The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

David Irving's Hitler
A Faulty History Dissected
Two Essays by Eberhard Jäckel
Translation & Comments by H. David Kirk

© Copyright 1993
© Foreword, Robert Fulford


by Robert Fulford

When David Irving's work first began to appear, it seemed no more than a journalist's attempt to re-work a few major themes of the Second World War and its background. Today we understand his project as something larger and more sinister: a kind of retrospective moral upgrading of the Third Reich and its leader, with all that implies for contemporary politics in Germany and elsewhere. We also know that his writings have been flowing into the swelling river of Holocaust denial, refreshing it with bits of near-fact and pseudo-fact, all intended to move a few more readers toward the acceptance of an absurdity: the relative innocence of the Nazis, or at least, the moral equivalence of the Nazis and their enemies in the Second World War.

This context makes Eberhard Jäckel's two essays on Irving's methods even more valuable and fascinating than they were when Jäckel wrote them, some years before Irving became notorious. Jäckel demonstrates, with a scholar's precision, the ingenious ways in which Irving manipulates evidence, collecting whatever fits his preconceptions, misinterpreting as he chooses, and ignoring whatever fails to support his views. Over the years Irving has persuaded many readers in the English-speaking countries that he provides an understanding of the contents of certain German archives, but it will be hard for anyone, after reading Jäckel, to think of Irving as anything but a propagandist.

At another time, in a different moral atmosphere, Irving's work would not deserve such detailed scrutiny; his nimble deceptions would be of interest only to specialists. In the present climate, however, he is a dangerous man to ignore. He plays to a section of the public that wants to believe him, a section largely created by the entrepreneurs of Holocaust denial.

When Holocaust denial first made itself heard in public, its claims seemed so absurd that historians and journalists dismissed it as a temporary aberration, an eccentricity on the lunatic fringes of opinion. It wasn't until the early 1980s that we ceased to shrug it off, began to see it for the historical phenomenon that it is, and began trying to understand both its roots in traditional antisemitism and its peculiar appeal in the present age.

It can be best understood not only as a branch of standard antisemitism but also as a specific product of its own time, roughly the period 1970 to the present. Holocaust denial, like the Holocaust itself, is without precedent: no one, not even Joseph Goebbels, has ever before produced so large and imaginative a lie. Conspiracy theories have frequently appeared during the last two hundred years, but all of them have been, by comparison, modest. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in its many versions, asks us to believe merely that a small group of men secretly agreed to take coordinated action to destroy civilization, in order to benefit themselves and their race. This much-reprinted fiction seemed monstrous when it first went into wide circulation, early in the 20th century, but it looks insignificant when placed besides the Holocaust denial thesis.

The deniers (I avoid calling them "revisionists," since I think historical revision is honest and important work, practised by all good historians) ask us to believe in a conspiracy that involves hundreds of thousands of Iying witnesses and at least an equal number of falsified documents, all of them accepted by thousands of otherwise sensible historians. Magically, no one connected with this conspiracy has ever broken ranks and told the truth, or even accidentally revealed the plot in a letter or overheard phone conversation. The deniers therefore imply that "the facts" can be learned only by inference, teased out of obscure documents uncovered by Irving and others.

This is obviously unbelievable, but what makes it exceptional is the extent to which it is unbelievable. It would be far easier to believe in, say, the witches of Salem, whose activities were blamed on magical powers from the underworld.


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