David Irving

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David Irving, popularly known as "Hitler's historian"

David John Cawdell Irving (born March 24, 1938) is a self-taught historian who, from the late-1960s to the mid-1980s, was a leading British author on World War II. Author of controversial works such as Hitler’s War and The Destruction of Dresden, Irving is also one of the most accomplished and successful proponents of Holocaust denial. In the mid-1980s, he started openly associating with Neo-Nazi and extremist groups, and his reputation began to wane. In the late 1990s, he sued the prominent Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt for listing him as a Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust. After a much publicized trial, Irving lost the case and was found to be a Holocaust denier by the court.

Among Holocaust deniers, Irving is perhaps the only one who for some time managed to maintain the reputation of a serious, if controversial, historian. Irving is considered an icon by many in the Holocaust denial camp, but since the Lipstadt trial verdict, he has fought an increasingly lonely battle, and has since been barred from entering many countries.


Early life

Born in Essex, England, his father John James Cawdell Irving was a Commander in the Royal Navy, his mother Beryl an illustrator. During the Second World War, his father was an officer aboard the Light Cruiser HMS Edinburgh. On May 2, 1942, while escorting Convoy QP11 in the Barents Sea, she was sunk by the German U-456. Irving’s father survived, but after the incident cut off all ties with his wife and their children.

Irving first gained notoriety as a student at Imperial College London, where he wrote for the student newspaper and served as the editor of the London University Carnival Committee’s journal, Carnival Times. Here, Irving made allegations such as "the national press is owned by Jews", and contributed to a variety of extremist features, including racist cartoons, a defense of South African apartheid, and an appreciative look at Nazi Germany, [1] (http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/irving.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=2&item=Irving) as a result of which Irving was removed from his editorial duties.

"The Destruction of Dresden"

Irving soon dropped out of college and went to Germany, where he worked in a Thyssen steel works in the Ruhr and learned German. He then moved to Franco's Spain, where he worked as a clerk at an airbase near Madrid. Establishing contacts with Europe's far-right, in 1962 he wrote a series of thirty-seven articles on the Allied bombing war, Wie Deutschlands Städte Starben, for the German right-wing journal Neue Illustrierte. These served as the basis of his first book The Destruction of Dresden, published in 1963. In it, he examined the Allied bombing of Dresden during the final months of World War II. By the 1960s, a debate about the morality of the carpet bombing of German cities and civilian population had already begun, especially in the UK. Hence, the public was receptive to Irving's persuasively written book, illustrated with graphic pictures. The book became an international bestseller.

In the first edition of the book, Irving's figures for deaths in Dresden (which he initially reported as estimated authoritatively at 135,000, and which he himself estimated at between 100,000 and 250,000) were an order of magnitude higher than anyone else's. Nonetheless, these figures became widely accepted and were repeated in many standard references and encyclopedias. Over the next three decades, later editions of the book gradually modified that figure downwards to a range of 50,000-100,000, but during that time Irving also made a number of public statements indicating that 100,000 or more Germans had been killed. It was not until the hearing of Irving's libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt in 2000 that the figures were discredited. Today, the Dresden bombing casualty figures are estimated as most likely in the range of 25,000 to 35,000 dead, and probably toward the lower end of that range. This is a theme which appears repeatedly in Irving's writing: overstatement of putative wrongs done to Nazi-era Germany, while understating wrongs done by Nazi Germany.

Successful historian

After the Dresden book, Irving continued writing revisionist history. In 1964, he wrote The Mare's Nest, an account of the German secret weapons projects and the Allied intelligence countermeasures against it, translated the Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in 1965, and in 1967 published Accident: The Death of General Sikorski, in which he accused Churchill of ordering the fatal air crash of Polish leader Wladyslaw Sikorski. Also in 1967, he published two more works: The Virus House, an account of the German nuclear energy project, and The Destruction of Convoy PQ.17, in which he blamed the British convoy commander Captain Jack Broome for the catastrophic losses of the Convoy PQ-17. Amid much publicity, Broome sued Irving for libel in October 1968, and in February 1970, after seventeen days of deliberation before London’s High Court, Broome won. Irving was forced to pay 40,000 British pounds in damages, and the book was withdrawn from circulation.

