David Irving is a fairly well known British historian of WWII from the German side. His book Hitler’s War may be his most well known, but he has also written other highly regarded books such as a biographies of Rommel and Goebbels. Irving is a professional historian in the sense that he has made his living writing these books; he has no college education and holds no university post.
Deborah Lipstadt is an American historian specializing in Jewish studies at Emory University. In 1993 Lipstadt published her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Lipstadt’s book gave an account of the phenomenon of Holocaust denial and described Irving as a holocaust denier consistent with the themes developed in her book. The topic is not one calculated to be of interest to a large audience, and when the book was published in England by Penguin it sold a meager 3,000 copies. Irving brought his lawsuit against Lipstadt and Penguin claiming that the book defamed him by calling him a Holocaust denier.
Upon his retention as an expert witness by the defense Evans set out to read the corpus of Irving’s work. Evans also tracked down the reviews Irving’s books had received from professional historians as they were published over the years. Evans traces his efforts to evaluate Irving’s use of archival sources in connection with some of the most notorious claims in his books, such as the claim that Hitler was unaware of the systematic extermination of Jews undertaken by the Nazis and the claim that the number of victims exterminated by the Nazis has been grossly exaggerated. Evans painstakingly documents the fact that Irving’s renowned skills in using previously undiscovered archival sources are themselves grossly inflated and that Irving’s use of such sources has been deliberately dishonest in every critical respect he examined.
But the most interesting part of the book is Evans’s evaluation of Lipstadt’s charge that Irving is a Holocaust denier. In my next two posts I will explore that part of the book and return to the comparison with Oscar Wilde’s lawsuit.
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