Why historian has no right to be wrong

Shelley Blundell

On Friday, our editorial board ran a piece that said David Irving, a British historian who made his name as a “Holocaust denier,” had a right to express his opinion denying the Holocaust and that his arrest in Austria recently because of said denial was an attack on free speech.

I disagree with our editorial board perhaps more strongly than I have ever disagreed with anything in my life.

True, I am a journalism major, and as such realize the value of freedom of speech in a democratic society.

But I am also a history major, with a particular interest in World War II history, not the least of which is the Holocaust.

Let me introduce you to David Irving and some of his beliefs and you, the audience, can decide whether he should have been arrested.

Irving is a British historian who made his mark with various papers and books condemning the British Empire for going to war against Germany in World War II because he claimed their decision to do so crippled the British economy. At the same time, Irving claimed among many other things that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere propaganda exercise, meant to downplay the Allies’ responsibility for Jewish deaths during World War II. Irving was also a frequent guest at extremist-sponsored rallies in Germany and made it his mission to help young German men find the right direction in their lives. But not women.

In fact, Irving believes women are built for a certain task – producing men – and as such, should be subservient to them. He believes Germans were wronged and should be reinvigorated in the task of building Germany up to its former glory. This starting to sound familiar? Any student who has ever studied World War II should be starting to get “the Hitler shivers” by now.

As if this was not bad enough, when his words and actions, along with those of other Holocaust deniers were published in the book Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt in 1991, Irving sued fellow Brit Lipstadt for libel, his grounds being that there was no fully conclusive evidence supporting the existence of gas chambers and a “Final Solution” (the term used by the Nazis which encompassed the plan for Jewish eradication). In Britain, libel law dictates that the accused must prove they are right in their accusations, unlike America where the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. Lipstadt won, because her evidence was conclusive while Irving’s was not.

Still, Irving went around Europe on speaking engagements claiming “proof” for his belief that the Holocaust was not a planned system of genocide by Nazi forces, but an act that the whole world participated in. He also claimed the deaths of so many people was due to disease and starvation, not Zyclon-B (the gas used in the chambers to kill Nazi captives).

Irving was arrested because in Austria, it is a crime to deny or trivialize the actions of the Nazi party during the Holocaust and as the editorial said, there is no statute of limitations for this crime. Why it took them so long, I just don’t know.

And for those of you still asking if prison was too harsh a sentence for Irving? Ask yourself what you would do if Irving had devoted his life to denying the existence of slavery in America instead.

Shelley Blundell is a senior history and magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].