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New twists on history

Saturday, January 22, 2000

By Dennis Roddy

To get inside the noggin of David John Caldwell Irving, historian and provocateur, it is useful to consider that he believes a band of Jewish organizations has conspired for 10 years to destroy him.

Suing in plaintiff-friendly British libel court, Irving intends to prove that American author Deborah Lipstadt defamed him by calling him a Holocaust denier. In the course of preparing for trial, Irving says he discovered documents that show various Jewish groups calling him "dangerous" and trying to halt his speaking tours.

"You can see the defendants plotting to destroy my legitimacy as a historian," he says. "This has been an ongoing campaign."

Irving is a man already consigned to the public margins, his audiences often short-haired types for whom the Horst Wessel Song is dancing music. He tells them Hitler did not order the wholesale slaughter of the Jews, that the Holocaust body count is a gross exaggeration, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Irving does not deny the Holocaust - just the parts of it that make it unique from the usual wartime train crash that kills loads of civilians.

Talk of an international Jewish conspiracy is, of course, the kind of thing many in an Irving audience would like to hear, and confirms long-standing suspicion by his enemies that he is just another right-winger with a case of Jews on the brain.

"Then they ought not to engage in this sort of endeavor," Irving says. "If they didn't want that perception to arise, they shouldn't have done this."

That sort of talk is why Irving, once lauded as a World War II historian of equal parts energy and promise, is now depicted as a right-wing loose cannon. He entered the public scene with a 1961 book that revealed the horrors of the Allied firebombing of Dresden. It was an astonishing illumination of an unnecessary wartime horror - hell on earth for the hell of it.

Irving's historical technique approximates a long wall coal mining machine: a crush-proof cab attached to an endless digging belt that simply ploughs through a likely seam, pulls it all loose, and lets everything collapse around it.

"I don't think historians can afford to be sensitive. They've got to report what they find," he says. The problem here, of course, is that what Irving sometimes finds, nobody else does. Or he turns to documents that are pure lunacy, such as the Leuchter Report, a hodgepodge of amateur science and fatuous speculation that concludes there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

As the libel trial enters its third week, Irving promises fresh proofs that Auschwitz had no gas chambers, evidence he'll unleash when he gets one of Liptstadt's expert witnesses on the stand.

"The battleship Auschwitz as the capital ship of the Holocaust legend will have sunk," Irving assures me.

Is his work being put to use by people like Kim Badynski, the Seattle Klan leader who provided security at one of Irving's speeches? Has his work helped people he ought to detest?

"It has in fact, but I couldn't care less," Irving says. His job is to tell the truth. What others do with it he can't dictate.

He did directly help at least one extremist - blow-dried Kluxer David Duke, who turned up a few years back and asked Irving to read a manuscript of his autobiography.

"I said 'You're going to have to use the word Jew substantially less,' " Irving recalls. "He's got an obsession about the Jews. He's an intelligent person, and it's a pity he's got these obsessions."

It's always a pity.


Dennis B. Roddy's e-mail is droddy@post-gazette.com.



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