Lying About Hitler


By Richard J. Evans

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In ruling against the controversial historian David Irving in his libel suit against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, last April 2000, the High Court in London labeled him a falsifier of history. No objective historian, declared the judge, would manipulate the documentary record in the way that Irving did. Richard J. Evans, a Cambridge historian and the chief advisor for the defense, uses this pivotal trial as a lens for exploring a range of difficult questions about the nature of the historian’s enterprise. For instance, don’t all historians in the end bring a subjective agenda to bear on their reading of the evidence? Is it possible that Irving lost his case not because of his biased history but because his agenda was unacceptable? The central issue in the trial — as for Evans in this book — was not the past itself, but the way in which historians study the past. In a series of short, sharp chapters, Richard Evans sets David Irving’s methods alongside the historical record in order to illuminate the difference between responsible and irresponsible history. The result is a cogent and deeply informed study in the nature of historical interpretation.



Also by Richard J. Evans

Death in Hamburg (1987)

In Hitler’s Shadow (1989)

Ritual of Retribution (1996)

In Defense of History (1999)


History, Holocaust,
and the David Irving Trial



This book is dedicated to the survivors of Nazi genocide, murder and violence, and to the memory of the millions who did not survive


BBCBritish Broadcasting Corporation
BDCBerlin Document Center
Der ProzessDer Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militärgerichtshof Nürnberg (Nuremberg, 1949)
GTBGoebbels Tagebücher (Elke Fröhlich [ed.], Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels [Munich, 1994–98])
IfZInstitut für Zeitgeschichte
IMTThe Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nurenberg, 14 November 1945–6 April 1946 (Nuremberg, 1946)
JHRJournal of Historical Review
KGBCommitee for State Security
LICALigue Internationale Contre L’Antisemitisme
NDNuremberg Document
NSDAPNationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei
PROPublic Record Office, London
RAFRoyal Air Force
SASturmabteilung (Brownshirts)
SOPADESozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
TSTranscript (High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, 1996/I/No. 113, transcribed from the stenographic notes of Harry Counsell & Company)
VfZGVierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte


This book is about how we can tell the difference between truth and lies in history. It uses as an example the libel case brought before the High Court in London in the spring of 2000 by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books. It concentrates on the issue of the falsification of the historical record which Lipstadt accused Irving of having committed and which was the subject of the investigations that I was asked to present to the court as an expert witness. The first chapter explains how I became involved in the case, sets out the background, and provides a context. The next four chapters present the results of my investigations. Chapter 6 is an account of the trial itself, explaining how Irving dealt with the findings presented in my report. The final chapter looks at the aftermath of the trial and discusses some of the wider issues it raised. All of this, I hope, will provide concrete illustrations of the general questions of problems of historical objectivity and historical knowledge that I raised in my earlier book, In Defense of History, published in England in 1997 and in the USA two years later.

This is not, therefore, intended to be a rounded or comprehensive account of the whole case. Others will be attempting that. Some of the aspects of the case that received a great deal of media attention at the time, such as the debate over the mass gassing facilities at the Auschwitz concentration camp or the nature and extent of Irving’s connections with the German far right, are also the subject of other books, by the experts who dealt with them in court, and they are only alluded to in this book briefly, if at all. The central issue in the following pages, as I believe it was in the case as a whole, is the falsification and manipulation of the historical record that Lipstadt alleged Irving had committed. Although discussion of this issue took up more time during the trial than anything else, it was barely mentioned in press reports of the proceedings, and as a result the general impression of the trial purveyed by the international news media was a rather distorted one, since they devoted the lion’s share of their attention to Irving’s racism and antisemitism. One of the aims of this book is to set the record straight in this respect.

Inevitably, even within this limited compass, my treatment of these issues cannot hope to be comprehensive. In chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 I offer a series of significant examples. Much has had to be omitted for the sake of clarity and readability and to keep this book to a reasonable length. The original expert report that forms the basis for these central chapters was 740 pages long, and in many places it was more suited for a court of law than for a reader with a more general interest in these matters. However, the most important issues treated in the report and upheld in the corresponding parts of the judgment are included, even if only in a slimmed-down form.

