Prof confronts case with Holocaust denier
By Jessica Rudish
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.