Monday, November 28, 2005

Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures or Hitler Diaries Redux?

If, as the Stuttgarter Zeitung speculates [see previous post], Irving wanted to be arrested in order to generate publicity and funding then this would remind me of what he did in 1983 in connection with the Hitler Diaries. As I recount in History on Trial:

In 1983 Der Stern, the German weekly, announced that it had purchased for 3.8 million dollars, 62 previously unknown volumes of “Hitler’s Diaries.” For a brief moment it was the world’s biggest news story. Irving, who had previously purchased documents -- which turned out to be bogus -- from the man who was selling the diaries, was sure they too were bogus.

At a sensational press conference, Stern editors heralded the publication of the diaries and predicted that there would certainly be those who would challenge the diaries, including historians with “no reputation to lose, like David Irving.”

Unbeknownst to Stern, their rival, Bild Zeitung, had snuck Irving into the press conference. A few minutes later, when it was time for questions from the horde of journalists, Irving rushed to the microphone clutching documents which, he said, proved that the diaries were fake.

Dramatically raising them above his head, he demanded that the Stern executives, who had anticipated this as a triumphant moment, to explain how Hitler could have written about the July bomb plot in his diary on the day it happened if, as the film they had just screened demonstrated, his right hand was badly injured. Stern quickly ended the press conference.

Reporters and paparazzi made a beeline for Irving. NBC immediately put him on a live hookup with the Today show, which was then on the air. Irving found this “exhilarating” and marveled at the trail of chaos” he left behind. After spending the rest of the day giving interviews, Irving rose at 3:30 a.m. to appear on ABC’s Nightline. According to his diary he was paid 700 Mark for the appearance. The German publication, Der Spiegel, paid him 20,000 Mark for his story.

Irving was pleased not only by the attention but by the fact that he earned about ,15,000 in three days.

Within a few days, the diaries were becoming yesterday’s news. Suddenly, Irving changed his mind and announced that he now believed the diaries were genuine. Robert Harris, author of Selling Hitler (New York, 1986, p. 359), a study of the diaries incident, believed Irving’s reversal was motivated, in part, by the fact that the diaries “did not contain any evidence to suggest that Hitler was aware of the Holocaust,” thereby supporting the thesis of Hitler’s War.

If Irving was hoping this move would win him publicity, he calculated correctly. The Times (London) immediately put it on its front page. But within a few days the highly respected Bundesarchiv, Germany’s National Archives, concluded, based on careful forensic tests, that the diaries were a forgery and a bad one at that.

When the results were announced Irving quickly composed a press release, accepting the Bundesarchiv’s ruling but stressing that he had been the first person to declare the diaries fakes. “Yes,” a reporter from The Times added when he heard the release, “and the last person to declare them authentic.”

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