David Irving: An anti-Semitic racist who has suffered financial ruin

The Independent, London/February 21, 2006
By Oliver Duff

The last time David Irving was in court, the judge was British. In 2000, the academic attempted to sue the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose book on Nazi apologists singled him out as a persistent Holocaust denier.

The unsuccessful 32-day libel action brought financial ruin and professional disgrace. Most damning were the words of Mr Justice Gray, presiding at the High Court, who branded the Third Reich historian "an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist".

The author of more than 30 books on the Second World War, Irving contends that most of those who died at concentration camps such as Auschwitz were not executed but succumbed to diseases such as typhus.

He has claimed that Adolf Hitler knew little about the industrialised slaughter of six million Jews, and has been quoted as saying there was "not one shred of evidence" that the Nazis carried out their Final Solution to exterminate Europe's Jewish population.

In 1992, a German judge fined him the equivalent of £3,400 for publicly insisting that the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz were a hoax. Irving was banned from Germany, Austria, Italy and Canada.

His career has been characterised by a savage intellect and a consuming self-confidence. Born David John Cawdell Irving in Essex in March 1938, one of four children, a wartime upbringing left him with a nostalgia for old England and a determined individualism. His parents separated early on and he only got to know his father, a naval commander who served in both wars, towards the end of his life.

Irving achieved much despite his family's meagre financial means. After attending a minor public school, achieving 13 O-levels and eight A-levels, he read physics at Imperial College, London, but did not complete the degree because of a lack of money.

His interest in Germany began shortly afterwards, when he worked for a year in the Ruhr steelworks.

He returned to study in England - financed by article-writing and work as a nightwatchman - and published his first book, about Allied air raids on Dresden.

Irving claims this early success attracted the envy of rival scholars, which in turn became malice after the 1977 publication of Hitler's War, in which he claimed that the Führer did not know about the mass killings of Jews until 1943.

In 1981, he and his wife of 20 years - the daughter of a Spanish industrial chemist who fiercely opposed Franco - divorced. The eldest of their four daughters committed suicide aged 33 after a period of mental illness and the loss of her legs in an accident. His twin brother changed his name by deed poll to avoid the family connection.

Irving's most recent historical revision is to concede the error of his ways. Before the Austrian trial, he told reporters that he acknowledged that the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during the Second World War. He said he had made a mistake when he said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, and expressed sorrow for those who had died in the war.

It was 16 years too late, however, to stop him being jailedfor three years under Austria's 1947 law banning Nazi revivalism and criminalising the "public denial, belittling or justification of National Socialist crimes".

At the time of the British libel trial, he was said to have 4,000 supporters worldwide. His lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said last month that the historian still received up to 300 pieces of mail every week from fans across the globe.

His days in detention will be spent writing his memoirs, under the working title Irving's War.

His words

* "I don't think there was any overall Reich policy to kill the Jews. If there was ... there would not be so many millions of survivors. Believe me, I am glad for every survivor." - Ernst Zuendel trial, 1988

* "Seventy four thousand died of natural causes in the work camps and the rest were hidden in reception camps after the war and later taken to Palestine, where they live today new identities." - Speech in Vienna, 1989

* "Last week on the occasion of the Dresden bombing, I knelt in my cell and prayed to remember the 100,000 civilians killed there." - In court yesterday


* "It is the conviction and not the sentence that matters. It sends a clear message to the world that we must not tolerate the denial of the mass murders of the Holocaust." - Lord Janner, the Holocaust Educational Trust.

* "I welcome yet another public rebuff for David Irving's pseudo-historical views, although personally I prefer to treat him with disdain than with imprisonment." - Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Jewish Information and Media Service.

* "This is a big day for Israel and all Jews, as the Pope of Holocaust deniers has finally been brought to justice. The sentence is not important. What is important is to send out the message while we, the Holocaust survivors, are still alive." - Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger, who flew from Israel for the trial.

A controversial life

* 1938: Born David John Cawdell Irving in Essex.

* 1961: Marries first wife, Pilar. Couple have four daughters

* 1977: Publication of Hitler's War, in which he claims Hitler did not know about the Nazi slaughter of Jews until 1943

* 1981: Divorces Pilar

* 1989: Gives speeches in Austria in which he allegedly denies the Nazi's murder of six million Jews

* 1992: Fined £3,400 by a German court for insisting the gas chambers at Auschwitz were a hoax

* 2000: Failed libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, who accused him of being a Holocaust denier. The estimated £3m costs bankrupt him

* 2006: Jailed in Austria

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