Hegemony Over History

Falsifying history for ideological ends was the damning verdict in the recent Irving trial. But the ugly truth is, many of Irving’s opponents are similarly motivated. G O’Halloran reports.

The Hollywood movie U-571 which tells how the US Navy, rather than the British, captured the Enigma code opened in June to a chorus of boos and catcalls from outraged politicians.

More than “a little galling” was how one Cabinet minister put it. Clearly David Irving is not the only one prepared to re­write history for political or financial gain. Actually far from being the ‘biggest revisionist’ as claimed, Irving is in fact pretty small fry if placed against the backdrop of the larger canvass. A far more expansive and routine revisionism is printed in the same publications who responded with such relish, to the judges damning verdict of him in the libel trial in April. Unlike Irving, their ‘big lie’ does not centre, on the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz, or if the totemic figure of 6 million is accurate up to the last cadaver, or whether Jews were done-in directly on Hitler’s instruction or not. It is instead a lie mainly of omission. A deceit skilfully created, by the simple but inspired misplacing of the attempted annihilation of the Jews in the chronology of events.

The over arching ambition of the Nazis, it is generally under­stood, was the total elimination of Jews in Europe. The Anti-Nazi watchword ‘Never Again!’ is most closely associated with this near genocide. That the Jews were first into the camps, and last out is axiomatic. It has become so, because this is what has for some time been taught as history in schools.

That the Irving verdict was greeted world wide, with jubilant banner headlines: ‘Irving consigned to history as a liar’; ‘Relief greets victory for truth’; ‘History’s verdict on Holocaust up held’ is understandable considering the level of investment.

Nevertheless the establishment’s sense of relief, while palpable, bore no relation to, as Irving portrayed it. The ‘David and Goliath’ nature of the challenge. Irving though interna­tionally notorious - now - (and liking it so much, he is planning both an appeal and second case against The Observer) was before the trial, little known outside academic and anti-fascist circles, And though the ‘Holohoax’ has been a feature of far-right propaganda for some time neither it, nor Irving, have (until the pre and post trail publicity) had any discernible impact on popular consciousness. Why then the sense of victory? It is hard to imagine similar vindication had some crank contested the existence of World War 2.

At least part of the reasoning for the near euphoria was explained by the trial judge himself. “I have to confess that in common I suspect with most other people. I had supposed that the evidence of mass extermination of Jews in gas chambers at Auschwitz was compelling”, (Daily Telegraph, 12.4.00) but found as the trial progressed, to his astonishment that it was not. Much of the evidence, relies on witness statements and is therefore subjective, and so open to challenge, In consequence, such was the tension generated during the trial, that a spokesman for The Simon Wisenthal Centre went as far as to “thank God” that ‘Britain’s libel laws’ had not presented Irving with “a moral victory” (The Guardian, 12.4.00)

Fact is, had Irving in his efforts to ‘rehabilitate fascism’ chosen his ground more carefully: denied for instance Belsen was ‘a death camp’; or that while there were gas chambers in Dachau ‘they were never used’; or that the notion of soap manufactured from melted human fat was ‘a fabrication’, it is he and not Penguin and Professor Lipsthadt who would been celebrating the verdict.

According to Irving, key in disproving the use of gas chambers at Auschwitz, was his theory of the alleged ‘bottle-neck’. This ‘bottle-neck’ he insisted was created by the existence of only a single lift shaft connecting the gas chamber in question with crematorium ovens above. ‘How could 500,000 bodies - the number estimated to have died in that one Crematorium - be transported up a single lift shaft only about 9 ft square? ‘How much would the lift carry? How many bodies would that be at say 60 kilos a body?’ Irving demanded.

Because by the end of the day, (not unsurprisingly) “nobody had come up with a pat figure that would make such a logistics exercise possible or impossible” Independent journalist James Dalrymple confessed that “on the way home in the train that night to my shame, I took out a pocket calculator and began to do some sums...When I realised what I was doing I almost threw the little machine across the carriage in rage.” (The Independent, 29.1.00).

He didn’t though, and when the figures proved “it could have been done” he admitted to a “sense of relief”. Something similar had happened previously when out of “compulsive curiosity” following another smear, he conducted his own inquiry and found that “every word of the most famous book of the 20th century” - The Diary of Anne Frank - “was indeed true”.

Earlier in the year on March 30, Greenwich Council’s ‘Anne Frank: a history for today’ which explicitly links the Nazi genocide with the murder of Stephen Lawrence finished its month long showing. The exhibition was apparently packed with four daily tours of school children every day. Visiting school parties were first shown a 20 minute video of the life of Anne Frank based on her diaries. Along with the video, the children are shown the photos, documents, and other material on display, with sections devoted to the oppression and mass murder not only of Jews but also homosexuals and Gypsies. “There is of course no overt refer­ence to Hitler’s bloody oppression and slaughter of commu­nists, trade unionists and workers, though some photographs of Nazi rallies display banners which bear witness to the anti-Bolshevik and anti-Marxist crusade”. (Weekly Worker, 30.3.00)

A critical omission to understanding Nazi motivation you would have thought? But this is no accident, nor indeed is it the only example. It is instead part of a widescale, and deliberate falsification of history that puts Irvings’ efforts on a par with U-57l.

Put simply, the notion of ethnic slaughter for it’s own sake, precisely because it appears inexplicable, is constantly played up not out any sense of guilt, or out of a loyalty to Israel, but because its serves to conceal the culpability of liberal democracy in the chain of events.

