Lying About Hitler

In his absence, the Trunk asked me to re-post a series of comments he did, back when we were just starting out, on one of the famous libel trials of modern times, Irving v. Penguin Books, and Richard Evans’ account of the trial, in which he was an expert witness. Evans’ book is titled Lying About Hitler. The trial, and Evans’ book, shed considerable light on the peculiar phenomenon of Holocaust denial. What follows is the text of Posts 1 and 2 on Lying About Hitler. I’m leaving for Dallas in a few minutes and will post the remaining two when I return Thursday night. In the meantime, Deacon, over to you.
In 1895 Oscar Wilde brought his infamous defamation lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry, alleging that he had been defamed by imputations of homosexuality made by the Marquess. The libel was of course true; the Marquess had taken after Wilde to deter Wilde from continuing his homosexual relationship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. For Wilde the lawsuit was a monumental act of self-destruction. When the Marquess proved the truth of his defamatory statements regarding Wilde, and Wilde was in turn prosecuted for sodomy, Wilde was convicted and imprisoned in Reading Gaol until 1898. He never recovered from the experience of prison and from the humiliation he had foolishly inflicted on himself. As a result of his incarceration he wrote “De Produndis,” a kind of apologia for his life, and the poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” the last worthwhile works that Wilde published.
Now comes Professor Richard Evans, professor of German history at Cambridge University, to tell the story of the second most foolish defamation lawsuit of all time: David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Professor Evans was retained as an expert witness to testify at trial on behalf of the defendants. Professor Evans has written a book, Lying About Hitler, recounting the story of Irving’s claims as well as Evans’s experience as a witness at the trial. The book has was published in paperback in early 2002 and makes for great summer reading.
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.
HINDROCKET adds: One more thing–the subject of Holocaust denial has recently come back in the form of an academic controversy at a university in New Zealand. The issues in that controversy are remarkably similar to the ones in the Irving case. I will post links to stories about the New Zealand controversy along with the last two installments of Trunk’s commentary when I return.