London, Sunday, March 5, 2000
Only room for disagreement in Irving libel fight
Jenny McCartney joins spectators at the High Court for a ringside seat in Court 73's Holocaust case
ANY hard plastic seat in Court 73, where the historian David Irving is seeking libel damages against claims that he is a "Holocaust denier", is a much sought-after spot. That is why a disconsolate group of five people are waiting in the corridor outside, their eyes fixed hungrily on a sign that reads "Court Full".
The minutes tick by. Finally, two elderly Jewish men and a woman decide to leave and return later. "We're giving you our place in the queue," they laugh. One beneficiary of this, a middle-aged man, stares unsmilingly ahead. Once they have left, he says: "Have you read any of David Irving's works? He's a champion of free speech. Somebody has to stand up to these people." He doesn't elaborate on who "these people" are.
Mr Irving is representing himself in the case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin books, over her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The defendants claim that Mr Irving is "a liar and falsifier of history" who has distorted statistics and documents for his own purposes. Mr Irving rejects this, and says the claims have generated waves of hate against him.
Richard Rampton, QC, with donnish spectacles and a drily sardonic mode of interrogation, is representing Penguin. Inside the courtroom, he is cross-examining the 62-year-old Mr Irving, a burly, gimlet-eyed man with iron-grey hair. There is an edgy air of suppressed tension. The judge makes only occasional interjections. One has the sense that they have been over this ground before: the case has been running since Jan 11.
Mr Rampton reads out a passage from a speech that Mr Irving gave to an audience at Calgary, Alberta, in 1991:
"You said, 'More people died on the back seat of Senator Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz'."
"Shown to the tourists," adds Mr Irving quickly, claiming that he invariably added that rider: "I always say exactly the same thing." Mr Irving maintains that the gas chamber shown to visitors to Auschwitz was built by the Poles after the war as a tourist attraction.
Mr Rampton then plays the court a video recording of Mr Irving speaking at the meeting. In it, Mr Irving delivers the Chappaquiddick remark, ending: ". . . in the gas chambers at Auschwitz." There is a distinct pause, followed by loud applause. There was no "shown to the tourists" rider on this occasion.
Mr Rampton quotes Mr Irving's words: "'I always say exactly the same thing':
that was a false statement, was it not?" Mr Irving looks deeply uncomfortable.
Last Tuesday the Israeli government released the memoirs of Adolf Eichmann, which had been hidden in Israeli state archives for 40 years, to assist the defendants in the Irving libel case. Eichmann -- the Nazi officer who carried out the attempted "liquidation" of Europe's Jews -- describes watching the gassing of Jews in sealed trucks during 1942, and makes reference to "the genocide against Jewry".
Mr Rampton asks: "I expect you've been reading the Eichmann memoirs?"
"No, not with the little time I have," replies Mr Irving, as though apologising to a fellow historian.
"Well if you are, look for the word gaseinlage." [sic. Actually Vergasungslager].
"Gaseinlage?" [sic. Actually Vergasungslager].
Mr Rampton answers with brutal, precise emphasis: "Yes. Gassing camps."
He moves on to the meetings at which Mr Irving is a popular speaker. Mr Irving argues that when he spoke at meetings hung with the banners of the National Alliance -- a white supremacist group in America -- he was not aware of the organisation's nature. [See Day 29, page 65]
Mr Rampton points to an invitation asking Mr Irving to speak, written on National Alliance notepaper, and reads aloud a passage from Mr Irving's diary regarding a meeting in Savannah, Georgia. It says: "Turns out the meeting here is also organised by the National Alliance."
Mr Irving replies: "It just goes to show how bad my memory is, but I'm learning as I go along." Later, Mr Rampton turns to statistics cited in Mr Irving's book on Goebbels for Jewish involvement in crime in 1932. He establishes that they are, in fact, taken from [Kurt Daluege] the head of the German Ordnungspolizei, a man whom Mr Irving agrees became "a mass murderer later on" [in 1941].
"Do you think it right to take this man as your source?" asks Mr Rampton.
Mr Irving answers: "You've got to take some kind of figures from somewhere." There is a faint ripple in the courtroom.
As the morning session closes, the elderly Jewish spectators file out from the public gallery. A lank-haired woman in a paisley scarf goes out with them. In the corridor, she informs the queue:
"There's a lot of Freemasonry. Jewish Freemasonry!" As the remark sinks in, one of them says: "My God." The final speeches will be heard on March 13. It will, no doubt, be a packed court.
Sunday, March 5, 2000