U.S. News and World Report
Until a landmark libel case turned her world upside down, Deborah Lipstadt was known as a chronicler, not a maker, of history. In her acclaimed 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, the Emory University professor cited widely read World War II writer David Irving--who referred to the Holocaust as a "legend" and refused to acknowledge Adolf Hitler's responsibility in the systematic killing of 6 million Jews--as one of the most prominent deniers. Irving sued Lipstadt for libel. Her new book, History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving, recounts the six-year legal battle that vindicated her.
In what way was history on trial?
We exposed as bogus virtually every argument and contention that Holocaust deniers, like Irving, make to supposedly prove that the Holocaust didn't happen. We showed that you can't take history and twist it any way you want. There is a historical record. There is a massive cache of documents, all of which prove quite clearly that there is evidence for every step of the killing process.
Besides debunking Irving, what else did the trial accomplish?
It was emblematic of the passing of the torch of memory from Holocaust survivors, the youngest of whom are in their 60s or 70s, to historians. Poet Paul Celan once asked, Who will be the witnesses for the witnesses? This trial showed historians can do that.
Why did you fight back?
The case was brought in Britain, where the defendant must prove the truth of what she wrote. This is the mirror image of libel law in the United States, where Irving would have had to prove that I lied. If I had not defended myself, Irving would have won by default and could have claimed that his description of the Holocaust was legitimate. I could not ignore this.
So the suit backfired on Irving.
The irony is that if he had not sued me, no one would have known the extent to which he distorted or misrepresented evidence.
Yet Holocaust denial goes on.
I'm no more amazed that Holocaust denial exists than I am that the Holocaust happened. -Diane Cole
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