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Atlanta Journal Constitution
The Atlanta Constitution

Wednesday, January 12, 2000



Historians' views clash in court

A British author testifies that an Emory professor's labeling him a 'Holocaust denier' has hurt his career.


Bert Roughton Jr.
Staff Correspondent


January 12 London -- A maverick British historian testified Tuesday that a book written by an Emory University professor was part of an international conspiracy to silence him and end his attempts to challenge conventional understandings of the Holocaust.

David Irving, who believes the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews has been greatly exaggerated, is suing Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel over assertions made about him in her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." They deny any libel.

Lipstadt portrayed Irving as a prominent and dangerous "Holocaust denier" who believes the familiar story of the systematic murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is untrue. She also depicts him as an extremist who manipulates, distorts and falsifies history for his own purposes.

In his opening argument, Irving said the book is part of an international effort to silence him because his research undermines Jewish claims for compensation for the Holocaust.

"My Lord, if we were to seek a title for this libel action, I would venture to suggest 'Pictures at an Execution' --- my execution," Irving said, addressing the wigged and robed judge hearing the lawsuit.

Irving, a full-time writer, said he had counted on his work to provide him money to retire and a legacy for his four children. "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," he said. "In short, my pension has vanished."

Throughout the proceedings, Lipstadt sat silent at a table in front of the judge.

Wearing a navy-blue pin-striped suit, the articulate and animated 62-year-old Irving read his remarks for more than two hours in a cramped courtroom in the grand Royal Courts of Justice. The self-taught historian rambled from sweeping assertions about the damage done his reputation by what he characterized as an international Jewish conspiracy to detailed passages of private notes of key Nazi leaders. He also shared a bizarre account of his sneaking glass plates containing copies of Joseph Goebbels' handwritten diaries out of a Russian archive to London.

He disputed the book's central point that he manipulated the historic record to support his version of the Holocaust story. He suggested that he may be guilty of being a "rotten, lazy or indolent" historian, but not a dishonest one.

Irving said that Lipstadt's use of the phrase "Holocaust denier" to describe him has been deeply damaging.

"It is a poison to which there is virtually no antidote," he said. "It is like being called a wife-beater or a pedophile. It is enough for the label to be attached, for the attachee to find himself designated as a pariah, an outcast from normal society. It is a verbal Yellow Star.

"Far from being a 'Holocaust denier,' I have repeatedly drawn attention to major aspects of the Holocaust," he said.

Irving, who stated in a 1977 book that Hitler was unaware of the mass slaughter of Jews until 1943, said the term "Holocaust" is meaningless.

"The word 'Holocaust' is an artificial label commonly attached to one of the greatest and still most unexplained tragedies of this past century," he said.

In his view, Auschwitz was a slave labor camp but not a death camp. He argues that gas chambers at the camp were built after the war.

In response, lead defense attorney Richard Rampton, also in wig and robe, attacked Irving directly. "Mr. Irving calls himself an historian," Rampton said. "The truth is, however, that he is not an historian at all, but a falsifier of history. To put it bluntly, he is a liar."

The lawyer also argued that Irving's statements during appearances before "radical right wing, neo-fascist, neo-Nazi groups of people" reveal something more about his motives.

During a 1991 appearance in Canada, Rampton said, Irving harshly disputed accepted versions of the Auschwitz story.

"It's baloney, it's legend," Rampton quoted Irving as saying. "I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died in the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."

While it is widely accepted that at least 1 million people died at Auschwitz, Irving has argued that the number is closer to 100,000, and that most fell victim to illness and deprivation.

The trial, which is being heard before a judge without a jury, is expected to last three months. It is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

Under British law, Lipstadt and Penguin Books bear the burden of proving that statements about Irving contained in the book are true.

January 12, 2000
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