A few days ago I went to see Revisionist historian David Irving, who was in Atlanta for a dinner meeting and speech (taped by cable TV’s C-SPAN). It was an interesting evening, one that has created an uproar in the press and among Jewish groups, with much of the coverage being partially inaccurate, misleading, and incomplete.
The subject was Irving’s lengthy and bitter court battle with Emory professor and Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt, who declined an invitation to appear on C-SPAN in a separate program in order to avoid any association with Irving. More than 500 historians have signed a petition asking C-SPAN not to air the Irving talk.
(Last Sunday, C-SPAN aired what may be its version of a compromise, running a program that featured short excerpts from talks by Lipstadt and Irving, with commentary by others.)
In his talk, Irving did not rant and rave and engage in hate-filled speech, but rather built his case calmly and methodically. His scholarly style was impressive; indeed, this is what makes his rhetoric so dangerous, and, unfortunately, believable to many people.
Addressing a few dozen people, Irving focused on his legal battle with Lipstadt, describing in detail how she and her lawyers had, in effect, destroyed his reputation and ruined his career.
Arrayed against him, he said, were some 40 solicitors and barristers (lawyers), historians, experts and consultants, funded by almost $3 million in donations raised for Lipstadt’s defense, in addition to the $7 million spent by her publisher, Penguin Books. (Lipstadt says her team was only half that large.) He charged that Lipstadt “took the Fifth” by refusing to take the stand and testify at her trial, on the advice of her lawyers.
He said he is not a “Holocaust denier” but “questions certain aspects of it.” He spoke of “the great Jewish tragedy of World War II,” and acknowledged that “unpleasant things happened to very large numbers of Jews killed at the camps.” He described mass shootings of Jews on the Eastern Front, which the British learned of contemporaneously through intercepted and decoded messages from the perpetrators. But that is about the extent of his concessions that there might have been a Holocaust.
Irving makes the most of the host of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and falsehoods that have been circulated about the Holocaust. For example, the official death toll at Auschwitz, long put at 4 to 4.5 million, has now been lowered by consensus to about 1.1 million. This reduction of some three million deaths created a propaganda windfall for the Revisionists, even though it does not affect the overall total of up to six million victims of the Holocaust.
Amazingly, Irving also disputes the fact that Auschwitz was “a factory of death,” and specifically the existence of gas chambers there. He claims that in a crematorium building said to contain the gas chambers (a building people visit there today), no one ever died.
In saying this, Irving relies on the fact that the original buildings containing the crematoria and gas chambers, along with much of the Auschwitz death camp records and infrastructure, were demolished or largely dismantled by rebelling inmates, or by the Germans to destroy evidence of mass murder. He claims, misleadingly, that the gas chamber building there now contains an air raid shelter, not a gas chamber, and that it was constructed by the Polish government after the war as a model of what was there previously.
The thing that struck me about Irving’s fascinating and skillfully delivered talk was how flimsy some of his arguments and “facts” are, and how easy it would be to refute them and discredit him.