Sunday, February 20, 2005

Review of History on Trial in San Francisco Chronicle

 
Challenging the lies of a Holocaust denier
- Reviewed by Yonatan Lupu
 
Sunday, February 20, 2005
 
History on Trial
 
My Day in Court With David Irving
 
By Deborah E. Lipstadt
 
ECCO/HARPERCOLLINS; 346 PAGES; $25.95
 
Proving history can be more difficult than it might seem. Most of us naturally believe that the events we've heard about all our lives -- discoveries, wars, empires rising and falling -- actually took place. But what would we do if someone were trying to convince a court of law that a distorted, nefarious version of history was the truth? That, in simple terms, is the situation Deborah Lipstadt faced five years ago.
 
In her 1994 book about the international Holocaust denial movement, Lipstadt devoted about 200 words to David Irving, a prominent historian who she argued was a Holocaust denier. Irving had recently eliminated references to the Holocaust in his publications and made inflammatory statements like claiming that "more women died on the back of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz." In response, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in Britain, arguing that her writing had hurt his reputation as a historian. In "History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving," she recounts every step of the trial process, from gathering the evidence to the final verdict.
 
Making the case particularly challenging for Lipstadt, British law places the burden of proof on the defendant, meaning she had to prove that her claims about Irving were true. In a U.S. court, Irving would been required to prove Lipstadt's claims were false.
 
At first, Lipstadt seems reluctant to have the case turn into something larger than a discussion of whether or not Irving is a Holocaust denier. "Our objective," she writes, "was not to prove the Holocaust had happened. No court was needed to prove that. Our job was to prove the truth of my words, namely that Irving had lied about the Holocaust and had done so out of anti-Semitic motives." In fact, she worries that the trial is "destined to morph from an examination of Irving's abuse of historical records into a debate on whether or not the Holocaust took place."
 
Lipstadt's lawyers see the case differently; they present the court with historical evidence showing that the Holocaust took place and that Nazi Germany's leaders were directing it. As a historian, Lipstadt naturally becomes frustrated by having to give proof of well-settled historical facts to the court. Yet, as the trial goes on, she begins to see the value of her lawyers' strategy: "If [Irving] rejected documents that unequivocally proved him wrong, he would prove me correct, namely that he discounted evidence that disputed his preexisting conclusions. If he accepted these documents, he would have to admit he was wrong about the Holocaust. ... The historical evidence would box Irving in between his lies and the truth."
 
Step by step, Lipstadt's lawyers pick apart Irving's version of history, showing the judge -- and the reader -- that Irving's conclusions could not come from anywhere but a predisposition to disbelieve in the Holocaust. Presented with evidence that does not fit his story, Irving tries to rationalize it and, when one explanation fails, makes Maxwell Smart-like attempts to find alternate explanations. When pressed about why he has conveniently ignored evidence that does not support his conclusions, Irving often barks that he is a "Hitler historian" rather than a Holocaust scholar.
 
The more Irving tries to explain his arguments -- with selective quotations, mistranslations and, perhaps most appallingly, understatements like calling the Holocaust a series of "Mi Lai-type massacres" -- the more he gets tangled in his faulty logic. As Lipstadt's lawyer, Richard Rampton, says after a court session, "Irving's real problem is that for the first time he is being forced to explain his contradictions and he can't."
 
"History on Trial" is not the first book about the Lipstadt-Irving case. The accounts by Richard J. Evans ("Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial") and Robert Jan van Pelt ("The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence From the Irving Trial"), historians who testified on Lipstadt's behalf, provide greater detail into the historical evidence presented at the trial. Finally, "The Holocaust on Trial" by D.D. Guttenplan, who covered the case for the New York Times, gives a journalistic perspective on the case.
 
But Lipstadt's story is more personal, compelling and intriguing. She presents her mixed emotions as the trail progresses -- aghast at Irving's testimony and the public forum the trial gives him, but gratified to see him exposed and condemned. And she recounts her encounters with Holocaust survivors who encourage her to keep fighting, coming to the trial hearings day after day. These anecdotes don't just make the book more engaging; they help cement the notion that this was no ordinary libel case, but possibly the most important Holocaust-related trial since Adolph Eichmann was tried in Israel in 1961.
 
Yonatan Lupu is an attorney and writer in Washington, D.C.
 
