Le journaliste Johann Hari a publié hier un étonnant article dans les colonnes de l'Independent consacré à l'historien britannique (anglais) David Irving qui est probablement un odieux personnage mais aussi un curieux mélange de spéléologue des archives et de bon connaisseur de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Ces indéniables talents sont hélas compromis par une détestation du genre humain en général et des Juifs en particulier.
Sa misanthropie explique probablement pourquoi, dans ses livres, il prend plaisir à rédiger à contre-courant, hérissant les plumes des historiens universitaires, non seulement en affichant des opinions marginales, mais en s'appuyant sur une exploitation directe des pièces d'archives souvent inédites, citons sa biographie de Winston Churchill.
Dans cette méthode réside à la fois la force et la faiblesse de David Irving. Rédigeant directement à partir des documents qu'il extrait des archives, il a tendance à écrire des ouvrages dans lesquels on trouve beaucoup de pages sur les points où abondent les sources et fort peu là où elles manquent. Ses biographies de Goebbels ou de Goering illustrent les limites de sa méthode.
Autre exemple frappant, dans son Hitler's War, Irving s'appuie sur le fait qu'aucun document des archives allemandes des années de guerre relatifs à la tragédie des Juifs d'Europe dans les camps de concentration et de meurtre de masse ne porte la signature du Führer pour en conclure que Hitler n'y est pour rien.
Avec cette hypothèse, David Irving s'exonère à bon compte de toute tentative d'explication pour ce qui demeure un problème historiographique difficile à résoudre et que des chercheurs aussi différents que Jean-Claude Pressac ou Raul Hilberg ont tenté de résoudre à leur manière.
Ce qui apparaît à la lumière de cet excellent profil biographique de David Irving est à quel point l'historien autodidacte est fasciné par son sujet d'études. Je ne crois pas qu'il affiche des opinions aussi indulgentes au sujet de Hitler par le seul besoin de choquer son monde et jouer les enfants terribles de l'histoire. David Irving semble être devenu un admirateur sincère de Hitler mais en conservant assez de lucidité pour percevoir les contradictions quand elles le touchent à un niveau personnel. C'est ainsi qu'il doit reconnaître que sa propre fille aurait été la victime du programme d'euthanasie de son cher Führer.
Quoi qu'il en soit, avec ce papier, le journalisme britannique de gauche nous donne un superbe illustration de l'indépendance d'esprit et de qualité professionnelle.
David Irving: 'Hitler appointed me his biographer'
Hitler wasn’t anti-Semitic, and the Holocaust wasn’t his fault - David Irving’s take on Nazi Germany has made him many enemies. Johann Hari meets an unapologetic apologist
Blind faith or mischief? 'One hundred years from now, Hitler will get a very decent hearing,' says David Irving
“Hitler appointed me his biographer,” David Irving says. He is not laughing. He is announcing that the Fuhrer – the man he has revered since he was a child – saw him coming. Yes: Hitler prophesied Irving as the man who would clear away the smears and bring The Truth at last to an unwilling world. Irving discovered this prophecy when he was writing a biography of Adolf Hitler, but he is only prepared to disclose it baldly now. “I made a great point of tracking down all Hitler’s surviving doctors,” he says, “and I identified Erwin Giesing as the doctor who treated Hitler after the bomb attempt on his life in 1944.” He tracked him down in the 1970s to Aachen in West Germany, and when Irving called, he claims Giesing said: “Yes, I’ve been expecting you.”
Irving arrived at Giesing’s surgery and, he says, was immediately handed a 400-page file. “Giesing said it was his diary [of his time with Hitler]. ‘That’s what you have come for,’ [he said]. I asked why, why me? Why haven’t you given it to Jacobson or Hilburg or any of the other great historians?” Giesing said the answer lay on page 385. Irving flicked to this page, and, he says, “it is August 1944 and he is treating Hitler – cauterizing his eardrum – and he says, ‘Mein Furher you realize that you have the same illness now in your inner ear that the Kaiser had?’ Hitler said ‘Yes that is true, how did you know that?’ And Geesing said he had read it in the biography of the Kaiser written by an Englishman, J D Chamier.” And he says Hitler replied: “One day, an Englishman will come along and write my biography. But it cannot be an English man of the present generation. They won’t to be objective. It will have to be an Englishman of the next generation, and one who is totally familiar with all the German archives.”
