The wrong man for the job: David Irving is the worst intermediary for Goebbels, writes Piers Brendon

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The Independent Online
THE NEWS that the complete diaries of Joseph Goebbels have turned up in Moscow and that the historian David Irving is vetting them for serialisation in the Sunday Times will provoke amusement as well as alarm.

It was, after all, Irving who first alerted Rupert Murdoch's organ to the existence of the famous 'Hitler Diaries'. Furthermore, having shown an initial scepticism about their authenticity, he gave them a ringing endorsement when everyone else was concluding they were forgeries.

If Irving came out badly from that astonishing farrago of greed and gullibility, the Sunday Times made a complete fool of itself. Despite Lord Dacre's latter-day doubts, the paper was unwilling to wave goodbye to its huge investment. It published and was damned. Its proprietor made light of the whole episode by saying that newspapers were merely 'entertainment' - so much for notions about their being the first rough draft of history.

Presumably this diary in Moscow is genuine. Its provenance is sound. We know that Goebbels kept a diary because much of it is already in print, whereas it was inconceivable that Hitler talked into the small hours and then scribbled until dawn. Irving is returning from Moscow, he says, with the biggest mysteries of the Second World War and the Third Reich in his pocket. Well he would say that, wouldn't he?

Irving is a most formidable ferret in archives. Time and again, to the chagrin of idle scholars, he comes up with new material, often provided by his network of Nazi contacts. In the process he exposes the secrecy of our official document-minders for what it is - a theft from the public. Moreover, in what tends to be a dog-in-the-manger profession, Irving is generous with his discoveries.

In person and in print, Irving has acted as the apologist of views which are morally repellent and politically dangerous. He has described himself as a 'mild fascist' (quaint oxymoron) and he has addressed National Front meetings. He has denied the existence of the Holocaust and declared that Hitler himself did not know about the murder of Jews, let alone authorise it. His depiction of Churchill as a drunken buffoon who provoked the Blitz to justify his own aggression might have come straight out of the Fuhrerbunker.

Irving's assertions are based on a systematic mishandling of evidence. He ignores (or is ignorant of) much that is in print. He selects what suits him from manuscripts. He tortures his original sources for information they have not got. He has ways of making them talk.

Let me give a few examples. In Hitler's War, Irving omits crucial references in Goebbels' published diaries to Hitler's pioneering the Final Solution. In his recent biography of Goering he claims the Reichsmarschall was unaware of the uses to which Heydrich would put his signed mandate to make 'all necessary preparations . . . for an overall unravelling of the Jewish problem'. Irving accuses Churchill of cowardice on the basis of unpublished titbits suggesting he was sometimes out of London during the bombing. Yet everything we know about Churchill, who enjoyed the noise of Great War whizz- bangs, confirms that if he had one transcendent quality it was courage.

What this shows is that Irving comes unstuck when it comes to fair analysis or interpretation. He is ruthless in employing argumentative double standards. On the one hand, Churchill is a craven war-monger on the basis of shreds of circumstantial evidence. On the other, Hitler is innocent of Jewish murders until a signed death warrant is produced. Such a forensic travesty suggests that Irving's books contain a hidden agenda, that they are not just historical reappraisal but political propaganda. History is perhaps the most powerful form of propaganda because ideas about the past shape present reality. Irving's own distortions are deeply sinister and they indicate that he is the last person who should be trusted to act as Goebbels' posthumous impresario.

For, after all, Goebbels was himself the 'Mahatma Propagandi' of the Third Reich. His diary was anything but an objective record of events. It was, like everything his mendacious ministry did, an attempt to brainwash. It is filled with anti-Semitism and racial abuse. The Russians, who rashly welcomed Irving into their archives but now seem to have thought better of it, are described as 'a conglomeration of animals'. It pullulates with bizarre invocations to the Fuhrer - 'the natural creative instrument of divine destiny'. Goebbels aspired to be Hitler's prophet and to crown him with a halo of infallibility. The idea that David Irving should have a hand in deciding which of the works of this 'devil incarnate' (Magda Goebbels' phrase) should be put before innocent purchasers of the Sunday Times is perturbing. Readers surely have the right to expect that a paper which has shown itself so inept in the history department should choose someone ideologically untainted and academically respectable to monitor such an important discovery.

There are lots of competent historians of Germany in this country who could do the job admirably. As it is, Sunday Times subscribers will have to be doubly vigilant: for they will be reading the Lucifer of lies mediated by someone who is more of a disciple than a critic.

The author is a historian whose books include biographies of Churchill and Eisenhower.