Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D.

My Decision to Testify for Irving

By Kevin MacDonald

The decision to testify for David Irving was an agonizing one for me and I want to make clear exactly why I did so.

Irving approached me to testify in the trial because I had included the suppression of his book on Goebbels as an example of Jewish tactics for combating anti-Semitism in Separation and Its Discontents. Actually the suppression of Irving goes far beyond what I included in my book. Irving has been prevented from publishing his original archival research, from traveling to several countries, and even from giving lectures. The second defendant in the case, Deborah Lipstadt, has contributed to this effort at censorship. My statement to the court and my entire testimony in court involved this issue, not the Holocaust or the culpability of Hitler.

Irving's book on Goebbels was rescinded by St. Martin's Press not because of its scientific merit. (It had passed their review process.) The effort to pressure St. Martin's press was spearheaded by certain Jewish ethnic activist organizations, especially the Anti-Defamation League and by newspaper columnists, such as Frank Rich of the New York Times, who are not professional historians, and by people like Deborah Lipstadt who do not have the expertise to evaluate a manuscript on Goebbels. In other words, the effort occurred independently of the analytic content of the manuscript and was therefore an illegitimate intrusion on free speech.

This is part of a pattern in which certain Jewish activist organizations have attempted to prevent the publication of writings conflicting with their constructions of reality, including books critical of Israel (see Wilcox, 1996; Separation and Its Discontents, Ch. 2 and 6), and they have condemned books, such as those by Hannah Arendt and Arno Mayer that take disapproved positions on certain aspects of the Holocaust (Guttenplan, 2000). I am completely unpersuaded by the argument that free speech issues only relate to government actions, not private corporations like St. Martin's Press. Killing books by private organizations, while not government censorship, is blacklisting. This is exactly what McCarthyite groups did during the anti-Communist hysteria following W.W.II.

Despite the fact that David Irving contacted me because I had discussed the suppression of his book, I continued to be concerned that this issue was not really central to Irving's case and that my purported expertise on Judaism was irrelevant. The link to the case was that Deborah Lipstadt had joined the effort at suppression despite her lack of scholarly expertise on Goebbels. The Washington Post of April 3, 1996 quoted Lipstadt as stating that "In the Passover Hagadah, it says in every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us. David Irving is not physically destroying us, but is trying to destroy the memory of those who have already perished at the hands of tyrants." "They say they don't publish reputations, they publish books.... But would they publish a book by Jeffrey Dahmer on man-boy relationships? Of course the reputation of the author counts. And no legitimate historian takes David Irving's work seriously." These comments were made in reaction to the St. Martin's Press rescinding publication of Irving's book, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich, and were clearly intended to support that decision. The decision to sue Lipstadt came only after St. Martin's Press had rescinded publication of the book, and only after Lipstadt's public support for that decision (David Irving, personal communication; see also Guttenplan 2000, 53).

In the trial, the defense argued that my testimony was irrelevant and the judge seemed to agree but then changed his mind when the link with Lipstadt was made clear. Irving's complaint goes beyond simple libel against him to the assertion of an organized campaign of suppression. Evolutionary theory did not enter into my testimony, and it only entered my written statement to the court in a general way'that I saw Jewish/ gentile relations as being examples of competition between ethnic groups.

David Irving is in many ways not an ideal person. There is no doubt in my mind that he has strongly held political views -- although the extent to which this is a reaction to his demonization by Jewish activist organizations is at least open to conjecture. Whenever a person has strong political views, it is reasonable to assume that these views may color one's perception of reality. Since I am not a professional historian, I am in no position to judge the validity of his archival research. I am very impressed by the fact that Irving is a recognized expert on certain aspects of W.W.II'recognized by several noted authorities for having made original contributions to knowledge in the field -- none of whom are Holocaust deniers or revisionists. These include Gordon Craig, A.J.P. Taylor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and John Keegan. (A column by Keegan, written for the Daily Telegraph (UK) appears as Appendix 1 below.)

