[verbatim trial transcripts]
Sunday, March 12, 2000
Trial pits man who denies Holocaust vs. historians
By Ray Moseley
LONDON - Fifty-four years after a gaggle of surviving Nazi leaders was hanged at Nuremberg, Germany, for crimes against humanity, a legal case that is an outgrowth of that proceeding is drawing to a close in London. On Monday, closing statements will be made in the libel trial of British historian David Irving vs. American professor Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books.
Justice Charles Gray will render his verdict some days, perhaps some weeks, after that, ending a two-month, multimillion-dollar trial that has drawn world attention. The legal issue for Gray to decide is whether Lipstadt libeled Irving in her 1995 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." She described Irving, 62, as a partisan of Adolf Hitler who has attempted both to absolve the Nazi dictator of responsibility for the systematic murder of Jews and to deny the Holocaust took place.
In a broader sense, the trial is widely seen as a showdown between the defenders of historical truth and the small body of extremists in the United States and Europe who say the Holocaust is a Jewish creation, something for which the men at Nuremberg, in their view, were not guilty. Irving may have brought the suit, but he has often seemed to be the one being sued. The defense has brought in historians to denounce his interpretation of history and has shown videos of Irving addressing neo-Nazi and other extreme-right groups to try to show the truth of Lipstadt's assertions.
The defense also has quoted what it considers racial slurs against Jews and blacks from Irving's 2 million-word diary as an indication of his mind-set. He has denied the comments have any racial connotation. Throughout, Irving has affirmed that he never denied thousands of Jews and others died under the Nazis. But he has repeatedly denied that anyone died in gas chambers at Auschwitz, at one point calling this extermination camp a "Disneyland" created by Polish Communists to attract tourists. For Irving to say he has not denied the Holocaust but then to deny the existence of gas chambers would seem to be a semantical point, a difference in the way the term "Holocaust" is defined.
The death of millions in gas chambers is central to Holocaust history; no other explanation exists for how so many people died and, if Irving believes they did not die, then he is ipso facto denying the Holocaust - or so the defense case suggests. In the closing days of the trial, Israel sought to bolster the defense case by releasing the long-secret memoir that Adolf Eichmann wrote in prison before he was hanged in 1962 as one of the men chiefly responsible for implementing the Final Solution.
Defense attorney Richard Rampton asked Irving whether he had read the memoir. Irving replied that he had been too busy to do so. "Well, if you are, look for the word gaseinlage [sic. Vergasungslager]," Rampton said. "Gaseinlage?" Irving queried. "Yes, gassing camps," Rampton replied. Eichmann's memoir describes watching the gassing of Jews in sealed trucks in 1942 - another event Irving denies - and refers to "the genocide against Jewry." Rampton read a passage from a speech Irving gave at Calgary, Alberta, in 1991: "More people died on the back seat of Senator Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz."
This is a reference to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Sen. Edward Kennedy's car when it went off a Massachusetts bridge in 1969. Irving objected that the quote read was incomplete. He said that in his speeches he always spoke of "the gas chambers at Auschwitz shown to tourists." Rampton then played a video recording of Irving's speech. It ended "... in the gas chambers at Auschwitz" and did not contain the phrase "shown to tourists." Rampton suggested to a clearly uncomfortable Irving that his statement was false. In the same Alberta speech, Irving was quoted as telling his audience:
"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It's baloney. It's a legend. Once we admit the fact that it was a brutal slave labor camp and large numbers of people did die, as large numbers of innocent people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney?
The court also saw video footage of a meeting in Halle, Germany, in the early 1990s at which Irving spoke and a group of skinheads gave the Nazi chant, "Sieg Heil." Irving said he had put his hand up to tell them to stop, and the skinheads may have "been bribed to come along and shout these slogans."
Rampton described a meeting in Munich, Germany, that Irving attended that was organized by a neo-Nazi named Ewald Althans. The meeting was held April 20, 1990, the 101st anniversary of Hitler's birth, and the guests rose and drank a toast to the memory of a "certain statesman."
Irving said he did not join in this "tasteless toast," adding that he had no glass because he does not drink. Irving has been banned from Germany, and German historian Hajo Funke told the court this was because Irving "committed himself wholeheartedly to the cause of revisionism, and thus neo-Nazism, in Germany. By denying the Holocaust, he willfully and persistently violated the criminal law in Germany." Turning to Irving, he said, "You are an admirer of Adolf Hitler."
Chicao, March 12 2000