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"Police Sergeant Hofmann"


WRITING his Hermann Göring biography (Macmillan, 1987), David Irving referred to Göring's role on the night of the November 1923 Hitler Putsch. Among the unpublished source materials that he used was the transcript of the Hitler Treason trial that resulted, held in Munich in 1924. Drafting the biography in August 1985, Mr Irving relied on the American-made microfilm copy of the Bavarian trial transcript, Hitler Prozeß, 4. März 1924, (National Archives, Microcopy T84, Rolls 1, 2, 3), nearly three thousand pages of typescript, selecting and laboriously copy-typing (in German) the passages which were of use for the Göring biography.

Professor Richard Evans, chief defence expert in the Lipstadt trial, expressed irritation in his expert report and testimony that Mr. Irving gave no page numbers to enable him to cross-check and verify references. There were probably two reasons for this omission:

  • The first is that experience shows that if one provides literally chapter and verse of such citations, then other lazier historians (like Evans himself) come along and cite the quotation, pretending that they have found and looked at the original materials themselves.
  • The second reason is, quite simply, that in 1985 only the unpaginated microfilm copy was available.

In 1998, two years before the Lipstadt trial began, a printed and fully indexed edition of the trial transcript was published by German academics, and in 2000 Professor Richard Evans -- or his hired helps -- were able to make use of this handy work, which was of course not available to Mr Irving in 1985, who had to read the microfilm for six days on a viewer.

A MINOR witness whom the defence lawyers produced was a Bavarian Policeman (Oberwachtmeister) called Hofmann, who gave an eyewitness account of events that November 1923 night. Under oath, Hofmann, a few months later, described having seen Hitler reprimand a Nazi officer for petty anti-Jewish outrages during the night (vandalising a kosher delicatessen).

Evans in his report adopted the far-fetched argument that the reason for Hitler's reprimand was that the officer's unit had removed their Party insignia; and he further alleged that Mr Irving knew, and suppressed, the fact that Hofmann was a Nazi and hence intrinsically unreliable as a witness. (Evans based his conclusion on Hofmann's political loyalties entirely on a stray remark by the 1924 trial judge, who complimented the witness on having spoken up for Hitler: ''Es ist ein schönes Zeichen von Ihnen, wenn Sie zu Gunsten Ihres Führers aussagen.") Evans also attached no importance to Hofmann's further remark (see again the transcript extracts): Hitler hat diese Gewalttätigkeiten und diese einzelnen Ausschreitungen, die vorgekommen sind, ständig verurteilt. ("Hitler consistently condemned these acts of violence and individual excesses that occurred.")

This episode became one of Evans's grounds for alleging that Mr Irving was biased and selective in his choice of evidence. The contrary facts, e.g., that Hofmann was a minor police official testifying in court under oath, with nothing obvious to gain by speaking up for Hitler, did not count in the view of either Evans or Mr Justice Gray.

At the time of the Lipstadt trial, Mr Irving had no access to his 1985 "Göring" working files. He had donated all his materials to the Irving Collection at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, in Munich, a collection he has been unable to access since the city's Social Democrat authorities banned him from Germany in 1993. (Ironically, Evans and his hired helps were however at liberty to browse in them.)

The ancient Xerox 850 word processor on which Mr Irving typed up his original working notes in 1985 went out of business soon after. Preparing for the Lipstadt trial, in November 1999 he sent the original Xerox computer discs to Downloading Ltd in London to have them professionally converted, at great expense, to modern computer format. It was not until early 2001 that these experts were able to salvage and retrieve the discs' contents. These showed that Mr Irving had found no evidence in the transcript that Hofmann was a Nazi, so he could not have "ignored" such evidence either.

In 2001 the Court of Appeal refused however to allow the introduction of this evidence or even to give permission to appeal.

From Mr Irving's letter to his counsel, sending him the material for the appeal, it is evident that in 1985 he transcribed 17,436 + 17,169 words in German from the trial transcript. In the final Göring biography the events of that night came to just two pages, of which the "police sergeant" episode is less than three lines.

The lack of proportion in the weight that Evans attached to the Police Sergeant Hofmann matter, even if he was correct, is characteristic of his approach.

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