Sunday, May 29, 2005

The woman who defended history - article in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Columnist Dennis Roddy discusses Irving vs Lipstadt in today's edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here are some excerpts:

The woman who defended history

Sunday, May 29, 2005
By Dennis Roddy

British libel court is war unto the knife. Loser pays all. David Irving set out to demolish Deborah Lipstadt. One year after the trial, Irving's wife and daughter wept on a curbside as liquidators seized their house, its contents, Irving's library. By the time Irving got home, he discovered that the suit he was wearing was the only one he now owned.

"They took everything. They took my entire research archive of 35 years," Irving said. "I find it increasingly difficult to be good-humored about it."

The great irony here is that Irving was the plaintiff. He was out to destroy Lipstadt, an American historian, for criticizing his increasingly implausible suggestions about the Holocaust.

For decades, Irving frightened off his worst critics with a belligerent certainty that made him a hero to the Holocaust denial crowd, even as he protested he was not part of it. [...]


When he denied that Auschwitz had gas chambers for killing Jews, Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history, numbered him among Holocaust deniers in her 1993 book on the subject. When it was published in Britain, where libel law essentially holds a defendant guilty until proven otherwise, Irving went after her with a flair that attracted the attention of a world that quickly dubbed it "The Holocaust on Trial."

Lipstadt didn't simply win her case. She basically brought down the one historian who lent any measure of legitimacy to Holocaust denial. She comes to Pittsburgh on June 8 as keynote speaker for the American Jewish Committee's annual meeting. Holocaust survivors are constantly thanking her for saving their history, and this flummoxes her.

"I tell them, 'Wait a minute, your history would have been fine. It's not so fragile that this one guy can destroy it,' " she said.

That's hard to say. The tyranny of the clock is taking away the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. A shocking number of people are prepared to suggest that it is possible 6 million Jews were not murdered. When C-Span, the cable public affairs network, made plans to carry a Lipstadt speech they decided to balance it with an appearance by Irving, as if there is "another side" to the near annihilation of Europe's Jews. History, in this case, needs to be saved.


When Irving sued her, Lipstadt was infuriated. Here was a man who had spoken at the Institute for Historical Review, a blatantly anti-Semitic assortment of pseudo-scholars in California. Irving's speeches in the Cleveland area were booked by Erich Gliebe, currently head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Irving testified on behalf of Ernst Zundel, the Canadian co-author of "The Hitler We Loved and Why." This guy was suing her for defamation.

Lipstadt thinks she knows why.

"First of all, I'm a woman, and the guy is a misogynist. Second of all, I'm an American. I was far away. Maybe he thought I wouldn't take it seriously. And third of all and most importantly, I am a Jew. I am strongly identified with the Jewish community and this was his way of going after the 'traditional enemies of truth,' as he kept calling them. This guy is a bully. This guy is really a bully. He's used to getting away with it."

Irving does, indeed, have a rough streak going through him. When I wrote a column about the trial five years ago, he posted it on his Web site with an instant link for readers to send me their thoughts. The kindest read, "You are a communist jew pimp."

The 10-week trial, in which Irving acted as his own lawyer, ripped away the veneer of scholarship he had applied in careful coats starting with his first book, a devastating, though now numerically suspect, account of the allied bombing of Dresden [...]


By trial's end Irving had been cornered as a racist, an anti-Semite, a sloppy historian, a keeper of company with the jackboot-and-suspenders crowd. He lost everything: his court action, his reputation, his home, the very couch in his living room.

"He never paid me a penny," Lipstadt says today. Irving kept things tied up fairly skillfully. He was declared insolvent and, after three years, he's now untouchable, though starting over at this late date is likely to be difficult.

Both Lipstadt and Irving say they'd have gone through this mess all over again. She'd have written more harshly about him knowing now what he kept hidden in his diaries and the distortions she says have been found in virtually every one of his books. He'd had brought this action as well, he says. Why he says this, I can't tell for certain, although Lipstadt has a pretty solid theory.

