LONDON, Feb. 14 (JTA) Holocaust revisionist David Irving has no right to call himself a historian, according to a leading scholar of Nazi Germany.
Richard Evans, a professor of modern history at Britain’s prestigious Cambridge University, made the remark last week while testifying in the trial here where Irving is suing American historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books, for libel on the basis of Lipstadt’s 1994 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”
Irving, who denies that Jews were systematically exterminated in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, is claiming that Lipstadt ruined his reputation and career by labeling him a Holocaust denier and asserting that he twisted historical data to suit his own bias.
Irving’s confrontation with Evans was just one that he had with other scholars last week who are testifying in the trial.
After producing a 740-page critique of Irving’s historical method, Evans said he had been unprepared for the “sheer depth of duplicity” he had found in Irving’s treatment of Holocaust-related historical sources.
In his report, Evans asserted that Irving had relied on his audience lacking the time or the expertise to study his sources in order to discover the “distortions and manipulations.”
Irving, who is representing himself, charged that Evans’s “sweeping and rather brutal” attack on his career was based on personal animosity: “I think you dislike what I write and stand for and what you perceive my views to be,” he said.
But Evans denied this was true and said he had sought to be as objective as possible when examining Irving’s work.
Evans said he had little prior knowledge of the work, although he had thought of Irving as a sound historian. But he said he was “shocked” at what he found when he closely examined Irving’s writings and speeches.
The court proceedings reinforced the view he had expressed in his report that Irving had fallen so far short of accepted standards of scholarship that “he doesn’t deserve to be called a historian at all.”
But Irving declared that he was always “scrupulously fair,” and the “total opposite of being unscrupulous and manipulative and deceptive, as you say in your report.”
Evans agreed that Irving had a very wide knowledge of the source material for the Third Reich and that he had discovered many new documents: “The problem for me,” he said, “is what you do with them when you interpret them and write them up.”
Irving’s writings and speeches, said Evans, contained statements that he regarded as anti-Semitic to the extent that he blamed the Jews for the Holocaust.
Irving’s belief that he was the target of “a worldwide Jewish conspiracy,” Evans continued, was “a fantastic belief which has no grounds in fact.”
Irving also had a bruising encounter last week with Professor Christopher Browning, of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., who also appeared as a witness for Lipstadt.
Asked by Irving to comment on a Nazi plan to settle Jews on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, Browning, author of four books and more than 35 academic papers on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, said it was a “bizarre fantasy.”
Browning added that the result of such a population transfer would have been disastrous as “a large percentage of the people would have perished.”
“I think,” countered Irving, “that the Jews are a very sturdy people.”
Earlier, military historian Sir John Keegan, compelled by subpoena to testify for Irving, said he found Irving’s ideas to be “perverse,” while his claim that Hitler did not know about the fate of the Jews until late 1943 “was so extraordinary it would defy reason.”
Sir John, who was knighted for his contribution to military history, agreed that he had in the past recommended students of World War II to read Irving’s book “Hitler’s War,” but he told the court he had also advised them to read Chester Wilmot’s “Struggle for Europe.”
“Together,” he said, “they gave Hitler’s side and the Allies’ side.”
His recommendation to students did not mean he endorsed the opinions in Irving’s book, he said.