Holocaust 'Denial' Trial Gets Underway
Courts: British historian, who says there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, claims Jews are out to malign him.
By MARJORIE MILLER, Times Staff Writer LONDON--In what promises to be a landmark libel case over Holocaust denial, Hitler biographer David Irving portrayed himself before Britain's High Court on Tuesday as a victim of an international Jewish conspiracy to blacken his reputation.
The British historian, much criticized for his widely dismissed views that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz and that Hitler did not authorize the extermination of Jews, rejected a U.S. professor's claim that he is a Holocaust denier.
He said there has been an "organized international endeavor" to ruin him and that he has been branded with the epithet like someone publicly accused of wife-beating or sexually abusing children.
Irving is suing Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Atlanta's Emory University and author of "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," and her British publisher, Penguin UK, for libel. He is seeking damages and a halt to the book's further publication.
In her book, Lipstadt calls Irving "one of the most dangerous" Holocaust deniers, a man who deliberately bends historical evidence to fit his extreme political views.
In its opening remarks, the defense branded Irving a liar.
"Mr. Irving calls himself an historian. The truth is, however, that he is not an historian at all, but a falsifier of history," said defense lawyer Richard Rampton. "To put it bluntly, he is a liar."
Yehuda Bauer, director of research at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, said the libel lawsuit is an important case.
"Irving made a fatal mistake. He thought he would use the trial to publicize his views. But they are going to turn the tables on him and expose Holocaust denial as the stupid sham it is," Bauer said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
Irving said he chose to sue Lipstadt because her publishers were "foolish enough" to print her book in Britain, where libel laws are much tougher. The burden of proof is on the defendant, and, unlike in the United States, public figures are treated the same as private citizens.
The case is being heard by a judge rather than a jury because it is considered highly technical.
Both Irving and defense attorney Rampton insisted in their opening statements that this is not a trial about whether the Holocaust occurred or how many people died in it. Rather, it is about whether Irving deliberately manipulated and falsified history.
But the trial, which is scheduled to last three months and include the testimony of some of the foremost experts on World War II, is regarded by both mainstream historians and Holocaust deniers as a chance to prove their cases.
"At the end of the trial, on the question of gas chambers, either the world will accept that, yes, they existed, or they will raise an eyebrow in astonishment and say, 'What the hell?' " Irving said in an interview.
He has been fined for Holocaust denial in France and Germany, where it is against the law to propagate Nazi literature and ideology. He has been called a court historian for Hitler and even a fascist. But he is also regarded by some mainstream historians as a skilled researcher.
Irving began his case Tuesday by reading a 55-page opening statement in which he insisted that he had made important contributions to the world's understanding of the Holocaust.
"Far from being a 'Holocaust denier,' I have repeatedly drawn attention to major aspects of the Holocaust," he said. "I have provided historical documents both to the community of scholars and to the general public, of which they were completely unaware before I discovered these documents and published and translated them," he said.
He blamed a British Jewish group, which he identified out of court as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as leading the campaign against him to "vandalize" his reputation.
The defense responded with quotes from books and speeches in which Irving denied the Holocaust took place, exonerated Hitler and called Auschwitz "baloney."
Wednesday, January 12, 2000