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A Holocaust Denier Hits Manhattan (And Hearts Hitchens)

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On July 18, the world's most prominent Holocaust denier, David Irving, parachuted into New York City to deliver a talk to a few dozen supporters. It was Irving's first major stateside appearance since his release from an Austrian prison where the British writer spent a year for "trivializing the Holocaust" -- a crime in that country. Irving is the author of numerous books on Hitler and the Third Reich. With support from the Southern Poverty Law Center, I produced a video about Irving's New York lecture, "Springtime For Irving," containing an exclusive interview with Irving, along with a look at his Nazi sympathizing supporters. In it, Irving issues a rousing defense of Hitler, blames Jews for their own persecution, and reveals his strange friendship with Christopher Hitchens.

See "Springtime for Irving: A Holocaust Denier Hits Manhattan" When I reached Irving on his cellphone 15 minutes before his talk was scheduled to begin, I learned that it has been suddenly moved to the basement of a Catholic church on the Upper East Side. Irving's advance man, Michael Santamauro (owner of the New York-based roommate service roommatefinders.com) had conned the church's priest into hosting the lecture by claiming he was the leader of an anodyne "book club." "Someone made a reservation to have a discussion of a book. The name was not David Irving. We knew nothing about it. We thought it would be just something nice for the community," the visibly shaken priest, Fr. Angelo Gambatese, explained to me. "And it turns out that it was David Irving. We were completely deceived. And really we're outraged, because we do not cater to that kind of bigotry, and I'm really sorry that this happened." Irving opened his talk with a defense of Hitler, claiming that the Fuhrer had no knowledge of the Final Solution and played no role in its implementation. "Adolph Hitler was being kept out of the loop and was probably not at all anti-Semitic by the time the war began," he insisted. Irving also claimed, "Hitler wanted a little war, but it got out of hand." Irving's outrageous views have prompted Richard Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge University, to state, "If we mean by historian someone who is concerned to discover the truth about the past, and to give as accurate a representation of it as possible, then Irving is not a historian."

In 1996, Irving filed a libel suit in England against the historian Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for supposedly defaming him in her book, "Denying the Holocaust." In 1998, a court ruled that the assertion that Irving is a Holocaust denier was "substantially true." The judge, who Irving referred during the trial as "Mein Fuhrer," stated:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

When I challenged Irving's twisted notions about the Holocaust and confronted him with some of the vitriolic statements he has made over the years, he struck a defiant pose. "I think the word 'Holocaust' is odious," he told me. "It's American commercialism at its worst." He reiterated past anti-Semitic remarks calling Jews as the architects of their own persecution: "I think the Jews have to ask themselves why is it that every time they arrive somewhere as pitiful refugees in a country after a few years they have to move on... They don't ask themselves what they could do to change the way that they are disliked."

While Irving heaped scorn on Jews and other minority groups, he volunteered warm words of praise for his most high-profile defender in the media, the writer Christopher Hitchens. "I can't speak for Christopher Hitchens," Irving told me, "but he's a good friend and a great man... We've been good friends since and we've been good friends after."

In an article for Vanity Fair in 1996, Hitchens called Irving a "great historian," and argued that Irving's book,, "Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich," deserved to be published by a mainstream publisher. St. Martin's Press had initially agreed to publish it, but backed out when it became a target of protests because of Irving's Holocaust denial and historical distortions. "He wrote a very, very fair account of the controversy [over "Goebbels"] in his magazine and he impressed me by his fairness," Irving said.

Then, in February 2006, after Irving was jailed in Austria, Hitchens published another defense of Irving's "free speech," this time on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. "It was very decent of him because it wasn't the popular thing to do," Irving told me.

"And you're still good friends with him?" I asked Irving. "You're still in touch with Christopher Hitchens?"

"Yes, I think it's fair to say that," he responded. "I really don't want to incriminate him."