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Posted Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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The Spectator, London, April 27, 1996

Bente Hogh arriving home with Jessica, Dec 1993
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Bente Hogh arriving home with Jessica, Dec 1993Feature

Sleeping with the Enemy

Nicholas Farrell finds that the beautiful young Danish woman who lives with David Irving doesn't share his politics

THEY SAY that, deep down, every woman loves a fascist. Well, Bente Høgh, a beautiful blonde from Denmark whose natural serenity frequently gives way to a girlish giggle, is just such a woman. She is the common law wife of the reviled revisionist historian, David Irving. She is 32 and he is 58 and the couple have a daughter, Jessica, who is two and a half. Yet Miss Høgh is, so to speak, sleeping with the enemy, for she disagrees wholeheartedly with Mr Irving on virtually everything -- from Hitler to his diet.

Mr Irving, never far from the news, is back in it once again, he has just published his latest work, a biography of Joseph Goebbels, which has been greeted with the usual fanfare of outrage and loathing from most quarters, in particular the Jewish lobby in America. He would probably prefer to describe himself as 'ultra right-wing' rather than 'fascist full stop' or, as Miss Hogh says, 'a mild fascist'. But that is not how most people regard this apologist for Hitler.

Such was the outrage in America at yet another attempt by Mr Irving, who all agree is a brilliant researcher and gifted writer, to shift the blame for the dreadful deeds of the Nazis away from his Volk hero Hitler on to Goebbels, that his American publishers felt obliged not to publish the book. In London it is published by Mr Irving's own imprint, Focal Point. Though he has apparently revised his views, Mr Irving has in the past said that the figure of six million Jews exterminated is a gross exaggeration, and has denied that Hitler had knowledge of the holocaust.

Miss Hogh met Mr Irving in 1991 when she became a tenant of his opulent apartment just off Grosvenor Square. Romance soon began. I decided to seek her out in an attempt to understand how she felt able to reconcile disagreement with Mr Irving about what must rank as the most evil crime committed in the history of mankind with sharing a bed with him. I felt it best to talk out of earshot of Mr Irving. So we set off from the Irving apartment -- which is crowded with photocopiers, books, televisions, computers, a bust of Goebbels by the door, all juxtaposed with Jessica's toys -- for the sanctuary of a nearby café.

Before we left, he made several remarks about the toys everywhere, nobody doing any housework ... nobody, in fact, doing any ironing. He is a finicky man, Mr Irving.

But what, I asked Miss Hogh, of him and the Holocaust? 'Obviously I feel that what happened with the Jews,' she said, 'was absolutely horrendous and sometimes I feel a great.. . It was an awful period of history. And I can appreciate how the Jews feel a certain anger towards David for what happened to them.'

Not just the Jews. For gradually it emerges that her involvement with Mr Irving has had a pretty dramatic effect on her family, who live in Aarhus. her father, a dentist, mother, and two sisters have, for example, all refused even to meet Mr Irving, let alone enter into debate with him. But it does not seem to bother her much, this happy-go-lucky girl who came to England to escape the tedium of Danish suburbia 14 years ago -- 'a very small, very nice, very middle-class community where nothing ever happens.'

'Well,' I asked again, 'what about the holocaust?'

'The holocaust did happen and an awful lot of people got killed.'

'But was there a master plan?'

'There was a plan.'

Politically, she herself is a conservative -- a pretty robust one. 'It has to stop when Indians can come over here from India with ten children and get a ten-bedroom house. Don't you agree?' Conservative yes, but not fascist. So why did she fall for Mr Irving? 'It's very common for nice women to be attracted to bad men,' she said. 'I just find it interesting to be with him. It appeals to my sense of adventure. I like the challenge. All my relationships have been with powerful men.'

But surely bad Mr Irving's power was not that great -- certainly not when compared to that of, say, the Führer himself? 'Well, he has the power to upset every government in the world, have you met anybody who has got court cases against the German government, the Canadian government, the Australian government...?'

But if she disagreed with him about politics and history they must have some fierce arguments? Didn't she try to argue him out of his views? 'Let's just say we agree to disagree. Do you agree with everything your wife says?' An image sprang to mind of the couple rowing during the washing-up about just how many died in the camps and just who gave the orders.

Once, several years ago, I asked Mr Irving if he was mad, he said that operating as he does on the outer edges of intellectual hyperspace, he sometimes wondered, but unfortunately he had no intellectual thermometer to stick into his brain to find out. Did Miss Høgh think the father of her child was evil? 'he definitely has an evil streak in him.' Was this attractive? 'No, not at all. But he also has a charming side, he's a bit of a split personality. It's a constant challenge being with David. No day is the same. He has all these different moods.'

Moods? What moods? 'The other day I gave him a cup of coffee and I had not preheated his cup. he likes his cup preheated in boiling water. And so he just threw everything in the sink.' She smiled as she recalled the incident. She seems to find much about him amusing. Unlike Hitler, Mr Irving is not a vegetarian, but he has many little domestic obsessions. his beer must be served in a frosted glass. he insists on three-course dinners with soup to start. Wasn't that a bit of a bore for her? 'Not if you buy ready-cooked meals,' she said with a chuckle. 'David does not like to do anything domestic, he thinks that should be entirely up to the woman. Occasionally he comes and grabs the Hoover from me to show me how to work it. Oh, and when you stick stamps on an envelope they must be stuck on completely straight.'

Miss Høgh thought housework should be shared, adding as she often did, 'What do you think?' I replied that my wife liked to sit on the sofa non-stop doing the crossword or else play 'Minesweeper' on the computer all day and that I did most of the cooking as well. She said, 'You'll have to send her on a training course to David, then.'

Come nightfall in the Irving household, dinner and soup out of the way, it is time to wind down and watch television. He likes 'silly American films'. She does not. She prefers documentaries and serious stuff -- 'Channel 4 and BBC 2.' More disagreement. But if she went out on her own he would sulk. So she doesn't.

On one issue she is, however, in wholehearted agreement with Mr Irving: his right to publish his views. She is a firm believer in the absolute right of free speech -- more or less. Was it all right then, I asked, to call a black man a 'filthy nigger'? She replied, 'That's an insult. That's not a matter of freedom of speech. No one forces people to read David's books. If somebody wants to go around writing that the earth is square they ought to be allowed to. The more people object to David the more he will carry on. he thrives on the attention, he really feeds on the opposition. They should just leave him alone, he loves controversy, loves to see his name in the headlines. I sometimes think he's got so much going on in his head how does he cope with it all?'

I wondered how she coped, to which she replied, 'I personally take everything with a pinch of salt. I try to have a sense of humour about it. At least David is not boring.' She gives the impression that it all, and he, are just a piece of harmless fun.



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