Quick navigation  

David Irving vs Penguin Books & Deborah Lipstadt: CNN reports, January 16, 2000 [transcript of CNN's story] posted Sunday, January 23, 2000



" ... Next on CNN & TIME, historian David Irving and the Holocaust. Some of his views on the subject may surprise you...





IRVING: What a strange question.


ANNOUNCER: ... when CNN & TIME continues.


SHAW: Welcome back to CNN & TIME.

Upon touring the Nazi concentration camps in the closing days of World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower urged as many people as possible to view the atrocities. Eisenhower feared that if the world looked away, sooner or later people would come along and question the stories of Nazi brutality -- a chilling prophecy, especially when you consider the landmark libel case over Holocaust denial that began last week in Great Britain.

More now from Charles Glass in London.


GLASS (voice-over): Many people call British historian David Irving a dangerous man.

DAVID IRVING, HISTORIAN: I'm most puzzled by that word dangerous. Dangerous, to my mind, is somebody who goes around throwing bombs or setting fires. What have I endangered? What have I been a danger to? The latest book I wrote, I wrote the entire book in fountain pen.

GLASS: Although he has no degree in history and is self taught, David Irving has written has more than 30 books on the second world war. Prominent historians have applauded Irving's meticulous research and his discovery of documents that had alluded others.

IRVING: Hitler's private secretary gave me this, which is ultimately unique. It's the only self-portrait of Adolf Hitler which was known to have survived the war.

GLASS: He has never been interested in teaching.

IRVING: You can go to Hitler's war.

I'm far more interested in writing what I find in the records, and if I find something in the records that offends against human sensibilities, I still write it, because that's the way I see history.

GLASS: He has been banned from entering Canada, Germany, Italy, South Africa and other countries that make it illegal to deny certain historical events. This is Irving in 1992, shortly before Canada deported him.


IRVING: According to the evidence that I have seen, there was no gas chambers anywhere. The evidence that we have been shown, the aerial photographs, the eyewitnesses, it's all very spurious indeed.


GLASS: Because of his reputation as a dedicated researcher, his critics say he is more of a danger than the Nazi sympathizers who traditionally deny that Adolf Hitler killed millions of Jews.

DAVID CESARANI, DIR., WIENER LIBRARY: David Irving, I'm afraid, should be treated as someone who is beyond the pale of respectability.

GLASS: The director of Britain's largest Holocaust library, history professor David Cesarani, charges that Irving uses his prestige as a historian for questionable purposes.

CESARANI: This is someone who may at one time have done excellent historical research. But someone who addresses neo-Nazi rallies, someone who dedicates their life to the ideology and movements of the far right, can no longer be taken seriously as a scholar.

GLASS: David Irving has written for a far-right newsletter and has addressed extremist audiences in the U.S. and Germany. His critics see him as part of the extremist movement. He says no one else will give him a platform for his views.

Abraham Foxman is the director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York.

ABRAHAM FOXMAN, DIR., ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: This is his way to make a contribution to the fueled debate. He -- some people do it by wearing uniforms, some by getting on the Net, some by lighting, you know, fires, some by throwing a brick, and some by posing as a historian dedicated to the truth in order to deliver that message.


GLASS: Deborah Lipstadt is a professor of religion at Emory University in Atlanta. She teaches the Holocaust and has made a special study of what she calls "Holocaust denial."

LIPSTADT: It is a very dangerous force, but it is not a clear and present danger, to borrow a phrase from American legal parlance. It is a clear and future danger. It's when there are no longer people around, and there are people in this room who could say this, who could say, this is my story, this is what happened to me. Then I think the deniers will do what they want to do in an even stronger fashion.

GLASS: In 1993, Lipstadt's book, "Denying the Holocaust," came out in the United States. In it, she wrote that David Irving bends historic evidence, quote, "until it confirms with his ideological leanings and political agenda." She added that he has become "a Holocaust denier."

IRVING: Oh, it's a very useful charge, but it's a killer charge. Anybody who's a Holocaust denier is finished, he's floating face-down dead in the water.