"Part of it is the contrarian thing, because that is how he gets attention. If he just did ordinary scholarship he wouldn't get attention," she said. "The one thing about him is he craves attention."

So David Irving makes his own history. Some of it he writes, taking known events and giving them a backspin guaranteed to produce the craziest bounce. Some of it he generates by bringing on a libel action that destroys him so he can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his own making. He'll be at it as long as he lives. [...]


Why else, [Irving asked regarding 9/11's Flight 93], would the seismographs that picked up the crash be four minutes off from the plane's black box. That's a four-minute gap -- time enough for someone to have shot down the plane.

I suggested that sometimes, just sometimes, clocks are set differently. The one on my kitchen wall has been in serious disagreement with the one on my microwave oven for the past 10 years. That strikes Irving as improbable.

Like Billy Pilgrim, the hero in "Slaughterhouse Five," the novel Vonnegut wrote using Irving's account of Dresden, David Irving has come unstuck in time. He's more than four minutes off. He picked a fight with a woman who neglected to be frightened.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Great Moment in Legal History - article in N.Y. Sun

Prof. Lipstadt recently addressed participants at an American Jewish Committee celebration held in her honour. The following are some excerpts, from an article describing this event, published in today's (May 26/05) N.Y. Sun:

A Great Moment in Legal History

May 26, 2005

Emory University Jewish Studies professor Deborah Lipstadt's triumph over Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued her and her publisher for libel in London, is "one of those great moments in legal history when truth, justice, and freedom of speech are all simultaneously served," writes lawyer Alan Dershowitz in the afterward to Ms. Lipstadt's new book, "My Day in Court With David Irving: History on Trial" (Ecco).The book describes the momentous 10-week trial in 2000 under British libel law, which (unlike its American counterpart) places the burden of proof on the defendant. At a celebration held in her honor at the American Jewish Committee this Tuesday, Ms. Lipstadt discussed the case, which stemmed from assertions made in her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" (Free Press).

The event marked a return to New York for Ms. Lipstadt, who grew up on the Upper West Side and Far Rockaway, where her rabbis included Norman Lamm and Emanuel Rackman. AJC Executive Director David Harris, introducing the evening's program, spoke of the effort to raise money for her legal costs: "Good lawyers do not come cheap - in London or in New York." He said: "what was going to be on trial was not Deborah Lipstadt per se but the Holocaust. For generations it would shape the way people view the Holocaust. This was not her battle alone." They asked themselves "what we could do, not only as friends of Deborah but as friends of the truth."


[In discussing the case, Ms. Lipstadt] said an overall challenge was how to fight Holocaust deniers without building them up and turning them into significant people. She said she aimed to show how ridiculous Mr. Irving's arguments were, and did. She spoke of flying to London, experiencing jet lag, shuttling from her unglamorous hotel to the lawyer's office, reading documents, and even sleeping through one of the plays she attended during her stay.

Ms. Lipstadt talked about the book's themes, including the legal and forensic one: "how we managed to fight the battle." She and her legal team did not want it to be a "did-the-Holocaust-happen case." They turned the tables on Mr. Irving by making the case about what a credible historian would have done with the facts before him at the time he was writing.


The book offers insight into the intricacies of the British legal system (with its solicitors and barristers, for example), as well as unexpected incidents, such as when Mr. Irving inadvertently referred to the judge as "mein Fuhrer" instead of "my Lord." Ms. Lipstadt spoke about some tactical decisions in the case, such as going beyond the Holocaust to discuss Churchill and Dresden. The point was to show that even when he was not talking about the Jews, Mr. Irving intentionally distorted facts to show that the Nazis were not so bad. [...]


"The trial that was thrust upon her," AJC expert on anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, told The New York Sun, "was an important step in combating anti-Semitism." He said in the book one can learn not only "a profile in courage" but a message about fighting hatred both smartly and courageously.

