The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/i/irving.david/press/irving-vrs-lipstadt/Press_Summary.000406

Historians Fight Battle of the Books American Takes on Briton in a Courtroom
Clash Over the Holocaust

By T. R. Reid Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 6, 2000; Page A16

LONDON=97The emotional and engrossing legal battle playing out here this
spring was initially billed as "the Holocaust on trial." In fact, it has
turned out to be "history on trial," as the litigants argue over what
historians should be allowed to write about World War II and about each other.

At one end of courtroom 37 in the Royal Courts of Justice sat Deborah
Lipstadt, the American scholar who coined the term "Holocaust denier" and
who has made it her mission to combat the contention that the Holocaust did
not happen.

At the other end stood David Irving, a maverick British historian whose
unconventional books on World War II were once put out by leading publishers
and praised by prominent historians, but who has now been reduced to giving
his work away on the Internet.

Taking advantage of Britain's plaintiff-friendly libel laws, Irving sued
Lipstadt for describing him as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for
Holocaust denial." Irving says that description ruined his career, causing
publishers to spurn his work and costing him hundreds of thousands of
dollars in lost book royalties. A verdict is expected next week, and if
Irving wins, he could seek monetary damages and the court could ban
publication of Lipstadt's books in Britain.

The case, with some of the world's leading World War II historians in the
witness box, was initially expected to put the fact of the Holocaust itself
on trial. But Irving scotched that issue in his opening statement. "No
person . . . can deny that the tragedy actually happened," he said, "however
much we dissident historians may wish to quibble about the means, the scale,
the dates and other minutiae."

Instead, the courtroom battle dealt mainly with why Irving and his books are
now so vilified. Is it because Irving is "a liar . . . a racist and a rabid
antisemite," as Lipstadt's lawyer argued? Or is it, as Irving sees the
issue, because "an international conspiracy" determined that "there is a
single politically correct view of that war, and no historian will be
allowed to challenge it."

There's no question that Irving, in more than a dozen books on the German
high command, broke with conventional interpretations. In essence, he offers
a defense of Adolf Hitler, portraying the Nazi dictator as a rational but
over-stretched war leader who did not know until late 1943 that his
subordinates were involved in the mass murder of Jews.

In one of the more stunning moments of the trial, Irving argued that no one
has ever found a signed order from Hitler calling for the extermination of
Jews. Turning toward the transfixed spectators, he said: "I have to remind
you of a basic principle of English law--that a man is innocent until he is
proved guilty."

Irving does not stop there. He maintains that Anne Frank's diary is "a
romantic novel rather like 'Gone With the Wind.' " He says the number of
Jews killed by the Nazis was "far smaller" than the widely accepted figure
of 6 million; in an interview, Irving said the number was "of the order of 1
million." He says that most of the victims died of disease or were shot to
death, and "there was no industry-scale gassing of Jews."

Finally, Irving fills his books with comparisons that Lipstadt calls
"immoral equivalencies." He denies that the Jews suffered uniquely in World
War II. He compares the Nazi killing of Jews to the Allies' killing of
German civilians in bombing raids. He argues that the word "holocaust"
should be used to describe the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Years ago, Irving received respectful attention for his research from some
mainstream historians. John Keegan, Britain's leading military historian,
described Irving's 1977 book "Hitler's War" as "a key corrective to the
Anglo-Saxon version" and "indispensable," even though Keegan considered its
conclusions to be "perverse."

But over time, Irving became increasingly isolated. He was convicted of
violating Germany's Holocaust-denial laws and barred from several countries.
Publishers dropped his books and backed out of contracts for new ones.

Irving concluded that these sanctions were the work of a conspiracy, at the
heart of which was Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust
Studies at Emory University. In her 1993 book "Denying the Holocaust: The
Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," she described Irving as "a Hitler
partisan" who "bends the historical evidence" to support pro-Nazi views.

Lipstadt's book became a central element of contemporary Holocaust studies,
and publishers worldwide brought out local editions. Penguin Books published
a British edition in 1995.

That gave Irving the opportunity he wanted--to sue Lipstadt in a British
court. To prevail in a libel case in the United States, Irving would have
had to prove that Lipstadt was factually wrong and that she was motivated by
malice against him. In Britain, a libel defendant has the burden of proof.
That is, it is up to Lipstadt and Penguin to establish that Irving has
denied the Holocaust and twisted historical evidence.

The case is so complex that both sides agreed to forgo a jury. The verdict
and the amount of damages, if any, will be left to the presiding judge,
Charles Gray, a former libel lawyer and a pillar of the legal establishment.
Lipstadt is being defended by Richard Rampton, another star of the libel
bar. Irving has represented himself--partly, he says, because he cannot
afford a lawyer and partly because "it is better to have a good historian on
this case, even if he's a bad lawyer."

The result has been a trial studded with long lectures, angry exchanges and
bitter insults--with Gray, in his periwig, black robe and red vest, growing
increasingly vexed in the midst of it all.

At one point, Irving looked out from the mountain of books, photos, maps and
binders at his end of the courtroom and launched into a long exegesis on the
ballpoint-pen markings found in the manuscript of Anne Frank's diary.
Rampton stood up and complained: "Really, my lord, I really do think this is
becoming the most frightful waste of time."

"Well," Gray responded, "at least this one is relevant."

For all the tedium, the two litigants appeared to be in their element.
Lipstadt, a lively 52-year-old New Yorker, sat at the defense table with two
laptops--one loaded with evidentiary records she kept giving her lawyer and
one for the book she is writing about the trial. "I would have loved to go
in the witness box myself and take him on," she said, but "all the legal
advice was against it. The hardest part for me was keeping silent." Irving,
62, enjoyed his lonely courtroom struggle. "You have the great relish of
looking like David against Goliath," he said.

Even if Irving wins, it's difficult to imagine that any trial result could
make up for the losses he has sustained in recent years. His books once
earned him more than $100,000 a year, he says; now they are free on his Web
site. His only invitations to lecture come from neo-Nazi and far-right
groups. His twin brother changed his name to avoid the "Irving" taint.

Lipstadt says that regardless of the result she is sure she was right to
fight the suit. "Oh, a lot of people told me to settle and get it over
with," she says. "But what's in the settlement? How many gas chambers would
you like me to settle for? What number of Jews killed should I agree to in
the letter of apology? You have to stand up for the truth of what happened."

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.