Posted Monday, August 12, 2002

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Pompous prat: Evans

Adams: But you've got to deal with the fact that in the US an immense number of people believe the world is six thousand years old, or their next door neighbours have been bodily abducted by aliens. It is a very strange country.

Evans: You can't have laws against that. As Alan Dershowitz, the American lawyer, said, "I don't want an American government telling me that I must believe in the Holocaust because I don't want at some future point a government telling me I must not". I think one of the many things the trial was about was about preserving freedom of speech. After all, it was Mr Irving who is trying to get a book withdrawn and pulped, criticism of himself and Holocaust deniers suppressed, undertakings given that those criticisms would not be made again. And by rejecting that, the High Court upheld the right for free debate in this area.Irving

Adams: Richard, let's get back to the first of the four key principles because it raises an issue that you and I need to look at -- the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was far less than six million. It amounted to only a few hundred thousand and was thus similar to or less than the number of German civilians killed in Allied bombing raids. This is important because Irving writes a book on the bombing of Dresden, which brings us to Document TB 47. Would you be kind enough to tell the listener about this.

Evans: Yes, there's a chapter in the book about the bombing of Dresden. It's Irving's first and in Dresdensome ways most successful book, and it [the document] came up in one of its or more of its many editions with a figure of the dead in the Allied bombing raids in February 1945 on the City of Dresden of between 202 000 or 202 000, I think, and 250 000, which is just a staggering number in a city of maybe 600 000 people. And we -

Adams: Well, it's a nuclear number, isn't it?

Evans: More, more than that, you know, it's -

Adams: -- bigger than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Evans: So, of course, we checked this out and we found it was based on a document called TB 47 ' Tagesbefehl', or 'Order of the day' 47, which is a police report containing statistics and written in Dresden after the bombing raids -- and Irving had obtained a copy of this, or a copy of a copy of a copy, I think, it was several removes and presented this as an authentic document, and it emerged that in fact there was a police report.Irving They'd counted the bodies very carefully and the remains, and all kinds of documentation were put together, and it had been, it had concluded that there were between 20 000 and, or 20 200, and 25 000 dead. And this got to Dr Goebbels's Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin who had the bright idea of adding a nought to each of these figures to make them look impressive, and that was the origin of the document. The interesting thing here is that Irving's on record some time before at having agreed that this TB 47 was actually a failure, er, a forgery. So he seems to -- actually --

Adams: He has a certain elasticity of these matters, doesn't he?

Evans: Well, yes, I mean, you know, time again it emerged in the trial that he would be very uncritical, to say the least, of the documents, provinance and authenticity if it favoured his own point of view, and hypercritical if it didn't.

Adams: The on one occasion I actually briefly conversed with him was over, or the issue was raised of the lack of the smoking gun connecting Hitler to the final solution. But he also raises, postulates, that Hitler didn't order or approve of Kristallnacht.

EvansEvans: Yes, now this is in the night of 10th November 1938 when Nazi thugs went on the rampage all the way across Germany, burned hundreds of synagogues to the ground, smashed and destroyed Jewish shops, hauled Jews out of their dwellings and their flats and their houses and beat them up, killed at least 91 of them -- that's the official Nazi statistics -- threw 20 000 Jewish men into concentration camps for a period of several weeks where they were brutally maltreated and beaten up, and a number of them died, and Irving says that Hitler didn't know about this and when he found out in the middle of the night when it was going on he tried to stop it. So what we did was look at every document he cited and in the usual way traced it back to the original, and we found -- first of all there was very strong evidence that Hitler had agreed, had a conversation with Goebbels before Goebbels went and effectively gave the order for this to go ahead, and in order to disassociate himself from it, Hitler kind of went away. But it's quite clear, Goebbels says in his speech to the Nazi Party local leaders who then go off and phone their locality to set things in motion, he says it's an order that's come from the Führer. The Nazi Party court, which investigated these actions some time afterwards, concluded also that it was an order that had come from the top, and therefore those Nazis who committed murders should not be prosecuted. And then if you look at the telegram, the police telegrams that went to the localities where this is going on, where Irving says they're all attempts to stop it, in fact they're much more circumscribed. They're attempts to stop the burning down of buildings, particularly synagogues where there is German property next door, which might be endangered. And we looked at 11 pages, describing this, these events in one of Irving's books, and it took us -- myself and my research assistants -- 80 pages in my report to unravel the fantastic tangle of misrepresentations in what Irving had written.Irving

Adams: How does he, how does he justify his denial of the gas chambers? Documents?

Evans: Well, this is an area which was the provinence of Robert Jan van Pelt, who's the world's expert on the Auschwitz camp and its technical installations, who wrote a report, turned into a book three times the size of mine, called The Case for Auschwitz.