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Irving with Hitler's armaments minister Albert Speer in the late 1970s

After PQ-17, Irving shifted to writing biographies. Though Irving's works were generally ignored by academics, and often criticized as inaccurate when reviewed by specialists, his command of language and a wealth of entertaining anecdotes led generalists to write favorable reviews in the popular press, and many of his works sold well. During this period, Irving's credentials as a British historian of generally democratic views were only rarely challenged. Irving was particularly noted for his mastery of the voluminous and scattered German war records. During this time, aside from researching for his upcoming biographies, Irving wrote a series in the Sunday Express describing RAF’s famous Dam Busters raid.

As a result of his Dresden book, by the late 1960s, Irving was looked upon sympathetically by Germany's extreme right-wing, which assisted him in contacting surviving members of Hitler’s inner circle. Many aging former mid- and high-ranked Nazis saw a potential friend in Irving and donated diaries and other material, enabling Irving to claim he was a serious historian publishing original material. In 1972, he translated the memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen and in 1973 published The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, a biography of Air Marshall Erhard Milch. He spent the remainder of the 1970s working on Hitler's War and the War Path, his two-part biography of Hitler, and The Trail of the Fox, a biography of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.


In 1977, Irving released his most notorious book, Hitler's War, the first of his two-part biography of Hitler, the 1991 edition of which was for a time at the British Library available only at a desk reserved for literature the librarian deems at risk in the Library's Rare Books Room (Evans 2001).

In it, Irving tried to describe the war from "Hitler's point of view". He painted a complimentary picture of Hitler, portraying him as a rational, intelligent politician, whose only goal was to increase Germany's prosperity and influence on the continent. Irving faulted the Allied leaders, most notably Churchill, for the eventual escalation of war. However, the most controversial claim of the book was that Hitler had no knowledge of the Holocaust. Instead, while not yet denying its existence, Irving claimed that Himmler and his deputy Heydrich were its originators and architects. A year later, in 1978, he released The War Path, the companion volume to Hitler's War, covering events leading up to the war and written from a similar point of view. Most serious historians picked the book apart, noting some of its numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations, but it sold well. However, with its publication, the prevalent view of Irving moved from that of a controversial historian to a Nazi sympathizer and far-right propagandist.

Just months after the initial release of Hitler's War in 1977, Irving published The Trail of the Fox, a revisionist biography of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In it, Irving attacked the members of the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler, branding them "traitors", "cowards" and "manipulators", and uncritically presented Hitler and his government's subsequent revenge against the plotters, of whom Rommel was also a victim. Irving challenged the popular notion that Rommel was one of the leaders of the rebellion; he claimed that Rommel stayed loyal to Hitler until the end and that the real blame for his forced suicide lay with Rommel's associates, whom Irving accused of scheming against Rommel so they could save their own lives. Historians viewed the book as revisionist nonsense, but, as with most Irving books up to that point, it did well commercially, ending up as Irving's best selling book ever.

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By the early 1980s Irving was starting to be seen as a Nazi sympathizer.

In the 1980s, Irving started writing about topics other than Nazi Germany, as he researched his three-part biography of Churchill, but with far less success. In 1981, he released two books. The first was The War Between the Generals, in which Irving offered a tabloid-esque account of the Allied High Command, detailing the alleged infighting between the various generals and presenting saucy rumors about their private lives. The second book was Uprising!, about the 1956 revolt in Hungary, which Irving mis-characterized as "primarily an anti-Jewish uprising", because he believed the Communist regime was controlled by Jews. Both books were panned in the reviews and subsequently sold poorly, but they did help to enforce the public impression that Irving was not just a historian of Nazism, but a Nazi historian.

Christopher Hitchens, the British journalist, later summarized many views of Irving with the comment, "David Irving is not just a Fascist historian. He is also a great historian of Fascism". Indeed, Irving himself had, as long ago as 1959, described himself as a "mild [sic] Fascist".

In 1983, Irving was one of the first, and certainly the first well-known historian to proclaim that the forged Hitler Diaries were, in fact, forgeries. Irving was also one of the last to declare that the diaries might be authentic.

By the mid-1980s, Irving had not had a successful book in years, and was behind schedule in writing his upcoming first volume of his Churchill series, the research for which had put a financial strain on him. By the time he finished the manuscript in 1985, his reputation was so diminished that no serious publisher was willing to print his works, so it wasn't until 1987 that the book was published as Churchill's War by Veritas Publications, a far-right wing Australian publishing house. While Irving claimed he wanted to do for Churchill what he did for Hitler in Hitler's War, in reality the book was an attempt at character assassination.

