Lying About the Holocaust: Inside the Denial Movement
But Americans have done much more than merely contribute to the storehouse of Holocaust denial literature. They have institutionalized the enterprise.
It presented itself as a legitimate historical research group, devoted to "revisionism" — a term hijacked from a school of credible historians who offered new interpretations for the origins of World War I. But in fact, it was made up of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and it would draw expertise from the like-minded from around the world.
Its mission was to erase the Holocaust by any means at its disposal — including distortion, misquotation and outright falsification.
IHR's first annual conference was held in 1979. As in subsequent meetings, deniers from around the world attended and helped to introduce some key American extremists to Holocaust denial.
David Duke, the neo-Nazi who was then the national leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was so taken with the idea that he followed up the conference with an issue of his Crusader newspaper that he dubbed the "Special Holocaust Edition."
In the same way, National Socialist Party of America leader Frank Collin enthusiastically embraced denial, saying, "There was no Holocaust, but they deserve one — and will get it."
To this day, IHR's yearly conferences are key events that offer networking opportunities for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites from around the world.
Constructing the Myth
A critical contribution by IHR was its attempt to encourage fellow anti-Semites to avoid Collin's type of blatant venom, and instead to couch their politics in distortions of history and science meant to sound reasonable.
Though the theories that resulted were far out, they had at least the appearance of legitimacy, as did the Journal of Historical Review that the IHR would soon begin to publish.
Deniers would claim, for example, that the Anne Frank diary is a fraud because it had alterations made with a postwar ballpoint pen (they didn't mention that the marks were made later by Frank's father).
They would assert that the ovens were not capable of burning as many bodies as the Allies had said were disposed of after gassing. They lied about the qualities of the Zyklon B gas used to kill Jews, the operation of the Einsatzgruppen (the mobile killing squads which shot more than 1 million Jews on the Eastern Front), and hundreds of other facts.
Through it all, they sought to give the appearance of honest, if skeptical, students of history.
So it's no surprise that IHR liked the look of Irving, a man who had written a whole series of books about World War II and who increasingly, over the years, became a denier of the Holocaust.
As evidence in the London trial would later disclose, Irving was first invited to the annual IHR meeting in 1980. He began attending in 1983, and went on to speak before at least five more conferences, in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1995, as well as at numerous other IHR events.
Irving's value — as a prolific writer with a reputation as a historian — was so apparent to IHR that he was introduced in 1990 as "a kind of one-man IHR."
Irving had for years tried to keep a foot in two worlds — that of the radical right and that of respectability. He was known as a good writer and an industrious researcher, someone who had tracked down not only unique documents, but also many of Hitler's former adjutants.
He didn't exactly deny the Holocaust — he rather minimized it, suggesting that the numbers of Jews killed was much smaller than commonly believed, while, he asserted, the number of German civilians killed by the Allies was greater than acknowledged.
To the extent there was a Holocaust, he argued, it wasn't the handiwork of Hitler, whom he believed to be the Jews' "best friend" among the Nazis, but that of Heinrich Himmler and others.
In 1988, Irving agreed to testify in the trial of Ernst Zündel, a German national living in Canada who was facing prosecution there (for the second time) for denying the Holocaust.
Before the trial, Zündel had searched out an American "expert" on gas chambers — a man named Fred Leuchter who had worked with some state prisons on their methods of capital punishment, but who, as it later turned out, had only a bachelor's degree in history and no engineering license.
Zündel sent Leuchter to Auschwitz, where he illegally broke some chunks off a wall, sent them to a lab, and wrote a report concluding that people had not been gassed to death there.
The report was grossly flawed, of course, and it was not allowed as expert evidence in Zündel's trial. But it had one immediate convert — David Irving, who was so impressed that he described it as "exact science" and went on to issue a copy of it under his own imprint, accompanied by his own foreword.
It was a turning point for Irving. In a letter to American denier Arthur Butz, Irving said "the documents I saw at Toronto shattered several of my former beliefs." It wasn't long before Irving was attacking Holocaust survivors in vulgar terms.
"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz," he would tell one audience. "It's baloney. It's a legend. Once we admit the fact that it was a brutal slave labor camp and large numbers of people did die, as large numbers of innocent people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney?
"I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."