Irving vs. Goldhagen

 

In the evening William C., a local chiropractor, drives me over the 26

mile causeway to downtown New Orleans, to the magnificently decorated

synagogue in St. Charles Avenue where Daniel Goldhagen is to speak on his book

Hitler's Willing Executioners.

 

It came out last May and, of course, my own book "Goebbels, Mastermind of

the Third Reich" was sacrificed by St. Martins Press, to give "Professor"

Goldhagen a clear run with his work, as Frank Rich admitted in his

syndicated OpEd piece at the time - no nasty confrontations on talk shows, etc., with

somebody who might really know what he was talking about when it came to the Nazi era.

 

The rotunda is packed with over a thousand listeners, and there is a

sprinkling of police outside. A rabbi reads an introduction, while a

thin, badly shaven young man, with a gaunt face reminiscent of Key West's HIV-positive

population, slouches on a chair at stage-right.

 

This turns out to be Goldhagen. His talk is disappointingly bland -

delivered without notes in a disconcertingly gentle, laid-back voice, at

such a slow and hesitant pace that one wonders whether he suffers perhaps

from some, chromosome defect that the newspapers have been too polite to mention.

 

Goldhagen utters a ninety minute tirade against the "ordinary Germans"

who he claims were fully aware of what was going on, and were willing and

indeed eager to make up the firing squads when it came to getting rid of the

Jews.

 

As he talks of the zeal with which these "ordinary Germans" rounded up,

tortured, mocked and killed their opponents, I think involuntarily of

the West Bank, of the Arab children shot down with live ammunition, and of modern prime

ministers who send assassins into neighbouring countries armed with nerve-gas

syringes to dispose of their opponents.

 

Dr. C. afterwards remarks that he has never before heard so much hatred

spewed forth in a House of Worship. The same thought occurs to me: it

was undiluted Volksverhetzung, far more ugly than the kind which now earns

revisionists and other searchers for the truth hefty prison sentences in

Europe.

 

Goldhagen finally rambles to a conclusion - mid-sentence, mid-paragraph,

in fact mid-lecture for all anybody can tell, since the whole talk is

utterly shambolic from start to finish, without starting point, mile-markers, or

objective. If he is a lecturer in politics at Harvard, I feel endlessly

sorry for his students. One wonders how he got the job; one must ask his

father, a long-time benefactor and professor at the university. Goldhagen Jr.

probably picked up at least a $20,000 fee for his performance this evening.

 

At question time I get to the microphone, and challenge him:

'Professor Goldhagen, we have listened with enormous interest to your

talk, but forgive me if I now voice some criticism.

 

'I too am an historian, an English historian who has worked for

thirty-five years at the other end of the spectrum, as I might put it, questioning

most closely every member of Hitler's private staff about what decisions were

taken at the very highest level.

 

'Let me make plain that there can be no doubt whatever as to the scale

of the killings of Jews carried out on the eastern front during Hitler's

Russian campaign. But you are aware that your book has attracted much informed

comment world-wide, both for the narrowness of its focus and for the cavalier

manner in which you used archival records during your visit to Ludwigsburg.

 

'For instance, you claimed in your talk to have used the interrogation

records of 'literally thousands of the Perpetrators,' as your call them;

but we know that in fact you used scarcely a hundred if that.'

 

At this, I can feel the temper of the audience behind me rising. I press on:

 

'What concerns me most however is the claim that it was only 'ordinary

Germans' who carried out the killings. This is totally untrue and might

lead to the very wrong conclusion that because Germany was finished -

squashed flat during the appalling military conflict of World War II -

therefore the Jews of the world no longer have anything to fear.

 

'We know the make-up of the police battalions which carried out the

killings on the eastern front, the battalions to which you attach such

emphasis. In these units the Germans were in a minority - most of the

men were drawn from units of the Baltic states, the Estonians, Latvians, and

Lithuanians, as well as a large number of Ukranians and other Russians too.

And surely this raises a fundamental question, which you would have done

far better to address - '

 

The audience are now very restive, as it has dawned on them that

I am not a Goldhagen fan.

 

' - Why did you not ask the far more important question: why everybody

joined in getting rid of their Jews with such zeal, 'Why us?' Let's face

it, when Germany said to her neighbours, in 1942 and 1943 and 1944,

'Give us your Jews,' Hungary, France, Slovakia, etc., could not hand them

over fast enough! There was no reluctance to do so.'

 

This generates uproar, but I carry on:

'And when other countries like England, Sweden and so on were invited to

take in these Jews nobody, nobody, wanted to have them.'

 

At this there is a sprinkle of applause.

 

'Why did you not address that far more vital question? Why did nobody

want the Jews! You address only the question, 'Who did it?' and you fail to

ask the far more ominous question 'Why us?''

 

The answer is more verbal Jello from Goldhagen. He is clearly furious to

have been accused of "inventing," as he (not I) put it, and he has no

real answer to my point that, as he said, the Jews are now "complacent" about

the risk of it all happening again.

 

The chairman makes a point of saying that no more questioners will be

allowed to "make statements." So it seems I got in not only under their

radar, but right under their skin as well.

