A very disturbing thing has happened to journalism, to the writing of history, and even to justice. In anything to do with the Nazis, whose doings continue to preoccupy us 45 years on, any attempt at detachment is considered suspect, any degree of objectivity reprehensible. Somewhat obsessed with the subject myself, I have a good deal of personal experience of this phenomenon. Over the past twenty years I have spent some thousands of days, I suppose, talking to one-time Nazis, to those who suffered under them and those who fought them. I have written about the unpopular Nazi-crime trials in Germany - and was criticised for praising the Germans for their tenacity in going on with them. I have written about the so-called 'revisionists', who obscenely wish to deny the existence of the gas-chambers - and was criticised for upholding their right to voice these irrational opinions. I have battled in print against people like David Irving (Hitler's War), who misuse history to advance their dangerous ideologies, and, at the other end of the scale, men like Martin Gray (For those I loved), who use these appalling events for self-aggrandisement. Interestingly, nobody minds much about Irving, but attacking Gray causes wrathful indignation among Holocaust dogmatists. I sought to learn from men who became monsters, such as Franz Stangl, Kommandant of Treblinka (about whom I wrote in Into That Darkness) and was severely taken to task by the same kind of fanatics, who feel that it is not only pointless but immoral to engage in dialogue with such men.
LRB 21 April 1988 | PDF Download