Copyright 2001 Kirkus Service,
New York, April 1, 2001
A CONTRIBUTING editor for the Nation
assesses the unsuccessful libel action brought by
historian David Irving against Deborah
Lipstadt (and Penguin, her publisher) for
characterizing him as a Holocaust-denier in her 1993
book, Denying the Holocaust.
Guttenplan did his homework. Not only did he sit
through the three-month trial (January 11 through April
11, 2000), he also read the thousands of pages of trial
exhibits, the historical works written by the principals
and witnesses, and myriads of other publications relating
to the Holocaust. Even better: He interviewed the trial
judge, as well as both Irving and Lipstadt.
The result is the most informed, disinterested account
of this significant proceeding as we are likely to get.
Irving filed suit in July
1996 in England. This was a smart move, for English libel
laws required Lipstadt to prove that what she had said
was true; in the US, Irving would have had to demonstrate
that her charges were not only false but intentionally
Guttenplan raises interesting questions about
historical methods and evidence. What is history? How
reliable are witnesses? And documents? (The author
regrets that the only witnesses were historians, but he
knows why: the sometimes inaccurate
memories of Holocaust survivors would have aided the able
Irving, who served as his own counsel.) Guttenplan
adopts a fairly traditional, chronological approach-he
digresses principally to offer snapshot biographies of
Irving and Lipstadt, to dismantle the "science" of the
Leuchter (subject of Errol Morris's film Mr.
Death) and to take potshots at Daniel
Goldhagen (whose Hitler's Willing Executioners
fares poorly in these pages).
Guttenplan is not easy on anyone.
He has little respect for
Lipstadt's scholarship and moral courage; he
characterizes Irving as fundamentally racist, dishonest
and dangerous; sometimes he finds witnesses ineffective,
attorneys boring, the judge too indulgent. He suggests
that Jews hurt their own cause when they insist on the
uniqueness of the Holocaust. But the author's sharpness
has the great virtue of being able to cut through cant
and balderdash. Vigorous -- even abrasive -- reporting
illuminates yet another dismal page of history's darkest
book. (4 b&w illustrations)