David Irving

It’s hard to think of anyone slimier and more undeserving of sympathy than this sonofabitch who has made a name for himself as a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist. He first got famous from his book on the fire-bombing of Dresden (a major influence on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five), which almost certainly exaggerated the death toll of that tragedy. I’ve been following his story for many years, and I always felt he asked for and deserved all the troubles he received.

When I saw, however, that he was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking Austria’s laws prohibiting denial of the Holocaust, I had to wince. Whether he denied the Holocaust or not, that seems a trifle severe, and raises all sorts of free-speech questions. (Irving claims he only denied the scope of the Holocaust, but anyone who has followed him knows he’s made all sorts of claims obviously designed to exonerate Germany in general and Hitler in particular.) Is there a time when free speech is not a given (other than the fire-in-a-crowded-theater scenario)?

Right-wing British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison Monday after admitting to an Austrian court that he denied the Holocaust — a crime in the country where Hitler was born.

Irving, who pleaded guilty and then insisted during his one-day trial that he now acknowledged the Nazis’ World War II slaughter of 6 million Jews, had faced up to 10 years behind bars. Before the verdict, Irving conceded he had erred in contending there were no gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,” Irving testified, at one point expressing sorrow “for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War.”

Irving, stressing he only relied on primary sources, said he came across new information in the early 1990’s from top Nazi officials — including personal documents belonging to Adolf Eichmann — that led him to rethink certain previous assertions.

But despite his apparent epiphany, Irving, 67, maintained he had never questioned the Holocaust.

“I’ve never been a Holocaust denier and I get very angry when I’m called a Holocaust denier,” he said.

Well, when you say there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, it’s hardly surprising to find yourself called a holocaust denier. But that as may be….

Even though Austria’s and Germany’s laws on this issue seem discordant with the concept of democracy, you have to understand the traumatized post-WWII German psyche from which they originated. The laws may appear bizarre today, but when they were drafted they seemed all too understandable – painfully, totally understandable. Just like the banning of the swastika. It goes against freedom of expression, but drastic circumstances call for drastic measures. The catastrophe of the Nazi destruction of Germany called for total, ruthless expunging of all aspect of Nazi thought, symbology and expression.

So should David Irving go to jail for three years? I don’t really have an answer, just the question, and a nagging doubt, based on emotion, perhaps, that the sentence is too harsh. I can’t justify sending someone to jail for saying something. But on the other hand, knowing German history and having lived there for more than a year, I at least understand why it’s happening. Maybe sometimes our freedoms aren’t as black and white as we’d like to think.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

I dislike Irving immensely, but I find this verdict disturbing.

Imagine how it’s going to play in the Muslim world, which the West has recently been pompously lecturing on the sacrosancy of our precious freedoms of speech.

February 21, 2006 @ 4:10 am | Comment

You know who Irving reminds me of, eh, Richard?
I actually used to read his books when I was a kid in the 70s….

February 21, 2006 @ 5:51 am | Comment

Keir, give me more hints….

February 21, 2006 @ 6:03 am | Comment


The guy is slime, but sentencing him to prison because of something he has said or believes?

I think it’s kind of ironic given the current climate right now over the Muhammed cartoons….

February 21, 2006 @ 6:55 am | Comment

>So should David Irving go to jail for three years? I don’t really have an answer,

You don’t? This is pretty basic, isn’t it? Jailing someone for their views IS a black and white issue. The whole point of freedom of speech is to protect unpopular speech.

February 21, 2006 @ 8:02 am | Comment


being a regular visitor to your blog, I really hate it to post my first comment here in exactly this thread (what a cliché), but I have to question your assumption that “when they were drafted they seemed all too understandable”, at least as it comes to Germany. The German law in question has been aggrevated several times, last in 1994 and 2005 (!). I’m afraid, you can hardly label that a question of history.

In my view, this law helps to make denying the holocaust even more popular.

As far as the whole “protecting of free speech” is concerned, this is just another example for the fundamental differences between US and German law system, which mirror the different societies.


February 21, 2006 @ 11:51 am | Comment

Well said jim.

February 21, 2006 @ 1:42 pm | Comment

So David Irving, a private author, writes that the Holocaust is exaggerated and Hitler was not such a bad man, and he gets 3 years in prison.

The Japanese textbook authors write that Japan started WW2 to protect Asia and the Nanjing massacre was a “controversy”, and 1% of Japanese schools adopt the book in its history class. How many years should he get?

How about the Japanese prime minister and his entire cabinet goes to worship Tojo. How many years should he get?

