January 12, 2000
HOLOCAUST-BASED LIBEL SUIT OPENS IN BRITISH COURT
By Ray Moseley
LONDON -- British historian David Irving and American professor Deborah Lipstadt confronted each other Tuesday in a British court faceoff that has drawn worldwide attention to Irving's attempts to cast doubt on the Nazi Holocaust.
Irving, who has questioned whether 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis and has sought to absolve Adolf Hitler of responsibility for the Holocaust, has brought a libel suit against Lipstadt.
A professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Lipstadt has accused Irving of being a "Hitler partisan" and "Holocaust denier" who distorts history to try to exonerate the German dictator.
The trial is expected to last three months. Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, have assembled a witness list of some of the world's leading authorities on the Nazi Holocaust and World War II.
Irving said he was able to pursue the expensive libel action only because of contributions from 4,000 supporters around the world. His opponents say he is being bankrolled by right-wing extremists, mainly Americans.
In an impassioned opening speech, Irving told the court that Lipstadt and Penguin were part of an "organized international endeavor" to destroy his career as a historian. By calling him a "Holocaust denier," he said, they had sought to turn him into an outcast.
He said they had pinned on him a "verbal yellow star," referring to the stars Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis. Irving denied he is anti-Semitic and said some of his friends are Jews.
Richard Ranton, an attorney for Lipstadt, said Irving was not a historian but a falsifier of history in denying the Nazis had carried out the systematic murder of Jews.
Had Irving brought his case in the U.S., his chances of success would have been doubtful, but under Britain's much more restrictive libel laws, the outcome is highly uncertain.
The case focuses on Lipstadt's 1995 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." In the book, she sought to demonstrate links between Holocaust denial and the activity of white supremacists in the U.S. and neo-Nazis in Europe.
She referred extensively to Irving, describing him as one of the most dangerous exponents of Holocaust denial because he knew how to use historical sources and wrote well, enabling him to reach a wide readership.
Irving has retorted that he should be allowed to use an element of skepticism in his work "without being accused of being a Holocaust denier."
He said Lipstadt had tarnished his reputation and exposed him to possible assassination by linking him with the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, the U.S.-based Nation of Islam and the Russian neo-Nazi group Pamyat.
He questioned the number of Nazi Holocaust victims and described Auschwitz as "a very brutal slave labor camp" where around 100,000 people died.
In his 1977 book "Hitler's War," Irving wrote that Hitler was not aware of the mass slaughter of Jews until 1943 and had earlier ordered that there should be "no liquidation of the Jews."
Irving has been banned from Germany, Austria, Canada, Italy and Australia. Several years ago St. Martin's Press in New York refused to bring out a biography he wrote of the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.
On his Web site, Irving protested that the archives of the countries from which he is banned were vital to his research. He said many of his friends and former colleagues had been forced to turn their backs on him to protect their careers.
Irving is representing himself in the trial. Lipstadt's legal team is headed by Anthony Julius, who represented Princess Diana in her divorce from Prince Charles.
Chicao, Januaary 12, 2000