 

In the evening William C., a local chiropractor, drives me over the 26

mile causeway to downtown New Orleans, to the magnificently decorated

synagogue in St. Charles Avenue where Daniel Goldhagen is to speak on his book

Hitler's Willing Executioners.

 

It came out last May and, of course, my own book "Goebbels, Mastermind of

the Third Reich" was sacrificed by St. Martins Press, to give "Professor"

Goldhagen a clear run with his work, as Frank Rich admitted in his

syndicated OpEd piece at the time - no nasty confrontations on talk shows, etc., with

somebody who might really know what he was talking about when it came to the Nazi era.

 

The rotunda is packed with over a thousand listeners, and there is a

sprinkling of police outside. A rabbi reads an introduction, while a

thin, badly shaven young man, with a gaunt face reminiscent of Key West's HIV-positive

population, slouches on a chair at stage-right.

 

This turns out to be Goldhagen. His talk is disappointingly bland -

delivered without notes in a disconcertingly gentle, laid-back voice, at

such a slow and hesitant pace that one wonders whether he suffers perhaps

from some, chromosome defect that the newspapers have been too polite to mention.

 

Goldhagen utters a ninety minute tirade against the "ordinary Germans"

who he claims were fully aware of what was going on, and were willing and

indeed eager to make up the firing squads when it came to getting rid of the

Jews.

 

As he talks of the zeal with which these "ordinary Germans" rounded up,

tortured, mocked and killed their opponents, I think involuntarily of

the West Bank, of the Arab children shot down with live ammunition, and of modern prime

ministers who send assassins into neighbouring countries armed with nerve-gas

syringes to dispose of their opponents.

 

Dr. C. afterwards remarks that he has never before heard so much hatred

spewed forth in a House of Worship. The same thought occurs to me: it

was undiluted Volksverhetzung, far more ugly than the kind which now earns

revisionists and other searchers for the truth hefty prison sentences in

Europe.

 

Goldhagen finally rambles to a conclusion - mid-sentence, mid-paragraph,

in fact mid-lecture for all anybody can tell, since the whole talk is

utterly shambolic from start to finish, without starting point, mile-markers, or

objective. If he is a lecturer in politics at Harvard, I feel endlessly

sorry for his students. One wonders how he got the job; one must ask his

father, a long-time benefactor and professor at the university. Goldhagen Jr.

probably picked up at least a $20,000 fee for his performance this evening.

 

At question time I get to the microphone, and challenge him:

'Professor Goldhagen, we have listened with enormous interest to your

talk, but forgive me if I now voice some criticism.

 

'I too am an historian, an English historian who has worked for

thirty-five years at the other end of the spectrum, as I might put it, questioning

most closely every member of Hitler's private staff about what decisions were

taken at the very highest level.

 

'Let me make plain that there can be no doubt whatever as to the scale

of the killings of Jews carried out on the eastern front during Hitler's

Russian campaign. But you are aware that your book has attracted much informed

comment world-wide, both for the narrowness of its focus and for the cavalier

manner in which you used archival records during your visit to Ludwigsburg.

 

'For instance, you claimed in your talk to have used the interrogation

records of 'literally thousands of the Perpetrators,' as your call them;

but we know that in fact you used scarcely a hundred if that.'

 

At this, I can feel the temper of the audience behind me rising. I press on:

 

'What concerns me most however is the claim that it was only 'ordinary

Germans' who carried out the killings. This is totally untrue and might

lead to the very wrong conclusion that because Germany was finished -

squashed flat during the appalling military conflict of World War II -

therefore the Jews of the world no longer have anything to fear.

 

'We know the make-up of the police battalions which carried out the

killings on the eastern front, the battalions to which you attach such

emphasis. In these units the Germans were in a minority - most of the

men were drawn from units of the Baltic states, the Estonians, Latvians, and

Lithuanians, as well as a large number of Ukranians and other Russians too.

And surely this raises a fundamental question, which you would have done

far better to address - '

 

The audience are now very restive, as it has dawned on them that

I am not a Goldhagen fan.

 

' - Why did you not ask the far more important question: why everybody

joined in getting rid of their Jews with such zeal, 'Why us?' Let's face

it, when Germany said to her neighbours, in 1942 and 1943 and 1944,

'Give us your Jews,' Hungary, France, Slovakia, etc., could not hand them

over fast enough! There was no reluctance to do so.'

 

This generates uproar, but I carry on:

'And when other countries like England, Sweden and so on were invited to

take in these Jews nobody, nobody, wanted to have them.'

 

At this there is a sprinkle of applause.

 

'Why did you not address that far more vital question? Why did nobody

want the Jews! You address only the question, 'Who did it?' and you fail to

ask the far more ominous question 'Why us?''

 

The answer is more verbal Jello from Goldhagen. He is clearly furious to

have been accused of "inventing," as he (not I) put it, and he has no

real answer to my point that, as he said, the Jews are now "complacent" about

the risk of it all happening again.

 

The chairman makes a point of saying that no more questioners will be

allowed to "make statements." So it seems I got in not only under their

radar, but right under their skin as well.

 

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