Irving sits back with an expression of beatific calm. “So [when] I phoned the doctor and he said ‘I’ve been expecting you,’ the Messiah had come. The one he had been waiting for all these years. And of course all the other historians hate that because they don’t fit.” I stare silently for a moment. To clarify: you actually think Hitler wanted you to be his biographer? “Yes. Yes and I am not ashamed of that. Hitler knew that. Hitler himself said that for fifty years they won’t be able to write the truth about me.”
And I realize this interview isn’t about history; it’s about pathology.
How did this happen? How did a clever boy abandoned by his father in wartime Essex – as Nazi bombs fell all around – end up as the last man entranced by Adolf Hitler? How did a historian feted, for a while, by the English right end up in jail in Austria under laws banning the reconstitution of the Nazi Party? How did the father of a disabled daughter end up believing the great killer of the disabled was spiritually guiding him? And how did it end here, with this?
I: Swinging the lantern
David Irving has limped to the door of his large Berkshire country house, and is standing by a Christmas tree, waiting. I trudge up the drive, wondering how a recent bankrupt can afford all this, when he beckons me in with a rather severe look. As we walk into his kitchen, he explains his awkward movements: “If you spend four hundred days in prison, your muscles turn to Marmalade jelly. We were allowed to walk around once a day in a yard smaller than this room –” he waves his hand around the kitchen – “seventy men, walking clockwise. At my age,” seventy, “the muscles don’t come back. I have to crawl like a cockroach up stairs.”
He begins to make coffee and bleak chit-chat. He says that two days after he was released from prison, he fell over in Swiss Cottage tube station. “A woman came up to me and said ‘What’s happened to you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been in prison for 400 days?’ and she scuttled away.” While the water boils, he takes me on a tour of the grounds. There are acres of rolling greenery, lapping over private tennis courts and spurting fountains. He lives here alone. His former partner – or “concubine”, as he calls her – Bente Hogh ended their relationship when he was imprisoned, and he is single now. Their teenage daughter Jessica visits sometimes. As he shows me the foliage proudly, he explains that he used to live half the year in Florida, but now immigration is “a nightmare.” He adds with a wag of the finger: “If you go to Florida, don’t go with a woman. Florida is very humid, and she will blame the humidity on you. It will be your fault.”
We settle in the living room looking out over the grounds, and our photographer begins to snap him. He mentions that the white coffee-cup Irving is holding works well against the green, and Irving says: “Well, it is an Aryan cup.”
A picture of his father, John, stares out from the mantelpiece. “I saw him very little,” Irving says. “The rumour in the family was that when he found out that my mother was expecting twins – me and my brother – he turned and fled. [That was] 1938. There were various attempts, sporadically, at reconciliation. In those days families didn't divorce. He came back once from Wales where he was living, and I've got a vague memory of him being there for three or four days and then kicking over the traces and going again. I remember in those two or three days, I went to Brentford school happy, nonchalantly mentioning that I was going to be having a chat with my father that evening. But then he was gone again. Then some time in the 1950s he came back for about another week. He tried and also failed.”
He only got to know his father in the last year of his life: 1964. John said he fought in the Battle of Jutland, so Irving got a contract for him with his publisher to write a book about it for the anniversary. But his mother warned him he would only be let down again: the book would never arrive. So Irving drove to Wales and took his father back to London to live in his flat. “I sat him at that table and I put out an old tape recorder in front of him and I said you dictate and I'll spend all afternoon typing [it] up. Between us we finished the book.”
He suspects now his father was a fantasist. He said he fought in the war and was invalided out after being on HMS Edinburgh, but “after a time, when you get to know your father, in retrospect you think – I wonder if that was true? My sister has done a lot of research and says, ‘You know David, a lot of what daddy told us wasn't exactly true.’? Oh, he was full of stories. He affected a mock Welsh accent when he told them.” Then he adds: “In the navy they call this make-believe and exaggeration ‘swinging the lantern.’”
Are you like your father, David? “Oh, everyone spots similarities between me and my father? In fact my first wife, Pilar, got on very well with my mother, and at one point [she told her] I was being just the same as my father. I know how he behaved.” How was that? “Oh, probably some chauvinism. I've got pronounced views on women. They're very useful but they have their place.” And he thought that? “Oh, I'm sure he did. When he died, his brother sent me a twelve page letter telling me what a rotter my father had been.”