Post-trial comment: In his opinion, Justice Gray seems to concur with this evaluation:

As a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War 2 is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and intelligent. He was invariably quick to spot the significance of documents which he had not previously seen. Moreover he writes his military history in a clear and vivid style. I accept the favourable assessment by Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving's military history ... and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans .... [Richard Evans, a historian who testified for the defense, had stated that Irving has had "a generally low reputation amongst professional historians since the end of the 1980s and at all times amongst those who have direct experience of researching in the areas with which he concerns himself"; although not noted by Judge Gray, Evans also reiterated Lipstadt's charge that Irving was not a historian at all.] But the questions to which this action has given rise do not relate to the quality of Irving's military history but rather to the manner in which he has written about the attitude adopted by Hitler towards the Jews and in particular his responsibility for the fate which befell them under the Nazi regime.
The judge is implicitly agreeing with me that Lipstadt libeled Irving by writing he was not a historian and by writing that "no legitimate historian takes David Irving's work seriously." I suppose that in the judge's view this was far less serious than the accusation that he had manipulated data in order to exculpate Hitler, etc., and I have no objection to that judgment.

I also felt that Lipstadt exaggerated the extent to which Irving denied the Holocaust, since there are many places in his writings where Irving describes Nazis engaged in organized killing of Jews. I was also swayed by my knowledge that Irving's Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich received a positive but critical review in The New York Review of Books (Sept. 19, 1996) by Stanford historian Gordon Craig who cautioned against censoring people like Irving. And finally, I had finished reading Goebbels myself and decided that, whatever faults a close analysis might reveal, it was highly informative on many points'an indispensable source of information on the man and the period. Obviously I would not trust only my own feelings on this issue; but in fact I had satisfied myself that indeed it was a major contribution to the field.

I was also swayed by finding that Lipstadt is a Jewish ethnic activist whose own writings have been criticized by a well-recognized historian as exaggerating the role of anti-Semitism in the Western response to the Holocaust during World War II. Lipstadt is thus part of a pattern discussed extensively in Separation And Its Discontents in which some (but by no means all) Jewish historians engage in ethnocentric interpretations of history. It is highly significant that Lipstadt's book Denying the Holocaust was written with extensive aid from various Jewish activist organizations, including the ADL. Lipstadt's book was commissioned and published by The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In her acknowledgements, she credits the research department of the Anti-Defamation league, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Institute for Jewish Affairs (London), the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee'all activist organizations.

Lipstadt is the Chair of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. Historian Jacob Katz finds that academic departments of Jewish studies are often linked to Jewish nationalism: "The inhibitions of traditionalism, on the one hand, and a tendency toward apologetics, on the other, can function as deterrents to scholarly objectivity" (p. 84). The work of Jewish historians exhibits "a defensiveness that continues to haunt so much of contemporary Jewish activity" (1986, 85). Similarly the preeminent scholar of the Jewish religion, Jacob Neusner, notes that "scholars drawn to the subject by ethnic affiliation'Jews studying and teaching Jewish things to Jews' turn themselves into ethnic cheer-leaders. The Jewish Studies classroom is a place where Jews tell Jews why they should be Jewish (stressing "the Holocaust" as a powerful reason) or rehearse the self-evident virtue of being Jewish." (Times Literary Supplement, March 5, 1999).

Perhaps the best indication of Lipstadt's Jewish activism is that she serves as Senior Editorial Contributor at the Jewish Spectator, a Jewish publication for conservative, religiously observant Jews. Her column, Tomer Devorah (Hebrew: Under Deborah's Palm Tree), appears in every issue and touches on a wide range of Jewish issues, including anti-Semitism, relations among Jews, and interpreting religious holidays. In her column she has advocated greater understanding and usage of Hebrew to promote Jewish identification, and, like many Jewish ethnic activists, she is strongly opposed to intermarriage. "We must say to young people 'intermarriage is something that poses a dire threat to the future of the Jewish community.' " Lipstadt writes that Conservative Rabbi Jack Moline was "very brave" for saying that number one on a list of ten things Jewish parents should say to their children is "I expect you to marry a Jew." She suggests a number of strategies to prevent intermarriage, including trips to Israel for teenagers and subsidizing tuition at Jewish day schools (Jewish Spectator, [Fall, 1991], 63).