"Deborah was the most reluctant author I ever published," said Adam Bellow, editor at large at Doubleday, who edited "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" when he was editorial director at the Free Press. He said she wisely chose not to debate Holocaust deniers or appear on a program with them. "People in the press think of it as the 'other side,'" he said. "But there's truth and there are lies. She ran up against the relativism of the age."

"It's not a question of choosing sides - there's really no other side," said her agent, Gary Morris, who described "History on Trial" as both a legal and personal story. Ms. Lipstadt earlier this year declined to have C-Span cover a talk of hers, since it planned to pair it with coverage of Mr. Irving. Mr. Stern told the Sun, "It's like doing a program on child-rearing and bringing in Michael Jackson as balance. It's nuts."


Ms. Lipstadt thanked Emory University not only for granting her paid leave but also, without her asking, for its president and board allocating funds to help pay her expenses in mounting her defense. She asked the audience to note how rare this kind of university support is: "cold hard cash."

Ms. Lipstadt thanked her current editor at HarperCollins, Julia Serebrinsky, as well as her former one, Mr. Bellow. Mr. Bellow told the Sun how gratifying it was to have worked with Ms. Lipstadt. He said hers was one of a handful of books he has worked on "that have really done good in the world. Most books don't do anything."

Friday, May 6, 2005

Birnbaum v. Deborah Lipstadt

Robert Birnbaum is a contributor to the online "weekday magazine" The Morning News. The editors introduce his article by noting:
Prejudice cannot be defeated entirely, but it can be fought and with courage and stamina, and with really good lawyers. Our bookish reporter in Boston Robert Birnbaum has a fascinating conversation with scholar Deborah Lipstadt about her six-year battle with Holocaust denier David Irving.

I do recommend reading the entire interview, during the course of which Birnbaum also photographed Prof. Lipstadt - and you can see the photos, too! In the meantime, here is Birnbaum's introduction to his transcription, as well as a few excerpts from their conversation:

Birnbaum v. Deborah Lipstadt

Despite personal and familial connections (or perhaps because of such) I had, to date, not paid much attention to the pernicious movement that presumes to deny the Holocaust. This is in keeping with my conscious decision to spend as little intellectual and emotional energy as possible on lunatic fringe movements and other idiocies. Deborah Lipstadt’s six-year legal ordeal, which she compellingly narrates in History on Trial, changed that. The story begins as such: British author David Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in London after she called him a Holocaust denier and right-wing extremist in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust.

Deborah Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and Director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She has taught at UCLA and Occidental College in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and her master’s and doctorate from Brandeis University. In addition to History on Trial and Denying the Holocaust, she is the author of Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust. She has appeared on CNN, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fresh Air, and The Charlie Rose Show, and is a frequent contributor to and is widely quoted in a variety of periodicals. She is currently working on a book on Jewish responses to the new anti-Semitism.

The conversation that follows ranges over a wider terrain than the riveting details of the libel trial. What seems obvious to me in the aftermath is that hateful ideologues such as David Irving, while not being defanged or declawed by intelligent and conscientious scrutiny, are less likely to be accepted as legitimate scholars. Unfortunately, even the truth seems not to derail their specious efforts. But it is not for the lack of effort by Deborah Lipstadt and others. For which we all should be grateful.

Robert Birnbaum: Is anti-Semitism a necessary condition for Holocaust denial?

Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism at its heart. That’s not to say there aren’t people who are inadvertently convinced by deniers. Imagine someone who may be sitting on an airplane next to a person who is a committed Holocaust denier and they are stuck on the runway for three hours or it’s a long flight cross country and the person [eventually] is convinced by the denier. But even those people, i.e., the putative “innocent” passengers, must, in order to believe that, “Oh, the Jews invented all this and made it up”—have to have a predilection towards anti-Semitism. That have to be somewhat anti-Semitic. I am a bit wary of saying someone is “somewhat” anti-Semitic. That’s like saying someone is a little bit pregnant. But for the deniers themselves, the people who are at the core, it’s unquestionably a form of anti-Semitism.