David was left alone with his mother and his siblings in the village of Ongar, in Essex. She rose them alone, making money by drawing sketches for the Radio Times. I ask how she explained that their father didn’t return. “Oh, I take always with a pinch of salt what women say about how their husbands behave. I've heard equally bad stories about her having complained to the Admiralty about him, which didn't do his career any good.” Nonetheless he says she raised her four children “absolutely impeccably. She managed to get us all into public school in Brentwood.” But it was a tough wartime childhood. He says: “You're very indignant you've got no toys. Our toys were made of broomsticks and wood. My older brother John had a Hornby train, the only reason I've ever wanted to have a little boy was so I would have an excuse to have a Hornby train.”
And this is where Adolf Hitler first enters David Irving’s story.
II: That Man
“I was told you don't have toys because of that man Hitler,” he says, sipping from his Aryan cup. “He was called That Man. [In the newspaper cartoons] there were Nazis parading around – Mr Hitler with his crinkly boots and little toothbrush moustache, and there was Dr Goebbels with his club foot, and fat old Goering with his medals. And I thought – because of them I've got no toys?” He snorts. “You split away from your parents at a very early age. They tell you things and you nod and say ‘yes mummy,’ but at the back of your brain you think, well, I'm probably being sold a bill of goods. You make a little mental check?. I said to myself, if they’re such ludicrous people, then why are the Germans doing it for them?”
His twin brother, Nicky, remembers David at six years old running towards bombed-out houses after a Nazi air-raid, shouting “Heil Hitler!” Irving shakes his head. “Untrue, untrue,” he mutters. His infatuation began, he says, a few years later, when he was sent away to school. He got hold of a copy of Hitler’s Table Talk, and he would read it at night, allowing himself only a few pages at a time so it would last longer. “I don't know if you've read Hitler's Table Talk, but it's [in bites of] two or three page describing in the first person what Hitler said at lunch or dinner, from 1941 to 1944,” he says. “It’s fascinating to read what Hitler was thinking. A lot of it made sense.” Like what? “Oh, about women? Women have very special minds. They are superficially similar to us and they speak a very similar language to us but they are also rather like ants. They can communicate with each other, without actually [using] a language that you can hear? More than that I'm not going to say, I've got enemies enough already.”
What could be more taboo in the Britain of the 1950s than to embrace Adolf Hitler, the man the country had united to defeat, as an alternative father-figure? It was the most absolute and shocking way to reject everything around him. “I was beaten solidly throughout [school]. It was a very sadistic process? Our house master was the gym teacher, which meant he was very muscular? There was an umbrella stand with ten different bamboo canes of different calibre with a cushion next to it, which he would try them out on first” – he makes a repeated thrashing noise – “and he would say right come with me, follow me.” It was ritualised, I say. “Oh, absolutely, it was sadistic. And I wouldn't have missed it.”
When he was in his mid-teens, he won a school prize. He could choose a book to be presented to him on Speech Day by the Deputy Prime Minister, Rab Butler. Irving asked for Mein Kampf. “I arranged for all the local press to photograph the deputy prime minister giving a copy of Mein Kampf to Brentwood schoolboy David Irving,” he says with glee. “I stood there holding the book up long enough for all the people to get their focus and flash and I sat down. I looked at the book and it wasn't Mein Kampf, it was a German-Russian technical dictionary. They got their own back.”
After Brentwood he went to Imperial College, London to study science, but he believes he was thwarted by a “Communist” professor and had to drop out. He headed for Germany. “I was the only foreign labourer in the whole of the Ruhr,” he says. Working in the steelworks, he began to hear whispers of another taboo. “Dresden was a word which just didn't exist in the English vocabulary then,” he says. But the Germans told him their city – filled with civilians, with little military role – had been firebombed by the Allies. “The whole of the city centre was cordoned off while they were cremating the bodies, ten thousand at a time on the city square,” Irving says, shaking his head.
So he wrote his first history book, a densely researched account of the firebombing of Dresden. Suddenly he was an up-and-coming historian, acclaimed across continents. But he remained within the historical consensus: the book condemns Nazi atrocities. When I remind Irving of this now, he says these passages were inserted into the book without his knowledge. “My publisher William Kimber? felt very deeply about the Dresden air raid and he put in certain lines into my Dresden book without telling me. Okay?” He only realised this, he insists, “years later.” I must look incredulous. You didn’t see the proofs? “No.” Why would he do that? “Political correctness. Don't raise your eyebrows in great shock, this happens. You'd be surprised if you knew how many people have a hand in a book before it's finally published, lawyers, publishers, editors' sisters and wives.” Ah yes, women.