In his recent book, The Holocaust in American Life, historian Peter Novick clearly thinks of Lipstadt as an activist, although not as extreme as some. He repeatedly cites her as an example of a Holocaust propagandizer. He notes that in her book Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust 1933-1945, Lipstadt says Allied policy "bordered on complicity" motivated by "deep antipathy" toward "contemptible Jews." Novick says that while there is no scholarly consensus on the subject, "most professional historians agree that "the comfortable morality tale ... is simply bad history: estimates of the number of those who might have been saved have been greatly inflated, and the moralistic version ignores real constraints at the time" (Novick, 1999, 48). Novick characterizes Lipstadt as attributing the failure of the press to emphasize Jewish suffering as motivated by "willful blindness, the result of inexcusable ignorance'or malice" (p. 65) despite the fact that the concentration camp survivors encountered by Western journalists (Dachau, Buchenwald) were 80% non-Jewish. Lipstadt is described as an implacable pursuer of Nazi war criminals, stating that she would "prosecute them if they had to be wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher" (p. 229). In a discussion of the well-recognized unreliability of eye-witness testimony, Novick writes: "When evidence emerged that one Holocaust memoir, highly praised for its authenticity, might have been completely invented, Deborah Lipstadt, who used the memoir in her teaching of the Holocaust, acknowledged that if this turned out to be the case, it 'might complicate matters somewhat,' but insisted that it would still be 'powerful as a novel.' " Truth is less important than the effectiveness of the message.

The intrusion of ethnocentrism into historical scholarship is a well-recognized problem in Jewish historiography, discussed at length in Separation and Its Discontents. Historians such as Jacob Katz (1986) and Albert Lindemann (1997) have noted that this type of behavior is commonplace in Jewish historiography. A central theme of Katz's analysis'massively corroborated by Albert Lindemann's recent work, Esau's Tears'is that historians of Judaism have often falsely portrayed the beliefs of gentiles as irrational fantasies while portraying the behavior of Jews as irrelevant to anti-Semitism. To quote the well-known political scientist, Michael Walzer: "Living so long in exile and so often in danger, we have cultivated a defensive and apologetic account, a censored story, of Jewish religion and culture" (Walzer 1994, 6).

The salient point for me is that Jewish historians who have been reasonably accused of bringing an ethnocentric bias to their writing nevertheless are able to publish their work with prestigious mainstream academic and commercial publishers, and they often obtain jobs at prestigious academic institutions. A good example is Daniel Goldhagen. In his written submission to the court on behalf of Deborah Lipstadt, historian Richard Evans, describes Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, as a book which argues "in a crude and dogmatic fashion that virtually all Germans had been murderous antisemites since the Middle Ages, had been longing to exterminate the Jews for decades before Hitler came to power, and actively enjoyed participating in the extermination when it began. The book has since been exposed as a tissue of misrepresentation and misinterpretation, written in shocking ignorance of the huge historical literature on the topic and making numerous elementary mistakes in its interpretation of the documents."

These are exactly the types of accusations leveled by Lipstadt at Irving. Yet Goldhagen maintains a position at Harvard University; he is lionized in many quarters and his work has been massively promoted in the media while his critics have come under pressure from Jewish activist organizations (Guttenplan, 2000).

I should say, however, that after I agreed to testify on behalf of Irving, I was horrified to read the report written by Cambridge University historian Richard Evans and several research associates on Irving. This massive report, written on behalf of the defense, is a scathing summary of alleged misrepresentations and misinterpretations by Irving spanning over his entire career. I expressed my reservations to Irving and he assured me that he would be able to defend himself against these allegations (see Appendix 2). He stated that "I have a clean conscience, but I am not sure how to bring that across" and then provided me with several detailed examples where the Evans report misrepresented his writings. As a result, I felt that he was playing by the rules of scholarly discourse. Nevertheless, the judge clearly agreed with Evans that Irving had indeed engaged in scholarly malfeasance, and I have no reason to doubt his judgment on this matter.

