David Irving, one of the world’s most prominent Holocaust deniers, found himself welcomed to lecture, as well as sell and sign his controversial books, in a quiet, tea-and-cookie-catered conference room at Portland State’s University Place hotel.
Not a single protester appeared. No reporters. No student groups. It seems that, aside from the lecture attendees themselves, nobody knew Irving was there.
Irving has been barred from several countries because of his neo-Nazi ties and inflammatory publications, but on April 25, the 67-year-old, Britain-born Nazi sympathizer came and went unnoticed – almost.
The hotel’s general manager, David Burkholder, who booked the private meeting room for the event said he did not know who Irving was.
“He was polite with a charming English accent,” Burkholder said, adding that he saw no reason to investigate Irving from his kind and scholarly fa�ade.
In fact, a few years ago Irving had rented a room at University Place when it was the Doubletree Hotel, prior to the University’s acquisition of the property, Burkholder said. Irving was familiar with the facility and the booking process from that appearance.
“He even knew what room he wanted,” Burkholder said.
The event was listed under Irving’s company’s name, Parforce UK, Ltd. It was held behind closed doors from 6:30 until 10 p.m. in a conference room set up for 60, although hotel staffers said only approximately 45 “older, white” people attended. Two tables were piled with books for sale and a video was playing in the room.
“Everything had to do with Hitler,” one staffer said. Both staffers who prepared the room were previously unfamiliar with Irving but said “he was respectful and nice and kind.” The staffers were only present to set up, and unable to provide more details about the event.
But according to Irving’s web site, he has been touring the United States, signing books and delivering lectures on “The Faking of Adolf Hitler for History” as part of his “International Campaign for Real History.”
Burkholder said he learned of Irving’s controversial topic when a gay hotel employee alerted him to Irving’s racist reputation after Irving had checked out.
It was a few days later before students and faculty learned of Irving’s visit, largely through e-mails from University of Portland philosophy professor Jeff Gauthier. In e-mails received by Portland State’s Jewish Student Union and the Vanguard, he wrote, “I am appalled that a taxpayer-funded institution that trumpets its commitment to diversity and mutual respect host[ed] such an event.”
Gauthier was unavailable for comment for this article.
Jessica Marsden, co-coordinator of the organization, echoed Gauthier’s sentiment and expressed further disappointment that the event occurred during the Jewish holy week of Passover.
“We were really offended,” Jewish Student Union co-coordinator Kayla Goldfarb said. “We should have had an opportunity to voice that we were against this before it took place.”
“It’s really hurtful for people who are part of the Jewish culture,” she added. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
“It caught me off guard that he was at PSU,” said Randy Blazak associate professor of Sociology and chair of the Coalition Against Hate Crimes.
He said that if he had known beforehand he would have informed the media and alerted PSU President Daniel Bernstine about potentially negative publicity.
But Blazak also said that Irving’s once acclaimed academic reputation was completely discredited in 2000 after a London court labeled him not only a Holocaust denier but also racist and anti-Semitic. Since then his audience has gotten increasingly smaller.
In fact, calling Irving a “crackpot,” Blazak said, “He’s one of the biggest jokes in the extreme right movement.”
Still, he added, “I felt a little snickered that he snuck by me and was on my campus. There should be a statement [from the university].”
Goldfarb said that the Jewish Student Union also wants to pursue an apology from the university. But according to Interim Director for Finance and Administration Cathy Dyck, the university administration was as surprised by Irving’s visit as everyone else. “No university money went into this and no groups sponsored this from the university,” she said.
Dyck added, however, that while PSU does not necessarily condone Irving’s beliefs, PSU is a public institution and as a matter of free speech Irving had a right to be there. His event was not open to the public, he did not advertise, he was respectful and caused no safety issues. “All he did was rent a [private] meeting room,” she said. “You can’t just say ‘I don’t agree with your beliefs so you can’t come here.'”
“We’ll never tell anyone that they can’t hold an event on campus because it’s controversial,” said John Eckman, associate director of Auxiliary Services, which oversees scheduling at University Place. “A university is a marketplace of ideas.”
Irving received some praise in the 1960s and ’70s for his extensively researched writings and archival findings on Nazi Germany in World War II, but he grew increasingly extreme in the 1980s. He has been involved in numerous lawsuits and was declared anti-Semitic, racist and a Holocaust denier by a British judge in a libel case he fought and lost against U.S. Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt. Lipstadt had called Irving a Holocaust denier in her book, “Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”
The countries he has been barred from include Canada, Austria, Germany, Australia and South Africa. His books include the bestsellers “The Destruction of Dresden” (1963) and “Hitler’s War” (1977).
|Remember the Holocaust, today
Sundown last night marked the beginning of National Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember the Jews, Gypsies, gays, intellectuals and other peoples targeted by the Nazis during World War II.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II.
In observance of the day, Portland State’s Jewish Student Union will host a table in the Park Blocks between noon and 1 p.m. with tea light candles for students to light.
Kayla Goldfarb, a co-coordinator of the group, said all four of her grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Her grandfather, who was in his 30s during the war and lives to tell his story today, survived Buchenwald concentration camp alongside Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
Goldfarb said she plans to contact her family in recognition of the day and expressed concern at the diminishing number of survivors every year.
“They’re all dying off,” she said. “We’re worried that soon they’re all going to be dead and then who’s going to tell their stories? It’s important that we talk about it.”
“For me it’s a day to remember a great loss and a weak moment in humanity’s history,” said Jessica Marsden, Jewish Student Union co-coordinator.
Marsden said she would attend synagogue in recognition of the day.
The day of remembrance ends at sundown tonight.