Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Some of this is due to purely technical difficulties writing the damn thing but mostly I’ve been feeling the weight of the memory of the dead and the reputations of the living.
I’ve talked about David Irving before, but I’ll bring him up again in order to recommend D. D. Guttenplan’s excellent book on Irving’s libel suit against Penguin (who you might remember as the defendant in the Lady Chatterly trial) and Deborah Lipstadt. It’s called The Holocaust on Trial, and is not to be confused with the Holocaust denial tract of the same name. It’s not just an introduction to Irving and denial issues - it’s a fascinating and thoughtful book.
A couple of bits relating to Irving’s credibility stick in my head. When Richard Evans, who had been comparing Irving’s whole body of work to its sources, took the stand and Irving, who acted for himself, was examining him, it went something like this:
IRVING: Professor Evans, you expressed the opinion in your report that my diaries may have been written for some ulterior motive.EVANS: Could you point to the page in my report where I said that, please?IRVING: That sounded to me as though it was a rehearsed remark. Is it true that it is your opinion that I may have written the diaries for some reason other than one would normally write a diary? What are your suspicions about why I wrote that?EVANS: Would you like to point me to the page where I - you see, I have a problem, Mr Irving, which is that, having been through your work, I cannot really accept your version of any document, including passages in my own report, without actually having it in front of me, so I think this may be a problem for us.Or later: When the defendants were working to show him to be an anti-Semitic Fascist, Irving had claimed that the slogan for a conference he participated in (Wahrheit Macht Frei - The Truth Makes/Sets Free) was simply a quote by the organisers of John 8:32, whatever strange inferences the defence might draw. Later, this passage was found in his Irving's diary on the relevant press conference:
...closed with my new slogan Wahrheit Macht Frei. The lefty journalists got the allusions.Guttenplan remarks that both the idea of playing games with the opposition, and distorting the evidence is (based on the case so far) typical of Irving. He concludes:
But until this point in the trial, Irving has managed to avoid getting caught actually lying to the judge.The overall impression is of a man with such a casual relationship to the truth the, if I didn’t know what the human brain was capable of, it would be unbelievable.
More recently, I’ve finally started looking at the case “for”: evidence that the Holocaust occurred. I had assumed that the deniers’ primarily tactics were distortion of particular points, playing on gaps in the record and fallacious argument. Actually, the main basis of the denial case is old-fashioned lies.
The core claims, the beliefs you need to support any denial arguments, are negative. That there is “no credible evidence” that Hitler knew about the persecution of the Jews. That there is “no proof” that gas chambers were used for killing at Auschwitz. Or anywhere.
These are just not true, and anyone who claims to be familiar with the breadth of the evidence should know it. There’s lots of evidence. Piles of it. Pits of it. Quite apart from the simply fact that in order to deny the organised killing of Jews (and Slavs, and Gypsies, and more) by the Nazis you have say that thousands of people have lied, lied in unison, lied in agreement with documents that weren’t even available at the time, lied without even a fraction of them recanting, for more than fifty years.
I’ve been feeling more and more sympathy for the comparison between Holocaust denial and the belief that the earth is flat. This does sum up the intellectual problem but it doesn’t really convey the crushing, callous moral obscenity of it all. I was reading Holocaust information site Nizkor’s point-by-point rebuttal of an Institute for Historical Review denial pamphlet, and I didn’t get far before the juxtaposition of historical human suffering and the denier’s wilful deception about it got to be too much. I mean, I already knew IHR were liars, and I still felt betrayed.
You may have gathered that I will defend Mr Irving's right to speak, defend it even to the point of mild personal inconvenience. But I wish, oh how I wish, that he would just shut up.