In it, Irving accused Churchill of being a debauched alcoholic, a coward, and a corrupt warmonger servile to the interests of "international Jewry". Irving also accused him of "selling out the British Empire" and "turning Britain against its natural ally, Germany". The book sold poorly to the general public and historians by now ignored him. The reviewers noted that Irving's once-praised writing style had deteriorated, and that for the most part it was an incomprehensible and tedious propaganda piece that read as though it had come straight out of Goebbels propaganda ministry. However, along with Hitler's War, Churchill's War became a favorite in the Neo-Nazi and far-right communities; while in the former he exonerated their beloved Führer, in the latter he viciously attacked their hated enemy, Prime Minister Churchill, the man who had stood up to Hitler.

In 1989, he published his biography of Hermann Göring, in which he highlighted the more "positive" features of the Nazi Reichsmarshall, although Irving did not openly endorse him. Irving tended to ignore Göring's role in the Holocaust and his theft of art treasures, and instead gave a wealth of information about Göring's jovial personality and brighter aspects, such as his outlawing of vivisection and promotion of reforestation. Irving mis-represented various incidents and documents as proof that Göring disapproved of the persecution of Jews and other Nazi crimes.

Holocaust denial and his libel suit

By the mid-1980s, Irving began lecturing to far-right groups such as the German Deutsche Volksunion, associated himself with the anti-Semitic Institute for Historical Review, and began making statements that moved him from murky to clearly revisionist territory. For example, he denied that Nazis systematically exterminated Jews in gas chambers during World War II and claimed that The Diary of Anne Frank was mostly a post-war forgery by her surviving father. In 1988, he testified for the defense at Canadian-based Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel's trial. There, Irving enthusiastically supported self-styled “execution expert” Fred A. Leuchter's report that claimed there was no evidence for the existence of gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Irving went so far as to self-publish Leuchter’s report in the United Kingdom and write its foreword. In his 1991 revised edition of Hitler's War, he removed all references to death camps and the Holocaust. In November 1994, Irving spoke at an event sponsored by the Neo-Nazi Liberty Lobby, with the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in attendance.

In 1998, Irving launched a libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, and her publisher Penguin Books. In her book Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt identified him as a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot, and stated that because of his skilful manipulations and distortions of real documents, Irving was one of the most dangerous proponents of Holocaust denial. Though the author and publisher were American, Irving launched his suit in the United Kingdom, where the burden of proof is on the defendant, and not, as in most Western jurisdictions, on the plaintiff. Lipstadt and Penguin hired the respected British lawyer Anthony Julius to present her case, and retained Professor Richard J. Evans, acclaimed historian and Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, as an expert witness. Evans spent more than two years examining Irving's work, and amassed evidence of Irving's misrepresentations, including that Irving had knowingly used forged documents as sources. While some historians had previously noted some of Irving's errors and omissions, his work had not previously been the focus of such a lengthy, in-depth examination as it received by Evans.

Irving decided to represent himself. During the trial he ignored most of the evidence against him and instead decided to focus on what he said was his "right to free speech", a matter which was not a subject of the lawsuit, where the issue was whether or not Lipstadt's book had defamed Irving. This was especially ironic as it was Irving who was challenging Lipstadt's freedom of expression. American evolutionary psychologist Kevin B. MacDonald was one of the only people who testified on Irving's behalf. In his closing statement, Irving claimed to have been a victim of an international, mostly Jewish, conspiracy for more than three decades. As he was finishing his testimony, he apparently inadvertently referred to the judge as "Mein Führer", instead of "My Lord".

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Irving unsuccessfully represented himself and his work during the trial. The Court found that Lipstadt did not libel him when she called him a Holocaust denier in her book.

Justice Charles Gray, the trial judge, praised Irving's "thorough and painstaking research into the archives" and commended his discovery and disclosure of many historical documents. He also noted Irving's intelligence and thorough knowledge of World War II history. However, he concluded that:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

Irving lost subsequent attempts at appeal, and in light of the evidence presented at the trial, a number of his works which had previously escaped serious scrutiny were shown to be irredeemably flawed, and what remained of Irving's reputation as a historian was destroyed. As a result of losing the case, he was also liable to pay the substantial costs of the trial, which ruined him financially, and he was subsequently forced into bankruptcy.

