‘I’ Reviews New Film of Trial of David Irving

Also in today’s I newspaper was a review of Denial, a film about the trial of David Irving, the historian and holocaust denier in 1996. Irving was a highly controversial historian, who had written a book on the Third Reich claiming that Hitler didn’t know anything about it, along with a series of other distortions. He had already been at the centre of a storm of outrage after he was invited to give a speech explaining his views to the Oxford Union. I can’t remember all the details, but at the centre of the case was the battle between him and an American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, who attacked him for his distortion of history. It’s true that there is no direct evidence connecting Hitler to the planned, methodical extermination of 6 million Jews orchestrated by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. However, considering the sheer murderous venom with which Hitler describes the Jews in Mein Kampf and his speeches, and the sheer scale of the infamous Final Solution, it would have been impossible for him not to know about it. Historians have pointed out that the Holocaust was an integral part of Nazi policy, shown in the way that even when the Red Army was advancing on Germany through eastern Europe, the Nazis were still determined to carry on their mass murder despite the fact that it used resources which otherwise could have played a vital role in Germany’s defence. The Nazis were also very careful in their official communications to disguise the horror they were carrying out. They rarely talked about it directly. Instead, it was always referred to as ‘executive order such-and-such’, or by the euphemism that it was the relocation of the Jewish population to the east. There was even a vile propaganda film made for the German public, which showed happy Jews working away on their allotments in the new settlement the Fuhrer had provided for them. Except that it was all a sham, and after filming was finished, its subjects were loaded onto the cattle trucks and taken away for their deaths in the camps.

The film was written by the noted left-wing playwright, David Hare, and stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt. Weisz is probably better known for having appeared in the ‘Mummy’ movies back in the 1990s with Brendan Fraser, fighting undead ancient Egyptian horrors. Playing Irving is Timothy Spall, who has been in any number of TV shows over the years. He was a Brummie brickie in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, a villain, who had taken the form of a rat, in one of the Harry Potter movies. And most recently he appeared as a mad lord besotted with his prize-winning pet pig, in a comedy adapted from the books of P.G. Wodehouse.

Irving lost the trial, and Lipstadt and a series of other witnesses showed how he had ignored and distorted the evidence in order minimise the scale of the Holocaust. Irving left the court with any reputation for historical reliability destroyed as a Holocaust denier.

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