Moreover, as indicated above, I was also aware of many examples in which the historiography of Jewish history has been influenced by the ethnic agendas of Jewish writers'I devoted an entire chapter to this sort of thing. Goldhagen is only the tip of a very large iceberg. I reasoned that even if the Evans report was correct, these facts could not have been known by Lipstadt when she made her claims against Irving, and in any case she went way too far when she asserted that "no legitimate historian takes David Irving seriously" and when she claimed that he was not a historian at all. Finally, I developed a reason to distrust Richard Evans after reading sections of his book, In Hitler's Shadow. In her book, Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt cites Evans' claim that Nazi anti-Semitism was gratuitous. The appropriate quote, from Evans' In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape the Nazi Past (NY: Pantheon, 1989, p. 40) is:

Nazi anti-Semitism was gratuitous: It was not provoked by anything, it was not a response to anything. It was born out of a political fantasy, in which the Jews, without a shred of justification, were held responsible for all that the Nazis believed was wrong with the modern world.
This is not the sort of nuanced treatment of anti-Semitism that one would expect from a prominent historian but rather a dogmatic statement that takes the behavior of Jews completely outside of their own history. There is no attempt to determine the factual basis'the truths, the half-truths and the pure fantasies'that have always been characteristic of anti-Semitism over the ages. Seeing passages such as this in Evans and seeing Lipstadt cite Evans reinforced my decision to testify for Irving.

During the same period I received the following message from a prominent mainstream historian regarding the Goebbels book.

I just re-read my own notes to Irving's Goebbels, which strongly confirmed my memory that there is much more richness and less partisanship in that book than many would be willing to believe -- and that few of his detractors seem to recognize. I'll also have to say that Evans seems to be taking a strongly polemical position, whereas I would have preferred to see him recognize at least some of Irving's strong points as well as his weak. But I have not read enough of Evans yet to determine if there are things he later covers that explain why he is so strongly against Irving, so unwilling to recognize anything of merit.
Having read almost the entire Evans report, I was convinced that in fact Evans had nothing positive at all to say about Irving. Indeed, Evans reiterates Lipstadt's assertion that Irving is not a historian at all. Again, I was confirmed in my belief that testifying for Irving was entirely appropriate.

My view is that political, personal, and ethnic biases are ubiquitous in the social sciences. If the situation were reversed, I would be more than willing to testify on behalf of a Jewish historian suing an anti-Semite because there had been an analogous campaign of suppression against his work.

Appendix 1: John Keegan's column:

Daily Telegraph (UK) ISSUE 1783 Wednesday 12 April 2000

The trial of David Irving -- and my part in his downfall By John Keegan, Defence Editor

THE news that David Irving has lost his libel case will send a tremor through the community of 20th-century historians.

For more than a year now, the gossip between them has been about whether he would lose or not, a subject on which all hedged bets. "It depends whether the judge goes for Holocaust denial or slurs on his reputation", was the general view. "If the first he'll lose, if the second he might get away with it."

What this insider talk meant was that Mr Irving might well persuade the judge of the unfairness of Professor Lipstadt's accusations of his bad historical method. That was what he cared about and he would no doubt argue his case well. If, however, her accusation that Irving's version of the Holocaust was so untruthful as to outweigh his merits as an otherwise objective historian, then he would get no damages and have to pay enormous costs.

As the trial date drew nearer, talk turned to the question of who had been asked to give evidence. Eventually I was. I -- like others I knew -- declined. Earlier experiences had persuaded me that nothing but trouble comes of taking sides over Irving. Decide against him, and his associates accuse one of prejudice. On this occasion I was accused of cowardice. Decide for him, and the smears start. I have written complimentary reviews of Irving's work as a military historian to find myself posted on the internet as a Nazi sympathiser.