Aside from the usual archival and printed sources, this book rests in particular on materials compiled for the trial. These consist in the first place of David Irving’s published books and articles and the documents that entered the public domain through the process of Discovery in the court case, and their citation in court in the expert reports, the defense statements, and the judgment. They include consecutively numbered videotapes and audiocassettes of Irving’s speeches, various numbered sequences of documents in separate collections, and numbered folders belonging to the original Discovery list and the supplementary Discovery lists. In addition, a series of documents was submitted to the court during the trial by both sides in the case.

All of this material was initially collected and collated by Mishcon de Reya, the solicitors for the second defendant. The verbatim record of the trial was made available from stenographic notes supplied on a daily basis by Harry Counsel and Company, Clifford’s Inn, Fetter Lane, London EC4. Basic legal documents included Irving’s Writ and Statement of Claim, the Defense of the Second Defendant (i.e., Deborah Lipstadt), Irving’s Reply to the Defense of the Second Defendant, and the defense’s Restatement of Case. The court was also supplied with copies of the Opening and Closing Statements by both parties; in both cases, the typed version of the Closing Statement was considerably longer than the version read out in court. The defense also issued written questions to Irving, and Irving issued written questions to me, to which I supplied lengthy written responses. The researchers and experts supplied the court with a large quantity of photocopied original documents from German archives, and Irving also presented a number of similar documents to the court. Irving’s website coverage of the trial and additional relevant material were also downloaded on a regular basis. All of this material is referenced in the notes at the appropriate junctures.

It was Anthony Julius who asked me to become involved in the Irving case, and thus provided the opportunity to write this book. My thanks go to him, to James Libson, Laura Tyler, Pippa Marshall, and all the team at Mishcon de Reya for all the hard work they put in to obtaining, collecting, and sorting much of the material for the report on which a large part of this book is based. Richard Rampton QC was a source of sage advice, and his acute questioning forced me rethink a number of issues. I am extremely grateful to both him and Heather Rogers, junior defense counsel in the case, for their efforts to lend legal and conceptual precision to many of the more academic points originally put forward in my report, and for clarifying the issues in their own meticulous compilations of the documentary evidence.

My special thanks go to Thomas Skelton-Robinson and Nik Wachsmann, my research assistants, without whose invaluable detective work the report could not have been written, and to Tobias Jersak, who helped root out a number of errors in it before the trial began. Christopher Browning, Hajo Funke, Peter Longerich, and Robert Jan Van Pelt, the other defense witnesses, were a pleasure to work with and helped elucidate a great deal both about Irving and about the subjects with which he dealt. Martin and Susie Gilbert lent moral support while I was in the witness box and my colleagues at Cambridge tolerated my frequent absences in London with good humor and forbearance. Deborah Lipstadt’s amazing cheerfulness throughout her whole ordeal was an inspiration and helped convince me it was all worth it.

Don Fehr, Felicity Tucker, Jim Buchanan, and the editorial and production teams at Basic Books smoothed the path from floppy disk to bound copy. Nik Wachsmann, James Libson, and Richard Rampton again put me in their debt, as did Kristin Semmens, by reading through the final version of the typescript at short notice and suggesting many improvements. My thanks to all of them, and once more especially to Christine Corton, who, with our sons Matthew and Nicholas, provided sanity at home after the stress and strangeness of the daily proceedings in the High Court, and enabled me to complete both the report and the book in good time. As for the dedication, there could really be no other.

Richard J. Evans
Cambridge, October 2000

History on Trial


What is historical objectivity? How do we know when a historian is telling the truth? Aren’t all historians, in the end, only giving their own opinions about the past? Don’t they just select whatever facts they need to support their own interpretations and leave the rest in the archives? Aren’t the archives full of preselected material anyway? Can we really say that anything historians present to us about the past is true? Aren’t there, rather, many different truths, according to your political beliefs and personal perspectives? Questions such as these have been preoccupying historians for a long time. In recent years, they have become, if anything, more urgent and more perplexing than ever. Debate about them has repeatedly gravitated toward the Nazi extermination of the Jews during the Second World War. If we could not know for sure about anything that happened in the past, then how could we know about this most painful of all topics in modern history?1

Just such a question has been posed, and answered in the negative, by a group of individuals, based mainly in the United States, who are certainly far removed in intellectual terms from postmodernist hyper-relativism, but who have asserted in a variety of publications that indeed there is no real evidence to support the conventional picture of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. There is a thin but seemingly continuous line of writing since the Second World War that has sought to deny the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other extermination camps, to minimize the number of Jews killed by the Nazis until it becomes equivalent to that of the Germans killed by the Allies, to explain away the killings as incidental by-products of a vicious war rather than the result of central planning in Berlin, and to claim that the evidence for the extermination, the gas chambers, and all the rest of it had mostly been concocted after the war.