 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to Van Pelt, Zklon B crystals were introduced into Krema 2 through holes cast into the roof, connected to heavy steel mesh columns. Since Zyklon B pellets seem to be about the size of frozen peas it would seem logical that these pellets would spill freely through the holes in these mesh columns. If these mesh columns served no useful restraining purpose why were they installed?

If the heavy steel mesh was woven tightly enough to prevent spillage, we have a situation in which the Zyklon crystals were confined in four robust narrow columns of closely woven steel wire. These columns would have had bodies pressed aginst them on all sides. This would seem to create the worst possible scenario for the rapid dispersal of gas within a confined space. Would it not have been more logical for the Nazis to scatter the Zklon pellets through the holes without using mesh ducting? Do these mesh ducts still exist?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be repetitious, but doesn't anyone know what function the steel mesh tubing served? It's not as if the people in the gas chambers could have thrown the crystals back out of the lidded holes in the roof. talking about steel mesh and ducting may make the whole operation sound more mechanistic, but in reality surely such apperatus must have made the whole procedure far less efficent?

Anonymous said...

So no one knows. Jan Van Pelt just thought it sounded good?

david gehrig said...

Nah -- I'd guess instead that nobody is feeling any particularly pressing need to answer such obviously misleading questions posted by some anonym who's quite plainly trying to peddle his wares in exactly, exactly the wrong place.

@%<

Anonymous said...

Oh! I see. When David Irving makes a point you don't like, he is "ignoring evidence" which contradicts his prejudiced opinions. When someone asks a question you don't like, you feel no pressing need to address "misleading questions". That's a bit sad really.

I just thought that Van Pelt may have some conclusive conflation of suggestive evidence for the existence and purpose of these columns. Maybe the columns are just another example of that legendary German inefficiency, after all people have been cremated on pyres for thousands of years (convection and all that) the krauts were so dumb that they cremated people in holes in the ground. No wonder they lost the war. It's nice to know that the "foremost experts" on the holocaust don't feel the need to answer questions about it.

Mark Gerchikov said...

Irving claims that he dislikes anonymity (e.g. "Your type is always Mr ... Anonymous, and I have no doubt that you will always stay that way...")

And yet this 'Anonymous' is just SO MUCH like Irving that it makes me wonder. Wouldn't be the first time when Irving treated himself or his favorite Nazis in a different manner from the people he believes to be his opponents.

After all this "free-speech-fighter" has used threats of litigation to suppress free speech on more than one occasion. I guess Irving's mind is so twisted that he applies a different vocabulary to himself. To him "free speech" appears to stand for "free racial insult".

You've got to feel sorry for this sad individual: his mind is twisted, his life is wasted and fuelled only by hatred. The man had his day in court and was proven to be a liar and a racist. Who cares about his most recent spins, distortions and outright lies?

Anonymous said...

In answer to anonymous' question about the wire-mesh columns, I should say first that the question itself is ignorant. The author of the question never bothered to learn more about these columns.

They were complex. They consisted out of 2 heavy wire mesh columns one inside another, and a third removable part made of finer mesh.

The columns may have served 2 functions.

1) They helped the distribution of the gas. The fact that at certain times the columns would be surrounded by the people is irrelevant, as the ceiling was quite high - 2.4 m.

2) After the gassing the still-outassing pellets could have been retrieved to speed-up the ventilation, and thus the whole process.

I hope this answers anonymous' question.

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way. The ignorant anonymous denier made a point about the cremation in pits. He implies that it is less efficient than cremation on pyres. Well, just the opposite. During the cremation in pit much less heat is lost, obviously. See http://www.vho.org/tr/2004/1/Mattogno64-72.html

david gehrig said...

There's quite a bit of material on the mesh columns in van Pelt'sThe Case for Auschwitz. In particular, there's Tauber's first-hand description of them (p 191) and the corroborating testimony of Kula (pp 206), who worked in the metal shop that made them. There's more than enough there to show the false assumptions behind the anonym's questions.

@%<

Anonymous said...

David,the only assumption I made was that the foremost experts on the holocaust might like to answer a question.

If annonymous2 is saying that these columns consisted of a removable fine mesh inner column , contained for protection, within two riged fixed heavy mesh colums, that seems plausable.

