Saturday, March 19, 2005

History on Trial reviewed in Jerusalem Post

History on Trial: My Day In Court With David Irving

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1111116047741&p=1006953079969

Reviewed by Dan Markel

By Deborah E. Lipstadt
Harper Collins
368pp., $25.95

Until only a few years ago, a veneer of respectability attached in some scholarly circles to the historical writings of David Irving. Famous historians such as Sir John Keegan and Professor Gordon Craig viewed Irving's works as indispensable to understanding the full nature of World War II.

Nonetheless, Irving's statement that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz," among others, frustrated, if not outraged, all but the community of Holocaust-deniers in which Irving had ensconced himself.

In 1993, Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt wrote Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, a book in which, among other things, she accused Irving of writing nothing more than gussied-up anti-Semitic pap that sought to deny the truth of Hitler's involvement in the plan to murder European Jewry.

Shortly thereafter, Irving sued Lipstadt and Penguin, her publisher in England, under England's libel laws.

This choice of venue was both significant and unsurprising because, unlike the United States, England places the burden of proof upon defendants.

Moreover, England, unlike the United States, did not require a public figure like Irving to prove that Lipstadt made her allegedly defamatory statements with "actual malice." Thus, while a suit against Lipstadt would likely not have even surfaced in America, it required incredible labor on the defendant's part in England.

As Lipstadt's lawyer, Anthony Julius, described the task, the defense had to show that Irving "subordinated the truth to spread anti-Semitism and engender sympathy for the Third Reich."

Although Lipstadt's account of the trial focuses on the many falsehoods underlying Irving's works, she begins with a gripping narrative of her own journey into academia and the origins of this lawsuit.

THE DAUGHTER of modern Orthodox parents, Lipstadt grew up in New York's Upper West Side. Prior to graduate school, she travelled to Israel in 1966 to study at Hebrew University.

Despondent that, at that time (on account of Jordan's closure of the border to Jewish tourists) she was unable to visit Jerusalem's Old City, Lipstadt trekked to Greece to obtain a new passport from the American Embassy there.

She eliminated all traces of the Israeli origins of her trip, and sojourned from there to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to the Old City.

Upon her return to Israel through the Mandelbaum Gate, the Israeli border guards remarked that Lipstadt had guts, but maybe no sechel (intelligence).

Five years later, after starting her graduate work at Brandeis, Lipstadt again entered the lion's den, travelling to the Soviet Union in 1972 to meet Jewish refuseniks and help prepare the groundwork for their possible emigration to Israel.

This time, upon the KGB's confrontation with accusations of "spreading lies about the Soviet regime," Lipstadt wisely accepted their "invitation" to leave the country.

These two tales of youthful pluck and pragmatism serve as windows into Lipstadt's ultimate decision to fight the Irving libel accusations rather than save five years of time, emotional toil and expense by simply issuing a retraction and apology.

With the commendable support of her university, her publisher, and philanthropists from around the world, Lipstadt assembled a first-rate team of historians and advocates to show the forensic basis for Irving's deliberate distortions of the historical record. (To that end, interested persons may find an array of relevant materials on the Holocaust Denial on Trial website: www.hdot.org.)

History on Trial not only captures the excitement and occasional despair of the team's ordeal in preparing for and enduring the 10-week trial. It also trenchantly exposes the implications of the team's victory for historians and their readers.

Lipstadt's book, then, functions as far more than a mere "case for the Holocaust." It serves as an introduction to the historian's craft and the kinds of disputes in which reasonable historians engage.

For example, at the outset Lipstadt makes plain that various aspects of the Holocaust are the subject of legitimate and competing historical interpretations, and that it was not her goal, either in her scholarship or at the trial, to shut down rivalling understandings, say, of whether Hitler wanted to take power to eliminate European Jewry or whether Nazi officers in the East "initiated the murders" of the Jews for functional reasons – murders which were subsequently ratified by Hitler's approval.

While one might think this admonition is overcautious, it turns out that this reminder was vitally important because certain well-known historians improperly chastised Lipstadt about the purported "chilling effect" inflicted by her hard-fought victory.

Their concern is arrant tripe. After all, it was Irving who brought suit against Lipstadt and her publisher; Lipstadt never sought to silence Irving.

She simply published her views, which undermined Irving's denials of the Holocaust's nature and scope, and showed that his rendition of history was no more than distortions in service to an extremist ideology.

Indeed, the more limited nature of Lipstadt's ambition is what enabled two vigorous free-speech advocates – Anthony Lewis (formerly of the New York Times), and Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz – to write an introduction and afterword, respectively, on Lipstadt's behalf.

In any event, Lipstadt's memoir of her experience as a defendant is one of the best general-interest books I've read in years. It is not only instructive, provocative and riveting – it is inspiring. History on Trial has earned a well-deserved place in every home that cares about truth, and about the courage to speak it.

The writer is a lawyer in Washington D.C. His writing can be found at www.danmarkel.com.

13 comments:

Pat said...

You write: Nonetheless, Irving's statement that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz," among others, frustrated, if not outraged, all but the community of Holocaust-deniers in which Irving had ensconced himself.

Is that Irving quote totally accurate? Did Irving say "a gas chamber", meaning any gas chamber in Auschwitz, or did he actually say "that gas chamber", referring only to the gas chamber shown to visitors which the Museum itself finally admitted was a post-war "reconstruction". If the latter then your quote is inaccurate and misleading.

Sara said...

Irving is quoted as saying "the gas chamber," not "that" gas chamber. The quote is accurate.

david gehrig said...

Rampton quoted it in his opening statement: "I say quite tastelessly in fact that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."

