Wednesday, March 22, 2000
'Holocaust denier showed his anti-Semitism in court'
By Sharon Sadeh
LONDON - When she sat in the courtroom during the hearings of the libel suit against her and against Penguin Books by British historian David Irving, says Deborah Lipstadt, what surprised her most was the ferocity of his anti-Semitic and racist statements.
"I sat there and I couldn't believe my ears," said Lipstadt, who in her 1994 book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" called Irving "one of the most dangerous spokesmen in the service of Holocaust denial."
Speaking to Ha'aretz, she said that Irving displayed "mockery and contempt" for Holocaust survivors, and for survivors of Auschwitz in particular, treating them as pathological spinners of fantasies. And his loathing for blacks and for English people of Pakistani origin was also manifest.
She was "in shock" at the cumulative effect of all the findings and utterances that came out at the trial -- and as "an expert in anti-Semitism" she is not easily frightened by such material.
Lipstadt says she stands by every word she wrote in the book about Irving, and in light of what she has since learned about him, she would have written much more. "He takes up only six pages in a book of about 300 pages," she notes.
The hearings in the trial, which lasted about ten weeks, ended last week and the judgment is expected early next month. Lipstadt could not give interviews during the trial and the legal team decided not to put her on the stand. "It wasn't because I didn't want to testify," she explains. "I asked them whether they wanted to me to take the stand, even though personally I had no interest in geting into a discussion with him [Irving, who conducted his own defense], but I was told there was no need.
"My book speaks for itself and I was sued for what I published. The legal arguments consisted of proof of the arguments against Irving."
The trial, she says, was forced on her, and in contrast to the U.S. system, "the burden of proof was on me."
LIPSTADT was born in Manhattan in 1947 to a traditionalist Jewish family and grew up in Queens. She describes herself as a member of the Conservative stream in Judaism. She once entertained the idea of settling in Israel and lived in the country, where she has many relatives in Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem, from 1966 to 1968.
However, her father's worsening health forced her to return home, her academic career developed in the United States, "and somehow it was already too late to change things. If I could turn back the wheel, I would immigrate to Israel."
She took paid leave from Emory University in Georgia, where she teaches modern Jewish history, to attend the trial.
A good many of her friends and relatives visited her in London -- she stayed in a plush apartment hotel near Buckingham Palace -- and she was inundated with hundreds of messages of support from around the world. Their main thrust, she says, was: "We know what you're going through, but you are on the front, you are waging an important struggle and you have to fight for what you wrote."
Irving sued in 1996, two years after the book appeared, and claimed that his contentions - that Hitler did not authorize the Final Solution and that the buildings at Auschwitz are fakes and were built by the Poles after the war -- did not make him a Holocaust denier because they were true.
Lipstadt maintains that Irving is a frightening and dangerous phenomenon because he is deeply acquainted with the relevant historical material and because of his manipulative ability, his articulate presentation and because of the status he has secured in academic circles.
"But we dug deep into his work, the roots of his conclusions, we checked his footnotes one by one," Lipstadt says. "We simply saw that he was distorting things from A to Z."
She admits that as an observer from the side, she found that the trial sometimes seemed to be not over freedom of expression, as Irving claimed, but about the existence of the Holocaust, though that was not the intention, of course.
"Our line was to focus on Irving, and that was why, for example, we did not bring Holocaust survivors to testify."
Lipstadt says she will now return to the United States "and try to resume a normal life." Still, she says, "despite the tension and the fears, and contrary to my advance expectations, it was a very uplifting experience, which strengthened my awareness and my ties to Judaism, to the Jewish heritage, and internalized for me the importance of belonging to the Jewish people."
Wednesday, March 22, 2000