Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Emory Wheel on Lipstadt Presentation


Prof confronts case with Holocaust denier

By Jessica Rudish
Contributing Writer
The Emory Wheel

February 25, 2005

Five years after defending herself against a libel suit by British Holocaust denier David Irving, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies Deborah Lipstadt used sarcasm and jokes to elicit laughter as she recalled the experience.

Lipstadt published her latest book on Holocaust denial earlier this month.

History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving focuses not on the history of Jews in World War II, as did her last scholarly work, but on her own personal history in a battle to air the truth.

Speaking to a crowd of about 70 people in the Woodruff Library Jones Room on Wednesday, Lipstadt related her intensely personal experience of the trial.

“I think it’s the story of a professor, well known, but not on a world stage, suddenly being thrown into a very public defense of her own work,” Lipstadt said before the event.

In her latest release, Lipstadt chronicles her legal encounter with Irving, a man she called one of the most dangerous Holocaust deniers in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Because he so clearly seemed to be a Holocaust denier — he said that the Holocaust was a legend and that Adolf Hitler was the German Jews’ best friend — and because she had dedicated only a few hundred words to him in her book, she thought the matter would be quickly resolved.

As a result, she did not take the lawsuit seriously and laughed when she heard about it.

“I thought the whole thing was stupid,” she said. “Very quickly I learned otherwise, that this was a very serious thing.”

She was in for a rude awakening, because Irving filed suit in London against both Lipstadt and her United Kingdom publisher, Penguin Books Ltd., and the trial began in January 2000. Unlike in America, British libel laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, not the plaintiff, making Lipstadt’s case more difficult to defend.

Lipstadt searched for various ways to prove her case, finally coming to one conclusion: she had to discredit Irving as a historian.

“I didn’t want this to become a ‘Did the Holocaust happen?’ trial, but a ‘Deborah Lipstadt told the truth’ trial,” she said.

She set out to reveal the falsifications in Irving’s works, including his 1977 book Hitler’s War, in order to show that he is a Holocaust denier.

By following his footnotes and checking their accuracy, it was revealed that many of the facts in his books were purposely misleading and falsified, even when describing nonHolocaust-related events, she said.

Lipstadt said his description of the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany toward the end of the war claimed that the Allies killed hundreds of thousands of people, when the actual figures are closer to 20,000 or 30,000.

As an example of the dangers posed by Irving’s writings, Lipstadt pointed to Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew from Irving’s work on Dresden.

“That’s how lies and distortions enter the public arena,” she said.

Although she had to face the four-month trial and three subsequent appeals, Lipstadt felt it was worth it.

“The trial devastated deniers’ arguments as they stood until the year 2001,” she said. “It just laid waste to them.”

Although mostly faculty and staff, some Emory students came to hear Lipstadt’s presentation, including College sophomore Joanna Green, who was encouraged by a Holocaust survivor to research deniers in high school.

“I want to get a book signed by her so that I can give it to a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “That’s what began my inquiry into this subject.”

Lipstadt must still face Irving in yet another legal battle, scheduled to take place in two weeks in London. Irving is suing her for the cost of the trial, something the court ordered him to pay her.


Anonymous said...

We are so excited that on the day your book was released, you confirmed your participation in Limmud-Oz 2005 in Sydney.
Peta Jones Pellach,

David H Lippman said...

So let me get this straight... Irving sues Deborah Lipstadt, gets his head handed to him, exposed as a fraud, loses the case, gets exposed as a fraud, and then sues Deborah Lipstadt to make her pay for his loss. That's Orwellian. There's a better word for that, straight from Yiddish, it's called "Chutzpah."

Anonymous said...

Ms Lipstadt is like a barnacle attatched to David Irving's backside. Can't she move on? This blogg simply consists of strident boasts of how Lipstadt, "demolished" Irving, how he was, "devastated" etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum. Are you working on anything of original academic merit?

David H Lippman said...

