On April 3, Dr. Richard Evans, professor of modern history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (UK) and author of In Hitler’s Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past, delivered an Athenaeum lecture entitled “Coercion and Consent in Nazi Germany.” In his lecture, Professor Evans traced the development of the historiography of policing and repression since 1945, and argued that, while early work in this area over-emphasized the totalitarian control exercised over German society, recent work has trivialized and neglected the repressive side of Nazism. He examined the various methods of control, from the legal apparatus of courts, police, and state prisons, to low-level enforcement agencies such as Block Wardens, which the Nazis used to repress and deter dissent.
Professor Evans may be best known for his service as historical advisor and expert witness in the notorious Irving-Lipstadt Libel trial in 2000. Evans spent more than two years compiling a 740-page dossier on the sources the plaintiff, putative historian David Irving, claimed to have used in making his years-long argument that Hitler was innocent of having ordered the extermination of European Jews. On April 11, 2000, Chief Justice Charles Gray ruled that Evans and his associates had provided evidence sufficient to prove that the plaintiff did indeed have a political agenda that “disposes him, where he deems it necessary, to manipulate the historical record.” Evans not only helped carry the day for defendants Deborah Lipstadt (author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory) and her publisher, Penguin Books, but also (as The Times of London put it) “scored a crushing victory” for history itself. Of the verdict, The Daily Telegraph (London) declared that Evans and his associates had achieved “for the new century what the Nuremburg Tribunals or the Eichmann trial did for earlier generations.”
Professor Evans’s talk was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights and the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies.