Holocaust-Denying historian David Irving has been activated into a lecture tour by the new film, Denial, which depicts his 1996 lawsuit against U.S. historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for charging him with denying the Holocaust.
Even though Irving lost the case when the judge agreed with Lipstadt and deemed him a “Holocaust denier,” the far-right historian is nevertheless embarking on a month-long lecture tour to once again combat this accusation. In the past, he has stated that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was greatly exaggerated, that Hitler was not involved in the Holocaust, and that Auschwitz did not employ gas chambers.
In the late 90s, Christopher Hitchens, although a noted leftist, met with Irving and accepted that he was not only a “fascist historian,” but a “great historian of fascism.” Having been taught that historians exhibited “prejudice and inflection,” Hitchens recorded, that “when I first became of Irving, I did not feel it necessary to react like a virgin who is suddenly confronted by a man in a filthy overcoat.”
Of Irving’s value as a historian, Hitchens was generous:
“That he had a sneaking sympathy for fascism was obvious enough. But his work on the bombing of Dresden, on the inner functioning of the Churchill government and on the mentality of the Nazi generals was invaluable. He changed sides on the issue of the Hitler diaries, but his intervention was crucial to their exposure as a pro-Nazi fabrication. His knowledge of the German language was the envy of his rivals.”
Moreover, Hitchens noted that Irving would often go head to head against his own faction, and while doing so, reveal information not so supportive of Holocaust denial. Without condemning it, he revealed that there had been “mass killing of Jews in the East (by shooting), and of the use of an ‘experimental’ gas chamber” in Poland. Hitchens also wrote of Irving being capable of “second thoughts,” evidenced by his acceptance that documents from the Eichmann family may reveal a direct order for the mass extermination of Jews.
But it is difficult to see what evidence Irving on his new lecture tour, closed to the public,( which will assure him a sympathetic audience) he can present to rebut the Holocaust denial charge, or at the very least absolve him of the charge of fascism. For Irving is so proud of his fascist beliefs that he is positively self-destructive. Before the 1996 trial, he inadvertently helped the prosecution make its case by posting the following song about the “racial superiority” present in blue-eyed and blonde-haired children on his website (which was presented as evidence against him in court):
“I am a Baby Aryan
Not Jewish or Sectarian;
I have no plans to marry an
Ape or Rastafarian.”
Closing the coffin door further, Irving continually addressed the judge as “Mein Fuhrer.” But what finally sealed his fate was presented by historian Richard Evans, who craftily shifted the terrain from whether the Holocaust actually happened to whether Irving lied about it. Conceding that historians can be sloppy, Evans logically pointed out that when “the mistakes are in the same direction in support of a particular thesis…I think that is a deliberate manipulation and deception.”
Those allegedly called civil libertarians howl at the moon and abandon any free speech protections for others when confronted by a proud fascist, and this has been the case with Irving. Allowing that he has a death wish at times, this doesn’t negate the fact that publishers have withdrawn his books before they hit the shelves, and that Austria imprisoned him for 3 years for holding Holocaust denial beliefs.
But this is counterproductive for those who want to expose a true fascist who manipulates the facts for his ideology. It is wise to remember that free speech has a flip side. By allowing Irving his right to speak, one can identify his racism and overall toxicity, and frame a logical argument to refute it.