Britain’s Rumour Factory – a new essay on the origins of the gas chamber story
In the current edition of Heritage and Destiny, Andy Ritchie reviews the new Hollywood film Denial, which purports to describe the libel contest between the British historian David Irving and his American Jewish critic Deborah Lipstadt, heard in London’s High Court during 2000.
In the essay below, published to mark the 88th birthday of the pioneering French revisionist researcher and author Professor Robert Faurisson, Andy Ritchie exposes the origins of the gas chamber story. After a detailed examination of documentary evidence, he concludes that the British wartime agencies PWE and SOE “certainly did invent stories about homicidal gassings – the inventions were circulated long before any such gassings are now alleged to have taken place”.
Updates and additional information related to this story will appear on this page as further research material becomes available.
For more than thirty years, historians have been aware of once-secret memoranda by senior British intelligence official Victor Cavendish-Bentinck in which he casts doubt on the alleged use of homicidal gas chambers by National Socialist Germany. Writing to Whitehall colleagues at the end of August 1943, Cavendish-Bentinck used dismissive language which today in most European countries would undoubtedly see him prosecuted for “Holocaust denial”.
During the trial of British historian David Irving’s libel action against Deborah Lipstadt in 2000 (now dramatised in the Hollywood film Denial) some of Cavendish-Bentinck’s remarks were raised by Irving as justification of his claim that the gas chamber story originated as a propaganda lie. In his judgment against Irving, Mr Justice Gray accepted the counter-arguments of Lipstadt’s defence team. Their interpretation has since appeared in a book by Prof. Sir Richard Evans, who was among Lipstadt’s defence witnesses.
Seventeen years on from the Irving-Lipstadt trial, it is now possible to access a broader range of British documents, including intelligence material. In this essay I shall attempt to clarify what these documents tell us about the role of British propaganda and intelligence in relation to the initial allegations of homicidal gassing by National Socialist Germany.
The conclusions can be briefly summarised:
- Britain’s Political Warfare Executive and its predecessor first deployed stories of homicidal gassing as part of propaganda efforts in two areas unconnected to treatment of Jews. Their objective was to spread dissension and demoralisation among German soldiers and civilians, and among Germany’s allies.
- Partly because they knew of these earlier propagandist initiatives, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck and his British intelligence colleague Roger Allen disbelieved later stories that homicidal gas chambers had been used to murder Poles and Jews. They succeeded in having these allegations removed from the draft of a joint Anglo-American Declaration on German Crimes in Poland, published on 30th August 1943.