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London, April 14, 2000

Quietly floored by the don

Simon Rocker reflects on the action and actors involved in a protracted courtroom drama


In one memorable slip of the tongue during his closing speech, David Irving addressed the judge as "Mein Führer." Perhaps it was due to tiredness -- as proceedings wore on, he became visibly more haggard, the result of day after day on his feet in the courtroom and long, nocturnal stints in preparation. Still, he appeared happy with the speech, reassuring supporters -- he claims at least 4,000 world-wide -- on his website diary for the day that he felt "confident."

How far in his innermost heart he might have suspected defeat, only he can know. But even in his worst imaginings, he probably would not have dreamed of the scale of the demolition that Mr Justice Gray was to inflict upon him. The judge's damning verdict brought the trial into sharp focus, injecting it with a stabbing clarity that had not always been apparent in the midst of the action in court.

It had never been gripping legal theatre: more like trench warfare, slugged out with documents, the full significance of which might emerge only days later, a ray of light through a thicket of paperwork. The horrible details of human depravity became pieces in a game of legal chess. There were "disgusting moments," as Deborah Lipstadt was to say afterwards. But the public listened quietly. The minute you walked into the courtroom, you put your emotions on hold.

From the outset, defence QC Richard Rampton made no attempt to conceal his contempt for Irving, whereas the exchanges between Irving -- the self-styled "shirtsleeve historian" -- and the professional academics whom he relished taking on had the civility of a Radio Four debate. But the atmosphere grew distinctly sharper with the arrival in the witness box of Professor Richard Evans, that "horrid little Welshman," as Irving's cybernet-diary referred to him.

The Cambridge University don was the key defence witness, author of a 740-page report detailing Irving's Holocaust-denial and bending of history. Shorter than Irving by almost a foot, he shunned eye-contact with him, the kind of man you would guess would be happier in a library than on the rugby field. But he proved a doughty opponent, a rock-solid line of defence against which Irving -- who had promised on his web to "break" Evans -- flung himself in vain.

It was Evans who tellingly drew attention to Irving's "double standard" in dismissing the eyewitness testimony of the victims of Nazism but accepting that of perpetrators -- a point later forcefully endorsed by judge. The defence had chosen not to call Holocaust-survivors in order to spare them the barbs of Irving's wounding tongue. It was a decision all the more understandable in view of his branding of witnesses to the gas chambers at Auschwitz as "liars."

After the event, Professor Lipstadt said of Irving that he was not simply a Holocaust-denier; it was as if "danced on the graves" of its victims. But in the trial, Irving -- who confessed on his website to finding Jews and the Holocaust "boring, boring, boring" -- saw himself as the real victim, target of a world-wide conspiracy to destroy him, the "good Christian" who had for many years "turned the other cheek."

Even in his closing speech, he went on flailing against his enemies and their "truly Nazi methods." The "illiberal spirit of Dr Goebbels" he suggested, lived on in some members of the Board of Deputies.

London, April 14, 2000

A Website note on those experts:

Incidentally, Lipstadt's expert witnesses must have been hard-pressed to stay as neutral as they did, in the face of the inducements offered them. Stand up Christopher Browning, the only real expert among them: He was paid £27,632 by Professor Lipstadt and Penguin Books Ltd. His fee was bettered however by team-leader Professor Richard Evans: £70,181 -- what will your common room colleagues make of that, Richard! Well then, they may say, what about Dr Peter Longerich, who is somewhat junior to yourself: he drew £76,195: that should pay for a few English lessons, eh? Professor Hajo Funke, the Berlin University's glittering and totally objective expert on the German far right: £92,558 went his way -- what's the German for "Now that's a lot of moolah"? And then there is Professor of Architecture Robert Jan Van Pelt, who was paid £109,244 despite only one minor flaw in his background -- he never qualified as an architect. Now how many newspapers reported that little detail emerging from his cross-examination by Mr Irving?

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