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Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida, 17 February 2000

[AJC, squealing before they are hurt]

Holocaust denier seeking shelter in British libel law

Waldo Proffitt

When David A. Harris, a national executive director of the American Jewish Committee, was in Sarasota last week for a dinner honoring Robert H. Rosenthal with the AJC's Human Relations Award, he called attention to the trial now under way in London of the libel suit by David Irving against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Lipstadt is the author and Penguin the publisher of "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

This is a suit which would never have come to trial in an American court because the burden of proof would lie on Irving to show that he had been wrongly defamed by Lipstadt - which is, on its face, a ridiculous proposition.

IrvingLipstadt's book is the first detailed study of what has become almost a cottage industry of Holocaust denial by people who assert that the Holocaust is fiction, that six million Jews were not killed on orders from Adolf Hitler.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, says she wrote the book because "I was intrigued that there seemed to be serious people, students, who knew very little about the Holocaust, and who didn't recognize from the outset that these guys were turning fiction into fact.

"I also wanted to show the modus operandi of the deniers . . . I don't believe Holocaust denial is a clear and present danger; it is a clear and future danger. When there won't be anybody around to say, 'This is my story, this is what happened to me,' it will become easier to deny."


IRVING has been called the most dangerous of all deniers because he has the veneer of a historian.

What Lipstadt wrote is that he is "an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, specifically those that exonerate Hitler," and that "he applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps."

For anyone who takes the time to slosh through the many listings for and by Irving on the Web, Lipstadt's assertions are entirely credible. But, British libel law is not the same as American libel law, and the fear of Lipstadt and her attorneys is that a British judge may uphold Irving on some minor procedural point and so permit him to claim that his view of the Holocaust has received the imprimatur of Her Majesty's government. Walter Reich, a professor at George Washington University, wrote in The New York Times, "The reality of the Holocaust, which is overwhelmingly documented, doesn't hinge on the outcome of this trial." Then he goes on to say that, because of Irving's clever and shifting distortion of Holocaust history and the twists of British law, it's conceivable the judge should decide in favor of Irving. He concludes that such a finding would say something about the nature of British libel law but would say nothing about the reality of the Holocaust.

You might want to keep that advice in mind.

Nearly all people of my generation think anybody who denies the reality of the Holocaust is either off their rocker or grossly prejudiced against Jews.

But, a hundred years from now?

It is painful to accept the fact of the Holocaust. It should be. It is not comfortable to admit that our fellow humans are capable of such conduct. Future generations will welcome any version of history that casts the darker deeds of their ancestors in a more favorable light. You might want to consider how difficult it is for Americans to face up to the ugly realities of slavery. Or to face up to the injustices we inflicted on the Indian population of North America.

I do not with these observations intend that you should start your day carrying a big load of guilt. I just want to make the point that it is only human nature in any land in any time to accept the least painful version of history, if it be at all credible.

Let us hope, as the mills of justice grind in London, they produce nothing that would offer the slightest comfort for the likes of David Irving.

Waldo Proffitt is the former editor of the Herald-Tribune.

The American Jewish Committee have donated several million dollars for the legal defence of Deborah Lipstadt. David Irving has no legal advisers in Court.

Florida, February 17, 2000
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