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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sunday, May 29, 2005

PG Columnists

The woman who defended history

By Dennis Roddy

BRITISH libel court is war unto the knife. Loser pays all. David Irving set out to demolish Deborah Lipstadt. One year after the trial [sic. May 2002], Irving's wife and daughter wept on a curbside as liquidators seized their house, its contents, Irving's library. By the time Irving got home, he discovered that the suit he was wearing was the only one he now owned.

"They took everything. They took my entire research archive of 35 years," Irving said. "I find it increasingly difficult to be good-humored about it."

The great irony here is that Irving was the plaintiff. He was out to destroy Lipstadt, an American historian, for criticizing his increasingly implausible suggestions about the Holocaust.

For decades, Irving frightened off his worst critics with a belligerent certainty that made him a hero to the Holocaust denial crowd, even as he protested he was not part of it.

He argued that the Nazis killed Jews, but mostly on the eastern front, and in numbers far below the 6 million that sensible history has long asserted.

When he denied that Auschwitz had gas chambers for killing Jews, Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history, numbered him among Holocaust deniers in her 1993 book on the subject. When it was published in Britain, where libel law essentially holds a defendant guilty until proven otherwise, Irving went after her with a flair that attracted the attention of a world that quickly dubbed it "The Holocaust on Trial."

Lipstadt didn't simply win her case. She basically brought down the one historian who lent any measure of legitimacy to Holocaust denial. She comes to Pittsburgh on June 8 as keynote speaker for the American Jewish Committee's annual meeting. Holocaust survivors are constantly thanking her for saving their history, and this flummoxes her.

>>> Thirteen questions to put to Prof. Lipstadt the next time you see her...

"I tell them, 'Wait a minute, your history would have been fine. It's not so fragile that this one guy can destroy it,' " she said.

That's hard to say. The tyranny of the clock is taking away the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. A shocking number of people are prepared to suggest that it is possible 6 million Jews were not murdered. When C-Span, the cable public affairs network, made plans to carry a Lipstadt speech they decided to balance it with an appearance by Irving, as if there is "another side" to the near annihilation of Europe's Jews. History, in this case, needs to be saved.

LipstadtLipstadt never expected her book or her trial to define her career. She'd finished a project, had joined the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta, and was casting about for something to write.

"I thought, this is a good short topic. I'll write on it and be done with it," she said.

When Irving sued her, Lipstadt was infuriated. Here was a man who had spoken at the Institute for Historical Review, a blatantly anti-Semitic assortment of pseudo-scholars in California. Irving's speeches in the Cleveland area were booked by Erich Gliebe, currently head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Irving testified on behalf of Ernst Zündel, the Canadian co-author of "The Hitler We Loved and Why." This guy was suing her for defamation.

Lipstadt thinks she knows why.

  • "First of all, I'm a woman, and the guy is a misogynist.
  • Second of all, I'm an American. I was far away. Maybe he thought I wouldn't take it seriously.
  • And third of all and most importantly, I am a Jew. I am strongly identified with the Jewish community and this was his way of going after the 'traditional enemies of truth,' as he kept calling them. This guy is a bully. This guy is really a bully. He's used to getting away with it."

 

IRVING does, indeed, have a rough streak going through him. When I wrote a column about the trial five years ago, he posted it on his Web site with an instant link for readers to send me their thoughts. The kindest read, "You are a communist jew pimp."

The 10-week trial, in which Irving acted as his own lawyer, ripped away the veneer of scholarship he had applied in careful coats starting with his first book, a devastating, though now numerically suspect, account of the allied bombing of Dresden near the end of World War II. Irving's book on Dresden was so widely accepted that Kurt Vonnegut used it as a historical foundation for his own best-seller, "Slaughterhouse Five."

Defense lawyers got their hands on Irving's personal diaries and found such nuggets as his expositions about Jews and Jewish control [Website comment: There was not one such passage found in Mr Irving's private diaries, which he voluntarily disclosed, under the protection of a draconian Court Order to protect their confidences. The Defence introduced a total of twelve sentences from the diary into the court transcripts]. They came across a little rhyme he'd written for his daughter:

I am a baby Aryan
Not Jewish or sectarian
I have no plans to marry
An ape or Rastafarian.

