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Atlanta, Wednesday, April 6, 2005
APRIL 11 will mark the fifth
anniversary of Deborah Lipstadt's resounding
victory in a British courtroom against
denier David Irving.
In the five years since Judge Charles Gray
called Irving "anti-Semitic and racist," the
British-born historian has been forced into
bankruptcy, he's lost his home in London, and he's
been relegated to driving from city to city in
America, speaking in diners and legion halls to a
tiny but impassioned group of
Last month, Irving gave a lecture at the
Landmark Diner in Buckhead. C-Span cameras were on
hand. The network wanted to air his
talk back-to-back with one given at Harvard by
Lipstadt, who's been on the lecture circuit
recently promoting her book, History on Trial,
which recounts her courtroom battle with
FIGHTER: Deborah Lipstadt in her office at
DENIER: David Irving was called a
"right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist" by a
Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish and Holocaust
studies at Emory, is 58. She was born in Manhattan
and, as she writes in her book, quickly gained a
reputation as being "feisty and combative." At her
Jewish day school, her mother often had to be
called in to defend her daughter to the principal.
Over five decades, Lipstadt's independent spirit
has not weakened, as C-Span soon learned when she
withdrew her permission for her Harvard lecture to
Her decision was no
surprise. For years, Lipstadt has consistently
refused to debate Holocaust deniers.
comment: If flat earthers had refused to debate
Galileo, the Earth would still be
"Where's the debate?" she says. "A debate is on
two perspectives on an issue. A debate is not
between complete truth and complete falsehood."
Lipstadt viewed C-Span's quest for "balance" as
little more than a canard, a convenient label that
justified giving Irving a forum for his discredited
"They would never ask Henry Louis Gates to go on
with someone who said slavery never happened,"
Lipstadt says from her office on the Emory campus,
where a photo of a sign that says "No sniveling"
sits on her desk as a warning to whining
By last week, Lipstadt's decision had been
endorsed by almost 600 historians, who signed
a petition urging C-Span to cancel its
broadcast of the Irving lecture.
"Falsifiers of history cannot 'balance'
historians. Falsehoods cannot 'balance' the
truth," the petition reads. "C-Span should not
broadcast statements that it knows to be false.
... If C-Span broadcasts a lecture by David
Irving, it will provide publicity and legitimacy
to Holocaust-denial, which is nothing more than
a mask for anti-Jewish bigotry."
you think about it for a nanosecond, if you think
about the case and who the parties were, the idea
of balance is absolutely nuts," says Ken
Stern, right, a specialist on anti-Semitism for
the American Jewish Committee. "The concept that
you have to balance somebody who prevailed in a
case against somebody who was exposed as a neo-Nazi
polemicist is to me a bizarre take on it, and a
really bad journalistic enterprise."
To Stern, C-Span's decision to "balance" the
accepted history of the Holocaust with a talk by
Irving is like airing an interview with the author
of a book on child-rearing by inviting Michael
Jackson or Jeffrey Dahmer to offer an alternative
Stern first met Lipstadt in the early 1990s,
when both were working on books about Holocaust
deniers. Lipstadt was initially skeptical about the
project, wondering "why study the historical
equivalent of flat-Earth theorists?" But her
research soon revealed that deniers weren't just
skinheads frothing at the mouth.
Many deniers had adopted, as she writes,
"sophisticated camouflage tactics," such as the
Institute for Historical Review, a scholarly
sounding organization whose raison d'être is
to argue that the Nazi extermination of Jews is a
One of the recurring characters in the resulting
book, Denying the Holocaust, was David Irving. In
the 1960s, Irving was considered a bit of a
wunderkind, having written a
book on the bombing of Dresden when he was just
25. In the 1970s, another book, Hitler's
War, garnered positive reviews from many
historians. Both the Hitler and Dresden works were
seen as somewhat revisionist, in that they
questioned conventional wisdom about their subjects
and, in many cases, attacked the actions of the
Allies while defending those of the Third
"He was somebody who was trying to keep a foot
in two different worlds, and trying to balance
them," Stern says. One world was among scholarly
historians, the other the seamy culture of
neo-Nazism and white supremacy.
Irving prided himself on relying on primary
sources for his research, and disdained historians
who he said merely regurgitated each other's
Over time, Irving's sympathies toward the Third
Reich became more overt. In Denying the Holocaust,
Lipstadt detailed Irving's claims that, among other
things, the gas chambers at Auschwitz
were a myth and that Hitler knew nothing about the
Final Solution. Her conclusions about Irving were
"Irving is one of
the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust
denial," Lipstadt wrote. "Familiar with
historical evidence, he bends it until it
conforms with his ideological leanings and
political agenda. ... He demands 'absolute
documentary proof' when it comes to proving the
Germans guilty, but he relies on highly
circumstantial evidence to condemn the Allies.