By telling the story of Dresden from the perspective of the Germans, he suddenly found another door opening – to Hitler’s ghost.
III: The Magic Circle
Scattered across Germany, silent and shamed, were Hitler’s secretary, his personal guard, his doctor. They were, he says, “a small circle of very frightened people who had had a very tough time. When one of them [died], they would meet at the graveside.” They had never spoken to anyone. Irving was the first outsider to penetrate this “Magic Circle”. Otto Gunsche had been Hitler’s personal adjutant, the man who burned his body at the end – and he liked the Dresden book. After a series of meetings, he led Irving to the rest.
“They were all very nice people,” he says. “This was something that impressed me from day one – these are people who've been to staff college, they've been to university, they're educated, upper-middle class people, chosen for their qualities and their abilities? and they all spoke to me in private in terms of glowing admiration of the Chief. And I thought to myself – there must be two Hitlers, there's the Hitler we're told about by Hollywood and Madison Avenue and there's the Hitler that these people worked for.”
They told him about a Hitler who was kind to children and animals. He recounts a very long story about how Hitler once noticed that two stenographers were cold, and insisted they be brought heaters.
When I suggest that all dictators have a loyal clique who like them – it means nothing – he keeps dodging the question. Eventually, he responds by arguing dictators are often misjudged: Idi Amin gets a unfair press, for one. Irving says he owns a medallion that belonged to the Ugandan dictator, and he likes to wear it secretly below his clothes when he is delivering a lecture. But, I respond, he ethnically cleansed the Ugandan Asians. He shrugs: “Expelling people is something that's been going on for a long time.”
From within Hitler’s circle, Irving began to develop an elaborate theory that “the Chief” was innocent after all. After the barrage of unanswerable evidence presented at his trial, Irving now concedes that the Holocaust happened – and there were “some” gassings at Auschwitz – but he insists Hitler had no idea it was going on. It was orchestrated by the evil Joseph Goebbels and his staff. They deliberately hid it from Hitler, because he was “the best friend the Jews had in the Third Reich.”
Eva Braun “suckered him”, and Goring made him look anti-Jewish when, in fact, by 1938, Hitler “wasn’t anti-semitic at all.” Hitler wasn’t anti-Semitic? If you look at his career, both in detail and in general, Hitler was the person who protected the Jews,” he continues. “But he was repeatedly outsmarted by the Heinrich Himmlers, the Martin Bormanns.” When I start listing Hitler’s many genocidal rages against Jews, he says he was just “playing to the gallery.” Of course, to maintain his view that Hitler knew nothing, he has to tamper with historical documents – changing words, and deliberately ignoring all the contrary evidence, as was shown ad nausem at the trial. I am more interested in teasing out why Irving should contort himself to believe this.
If a raddled, aged Adolf Hitler appeared at your door now, what would you say to him? “I would switch on my tape recorder.” And after you had heard everything he had to say, would turn him in? “Then I would base my decision on what he told me he had done and I would adopt a very harsh measure on that. In the case of Herman Goerring, for example? a lovely, enjoyable buffoon but he was undoubtedly a hanging case. He committed murders, and in my mind if you commit one murder you're for the rope.” So you think it’s conceivable that Adolf Hitler could not have committed even one murder? “With his own hands?” No, not with his own hands. He goes off on a long side-track about how Winston Churchill did kill people with his bare hands. I have to drag him back to Hitler. “Oh, he's technically responsible, he's constitutionally responsible, but what interests me? [is] you find out again and again he's been duped, he's been duped by Eva Braun, he's been duped...”
The last time he saw his mother, she disowned him because of this Hitler-love. She had come to visit his new baby, Josephine, and she was sitting with the child when Irving tried to read her a passage from one of his books. In revulsion, she asked: “What is this viper I've nurtured to my bosom?” Irving says: “She wasn't interested and I said, ‘You just want to play with Josephine, you don't want to listen to what I'm [saying], you've just never been interested in anything I've done, have you!’ Afterwards you kick yourself that those are the terms you have parted company for ever.” But still he cannot stop. He says: “One hundred years from now Hitler will get a very decent hearing. Not so much his underlings.
