Holocaust On Trial

“Holocaust goes on trial” was the Daily Telegraph headline which announced the beginning of libel proceedings being brought by historian David Irving against fellow author Prof Deborah Lipsdadt, following her accusation that Irving was the most prominent, and thus most dangerous “Holocaust denier” in the world.

At issue is not whether Nazi concentration camps existed, but whether the inmates, and Jews in particular, were systematically and deliberately exterminated therein. Irving, who graciously accepts that between “one and four million Jews” died during the conflict, insists it was not as result of having been gassed, but more probably due to “overwork, starvation and typhus”. He also claims that the “Americans built the gas chambers at Auschwitz”, while the Poles, he insists, “admitted in 1995” to being responsible for a similar post war construction in Dachau. In the past he has referred to Auschwitz as a “tourist attraction” and has called the Holocaust a “blood lie” against the German people.

For his detractors, he is “a liar driven by his extremist views”. As Prof Lipshadt’s lawyer put it:” By exposing that dangerous fraud in this court the defendants may be properly applauded for having performed a significant public service”. Accepting that few people in Britain up to now have ever heard of Irving, much less the notion of the Holocaust as fiction, what ‘service’ and to ‘whose public’ is a moot point’ With January 27 in future to be known as Holocaust Memorial Day, and plans afoot to make any questioning of the Holocaust a criminal offence in Britain as in Germany, the fall out from the planned twelve week trial, seems likely to carry national and international repercussions.

That Irving is politically partisan in his motivation is beyond question. Fellow historian Andrew Roberts who visited his flat in Mayfair described it thus: “On one wall were framed copies of the then Nazi newspaper Vokischer Beobachter dating from the thirties. On the desk was a framed autograph in a familiar, spiky hand, which on closer examination read ‘Adolf Hitler’. At his parties - to which I was not invited -the cocktail swizzle sticks featured small glass swastikas. Here, the place proclaimed, lives a True Believer.” (Sunday Telegraph 16.1. 00). A little more than a day into the trial he was castigated by the judge for blatant bias. An SS telegram, which according to Irving disproved the notion of ‘a final solution’, which had demanded that ‘the execution of Jews in Riga be stopped’ had had the rest of the sentence which continued ‘and must be done more discretely’ - deleted. Similarly, during the Hitlers Diaries debacle he suddenly declared the forgery genuine, only days after pronouncing them false. When asked why he simply explained: “That’s show business”.

Now, if it were merely a question of Irving’s integrity these anecdotes alone, would in a normal libel trial, prove damning. However it is not, it must be remembered, Irving who is on trial. And for those who want, as one Jewish critic put it, to make “the Holocaust central to civilisation” it may yet not prove to be all plain sailing. Put bluntly. Irving it appears is not the only one with the capacity for invention. For example, since the de-Communisation of Poland it has been conceded that the figure of many millions put to death in Auschwitz alone, is an exaggeration. For the moment no figure can be agreed. Moreover, the Yad Vasheem museum in Jerusalem, which has a deserved reputation for being scrupu­lous, admits that even the wider figure of the ‘six million’ is itself an arbitrary one. Intriguingly, Professor .Lipshadt herself concedes that “the notorious tale of the Nazis making soap out of the bodies of dead Jews is a myth probably fabricated by the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee of the former Soviet Union” (Christopher Hitchens, London Evening Standard, 12.1.00).

When you consider one of the reasons the recent Brad Pitt film, Fight Club, was widely condemned as ‘Nazi and fascist’ was for a ‘shameful parody’ of something which Prof Lipshadt now acknowledges is a metaphor, it serves only to highlight the reverence attached to the approved reading of history, and the implications of it unravelling.

Back in 1987 when identical accusations of being ‘fascist and Nazi’, were laid by amongst others the Union of Jewish Students, it caused the dramatic cancellation of the Jim Allen play Perdition. In this drama, based co-incidentally on a libel trial, the defence counsel argues that “Israel is a paid watchdog: a nation built on the pillar of Western guilt and subsidised by American dollars”. Similar reasoning is of course to be found on the far-right. Nonetheless such a rationale cannot be deemed fascist merely out of coincidence; more particularly if objective fact.

Norman Finkelstien for one, a left-wing and political scientist argues that the ‘Holocaust industry’ was created by the pro-Israel lobby in 1967 to “justify aid for Israel”. In effect “the Holocaust is the Zionist account” of history. “It was,” he claims “seized upon and methodically marketed” because it was politically expedient” (The Guardian, 18.1.00). One notable consequence of this relentless marketing is that the notion of anti-fascism and anti-Semitism, has become so interlaced, it has fused in the public mind, to the extent, that everything and everybody else is squeezed out. In his Schindler’s List Oscar acceptance speech for instance, Steven Spielberg dedicated it to the “6 million who can’t be here” as if Jewish persecution was the be all and end all of Nazi philos­ophy, and therefore, everything, and everyone else caught up in it, ‘a mere detail of history’.

In the similar way, anybody or thing, deemed in some way ‘anti-Israeli’ is automatically turned up side down in the quest for some pro-Nazi baggage, while anti-fascism is itself widely assumed to be motivated by, and the pejorative of, essentially ethnic considerations. In the late 80’s, an AFA representative negotiating with Hackney Council for some funding for the AFA ‘Unity Carnival’, was challenged by the Sierra Leone head of the race equality department, who assumed it was an event exclusively “for the Jewish community”. Around the same time and just as bizarrely, an Asian activist was physically ejected from an anti-racist meeting in the East End, on Searchlight’s instruction, simply for being in possession of a PLO scarf.

Behind the scenes, while “Never Again!” iconography remains the jewel in the crown of ANL propaganda, the militant anti-fascist pedigree is under constant attack due to its un-apologetic working class orienta­tion. Considering that the primary ideological basis of fascism is the pursuit of antagonism WITHIN rather than between races, such thinking, betrays analytical untidiness at best.

In recognition that for the best part of half a century the far-right have sought to put the ‘Holocaust on trial’, make it an item of controversy, a defensive reflex under the circumstances is to be expected But now with the archives being opened in the former killing fields of the Eastern front if, as seems likely, the lid is to come off, better in the long run, ‘our side’ is seen to do the lifting. ‘Political expediency’, if not clarity and candour would appear to demand it.

BIG ISSUE PREDICTION: ‘Holocaust on Trial’ regardless of outcome.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 5, Feb/March '00