For instance in the USA scores of cities have Holocaust museums, the Holocaust is on the curriculum of thousands of schools, Holocaust films and books, TV series and articles are a staple of American culture. And what are they taught? Of all the “lessons” of the Holocaust, Pastor Martin Niemoller’s litany of indifference, and of his own complicity in the escalating brutality of life in Nazi Germany is most used. “First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew...” is one of the things everybody ‘knows’ about the Holocaust. Except its not true.

Oh, its not that the good pastor is guilty of telling a porky; no, the original version begins “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats but I was not a Social Democrat -so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists but I was not a trade unionist. And then the came for the Jews but I was not a Jew - so I did little. Then when they came for me there was no one who could stand up for me.”
As author Peter Novick explains in his widely acclaimed new book The Holocaust in American Life, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is one of many, who in Novick’s phrase, “prudently omits” Communists from Niemoller’s homily. When Time magazine quoted Niemoller, they moved the Jews into first place, and dropped the Communists and Social Democrats entirely.

President elect Al Gore dropped the trade unionists for good measure, and substi­tuted, along with Time magazine, and a speaker at the 1992 Republican convention, ‘Catholics’ who hadn’t featured in Niemoller’s account at all. Other versions have added homosexuals, while the US Holocaust Museum, while deleting Communists, retains Social Democrats.

Generally the marketing of the ‘Jews first/only’ version of events is so relentless (in Buchenwald there is for instance a huge commemoration to Jewish victims even though the inmates were overwhelmingly political) it has seen even AFA succumb on occasion. Another more recent ‘victim’ is Andrew Marr, newly appointed political editor for the BBC no less. While prepared to acknowledge the existence of misun­derstandings, half truths, and complete falsehoods in it’s telling, he nonetheless feels “his children dangerously ill-educated if they didn’t have some emotional awareness of the Holocaust”. Not dangerously ill-educated (like himself) though being system­atically lied to curiously. Evidently no need for political awareness when some surface emotion will suffice. Safer. Oddly, even more PC somehow. Certainly to question any aspect of the orthodoxy is regarded as verboten for fear of the entire tapestry; the compound of falsifications unravelling.

Yet it is precisely this orthodoxy that Searchlight recently committed itself to defending, “with more drive than ever before”. Correctly estimating that nothing less than “hegemony over history is at stake”. For similar ideological ends the ANL can be even more censorious, even placing pickets on the Russell Crowe film Romper Stomper. Others had fits of the vapours over American History X, while even more recently, according to reports, the SWP were demanding only ‘properly accredited students’ be allowed to read Mein Kampf!

However even when successful, such efforts at censorship are self-defeating. For once anti-fascism is not anchored by objective reality it ceases to occupy the high moral ground. Thereafter, if historians are prevented from seeking corroboration, “either by Jewish groups who feel that the Holocaust belongs to them, or by Zionists seeking to preserve Israel’s ‘moral’ capital”, as DD Guttenplan (The Guardian 15.4.00) puts it “the result is blurring between memory and propaganda that serves only the interests of the Nazi perpetrators and the political legatees”

Fascist interests certainly, but not only, or even principally.

Falsifying history for ‘ideological ends’ was let’s remember, what the Irving trial was all about. And without any doubt tampering with the chronology renders, as intended, any understanding of the run up and subsequent events entirely to chance, But then the victors write history and a smearing of the lens which doubly damns fascism and exonerates liberal democracy is understandably congenial.

Fact is, the most savage oppression and persecution of the Jews did not begin - until - as recently opened Gestapo files reveal, the Nazis were fully satisfied they had first ‘broken the back’ of left-wing, mainly working class communist opposition. Not only were commu­nists first in the camps, interned in their tens of thousands literally within days of Hitler taking power in 1933, but were beaten, tortured, seriously wounded, or killed with, as historian Ian Kershaw records, “total impunity”. Total impunity was guaran­teed because, “faced with a stark choice between National Socialism and Communism, - most middle class, well-to-do Germans preferred the Nazis. “The Communist were revolutionaries, they would take away private property, impose a class dictatorship... the National Socialists were vulgar and distasteful but they stood for German interests and would uphold German values and they would NOT take away private property” was how in his book Hitler 1889-1936, historian Ian Kershaw summed attitudes up. (Consider for a moment the prospect of ‘working class rule’ and then consider on what side democrats such as Blair and Hague would have reacted and you have a snapshot of how events in the Weimar Republic actually unfolded).

Generally it was felt the ‘Reds’ had it coming. What ‘had it coming’ meant in practice was described by Gestapo chief Rudolph Diels. Describing the custom and practice inside of one of Berlin’s prisons within a few months of Hitler coming to power he recorded:

“The ‘interrogation’ had begun and ended with a beating. A dozen fellows laid into their victims at intervals of some hours with iron bars, rubber coshes and whips. Smashed teeth, and broken bones bore witness to the tortures. As we entered, these living skeletons with festering wounds lay in rows on the rotting straw.”

Atrocities such as this were in full swing a full five years before ‘Kristallnacht’ officially signalled Jews an enemy of the state in 1938. So when Pastor Nielmoller recalls that ‘communists came first’ he was hardly exaggerating. That there was widespread ‘indif­ference’ cannot be denied either. That he ‘did nothing’ was also true for the many rather than the few. That this litany of indifference included middle class Jews is not contested either.

Recently a new and permanent exhibit to the Holocaust situated within the Imperial War Museum was opened. Needless to say the victims who by and large regarded the crushing of the working class opposition with approval, indifference or at best hand-wringing are revered, while those who formed the resistance, who physically fought against the coming dictatorship are scorned.

‘A little galling’ doesn’t quite cover it somehow.

Reproduced from RA bulletin Vol 4, Issue 7, June/July '00