IV: The Enemy
There were no Jews in the village where David Irving grew up, and he used to think there were none at his school. “But let me tell you a horrible little anecdote?” he says, leaning forward. “Immediately after the Lipstadt trial I flew to Florida so they couldn't touch me? On the plane a man came down the aisle towards me, and said ‘You're David Irving aren't you?’ I said no you're mistaken, and he said ‘I know you're David Irving, and I know why you're denying it.’ I said no you don't. Whoops!” But when he got to Florida, the man told him angrily: “I know who you are! I went to school with you and you made life unbearable for me and another Jew. I was a boy at Brentwood school, you called us filthy little yids, you screamed at us!”
Irving looks bemused as he recounts this story. He assured the man there were no Jews at his school, and he must be mistaken. But he was so shaken he got the man’s name from the checkout desk. (He claims the airline staff reassured him: “Them Jews, them Jews, they all want to have suffered.”) He checked with his old school and “I got all the details. He was a year behind me, two years behind me. Well, I don't know if you know anything about public school, but you never, ever, ever speak to boys in the year, or two years behind you. They don't exist, they are lower than low. No way would I have spoken to him.”
This story is, to Irving, yet more evidence of Jewish wickedness. He offers the old racist rote: the Jews organised “most” of the wars of the twentieth century, and sneer at “the goyim.” Who were the first Jews you knew? “At university. Mike Gorb. He was my flatmate in Kensington, very, very nice guy.” He is now uncontactibly dead, after a mountaineering accident. “John Blok, he was a kind of mentor for me at the university? Jaqueline Gross we employed and she was very nice, very jolly girl and she thoroughly enjoyed working for us. That was in 1982 or 1983 or something.” He insists these Jews were nice people – but when at a lecture a few years ago a Jewish man asked him if he was saying the Jews brought Auschwitz on themselves, he responded: “The short answer is yes.”
How were Mike and John and Jacqueline bringing on their own gassing? He shifts in his chair. “I know that I'm not liked and I know why I'm disliked and I know what I could do to become instantly liked. The Jews have never asked themselves, so far as I can see, over the last three thousand years why they are not liked.” But there is a vast literature by Jews trying to figure out why anti-Semitism happens. He backs off for a second. “I'm not familiar with Jewish literature, because I don't read it. But do they ever reach an objective and useful conclusion?” he asks ingenuously. Plainly is a mass hysteria, like the witchcraft craze – a long, mad search for a scapegoat. “Maybe you're right, I hope you're right, but then why would holocausts happen, why would the German people have turned a blind eye?” he says. When I don’t respond immediately, he exclaims: “Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!”
Do you think every persecuted group in history brought it on themselves then? Did the “witches” cause their own murder? “Indirectly, yes, by not creating a society in which this wouldn't, couldn't happen.” I run through a long list of persecuted groups in history, and finally come across a few he thinks were just the victims of “mass hysteria.” So couldn’t anti-Semitism be a mass hysteria? “No.”
He believes Jews are responsible for their own persecution because they do not “police their own community,” and begins talking about the fraudster Bernie Madoff as an example. He believes Jews let him get away with it – even though a preposterously small proportion of Jews could possibly have been aware of his crimes. So if your Jewish researcher or your Jewish flatmate was to be killed by anti-Semites, they would be responsible because they didn't stop Madoff? “Or the Madoff of their days, yes.”
He seems incapable of seeing Jews as individuals for long. The faces of Mike and John and Jacqueline soon disappear into the amorphous monstrous mass existing only in his mind known as The Jew, which – intriguingly – suffers from many of the characteristics Irving’s critics ascribe to him: it is attention-seeking and greedy and brings about its own destruction.
Yet he insists that, like his Hitler, he is only saying this for the Jews’ own good. “I'm a great friend of them? I'm saying this in their own interest. I'm trying to stop it happening again, whether it's in America or wherever else the Jews flee to. They don't recognise the fact that it's just possible that they are the architects of their own misfortune, to use that wonderful phrase. They are so arrogant, they won't accept this. Every time some rich Jew dies, [they say in his obituaries he was] the noted philanthropist. He won't go down in history as being a noted philanthropist, he'll go down in history as being a Jew, and the non-Jews see the Jews and say ‘well how have they made all their money? From us.’ And that's one reason to dislike them. It's human nature.”
There will, he reckons, probably be another Holocaust in thirty years, when we realise we have been conned. Oh, and if the Jews are lucky, there will be a David Irving or an Adolf Hitler there to protect them.
