Denier confronting Holocaust scholars at libel trial

LONDON — Holocaust denier David Irving has no right to call himself a historian, a leading scholar of Nazi Germany testified last week.

Richard Evans, a professor of modern history at Cambridge University in Britain, made the remark at a libel trial by Irwin against Professor Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, the British publisher of her 1994 book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

Irving, who denies that Jews were systematically exterminated in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, is claiming that the Emory University professor and historian ruined his reputation and career by labeling him a Holocaust denier — and asserting that he twisted historical data to suit his own bias.

Irving's confrontation with Evans was just one of several he had last week with scholars who are testifying at the trial.

After producing a 740-page critique of Irving's historical method, Evans said he had been unprepared for the "sheer depth of duplicity" he had found in Irving's treatment of Holocaust-related historical sources.

In his report, Evans asserted that Irving had relied on his audience to lack the time or expertise to study his sources in order to discover the "distortions and manipulations."

Irving, who is representing himself, charged that Evans' "sweeping and rather brutal" attack on his career was based on personal animosity. "I think you dislike what I write and stand for and what you perceive my views to be," he said.

Evans, who said he had little prior knowledge of Irving's work although he had thought of him as a sound historian, testified that he was "shocked" at what he found after closely examined Irving's writings and speeches.

Irving had fallen so far short of accepted standards of scholarship that "he doesn't deserve to be called a historian at all," wrote Evans.

But Irving countered that he was always the "total opposite of being unscrupulous and manipulative and deceptive, as you say in your report."

Evans agreed that Irving had a very wide knowledge of the source material for the Third Reich and that he had discovered many new documents: "The problem for me," he said, "is what you do with them when you interpret them and write them up."

Irving had a bruising encounter with Professor Christopher Browning of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., who also appeared as a witness for Lipstadt.

Asked by Irving to comment on a Nazi plan to settle Jews on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, Browning, who authored four books and more than 35 academic papers on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, called it a "bizarre fantasy."

Browning added that the result of such a population transfer would have been disastrous as "a large percentage of the people would have perished."

"I think," countered Irving, "that the Jews are a very sturdy people."

Earlier in the week, military historian Sir John Keegan, compelled by subpoena to testify for Irving, said he found Irving's ideas "perverse." He called Irving's claim that Hitler did not know about the fate of the Jews until late 1943 "so extraordinary it would defy reason."

Sir John, who was knighted for his contribution to military history, agreed that he had in the past recommended students of World War II to read Irving's book "Hitler's War." But he told the court he had also advised them to read Chester Wilmot's "Struggle for Europe."

"Together," he said, "they gave Hitler's side and the Allies' side."

His recommendation to students did not mean he endorsed the opinions in Irving's book, he said.