Jared seems to forget that David Irving launched the suit, not Professor Lipstadt. And that this entire case and book are about something a lot more important than next week's mid-term or next month's term papers...Mr. Irving's and his fan club's continued assault on the truth, so as to rehabilitate Adolf Hitler and his Nazis, and re-empower his sadistic doctrines of genocide. Being a "barnacle on Irving's backside" is not something Deborah Lipstadt ever sought or wished for. The libel trial was not something she sought or wished for. All of this was inflicted upon her, by people whose basic tenet is that "The Holocaust never happened, but it would have been a good thing if it did, so we're going to take power and make it happen." Mr. Irving is a skilled manipulator with a large audience in highly technological, industrialized, modern nations. Similar situations and manipulators have existed in a number of such nations in the past -- including Germany in 1923. Only by remembrance can future Hitlers be nipped in the bud. As for "moving on" and "strident boasts," the trial of the Holocaust is one of the major legal and historiographic stories of our time...and her story has yet to be told. Mr. Irving has done so ad nauseum on his web page and to every audience in sight. Professor Lipstadt had to remain silent through the investigation and trial -- her story of her ordeal is well-overdue! Perhaps you will give the "move on" advice to Holocaust victims and World War II veterans when they write their stories for posterity -- or should we just fertilize the world from the truck-garden of Mr. Irving's mind (or Britney Spears's two novels). And Mr. Irving is being his own "barnacle" on Professor Lipstadt's life...continuing to assail her on his web page, and now suing her again! Instead of the cliche about pots and kettles, I think I'd prefer to use the one about dogs returning to their vomit and fools putting their fingers back in the fire!

david gehrig said...

Well, it seems to me that if Irving is collecting barnacles, that's only natural -- that's what happens to ships once they're sunk. The only twist is that the SS David Irving torpedoed itself by suing Lipstadt.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Irving is a skilled manipulator with a large audience in highly technological, industrialized, modern nations.Irving is nothing of the kind. Irving is simply a shameless self-promoter who loves the lime-light or more importantly loves money.

He'll say anything to sell his books and his reputation, such as it is, rests mainly on controversy.

The fact is that Irving's sales figures were already in sharp decline before he decided to sue DL. My guess is he anticipated an out of court settlement with the chance to boost himself back in the public eye, but was unprepared for the tenacity of DL's defence.

Now DL's reputation rests on not anything she has written, but on her court action against Irving!

What a tacky bunch of individuals historians are.

Anonymous said...

Mr Lippman, Irving "launched the suit" in response to a printed attack made by Lipstadt. Lipstadt chose to innagurate a conflict with Irving, probably secure in the knowledge that she could depend upon heavy financial backup from her friends in the Jewish establishment.

You talk about the "truth". Truth is established through debate and the free exchange of information. Debating the holocaust is verbotten in most European countries.

Thanks for your pop-psychology analysis of "deniers" motives. I find it a bit of a contradiction for you to claim that "deniers" wish to disprove the holocaust in order to rehabilitate Nazism and, at one and the same time, long for a second holocaust, or should that be first holocaust? Who can tell, because you have slung so many ad hominems it's hard to say what point you are trying to make.

"Ms Lipstadt had to remain silent throughout the trial" . May I provide an English translation? Ms Lipstadt refused to take the stand against Irving, choosing to let her expensive legal team represent her.

For Mr Gherig's information, barnacles attach themselves to working ships and vessels, and have to be periodically scrapped off.

David H Lippman said...