February 21, 2006 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

“Posted by: Keir at January 21, 2006 10:00 PM ”

My god…
I’m reading right now about David irving, Hoocaust denier who is now languishing in an Austrian gaol for his right-wing views and books which he was propogating in Vienna.
Who does this remind you of?:
The man has no real convictions and no consistent ideological programme.
“I ask Irving about his spectacular U-turn on the Hitler Diaries in 1983, when, after first denouncing them as fakes, he changed his mind and endorsed them as genuine in a Sunday Times article a fortnight later. ‘It was just a joke. It was entertainment. All that had nothing to do with historiography,’ Irving grins. ‘It’s not important who wins, but how you play.’
It comes as no surprise that Irving’s view of history is totally devoid of moral considerations. He is too amoral to even comprehend that his statements about the Holocaust may hurt survivors. His view of history is not unlike that of the National Socialists. History, like nature, is red in tooth and claw. The stronger win, and it is only the strong that Irving reserves his admiration for. Someone like ‘Bomber’ Harris. With his first book, the young David Irving drew attention to the horrors of the Allies’ bombing of Dresden in 1945. Yet he admires Sir Arthur Harris as a ‘great man’. ‘I’m referring to him as a commander, like Dönitz,’ Irving exclaims. ‘If you can send 20,000 young men to their deaths each day, then you are a great commander.’ Small wonder that Irving admires Hitler too.”

February 21, 2006 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

Now I get it, Keir. Brilliant.

February 21, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

CH, I don’t think anyone of them should be imprisoned. But Irving knew he was breaking the law; he took a risk. It’s a bad law, for sure. But did the Japanese break any law?

February 21, 2006 @ 5:01 pm | Comment

Marian, I thought the laws were way older than that. If you are right, that makes them even more absurd. But I still “understand” it – I don’t agree, but I understand. You hve to understand what the Holocaust and Naziism did to the German mentality. My heart goes out to younger generations of Germans who know that even today, the word Germany raises images of gas chambers and racial extermination.

February 21, 2006 @ 5:06 pm | Comment

CH, I don’t think anyone of them should be imprisoned. But Irving knew he was breaking the law; he took a risk. It’s a bad law, for sure. But did the Japanese break any law?

Of course the Japanese did not break any law, as lawmakers in Japan would never allow such laws to be passed. In fact, many in the Japanese diet would love to get a law passed that says every prime minister must start his term by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine

February 21, 2006 @ 5:55 pm | Comment

Is that right? Any information on this, other than conjecture?

February 21, 2006 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Those White dudes, they must be uncivilized. After all, that’s what I read here.

February 21, 2006 @ 10:37 pm | Comment


I thought the laws were way older than that.

Yes, the original laws are. The Austrian law according to which Irving was convicted is from 1946. I only mentioned the recent aggrevations of the similar law in Germany in order to clarify, that German authorities still – even after 60 years – see no other way to fight back neo-nazism than by enforcing freedom-of-speech-limiting laws.

I don’t agree, but I understand.

I do not. The point is, that those laws don’t meet their objectives. The official reasons given for this law are (roughly) “to maintain public peace” and “to prevent the poisoning of the political atmosphere”. Does it work? No. Not at all.

You have to understand what the Holocaust and Naziism did to the German mentality.

20 years ago, our highschool history teacher taught us, that our mentality had caused Naziism – and not the other way around ;-).

My heart goes out to younger generations of Germans who know that even today, the word Germany raises images of gas chambers and racial extermination.

That’s very kind of you, but unnecessary, in my humble opinion. Let me give you two examples to illustrate:

East Jerusalem, Fall 1986
Arabic Shopkeeper: “Helloooo. Where are you from?”
Marian: “Germany, Sir.”
AS: “Ooohhh. Germany. Heil Hitler!”
Marian: “I’m sorry?”
AS: “Oh, yes, yes. Hitler. Great man. Good, very good. Sadly, he didn’t accomplish his mission.”

[Note to all of you not as familiar with Germany and Germans as Richard: If you want to do business with a German, do not start the conversation with “Heil Hitler!” Yes, it was a common greeting 70 years ago, but is now considered a bit out of fashion.]

Nanning, PRC, Fall 2004, English Department of an undisclosed middle school, teacher’s office
Marian: Good morning!
Head of the Department: Ah, Mark! [raises his right arm] Heil Hitler!
Marian: Excuse me, but if you do that in Germany, you’ll be in serious trouble pretty soon. At the end, you’ll have to pay a fine. At least a fine.
HD (in triumph): You see? This is exactly the difference between Germany and Japan. You faced your history and the crimes you had committed. The Japanese refuse to do so!

Really, I can bear it to be confronted with a “Heil Hitler!” every now and then. It’s not that I need such a reminder of the German past, but it doesn’t harm me either.

February 22, 2006 @ 2:33 am | Comment

While I don’t condone what he did, I should point you towards ACLU V Skokie for an explanation of why he shouldn’t have been jailed for it.

February 23, 2006 @ 5:18 am | Comment

Pardon my ignorance, but what law did he break? His opinion may be steeped in ignorance and denial, but I didn’t think that was aganist the law.

February 25, 2006 @ 8:16 am | Comment

He did break a very specific law. It is against the law in Germany and Austria to deny the Holocaust happened. It may be a stupid law, but it exists.

February 25, 2006 @ 11:01 am | Comment

Thank you Richard for your reply to my question.

February 25, 2006 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.