GLASS: Irving, who says he's a dissident, not a denier, did not sue her in the United States, where American law places a heavy burden on the plaintiff. After the publishers, Penguin, released Lipstadt's book in Great Britain in 1995, Irving filed suit. British libel law gives more advantages to the plaintiff than does American law.

DON GUTENPLAN (ph), JOURNALIST: In England, she has to prove that what she said about him was true.

GLASS: Don Gutenplan is a journalist writing a book about Irving versus Lipstadt.

GUTENPLAN: In this case, what he's done is kind of use the libel law as a kind of jujitsu to force her to prove not only that what she said about him is true, but since she says that his views about the Holocaust are nonsensical, she has to prove that they're nonsensical.

GLASS: When Lipstadt and Irving arrived at the British high court last week, they were prepared to argue the history of the last century for the next two to three months.

(on camera): David Irving is asking an English court to vindicate his reputation as a historian. Inevitably, the stakes are higher. A judge will have to decide something much more important: the truth about history.

IRVING: This is my secret weapon.

GLASS (voice-over): David Irving is representing himself. His legal experience includes convictions and fines for what he has said about the Holocaust in France and Germany. He has sued newspapers for libel. And Otto Frank once took Irving's publisher to court for what Irving wrote about his doctor Anne Frank, the Dutch-Jewish girl who died in a concentration camp.

(on camera): Did you say that the Anne Frank diary was a forgery?

IRVING: Guilty.

GLASS: Is it a forgery?


GLASS (voice-over): Deborah Lipstadt is represented in court by a high powered legal team that includes Princess Diana's former divorce lawyer. They have advised her not to testify in court or to be interviewed by CNN & TIME. ADL director Abraham Foxman is a Holocaust survivor who was surprised that a court should weigh evidence about an event he lived.

FOXMAN: I just find it so offensive and ludicrous that it needs to be established in a court of law, but, you know, if that's where we are, that's where we are.

GLASS: By suing Lipstadt in Britain, Irving said he was trying to discredit other critics beyond the reach of the British courts. The ADL successfully lobbied Irving's American publisher in 1996 to cancel publication of his biography of Nazi propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

IRVING: There was a conspiracy to defame me.

GLASS: Irving says he is suing because the critics have deprived him of his livelihood and violated his right to free speech. Even in Britain, he can no longer find a mainstream publisher, and publishes his books himself.

(on camera): Do you believe in a Jewish conspiracy against you?

IRVING: There has been an organized attempt by international Jewish organizations to destroy my career and my legitimacy. I think a court would define that as a conspiracy.

GLASS (voice-over): David Irving grew up in Britain during and just after World War II. He dropped out of his university and went to work in a steel factory in Germany.

IRVING: It took me some time to learn German properly, to get to know the Germans.

GLASS: At the steel works, Irving met a survivor of the 1945 Allied bombardment of Dresden, who told him how the British air force had devastated the ancient city.

In 1963, Irving's first book, "The Destruction of Dresden," launched a broadside against the British for what Irving called an unnecessary holocaust of innocent German civilians. The Dresden book opened doors in Germany to Hitler's inner circle. One was Dr. Irwin Gesing (ph), who had treated Hitler after the failed bomb attempt on his life in 1944. Gesing gave Irving his diary and told him to turn to page 340.

IRVING: There was a conversation between Hitler and himself in August 1944, which ends up with Adolf Hitler telling Dr. Gesing, "Nobody will ever judge me properly, not this generation, it'll have to be the next generation, it'll have to be an Englishman, it'll have to be an Englishman who knows the German archives and an Englishman who can speak the German language fluently."

GLASS (on camera): Was there a danger for you that you would not only be a historian and an observer of the circle, but might become a part of it?

IRVING: A part of it. I appreciate what you're saying and it's a very difficult position, of course. You meet the people on an individual basis and you listen to them, but you try never to forget your duty.

GLASS (voice-over): In 1977, Irving published "Hitler's War," acclaimed by many historians, the book prompted critics to accuse Irving of being too sympathetic to Hitler. One wrote it was the autobiography Hitler didn't write.

