The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc.
The Washington Times, April 20, 2000, p. A17

"Blocking Holocaust Revisionism," by Jeffrey Hart

   In a decision last week, a British court rejected a libel suit by
British historian David Irving against an American academic critic of
his work, professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University. There were
many levels of importance in this suit.

In its largest sense, it involved the duty of historians to approach as
closely as possible to historical fact - that is, to guard "memory" as a
vital part of our history of who we are.

This may come as news to the reader here, but a recent and influential
theory of the writing of history holds that there is no such thing as
history. There are only various "narratives" about historical events.
That is, a history of the wars between Rome and Carthage would be very
different if told from the point of view of Hannibal as opposed to that
of Scipio Africanus. Different events would be stressed, different
meanings assessed and so on.

Down this road, skepticism begins to erode the possibility of writing
history at all. One "narrative" is as good as another.

Yet, after all, when you get serious, no one really doubts that Rome
defeated and destroyed Carthage, that Cornwallis surrendered at
Yorktown, that Japan surrendered on the deck of the battleship USS
Missouri in 1945 and so on. There are established facts. History does
not dissolve into a fog of skepticism.

Into all of this now entered David Irving, whom Deborah Lipstadt
denounced in her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on
Truth and Memory." She called Mr. Irving a dangerous manipulator and
shoddy historian who manipulated history to downplay the slaughter of
the Jews and Adolf Hitler's role in it.

Mr. Irving sued for libel, alleging that Ms. Lipstadt had damaged his
career and misrepresented him as a historian.

He had a much better chance of winning under British libel law than
under U.S. libel law. He is undoubtedly a public figure and, under the
relevant Supreme Court decision, New York Times vs. Sullivan, a public
figure must demonstrate "malice" in order to win a libel suit. In other
words, it is almost impossible for a "public figure" to win such a suit.

Under British law, the burden was on Ms. Lipstadt to provide proof for
her allegation that Mr. Irving was a dangerous Holocaust denier.

Mr. Irving undoubtedly thought, correctly, that British law favored his
suit. He could plead mistakes in his research, possible
misinterpretations and so on.

It is good that Mr. Irving lost the suit, for the sake of writing
history at all. Judge John Gray ruled that Mr. Irving had no case, that
his writing of history has been "perverse and egregious," and that he
had "persistently misrepresented and manipulated evidence." He concluded
that Mr. Irving is an "active Holocaust denier."

Under British law, the individual who initiates a libel suit and loses
owes the legal costs to the defendant. Mr. Irving owes Ms. Lipstadt
approximately $3 million.

There is an element of tragedy here, though not much. So distinguished a
historian as Gordon Wood has written that Mr. Irving is an excellent
researcher, has uncovered new material about the Nazi era and found new
sources. He has shed important new light on the period.

And, in my opinion, Mr. Irving is not quite a "Holocaust denier" as he
is a "Holocaust minimizer." And here he has been driven into fantasy

The Nazi campaign to eliminate European Jewry is about as well
documented as anything in history. The Nazi bureaucracy kept meticulous
records. There is no responsible figure of murdered Jews lower than 4.5
million. The conventional figure is 6 million - probably close to the
truth. The bureaucracy could not keep up with the vast numbers consigned
to mass graves as the German army swept into the Soviet Union and the
death squads followed.

Mr. Irving has committed various extravagances, such as that the gas
chambers were post-World War II constructions, that no cyanide was found
in their bricks, that the victims actually died of typhus, etc.

And Mr. Irving holds that whatever happened was not Hitler's fault. In

his biography of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, he holds Goebbels
responsible for the murder campaign, conceding, at least, that there was
a murder campaign. He makes much of the fact that no documentary
evidence connects Hitler himself with the campaign against the Jews.

This is all fantastic. The campaign against the Jews was part of a
Hitler project to make Germany a "Volksgemeinschaft," a nation on the
model of an extended family united by blood. When Heinrich Himmler
announced the campaign very early in the war to Nazi higher-ups at the
famous meeting in Wannsee, a Berlin suburb, no one was in doubt about
the program. The architect Albert Speer, in attendance, got away with
explaining that he left the meeting often and did not grasp its

That Himmler, head of the SS, could have held such a meeting without
Hitler's approval is inconceivable.

To be sure, the Nazi hierarchy usually communicated in euphemisms.
German Jews and, as time went on, other Jews from occupied countries,
were "relocated" to "the East." Hitler himself did order that Jews in
the East were to be treated as guerrilla enemy fighters - that is to
say, they were to be shot. All of this is documented photographically
and by copious testimony.

And the Holocaust amounted to an extraordinary moral black hole in
20th-century history - not least because it happened in Germany, in the
heart of "civilized" Europe, as opposed to somewhere on the Russian
steppes or around the Yangtze.

So what is going on here?

There is a crank element in democratic culture, people who enjoy
"special knowledge," theories opposed to ordinary thought and not
accessible to the mainstream. For example, there are people who believe
that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays or that history is a
Masonic conspiracy, or that Franklin Roosevelt plotted Pearl Harbor. If
you wrote a book to the effect that Lincoln was poisoned by Secretary of
War Edwin Stanton rather than shot in Ford's Theater, you would sell

The decision of the British court was cleansing and a service to honest
history writing.

Jeffrey Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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