A number of scholars have devoted some attention to this strange and disturbing stream of thought. The most important of their works is Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, by the American historian Deborah Lipstadt. Published in 1993, this book gave an extended factual account of the deniers’ publications and activities since the Second World War and identified them as closely connected with neo-fascist, far-right, and antisemitic political extremists in Europe and the United States. Whether or not Lipstadt was correct to claim that these people posed a serious threat to historical knowledge and memory was debatable. But the evidence she presented for the existence of the phenomenon and for its far-right connections seemed convincing enough. Lipstadt argued that denial of the Holocaust was in most cases antisemitic and tied to an anti-Jewish political agenda in the present. The denial of history was the product of political bias and political extremism, which had no place in the world of serious historical scholarship.

Yet how unbiased was Lipstadt herself? There was no doubt about her commitment to Jewish causes. Born in 1947 in New York of a German-Jewish immigrant father who was descended from a prominent family of rabbis, she had been brought up in what she described as a “traditional Jewish home,” she had studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for two years, and been present in Israel during the 1967 ArabIsraeli war. She had studied modern Jewish history, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust at university, and taught courses on the history of the Holocaust at a variety of institutions, including the University of Washington and the University of California at Los Angeles, before joining the staff of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1993, where she held an endowed chair and was setting up a new Institute for Jewish Studies. She was also a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council–a presidential appointment–and had acted as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum while it was being built.

Aside from these academic credentials and activities, Lipstadt was also a member of the United States Department of State Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. In 1972 she had visited the Soviet Union and inspected sites of major Nazi killings of Jews such as Babi Yar. This was a period when controversy was being aroused by the Soviet authorities’ refusal to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel, and there was a good deal of subtle and sometimes not so subtle antisemitism on the part of the authorities. Lending her Jewish prayerbook to an elderly Jewish woman in a synagogue in Czernowitz, Lipstadt was denounced to the authorities and arrested by the KGB for distributing religious items, strip-searched, held in prison for a day, questioned, and deported. After this, she had continued for some years to work hard for Soviet Jews while they were being persecuted.

Combined with her many discussions with camp survivors in Israel, she reported, this experience had led her to study the history of antisemitism and, in particular, the Holocaust. Remembering the Holocaust was crucial in the perpetuation of Jewish tradition, but also in teaching lessons about the need to fight prejudice and persecution of many kinds in the world today. However, Lipstadt insisted, whatever her political and religious beliefs, she was convinced that the history of the Holocaust had to be researched to the highest possible scholarly standards and taught in a straightforwardly factual manner. She denied any wish to impose her views about the lessons of the Holocaust on her students. After the publication of her book, Lipstadt left no doubt that her work on Holocaust denial had led some of the deniers to engage in “a highly personal and, at times, almost vile campaign against me.” She had been vilified on the Internet, accused of fascist behavior, and phoned up by deniers and depicted by them in “an ugly and sometimes demeaning fashion.” They had also left notes in her home mailbox. This had not stopped her from working in the field. Her book Denying the Holocaust was an academic project, but it had also taken on a broader significance.2

Lipstadt’s book, when taken together with her previous work, made it clear that her main interest was in reactions to the extermination of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis rather than in the extermination itself. After completing her work on Holocaust denial, she planned a book called America Remembers the Holocaust: From the Newsreels to Schindler’s List. She had never written about German history and had never been in a German archive. Indeed, as far as I could tell, she did not even read German. She was really a specialist in the history of the United States since the Second World War. Yet it was easy enough for her to include in Denying the Holocaust refutations of some of the principal arguments of the deniers on the basis of well-known secondary literature about the extermination. Given the main focus of her work, which was on denial as a political and intellectual phenomenon, that was surely all that was required.

Nevertheless, her book did not pull its punches when it came to convicting deniers of massive falsification of historical evidence, manipulation of facts, and denial of the truth. One of those whom she discussed in this context was the British writer David Irving, who certainly did read German, had spent years in the archives researching the German side in the Second World War, and was the author of some thirty books on historical subjects. Some of them had gone through many reprints and a number of different editions. The great majority of them were about the Second World War, and in particular about Nazi Germany and its leaders. Before he was thirty, he had already begun researching and writing on twentieth-century history, publishing his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, in 1963, when he was only twenty-five.

