London, Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Historian lied about Holocaust, libel trial told By Neil Tweedie
THE controversial British historian David Irving claimed he was the victim of an "organised international endeavour" to destroy his career at the opening of a libel trial in London yesterday.
Mr Irving is suing Prof Deborah Lipstadt, an American author, and her publishers over claims in her latest book - Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory - that he is one of the most prominent and dangerous "Holocaust deniers" in the world.
The case is likely to prove one of the most emotive seen in an English libel court in recent years, taking one of the greatest human tragedies of the 20th century as its subject matter. Journalists from Israel, Germany and America crowded into the High Court for the beginning of the trial, which opened with vitriolic attacks from both sides.
Mr Irving, 62, is conducting his own case and in his opening address told Mr Justice Gray that his livelihood and that of his family had been put in jeopardy. He said: "By virtue of the activities of the defendants and those who funded her and guided her hand, I have since 1996 seen one fearful publisher after another falling away from me, declining to reprint my works, refusing to accept new commissions and turning their backs on me when I approach."
He said being described as a "Holocaust denier" was "like being called a wife-beater or a paedophile". But Richard Rampton, QC, counsel for Prof Lipstadt and her publishers, Penguin Books, accused Mr Irving of being a liar who systematically suppressed, distorted and manipulated history in an attempt to deny the existence of the Holocaust.
He said: "Mr Irving has used many different means to falsify history: invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and, not least, mistranslation."
DAVID IRVING was always a provocative chronicler of the Third Reich but his maverick interpretation of its workings took on an even more controversial - some would say sinister - aspect with the publication in 1977 of his book Hitler's War.
In the work he alleged that Hitler had not known of the Final Solution - the systematic extermination of European Jews - until 1943. The Führer, he claimed, had ordered that there was to be no liquidation of the Jews.
He responded to criticism from other historians by offering a cash reward to anyone who could find a document linking Hitler to the genocide. It was a contention that was to place Mr Irving, now 62 and the father of four children, beyond the boundaries of serious historical research in the eyes of many of his contemporaries.
In May 1992 he was fined a "substantial amount" by the German authorities after being found guilty of breaking laws that prohibit the denial of the existence of the Holocaust. Mr Irving's early works on the saturation bombing of Dresden and the circumstances surrounding the destruction of convoy PQ17 had earned him respect.
The son of a Royal Navy officer who served in both world wars, Mr Irving was educated at a minor public school in Essex and London University. He did not complete his course, opting to spend a year as a steel worker in the Ruhr, where he perfected his German.
From the mid Eighties he was increasingly associated with far-Right groups, regularly addressing meetings in Germany and Austria. His audiences readily consumed his revisionist theories, which included the belief that Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, was the true architect of the extermination programme. His increasing isolation from the academic and publishing mainstream provided the spur for his libel action.
'To put it bluntly, Mr Irving is a liar'
By Neil Tweedie
DEBORAH LIPSTADT, Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, accused David Irving of being a liar who systematically suppressed, distorted and manipulated history in an attempt to deny the existence of the Holocaust.
In her book, Denying the Holocaust, she claims that he is one of the most prominent "Holocaust deniers". His mastery of historical documents makes him a particularly dangerous exponent of the claim, shared by neo-fascist and some Muslim fundamentalist groups, she says.
Yesterday her counsel, Richard Rampton, QC, who also represents her publishers Penguin Books, told the court: "Mr Irving calls himself a historian. The truth is, however, that he is a falsifier of history. To put it bluntly, he is a liar.
"Lies may take various forms . . . but in the end all forms of lying converge into a single definition: wilful, deliberate misstatement of the facts. Mr Irving has used many different means to falsify history: invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and - not least - mistranslation."
Mr Rampton said Mr Irving's character could be judged by those he associated with: neo-Nazis, American white supremacists and the British National Party. He quoted a speech in which Mr Irving said that Auschwitz was merely a slave labour camp where large numbers of people happened to die from overwork, disease and starvation.
Mr Irving said at Calgary, Alberta, in September 1991: "I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It's baloney, it's a legend. I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.
"Oh, you think that's tasteless, how about this? There are so many Auschwitz survivors going around, in fact the number increases as the years go past, which is biologically very odd. Because I'm going to form an Association of Auschwitz survivors, survivors of the Holocaust and other liars, or the ASSHOLS."
Mr Rampton concluded: "This is obviously an important case. The essence of it is Mr Irving's honesty and integrity as a chronicler - I shy away from the word 'historian' - of these matters.
"For if it be right that Mr Irving, driven by his extremist views, has devoted his energies to the deliberate falsification of this tragic episode in history, then, by exposing that dangerous fraud in this court, the defendants may properly be applauded for having performed a significant public service."
Wednesday, January 12, 2000