RB: And David Irving took exception to it. [laughs] Filed suit in Britain, which is still a matter of mystery to me—how divergent the libel laws for the U.S. and the U.K. are.

DL: So absurd. Well, let me make one thing very clear. In my book, Denying the Holocaust, Irving, occupies, at most, 300 words, and probably less than that. Someone checked, and I think he is mentioned on six pages—not full pages, references. I admit that I did say some harsh things about him. I said, “He is the most dangerous of Holocaust deniers.” I said that he knows the truth and he bends it to fit his preexisting political views. And by implication, though I didn’t directly call him one, that he was an anti-Semite and a racist as well. So he sued me in England, where libel laws are a mirror image of American libel law. In the United States, if I say you libeled me, I have to prove it. In the U.K., if I say you libeled me, you have to prove you didn’t libel me. Words written are considered untrue until proven true. So if I hadn’t defended myself I would have been found guilty. I should mention that Penguin U.K., my publisher, was my co-defendant. I think that if I had not fought, that they might not have pursued the case as forcefully as they did. But they did stand by my side, to their credit.

RB: It must be noted they didn’t climb on board for the appeal.

DL: No, they left me with a $100,000 legal bill.


RB: You didn’t know British libel law then.

DL: I didn’t know British libel law but I did know that he [Irving] had called the Holocaust a legend, in a courtroom, under oath, in Canada testifying as a witness for [Holocaust denier] Ernest Zundel, who was on trial. Then in the early ‘90s, upon being asked by reporters why the Holocaust had disappeared from a recent edition of his book when it had been in the book in an earlier edition which appeared in the ‘70s, he said, “If something didn’t happen, you don’t dignify it with a footnote.” He said to a survivor who appeared with him on Australian radio, “Mrs. Altman, how much money did you make from having that number tattooed on your arm?” So I thought that in light of all the things he had said, my statement that he is a denier was no big innovation. I was not saying anything radical. But he was waiting. He was just poised to pounce. I really believe he wanted to get me.


RB: Judge Gray’s verdict is unwavering and unqualified in every way on Irving.

DL: It’s unrelenting.

RB: Irving is all the things any one could have said—and more.

DL: Much more than I said about him in my book. That’s one of the ironies of this entire case. As a result of the research we had to do to defend me, we discovered just how egregious Irving’s record is.


RB: I looked at some web site for one of those nutso, straw man groups that support Irving and they have 13 questions for you to answer, which if anyone of them [were the type of person who] had read this book, would be totally irrelevant. An amalgam of crap, slurs, half-truths posed as questions—

DL: These questions are, as you say, slurs, half-truths, and completely ridiculous. Irving keeps saying that Deborah Lipstadt took the Fifth. First of all, [laughs] there is no constitution [in Britain]. No. 2, I didn’t take the Fifth. In the United Kingdom there is no obligation for the defendant to testify. No. 3, I wrote a book, and David Irving was suing me for what I wrote. There was nothing I could add by going on the stand that was relevant to the case and, in fact, when he recently spoke in Atlanta, he said, “If Lipstadt had taken the stand, I would have asked her about views on intermarriage.” Now, what does that have to do with my calling him a Holocaust denier?


RB: Did [Irving] pay his court costs?