But Irving used a number of different arguments to, first of all he doesn't believe in the testimony of Holocaust survivors. He believes that they all invented everything.

Adams: They're a part of this enormous conspiracy.

Evans: That's right, though strangely enough, although he says they can't be trusted because they're old memories long after the event, he does trust the memories of Hitler's confidants and assistants -- and they're written long after the events.Irving It is a bit of double standard there which the court indeed commented on. Then he brought forward a number of highly technical arguments, many of them quite gruesome sorts to try and suggest that bthere were no, that people were not gassed, and he used in particular a report called The Leuchter Report.

Adams: Yes, this is by that very strange fellow who likes building execution machines for Bible-belt states.

Evans: Yes, the self-styled expertIrving in execution and gas chambers and lethal injection machines who in a trial of, in Canada in 1988, was commissioned to go to Au -

Adams: A trial of a war criminal, yes.

Evans: No, no, not at trial of a war criminal, the trial of a man called Ernst Zündel, author of books such as The Hitler we loved and why and UFOs -- Nazis secret weapons, in which he suggested that the Nazis were still there in secret bases underneath the Antarctic from which every now and again -

Adams: Oh, silly me, of course, yes, yes.

Evans: -- they send out flying saucers to see if it's safe to come back, you know. So, certainly a strange man

Adams: Hence the pattern of bodily abductions, I think

Evans: LeuchterNot a war criminal, and under an archaic law in Canada against spreading false news -- it was subsequently ruled unconstitutional -- but at the time it was a big trial, and the defence of Zündel commissioned Leuchter to go, which he did -- secretly -- to Auschwitz and take samples of the walls of the crematorium that was used as a gas chamber, and the point is that the gas -- cyanide gas -- would leave residues -

Adams: -- would leave traces, yes -

Evans: and he had these analysed independently by somebody, by a chemist who didn't know what they were and found the residue was extremely low, and he concluded therefore that they were only, the chamber was -- because there were residues -- but the chamber was only used for delousing clothes.Irving

Adams: Now the analyst himself has since said that's not what my analysis demonstrates.

Evans: Well, in the first place -

Adams: He's in fact tried to protest the way his findings were used.

Evans: Well, in the first place, of course, what was analysed were not tiny little scrapings off the outer millimetre but huge great chunks out of the walls, so since the, since the gas residue didn't penetrate into the walls it's not surprising that the concentration is very low. Secondly, you need 22 times more concentration, higher concentration of cyanide gas to kill lice than you do human beings, er, you know, they're very small and they're in the interstices of clothes, and so on. So in fact in a way it showed the opposite. So it's agreed it's a completely discredited document, but it's that document which Irving claimed converted him to believing that the gas chambers were not, not used.

Adams: Right, yea. This is LNL, Radio National, Radio Australia and the World Wide Web, my guest is Richard J Evans, author of Telling Lies About Hitler, the Holocaust History and the David Irving Trial.

Tell us, Richard, about that, we talked about sort of latter day surrealism, Monty Python, et al, there was a genuinely surreal moment where Irving referred to the judge as 'Mein Führer'.

Evans: There was, yes. It was towards the end of his final plea, sort of summing up speech, and he was dealing with a meeting, public meeting, and Germany in the early 1990s where among the audience were a group of neo-Nazis, skinhead thugs who started the old Nazi chant of 'Sieg Heil' -- hail victory, as Irving was speaking, and this figured in the trial because one of the issues was Lipstadt's allegation that Irving had neo-fascist connections and moved in the sort of neo-fascist, neo-Nazi scene, and Irving was trying to refute this and he looked at the judge and said something like, "Well, I didn't, you know, I told them to stop saying this mein Führer", and he sort of somehow thought in his way back into there, it all merged in his mind in some sort of way. Of course, afterwards he tried to say "No, I tried to stop them saying mein Führer", but actually he did apologise to the judge at the time, and it's quite clear that this was a slip of the tongue. The court, I'm afraid, dissolved into rather unseemly hilarity.Irving

Adams: I think seemly, seemly in that case.

Evans: The judge wasn't amused, the judge wasn't amused and told us all to stop laughing.

Adams: Richard, here's a guy who says we cannot take witnesses statements, survivor statements as truthful. If one was to apply that to history in its entirety, [it] would make history just about impossible, wouldn't it? In other words, if things people said about their experiences in the Great Fire [of London] or Agincourt, whatever.

Evans: Absolutely, I mean, of course the point is as I said, where eyewitness written after the events take a line that Irving doesn't like, then he discredits them, but where they do support what he wants to say, for example, the eyewitness reports of Nazi officials written after the event about the Kristallnacht, then he does give credence to them, and the first point to make is that the historians have to apply the same criteria of criticism to all documents, no matter what they say. Having said that, I think the second point is that of course memoirs and documents and eyewitness reports written long after the events with which they deal are intrinsically more problematical than things written at the time. But that's not to say that things written at the time are not problematical either.

