Jersey Jewish News|
USA, February 16, 2006
recalls how courtroom defense revealed a
Holocaust denier's lies
WHAT does a
historian of the
Holocaust do when
she learns that she is being sued by a
Holocaust denier for libel?
"I laughed," said Deborah
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and
Holocaust Studies and director of the
Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory
University in Atlanta. "This is
But as she was soon to find out, it was
no laughing matter: In Great Britain, the
person charged with libel has the onus of
proving that the writing in question is
comment: How very unusual].
In 1993 [sic.
1996], one year after
Lipstadt's book Denying the Holocaust:
The Growing Assault on Truth and
Memory was printed in England,
David Irving, a British citizen and
author of widely respected books on World
War II, sued her.
week Lipstadt shared her story as a
defendant in a speech before 370 women, a
handful of men, and 12 students from a
modern Jewish history course at Rae
Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
The sold-out Feb. 9 talk at the Alex
Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in
Whippany was the featured program for
Women's Awareness Day, sponsored by the
Women's Department of United Jewish
Communities of MetroWest New Jersey.
As she did in her 1993 book, History
on Trial: My Day in Court with David
Irving, Lipstadt described the nonacademic
historian as "the most dangerous
deniers. Because unlike other deniers who
are known only for being deniers, he has
this independent reputation. His books
were getting reviewed in The New York
Times, The New York Review of Books, The
Times literary supplement," Lipstadt
told the audience. And unlike those who
simply repeat others' claims about the
Holocaust, she said, "he's at the heart of
it because he knows the documents. He's
the one who twisted the documents to make
up his own story."
how much distorting Irving actually did in
his books became the main strategy her
team of lawyers -- led by solicitor
Anthony Julius, a partner at the
law firm Mishcon de Reya -- undertook to
Lipstadt recalled that many people
suggested she simply not respond, but
because of the way the law was written,
she explained, that would have meant he
would win by default. "And then he could
say, 'The Royal High Court in London found
that Deborah Lipstadt indeed libeled me
when she called me a Holocaust denier.
Ipso facto, my version of the Holocaust is
a legitimate version.'" To those who
encouraged settling, she recalled her
lawyer's responding, "What should be her
bottom line? Two million Jews? Three
million? One gas chamber
? There's no
settling with this kind of evil."
As it became clear that the case would
proceed to trial, her lawyers worked on
their approach to the case. "We would make
this not a 'Did the Holocaust happen?'
trial but rather a 'Deborah Lipstadt told
the truth' trial, which is what a libel
trial should be
. In essence, we
would flip the tables and
defend his work, which we would subject to
this very close analysis," she said.For that analysis, Julius hired
a team of experts -- internationally
known historians, architectural experts,
and political scientists.
expert Professor Robert Van
admitted under crossexamination
that he had never studied architure and
was not a qualitified architect; despite
this, the court accepted his "expert"
Because of the claims in Lipstadt's
book, the team would have to prove not
only that Irving distorted historical
facts for his books, but also that he did
so to promote a racist and anti-Semitic
agenda. Lipstadt's talk at the Aidekman
campus focused on what the team discovered
as they followed the trail of footnotes,
looking for traces of twisted truths.
According to Lipstadt, problematic
footnotes abounded, although it took the
efforts of scholars to track down the
errors. "After combing through Irving's
, every footnote they followed,
every source they looked at, they found
fabrications, inventions, lies, some sort
of distortion, some sort of
In the end, they would submit 35 such
instances at trial to prove they were not
random mistakes but a pattern of
distortion intended to exonerate Adolf
Hitler and the Third Reich.
as the case, which Julius had taken on pro
bono, wound its way through the British
legal system, the bills began to pile up
and the case became the firm's biggest.
One day, Julius broke the news to Lipstadt
that they could no longer proceed pro
bono. The firm submitted a budget, at
Lipstadt's request, of $1.6 million. She
quietly sought supporters, including Ohio
philanthropist Leslie Wexner, left.
"I could fund this myself," she said
Wexner told her, "but when the history is
written, it won't look good that one Jew
from Columbus helped one Jew in
Fund-raising for her legal expenses
became an organized, if quiet,
arrangement, with support coming from the
American Jewish Committee, the Simon
Wiesenthal Center, and other
organizations. Support also came from
outside the Jewish community, including
her own university, which gave her $30,000
for travel and other expenses.
When it came time for the four-month
trial to begin, she had to figure out how
to manage her responsibilities at Emory.
She considered taking a sabbatical or a
leave of absence. The university had a
different idea. The provost, she said,
told her, "We'll treat it as if you are
teaching. Your classroom is the courtroom,
and we will all learn from you from afar."
Additionally, they hired someone to teach
her classes. "For us to support you and
not provide for the students who would be
learning from you is to give David Irving
a victory. And we do not want to do that,"
she said, repeating what she was told.
The trial began in January 2000 and
concluded in April. The judge's ruling was
an overwhelming victory for Lipstadt,
describing Irving's writing with such
words as "travesty," "misleading,"
"distorts," "unjustified," and "perverts."
The judge also found Irving to be
anti-Semitic and a racist, which was
required to prove that Lipstadt had told
the truth in her book.
the trial, there was bedlam outside," she
But she remembers being tapped on the
shoulder in the courtroom by a woman she
had seen earlier in the trial, a woman who
had rolled up her sleeve on the first day
to show the number tattooed on her arm.
Lipstadt said the woman had first said,
"'You're fighting for us,' but what I
heard was, 'You're fighting for us. This
is really important. Don't screw it up.'"
When she saw the woman again after the
verdict, Lipstadt recalled, she said,
Hot dogs are served outside the great
tourist attractions, the Auschwitz death
camp in Poland (above) and the Holocaust
Museum in Washington DC
on Deborah Lipstadt
praise for Binjamin Wilkomirski, the
(ASSHOL) fraudster and
Lipstadt has assigned Fragments
in her Emory University class on
Holocaust memoirs. When confronted with
evidence that it is a fraud, she
commented that the new revelations
'might complicate matters somewhat, but
[the work] is still
questions to put to Prof. Lipstadt the
next time you see
April 2001 over Emory's choice of
Deborah Lipstadt as graduation speaker;
won't get honorary