Refusal did not get me off the hook. Last autumn, Mr Irving told me he intended to subpoena me and in January the summons appeared. To it was attached a cheque for ??50, thus making it an enforceable court instrument. I had to appear, like it or not.

In practice, the appearance was painless. Mr Irving very decently gave me the chance at the outset to state that I was not present willingly. He allowed me to explain why, without interruption. There was no jury to unsettle one, the parties having agreed to leave it all to the judge, a distinguished former libel QC, Charles Gray (who represented Lord Aldington in the famous Tolstoy case).

The judge was relaxed but a master of the material. All I had to do was answer Mr Irving's questions. They were about my opinion of him as a historian. He had quotations from favourable reviews of his work I had written. Could such opinions, he asked, in effect, be consistent with the contrary opinions of other historians?

In a sense this was the central question, which would recur throughout the hearing. Prof Lipstadt's case was that the bad in Irving was so bad that it robbed all he wrote of value. Irving's case was that, if some historians of reputation praised parts of his work, the praise extended to all his work. Both positions are, of course, highly artificial.

Fortunately, I did not have to give my opinion of Prof Lipstadt's work. It was easy, however, to say that a reviewer is at liberty to pick and choose. I had praised, and would praise again, I said, Irving's extraordinary ability to describe and analyse Hitler's conduct of military operations, which was his main occupation during the Second World War. That did not imply endorsement of Irving's view that Hitler did not "know" about the Holocaust until October 1943. That view was "perverse", I said.

What did I mean? I meant, I said, that it defied reason, or common sense. Would it not, however, be the most extraordinary historical revelation of the war, Irving asked, if it could be shown that he did not know about the Holocaust? This was a very curious moment. I suddenly recognised that Irving believed that Hitler's ignorance could be demonstrated.

I stepped down but stayed to watch the rest of the morning's proceedings. Mr Irving's performance was very impressive. He is a large, strong, handsome man, excellently dressed, with the appearance of a leading QC. He performs as well as a QC also, asking, in a firm but courteous voice, precise questions which demonstrate his detailed knowledge of an enormous body of material.

There it was all around us, hundreds of box files holding thousands of pages telling in millions of words what had been done and suffered in Hitler's Europe. Irving knows the material paragraph by paragraph. His skill as an archivist cannot be contested.

Unfortunately for him, the judge has now decided that all-consuming knowledge of a vast body of material does not excuse faults in interpreting it. Irving, the judge said, "repeatedly makes assertions about the Holocaust which are unsupported by or contrary to the historical record".

This is the part of the judgment that will hurt. Mr Irving, perhaps because he left London University without taking a degree, is acutely concerned to be recognised as an academic historian among others. It is not enough for him to receive compliments from professors about his skill in uncovering lost documents or finding forgotten survivors of Hitler's court. Those are the sort of things journalists do. He wants to be praised for his source notes, for his exegesis, for his bibliographies, for what historians call "the apparatus".

As a result, his books positively clank and groan under the weight of apparatus. Very good it is too. Irving, never confident enough to believe what he reads about himself, really is admired by some of those whose approval he seeks. Unfortunately for him, he is admired only when he writes sense. When he writes nonsense, a small but disabling element in his work, he sacrifices all admiration and incurs blame mixed with incredulity. How can anyone so good at history be so bad?

There is an answer. It is that there are really two Irvings. There is Irving the researcher and most of Irving the writer, who sticks to the facts and makes eloquent sense of them. Then there is Irving the thinker, who lets insecurities, imagined slights and youthful resentments bubble up from within him to cloud his mind. It is as if he becomes possessed by the desire to shock and confound the respectable ranks of academe, to write the unprintable and to speak the unutterable. Like many who seek to shock, he may not really believe what he says and probably feels astounded when taken seriously.

He has, in short, many of the qualities of the most creative historians. He is certainly never dull. Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again. Mr Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us.

