The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Holocaust denier seeking shelter in British libel law

Waldo Proffitt
02/17/2000 Sarasota, FL, Herald-Tribune

When David A. Harris, a national executive director of the American Jewish
Committee, was in Sarasota last week for a dinner honoring Robert H.
Rosenthal with the AJC's Human Relations Award, he called attention to the
trial now under way in London of the libel suit by David Irving against
historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Lipstadt is the author and
Penguin the publisher of "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on
Truth and Memory."

This is a suit which would never have come to trial in an American court
because the burden of proof would lie on Irving to show that he had been
wrongly defamed by Lipstadt - which is, on its face, a ridiculous proposition.

Lipstadt 's book is the first detailed study of what has become almost a
cottage industry of Holocaust denial by people who assert that the Holocaust
is fiction, that six million Jews were not killed on orders from Adolf Hitler.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Lipstadt , a professor at Emory University
in Atlanta, says she wrote the book because "I was intrigued that there
seemed to be serious people, students, who knew very little about the
Holocaust, and who didn't recognize from the outset that these guys were
turning fiction into fact.

"I also wanted to show the modus operandi of the deniers . . . I don't
believe Holocaust denial is a clear and present danger; it is a clear and
future danger. When there won't be anybody around to say, 'This is my story,
this is what happened to me,' it will become easier to deny."

Irving has been called the most dangerous of all deniers because he has the
veneer of a historian.

What Lipstadt wrote is that he is "an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears
blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach
historically untenable conclusions, specifically those that exonerate
Hitler," and that "he applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration

For anyone who takes the time to slosh through the many listings for and by
Irving on the Web, Lipstadt 's assertions are entirely credible. But,
British libel law is not the same as American libel law, and the fear of
Lipstadt and her attorneys is that a British judge may uphold Irving on some
minor procedural point and so permit him to claim that his view of the
Holocaust has received the imprimatur of Her Majesty's government. Walter
Reich, a professor at George Washington University, wrote in The New York
Times, "The reality of the Holocaust, which is overwhelmingly documented,
doesn't hinge on the outcome of this trial." Then he goes on to say that,
because of Irving's clever and shifting distortion of Holocaust history and
the twists of British law, it's conceivable the judge should decide in favor
of Irving. He concludes that such a finding would say something about the
nature of British libel law but would say nothing about the reality of the

You might want to keep that advice in mind.

Nearly all people of my generation think anybody who denies the reality of
the Holocaust is either off their rocker or grossly prejudiced against Jews.

But, a hundred years from now?

It is painful to accept the fact of the Holocaust. It should be. It is not
comfortable to admit that our fellow humans are capable of such conduct.
Future generations will welcome any version of history that casts the darker
deeds of their ancestors in a more favorable light. You might want to
consider how difficult it is for Americans to face up to the ugly realities
of slavery. Or to face up to the injustices we inflicted on the Indian
population of North America.

I do not with these observations intend that you should start your day
carrying a big load of guilt. I just want to make the point that it is only
human nature in any land in any time to accept the least painful version of
history, if it be at all credible.

Let us hope, as the mills of justice grind in London, they produce nothing
that would offer the slightest comfort for the likes of David Irving.

Waldo Proffitt is the former editor of the Herald-Tribune.


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