This is an accurate description not only of
Irving's tactics, but of those of deniers in
In 1995, Irving sued
Lipstadt for libel, claiming her book had
smeared his name and damaged his ability to make a
living as a historian.
In the U.S., Irving would have had to prove not
only that Lipstadt had been wrong, but also that
she had acted maliciously in publishing the errors.
"The case would have been dismissed in the U.S. at
the outset," says Joseph Beck, an Atlanta
attorney who assisted Lipstadt during the discovery
phase of the case. "And the plaintiff would have
been required to pay fees for filing it."
But in Britain, the rules are reversed. As
defendant, the burden of proof was on Lipstadt to
prove that what she wrote was true. Her defense
team would have to pore over thousands of pages of
books and notes that she used in writing the book
that Irving said libeled him. Her case would
require expert testimony. It would take months --
even years -- to defend, and it would be hellishly
was encouraged when one of Britain's most famous
attorneys, Anthony Julius, left, who
represented Princess Diana in her divorce,
agreed to take on the case for free. But as the
months dragged on, the pro-bono offer turned out to
be premature. Julius told Lipstadt he'd need
"substantial" amounts to pay for experts and
researchers. His estimated budget? $1.6
As word spread of the upcoming trial, Lipstadt's
defense team began taking on some generous
underwriters, including Steven Spielberg.
Individual donations were as high as $100,000. As
one donor told Lipstadt, "Our job is to ensure that
have the means to fight. Your job is to
For Lipstadt, whose policy of not debating
Holocaust "revisionists" was partly to deny them
the legitimacy they seek, the prospect of a trial
posed a conundrum. If she fought, she knew she'd be
elevating Irving and his ilk to an international
stage. But if she didn't fight, thanks to Britain's
libel law, Irving would win. "It made his name much
more of a household name," Lipstadt acknowledges
now. "But I had no choice. What was my option? He
says he offered
to settle for £500. He neglects to say he
offered to settle for £500, an apology, and
have my book taken out of circulation."
At the same time, Lipstadt says, she worried
about the trial turning into a debate over whether
the Holocaust happened. It was one of the reasons
why her defense team decided early on not to call
Holocaust survivors to the stand. Instead, the case
would be tried entirely by academics arguing over
the documented evidence, and much of the case would
center on the Auschwitz death camp.
"If you think about it
practically, we'd have to find survivors of
Auschwitz who knew about the gas chambers, who
gas chambers in
operation. They're few
and far between. Then, from the moral
perspective, these people are 80 years old.
[Irving's] only objective would be to
make fun of them."
Indeed, as Lipstadt and her defense team showed
at the trial, Irving often jokes about Jewish
suffering in World War II. In a videotape made in a
speech in Tampa in 1992, Irving spoke about a
"professional survivor" in Australia named Mrs.
Altman, whose arm is tattooed from Auschwitz. In
the speech, he recalled that he told her, "Mrs.
Altman, how much money have you made out of that
tattoo since 1945?"
In 1991, when he said that more women had died
in the backseat of Sen. Edward Kennedy's car
than in the Auschwitz gas chambers, Irving also
said, "Oh, you think that's tasteless. How about
this? There are so many Auschwitz survivors going
around, in fact, the number increases as the years
go past, which is biologically very odd to say the
least, because I am going to form an Association of
Auschwitz Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust and
Other Liars -- ASSHOLs."
defense team commissioned several World War II and
Germany scholars to dissect Irving's writings. One
of the scholars was Richard
Evans, right, a Cambridge historian.
Evans and two researchers began researching the
"scholarship" that Irving had produced. What they
found flabbergasted Evans.
"The discovery of the extent of
Irving's disregard for the proper methods of
historical scholarship was not only surprising
but also deeply shocking," Evans wrote. "As this
Report will show, it goes well beyond what
Lipstadt alleges. I was not prepared for the
sheer depths of duplicity which I encountered in
Irving's treatment of the historical sources,
nor for the way in which this dishonesty
permeated his entire written and spoken output."
At the same time, Evans wrote, Irving was no
dummy. He knew his subject. "His numerous mistakes
and egregious errors are not, therefore, due to
mere ignorance or sloppiness; on the contrary, it
is obvious that they are calculated and deliberate.
That is precisely why they are so shocking. Irving
has relied in the past, and continues to rely in
the present, on the fact that his readers and
listeners, reviewers and interviewers lack either
the time, or the expertise, to probe deeply enough
into the sources he uses for his work to uncover
the distortions, suppressions and manipulations to
which he has subjected them."
THROUGHOUT the three-month trial, Lipstadt's
lawyers would not let her testify or even talk to
the press. For Lipstadt, the forced silence was
"For anybody who knows Deborah," Stern says,
"she's a person who speaks her mind, who has strong
opinions and is not retiring or shy by any
Still, her role as spectator gave her time to
watch Irving and wonder what made him what he is --
at least at first.