Irving argued that out of 50 million words he has written these 19 were the only ones that painted him as a racist. Problem is, when you go to the trouble of rhyming something like that, it's going to stick. It did. By trial's end Irving had been cornered as a racist, an anti-Semite, a sloppy historian, a keeper of company with the jackboot-and-suspenders crowd. He lost everything: his court action, his reputation, his home, the very couch in his living room.

"He never paid me a penny," Lipstadt says today. Irving kept things tied up fairly skillfully. [Website comment: A seriously libellous allegation. To take steps in anticipation of insolvency, designed to thwart creditors, is a criminal offence in the UK, and even the "Homestead" is not protected as it is in the United States. The British Government-appointed Trustees have made no such allegation against Mr Irving.] He was declared insolvent and, after three years, he's now untouchable, though starting over at this late date is likely to be difficult.

 

BOTH Lipstadt and Irving say they'd have gone through this mess all over again. She'd have written more harshly about him knowing now what he kept hidden in his diaries and the distortions she says have been found in virtually every one of his books. He'd had brought this action as well, he says. Why he says this, I can't tell for certain, although Lipstadt has a pretty solid theory.

"Part of it is the contrarian thing, because that is how he gets attention. If he just did ordinary scholarship he wouldn't get attention," she said. "The one thing about him is he craves attention."

So David Irving makes his own history. Some of it he writes, taking known events and giving them a backspin guaranteed to produce the craziest bounce. Some of it he generates by bringing on a libel action that destroys him so he can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his own making. He'll be at it as long as he lives. For instance, he has this theory about Flight 93.

The 9/11 Commission Report made it pretty clear that passengers on board the hijacked jetliner rose up, charged the cockpit and caused the terrorists to crash it into a field in Somerset County. That's the official story.

"It's quite plain to anybody who looked at the records exactly what happened," he said.

F-16Shot down?

"I think there's not the slightest doubt."

Why else, he asked, would the seismographs that picked up the crash be four minutes off from the plane's black box. That's a four-minute gap -- time enough for someone to have shot down the plane.

I suggested that sometimes, just sometimes, clocks are set differently. The one on my kitchen wall has been in serious disagreement with the one on my microwave oven for the past 10 years. That strikes Irving as improbable.

Like Billy Pilgrim, the hero in "Slaughterhouse Five," the novel Vonnegut wrote using Irving's account of Dresden, David Irving has come unstuck in time. He's more than four minutes off. He picked a fight with a woman who neglected to be frightened.

(Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.)

Copyright © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


POSTSCRIPT: Barnes and Noble website have at present just one (anonymous) review of the Lipstadt Book:

A reviewer, A neutral observer, April 6, 2005, 1 out of 5 stars

Hmmmm!! Lipstadt would 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.

Index to the media scandal surrounding Prof Lipstadt's attempt to silence C-Span and the history debate | The Irving -- C-SPAN correspondence 
 
Our index to the mystery surrounding the crash of United Arlines flight 93
 
David Irving observes an odd four-minute discrepancy in the 9/11 Commission Report: the time of impact of flight UA.93 | Flight 93's smoking gun: The seismic record of a mystery plane passing at supersonic speed over Pennsylvania: an investigative article by Robb Magley | The Memory Hole: Cleveland Air Traffic Control Recording of United Flight 93 | Click here for the clip: : tape ends with the words "... There appears to be a puff of black smoke."
Washington Post, Friday, Aug 8, 2003: FBI [theory] "9-11 Hijackers Crashed Flight 93
Oct 2, 2003: U.S. Air Force pilots now practice shooting down civilian airliners, general admits
Mar 27, 2004: Sept. 11 crash of UA.93 remains shrouded in mystery, Pennsylvania coroner reveals in Canada lecture
Dec 2004: Professional Pilots forum exchanges latest buzz about United Airlines 93. Ground observer saw plane come down "smoking". Engine was found 1,800 feet away from impact site

© Focal Point 2005 F Irving write to David Irving