Well, Mr. Jared, I don't know why I'm arguing with you, because you refuse to hold yourself to even a bottom level standard of accountability of being contacted directly or identifiable. Professor Lipstadt's book was not a war on David Irving, it was an assessment of Holocaust deniers and an attack on them and their methodology in general. David Irving didn't occupy very much space in the book. Your anti-Semitic analysis of Professor Lipstadt's motives only have relevance and accuracy in the truck-garden of your mind, as the court case pretty much shows. The deniers know damned well that the Holocaust happened. They want to continue the "big lie" traditions of Nazism. Once you remove the Holocaust and its attendant horrors from the historiography of World War II, Nazism is no longer a vicious and sadistic genocidal kleptomania, but a tough but admirable nationalist organization with laudable goals. Once you legitimize Nazism, then Hitler' acolytes can legitimately or illegitimately gain power. And once they're in power, then they can do what would be in reality a "second Holocaust," but in Nazi propaganda be a "first Holocaust," which would simply repeat what Hitler started -- only a lot more effectively. It's a very neat piece of logic, that would do credit to George Orwell. The neo-Nazis know damn well the Holocaust happened. That's why their talk is riddled with it. They just know that they can't win the hearts and minds of the average American, Briton, or Canadian (or other nationalities) by saying "The Holocaust happened, and it was a jolly good thing." So they have to take it out of the debate. It's Orwellian, but Nazism and neo-Nazism have a lot of Orwellian aspects. There is no debate with Holocaust deniers. Present the evidence that it happened, they call it a massive fraud. Present the eyewitnesses, they call them delusional or liars. Present the Nuremberg testimony, they deny the unfavorable stuff (to Nazis) as Jewish propaganda brought out under torture, or latch on to the favorable stuff (usually relatively minor) as "proof" of their points. Bring in the forensic evidence, they dismiss it as fraud. Attack the neo-Nazis' methodology and sources, they bark about "ad hominem" attacks and wrap themselves in the mantel of free speech. Point out that thousands of reputable historians ignore the deniers' work, the neo-Nazis wrap themselves in the mantel of Galileo. Bring in the experts who have written about the Holocaust, the deniers ridicule them as part of the Jewish conspiracy. Bring in former Nazis and other folks who have changed their mind, and the neo-Nazis accuse them of being bought out by or forced to conform to the lies of the Jewish conspiracy. The neo-Nazi argument ultimately comes down to haggling over small points and technicalities. And when presented with the records that disprove their notions, they dismiss them as forgeries and propaganda. There's a page on the Nizkor site that publishes an essay by one neo-Nazi leader who says that it wouldn't matter to them even if it had happened and Hitler had ordered it -- the Nazi and anti-Semitic grievance with the Jews justifies anti-Semitism. In other words, the Holocaust never happened, it's a Jewish hoax, but if it did happen, the Jews deserved it. So that seems to cover the whole "debate," such as it is. I guess the only thing that would impress the neo-Nazis would be if David Irving himself got up and said, "I was wrong." He actually came close to doing so during the trial and once before while being interviewed by Ron Rosenbaum for his book "Explaining Hitler," but then he didn't. And if David Irving or David Duke or Ernst Zundel were to stand up and say, "Jeez, I was wrong about the Holocaust," it wouldn't matter -- the other neo-Nazis would just say the Jews flogged a confession out of them. And if some researcher in the Moscow archives found the piece of paper that said, "From Hitler to Himmler: Kill all the Jews, signed, Adolf," that still wouldn't matter to the neo-Nazis, because they would just say it's Soviet propaganda, a Jewish forgery, another conspiracy. So there really isn't anything to debate, except for what the rest of the neo-Nazi agenda is going to be after they've taken power and killed all the Jews. Who are they going to kill next, once Judaism has been turned into artifacts of the "extinct race" that Goebbels would display at the Fuhrermuseum in Linz? The only thing that this "debate" between Holocaust deniers and defenders could consist of would be ad hominem attacks and anti-Semitic rhetoric dating back to "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," which is another barnacle on the world's backside that defies being scraped off. There really isn't anything to debate.

Anonymous said...


"You talk about the "truth". Truth is established through debate and the free exchange of information. Debating the holocaust is verbotten in most European countries."

Well, it's not in US. Did that change anything?

"Thanks for your pop-psychology analysis of "deniers" motives. I find it a bit of a contradiction for you to claim that "deniers" wish to disprove the holocaust in order to rehabilitate Nazism"

Not true for all deniers, but surely true for the majority.

"May I provide an English translation? Ms Lipstadt refused to take the stand against Irving, choosing to let her expensive legal team represent her."

And why not? Rather, I think her motive was as follows: she had said that one shouldn't debate deniers, so it would be contradictory if she debated with Irving, even in court.

"For Mr Gherig's information, barnacles attach themselves to working ships and vessels, and have to be periodically scrapped off."

That much is true. Irving is not a working vessel, though. He is a pathological liar and a very dumb person. He continuously proves it by posting lies on his site.

david gehrig said...