Most academic historians have little sympathy for Irving and his revisionist claims. During the trial, prominent British historian Sir John Keegan stated: "I continue to think it perverse of you to propose that Hitler could not have known until as late as October 1943 what was going on with the Jewish people," and later stated that Irving's view "defies commonsense" and "defies reason." After the trial, Keegan elaborated on his view of Irving, praising him for his understanding of Hitler's military strategy, and in an April 12, 2000 article in the Daily Telegraph, stating that Irving had an "all-consuming knowledge of a vast body of material" and "many of the qualities of the most creative historians", that his skill as an archivist could not be contested, and that he was "certainly never dull." However, Keegan doubted that even Irving took himself and his claims seriously. John Keegan also says Irving "knows more than anyone alive about the German side of the Second World War," and considers his work "indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the war in the round." [2] (http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/polpen/dirving/dtjk000412.html)

In a six-page essay in The New York Review of Books, Gordon A. Craig, a leading scholar of German history at Stanford University, noted Irving's claims that the Holocaust never took place, and that Auschwitz was merely "a labor camp with an unfortunately high death rate." Though "such obtuse and quickly discredited views" may be "offensive to large numbers of people," Craig argued, Irving's work is "the best study we have of the German side of the Second World War," and "we dare not" disregard his views, although Dr. Craig did not, during the essay, hold forth on how valuable the views of other supposed historians who have been shown in court to be "falsifier[s] of history" would be.

Persona non grata

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Irving as he was deported out of Canada in 1992

By the late 1980s, Irving was barred from entering Austria because of his Neo-Nazi ties and hate speech. In the early 1990s, a German court found him guilty of breaking laws forbidding the denial of the Nazi extermination of Jews, and he was subsequently fined and barred from entering Germany. Other governments followed suit. In 1992, he was barred from South Africa and Canada, where he was arrested in November 1992 and deported back to the United Kingdom, and in an administrative hearing surrounding those events was found by the hearing office to have engaged in a "total fabrication" in telling a story of an exit from and return to Canada which would have, for technical reasons, made the original deportation order invalid. This was not the first time that Irving had been found to be duplicitious during a legal proceeding -- see above, concerning his loss in a libel suit against him -- nor was it to be the last. He was also barred from entering Australia in 1992, a ban he fought four unsuccessful legal attempts to overturn.

Early in September 2004, Michael Cullen, the deputy prime minister of New Zealand, announced that Irving would not be permitted to visit the country, where he had been invited by the National Press Club to give a series of lectures under the heading "The Problems of Writing about World War II in a Free Society." The National Press Club defended its invitation of Irving, saying that it amounted not to an endorsement of his views, but rather an opportunity to question him. The intended visit provoked an outcry among Jewish groups, who were not appeased by Irving's promise not to speak about the Holocaust.

Irving had visited New Zealand twice before, in the 1980s. His intended 2004 visit was refused on the grounds that he had been convicted of offenses by a German court, and that at various times had been deported from, and/or refused entry to, Canada, the United States, Italy, and South Africa. "Mr Irving is not permitted to enter New Zealand under the Immigration Act because people who have been deported from another country are refused entry," government spokeswoman Katherine O'Sullivan had told The Press earlier. Irving rejected the ban and attempted to board a Qantas flight for New Zealand from Los Angeles on 17 September, 2004. He was not allowed onboard. "As far as I'm concerned, the legal battle now begins," he was quoted as saying.

Irving bibliography

Note: Most of Irving's books are available in PDF format as free downloads at his web site.


  • Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory by Deborah E. Lipstadt. ISBN 0452272742
  • Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial by Richard J. Evans, 2001. The author was a major expert witness at the trial, and this book presents both his view of the trial, and much of his expert witness report, including his research on the Dresden death count. ISBN 0465021530
  • The Holocaust on Trial by D. D. Guttenplan. ISBN 0393322920
  • The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial by Robert Jan Van Pelt. Van Pelt was another expert witness at the trial, focussing on Auschwitz. ISBN 0253340160
  • Denying History: Who Says Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It by Michael Shermer. ISBN 0520234693
  • The Hitler of History by John Lukacs. ISBN 0679446494
  • History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving by Deborah E. Lipstadt, 2005. ISBN 0060593768

External links

Irving v. Penguin Books Limited and Deborah E. Lipstadt Trial

nl:David Irving sv:David Irving


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