Holocaust on trial in London
By Douglas Davis Tuesday, January 11 2000 12:01
LONDON (January 11) - Prof. Deborah Lipstadt has traveled a huge distance from Atlanta's Emory University to the august Royal Courts of Justice here for the opening of a libel trial today that pits her credibility against one of the world's foremost Holocaust revisionists, David Irving.
Inside the austere Court 37, Lipstadt and Irving will spend much of the next three months in a detailed battle for the soul of the Holocaust, a battle which British Jewish historian Prof. David Cesarani this week described as "one of the most gripping of modern times."
"The consequences for both parties will be enormous," noted Cesarani, "and the consequences will reverberate far and wide."
The trial centers around claims made against Irving by Lipstadt, a specialist in the Holocaust and antisemitism, in her 1995 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth and Memory, published by Penguin Books.
Irving claims Lipstadt defamed him by alleging that his writing "applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps" and that he is "an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach untenable conclusions."
The book quotes analysts as describing his work as being "closer to theology or mythology than to history."
Irving, who has more than 20 controversial books to his credit, including biographies of Hitler and his propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, further claims Lipstadt tarnished his reputation by linking him to Hamas and Hizbullah, as well as to the American Nation of Islam and the Russian ultranationalist Pamyat.
"As a reputable historian with some groundbreaking work behind me, I should be enabled to use an element of skepticism in my work without being accused of being a Holocaust denier," he said earlier this month.
It will be a tough charge for Irving to dismiss.
While it is widely accepted that at least a million people died in Auschwitz, he peddles the view that the crematoria at the death camp were built as tourist attractions by postwar Polish Communists. He has described Auschwitz as "a very brutal slave labor camp, where probably 100,000 Jews died" - mostly, he added, of natural causes.
In his 1977 book Hitler's War, Irving asserted that "the incontrovertible evidence is that Hitler ordered that there was to be 'no liquidation' of the Jews." Indeed, Irving has claimed that Hitler even tried to stop some of the killings.
In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times last Friday, Lipstadt was unbowed and unintimidated.
"There are more people in the United States who believe that Elvis Presley is alive than who believe the Holocaust didn't happen," she said. "As an American, that's a demi-consolation."
"But I see it as a clear and present danger. The future danger is when there are no people left who can say in the first-person singular, 'This is what happened to me.' It's going to be much easier to deny it."
Lipstadt declined to discuss Irving or the London trial on the advice of her lawyers, but she insists there is a danger in allowing Holocaust deniers to wear the mantle of legitimate historians who raise new questions about accepted history.
"There's a definite political agenda," she said. "This is not just Looney Tunes history. These are people who want to make National Socialism respectable again.
"And how do you make a thoroughly discredited movement respectable? First of all, you deal with moral equivalencies.
"But there's no moral equivalency for them to bring up about the Holocaust, so instead they are left denying the Holocaust. And denying it in such a way that you almost hear them saying, 'It didn't happen, but it should have.'"
For his trouble, Irving - a Germanophile who spent a year in his youth working in the Thyssen industrial plant to perfect his German - has been banned from Germany, Austria, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Ultimately, of course, the outcome of the trial now under way at the Royal Courts of Justice will far transcend the reputations and importance of the two principals.
Whatever the outcome, Irving will remain a folk hero of the far-Right, but defeat will damage the cause of France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, who regards the Holocaust as a "detail of history," and Austria's Joerg Haider, who would prefer Europe to take a more relaxed view of Hitler.
Lipstadt is carrying a heavy burden of historical fact and interpretation, a point that has not been lost by other Holocaust historians.
Leading Israeli expert Prof. Yehuda Bauer acknowledges that Irving, no cardboard-cutout neo-Nazi, represents a "dangerous" adversary.
"There is no doubt that he is an extremely intelligent man, and he has read a huge number of documents," noted Bauer. "This conscious denial of the truth is something that he has in common with many other deniers."
Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also sounded a warning about the hazards of British courts, where the onus of proof in a libel trial is on the defendant.
Zuroff has learned of the hazards from bitter personal experience since a book he wrote on a Nazi war-crimes suspect now living in Britain was banned.
"Anything can happen in those courts," he said, warning that "any victory for Irving will be a loss for truth and accuracy."
According to Irving, the case will focus on two central issues.
"They are out to prove what they call the Holocaust and the figures - figures which I shall dispute."
Almost as a secondary issue, he acknowledges that his adversaries will be seeking to prove "that I'm a corrupt, dishonest, and rotten historian."
Lipstadt will contest that he has any claim to call himself a historian.
But that phrase - "corrupt, dishonest, and rotten historian" - could well be Irving's epitaph if he loses his high-profile, high-stakes joust with history.
ENGLAND: IRVING CASE CONTINUES
By Cathy Gordon and Jan Colley, PA News
Controversial historian David Irving today dramatically revealed that the German government was seeking his extradition for alleged racial incitement.
The 62-year-old author told the High Court in London that it was another example of "the kind of hatred I face and the problems I face because of the repugnant allegations against me".
On the third day of his libel action over claims that he was a "Holocaust denier", Mr Irving told the court that "the German government has asked for my extradition to Germany on an alleged offence that I committed in 1990".
He referred Mr Justice Gray, the judge hearing his case against American academic Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, to a January 12 press clipping from a German newspaper about the extradition request.
Mr Irving said he drew the article to the court's attention in case "this end of the bench should suddenly be empty".
The judge said it was "unlikely" that would happen.
The article shown to the judge, from Stuttgart Zeitung, stated that "Weinheim magistrates court has requested the British Government to extradite David Irving".
It further reported that "there has been since 1996 an indictment for racial incitement" relating to a lecture Mr Irving delivered in Weinheim in September 1990.
The article stated that Mr Irving "had made a name for himself on that occasion among the circles concerned because he challenged Hitler's blame for the war and among other things maintained that the Holocaust had not occurred".
And it added that it was "doubtful that there will be any trial of Irving as the allegations against him will run out of time in September this year".
After the end of today's sitting, Mr Irving told the media that the controversy arose over a comment he made during a talk at Weinheim that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were a fake and built after the war. Such a statement was a criminal offence in Germany, he said.
The extradition proceedings revealed in court today were launched in August 1998, said Mr Irving. No attempt had been made to serve the warrant against him, but the British Government had agreed to co-operate with Germany.
He said he had warned the Home Secretary that if they tried to serve a warrant on him he would prosecute the Home Office for assault and he had written to Jack Straw a few weeks ago.
Professor Lipstadt and Penguin Books deny libelling Mr Irving in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
Mr Irving, of Duke Street, Mayfair, central London, who is representing himself, says the book alleges he has denied the Holocaust, and has distorted statistics and documents to serve his own ideological purposes and reach historically untenable conclusions.
He claims the book has generated "waves of hatred against him".
The hearing was adjourned until Monday.
Jerusalem,January 11, 2000