On March 2, 2000, when that speech came up again, Irving and Rampton had this exchange:

Irving: The applause drowned the rest of the sentence, unfortunately, which is "in the gas chambers of Auschwitz which are shown to the tourists". I always say exactly the same thing.

Rampton: Oh no, you do not, Mr Irving. We went through that before.

They then played a videotape that showed Rampton was right and Irving was wrong.

@%<

david gehrig said...

And speaking of Irving being wrong:

http://www.fpp.co.uk/online/05/03/Lipstadt_blognote.html

Wow. I'm a paid PhD candidate. No, wait, I'm an undergrad doing this for credit. No, wait, I'm one of Ken McVay's minions, despite the fact that I could no more pick Ken McVay out of a crowd than he could me -- or Prof Lipstadt could me, for that matter.

Still, though, it must give these guys a great sense of meaning to their lives to believe they are up against the great and wonderful "Them." Even if they get all the facts wrong in the meantime.

Grand total of the amount I've been paid for demonstrating the fundamental horseshit-itude of Holocaust denial: zero cents. Satisfaction that I'm a bee in Irving's otherwise un-brain-encumbered bonnet: priceless.

@%<

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom said...

"Irving is quoted as saying "the gas chamber," not "that" gas chamber. The quote is accurate."

Is there a source for this quote?
Is it something he wrote that we can read? Or is it something that he said? What was the context? Had he been talking about the specific gas chamber? Is there a record of it? He says he meant the one they show the tourists. If that isn't the case, why would he be saying it now? What "logic" would that be? He is on record in court saying he doesn't deny the gas chambers, he has the transcript on his web site. Even if we accept the lie that he was "a denier" up until the trail, he clearly is on record at trail and all the years after as not "denying." Take that into account, he clearly isn't "denying" for the last 5 years since he continues to post what he said at the trail on his web site, so why still call him a "denier" now? What is the agenda for doing so? And why do we still read in Lipstadt supporter's articles like Mr.Cohen's of the WP that Irving denies (present tense) and that he said there were no gas chambers at the trial? At the trial he said he didn't deny that there were gas chambers!

debunking the idiots said...

Tommie, you are a very ignorant person. You can't even use Google.

Here, let me make it easier for you:

http://www.holocaustdenialontrial.org/evidence/iv.asp

It contains not only the quote in question, but many other quotes, showing that Irving denied the existence of Auschwitz gas chambers.

"Even if we accept the lie that he was "a denier" up until the trail"

You a very foolish, Tommy. That's not a lie, but a proven fact.

"he clearly is on record at trail and all the years after as not "denying." Take that into account, he clearly isn't "denying" for the last 5 years since he continues to post what he said at the trail on his web site, so why "/* call him a "denier" now?"

Because he is a denier. He minimizes the Jewish death toll, he denies most gas chambers, and when he doesn't, he says that they were used either for small-scale experimental gassings or for small-scale euthanasia (14f13) gassings. That is, he denies mass gassings. He denies the existence of the systematic extermination program. Thus he is the denier.

"And why do we still read in Lipstadt supporter's articles like Mr.Cohen's of the WP that Irving denies (present tense) and that he said there were no gas chambers "/*? At the trial he said he "/* that there were gas chambers!"

While several journalists might have gotten several insignificant details wrong, you seem to be hypocritical. You seem to be Irving's sycophant, but for some reason you don't mention Irving's monstrous distortions. For example, Irving still lies about what historians say about the Hungarian Jews (that allegedly they had been murdered in 3 weeks).

Pat said...

sara,

If he said "the gas chamber" instead of "a gas chamber" then he could very well have been referring to the "gas chamber" visitors see, built after the war.

david gehrig said...

Just one problem with that, "Pat": Irving used the plural. He said "gas chambers." When Rampton specifically pointed out that he had used the plural, Irving didn't challenge him. He couldn't; it was on tape.

And even when Irving tries his "well, I usually add" dodge, notice what he suggests he would usually add: "in the gas chambers of Auschwitz which are shown to the tourists." Plural again. Irving loses.

@%<

debunking the idiots said...

Pat, this gas chamber has not been built after the war, and this is the lie Irving continues to repeat even now.

And it doesn't really matter what he meant in this particular instance, since he made explicit statements denying all Auschwitz gas chambers, not only the one in Krema I.

Pat said...

debunking the idiots said: this gas chamber has not been built after the war, and this is the lie Irving continues to repeat even now.

The post-Communist Auschwitz Museum admitted that Krema I, including the gas chamber, was "reconstructed" after the war. You have to remember that Poland was under the iron fist of Communism for most of the post-war era. It was easier to debunk false assertions about deadly gas chambers on German soil than assertions about deadly gas chambers in Poland.

debunking the idiots said...

"The post-Communist Auschwitz Museum admitted that Krema I, including the gas chamber, was "reconstructed" after the war."

This much is true. I hope you understand the difference between "build" and "reconstructed"? The reconstruction involved minor changes to the existing structure and an erection of the new chimney. The building itself was there all along. Irving lies, because he gives the impression that the whole crematorium (including the morgue/gas chamber) was built from scratch.

"You have to remember that Poland was under the iron fist of Communism for most of the post-war era. It was easier to debunk false assertions about deadly gas chambers on German soil than assertions about deadly gas chambers in Poland."

"Have to remember"? For what purpose in this particular context?

Pat said...

debunking the idiots said:The building itself was there all along. Irving lies, because he gives the impression that the whole crematorium (including the morgue/gas chamber) was built from scratch.

Irving gives the impression that the gas chamber was a fake, not necessarily that it was built from scratch. Given the well-known propensity of Communists to lie and manufacture evidence, people would be right to be skeptical about the authenticity of Krema I.