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London, April 14, 2000

Judgment day turns sour for the plaintiff while Holocaust survivors welcome verdict

Humiliated author makes a back-door exit



AFTER THREE months of headline-making legal combat, David Irving finally tired of the limelight on Tuesday, leaving the Royal Courts of Justice by the back door to avoid the scrum of photographers, TV crews and Anti-Nazi League demonstrators waiting for him in the rain outside the main gates in the Strand.

Not only had he failed to persuade Mr Justice Gray that American academic Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her publishers, Penguin Books, had libelled him in her book, "Denying the Holocaust." He had been branded by the judge as an anti-Semite, a racist and a manipulator of historical evidence. His parting comment was to describe the verdict as "perverse."

Having contended during the case that Hitler knew little of the Holocaust and that the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau did not exist, it was Mr Irving's turn to listen to some unpalatable assertions as his reputation was shredded.

Removing the jacket of his pinstripe suit -- which had been splattered by egg-throwing protesters on his arrival at the court -- he leaned forward as Judge Gray praised him as a fine military historian with an "unparalleled" knowledge of the Second World War. On the negative side, however, the judge said Mr Irving was prepared to dismiss documents if they did not conform to his ideological agenda, or failed to paint Hitler in a favourable light.

The 70-minute judgment was a devastating indictment of Mr Irving's writings and use of historical evidence. As the damning phrases accumulated, Mr Irving, red-faced and stern, dabbed at his eyes. The judge said he had "perverted" and "misrepresented" the meaning of vital documents, and had consorted with right-wing extremists promoting neo-Nazism.

Sitting just a few feet from Professor Lipstadt and Holocaust Educational Trust chairman Lord Janner, the historian's countenance darkened as the judge ploughed through a 66-page extract of his verdict. When it touched on the falsification of the historical record, Mr Irving shook his head on several occasions.

In contrast, murmurs of satisfaction emanated from the packed public gallery, for which some had queued for places from as early as 6.30am -- four hours before the start time.

Among those watching were Holocaust-survivors including Michael Lee, 76, who was confined in Auschwitz. It was the right result, Mr Lee told the JC. But he feared that an appeal -- which Mr Irving said he would seek -- might propel him back into the spotlight. "We thought this would be the end of it, but it doesn't seem to be."

Another survivor, Simon Reiss, who came to Britain as a Kindertransport refugee, expressed delight at the verdict, adding that he had been convinced from the outset that Mr Irving would be defeated.

But others in the gallery overlooking the wood-panelled courtroom were far from elated.

Describing herself as "a supporter of free speech and freedom of academic research," Lady Michele Renoufe said her only consolation was Mr Irving's intention to appeal. "I do think that there are very many issues on which the judge has not taken full cognisance of Mr Irving's evidence," she asserted.

The defence team, including barrister Richard Rampton and solicitor Anthony Julius, understandably felt vindicated. Mr Julius said: "It is now conclusive that Irving is a Holocaust denier, a racist and an anti-Semite. I hope this result will prevent such people from trying to silence their critics, or trampling over the memories of the victims of the Holocaust."

He estimated that Mr Irving would face "significant costs" as a result of the case. But he declined to confirm reports that they could be £2 million or more.

Also on hand was Israeli Ambassador Dror Zeigerman, who said:

"We will continue to struggle against anti-Semitism and racism and against those who deny the Holocaust.

"This is a good day and an important lesson, especially for those such as myself, born after the Holocaust.

"It further shows the importance of a Jewish state. If there had been an Israel in the early 1940s, there would not have been a Holocaust."

Welcoming "an epic victory for truth and justice," Lord Janner saw the case as a further reminder of the need to educate young people about the tragedy of the Holocaust, "particularly as a symbol of the dangers of allowing racist dictatorships to rule."

  Emotional reception


THERE WERE scenes of great emotion when Professor Deborah Lipstadt arrived at the Holocaust Educational Trust's 10th-anniversary reception, held at Chancellor Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence.

Introduced as "our hero" by HET chairman Lord Janner, the American academic was greeted with hugs and applause by the assembled throng.

Close to tears, she heaped praise on "the many people in this room and in this community" who had aided her fight.

Mr Brown had said earlier that the implication of the Irving judgment was that there was "no protection any longer for those who pronounce racist views."

He added that he had learned from his father -- who chaired the Church of Scotland's Israel Committee -- that "prejudice led to intolerance, which led to victimisation, which resulted in persecution."


 Barak's ringing praise


ISRAELI Premier Ehud Bank made a congratulatory phone call to Professor Deborah Lipstadt after the verdict, describing it as "a victory of the free world against the dark forces seeking to obliterate the memory of the lowest point humanity ever reached."

He added that Israel would continue to "conduct a determined struggle against those who try to deny the Holocaust."

Satisfaction at the outcome was also expressed by the country's Diaspora Affairs Minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, who commented that "Holocaust-deniers like David Irving use pseudo-scientific manipulation to prepare the ground for new crimes against humanity. This ruling should be taught in education systems across the world."

At the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, a spokeswoman asserted that the greatest significance of the case was not proving the Holocaust happened -- "overwhelming documentary evidence here and in other archives does that quite sufficiently." It was that the verdict "'sets the line as to what is reasonable and what is unreasonable discussion about the Holocaust."

London, April 14, 2000

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