Monday, 7 May 2007

David Irving's Trip to Poland

David Irving is not a Holocaust denier. If I say otherwise, I may get sued, because this great believer in free speech and defender of people's right to say the unsayable, doesn't like people using terms like 'Holocaust denier' to describe him. He is a man who questions with the intensity of a keen mind every part of the massive mountain of evidence relating to the Holocaust as a historical fact, and who accepts anything suggesting it might not have happened immediately, at face value. I think I'm on safe ground saying that.

Irving recenly took a trip to Poland, to visit the sites of the Holocaust or not-Holocaust. His online diary describes this visit, which he undertook in March this year. Surprisingly, it is "This is [his] first visit to the country". It seems odd that he has never visited the Polish Holocaust sites before. It seems he has experienced difficulty at the hands of bureaucrats and pen-pushers: he does find it difficult to travel, sometimes, and when he reaches a place, he sometimes finds it difficult to leave. It still seems remarkable, however, that a radical historian has never visited the sites he talks about so much. Instead, he seems to have relied upon secondhand information about the extermination camps of Poland; which is odd, as he has spent a lot of time trying to discredit the accounts of those who were there at the time.

His diary entry opens with a trip down memory lane: "Forty years on, I still recall translating Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel's description of accompanying Adolf Hitler's first drive into Poland -- the filthy hovels, the unkempt Jews, the disheveled farms and villages. I wonder how much has changed." One would assume that the 'unkempt Jews' have gone, largely. Quite where they have gone remains a mystery - Irving doesn't buy into the gnerally held idea that they were slaughtered by agents of the Nazi regime, in various ways, but frequently in gas chambers in camps built or modified for the purpose of killing large numbers of people.

He doesn't think much of the Museum at Treblinka, a site where it is estimated 780,000 people were killed. He bemoans the fact that "The museum is rather bare; it has two rooms, with placards on the walls, some original posters about the labour camp, and a few items dug up in excavations: mostly battered kitchenware, two strands of wartime barbed wire (one would have expected a lot more), but nothing of wartime significance: no bones, bullets, or bayonets, for instance." He seems to have forgotten what he wrote just a few lines before: "The Germans had meticulously deleted everything of the war years when they abandoned the site in late 1943." Again, strange that he doesn't make the link himself. And strange he doesn't make the inference that the starkness of the museum is suggestive of its authenticity. If it were a fraud, wouldn't "mankind's eternal enemies" have ensured the museum was better stocked with phoney evidence?

("Mankind's eternal enemies" is a phrase quoted by Irving from a letter he received from T.S., an admirer, complete with $20 donation. In T.S.'s own words: "I thank you ... for the contribution you have made to the struggle to wrestle the flame of truth from the hands of mankind's eternal enemies." One can only speculate who the "eternal enemies" are, and what prompted Irving to give the quotation pride of place - it is the first of several quotations from letters written by admirers.) (Source: Quotation displayed on this web address on 7th May 2007)

Irving tries to make something of the fact that people are cautioned agains tlighting candles on the site, as this poses a fire risk. To him, this "raises an obvious question -- to which there may be a simple answer -- about that element of the received Treblinka history which has the thousands of bodies buried hastily in 1942 being exhumed in 1943 and burned in open air pits". Curious that he seems to assume that SS thugs trying to erase evidence of mass murder, working in desperate haste, would observe the scrupulous safety procautions of 21st century curators.

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