There is one issue that remains
to be settled in the David Irving vs. Deborah Lipstadt libel
case. What exactly is a "Holocaust denier"? Mr.
Justice Gray ruled last week that David Irving is a "Holocaust
denier." This despite the fact that, according to the
learned judge, Irving accepts "that from about June
1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union many thousands
of Jews and others in the East were shot and killed by Nazi
soldiers"; "that from the end of 1941 onwards,
thousands of Jews were killed by gassing." Irving,
moreover, accepts "that in a period of about five weeks
in 1942, 97,000 were killed at Chelmno by the use of gas
vans," and does not dispute that "hundreds of
thousands of Jews were intentionally killed, by some means
or another, at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka." In a
recent interview, Irving said that four million Jews may
have died in the Holocaust.
what makes one a "Holocaust denier"? According
to Prof. Richard Evans, who testified on behalf of Lipstadt,
Holocaust deniers argue that Jews were not killed in gas
chambers or at least not on any significant scale; that
the Nazis made no systematic attempt to exterminate European
Jewry; that the number of Jews murdered was far less than
usually assumed; that the Holocaust is a myth invented during
the war by Allied propagandists and sustained after the
war by Jews in order to obtain financial support for the
newly created state of Israel. In other words, any departure
from conventional historical judgments renders one vulnerable
to the "Holocaust denial" charge.
Irving is indeed a "Holocaust denier," then he
is a very peculiar one. Mr. Justice Gray acknowledged that
Irving readily makes his research available to other historians.
He footnotes meticulously, and thereby opens himself to
easy refutation. It was Irving, moreover, who brought the
lawsuit, knowing that he would be forced to debate publicly
some of the leading scholars in the field of Holocaust studies.
According to Lipstadts defense team, Irving "in
denying that the Holocaust happened, has misstated evidence;
misquoted sources; falsified statistics; misconstrued information
and bent historical evidence so that it conforms to his
neo-fascist political agenda and ideological beliefs."
Yet it seems unlikely that a man with a "political
agenda" who knowingly "misquotes" and "falsifies"
would seek out a confrontation with experts who would easily
make him look a fool.
has a knack for raising interesting issues. Though he lost
the case, he held his own against scholars of international
repute. Twenty years ago, if memory serves, he issued a
challenge to all historians to find one document that shows
Hitler issuing an order for the implementation of the Final
Solution. No one has yet discovered such a document. According
to conventional wisdom among historians, no such paper exists
because Hitler wanted the Holocaust kept secret. That is
why even in personal conversations he never referred directly
to the genocide, always preferring to use euphemisms. That
may well be so. But it is still a mystery why he would do
that. If Germany wins the war, who cares what happened to
the Jews? If Germany loses the war, Hitler was under no
illusion as to his fate.
has highlighted more than anyone else how much knowledge
of the Holocaust is dependent on the testimony of survivors,
and hardly at all on documentation. It means that one of
the most horrifying events of this century is also the most
baffling. Even Mr. Justice Gray declared that "[Irving]
is right to point out that the contemporaneous documents,
such as drawings, plans, correspondence with contractors
and the like, yield little clear evidence of the existence
of gas chambers designed to kill humans. Such isolated references
to the use of gas as are to be found amongst these documents
can be explained by the need to fumigate clothes so as to
reduce the incidence of diseases such as typhus. The quantities
of Zyklon-B delivered to the camp may arguably be explained
by the need to fumigate clothes and other objects."