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Washington, Thursday, April 6, 2000


Washington post April 12, 2000

U.S. Scholar Is Victorious In Holocaust Libel Trial

by T.R. Reid,
Washington Post Foreign Service


LONDON, April 11 -- David Irving, a British historian who sought to chronicle World War II from Adolf Hitler's point of view, lost his long libel battle today as a High Court judge ruled he had "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" when he wrote that the Nazi leader was unaware of the Holocaust.

In a lengthy opinion, Justice Charles Gray said that American scholar Deborah Lipstadt was "substantially justified" in describing Irving as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial."

Lipstadt -- a professor of Jewish studies at Emory University who coined the term "Holocaust denial" -- has charged that Irving is a "Hitler partisan . . . a racist, and an antisemite" who provided a "crucial degree of respectability" to neo-Nazis and others seeking to deny the Nazi effort to exterminate Europe's Jews. Gray ruled today that each element of Lipstadt's description was "substantially accurate."

A prolific author who was once praised for his research by leading historians, Irving is now shunned by his former publishers. He sued Lipstadt and her publisher under Britain's plaintiff-friendly libel laws in an attempt to restore his academic reputation; instead, he now stands humiliated by the verdict and liable for the defendants' court costs, about $3 million. "There's no way I can pay the costs, because I have no money," he said today.

Standing alone at a bus stop in the rain after hearing the verdict, Irving, 62, said he was "defeated but unbowed." "No publisher will touch me after this," he said, adding that he intends to publish his own books from now on. "I am higher-profile now than I was" before the trial, he went on, "and I think the negative sign in front of the profile will be erased over time."

Lipstadt, 52, said after the verdict that she had challenged Irving because "the truth has to be kept alive."

"As [Holocaust] survivors die off and there are fewer and fewer eyewitnesses," Lipstadt said tearfully, "there won't be people to tell the story in the first person, and it will be easier to deny it."

This libel case was initially expected to put the Holocaust itself on trial, but Irving told the court in his opening statement that "no person . . . can deny that the tragedy actually happened." So the courtroom battle dealt mainly with the reasons why Irving and his once respected books are now so widely vilified. Irving claimed he was the victim of an "international conspiracy" led by Lipstadt because he "dared to write history that challenged the politically correct point of view." Irving has sought to show that the number of Jews who died in Nazi hands was "far smaller" than the widely accepted figure of 6 million and that "there was no industry-scale gassing of Jews."

Gray said in his ruling that "as a military historian, Irving has much to commend him." But after listening to testimony from some of the world's leading historians, Gray said, he concluded that Irving's treatment of Hitler and his role in the Holocaust could "not be called history."

Reading his opinion in a packed courtroom this morning -- with several Holocaust survivors in attendance -- the bewigged judge said Irving's sympathetic portrayal of Hitler in such books as "Hitler's War" in 1977 amounts to "distortion and manipulation."

"He has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favorable light, principally in relation to his attitude toward and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews," Gray declared.

The judge said Irving overstated any evidence that might suggest Hitler was innocent of the slaughter and ignored documents or testimony that demonstrated the dictator's involvement in the "Final Solution" -- the Nazi euphemism for the destruction of the Jews. "This falsification of the historical record was deliberate," Gray said, "motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs."

The judge dug deeply into Irving's contention that Jews were not killed in gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland. "In common I suspect with most other people," Gray said, "I had supposed the evidence of mass extermination of Jews in the gas chambers at Auschwitz was compelling. I have, however, set aside this preconception."

While some of the evidence on Auschwitz is "variable," the judge said, a review of documents, photographs and eyewitness testimony led him to conclude that "no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that . . . gas chambers at Auschwitz . . . operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews."

Irving asked the judge for "leave to appeal," but permission was denied on grounds that the key issues in the case were all factual and therefore not matters of law for an appellate court. Without the trial judge's permission to appeal, Irving will find it nearly impossible to take the case to a higher court here.

Lipstadt's 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust," which contains sharp attacks on Irving and his work, has been printed around the world. Publication of a Penguin Books edition here gave Irving the opportunity he had sought to sue Lipstadt in a British court. In a reverse of the American system, libel law here forces the defendant to prove the truth of any challenged statement, but even the legal presumptions in his favor failed to win the day for Irving.

"David Irving's career as a historian is over," said a statement from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based organization representing Nazi victims. "Today's decision definitely places Irving . . . as a leading apologist for those who seek to whitewash the most heinous crime in human history."

Irving said he will continue to present his views on his Web site. Lipstadt said this is no surprise to her. "There will always be haters," she said after the verdict. "The neo-Nazis will read this [verdict], and they'll say, 'Yech.' They'll just dismiss it.

"This nightmare is not over," she added. "You just have to fight each new battle."


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company.


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