Posted Thursday, October 17, 2002

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 Evans at home

Professor Richard Evans

The Canberra Times

Canberra, Australia, October 12, 2002, Section A, page 16

"A liar comprehensively exposed; Not one sentence that David Irving said or wrote can be taken as accurate."

R. J. Evans, Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial, (Verso, 2002)

by James Grieve

WITHIN Hitler studies, there is a small sub-genre composed of essential masterpieces whose titles all contain the monster's name preceded by a participle: Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner, Selling Hitler, by Robert Harris, Plotting Hitler's Death, by Joachim Fest. This sub-genre is now enriched by Richard Evans's (left) quietly brilliant Telling Lies About Hitler.

Time was when the word 'denier' was silky and sexy, a measure of the fineness of fabrics glamorised and eroticised by its association with nylons. An insidious and well-publicised mode of French anti-Semitism has in recent years perverted all that; and the first meaning of the word 'denier' which now comes to many minds is that of a disingenuous pseudo-historian who claims that the Nazis never planned or carried out a Final Solution, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, that millions of Jews were not murdered and that, even if some Jews happened to die, Hitler never knew of any such thing, or if he happened to hear of it, then with stern soldierly morality he disapproved it.


David Irving wrote this Letter to the Editor of The Canberra Times on the same day the article was published.

I HAVE glanced briefly at the review published in your newspaper (Oct.12) of the book Telling Lies about Hitler by Prof Richard Evans who was paid a small fortune by the defendants to express his neutral views about my worth as an historian. The defamations in the book that he was secretly writing all that time may yet deprive him of that.

Your reviewer quotes Evans as writing: "A liar comprehensively exposed; Not one sentence that David Irving said or wrote can be taken as accurate."

An unbiasssed author -- one not paid a quarter of a million pounds by the defendants -- might have added the words of the Judge in the Lipstadt libel action himself, Sir Charles Gray:

"As a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War 2 is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and intelligent. He was invariably quick to spot the significance of documents which he had not previously seen. Moreover he writes his military history in a clear and vivid style. I accept the favourable assessment by Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving's military history and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans."

Which of us is the liar, one might ask?

Originating in France soon after the end of Hitler's war, a strain of this poisonous falsehood was spread to the United States, where dwell millions who will believe anything as long as it is unbelievable, and from there throughout the English-speaking world. In our part of that world, one of the best known among the vectors of this monstrous untruth is a British writer of anti-British diatribes on historical subjects, David Irving.

As its sub-title, The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial, shows, this present book is a by-product of the court action taken two years ago by Irving against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian. According to Irving, the latter had defamed him in a few pages of her book Denying the Holocaust (1993), by saying that he distorted evidence, falsified data, manipulated and misrepresented documents.

The fact that this court case can be called 'the David Irving trial' is itself indicative of the upside-down world that Irving creates and inhabits, for it was not Irving who was on trial.

No, Irving was the plaintiff and Penguin Books and Lipstadt were the defendants. However, as the case proceeded, it was more and more the evil ideas of Irving and his ways of putting them about that became, and properly so, the focus of the hearings.

UNLIKE Irving, the writer of this book, Richard Evans, is a real historian. He was chosen by the defence to compile an expert report on the minutiae of Irving's presentation of the history of the Nazi period. Much of the book is adapted from the 700 pages Evans eventually wrote for the defence lawyers to use against Irving in court. Under British defamation law, strongly biased in favour of plaintiffs, the only reasonable defence to offer in this case was to prove that what Lipstadt had said about Irving was true.

And the only way to find the proof was to read as much of Irving's voluminous production as possible, 30-odd books, many speeches, articles, videos and huge amounts of other material that the plaintiff was obliged to divulge, including his complete private diaries. With two research assistants, Evans worked on this immense task for 18 months. And it was largely the damning evidence he compiled and enabled the lawyers to adduce in court that destroyed forever any claim Irving might make to be considered a genuine historian. The judgment, which found Lipstadt's claims to be true, was itself a triumph of truth.

Only the last two of the book's seven chapters deal with proceedings in court. Earlier chapters present the evidence and demonstrate how Evans infallibly and relentlessly documented Lipstadt's claims against Irving. Indeed, these chapters do more than that. Lipstadt was not the first historian to make such statements about Irving. But until Evans's expert report, its use in court and now this book, no-one had ever realised or shown with such attention to detail, so much chapter and verse, such painstaking detection, such indisputable authority, the magnitude of the deceptions and malpractice carried out by Irving: misquotation, selective amputation and suppression of quotations, using forged documents, trumping up implausible interpretations to 'prove' the opposite of what the evidence says, exaggerations, apparently wilful mistranslations, invention of statements for which there is no evidence. Irving has followed this methodology from his very first publications, which is why Evans can say that

'not one of his books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject'.

Thanks to Evans, at least one of those deniers whom a French historian has called 'the murderers of memory' now stands revealed for what some had always maintained he was: a falsifier of history, a pedlar of vile and obscene fantasies in the guise of truth.

Irving's come-uppance shows that, as liars are always in need of a truth to traduce, truth has no less need of defenders. And we are fortunate to have a defender such as Evans. His book reads like a thriller. I couldn't put it down; I cheered as he uncovered one after another the culprit's multiple deceits, many of them secreted by Irving in unobtrusive footnotes. The book also makes a subtle and necessary defence of the calling of the true historian and gives an acute and invaluable discussion of what it is that distinguishes Irvingesque fictions from objective historiography's search for truth. No writer or reader of history will read this book without reward and gratitude.


If this is the substance, then it must be placed in context, and the beginning and final chapters serve that role. The last chapters include an account of how Irving responded to the evidence in court. At first Irving denying everything, then he sought to filibuster, seizing on the most inconsequential points, while neglecting the main ones.

Ultimately, Irving was forced to accept the claim (which mattered most to Evans) that he had consistently lied, falsifying documents, in order to try and shield Adolf Hitler from responsibility for the Holocaust.

The examples of deceit which Evans gives include mistranslating the sentence "SS leaders must stay" to "the Jews must stay" (in a document [see panel on right] which did not mention the killings), or claiming that a "stop" order (placed on one train-load of Jews being sent from Berlin to Riga) proved that Hitler opposed all killings from the start.

Evans demonstrates that such deliberate mistakes are legion in Irving's work, serving always to legitimise the regime.

Some of the most angry pages of this book are those in which Evans criticises those journalists who were arrogant enough to interview Irving, and to think that they could knock him down -- without doing even the most basic research -- and therefore allowed this fraud to outwit them.

Similar criticisms are also applied to a number of right-wing historians, operating on the cusp of journalism and the historical profession, who made the same mistake, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Stuart Nicholson, John Erickson, Donald Cameron Watt, John Keegan.

All of them wrote as if Irving was "one of us" and Lipstadt was not. Throughout this book, Richard Evans adopts the patient, deliberate tone of a man with an overwhelming case who asks only for the time to be heard. It becomes clear from his account that the defeat of David Irving in court was also a victory.

It was a triumph for the accurate memory of the Holocaust, against people who wanted to use the action to throw doubt on one of the most important events in twentieth-century history. It was also a success for the standards of professionalism, accuracy and rigour in the historical field. This impressive book deserves the widest possible readership.


 Evans reviews Guttenplan book in Daily Telegraph (Mar 20, 2001), calls it "A controversial account of the Irving libel trial"
 Radical's Diary
 Sunday Telegraph: Irving's home is repossessed as libel debts mount
 Michael Burleigh writes: It is time for the David Irving libel case to be consigned to history
The Führer, The Jackal, The Professor and his Publishers

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