Also on the ABC site is the transcript of a May 21/05 interview with Prof. Lipstadt on the program "Saturday Breakfast with Geraldine Dooge". Here are some excerpts:
Deborah Lipstadt on her long, ultimately successful, legal battle with Holocaust denier, David Irving.
Geraldine Doogue: All this year we’ve been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of course you can’t think about that war without also having to come to terms with the Holocaust. You might have been watching the ABC series, ‘Ten Days to Victory’. Last Thursday we saw footage of the American soldiers entering the German concentration camps and their horror at what they saw there.
But as the distance from those times increases, a disturbing phenomenon’s been growing too, that of Holocaust denial, people who claim that the Nazis did not systematically set out to exterminate the Jews. They admit the Jews did die in camps, but not in gas chambers, and not as part of a deliberate policy.
David Irving is the leading Holocaust denier, and the most litigious. His most celebrated case was when he sued an American Professor of Jewish Studies, Deborah Lipstadt, for libel. Lipstadt had accused him of distorting the evidence in order to reach untenable conclusions about the Holocaust.
Deborah Lipstadt has just published a fascinating book about her long, ultimately successful legal battle with David Irving. It’s called ‘History on Trial’. Welcome now to Saturday Breakfast, Deborah.
Deborah Lipstadt: Thank you for having me.
Geraldine Doogue: What made you interested in this phenomenon of Holocaust denial?
Deborah Lipstadt: The truth of the matter is I was approached by two prominent Holocaust historians, Yehuda Bauer and Israel Goodman quite a few years ago, and they said to me, ‘Deborah, do you think you ought to take a look at this, probably do a research project on it, or maybe write a book?’ And I really sloughed it off and said, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s anything there, I think it’s a silly phenomenon’, and I said it’s like flat earthers. And they argued rather persuasively that it was a form of anti-Semitism and possibly racism, and that it deserved to be looked at, not so much to answer the deniers, because I think don’t think there’s any point to that, but to understand what the phenomenon was all about.
Geraldine Doogue: I just wonder whether some of the people, the eminent historians who continue to support David Irving, your antagonist, because of his meticulous body of research, but who are certainly not anti-Semitic, not known to be anyway, whether you came to understand that in a way they couldn’t believe human beings were capable of such behaviour.
Deborah Lipstadt: I think the few historians, and probably John Keegan is the most prominent amongst them –
Geraldine Doogue: Sir John Keegan, whom –
Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, the military historian, the very prominent military historian who testified at the trial under subpoena, not under his own accord, I think he was subpoenaed by Irving. His approach, and those few historians who haven’t really, most of them have abandoned Irving at this point, what they do is they sort of build a little wall around this Holocaust denial and say, ‘Well that’s completely worthless, that’s completely stupid, he goes off at a tangent there, he’s lost his mind, but his other work is good.’ And that’s one of the reasons why during the trial we examined topics like Irving’s treatment of the bombing of Dresden showed that it wasn’t just in relation to the Holocaust that his historical research was not trustworthy.
Geraldine Doogue: Was the decision by your lawyers that you should not testify ultimately, was that a difficult one for you?
Deborah Lipstadt: Also exceptionally difficult. My business is talking, I’m a professor, I teach, I write, that’s the tool I have. I was dying to take the stand, I kept asking, ‘Put me on the stand, put me on the stand.’
Geraldine Doogue: Because David Irving makes a big play of that now on his website.
Deborah Lipstadt: Right, exactly. He tried to paint me as a coward, as frightened of him, as what he called ‘Taking the Fifth Amendment’, you know in the United States where you don’t have to testify against yourself. And what he didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, is that I kept saying to the lawyers, ‘Put me on the stand’, and they said, ‘You’re being sued for what you wrote. There’s nothing that you can add by putting you on the stand that is relevant to this case’
Geraldine Doogue: But also I suppose the challenge to one’s own humanity as an observer, and you actually quote James Dalrymple, writing in The Independent after that day, when he was sitting in the Tube on the way home from sitting through the court case, doing his own calculations until he realised with disgust what he was doing. So I wonder about the challenge to, well, at any point, did you find yourself being drawn in, even though you were the defendant, thinking, Oh yes, I understand what David Irving’s on about there?
Deborah Lipstadt: That didn’t happen, because by the time we went to trial, I had seen so many examples of his egregious lies and distortions, but every once in a while I would say, ‘We’ve got to make sure that the press, that the public, understands what he’s doing here, because if you don’t know, it can sound logical. If you don’t know, it can sound like it makes sense.’ At some level the Holocaust itself is beyond belief, and on that same level we would like David Irving to be right, we would like the deniers to be correct, and say ‘This didn’t happen, we don’t live in a world that has this legacy.’ The problem is, it did happen. But there’s a desire to say ‘It could never have happened’, you think, ‘Oh my God, thank God, I really was upset that it might have happened.’
So I wasn’t drawn in but I was always listening with a third ear, thinking, are other people being drawn in?
Geraldine Doogue: Sociologically. Look, part of the case relied on proving that his denial of the Holocaust came not from his research as an historian but as someone who was inherently anti-Semitic and racist. How was that done?
Deborah Lipstadt: Well, first of all, we had access through the process of discovery, to his diaries and his videotapes and his private speeches that he gave that had been videotaped etc., and it revealed to us things that we never imagined we would find. In his diary we found that he describes singing a little ditty he had written to his nine-month old daughter when he’s taking her for walks and whenever he’d quote, as he describes them, half-breed children are wheeled by, he sings to her,
I am a baby Aryan,
Not a Jew or a Sectarian,
I shall not marry an ape
Or things like, once I think it was in fact on Australian radio, he was being interviewed, and the interviewer said to him, they were talking about black people, blacks, or people’s colour, playing for the English cricket team, and Irving said, ‘I feel queasy when I see blacks playing for the English cricket team’, and in fact when Richard Rampton, my barrister, my QC, asked Irving about this in court, Irving said, ‘Oh Mr Rampton, you’re trying to paint me as a racist, I am not a racist, I think God just made this species different.’ Well that’s pretty revealing.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes.
Deborah Lipstadt: This is a man who gives a speech to an audience, and the audience laughs when he says these things. He says, ‘I was on vacation and I turned on the television, and the BBC, and I saw one of them reading our news to us.’
Geraldine Doogue: The big question is, which is what some people like Christopher Hitchens say, in effect if he is so mad or so distorted, and there’s personal quirks there, that would have been exposed. Why did it need this type of campaign?
Deborah Lipstadt: Well it didn’t need it. I mean, he sued me, I never would have sued him, I never would have dragged him into court. He sued me, so I was forced to put up a defence, I had no choice. If I hadn’t put up a defence, as your listeners know, the onus was on me to prove the truth of what I said. I don’t believe history belongs in the court room. I was dragged in there and had no choice but to fight. So I wouldn’t say he’s mad. I’ll tell you what I think he is, I think he is pathetic, I think he’s a pathetic figure. And I think in fact he’s not alone, I think all racists and anti-Semites and misogynists, are pathetic, and the challenge is to fight them and not to build them up and say they’re so important, but to defeat, utterly defeat them, and at the same time to show what pathetic kinds of characters they are.