In a box in the corner of this room, there sits the ashes of a girl Hitler would have murdered. It is Irving’s eldest daughter, Josephine. Like in a moralistic Victorian parable, this Hitler-devotee ended up with a severely disabled daughter – and I want to know how he dealt with the dissonance.
“In 1981 she became schizophrenic and it was a terrible shock for us,” he says, his voice dropping from its confident strut. She had been getting into trouble at school for a while, but Irving assumed it was normal teenage turbulence until one day she left an exam and walked home. She told her father: “Oh, the devil was sitting in the road just in front of me.” Irving looks into the middle distance. “You hear your own daughter saying things like that and it begins to become very frightening. You don't realise what's going on.” A Harley Street doctor diagnosed her with latent paranoid schizophrenia. “It is not curable. It can be treated, but for the benefit of the rest of society,” he says. “My wife vanished for three months. She couldn't take it, left me with the children to look after. I can't begrudge her that, it was a terrible shock and it took a long time to sink in.”
He remembers walking with Josephine on the anniversary of her diagnosis, and he said she had been ill for a year “She turned those blue eyes to me and she said, ‘Oh no daddy, I've been ill for many more years than that.’ Imagine your oldest daughter saying that? For the next 18 years she struggled with this appalling affliction which got worse and worse. She heard these voices which speak with enormous compulsion. The voice that tells you to stand back from the edge of a platform as an express train rattles through, with equally the same cohesion tells schizophrenics to do the exact opposite.”
In 1996, he tried to commit suicide by hurling herself from a building, and ended up “a complete cripple”, as Irving puts it, with a broken back and both her legs amputated. She secretly married another seriously disabled man who “had a bad, bad brain,” but after three years, she attempted suicide again – this time successfully. The hospital staff, he says, told him “she must have been a very determined suicide indeed to pull herself out of a window, a fifth floor window, in that condition.” Their son is now grown up, and fighting in Afghanistan.
He says the experience has changed him. “I find myself becoming a lot more human towards people who have a disability?. Now if I find a Down Syndrome child or someone a paraplegic or somebody with some other obvious disability wheeled past me I will go out of my way to go over to them, to smile, to say hello because you realize that they are humans too.”
You do realize, I say as gently as I can, that Hitler would have killed Josephine? “Yes, Hitler had one of his own cousins killed, this is one of the appalling things.” He then quickly goes off on another tangent, talking about a radio programme he was once on, and I have – for once – to draw him back to the Hitler. I can almost see the conflict within him, as he veers back and forth from admitting Hitler did something wrong. “Hitler had the very best of reasons, if I can put it very oddly like that.”
He claims the first case of euthanasia authorized by Hitler was of “a child who had been born hideously disfigured in some way, and the doctors and the parents wanted to put the child down for its own sake? That was the kind of reasoning behind it, and then [Karl] Brandt [Hitler’s physician] came to Hitler and said of course this isn’t the only case, there are many many more cases like this, but this was the foot in the door. [It] provided a lawful basis for termination of people who were medical misfits and it became ever wider. When war broke out people said well, we need the hospital beds now for people who really need them, and gradually the field became broader and broader.”
And so he concedes with a sigh: “Had we been in Nazi Germany then Josephine would have been swept up in that procedure.” But then he adds quickly, in a sentence that uncharacteristically dissolves into meaninglessness: “Except of course that we now have drugs” to treat schizophrenia, “so I am not sure that [Hitler] would have [killed her] because, as I say, just at the end, by that time the drugs would have been there which would have made it possible to...” He stops and collects his thoughts.
“The way the Nazis did it was always in the nicest possible way,” he says at last. “The parents were told ‘oh she has succumb to pneumonia’, something like that. [It was] evil with good intentions.” Where were the good intentions? “The parents would not have been told.” But the child would know that they were being killed, and the parents would still have a dead child. “I don’t know, it is very difficult when you get into these fields, a what-if, a hypothesis.” It’s hardly a wild what-if: it happened to tens of thousands of real people just like you. He is silent.
So you really think the murder of people exactly like your daughter was an act committed “in the kindest possible way”? “Oh, I am quoting that television gentleman? what is he called? he crossed his legs all the time and wore a beard.” Kenny Everett? “Kenny Everett. I’m, uh, just quoting his catchphrase. The Nazis did these things, but they didn’t do it, they didn’t do it, they did it in a concealed way so that parents only later on found out to their horror what had actually happened.” Does that make it any less horrific? He clams up. “I think this argument is so stilted I don't want to get entwined in it.”