DL: [emphatically] No! In fact, I dropped my attempt to make him pay and now he has turned around and sued me, arguing that I should have to pay his expenses because I dropped the pursuit of him. We were in court two days ago to argue this. Each time he does this it runs up my legal bill. In the U.K., loser pays costs so, after the trial, he owed my defense fund a million and three-quarters. I paid for an independent book and document assessor who specializes in the Holocaust to go to England to assess the value of his papers. He felt that at the most they were worth $200,000 or so. We hoped to get control of them, in lieu of the cash Irving owed us, and sell them to a library or archive. But by then Irving had already run the clock up so there were $80,000 or $90,000 worth of lawyer bills and we hadn’t even gone to court. It became clear that this was a losing proposition. The lawyers’ bills would wipe out anything we would get from him. Finally, last June [2004], I said, “The trial itself was about a principle, about truth, this is about money. Leave it alone, I’m giving it up.” And I was really upset with myself even though I knew it was the right decision, from a legal and financial perspective. But he has documents that no historians have ever seen and which he should really make accessible. My actions would have made them accessible.


RB: So you were shocked that verdict was so damning?

DL: I was floored, it was so compelling. I never expected such an all-encompassing verdict. Did you see Richard Bernstein’s piece in the New York Times on the radical groups in Germany and how they are presenting themselves in a more “respectable” demeanor? I was in Germany last week, and at a press conference I said that this tactic, on the part of extremists of appearing respectable, started with Holocaust deniers. They were among the first to figure out that most people make their judgments about people based on external appearances. Therefore, if an extremist comes swaggering in to the room in high black boots with swastikas and looking like skinheads, people take one look at them and say, “Oh my God, I know what you are. And I want to have nothing to do with you.” But if the same extremists come into the room in a nice tweedy jacket, maybe with patches on the elbows and jeans or whatever, smoking a pipe, and they begin to speak rationally, people are more likely to listen. In this regard, deniers say, “Oh, I’m not an anti-Semite, I just have certain questions about the Holocaust which perplex me. And I don’t understand why Professor Lipstadt is afraid to answer those questions. I am just interested in open debate. What’s wrong with open debate?” And in Germany the far right party, the NPD, is inclined, rather than to parade in swastikas, to say, “We want to commemorate the ‘bombing Holocaust’ in Dresden. We want to give equal attention to the victims.” But what they are really doing is whitewashing the crimes of the Third Reich by engaging in immoral equivalencies.

Lipstadt Cited in Article on Holocaust Museums

Professor Lipstadt was cited in a Jerusalem Post article on Holocaust museums. Here are some excerpts:


The Holocaust is still being remembered – just not the way it used to be.

Sixty years after its end, an increasing number of cities have built architectural testimony to the Holocaust. Twenty-six cities in the United States and Canada now have Holocaust museums, and others have built monuments or established research foundations or educational centers.

Holocaust museums and memorials have shifted the nature of remembrance, moving away from the emphasis on testimony and defiance toward the teaching of tolerance and understanding, according to several Holocaust experts.

"Holocaust memorials always reflect their time. Every generation has to find its own reason for memorializing," says James Young, a professor at the University of Massachusetts and the author of The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning. Older museums marking the Holocaust, such as the original Yad Vashem, built in 1957, focused on telling the survivors' stories and conveying a "sense of hope and gratitude," Young says.

Newer memorials, such as the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, which opened in 1993, often make a self-conscious attempt to universalize messages in an attempt to make them accessible to more people, he adds.

According to Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and a consultant on the development of the Washington museum, visitors to the new museums, built roughly during the last decade, learn universal moral imperatives, such as "the importance of military ethics and of recognizing the humanity of the enemy even while undertaking action against them."

Broadening the message of the Holocaust in memorials to include the persecution of gays and lesbians during World War II or including other genocides raises some controversy.

Berenbaum worries that moving the focus away from the specific Jewish nature of the tragedy borders on "soft-core denial, by trying to call other" mass murders "Holocaust-like."


All museums want to say the Holocaust "is a terrible thing," says Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University and author of the recently published book History On Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving. If we know about it, "we have a better chance of preventing this from happening again. We are ensuring the future," she says.


The architecture of museums and memorials has changed to accompany contemporary attitudes.