(on camera): Do you admire Adolf Hitler?

IRVING: What a strange question. As a soldier, yes. Unquestionably he fought some major battles and won them against the advice of his generals. But on the other hand, what about his moral qualifications? There I have to equivocate and say that he's on the same pedestal as Joe Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Truman. To my mind -- and I may be wrong -- but to my mind, each of these five executed crimes against humanity, against innocent populations that would justify the label of war criminal.

GLASS (voice-over): Irving says there is no document proving that Hitler himself ordered the genocide of the Jews and has offered $1,000 to anybody who provides one.

CESARANI: A good historian knows that in many cases there isn't a single document, that you have to answer the questions in more sophisticated and subtle ways than that.

GLASS: In 1988, David Irving testified on behalf of a self- confessed Holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel, in a Canadian court. Zundel stood accused of promoting racial hatred with propaganda that Jews were lying about the Nazi death camps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a Nazi sympathizer, or a revisionist, or a right winger, or anything else.

GLASS: Irving said the testimony of another witness, American Fred Leuchter, who had taken samples of bricks from Auschwitz and had them analyzed in the U.S. for cyanide, caused him to doubt the Jews had been gassed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

IRVING: The later report wasn't the only reason, of course, but I -- it caused me to rethink, made me sit down and think to myself, well, is there any evidence? And the answer is, no.

GLASS: The Canadian judge ruled that Fred Leuchter had no expertise. But David Irving published Leuchter's report and wrote a foreword. The report contradicts the testimony of thousands of survivors and important documentary evidence.

CESARANI: We now have in the Moscow archives the building plans, the orders for the gas chamber and crematory equipment. This is not to mention the sworn statements taken by Nazis in captivity at the end of the second world war, and of course, the mass of statements by the survivors.

GLASS: Lipstadt's attorneys are making an issue of Irving's denial that the Nazis murdered as many as 6 million Jews. IRVING: I would guilty of questioning the statistics. I think that the figures that we are now told have been inflated.

GLASS: Irving acknowledges that the Nazis murdered up to a million people with machine guns on the eastern front and another 50,000 at Auschwitz, far fewer than most other historians. And he equates both morally and in terms of numbers, deaths under the Nazi extermination program and those caused by the Allied air bombardment of German cities.

IRVING: Somebody who's trying to quantify the size of the crime. It matters, because if it was a million people who were killed in the Holocaust, then we burned a million people with the bombing, which makes us as bad as the Nazis.

GLASS: Many survivors and critics are offended that Irving dismisses the eyewitness testimony of Holocaust survivors, while relying on the word of victims of the Dresden bombing.

IRVING: Calling it a double standard is a bit harsh, but I think it's a fair point to make.

GLASS: Abraham Foxman accepts Irving's right to be, in his opinion, a bigot. Survivors may be insulted, he says, but Irving and others have made them bear witness to what happened.

FOXMAN: It stimulated survivors who were silent to all of a sudden to bear testimony, to tell the story, because so offended were they that there would be not a few a individuals, crackpots, but there would be a movement, that it would start appearing on college campuses, that book were being published, that platforms were being provided.

GLASS: Irving is taking a gamble. Winning could make him publishable again; losing might leave him liable to pay Lipstadt's court costs estimated at over $1 million. The court could then seize his assets, including his London flat. And his reputation as a historian would be more seriously battered.

IRVING: I'm interested to see if in this coming trial here in London they find the documents and they produce them to the satisfaction of this court that do prove me wrong. And if they prove me wrong, I'll smile sheepishly and say, well, well done, fellows. It's taken you 40 years.


SHAW: The case of Irving versus Lipstadt is expected to take up to three months. In his opening statement, Irving said he had made important contributions to the world's understanding of the Holocaust. The defense countered with quotes from books and speeches in which Irving exonerated Hitler and called Auschwitz, quote, "baloney." The defense also branded Irving a liar.

We'll be back in a moment.- "

End of CNN Broadcast

[soundtrack of the program, about 812 kB]