Judge dismantles author's distorted view of history

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The Independent Culture

By the time that David Irving slipped into Court 36 at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday morning he knew the game was up.

Because he was representing himself, he had been given Mr Justice Gray's written judgement the day before. He would have had ample chance to study it, ample opportunity to see how he had failed to have his view of history accepted.

But though he was aware of the decision, Mr Irving could not have fully expected what was coming.

Over the next hour and 50 minutes, Mr Justice Gray did not so much dismiss the historian's claim - that he had been libelled by Professor Deborah Lipstadt - as dismantle it, destroy it, turn it on its head and then throw it back into Mr Irving's heavy-joweled face. In doing so, he also fundamentally questioned his right to be called a historian.

The judge started by saying it was not his job to decide what had happened under the Nazis: he was a trial judge and not an historian. But, as he hurried through his main findings, that was exactly the role he assumed. He started with the allegation contained within Professor Lipstadt's book, Denying the Holocaust, that Mr Irving had misrepresented the historical evidence.

No one doubted, said the judge, that as a military historian Mr Irving had much to commend him. He had undertaken painstaking research.

But then the turned to specific matters: Hitler's 1924 trial, Kristallnacht, the shooting of the Jews in Riga, the timing of the so-called final solution. Names and places from another world, known to most only from history books, echoed around the courtroom.

"It is my conclusion," said Mr Justice Gray, "that, judged objectively, Irving treated the historical evidence in a matter which fell far short of the standard to be expected of a conscientious historian. Irving ... misrepresented and distorted the evidence."

Mr Irving's face turned the colour of his burgundy waistcoat as he listened. (He had removed his jacket after being pelted with an egg as he entered.)

But the judge barely paused, as he turned to Mr Irving's argument over the absence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and the extent of the Holocaust. "No objective fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds and thousands of Jews," said the judge.

Though the packed courtroom remained silent, one sensed that many in the public gallery were inwardly cheering.

There was no respite for Mr Irving. He was a Holocaust denier; he may not be a racist in the usual sense, said the judge, but he mixed with racists and shared many of their right-wing views.

And with a showman's timing Mr Justice Gray saved the best for the end - the matter of whether Mr Irving had deliberately got things wrong. "For the most part the falsification of the ... record was deliberate and that Irving was motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological evidence."