David Irving: There is no martyrdom in this pathetic denouement

Historians in the News

[David Cesarani is research professor in history at Royal Holloway, and author of Eichmann: His Life and Crimes David.Cesarani@rhul.ac.uk]

The sentence handed down on David Irving by a Viennese court for denying that the Nazis used gas chambers to murder Jews at Auschwitz, and for declaring Hitler innocent of that crime, evidently left him stunned. It also stirred something of a "backlash" in this country, where sections of the media and the intelligentsia persist in seeing Irving as a harmless eccentric with a wayward, if despicable, interpretation of the past.

In the studios and editorial columns there were echoes of a bygone era when clubmen routinely harrumphed at news of damned continentals trampling the freedoms of an Englishman. But Irving is not an innocuous buffoon, and he is hardly a martyr to free speech. He courted disaster by revisiting a country in which he had previously been charged with a serious crime.
He went to Austria at the invitation of a far-right student group to peddle his lies and spread his neo-Nazi message. Under these circumstances, the Austrian authorities were not only right to act, they were almost under a compulsion to do so. Remember that just a few years ago Austria was boycotted by the EU after the far-right Freedom party, led by Jörg Haider, entered government.

Inaction would have left Austria looking like a neo-Nazi haven. And there must be a suspicion that, by advertising his visit, Irving courted arrest in the arrogant belief that he would be let off amid a blaze of publicity for his noxious views and his latest book. Instead of boosting his sales, Irving will now have time to work on a new volume - his threatened autobiography.

It is surely no coincidence that Irving's publication plans echo those of his idol, Adolf Hitler, who composed his autobiographical work Mein Kampf while incarcerated in Landsberg prison for treason. Hitler used his trial for staging the Munich putsch to propagate National Socialism and went to jail a martyr for the Nazi movement. Will Irving become a martyr to either the far right or the champions of free speech? Will he be celebrated as the victim of an archaic, repressive law framed in a country with a guilty conscience about its own past? Hardly....

Irving has not gone to prison for defending truth. There is not the slightest resemblance between him and the courageous journalists in China, genuine martyrs for free speech, imprisoned for criticising a totalitarian regime. He is no impartial seeker after knowledge. He writes what amounts to propaganda for the neo-Nazi cause. This cannot even be defended as slanted history with a claim on our indulgence. It is an incitement to hatred.

Holocaust denial is a particularly vicious form of anti-semitism. It is predicated on the absurd notion that after 1945 the Jews systematically fabricated evidence on the ground and in archives, and staged trials, to convince the world that millions of Jews had been murdered by the Nazis. Having forged this evidence, the Jews then ruthlessly squeezed the hapless Gentiles for every dollar and drop of sympathy they could. It reinforces the stereotype of Jews as powerful, merciless and conspiratorial.

Read entire article at David Cesarani in the Guardian

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