David Irving cuts a lonely figure in the lobby of the Bull Hotel in Peterborough. Wearing a blue suit and a purple tie, the historian and convicted Holocaust denier sits uncomfortably on a chair he has pulled out from the nearby bar. He’s here to welcome ticketholders for the latest stop on his secretive UK lecture tour.
“And you are?” he asks visitors who pause to look at him. I give him the name of the friend I had asked to buy a ticket so that I could attend his talk, entitled The Life and Death of Heinrich Himmler. “Upstairs, the Wakeford room,” he says, adding: “I’m just intercepting people as they come in.”
A small group mingles awkwardly around a conference table stacked with Irving’s books. DVDs, including two versions of Triumph of the Will by the Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, are displayed for sale next to the tea-making facilities. A tape recording of radio reports from the Second World War plays on a loop.
Irving soon walks in, shutting the door behind him. Just 13 people have gathered, each newcomer having been personally vetted by the historian and repeatedly sworn to keep secret the location of the talk. There is one woman and one child, a boy aged about 11 brought along by his father. We take our seats at a table equipped with hotel notepaper, water, and bowls of Fox’s Glacier Mints.
Irving, 75, is justly paranoid about security. During a career spanning 50 years and more than 30 books, he has emerged from relative respectability to become a notorious revisionist historian, and a target for anti-fascist demonstrators. In 2000, he lost a £2m libel action against the US historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. The judge ruled that Irving “is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist”.
Five years later, Irving was sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for “trivialising, grossly playing down and denying the Holocaust”. He was released after 13 months and banned from returning to the country. He has also been banned from Canada, Italy and Germany.
After a period of relative quiet, Irving has now returned to publicise his unfinished book about Heinrich Himmler, founder of the SS and architect of the Holocaust. A series of talks began on 18 August in Southampton. Stops since have included Bristol, Coventry, Manchester and Edinburgh. He is due to speak in Oxford tonight, and in London on 21 December.
Anyone can buy a ticket on the author’s website for £19. I had attempted to go to the Coventry lecture last week, that time asking a relative to buy my ticket. But Irving refused “him” entry and refunded the money, citing “General security concerns. Nothing personal.”
On Thursday, my friend received a call from Irving about his application for that night’s talk, and was quizzed about his interest (he claimed to be a curious history buff). Satisfied, Irving only then emailed the details of the location, repeatedly calling for secrecy.
As word of the lecture dates circled among Irving’s legion of detractors, many issued appeals for demonstrators to disrupt them. At the Bull, Irving talks about his attempts to evade them. “In York, a man who had paid in advance accidentally replied to an email from a different account that gave his name as ‘anti fascista’. We sent him to the Little John, which is a homosexual bar.”
The Little John, now known as the Blue Boar, was immediately besieged on Twitter before its bemused manager insisted it was not the location for the talk. “Its not not happening at the Blue Boar, I own it and would never allow biggoted racists to use the pub!” he tweeted.
A spokesman for Peels Hotel, which owns the Bull in Peterborough, said Irving had booked its room as John Cawdell (his middle names). He had not heard of Irving but said he would not have allowed the talk to go ahead had he known the facts.
Before he even gets to Himmler, Irving laments his treatment and standing alongside what he calls “conformist” historians, and the financial hardship imposed by numerous court cases. But he insists he is a crusader for truth, writing “what I call real history”.
The two-hour talk about Himmler, who he refers to as “Heiney”, unfolds without a break. Irving claims, among other things, that Himmler did not commit suicide but was murdered by his British captors. Later, while recounting Himmler’s youth, Irving rises to his feet and thrusts forth an imaginary sabre as he re-enacts a fight Himmler had won in his duelling fraternity at a Munich university.
Eventually, we come to the Holocaust. Since his conviction the historian has denied denying the Holocaust, conceding that millions of Jews did die in gas chambers. But in Peterborough he says: “If you read the memoirs of Churchill or Eisenhower or de Gaulle, they don’t mention it at all. It never happened as far as they were concerned.” In around 1970, he adds, the Jews were “advised by a PR firm to give it one name, stick to that name, and stick to those figures and gradually you’ll make billions out of this. That’s what happened.”
Irving claims that Hitler was unaware of the atrocities being committed in his name, that Himmler’s fearsome Waffen-SS Nazi fighting force “had a completely clean reputation” and that Auschwitz is “hugely inflated and hyped up. It’s like Disney. I don’t go there. It has no part in history.”
An impressive speaker, he produces carefully selected evidence to back up each claim – photos, intercepted telegrams, diaries and Himmler’s own notes. The assembled guests nod in silence. At 9pm, we are released to the bar downstairs for a break.
A man with a lion tattoo on his arm boasts about a copy of Mein Kampf he recently acquired (Irving himself collects Nazi memorabilia. In 2009 he was preparing to sell items on eBay including a fragment of bone purported to be Hitler’s).
A retired man in his 60s who has come from Lincoln says he is not worried about the secrecy surrounding the talk and praises Irving for speaking out. “The more you learn the more you realise we’re all subject to the skulduggery of the Zionist bankers trying to achieve one world order – and do anything to get it,” he says.
After the break, Irving talks about the publishing houses run by Jewish executives who turned their back on him (he self-publishes now). The Lincoln man offers: “They run the world, don’t they?” Irving, who strongly denies being anti-semitic, replies: “Well sometimes people stand up and fight back.”
He says Jews in America control all media, banks and that “they dare not appoint any leading person in the White House to ministerial positions involving money without him being a Jew. Look where that got them in Germany in 1933. And they will not learn the lesson, they all think it won’t happen again.
“Then they ask why they are so hated. I look in the mirror in the mornings and I say to myself – people don’t like me and I know why. I know what I could do immediately to be liked by the media and newspapers – completely reverse my opinion. But I don’t do it.”
In 2011, during one of Irving’s group tours of death camps in Poland, he delivered a similar rant. Will Storr, author of The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, then asked him for an explanation for his views. According to Storr, Irving replied: “Probably something different in their brains.”
Irving says he hears people say Jews are hated because they crucified Jesus Christ. “I say if you walk into a pub in Wapping and ask people why they don’t like the Jews they don’t mention Jesus. They mention other reasons. They’re worried about their mortgages and the banks…that’s the reason why the Jews get hated.”
The next day I call Irving to ask him about his talk. He quickly claims he had clocked me as a journalist, but doesn’t say how. He says on average he refuses two people per lecture. He disputes the comment about “brains” (“I was talking about our brains, not the Jews’,” he claims) and says he based the “Wapping” line purely on a recent poll that suggested 85 per cent of Americans blamed Jews for the global economic crisis.
On Monday, Irving plans to fly to Poland for his latest guided tour of Nazi sites. On 10 September he plans to return to Germany for the first time in 20 years to speak in Berlin after his travel ban was lifted by a court last year. If not reverse his opinion, could he not express it less freely, and spend more time at his home in Windsor?
“I’m not the kind of guy who rolls over,” he says on the phone. “I’m English. I fight back. If the Jews had not started this campaign to destroy David Irving I wouldn’t have defended myself. I’ve defended myself like any other decent Englishman. And I know where the bodies are buried.”