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Friday, March 16, 2000

Irving: rabid racist or vilified victim?  

Revisionist historian accused of denying the Holocaust as dramatic libel trial reaches climax


The David Irving libel trial: special report




Vikram Dodd

Listadt, Irving 


Pictures above: Lipstadt and Irving

David Irving is a "rabid anti-semite" who prostituted his reputation as a serious historian by falsifying history to exonerate Adolf Hitler for the Holocaust, the high court heard yesterday.

The assault on the alleged Hitler apologist came from Richard Rampton QC, the barrister for the author Deborah Lipstadt, whom Mr Irving is suing for libel.

Professor Lipstadt and her publishers, Penguin Books Limited, both deny libelling Mr Irving by branding him "a Holocaust denier" in a book which attacked revisionists alleged to have denied or downplayed the slaughter of 6m Jews during the second world war.

Yesterday both sides made their closing speeches after a three-month trial seen as one of the most emotive in a generation.

In his closing speech Mr Irving, 62, said the book, Denying the Holocaust, was the culmination of a 30-year campaign against him that had left him the most "vilified" historian ever.

Mr Rampton told the packed court that Mr Irving's Holocaust denial, shown in his work and speeches to far-right audiences, was caused by his anti-semitism.

Mr Rampton said: "Holocaust denial, in the form in which it is purveyed by Mr Irving, is an obvious example of anti-semitism, and is music to the ears of the neo-Nazis and other rightwing extremists. Mr Irving is a Hitler partisan, who has falsified history on a staggering scale in order to 'prove' Hitler's innocence; which like Holocaust denial, is obviously very appealing to his fellow travellers - after all, if the Holocaust were a 'myth' then, obviously, Hitler could have no responsibility for it.

"How far, if at all, Mr Irving's anti-semitism is a cause of his Hitler apology, or vice versa, is unimportant. Whether they are taken together or individually, it is clear that they have led him to prostitute his reputation as a serious historian for the sake of a bogus rehabilitation of Hitler and the dissemination of virulent anti-semitic propaganda."

Mr Rampton accused Mr Irving of being a racist and of perpetrating a string of historical falsehoods throughout his work, all designed to rewrite Hitler's role in the Holocaust: "By the defendants' estimate, there are, in relation to Hitler alone, as many as 25 major falsifications of history, as well as numerous subsidiary inventions, suppressions, manipulations and mistranslations employed to support the major falsifications.

"If those relating to Auschwitz, Dresden and other matters are added in, the number goes well over 30."

The final statements in the marathon libel trial were heard by Mr Justice Gray, who is hearing the case without a jury.


 In his four-hour closing speech, Mr Irving told the judge he was the victim of an international hate campaign led by Jewish groups across the world. He claims Prof Lipstadt's book was part of the "climax" of the conspiracy and severely damaged his career as a historian.

"I know of no other historian or writer who has been subjected to a campaign of vilification even one-tenth as intense," said Mr Irving, best known for his book Hitler's War.

He said the case was not about the Holocaust but about his reputation "as a human being, as a historian of integrity".

To win the case, Prof Lipstadt and Penguin must prove that their allegations that Mr Irving wilfully distorted history are true.

Mr Irving said it was not enough for the defendants to show he had got facts wrong: "The matter at issue, as pleaded by the defendants, is not what happened but what I knew of it, and what I made of it, at the time I put pen to paper.

"The defendants have invested a sizeable fortune in re-researching the Holocaust. Fearing or finding that they were unable to prove wilful fraud, in effect, they have fallen back on the alternative plea, that 'Mr Irving ought to have known'."

Mr Irving admitted making mistakes, but said these were made innocently. He stressed he accepted that Hitler, "as head of state and of the government", was responsible for the Holocaust.

"Where I differed from many historians was in denying that there was any documentary proof of detailed direction and initiation of the mass murders by Hitler," Mr Irving said.

"In Hitler's War, I differed from other historians in suggesting that the actual mass murders were not all or mainly initiated by Hitler."

Mr Irving accused Prof Lipstadt of reckless lies, and said: "The defendants are saying that I am not entitled to continue to earn a living in the way that I have earned it for nearly 40 years.

"A judgment in my favour is no more than a judgment that disputed points which I have made about some aspects of the narrative are not so absurd, given the evidence, as to disqualify me from the ranks of historians.

"A judgment in my favour does not mean that the Holocaust never happened; it means only that in England today discussion is still permitted."

He did admit occasional lapses in taste but said:

"If a writer's books are banned and burned, his bookshops smashed, his hands manacled, his person assaulted, his printers burned down, his access to the world's archives denied, his family's livelihood destroyed and a wreath sent to him with a foul and taunting message upon the death of his oldest daughter, then it ill behoves people to offer cheap criticism if the writer commits the occasional indiscretion and finally stops turning the other cheek and rounds upon his tormentors."

Judgment in the case was reserved and is not expected to be delivered for three weeks.

 © Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000


Suggestion: Did this journalist accurately reflect the proceedings? Check the day's transcript and then...

Thursday, March 16, 2000
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