Profile: David Irving

The arrest of David Irving, for allegedly denying that the Holocaust ever happened, is but the latest twist in a highly controversial career as an historian.

BBC News/November 18, 2005
By Andrew Walker

He was once seen as the brightest new star in the historical firmament - an extraordinarily competent researcher, a brilliant linguist and a first class writer.

But today, Mr Irving finds himself in a cell in Vienna, with a possible 20-year prison sentence hanging over his head.

David John Caldwell Irving was born in 1938, the son of a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy who had seen service at the battle of Jutland.

Although he entered Imperial College, London, to study physics, he failed to graduate.

He was rejected by the Royal Air Force as being medically unfit and decided, as an alternative to National Service, to move to Germany, finding employment as a steelworker in the Ruhr.

Returning to Britain, he wrote a controversial first book, The Destruction of Dresden, which described the 1945 air raid on the city as "the worst single massacre in European history".

The book was, nevertheless, popular and he followed it with a series of bestsellers, including The Mare's Nest and The Virus House, about the Nazis' atomic research programme.

In 1968 he found himself in court following the publication of The Destruction of Convoy PQ17. Captain J E Broome, who commanded the doomed convoy's escort, sued for libel and won.

But Mr Irving bounced back and, in 1977, produced the work for which he is probably best known - Hitler's War. The book looked at the conduct of World War II from Hitler's perspective, "from behind the Fuhrer's desk", as the author put it.

He berated fellow historians for their idleness over research, as he had unearthed a vast collection of previously unexploited Nazi documents and had conducted many interviews with members of Hitler's personal staff while writing the book.


The vast work, which took 13 years to produce, contained the astounding thesis that, until late 1943, Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust and that he never gave the order for the physical destruction of European Jewry.

He offered £1,000 to anyone who could produce a written document showing that Hitler had given such an order.

Indeed in the following years, Irving went even further, stating that gas chambers did not exist and that six million did not die.

At the time, Irving drew plaudits from some distinguished historians.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, author of The Last Days of Hitler, and the man who erroneously authenticated the bogus "Hitler diaries" wrote, "No praise can be too high for his indefatigable scholarly industry" and AJP Taylor commended his "good scholarship".

Most, though, were outraged by what they saw as his unacceptable views. He underwent verbal attacks, the door of his house was smashed with a sledgehammer and was banned from Germany, Australia and Canada.


Matters came to a head in 2000, when he took the American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, to court for libel after she branded him a "Holocaust denier" in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

A key element in the Lipstadt case was a report compiled for the defence by Richard Evans, professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. His conclusion was damning.

Mr Irving, surmised Professor Evans, had deliberately distorted and wilfully mistranslated documents, consciously used discredited testimony and falsified historical statistics.

And he concluded: "Irving has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary amongst historians that he does not deserve to be called a historian at all."

And, if the judge's comments, branding David Irving "a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier" were not enough in themselves, the financial cost, an estimated £3m, bankrupted him.

Irving has recently moved out of his former Mayfair home into rented accomodation.

Today, he views himself as a champion of what he calls Real History. He blames a vast, largely Jewish, conspiracy of "the traditional enemies of free speech" for losing book contracts and income and now sees his works published free online on his own website.

Currently working on a biography of the SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, Mr Irving has recently returned from a speaking tour of the United States. :

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