By Hadding Scott
The following article is a critical analysis of some statements made by British historian David Irving in a “privately filmed interview” of April 2009 lasting over 2 hours, and entitled, “Talking Frankly.” Until early 2016, this interview was available only on DVD. It was posted on YouTube in March 2016. It can also be watched here:
I first became aware of David Irving about 1992 during the period (1988 – 1995) when he acquired the reputation of being a “notorious Holocaust Denier.” The David Irving of that time was an inspiring figure. He espoused the idealism of pursuing truth rather than profit. He was a fearless iconoclast. The fact that he was already a celebrity historian (for example having been discussed in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five as the author of the book about Dresden, and having appeared on Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of as an expert on Eva Braun) made his stand for the cause of Holocaust Revisionism all the more impressive. This was a man who had status and something to lose, who was nonetheless championing the most controversial of truths. The persona that David Irving projected in that period resonated with my own ideals and encouraged me to live up to them.
After his testimony for Ernst Zündel in1988, David Irving seemed to be an intellectual hero in full self-actualization. He said in a 1988 speech that he knew that he had “joined the ranks of the damned” and that the next five to ten years would be difficult, but that he would persevere. David Irving’s stand for Holocaust Revisionism seemed to be an expression of his long-evident character as the historian who intended to correct the omissions and distortions of victors’ history. Holocaust Revisionism seemed to be consistent with the essence of David Irving, the logical next stage in the evolution of the heroic historian.
But in retrospect, with greater knowledge, one can see that David Irving’s truth-advocacy was never entirely free of hesitation. While David Irving seemed to be an uncompromising truthteller, one can just barely discern the influence of calculated self-interest and the moistened finger in the breeze, even in his most outspokenly controversial period. The seed of retreat was always there.
For example, in that 1988 speech, wherein David Irving proclaims that he is now an “unbeliever” in the Auschwitz gas-chamber story, and that the whole gas-chamber story is likely false, he balks at blaming Jews for the lie. Instead, he claims that British psychological warfare put out the gas-chamber story “quite cold-bloodedly” — although documents of the British government (visible on Irving’s own site) indicated that the British psychological warfare executive was repeating a story that came to them from Jews. I assume that David Irving unearthed all of his documents relating to this matter at about the same time, whence it follows that David Irving knew, when he said in 1988 that the British had invented the gas-chamber story, that it really came from Jews.
All of this points to a fear of the Jews that was never entirely overcome. Jewish power is, after all, a serious matter for a commercial author who depends on the Jewish-dominated publishing industry for his livelihood.
It seems that David Irving believed that he could minimize conflict with Jews by minimizing Jewish responsibility for the Holocaust-lie. During that 1988 speech, as Irving explains how Jews themselves are supposed victims of the lie, a man in the audience blurts out, “You’re very generous!” In 1988 David Irving was indeed generous in his assessment of the role of Jews in promoting the Holocaust, but that generosity did not save him from Jewish odium and organized Jewish harassment.
In 1996, when Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich appeared, it became clear that David Irving was in retreat, and trying to appease his enemies by writing a book that slammed a leading figure in Hitler’s Germany while showing sympathy toward Jews.
I heard a prominent Holocaust Revisionist at that time remark (privately) that David Irving had been accustomed to living the high life as a famous historian who drove a Rolls Royce, and, contrary to his professed idealism and professed willingness to sacrifice in pursuit of truth, David Irving had embraced Holocaust Revisionism with the expectation that it would be the next big thing in modern historiography, and that he would benefit from having gotten into it early – not realizing how adversely the Jewish backlash would affect his lifestyle and interfere with his career.
In other words, David Irving was never as idealistic as he professed to be. However impressive, however convincing and inspiring he seemed in the period from 1988 to 1995, David Irving was more heroic tenor than hero. This is clearer than ever today.
During the failed libel-suit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books in 2000, Irving complained extensively about the pecuniary loss that he had suffered as a result of Jewish propaganda against him as a “Holocaust Denier.” With that suit he was trying to escape the label “Holocaust Denier,” and in 2016 he seems to be still trying.
These days, David Irving actually promotes the proposition that there really was some kind of Holocaust, and, although he has not retracted his endorsement of the Leuchter Report (which he himself republished in 1989), on the whole he is not only trying to distance himself from Holocaust Revisionism but indeed working against it.
A big part of the problem with David Irving is the lack of rigor in his reasoning. Because he never bothers to define the term Holocaust, and never specifies how it is supposed to have happened, David Irving is able to say:
“How many died in the Holocaust? … Well the answer is: a lot.”
It is always an inauspicious beginning to a discussion of the Holocaust when the term is left vague and undefined, because it means that every Jew who died of a disease, and every Jewish criminal who was punished, and even every Jew whose whereabouts were unknown after the war, may be counted as a victim of the Holocaust. Anyone who embarks on such a discussion without defining the term has already decided that the number who died in the Holocaust will be “a lot.”
Most of “Talking Frankly” is autobiographic, but in the final segment David Irving presents a revised version of the Holocaust that salvages as much of the genocide-accusation that can be salvaged without contradicting the Leuchter Report. There are three main elements here. The order in which he presents them reflects their importance in retreating from the quasi-heroic stand that he took in 1988. First he makes a partial retreat from his position on Auschwitz; then he asserts that many Jews were killed in the Operation Reinhardt camps; finally, he plays up an alleged mass-shooting of Jews that is supposed to have happened in 1941.
David Irving Increases his Death-Toll for Auschwitz (1:32:38 – 1:35:43)
In 1995, David Irving endorsed a death-toll for Auschwitz of only 100,000 Jews:
“If we look just at the case of Auschwitz, I think probably as many as 100,000 Jews died in Auschwitz, which is a brutal slave-labor camp where they had no business to be. The fact that they died in that camp of ‘natural causes’ – epidemics, mostly typhus – is neither here nor there. Of those 100,000 probably about 10,000 were actually physically murdered in the criminal sense. The rest … fell by the wayside in Auschwitz.” (David Irving, Cincinnati 1995,1:31:50-1:32:22)
The number that Irving gave for the Jewish Auschwitz death-toll in 1995 resembles the estimate, “100,000-150,000” of which “a large number would have been Jews,” that Arthur Butz gave in 1989 (A. Butz, JHR, fall 1989).
Irving’s claim that 10% of the 100,000 Jews were murdered, however, was obviously gratuitous (since any SS-personnel discovered to have murdered even one inmate would have been punished) and, in retrospect, a harbinger of his eventual retreat from Revisionism. David Irving in 2009 has this to say about the death-toll at Auschwitz:
“There is a video showing the actual judgment being handed down on them. The judgment was handed down, and in the judgment it says, these people who are guilty today have been the principal officers of a camp, Auschwitz, in which up to 300,000 people of all nationalities met their deaths, came to an end. It doesn’t say they were killed; it doesn’t say they were gassed. It just says they died – up to 300,000.
“Now these, you’ve got to realize this was the Polish courtroom which had all the Auschwitz documents, and all the Auschwitz prisoners to interrogate, and the figure they used in their judgment as they sentenced these men to death was up to 300,000.
“So how, suddenly, did the figure balloon to 4,000,000 on the memorial in Auschwitz in the 1970s and 1980s?
“The Communist director – the Jewish director – of the Auschwitz State Museum, Franciszek Piper, he eventually had that figure chiseled down, and a new monument erected to the 1.2 million killed.
“You notice, it’s rather like Monopoly money, the way they play around with these figures. (1:34:35 – 1:35:43)
Irving here opines about death-tolls claimed for Auschwitz with what seems to be inadequate knowledge of the history of such claims. He implies that there has been wild variation, but the Communist line about how many died in Auschwitz, although universally acknowledged as false today, was quite consistent during the period of Communist rule, as autocratically dictated “truth” ought to be.
The figure of “more than 4,000,000” killed in Auschwitz (which was supposed to include systematically genocided Poles as well as Jews) was promulgated as the official position of the Soviet government on 7 May 1945, and was uncritically repeated by Western news-media (AP, 7 May 1945). The same number was then used by the Communist government of Poland in prosecuting the former commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, at Krakow in March 1947 (AP, 11 March 1947, AP, 16 April 1947).
In the second Auschwitz-trial staged in Krakow, in November and December 1947, 40 other Germans were prosecuted. It is to this trial that David Irving refers. According to the Associated Press, the death-toll alleged at this trial was the same as in the previous Auschwitz-trial, and consistent with the 1945 decree of the Soviet government:
If the report of the Associated Press on the second Auschwitz-trial was correct, then the Communist line of (at least) 4 million dead for Auschwitz was consistently maintained until after the collapse of the Polish People’s Republic in 1989, whereafter the figure was reduced to a less outrageously untenable figure (AP, 18 July 1990).
David Irving seems to assume that facts – “all the Auschwitz documents, and all the Auschwitz prisoners to interrogate” – were relevant in the Krakow trials. But Communist show-trials are not about justice; they are about political propaganda. In such trials the prosecutors and judges are on the same team, the defendant is presumed guilty, and a verdict that substantially contradicts the indictment is simply not possible. It means that the report that this trial made a finding of only 300,000 deaths at Auschwitz – contradicting the Soviet line – cannot be correct.
The video to which David Irving refers does exist. It is a Welt im Film newsreel of 8 January 1948.Welt im Film was a propaganda-arm of the British and American occupation-authorities; as a tool of “re-education” it cannot be considered a highly trustworthy source. Why would Welt im Film have misreported the second Auschwitz-trial’s finding? Perhaps because a report of 4.5 million dead in one camp would have sparked incredulity in the German viewers.
Irving has always boasted of his reliance on primary sources, searching for original documents and interviewing eyewitnesses. But in this instance, relying on a newsreel issued by British and American occupation-authorities instead of a document from the trial, he failed to live up to his own espoused principle.