Russian authorities say they were duped by Mr Irving and his sponsor, the Sunday Times, into letting him be the first Western researcher to look at hitherto missing parts of the diaries of Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. The diaries were found in a Moscow archive last February by German researchers and their existence revealed yesterday by the Independent.
Last night in an attempt to deflect criticism the Sunday Times said Mr Irving would not be 'editing, translating or interpreting' the material for publication in the newspaper.
According to a spokesman Mr Irving's role would be transcribing Goebbels' handwriting into modern German. He is one of few people who can read it. Peter Millar, a freelance correspondent for the Sunday Times, would evaluate the material's news-worthiness, and Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History at Oxford and a columnist on the paper, would interpret its historical significance.
But Lord Dacre of Glanton, the historian Hugh Trevor- Roper, said he believed that after the furore over Mr Irving's involvement with the diaries, the newspaper was trying to ease fears among readers. 'The Sunday Times is frightened of David Irving so it's getting Norman Stone, who's on their payroll, to reassure the public,' said Lord Dacre. 'That's the only way I can make sense of it.'
Lord Dacre, asked if the newspaper's move to bring in Professor Stone allayed his concerns over Mr Irving's involvment, said: 'He's better than David Irving. He reassures me more than David Irving. Have I answered your question?'
The Sunday Times shift became clear when Andrew Neil, the editor, sent a letter to the 45 Aid Society (Holocaust Survivors UK), saying Mr Irving had alerted the newspaper to the diaries.
But, the letter went on: 'The choice of the material, the editing of that material, the translation into English and any interpretation that is put on that material is ours alone, ably assisted by Norman Stone . . . a noted German specialist.'
In Moscow yesterday Vladimir Tarasov, head of the international relations department of the Russian archives, said of the Irving-Sunday Times operation: 'I can only say everything was a dirty play, first of all from the side of Mr Irving.' He was 'more than 90 per cent sure' Mr Irving would lose his Russian archive reading ticket.
Mr Irving, who denies that Hitler ordered the Holocaust, was introduced to the Russians last May by Mr Millar as a 'famous historian who works on biographies of Goebbels', Mr Tarasov said. 'I confess I didn't know at the time what kind of a person he is.'
A ban on working in the 2,000 archives of the former Soviet Union would be a devastating blow to any historian of the Second World War, as many unknown treasures are becoming available. That would also upset the plans of Mr Neil, who had backed Mr Irving's secret research project with a six-figure sum.
The Russian authorities are considering certain unspecified actions, besides the ban, if Mr Irving's reports 'change the context of our documents,' Mr Tarasov said. But the Russians are equally concerned that Mr Irving, known for his unorthodox research methods, has already violated archive rules by copying parts of the diaries without permission and taking them out of the country.
Mr Irving was given permission to publish only 90 of the 80,000 previously unpublished pages of the diaries that cover the period 1941 to 1945. 'We have information that Mr Irving has showed copies of the missing Goebbels diaries in Germany and that he got these copies illegally from us,' Mr Tarasov said. 'That would mean he made use of the lack of attention of our archive workers and abused his right to work in the archives.'
The Russians did not supervise Mr Irving when he was examining the diaries, which were transferred on to glass plates by the Germans at the end of the Second World War. He had access to many more than his allocation of two of the plates.
The Russians fear he will give them a bad name, and stop glasnost in their archives. 'We have tried to open our archives and be a really democratic institution, but if we let in people like Mr Irving our archivists will not agree to this,' Mr Tarasov said.
Earlier yesterday Mr Neil told the BBC Radio 4 programme The World at One that Mr Irving's involvement in his newspaper's plans for the diaries was not significant.
'The important thing is whether the diaries are authentic and, if so, what they say,' he said. 'David Irving only comes into this in the sense that he was the one that tipped us off . . . secondly he's one of the few people in the world who can actually read Goebbels' handwriting.'
Mr Neil rejected the suggestion that Mr Irving's involvement might enable him to serve his own political purposes. 'We're publishing Goebbels' diaries, not David Irving's interpretation of them. Mr Irving cannot rewrite the Goebbels diaries. What he gets up to in his political activities is nothing to do with me, and I find almost all of his political views, particularly as regards to the Nazi era, reprehensible.'
Mr Neil acknowledged that Mr Irving had been selective in transcriptions of previously published sections of the diaries. 'We will obviously be terribly on the look- out for that and we know where David Irving's coming from,' he said.
Leaders of British Jews were bitterly critical yesterday of the newspaper's association with Mr Irving. Neville Nagler, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: 'We find it an almost unbelievable choice of person to look at the diaries.' He was speaking at a demonstration mounted outside Mr Irving's London home to protest against his organisation of a seminar today on the Holocaust.
Mike Whine, spokesman for the Board, said: 'The diaries are important historical documents. But if I were Andrew Neil, I would think very long and hard about whether to use this man.'
Holocaust protest, page 2
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