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Chicago Tribune

 April 13, 2000



By Ray Moseley
Tribune Foreign Correspondent

Truth, justice and history were well served Tuesday when British writer David Irving lost his libel suit against an American academic who had branded him a Holocaust denier and an apologist for Adolf Hitler.

This won't mark the end of Holocaust denial, which sadly still has plenty of vocal, despicable adherents. But Jewish groups rightly saw it as vindication of historical fact--that 6 million Jews were slaughtered by Nazis in the European Holocaust. The Simon Wiesenthal Center wisely hailed it as "a victory of history over hate."

In his 333-page opinion, Justice Charles Gray was justified in his unsparing condemnation of Irving, 62, as an anti-Semite and a racist who, "for his own ideological reasons," deliberately distorted historical evidence to deny the Holocaust and try to absolve Hitler of responsibility for it. Irving was perhaps the most prominent of the revisionists who have questioned what is arguably history's most abominable crime. Such views are grievously offensive to Holocaust survivors and world Jewry, not to mention anathema to fair-minded people who see them as hate speech at best, anti-Semitic incitement at worst. Yet he has no regrets and plans to appeal.

Irving has said Hitler did not know about the mass killings until at least 1943. He has questioned whether gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp were used to kill Jews, once observing derisively: "More people died in the back of Ted Kennedy's car." While admitting hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by the Nazis, he has disputed the accepted figure of 6 million.

Irving's libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, and her publisher, Penguin Books, comes at a time when a growing number of neo-Nazis and Hitler apologists have been questioning the facts and the scale of the Holocaust. Lipstadt noted that Irving was "hoist on his own petard" and expressed hope that no reputable U.S. group would give him a platform now to spread "perverted and distorted views."

Freedom of speech is a principle as dear as any to Americans, but it also means freedom for pernicious speech and opinions we find contemptible. In this case, Irving's speech was hateful and despicable. While he has a right to say what he thinks, it has cost him his reputation and perhaps also his wealth and livelihood.

In the end, there could be no more fitting punishment than the self-inflicted one he brought on himself by espousing hatred of Jews, falsifying history and dishonoring the memory of innocent victims of Nazi genocide.

 April 13, 2000
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