26-27 July 2003, p. A6
Holocaust thesis ruined my life says historian
Renewed controversy has also brought support
for a traumatised academic
By Angela Gregory
Historian Joel Hayward says he wishes he never wrote the thesis that challenged conventional views of the Holocaust, and thought at the time that it may have been "a piece of junk". [*note my comment below]
Dr Hayward says that even in the year he wrote it -- 1991 -- he was concerned that the thesis may have been flawed.
This week, the thesis was back in the news after copies of a
The university said it was potentially defamatory and inaccurate.
The author, Dr Thomas Fudge, resigned in disgust and the History Now editor, Associate Professor Ian Campbell, was effectively dumped.
Dr Hayward says the university's action was unconscionable. He thought the Fudge article was "bang on".
"Anyone who reads the piece will know the price I paid was too high."
Despite having apologised, admitted his mistakes, and surviving an inquiry which considered stripping him of his masters degree, Dr Hayward remains vilified in the academic community.
He admits his thesis choice, which "ruined my life", was foolish and too ambitious for a masters student.
"I could have had better advice from the history department."
At the time, he was warmly disposed to the Zionist cause. He had recently returned from
After finishing the thesis in 1991, Dr Hayward was worried it was no good. In an unusual step, he had written it before completing requisite honours papers. He wanted to work from home that year to help care for a sick child.
"I think that was the first of a lot of errors ... because when I did the papers the next year I learned a lot about the proper principles of historical research and inquiry ... making sense of truth, objectivity and bias."
After earning an A-plus for the thesis and completing the honours papers, for which he earned top grades, he graduated in 1993 with an MA in history.
The thesis was initially embargoed for three years - because of threats it would be stolen, Dr Hayward says - then for another three years by the university.
Dr Hayward says that in 1999, the thesis came into the hands of Jewish scholars, who were disgusted by its contents.
He started receiving emails "full of hatred", to which he replied that he had never intended to hurt anyone, and no longer agreed with its contents. He wrote an addendum admitting his errors. He also wrote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle apologising for the distress he had caused.
But the malicious calls and emails kept coming, and he has had death threats.
Dr Hayward says he is not making accusations against the Jewish community but believes "one or two very nasty people" agitated to present a story that was not true.
In 2000, the Jewish Council complained to the university, calling for the thesis to be withdrawn from the library and Dr Hayward to be stripped of his degree.
An inquiry, led by retired judge Sir Ian Barker, summoned Dr Hayward.
He says the inquiry, which found his thesis faulty and conclusion unworthy, arrived at a compromise solution. "I was a very naughty man but not quite so that they could take my degree ... It left me feeling humiliated and aggrieved and the Jewish Council unfulfilled."
The drama has cost Dr Hayward the job he was enjoying at
He has had two nervous breakdowns and now lives on a sickness benefit, selling his book collection to keep the family afloat.
When Dr Hayward heard there was to be an article about him in the May issue of the history journal he cringed. But since the publicity, he has had a flood of support from academics and former students who did not realise the toll it had taken.
He remains stunned at
Despite his regrets, Dr Hayward says no topic is taboo. "That's what our democracy allows us."
* Note: What I actually told Ms. Gregory was: "When I submitted the thesis I had little idea if I was on the right track. I was not sure if the thesis was excellent, average or a piece of junk. But I had followed my supervisor's advice, and had not plagiarised or been dishonest, so I thought I'd gain a 'pass' ".