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1993: Banned from the German Federal Archives

In the Interests of the German People

I ONCE wrote, in a chapter I contributed to a book on the subject, that if I ever found a rival author, let us say Mr William Manchester, was running a year ahead of me on an identical project, and about to publish, I would wait until he was really near the end and then make a gift to him of my entire research files, accompanied by a suitably gushing letter. He could hardly ignore my offer. Exploiting the files would delay his project ruinously, and might even knock his manuscript hopelessly out of kilter -- unhinge it.

I fact the only time I used this tactic was when I supplied the 1938 diary of General Louis Spears' wife Mary Borden, the novelist, to historian Martin Gilbert. The Borden diary is an essential source for research into Winston Churchill's anti-Chamberlain plotting at the time of Munich. I found it in Boston, Massachusetts. The cheerful but indolent Gilbert never used it -- no surprises there.

I mention this, because the position I unwittingly found myself in that summer of 1992 was the plight I would have willingly inflicted on my rivals: a completed Goebbels biography on the one hand, and the subject's hitherto missing diaries suddenly unleashed upon me, the diaries which I had retrieved from the Moscow archives: what might be called an embarrasment of riches. It took me the better part of three years to reconstruct the whole book. I had to transcribe hundreds of diary pages and meld them in, assigning the correct relevance to each new diary passage.

I also supplied vital chunks of the diaries to my friend Dr Ralf-Georg Reuth, a rival Goebbels biographer and journalist on the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the FAZ. His own Goebbels biography had by then already appeared, but a publisher had commissioned him to issue an abridged five-volume edition of the Goebbels diaries.

I filled in the most obvious gaps for him -- the whole of 1938, the 1934 Röhm Purge, Kristallnacht, August 1939, and the like, but I earned no credit for this. In fact the publishers, Piper Verlag, wantonly attacked me in a German television broadcast, and stated that it was scandalous that ausgerechnet David Irving, i.e. "of all people," should have been privileged to obtain them in Moscow.

It was all part of a growing, and a worrying, pattern. Reuth kept his part of the horsetrade upon which we had agreed. He met me in an inn off the main square in Bonn, and over dinner handed over a package containing Goebbels diary fragments for 1944, and the whole diary of the legendary young Nazi, Horst Wessel, too. I thanked him in my acknowledgements when my biography appeared in 1996, and earned an insulting, hysterical letter for having done so. The climate in Germany for scholarly cooperation, even by the 1990s, was not a good one.


Goebels diariesSOME loose ends still remained in the summer of 1993. I had found Leopold Gutterer, Goebbels' wartime state secretary, aged ninety, living in Aachen. I wanted to revisit the Goebbels archives housed in the city hall of his native Mönchengladbach, and give them a set of the Moscow diary extracts that I had promised. I had made a second set to donate to the Bundesarchiv, the German federal archives. While in the latter building, I wanted to have a shot at deciphering a key word on one microfiche, two words left blank in Elke Fröhlich's transcription, but which I surmised showed Adolf Hitler insisting on better conditions for the Jews in the camps.

I had driven over to Germany on a brief speaking tour arranged by my friends. Two journalists from the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat trailed me, by agreement. In Berlin I took them over to the Bogensee lake, and showed them the two houses that Goebbels had built there -- a cottage for his mistress Lida Baarova, and later a more opulent mansion for his family at the other end of the lake -- and I showed the journalists the rusting metal hooks I had found screwed into a lakeside tree branch from which Goebbels had suspended a swing for his ill-starred children.

In Aachen Gutterer was still lively and alert. His mind was full of surprising details. On trial in Hamburg after the war, he learned one day that that none other than Herschel Grynszpan was in the public gallery -- the young Jew who in November 1938 had assassinated the number two man in the German embassy in Paris, triggering the Goebbels pogrom, the Night of Broken Glass. It seemed ironic that of all the Jews who had come under the Nazis' heel, the murderer Grynszpan should somehow have survived.

I left the set of Goebbels diaries at the Mönchengladbach archives, received several photos of his girlfriends in return, and drove on down to the German Federal Archives building on a hilltop outside Koblenz.

It was July 1, 1993. In my diary I wrote on the day before that this might well be my last visit for a while, as the Goebbels book was now complete. For thirty years I had been visiting this building and its more humble predecessor and I had turned over most of my archives to them in gratitude, adding more boxes as each book was completed. I had brought a truckload of boxes down to the building only a few months before, in the spring of 1992, and archive directors had begun pressing me to sign the formal deed of transfer.

I was usually an honoured visitor, but this time I noticed a certain shiftiness in the junior staff as I walked in. As I ordered up the two microfiches of Goebbels papers, a flunky said that the archive directors had asked to see me upstairs. In the boardroom I found two or three archive directors, including its president and vice-president Dr Büttner; I guessed that they wanted to express formal gratitude for the Goebbels diaries I had brought with me. The newspapers -- particularly Der Spiegel-- had been full of my scoop for weeks.

I was wrong. They handed me a lengthy typed letter; its date -- July 1, 1993 -- was entered in ink that was still wet. That suddenly did not look so good. The deputy chief's face registered embarrassment. The letter declared that "in the interests of the German people" I was forthwith banned from entering or using the federal archives. The general sense of the letter was that archives were available only to historians who came to politically acceptable conclusions, and I was believed not to be among their number, as the recent court proceedings in Bavaria had shown.