Appendix 2: Correspondence with Irving

On December 29, 1999 I sent David Irving the following letter:

Hi David: I managed to download the Evans report. I have read about 100 pages thus far, and it would seem to be quite damaging. How are you going to deal with it? I should think that even if you attempted to rebut the claims made, a court would be reluctant to award damages because the charges made by Lipstadt have at least a surface validity. Kevin

Irving's first response:

I shall have to ponder how to deal with Evans. I have a clean conscience, but I am not sure how to bring that across. David Irving (now back in London with my family)

I then sent the following to Irving on December 30, 1999:

David: Having read about half of Evans report, it seems to me that it is devastating to your case for libel. It seems to me that you have to show that Lipstadt's charge that you were irresponsible, etc. is wrong and to do so you will now have to plow through dozens of highly detailed charges brought by a highly respected historian that you were in fact irresponsible, dishonest, and/or incompetent.... My own interest in your case stemmed from the censorship over the Goebbels book. Evans now undermines the case that that book is free from problems in the use and interpretation of sources'that in fact there was dishonesty involved in the attempt to exculpate Hitler. This is very troubling to me. On the other hand, the suppression of the Goebbels book was not the result of the Evans report but the result of Jewish activism. If the Goebbels book had been rejected as a result of a reviewer like Evans employed by St. Martins Press, that would raise no issues for me. The fact that it was rejected in the end because of who you are and that Lipstadt publicly agreed that it should be suppressed remains troubling to me because at that time there was simply nothing that people pointed to in the book that should have caused it not to be published. The focus of my statement and my testimony will be on this issue, but if I am asked my opinion of the Evans report I will say that it seems devastating to your general case that you are a disinterested scholar. And the problem is that this sort of testimony cannot exonerate you from the charges of dishonesty brought by Evans. Perhaps you could argue that in general what Lipstadt says was irresponsible and libelous at the time she said it because she offers no real evidence for her charges and that what Evans says is therefore irrelevant because it is essentially an ex post facto buttressing of Lipstadt's position. However, I don't know if this tactic is allowable in a libel case.

Of course it bothers me that you are suffering for this when there are a great many Jewish scholars who essentially do the same thing in their work. Evans even makes some scathing comments on Goldhagen, indicating that he may be aware of how widespread this problem is in the area of Jewish studies.... Kevin

Irving replied as follows:

Dear Kevin: I am disturbed that you find Evans impressive; I think that you will find I can demolish his arguments one by one and as a whole. Have you read the message I sent yesterday on his first 50 pages? He has to stand in the box and be cross examined, and for that I have asked their lawyers to set aside four whole days at least. I am not the least bit disturbed by his arguments, and I shall keep you full informed of the progress of the counter attack on him (which will not be until February at the earliest: before that, I get in my full arsenal as I open the case, not they.) I am far more concerned by the ad hominem attacks on me by their other experts. Which allegations by Evans perturb you most? I will set your mind immediately at rest.... David Irving

I responded as follows:

David: The vastness of the Evans document makes it difficult to pick out a particular feature. However, I would appreciate it if you would give me some indication of how you will deal with the claims made regarding Reichskristallnacht that you manipulated evidence, disregarded evidence and invented evidence to support the idea that Hitler opposed the violence and didn't know about it until after it had begun. Just one or two detailed examples would be nice. I just want to have some confidence that you are able to deal with these accusations. Kevin

Irving responded as follows:

Dear Kevin: On the Reichskristallnacht I am super-secure. It is something they are particularly sore about, as they are frantic that they can no longer pin it on Adolf. More on that when I reach that chapter of his report.

Irving then sent me the following:

Dear Kevin: O, ye of Little Faith! I have resumed reading the Evans report. The report is so shoddy and sloppy I can hardly wait to sink my fangs into him....

Irving then went into a detailed example. Later, Irving forwarded me a letter he had sent to Lipstadt's attorneys in which he raised thirteen specific issues regarding the Evans report.


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