans, sharpened knives, and slapped each other on the back - feeling for the right place to plunge the blade when the time came.'' So much for the courage of Mr. Irving's convictions.

    6. A damning review by Lukacs, who admired Churchill and was sent to a camp in 1944 because he was half Jewish. Irving clearly is a very unsatisfactory historian indeed, though he has found great information from archives which others missed. One example is that he found the invaluable diaries of Dr Goebbels. What Irving says about Patton's attitude to Russians and Jews is probably accurate - he was an extreme antisemite and said the US had gone to war with the wrong enemy (it should have been Russia).

  2. This is interesting and convincing, though I strongly wish the blogger would not misuse the word 'lying': it does not mean saying things that are not true.

  3. 'Irving, who has written many books about World War II and is preparing a biography of Goebbels, denied accusations that he was an ″apologist for Hitler,″ but stood by his contention that there was no Holocaust. In an article he wrote in Tuesday’s Guardian, he predicted that ″one year from now the Holocaust will be discredited.″

    'Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neil said it would have been more convenient if a non-controversial historian had offered the newspaper new extracts from the diaries, but Irving came up with ″a world scoop″ and he wasn’t about to turn it down.

    'Neil said Irving was one of the few people who could decipher Goebbels’ spidery handwriting and shorthand. Irving said it had taken him two years to learn how to read it.

    'Actress Miriam Karlin, a member of the Anti-Nazi League who protested outside Irving’s house on Saturday, said he was totally unsuitable for translating accurately because of his denial of the Holocaust, in which her mother’s family died.

    'Irving countered: ″My opponents say, ‘There you are, he’s going to give it a right-wing slant.’ But you can’t do that because you’d leave yourself open to immediate detection.″'


  5. If you wish to read some Lukacs, Confessions of an Original Sinner and A Thread of Years are good books to start with. And Remembered Past is a large selection from many of his books.

  6. Mr Hitler took existing ideas in German intellectual climate (pushed by many academics - not just "a senior private" in the Bavarian army), most importantly antisemitism, but also the idea that Germany most become a world power or perish, and pushed these ideas to their ultimate extreme. How much all these was influenced by Hitler's life experiences (which were horrific - but no more horrific than those of many men who did NOT turn into monsters) and his drug dependence (pushed by his quack doctor) is hotly debated by his biographers. It should also be remembered that there was an odd division of labour - neither Hitler or even Himmler (the head of the SS) murdered anyone with their own hands - on Himmler's one visit to an extermination camp he was violently sick (and during his one effort at military command Himmler had a breakdown and had to go to a rest home). They could stay in the world of ideas (of dreams) whilst other men, men who could say to themselves "I have to obey orders" (later "I was only obeying orders") did the actual killing. As for the dreams of world power - they never made any sense, other powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union (but also the British Empire - not "a small island off the coast of Europe", but a third of the entire planet) had vastly greatly resources than Germany - the idea that Germany could dominate the world was absurd.. But Adolf Hitler was a dictator - and one does not tell dictators that their dreams are impossible.

  7. As for Hitler the man - long before the drugs (again the drugs were not his fault - they were from his quack doctor) he was a dream - he lived in a world dreams which (and this is the key point) he insisted be made reality. He was not an unintelligent man, on the contrary he was highly intelligent, but he had no "Common Sense" - and as he himself often said, no ordinary Moral Sense, he believed himself to be above petty concerns of moral right and moral wrong ("it means nothing to me") - only his dreams mattered, and the desire to turn those dreams into reality. Someone like Richard Wagner made a sharp distinction between his dreams and real life - in his dreams there were no Jews, but also no money (people would work for love), but Richard Wagner did not demand that real life was in accord with his fantasies - Adolf Hitler did.

    1. Thank you. That's very interesting. I think Hitler's views on Jews were formed before the Great War in Vienna, where there were many Jews who wore Jewish dress and others who were rich and powerful.

    2. Yes, hoping to defeat the British Empire was impossible, but he did defeat France and was expected to defeat and conquer Russia (the USSR) and could have done so. Clever diplomacy by Chamberlain and Daladier would have avoided going to war in 1939 but it might well have happened later.

    3. Yes - Martin Luther (in his pain wracked final years) might write bloodthirsty nonsense about the Jews. And philosophers such as Fichte might argue that the German people would be better off without Jews. But Hitler demanded that dreams be made reality - because his fantasies must be made real.

      Richard Wagner and others kept their dreams in the world of art - they did not demand that the world around them conformed to their artistic dreams.

      After all Richard Wagner did not just write about how nice it would be if there were no Jews - he also wanted to abolish money and have everyone work out of love. But if someone had said to him "right you are Sir - you will not be asking for payment for your latest music-drama" he would have said they were barking mad, confusing art with real life.