Adams: Absolutely.

Evans: Historians have to be a very suspicious lot, I'm afraid.

Adams: Well, now there is (.) the quest for the historical Jesus and other matters related to the Judeo-Christian tradition. You and I have lived through an era in which there's been more and more attention to save the Gospels -- which of them are contemporary account, which of them are written at significantly later dates and all sorts of analyses are now applied, aren't they, to test, to try and ascertain their authenticity?

Evans: That's right, yes. You can examine them linguistically, but this is very old. It goes back to really philology, the emergence of the discipline of ancient Greek and ancient Latin philology in the early 19th century, of looking at texts and looking at the language and looking at the words very, very carefully to try and compare them with other relevant texts and figure out their precise meaning.

Adams: Richard, did the Eichmann trial come up at all?

Evans: Well, yes, in the extent that we did obtain from the Israeli government the release of the extensive memoirs that Eichmann wrote while he was in prison in Jerusalem in the early sixties. Adolf Eichmann was the principal bureaucrat of the so-called 'Final Solution'. He was the man who moved the Jews around Europe and got them taken to the killing camps, and he was kidnapped by the Israelis from Argentina where he was in exile in the late fifties, and put on trial in Jerusalem, and interestingly, that particular trial depended very heavily on survivor testimony. A whole series of people who'd been in the camps were brought into the witness box to testify, whereas -- Eichmann was found guilty and indeed was hanged by the Israelis -- whereas in the Irving trial the defence did not call survivors. And there were two main reasons for that. One was I think that this distance from those events of 50- 60 years, dealing with elderly people, it would not be really wise to subject them to hostile cross-examination by a man who clearly didn't believe that they had gone through what they had gone through. The second -

Adams: That's not the reason I raised that trial because -- Irving

Evans: Look, can I just say, secondly, it was very important to keep the focus on Irving and Irving's historical writings, and this is not a trial about proving that the Holocaust happened. It was a trial about dealing with Lipstadt's allegations that Irving had falsified the documents. It's a very fine line and of course one has implications for the other. But it was very important for the defence to keep that focus on Irving all the time.

Adams: Well, I raised the issue simply because I wondered whether or not Eichmann's own evidence might have been useful for your side of the case. I mean, there are, there's been quite a number of people that have gone to the gallows, not as Holocaust deniers but as blame-shifters.

Evans: Hmm. Well, of course, I mean you can argue, I think Irving has argued that those old Nazis who put the blame on Hitler were simply trying to shift the blame from themselves. On the other hand, there is quite a lot of evidence provided by Eichmann himself that there were orders from above, and most importantly of all, it's Himmler the top man in the SS, Eichmann's ultimate boss under Hitler, he referred in a number of speeches, and so on, to having to carry out 'a soldierly command', which could only come from Hitler, couldn't come from anybody else, to exterminate the Jews with nobody else who could actually command him to do anything at all. So that, I think, is more important. I mean, in that sense what Eichmann wrote is somewhat peripheral, partly because it was a bit contradictory.

Adams: How did you feel when the trial was over, apart from obviously feeling drained, just as you claimed 'jetlagged' today?

Evans: Er, well, I mean I, it was, elated really. The judgment, it was an extraordinary piece of legal reasoning of 350 pages long by Mr Justice Gray, absolutely comprehensive. It found for the defence on all the central issues, and against the defence on one or two peripheral issues that did not really in the end weigh very heavily in the balance.

Adams: Now, the defence team and Irving had received copies of Justice Gray's 350 pages before it was delivered in court -

Evans: Yes, and I was -

Adams: -- so they weren't shocked by it because they were prepared, but nonetheless I have to ask you, what was Irving's reaction on the day?

Evans: Well, he knew what it contained on the day, but of course nobody had time to really read the whole thing. It was so long and so very carefully reasoned, and on his, I mean I was there in court when David [oops!], Mr Justice Gray read out, I think, a 66-page summary and extracts of the most salient parts of it, and I could see Irving getting redder and redder in the face.Irving I mean, I think he found it, as anybody would really, deeply embarrassing to and humiliating to be there when somebody read out such a strongly-worded condemnation, and for a judicial judgment it was exceptionally strongly and clearly worded.

Adams: It's now time for me to thank one and all. First of all, Richard Evans. Richard is professor of modern history at Cambridge and the author of Telling Lies About Hitler: The Holocaust History and the David Irving Trial, just published by Verso. Richard has written a number of other books including, Death in Hamburg, Hitler's Shadow, Rituals of Retribution, and In Defence of History, and he's currently writing a history of the Third Reich that David Irving won't like at all. That's the wrap for the week and I've got to now thank the team which I do with my whole heart.





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