Holocaust Lies

Richard J Evans. Telling Lies About Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial. Verso, 2002.

While most pseudoscience and pseudo-scholarship is fairly innocuous most of the time, this is by no means always the case, and this book explores an example which was very much the contrary. Historian Richard Evans was an expert witness for the defendants in the libel trial lauched against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin books by the neo-nazi pseudo-historian David Irving. Much of the book is taken up with a minute demolition of Irving's alleged scholarship and deliberate misquoting of documents throughout his career. Perhaps if Irving had not taken the final step towards full blown holocaust denial he might of got away with this for much longer, and even then it was only his use of the anti-democratic British libel laws to try and silence his opponents which brought about his downfall.

Irving was dangerous much of the time because his works had all the appurtenances of scholarship: huge numbers of footnotes and references to impressive sounding documents. As pointed out above, Evans demonstrates many of the quotes are distorted or incomplete, and he also found some of the references didn't refer to what Irving said they did at all. But this façade of scholarship managed to impress a number of historians who should have known better.

Evans points out that the holocaust denial strikes at the very heart of historical knowledge, if we can start to doubt major world events with thousands of witnesses, mountains of documents of all kinds, all knitting together, then we never know any about the past. (What comes next, there never was a First World War, slavery in the USA was a myth, the Berlin Wall never existed?). Of course, outside the ranks of the neo-Nazi faithful full-frontal holocaust denial has not made many converts, perhaps that is why the 'revisionists' are now taking on less emotive targets, such as the moon landing, as a sort of seduction. If you can persuade someone that one of the central events of the twentieth century never occurred, it makes arguing others were fakes that much easier. You can also get documentaries on TV channels which would never entertain the real hard stuff.

The example of Irving should perhaps prompt us to ask if there are other Irvings out there pursuing other agendas, some rather better hidden than his, producing works of apparent massive scholarship. Unlike the wild blue yonder stuff, would we ever know?  -- Peter Rogerson

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