This claim seems contentious, however, for a couple of reasons. There is the problem of the complete lack of physical evidence for these columns. The removal of the inner columns from the fixed outer colums would have required roofholes from which the reinforcing bars had been removed. Isn't a point of contention whether the krema2 roofholes had bars or not? If you have read Van Peltz book can you save me the trouble of buying it and answer these points? Anyway, a claim based on eyewitness testimony, uncorroberated by physical or documentary evidence is an allegation, not definitive proof.

On the point about cremation pits. A pit may "retain heat", but, far more importantly, it starves a fire of oxygen. Combustion requires oxgen. The combustion creates the heat. Without a steady supply of oxygen there can be no heat to retain.

Anonym

david gehrig said...

For a photo of the rebar clearly bent back to form hole #4 of Krema 2, see page 500 of van Pelt's book.

At this point, you have a choice. I'm not going to keep doing your homework for you. If your actual motivation is really to find out the truth rather than to rehash debunked denier canards, you might want to either borrow van Pelt's book from the library, or read his submitted report, which is available at Prof. Lipstadt's site, www.hdot.org.

If you read either one with any degree of intellectual honesty, you will come away with a sense of deep moral revulsion at the entire Holocaust denial movement, its inherent antisemitism, and its fundamental duplicity.

If, on the other hand, you're going to avoid this excellent opportunity to find the answers to your questions, then we can only conclude that finding answers to your questions isn't your true motivation for asking them.

Not that that isn't pretty obvious already.

@%<

Anonymous said...

David, they don't have Van Pelt's book at my local library. If this book contains photographs which are irrefutable in their vindication of the accepted beliefs of the holocaust, why has Van Pelt not been generous enough to make them avaliable on the net?

I looked at the photographs of the Auschwitz Krema on the Nizkor website. These photographs show a couple of square holes which seem to have no rebar, they are not all that convincing though. Are these the same photographs used by Van Pelt?
Also the aerial photograph of the Krema with the yellow arrows seems to point to holes which are fairly randomly distributed and not anywhere near where any support columns would be likely located. There also seem to be several random holes which are unnaccounted for.

The revisionists seem to want to explain their claims at great length. Your attitude seems to be go find out for yourself or shut up. I find that a bit arrogant. If I wrote to a revisionist website I doubt that they would tell me to go read some Faurrison and stop bothering them.

It seems to me that it is you who has the choice. You can choose to educate the ignorant, or retreat into a haughty silence and continue to be irritated by ignorant (uneducated) but curious individuals.

People will settle where they are made to feel most welcome.

david gehrig said...

Sorry, you've used up all your free homework chits. In fact, you've used up more chits than an anonym Holocaust denier deserves in the first place.

You've got the URLs for some exceptionally good sources of information about the Holocaust -- the van Pelt report and the Evans report. The fact that you're ignoring them in order to rehash denier canards -- as I predicted you would -- says everything there needs to be said about your motivations.

@%<

Anonymous said...

I have done as you advised and read the Van Pelt transcripts from the Irving trial annd the Evans report.
Tedious stuff!

I am sorry David, but I cannot honestly say that Van Pelt held up very well under Irvings cross examination. I am not qualified to say whether or not Irving made an incontestable case, but from the laymans point of view, he seems to have scored some telling points, especially with regards to witness credibility and the provenance of evidence.

The Evans report is a diatribe. Very boring, venal and unconvincing.

The problem that I have is that the sources of information you have given me, which you say are definitive, are dense and complex. There seems to me to be an element of argument by appeal to authority and obscurantism in your methodology. Other sources, such as the Nizkor project, seem to me to be over simplistic.

The revisionists seem to me to be capturing the middle ground. They sem to be able to present their case in a succinct but not overly simplistic fashion. When you have been asked to do this you seem to get offended and start to snarl about, "homework chits". Does this website serve no useful informative function?

Anonym (non-denier)

david gehrig said...

If you find the reports boring and tedious, so what? Truth is under no obligation to entertain you. Neither am I. I've read maybe two-thirds of the trial transcripts, and there are great yawning gaps of tedium. The historical process isn't always such a glamourous one.