Berenbaum says that the original Yad Vashem provided the first "model of an integrated institution; a museum that tells the story of the Holocaust, a research institution and archive, and an educational institution that teaches teachers and students the history of the Holocaust, its meaning and application to the new generation." When it came to the Washington museum, planners tried take a slightly different tack.

"There are corners that don't quite meet – the building is not supposed to reassure you," Young says. "It is constructed from brick and iron, a material reference to the Holocaust."

Lipstadt is pleased by the diversity of the visitors to the Washington museum, which she helped plan.

"I sit in the lobby and watch America pass by me," she says. "Every part of the country comes – the vast majority of visitors are non-Jewish."

She hopes this means that more people are getting an important message. "While it's important to know what happened, building an identity as victims is not who Jews are. A whole world of Jewish identity is lost: We should teach people to be Jews in spite of the Holocaust, not because of it. We have to teach them the good stuff, too."

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

History on Trial Reviewed in The Boston Globe

'Trial' digs into a Holocaust denier
By Judith L. Rakowsky, Globe Staff May 4, 2005

History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving, By Deborah E. Lipstadt, HarperCollins, 346 pp., illustrated, $25.95

The practice of media and academic programs offering microphones to Holocaust deniers for ''balance" prompted Emory University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt to write the 1993 book ''Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

Polls had shown the public was not buying the anti-Semitic message, and some scholars thought it better to ignore the deniers. But she decided to chronicle the movement in hopes of shining light on the more sophisticated practitioners, such as British author David Irving, who she thought capable of sowing confusion.

Lipstadt's book devoted a few paragraphs to Irving, who calls Auschwitz ''a legend." Irving says, ''More women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."

Irving seized on Lipstadt's entries and used them to find his largest audience ever. He sued Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin UK, for libel, contending he was the victim of an international conspiracy to ruin his reputation.

The suit would have quickly died in US courts, where Irving would have had to prove she lied in defaming him. But British libel law required Lipstadt and the publisher to prove her words true. That is how Lipstadt and Penguin wound up making a case for gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, and for Hitler's authorship of the ''Final Solution" to exterminate European Jewry.

Lipstadt has written a gripping account of the 10-week trial, a taut page-turner reminiscent of Jonathan Harr's ''A Civil Action," and she tightly weaves complex material through a nimble narrative.

She tells the story in strict chronology, which carries the potential for bogging down the tale in pretrial tedium. But it is that preparation phase that drives home how monumental was the trial team's task. It clearly needed money for expert analysis and raised most of the $1.5 million through businessman Leslie Wexner, head of the Limited clothing chain.

The courtroom drama quenches the American reader's thirst for the idiosyncratic details -- the wigs, robes, and Byzantine procedure. Lipstadt even writes about the luncheon conversations of the trial team, down to the vintage wine from the law-firm cellar and the crustless sandwiches.

The epic legal battle was truly a lopsided duel of evidence. Irving, in his rambling turns as inquisitor and witness, tried to argue against Nazi documents that showed Hitler had read progress reports of mobile killing squads targeting Jews, and of meticulous building plans and permits for gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz.

But while the main contest was clear cut, Lipstadt's team had a greater challenge in showing that Irving was not a bumbling scholar prone to sloppy translations and miscalculations but an ideologue intent on obfuscation and distortion. That's how the kitchen sink of evidence came in against Irving, including a ditty he sang to his infant daughter: ''I am a baby Aryan / Not Jewish or Sectarian / I have no plans to marry / An ape or Rastafarian."

Ultimately, the British judge found the evidence ''incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier."

''Irving's treatment of the historical evidence is so perverse and egregious that it is difficult to accept that it is inadvertence. . . . He has deliberately skewed the evidence to bring it in line with his political beliefs," the judge found.

But neither Lipstadt's legal triumph nor her well-written book would silence Irving, a college dropout who casts himself as a historian. Irving solicits funds on his publisher's website, where readers can order three of his World War II books, now back in print.