"I did wonder, and then I stopped myself from
wondering," she says. For instance, what if when he
was growing up, Irving's mother had a bad
experience with a Jew. What good is wondering about
that, Lipstadt asks. And, more to the point, what
does it justify? "I could say, 'Did his mother have
a bad experience with a blue-eyed person, or a bad
experience with an Episcopalian?' " To Lipstadt,
figuring out the psychological dynamics of
anti-Semitism in a person was a waste of time.
But in fact, making the case that Irving was an
anti-Semite was a deliberate tactic on the part of
Lipstadt's attorneys, to show that Irving's
deliberate misrepresentation of the facts had a
racist agenda. (In that regard, Irving was a help;
at one point, he addressed the judge as "Mein
And in the end, Judge Gray agreed, ruling that
Irving had "repeatedly crossed the line between
legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification of
the Jewish race and people." Irving, Gray ruled,
was an anti-Semite and a racist.
Gray further found that Irving had time and
again failed to live up to the standards of
historians and that Irving's "mistakes and
misconceptions" were "consistent with a willingness
on Irving's part knowingly to misrepresent or
manipulate or put a 'spin' on the evidence so as to
make it conform with his own preconceptions."
As Lipstadt says, "All historians make mistakes.
But these kind of mistakes? Every single one ...
they always go in the same direction. Every one you
track, it's always exonerating the Germans, blaming
the Jews, exonerating Hitler, inflating German
suffering, decreasing Jewish suffering."
For Lipstadt, the victory wasn't about
validation for her work, which she knew was sound.
But, she says, the case "carried a responsibility.
Look, if we had lost by some fluke, the history of
the Holocaust would have been safe. It wasn't like,
'Oh my God, it didn't happen because David Irving
won.' But there could have been a lot of damage --
collateral damage. And pain to people. And I didn't
want to be the person responsible for that."
Others believe the stakes were greater than even
Lipstadt will acknowledge. One of them is her
friend and colleague, David Blumenthal, a
professor of Judaic studies at Emory.
"If he had won the case," Blumenthal says, "it
would have been a major victory for the folks who
are out there denying the Holocaust. He's one
individual with his own craziness on the subject,
but he's being used by a lot of people, including
Arab propagandists and anti-Semites. They quote him
as the source. They're still quoting him, but had
he won the case, he would have been much more
Lipstadt is holding fast to her policy of not
debating deniers. Yet she says they also can't be
ignored. She brings up an analogy one of her
attorneys told her during the trial. Deal with
Irving, he told her, the same way you'd clean shit
off your shoes.
"That's how we should think about people who are
filled with prejudice, whether it's a David
Duke or a National Alliance white supremacist,
whoever it might be," Lipstadt says. "Our job is to
find a way of fighting them without building them
LAST weekend, C-Span aired an hour-long
discussion on the trial. The network abandoned its
quest to "balance" its coverage of the Holocaust.
Instead, it included a Washington Post reporter who
covered part of the trial in 2000. View the program
at www.booktv.org and check out Lipstadt's blog --
www.lipstadt.blogspot.com. Documents from the trial
can be found at www.hdot.org.
Hear Dr. Lipstadt
Deborah Lipstadt will speak at a forum titled
"Facing History: The Past as a Guide to the
Future." Also speaking is Earl Lewis, Emory provost
and professor of African-American studies. The
forum begins at 7:30 p.m. on Wed., April 13,
 at the Atlanta History Center, 130
W. Paces Ferry Road. Cost is $7, or $5 for History
Center members. Reservations
are required. Call 404-814-4150. A book
signing will follow the discussion.Copyright ©
1996-2003 Creative Loafing Inc.
POSTSCRIPT: Barnes and
Noble website have at present (Saturday, April 9,
2005) just one
(anonymous) review of the Lipstadt
reviewer, A neutral observer, April 6, 2005, 1
out of 5 stars
not have survived a cross examination by Irving.
Try reading the trial transcript. Irving IS a
racist (equivalent to many Israelis, Japanese,
uhh, let's see, Latvians, Patagonians, Iroquois,
etc). It is a common trait amongst all human
beings, and indeed other primates. Irving is
also a holocaust revisionist ... not a holocaust
denier (so far so fair. Reputable people agree
that the six million were in fact 4.5 million,
or 5.1 million, or 3.5 million, and agree that
many survivors were, in fact, liars (Elie Wiesel
comes to mind)). Correcting the details is not a
crime. But Irving's ability to unearth WW II
documents is unparalleled (yes shame, shame that
he is also a racist like so many Hutus and
Tutsis and Arabs and Jews). Lipstadt on the
other hand, is an extreme lightweight who never
dared engage in intellectual debate unless she
had the advantage of keyboard courage, or a
highly paid professional historian or lawyer to
speak for her.
to the media scandal surrounding Prof Lipstadt's
attempt to silence C-Span and the history
-- C-SPAN correspondence