Historian Loses Libel Suit on Holocaust View
Britain’s High Court called Hitler biographer David Irving “anti-Semitic and racist” in a scathing ruling Tuesday that rejected the libel charges he had brought over claims that he is a Holocaust denier.
Irving had sued U.S. professor Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin UK, for portraying him as someone who falsifies history to suit his widely dismissed views on Hitler and the Holocaust--including the assertion that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The British historian claimed that Lipstadt’s book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” distorted the truth and damaged his reputation.
High Court Judge Charles Gray said that Irving not only has denied the Holocaust but is “a right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist” who mixes with neo-fascists.
“Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence,” the judge said after reading for more than two hours from his 334-page decision.
Irving, who represented himself in the case and was pelted with eggs by protesters on his way into the courtroom, called the ruling “perverse.” He boasted that the trial “undoubtedly has made me one of the best-known historians in the world.”
The ruling was an overwhelming moral victory for the defense, and particularly so given Britain’s tough libel laws.
In the United States, Irving would have been treated as a public figure and would have had to prove that Lipstadt and Penguin had maligned him with malicious intent. In Britain, it was up to the defense to prove that their charges against Irving were true.
The defense brought in some of the top experts on World War II to prove not that the Holocaust took place--that was a given in its case--but that Irving had willfully distorted facts. The judge concurred with the majority of the 19 cases it presented in detail during the three-month trial.
“We hoisted him on his own petard,” said Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta. “We tracked his footnotes and followed his sources.”
Jewish leaders hailed the verdict as a significant defeat for hate and prejudice.
“It is important to show again and again that we will not forget what happened in the Holocaust,” Dror Zeiegerman, the Israeli ambassador to Britain, said outside the courtroom.
The Israeli government had released the 1,300-page prison memoirs of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for use by Lipstadt’s legal team.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said the trial had exposed Irving as “a leading apologist for those who seek to whitewash the most heinous crime in human history.”
In Los Angeles, where Lipstadt, a former UCLA professor, lived for many years, local Jewish leaders hailed the court’s decision. “The ruling vindicates the scholarship of a true historian while reaffirming David Irving’s status as a falsifier of history and a Nazi sympathizer,” said David A. Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Irving argued in his career and in court that Hitler did not mastermind the execution of Jews during World War II and that the so-called Final Solution was instead orchestrated by his associate Heinrich Himmler. He calls Auschwitz a “tourist attraction” built by Poland after the war, and he asserts that it was logistically impossible for the Nazis to have killed millions of people.
Mainstream historians accept the estimates that about a million people were gassed to death at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone.
The judge acknowledged that Irving is an expert in World War II military history, and he stressed that it wasn’t his function to try to determine what actually happened during the Holocaust. He nonetheless concluded that the defendants were justified in asserting that Irving had misrepresented Hitler’s views on Jews to try to exonerate the Nazi leader.
“He has done so in some instances by misinterpreting and mistranslating documents and in other instances by omitting documents or parts of them,” Gray said. The result is a picture of Hitler “at odds with the evidence.”
While acknowledging that historians make errors, the judge rejected Irving’s claim that his mistakes were innocent. Gray said they consistently presented Hitler in “an unwarrantedly favorable light.”
He warned Irving that he will have to pay the bulk of the defense’s legal fees, estimated by Penguin at more than $3 million. He said that Irving did not have grounds for appeal, but added that Irving could contest that determination.
Irving insisted that the ruling was full of factual errors and that he would have no difficulty winning an appeal.
Lipstadt responded that Irving is a “judge denier.”
She said she felt vindicated after a battle that had taken five years of her life, and she grew tearful in recounting the thanks she has received from survivors of the Holocaust.
“There is a finite amount of time for them to be here to tell their story in the first person,” Lipstadt said. When they are gone, “it will be easier to deny. That is why I wrote the book.”