In her acclaimed 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt called David Irving, a prolific writer of books on World War II, "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." The following year, after Lipstadt's book was published in the United Kingdom, Irving led a libel suit against Lipstadt and her publisher. She prepared her defense with the help of a first-rate team of solicitors, historians, and experts, and a dramatic trial unfolded. Denial, previously published as History on Trial, is Lipstadt's riveting, blow- by-blow account of this singular legal battle, which resulted in a formal denunciation of a Holocaust denier that crippled the movement for years to come. Lipstadt's victory was proclaimed on the front page of major news- papers around the world, such as The Times (UK), which declared that "history has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory."
1. The importance of the trial's outcome: Irving was
2. David Irving is a charlatan, with no business calling himself a historian. His book, as it is explained in great detail, are riddled with deliberate factual errors designed to put Hitler in a good light and pretend the holocaust never happened. An interesting outcome of the defence team's research is proof that Irving's anti-semitism came long before his historical writings.
3. Holocaust denial has no basis in historical fact, and is, in reality, just another form of anti-semitism.
Lipstadt come across very well in the book, and is unfailingly polite and respectful to other academics, though the subsequent actions of two very eminent military historians in defending Irving after the trial verdict were disgraceful.
I can assure one of this book's other Librarything reviewers that this average reader fully grasped the significance of the judges decision. Irving may continue to lecture, but the only people taking him seriously are his fellow neo nazis.
David Irving is a prolific writer of histories of Hitler and World War II, well-known for taking iconoclastic and revisionist views on Hitler's culpability for the massacre of the Jews in the "Final Solution" atrocities carried out by Germans. He also wrote a book on the bombing of Dresden by the allies that criticizes this as needless to the war effort and as a putative war crime because of the magnitude of casualties. Deborah Lipstadt is a professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. She had been following the activities of Holocaust deniers and in her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" wrote that Irving deliberately falsified and misconstrued facts and data about the Holocaust to the point of claiming that whatever killings that occurred were not known to or sanctioned by Hitler and that the gas chambers of Auschwitz did not exist. She was concerned that, rather than being considered a crank, Irving had garnered considerable favorable attention in literary reviews and among some recognized historians.
Irving sued Lipstadt and Penguin, her UK publisher, for defamation. Defamation suits in Britain, unlike in America, place the burden of proof on the person making the allegedly defamatory statement(s); in other words, the defendant must prove the truth of her words. (Under US law the plaintiff must prove that the words were untrue and in the case involving public figures that the utterance was recklessly made.) The defendants would be liable for punitive awards, court costs, apology and retraction and, importantly, ceasing any further publication of the offending words. Irving had brought such suits, or threats of suits, in the past and this had caused publishers to settle for fear of losing. In this case, Lipstadt and Penguin determined to contest the suit and employed a first-rate team of legal minds and historians to prove that Irving had intentionally distorted and manipulated facts in his histories. Moreover, that his motivation for so doing was his virulent antisemitism as demonstrated by his public utterances and close ties with extremist groups around the world.
Through exhaustive review of sources and examination of Irving's writing and speeches, the defendants were able to prove conclusively that Irving went far beyond the pale of plausible interpretation of facts and willfully distorted evidence that did not support his preconceived conclusions. They showed also that Irving was a rabid and extreme antisemite who had made the most shocking and appalling statements about Jews and Holocaust survivors. Irving agreed with the defense to have the case heard before a judge and not a jury and had decided to represent himself. In his testimony and cross-examination of defense experts he was astoundingly inept, often contradicting himself from one day to the next. (Among the defense experts were Richard J. Evans, perhaps the world's most highly respected historian on 19th and 20th Germany, and Robert Jan Van Pelt whose research and knowledge of Auschwitz is unparalleled.)
Lipstadt recounts the trial with the drama it deserves. It concludes with a smashing victory by the defense. Irving was completely discredited and his reputation put into shreds. He foolishly appealed the judge's 375-page decision only to see his standing as a scholar further diminished. This case garnered international attention and, given the risks to his reputation, it is puzzling why Irving wouldn't have found it wiser to ignore Lipstadt's criticisms. Such is the price to be paid for a large ego and delusions driven by self-regard.
Here's why I think the movie and book are misnamed. Most people who have heard of the Holocaust "denials" understand it to be the work of crackpots and extremists. While we should worry about such fanatics as they tend toward violence, there is little chance that their views will ever garner credulity. But, Irving is different because his work had been fairly well-reviewed and moderately well-accepted by the academic community. Irving was perceived to be an iconoclast and revisionist whose research was thorough if his interpretations and conclusions were off base. This reception of Irving was, however, entirely unjustified and, disturbingly, no one looked closely at his treatment of his source material. When they finally did -- impelled by the court action he brought -- his falsifications, distortions and manipulations were patently clear. Why hadn't anyone done this before? One thinks of how outlandish it would be if scientists failed to check other scientists' data when evaluating their hypotheses and theories. Does not the academic world of historians bear the same obligation? Now, certainly, there is a place for revisionist interpretations in the study of history; we should actually be thankful for it. It is also appropriate to give wide latitude for divergent analysis and interpretation of the meaning of historical events, but this should not extend giving a pass to overt falsehoods, bias and purposeful manipulation of objective truth. The examination of Irving's use of his sources, when it finally occurred, revealed the most egregious dishonesty that was plain to see by anyone who bothered to look. In the aftermath of the trial, some historians criticized the dismantling of Irving's research by stating that any historian should fear such close scrutiny as the flaws in their work might certainly be detected; that's an astonishing statement that undermines our faith in scholarly integrity.
Finally, there's the issue of freedom of speech. Some commentators said that the efforts to discredit Irving served to inhibit the freedom of speech that's the foundation of academic freedom. Such view is entirely wrong headed. It was Irving who, by his legal action, was inhibiting (Lipstadt's) free speech. Certainly, the prospect of being sued for one's speech puts a chill on it. Lipstadt at the outset thought it likely that Penguin would cave in; it was logically in the firm's self-interest to do so. Moreover, academic freedom does not extend to freedom to lie without fear of challenge; indeed it is the dialectical nature of scholarly discourse that does most to advance truth. Irving should not have received a "pass" from his peers and thankfully someone finally (and courageously) called him on this.
In the UK, the individual or organization accused of libeling someone must prove what they wrote or said was true and thus not libel. In America, it is the responsibility of the offended person to prove the action was libelous.
Lipstadt had to raise one and a half million dollars to cover her legal expenses. The whole case took five years from start to finish. To prove that Irving had misused his sources to prove his preconceived theories about the Final Solution and the Holocaust, her legal brought in experts on the gas chambers, the ovens and the buildings the death camps. Other expert historians went through all of Irving's books looking for other lies and discrepancies of which in the end they found many. In the end the judge found Irving had lied in his works and was a racist and Holocaust denier.
Interestingly, eminent historians such as Hugh Trevor-Roper and Sir John Keegan continued to support Irving even after the wheels started to fall of his wagon.