A few weeks before the acclaimed World War Two historian, David Irving was due to appear in the libel case that he had brought against a little known college lecturer, Deborah Lipstadt, his beloved daughter Josephine sadly died. Josephine had been suffering since she was eighteen from a degenerative brain disease for which there was no cure. It had eaten away not only at her brain but at her will to live and some three years before she had tried, unsuccessfully, to take her own life, leaving her to live out her life confined to a wheelchair and without the use of her arms. Until her diagnosis she had been an exceptionally bright young girl, happily married and the devoted mother of a young son.
On the afternoon after the funeral service that had followed brave Josephine’s death on the 7th of September, 1999, her distraught father, Mr Irving, had received a phone call from the undertakers informing him that a wreath had belatedly arrived at their office with a short note attached. He accepted their kind offer to forward the flowers and the bereavement message to his family home in Mayfair so that he could respond to it appropriately. That same evening the white roses and lilies arrived by courier and an inconsolable father opened the card.
The words had been carefully chosen, as one would expect, however only a serious historian with a considerable knowledge of a particular period of history would have been able to recognise the cruelty of the sentence that adorned the note. It read: “truly a merciful death” and was signed, Philipp Bouhler and Friends. Philipp Bouhler had been head of the euthanasia programme of the Third Reich and had died by his own hand in 1945. “Merciful death” was how the euthanasia department had described the outcome of the mentally and physically disabled patients who had been sent to the programme’s institutions throughout Germany.
Needless to say, the father of the deceased was furious and immediately contacted the Bloomsbury florists from where the wreath had been bought. On leaving the premises Mr Irving began to walk, and not a hundred yards from the shop’s door he passed the building in which was located the offices of the legal team representing the defendant in his upcoming case in the High Court, Deborah Lipstadt.
An extraordinary coincidence? It could be. David Irving certainly has never suggested that his opponent in the famous case had any involvement in the act of cruelty that was the penning and sending of the bereavement card, however it is odd that years after her victory, Deborah Lipstadt on a speaking tour of Israel had stated that her team had done all that they could do to destabilise David Irving before the trial began.
David Irving lost his libel case in April 2000 but that does not prove that he is a denier of the holocaust, nor does it prove that he is anti-Semitic, indeed his Jewish friends would no doubt give testament to that. Moreover, a cursory glance through his vast body of work will provide the proof that he does not deny that millions of Jews; men, women and children were murdered, indeed he even provides the figures and the documentary evidence. David Irving is a historian; he researches, uncovers evidence and presents it. He does not, as other less diligent academics have done, put forward a thesis unsupported by the facts. He has not sought to find the facts that support his ideas. If and when the facts change, as invariably they do as more research is done and new evidence is uncovered, his thesis must also change to reflect the new reality. The judgement in the High Court did a disservice to David Irving and to the pursuit of real history.
It is somewhat ironic that the cruelest, most disturbing and grotesque words may have been written by the victorious team of advocates for the defendant, the academic and historian Deborah Lipstadt.
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