True, there were words of gratitude for the rare documents that I had turned over to them over the last quarter century, the Sammlung Irving: "We would hope that despite the unfortunate circumstances we may retain them here," said the deputy chief, twisting his hands. "But if you insist on us mailing them back to you in England we would regretfully comply."

His face red and awkward, a colleague, Dr Posthuber, tugged at his sleeve. "Mit der Post wird das wohl kaum gehen, Herr Vizepräsident," he murmured.

Sammlung Iving labelUsing regular mail was out of the question. "The Sammlung Irving, Herr Vizepräsident -- it weighs nearly a ton."

The situation was absurd, ludicrous; after the initial shock I felt in control, superior to them all.

"Ich merke, Herr Vizepräsident fühlen sich nicht wohl in seinem eigenen Haut," I said with a smile which I tried to keep faint, so as not to offend. I did suggest that they might informally allow me one hour to complete the task I had come for; but panic, like gangrene, had set in. Senior German civil servants were cowards, and always have been.

So that was it. I stipulated that if I was to be physically banned from the archives, there could be no question of my collection remaining.


AS I rapidly packed my things, that first July day of 1993, and left the Federal Archives research room, I noticed Gudrun, the surviving daughter of Heinrich Himmler; he called her Püppi. I paused briefly to exchange pleasantries, and she thanked me for having donated to the archives the colour copies of her father's missing diaries for 1935 and 1939.

I inquired what she was working on.

"A book to clear my father's name," she said. She had been working on this book since 1945, I later found out.

It might seem that she was engaged in a devoted but hopeless task. There are daughters, and daughters: some revere their fathers, others despise them. Gudrun had embarked on a lifelong Labour of Sisyphus. Why? As a penance? But then I was ushered out, and have not returned since then.

I drove back to my hotel, issued a statement to the German press agency, The Times, and The Daily Telegraph, and phoned Dr Reuth, now chief of the FAZ's Berlin bureau. He said that this development was without precedent. Shortly, he phoned back -- his newspaper had guaranteed him the whole back page of its Feuilleton, (Review) section, to cover the story.

The article never appeared. This was, I recall, the first time that I began to appreciate that I was in deepening trouble. The ban was reported around the world, but the German press uttered not a whimper, and their cowardly historians remained silent too.

A paper war began with the archives: with me now gone, they insisted on cherry-picking the most valuable items in my collection, and retaining them; I refused to accept back any shipment unless the Sammlung returned intact.

Sammlung IrvingTen years of shameful wrangling would pass before a German government transport truck finally brought the boxes back to England (with the most valuable items still missing); by that time I had no room for them, as my London home had been seized in the wake of the Lipstadt trial, together with the historical archives still within its walls, and the truck was unloaded into a warehouse in Wiltshire.


TO be fair, I will add that the Bundesarchiv had at first put up quite a fight on my behalf. My Mainz lawyer, Dr K. A. R. Schütz, appealed against their decision in their country's Verwaltungsgericht. Given sight of the bulky Irving file, the lawyer found the whole behind-the-scenes battle between the archives and the ministry of the interior which controlled it. The directors had put up a manful fight against the insult and injury being proposed against me, though one might suspect this was more in their own interest than in mine.

Over the next ten years I repeatedly came across caches of German wartime documents, looted by GIs, which properly belonged in Koblenz, and I acted as intermediary. Among them were the papers of Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, and other top Nazis, and the Gestapo interrogations of the staff of Rudolf Hess: under its constitution the Bundesarchiv had a statutory obligation to retrieve missing German archives from around the world, and I continued to cooperate sub rosa with its officials, quietly drawing their attention to thefts of documents from the Berlin Document Center, and to valuable caches of stolen or looted Nazi files upon which I had stumbled in my wanderings around the United States.

The ministry's attitude actually hardened. As the years passed, the archives consequently adopted a strange dog-in-the-manger attitude. The problem came to a head when a Philadelphia antique dealer bought the papers of the late Nuremberg prosecutor, Robert M. W. Kempner, lock-stock-and-barrel, and he invited me to come and assess them: they turned out to contain a ton or more of materials stolen from the Nuremberg courthouse in 1947, including the original handwritten war diary of the Sonderstab Oldenburg -- the OKW unit set up in February 1941 to prepare the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union.

I informed my contact man at the Bundesarchiv, Dr Wilhelm Lenz, that the dealer was willing to restore the files to Germany for modest but proper reward; after some weeks of negotiation, Lenz informed me that the archives directorate had forbidden him to have any further contact with me, even though it meant the permanent loss of these missing troves. Their panic was now comparable to the Seventh Army's Rout at Falaise, and I never found out why.

All that I have been able to do since then is to tease and tantalize the archives each time I come across a new hoard, knowing that the ministry binds their hands. I still tell them of all that I find, because I feel obliged to do so, and where to get it. From the archives comes only silence in return.

© David Irving 2007

Documents on David Irving's Relations with the German Federal Archives  - Bundesarchiv and BundesarchivMilitärarchiv - especially letter to Dr Büttner, Jan 18, 1994 (in German)

© Focal Point 2007 F Irving write to David Irving