He looks over at the ashes, and then looks down, speechless for the first time in our interview.
In 1989, Austria’s Chancellor Franz Vranitzky said publicly: “Should Irving ever turn up here again, he’ll be locked up immediately.” His lectures had breached the country’s laws banning denial of the Nazis’ crimes and rebuilding a Nazi movement – and the punishment ran to twenty years in jail. Yet in 2006, Irving chose to return to the country, knowing there was a warrant out for his arrest. Was he seeking a confrontation? He shakes his head. “No, but I was prepared for it? I can't allow people to silence me forever. One day I shall have to go back to Germany. I have to continue research there, but I'm banned from Germany. I can't allow people to silence me or to stop my research.”
He was put on trial, and blames his conviction on the fact the fact that eight members of the jury were “stolid, slab-featured, middle-aged Viennese Hausfrau type women, with a bus-stopping range of perhaps a hundred yards or more.” But prison, he insists, was wonderful. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says, pushing out his chest. He says it’s great for a writer to have all the distractions shut out. He quotes Evelyn Waugh approvingly: “Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison.”
But is this true? This was the first time he was forced into close contact with black people, a group he believes are inferior. He says America used to have a “nicely stratified system, with the white on top followed by the coloureds followed by the blacks and the slave labour on the bottom,” until the Jews decided to shake it up with the wicked civil rights movement. Yet he says he made friends with a “young Black” called Momo, and with “lots of them. There were Africans in the prison from Nigeria of course. I suppose it's even racist to say of course, but I mean the Nigerians, blacks are going to be largely criminal. I spoke most of their languages, French or Spanish or whatever and so they came to me.”
In his new book about his time in jail, ‘Banged Up’, he describes an odd incident in which he “accidentally” drank detergent, saying he mistook it for lemon juice. Did you try to kill yourself? “Lord good Lord no!” he says with a great forced guffaw. “No, I would never commit suicide. Suicide is partly congenital like alcoholism. If you want to be an SS officer, which probably you don’t...” – he laughs – “one of the forms that you had to fill in looks at if there is a history of suicide in your family or a history of alcoholism then that is a black mark.” He then describes an elaborate scenario in which detergent and lemon juice became interchangeable.
As I get up to leave, his daughter Paloma, who is visiting from Madrid, wanders in. She asks our photographer nervously: “Did he behave himself?” Irving takes me around the house for one last time, proudly pulling himself up the stairs. He was declared bankrupt in 2003 – so how does he afford this gorgeous house? “I'm not going to talk about money very much, but I have an income.” I heard you were supported by a Saudi prince. “I tried it, oh I tried it,” he says. He claims that in 2003 Prince Salman Fahd – son of the Saudi king, and then Interior Minister – promised him £800,000, just before he died of a sudden heart attack. “I would say eighty percent of my income comes from the United States? It's very enjoyable showing that despite every effort the enemies make to smash me, provided my heart holds out, then I'm okay. I can survive.”
VII: The scamp
As we stand by the Christmas tree, with the door open and the cold wind blowing in, I wonder –does David Irving believe what he says? Does he actually think Adolf Hitler ordained him as his defender when he was just a toddler in Essex? His twin brother, Nicky, has said: “I’ve never been entirely convinced that, deep down, David really holds these ridiculous views. It’s possible that he was simply doing what we did when we were children – anything to get attention. It’s almost a sickness with him.” His former partner Bente agrees: “I never really felt he believed a lot of it. I still don’t really. He enjoys being provocative. He’s an extraordinary attention seeker, always has been.” Is he just swinging the lantern, like his father?
He laughs at this suggestion. “I am a scamp, yes a scamp,” he says. “Ever since school. I like to have one piece of mischief on every page I write so you go to turn the page and are thinking, well, what was that page about?” And he closes his eyes tightly in the freezing air. For one moment, it seems as though he is back at Brentwood School, asking for a copy on Mein Kampf for speech day, and thinking all this – all this hate, and all this hard work to rehabilitate the worst genodical killer of the twentieth century – is only a jolly, jolly jape.
For a forensic rebuttal of the holocaust denial myths, go to http://remember.org/History.root.rev.html
Signalons qu'en avril 2008 Johann Hari avait gagné le prix Orwell du journalisme indépendant pour sa dénonciation du rôle de la France en Centreafrique.