Lipstadt most certainly did not refuse to take the stand, as any substantial account of the trial would tell you. She wasn't required to take the stand, for the simple reason that there was no need to. She submitted a written witness statement saying, in effect, "Yes, I did write the words Irving said I did, and I meant them." That was all she needed to do; legally, at that point the case no longer had anything to do with her as such and everything to do with the words she'd written -- words which turned out to be overwhelmingly true, to Irving's chagrin.

Of course, poor Irving howled and howled because he was deprived of an opportunity to grandstand about The Great International Conspiracy in front of the press, but a sharper cookie would have seen it coming. A sharper cookie still wouldn't have sued at all.

And Irving's few remaining minions -- fewer and fewer, it seems -- have tried half-heartedly to pick up that baton Irving tried to pass, about Lipstadt being unable to withstand crossexamination, being timid and frightened, etc., as a way to explain away, if only partially, the incredible hiding Irving took.

But what else would you expect Irving to say -- "I screwed up bigtime and shouldn't have sued her in the first place"?


Anonymous said...

I think Jared has raised a good point. If as David H Lippman implies, revisionists like Irving are motivated by anti-semtitic feelings and their arguments are so easily discredited and their motives exposed, why is holocaust denial a criminal offense in some countries?

Surely making holocaust denial a 'crime' feeds world conspiracy pseudo theories and puts freedom of speech on the side of crypto-fascists?

In other words, it lends credibility to where ordinarily there would be none.

To quote the phrase: What sort of truth is it that needs protecting? If necessary with the full penalty of the law?

David H Lippman said...

Paul has a very good point...the truth should not require a law to protect itself...truth should be able to stand up and defend itself through it sheer moral and philosophical strength. I suspect that such laws, particularly in Germany, the birthplace of Nazism, are a reaction to that fact. Germany's leaders, determined to prevent a re-birth of Nazism, go to the opposite extreme, as if to say to the world, "We will not only oppose Hitler, but make it a crime to support him." Such a step has the impact of tossing Gerhard Lauck and Ernst Zundel in the slammer, but it also makes them undeserving martyrs and Germany and other nations look like intolerant censors. Which only plays into their hands. Martyrdom has many advantages.

Anonymous said...

Paul makes quite a silly point. What do these laws have to do with difficulty or ease with which deniers can be refuted? Hate literature like the "Protocols" is also prohibited. Does that mean there it is largely true? That it can't be refuted?

Or is it because it is - quite simply - hate literature?

David H Lippman said...

The previous note is also a good point, as the rabbi said...the deniers are very good, from years of experience, at figuring out how to tap-dance on the edge of the razor blade. They're very good at spouting anti-Semitic and offensive drivel, designed purely to outrage and offend (so they can get more attention than they're worth) their targets, and attract more like-minded people to their cause, so they can ultimately launch the glorious revolution. But if these guys come out and say, "We want to overthrow the government, replace it with a Nazi regime, and then kill all the Jews, because that's God's work," well, that's sedition and treason in any country. So they've figured out how to say that...without saying it...and then when caught, they can just wrap themselves up in the mantel of free speech. If they weren't such a menace to truth (and in the case of Matthew Hale's followers, to life and limb), they would not require such attention...they would be given the due pomp and serious regard we give the "Flat-Earth Society."

david gehrig said...

The "if it's so stupid, why is Holocaust denial illegal" argument is another one of those cases of a carefully constructed misframing of the question. Nations with laws against Holocaust denial ban also many other kinds of hate speech, Holocaust denial being only one variety.

We can argue for or against bans on hate speech -- and I'd argue against them, the courtroom splattering Irving took being a perfect example of what open inquiry can do. But to single out laws against promoting Holocaust denial and claim that they're stopping free academic inquiry into an open question? Puh-leeese!

Holocaust denial -- no matter how it tries to dress itself up in a labcoat a la Leuchter or a tweed jacket a la Irving -- remains nothing more than raw antisemitica only slightly more perfumed than most, and as such falls under the classification of hate speech.


Anonymous said...

Yes well that really depends on how sincere one is in wanting to put an end to holocaust denial instead of creating politically incorrect martyrs.

As you yourself have just pointed out:

the courtroom splattering Irving took being a perfect example of what open inquiry can do.I don't think I'll bother with "anonymous'" pointless comment.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think I'll bother with "anonymous'" pointless comment."

Of course you won't, Pollie. You can't refute the good argument.