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The Strange Case of David Irving

THE HOLOCAUST ON TRIAL By D.D. Guttenplan; W.W. Norton: 328 pp., $24.95

LYING ABOUT HITLER History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial By Richard J. Evans; Basic/Perseus: 336 pp., $27

May 20, 2001|CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS | Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and The Nation and the author most recently of "The Trial of Henry Kissinger."

When the first news of the Nazi camps was published in 1945, there were those who thought the facts might be exaggerated either by Allied war propaganda or by the human tendency to relish "atrocity stories." In his column in the London magazine Tribune, George Orwell wrote that though this might be so, the speculation was not exactly occurring in a vacuum. If you remember what the Nazis did to the Jews before the war, he said, it isn't that difficult to imagine what they might do to them during one.

In one sense, the argument over "Holocaust denial" ends right there. The National Socialist Party seized power in 1933, proclaiming as its theoretical and organizing principle the proposition that the Jews were responsible for all the world's ills, from capitalist profiteering to subversive Bolshevism. By means of oppressive legislation, they began to make all of Germany Judenrein, or "Jew-free." Jewish businesses were first boycotted and then confiscated. Jewish places of worship were first vandalized and then closed. Wherever Nazi power could be extended--to the Rhineland, to Austria and to Sudeten Czechoslovakia--this pattern of cruelty and bigotry was repeated. (And, noticed by few, the state killing of the mentally and physically "unfit," whether Jewish or "Aryan," was tentatively inaugurated.) After the war broke out, Hitler was able to install puppet governments or occupation regimes in numerous countries, each of which was compelled to pass its own version of the anti-Semitic "Nuremberg Laws." Most ominous of all--and this in plain sight and on camera, and in full view of the neighbors--Jewish populations as distant as Salonika were rounded up and put on trains, to be deported to the eastern provinces of conquered Poland.

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