If you're arguing that the revisionists "tell a better story," in one sense I'd agree, if by "story" you mean "fable" -- they've got an international Jew conspiracy involving literally millions of conspirators, massive international fraud, and self-styled brave crusaders for "truth." Pulse-pounding stuff -- and all of it literally fabulous. Of course, it's not only easy to tell a ripping yarn when you're making it up, it's essential -- after all, it has to be exciting enough to defeat the truth, and in this case one of the most telling truths of the twentieth century. The denier fable might make a better James Bond movie, but it's quite clear that it makes a lousy substitute for the truth. The number of times that Irving had to change his testimony while under oath testifies quite eloquently to the hazards of making it up as you go. And it also demonstrates why Irving lost so devastatingly on point after point after point, a cataclysm to which his defenders can only reply, "Well, to a layman, it seemed like he was doing okay" -- a comment as valueless here as it would be over a surgeon's operating table after the patient has died.

So the question really is, if you'll side with the deniers because they sound more entertaining, what does that tell us about how little you value truth? What I see here is an anonym trying to excuse away every opportunity he's been given to learn the truth about the inherently antisemitic and fraudulent Holocaust denial movement, because source A is to simple, source B is too complex, source C isn't entertaining enough, his library doesn't stock source D (and apparently has no interlibrary loan desk), porridge E is too hot, porridge F is too cold...

Those who are honestly -- and I underscore the word "honestly" -- looking for a one-volume debunking of Holocaust denial, but without the stamina for the wonderful van Pelt book, might take a look at Shermer and Grobman's Denying History: Who Says The Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? And, of course, for the definitive history of the movement's deep founding roots in antisemitism and antisemitic organizations, along with its complete failure to adequately disguise its origins and intentions as promulgators of antisemitic propaganda, Prof. Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust makes it all quite plain -- for those who don't choose to look away.

@%<

Anonymous said...

David, you say yourself that you found the transcripts full og gaps of "yawning tedium". It's a bit hypocritical of you to sneer at me for making the same observation.

I am not asking for the truth to be made entertaining. I am asking for it to be made understandable. It should be possible to give a synopsis of Van Pelt's basic assertions and to highlight the telling points he scores against the revisionists, without having to wade through screeds of legal jargon and court proceedings.

From the little I have read of the court transcripts, your surgical analogy seems a bit facile. I think a more truthful analogy would one of a close boxing match, where the hometown boxer got the decision.

Like Lipstadt herself you seem to be arguing mostly from assertion. You keep telling me about the devastating points scored against Irving, without actually telling me what these points were.

One point made by Irving, which seems impressive, was his revelation that one of Van Pelts sources was a report which was co-written by the same Soviet investigator who penned the fraudulent Soviet report on the Katyn massacre.

I don't think that the revisionists present themselves as heroic crusaders of truth pitted against "the man". Fred Leuchter is not my idea of a heroic figure, Irving seems to be an obnoxious intellectual snob. I just think they present better arguments, or rather present their arguments better.

It's possible to believe that you are not making a good case without being anti-semitic. Obviously branding people who question some of the conventional claims anti-semites has been a successful strategy for you. You disagree with revisionists does that make you anti-gentile?

Anonymous 2 said...

Anon1 said:

"This claim seems contentious, however, for a couple of reasons. There is the problem of the complete lack of physical evidence for these columns."

There is no physical evidence for Alexander the Great's existence either.

We shouldn't expect to find the physical evidence of the columns since the Kremas had been dismantled and dynamited.

There is indirect physical evidence - the holes in the roof of Krema II (see Keren et al.'s article in HGS proving their existence). There is an inventory putting 4 wire-mesh introduction devices and 4 wooden covers in KII. That's documentary evidence for you. And we have lots of testimonies.

"The removal of the inner columns from the fixed outer colums would have required roofholes from which the reinforcing bars had been removed. Isn't a point of contention whether the krema2 roofholes had bars or not?"

I'm not sure about your point. There was no rebar in the places where 3 holes were supposed to be according to the famous "train photo" (which shows little chimneys on the roof of KII). The fourth hole is under rubble and hasn't been investigated yet. Read the article I referenced above. See http://hgs.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/18/1/68

"On the point about cremation pits. A pit may "retain heat", but, far more importantly, it starves a fire of oxygen. Combustion requires oxgen. The combustion creates the heat. Without a steady supply of oxygen there can be no heat to retain."

As the German expert quoted by the denier Mattogno states, pit cremation is highly efficient if properly done. You haven't bothered to read the link I gave you, have you? How very intellectual of you.

Any other questions?