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Sunday, August 19, 2001
Truth about Holocaust Emerged in Libel Trial
by GILBERT M. SINGER
THE HOLOCAUST ON TRIAL. By D.D. Guttenplan. W.W. Norton. 308 pages. $24.95.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN'S "The Holocaust On Trial" is the story of the libel suit brought by British writer and historian David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University religion professor, and her publisher, Penguin Books, for comments made about Irving in Lipstadt's book, "Denying The Holocaust."
The story is unique in that by suing for libel in England, Irving required Lipstadt and Penguin to defend the case without the First Amendment protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. The effect was to shift the burden of proof to Lipstadt, requiring her to prove what she wrote about Irving was true.
It is noted by Guttenplan that defense of most libel suits fails under British law because of the difficulties of a libel defendant under the British legal system. Effectively, Lipstadt [right] had to prove the existence of the Holocaust, and because the defense elected not to use eyewitness testimony, the trial became the first Holocaust-related trial to rely solely on documentary evidence as recorded by Holocaust historians.
Irving, a well-known but controversial British historian, took the position that while large numbers of Jews were killed during World War II, Hitler had no specific plans to exterminate the Jews, and the gas chambers at Auschwitz never existed. By omitting any mention of the gas chambers in his book "Hitler's War" and advocating the position that Hitler had little complicity in the destruction of the Jewish community, Irving's depiction of the plight of the Jews was made inaccurate. Further, Irving contended that eyewitness testimony of the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz wasn't reliable. During the trial, his research was proved to be flawed by his mistranslation of German documents and reports and omission of material facts in documents while relying on other parts of the same documents for his thesis.
The book follows this most exciting and interesting trial, giving emphasis to the outstanding lawyering performed by the defense, contrasted with Irving's representation of himself. He simply was outmaneuvered. Irving ignored certain research, blindly accepted half-truths as facts and was proved to have associations with various neo-Nazi groups.
Guttenplan clearly and concisely explains the trial tactics employed by both sides, particularly as to cross-examination of various witnesses and the techniques employed by the defense attorneys. Also interesting is Guttenplan's detailed description of the judge, the attorneys' mannerisms and the judge's perception of the evidence. In the end, the truth prevailed and the lengthy nine-week trial, which proved the existence of the Holocaust and exposed Irving's bias toward Hitler, results in a provocative book.
Gilbert M. Singer of Tampa is an attorney with the law firm of Kass, Shuler, Solomon, Spector, Foyle & Singer, P.A.