David Irving: Crimes of denial: The David Irvings of the world are a dangerous breed, and Austria had reason to fear him

Historians in the News

[Mark Bourrie is an independent journalist and a PhD student in modern Canadian media and European history at the University of Ottawa.]

The Nazi party was in decline when it came to power in 1933. The party's membership numbers were stagnant and its popular vote was beginning to slip. But in the Weimar Republic's Reichstag, moderate centrist and leftist parties could not form a working coalition.

In sheer numbers, the Communists were the fastest-rising threat to the status quo, so, in a compromise coalition that gave Hitler the chancellorship and a couple of ministries, the Nazis got their hands on the government. Arson at the Reichstag gave Hitler the excuse to wipe away the democratic checks and balances. The death soon after of president Hindenburg (who had expected a restoration of the Hohenzollern monarchy after he left the stage) effectively sealed Germany's fate.

But democracy in Germany did not die because the country swung to Nazism. In every free election leading up to Hitler's assumption of dictatorial powers, the Nazis did no better than Canada's NDP, in the low 20 per cent of the popular vote.

Democracy died in Germany because people in most political parties and all classes allowed it to be undermined by thugs, political adventurers, and persistent attacks by psychopaths like Hitler. Free speech, a free press, and real public participation in the political process were given lip service. When the crisis of the Depression came, the veneer of democracy was tossed away in hopes of quick, easy solutions.

Democracy requires more than just a trip to the polling station every few years. It requires public faith and, more importantly, public ownership of the state. In Germany's case, big money, the army, and the poor (this was the depths of the Depression) lost any faith they had that a democratic system could deliver results in a time of crisis.

The Nazis had positioned themselves well, but if the Christian parties or the Social Democrats had been able to convince the German elites they could keep the Communists at bay until the Depression lifted, Hitler and the Nazis would now be an obscure topic of interest only to scholars of the Depression.

That said, the David Irvings of the world are a dangerous breed. They set the stage for the next Hitler by whitewashing the crimes and failings of the Nazis. They foster the belief that Hitlerism failed only because of its extremes, or because it faced a coalition of powers that no regime could defeat....

David Irving lacks the formal training of a historian. His translation of German documents has been proven to be dishonest and disingenuous. As well, he has deliberately provoked governments to punish him in a quest for publicity.

Included in the latter is Mr. Irving's arrest and conviction in Austria. It's pretty clear that he expected to be expelled from Austria, with a penalty of time served and no extra jail sentence. He would be free to enjoy the boom of book sales generated by the publicity, and to take his Holocaust-denial road show to Iran, where they really enjoy that sort of thing.

The three-year term handed down last month does seem to have come as a shock to Mr. Irving. He didn't realize that Austria, a free republic for just 60 years, a Nazi thrall for eight years, and a barely functioning republic for the previous 20 years, has reason to worry.

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Barry James Sullivan - 3/13/2006

Lack of formal education today is a plus. How else to retain an open mind? How many of today's court historians have performed the research Irving has. Would you please specify which of his translations are dishonest or disingenuous.
The medieval atmosphere of the holocaust laws are indefensible. This is a dangerous regression for Western justice. It should frighten all who value true historical debate. But debate is what frightens the anti-revisionists, why?
Slander and repression don't equate to truth. If your views are correct what is there to fear? Dispute his views, it's your right even if it isn't his.

Alonzo Hamby - 3/10/2006

Mr. Bourrie obviously has a lot of reading to do for his exams in modern European history. In 1932, the Nazi party was the largest in the Reichstag, having polled 37% of the vote in a July election, then 33% in November. The Communists, at their peak in the second election, polled about 17%.
Hitler's ascension to power in fact had less to do with fear of the Communists than with a power struggle among the conservative politicians. Franz von Papen engineered his appointment as chancellor in the belief that he could control the Nazi leader, who of course proved far more than a match for him and seized power.
Indeed it is questionable that "democracy failed" in Weimar Germany. Hitler never received a majority of the vote in a free election and we will never be certain that he ever enjoyed the approval of a majority. The Nazis maintained their rule with the power of a totalitarian state that surpressed any semblance of dissent ruthlessly.
Mr. Bourrie might want to examine their example carefully before advocating imprisonment for writing bad history.

Stephen Kislock - 3/9/2006

We must learn from History, and that is not to Repress/Imprison those that Disagree.........

Who is the Guardian of the Truth?

Austria, a "Free Country", I must disagree Mr. Bourrie. Austria is as Repressive to diffences in Opinion as the hated nazi's

Mr. Irving's arrest and detention, only show free thought is to be Controlled. Big Brother,say's "Do Not Disagree", or go quite into the Night?

In Austria as in the United States, you are either with US or against US......

Survey the people of Germany and Japan, "Do you think your Country should or won WWII, Yes or No?" Should those who say Yes, Be Imprisoned?

Stephen F. Kislock III
High School Grad and Opinionated