Irving had also written The Mare’s Nest, a study of German secret weapons in the Second World War, published in 1964, and a book about the German atomic bomb, The Virus House, published in 1967. In the same year, Irving published two more books, The Destruction of Convoy PQ17, and Accident–The Death of General Sikorski. Despite their somewhat specialized titles, these books in many cases aroused widespread controversy and made Irving into a well-known figure. The Destruction of Dresden created a storm by alleging that the bombing of Dresden by Allied airplanes early in 1945 caused many more deaths than had previously been thought. The Destruction of Convoy PQ 17 aroused serious objections on the part of a British naval officer criticized by Irving in his book. Accident generated considerable outrage by its suggestion that the Polish exile leader in the Second World War, General Sikorski, had been assassinated on the orders of Winston Churchill. By the end of the 1960s, Irving had already made a name for himself as an extremely controversial writer about the Second World War.

With the publication of his massive study of Hitler’s War in 1977, Irving stirred up fresh debate. In this book, he argued that far from ordering it himself, Hitler had not known about the extermination of the Jews until late in 1943, and both before and after that had done his best to mitigate the worst antisemitic excesses of his subordinates. Irving heightened the controversy by publicly offering a financial reward to anyone who could come up with a document proving him wrong. The furor completely overshadowed his publication of a biography of the German general Erwin Rommel in the same year, under the title The Trail of the Fox. The following year, Irving brought out a ‘prequel’ to his book on Hitler and the Second World War, entitled The War Path. In 1981 he published two more books–The War Between the Generals, devoted to exposing differences of opinion among the commanders of Hitler’s army during the Second World War; and Uprising!, arguing, to quote Irving himself, “that the Uprising of 1956 in Hungary was primarily an anti-Jewish uprising,” because the communist regime was run by Jews.3

The stream of books continued with Churchill’s War in 1987, Rudolf Hess: The Missing Years published in the same year, a biography of Hermann Göring (1989), and most recently a book on Goebbels: Mastermind of the ‘Third Reich’ (1996). And while he was producing new work, he also published revised and amended editions of some of his earlier books, most notably, in 1991, Hitler’s War, which also incorporated a new version of The War Path, and in 1996 Nuremberg: The Last Battle, an updated version of a previously published book, reissued to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

Despite all this, Irving had never held a post in a university history department or any other academic institution. He did not even have a degree. He had started a science degree at London University but never finished it. “I am an untrained historian,” he had confessed in 1986. “History was the only subject I flunked when I was at school.”4 Several decades on from his self-confessedly disastrous schoolboy encounter with the subject, however, Irving clearly laid great stress on the fact that the catalogue of his work demonstrated that he had now become a ‘reputable historian’:5

As an independent historian, I am proud that I cannot be threatened with the loss of my job, or my pension, or my future. Other historians around the world sneer and write letters to the newspapers about ‘David Irving, the so-called historian’, and they demand, “Why does he call himself a Historian anyway? Where did he study History? Where did he get his Degree? What, No Degree in History, then why does he call himself a Historian?” My answer to them, Was Pliny a historian or not? Was Tacitus? Did he get a degree in some university? Thucydides? Did he get a degree? And yet we unashamedly call them historians–we call them historians because they wrote history which has done (recte: gone) down the ages as accepted true history.6

This was true. Irving could not be dismissed just because he lacked formal qualifications.

Irving was clearly incensed by a reference to him on page 180 of Lipstadt’s book as “discredited.” Lipstadt also alleged in her book that Irving was “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. Familiar with historical evidence,” she wrote, “he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda.” According to Lipstadt, Irving had “neofascist” and “denial connections,” for example, with the so-called Institute for Historical Review in California. More important, Lipstadt charged that Holocaust deniers like Irving “misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completely distorts the authors’ objectives.” Irving himself, she claimed, was “an ardent admirer of the Nazi leader,” who “declared that Hitler repeatedly reached out to help the Jews” (p. 161). Scholars had “accused him of distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes . . . of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, particularly those that exonerate Hitler.” “On some level,” Lipstadt concluded, “Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler’s legacy.”7


On Sale
Aug 4, 2008
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Richard J. Evans

About the Author

Richard J. Evans is Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University and a noted specialist on modern German history. He is the author of In Defense of History and Death in Hamburg.

Learn more about this author