Monday, 27 January 2020

Book Review: Telling Lies About Hitler (2002)

R. J. Evans, Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial, (Verso, 2002)
Written By: David Renton
Date: September 2002
Published In London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter Issue 16: Autumn 2002 

Richard Evans was an expert witness for the defence in the libel action brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt. In her book, Denying the Holocaust (Penguin, 1994), Lipstadt had named Irving as a Holocaust denier. Irving sued, and took the action to the High Court. In April 2000, the judge ruled against the action, branding Irving a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history. Richard Evans' book, Telling Lies about Hitler, is made up of two sections. The middle is a condensed version of Evans' 740-page witness report. If this is the substance, then it must be placed in context, and the beginning and final chapters serve that role.

The last chapters include an account of how Irving responded to the evidence in court. At first Irving denying everything, then he sough to filibuster, seizing on the most inconsequential points, while neglecting the main ones. Ultimately, Irving was forced to accept the claim (which mattered most to Evans) that he had consistently lied, falsifying documents, in order to try and shield Adolf Hitler from responsibility for the Holocaust. The examples of deceit which Evans gives include mistranslating the sentence “SS leaders must stay” to “the Jews must stay” (in a document which did not mention the killings), or claiming that a “stop” order (placed on one train-load of Jews being sent from Berlin to Riga) proved that Hitler opposed all killings from the start. Evans demonstrates that such deliberate mistakes are legion in Irving's work, serving always to legitimise the regime.

Some of the most angry pages of this book are those in which Evans criticises those journalists who were arrogant enough to interview Irving, and to think that they could knock him down - without doing even the most basic research - and therefore allowed this fraud to outwit them. Similar criticisms are also applied to a number of right-wing historians, operating on the cusp of journalism and the historical profession, who made the same mistake, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Stuart Nicholson, John Erickson, Donald Cameron Watt, John Keegan. All of them wrote as if Irving was “one of us” and Lipstadt was not.

Throughout this book, Richard Evans adopts the patient, deliberate tone of a man with an overwhelming case who asks only for the time to be heard. It becomes clear from his account that the defeat of David Irving in court was also a victory. It was a triumph for the accurate memory of the Holocaust, against people who wanted to use the action to throw doubt on one of the most important events in twentieth-century history. It was also a success for the standards of professionalism, accuracy and rigour in the historical field. This impressive book deserves the widest possible readership.

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