The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/i/irving.david/press/irving-vrs-lipstadt/Press_Summary.000402

Baltimore Sun 04.02.00

Holocaust deniers can't be ignored History: As victims and witnesses of
World War II die off, revisionist views of the Nazi horrors could gain
broader acceptance.

By Kenneth Lasson

Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore, and author
of a recent article in the George Mason Law Review titled "Holocaust Denial
and the First Amendment: The Quest for Truth in a Free Society."

ON TRIAL in an English courtroom, where British historian David Irving has
sued American professor Deborah Lipstadt for defamation, is not only the
scholars' reputations but history itself.

Irving claims that he was libeled by Lipstadt's 1993 book, "Denying the
Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," in which she called him
"one of the most dangerous of the 'revisionists'" because, "familiar with
historical evidence, he bends it until it conforms with his ideological
leanings and political agenda."

Irving maintains that he is a legitimate historian who challenges orthodox
views. Here are a couple of his statements:

"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about [the gas chambers at]
Auschwitz. It's baloney. It's a legend. ... I say quite tastelessly, in
fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at
Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz. ... The
holocaust of the Germans of Dresden was real. The holocaust of the Jews in
the Auschwitz gas chambers is a fabrication."

"I would say that [Jews are] a clever race. I would say that as a race they
are better at making money than I am. That's a racist remark, of course. If
I was going to be crude, I would say not only are they better at making
money, but they are greedy."

In the United States, such views are protected by the First Amendment. So,
too, are Lipstadt's remarks about Irving, because it would be virtually
impossible for him to prove they were false.

But under British law, the burden of proof in defamation is squarely on the
defendant, thus making it necessary for Lipstadt and her English publisher
to demonstrate that Irving deliberately lied. As bizarre as it may seem,
they must prove that the Holocaust actually happened.

One is tempted to dismiss this libel suit as little more than sideshow
entertainment that's wholly irrelevant to the reality of Nazi genocide.
"It's more about the silliness of English libel law," says Walter Reich, a
professor at George Washington University and former director of the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum.

But, for others, the trial has serious ramifications. "I used to wonder why
one must even dignify such an absurd position," says British historian Eric
A. Johnson. Given the deniers' increasing numbers and influence, he now
feels they can no longer be ignored.

Indeed, Irving has been recognized by some as a meticulous researcher. By
his own account, he's "scrupulously fair." But if Irving is able to dismiss
the testimony of tens of thousands of witnesses, where does that leave history?

Lipstadt's lawyers tell us what to make of David Irving. As far back as
1959, Irving announced his admiration of the Nazis and claimed the British
press "is owned by Jews."

In the ensuing years, he made numerous appearances before revisionist
groups, shared platforms with neo-Nazis and consorted with Ku Klux Klansmen.
The vast majority of Jews who perished at Auschwitz died of typhus or "other
natural causes," he says.

There is no evidence that Hitler either ordered their slaughter or had a
systematic plan to destroy European Jewry.

The lawyers produce documents such as Adolph Eichmann's diaries, which offer
a meticulous accounting of the death camps over which he presided. They call
other historians, who characterize Irving's scholarship as a gross
disfigurement of history -- "perverse" and "so extraordinary it would defy
reason" -- and are forced to ask the tragically obvious burning questions:

How would he explain the countless testimonies of survivors, not to mention
the voluminous documentation produced by the Nazis themselves?

The Jews have made it all up, suggests Irving.

How would he explain the Nazis' diabolically meticulous record-keeping that
numbered victims with permanent tattoos on their arms, itemized their
personal effects and provided in gruesome detail the methodology by which
they were tortured and killed? All lies?

It soon becomes clear that, despite his comprehensive knowledge of Nazi
history and his use of the scholarly voice, he deliberately ignores data
that doesn't fit his anti-Semitic thesis.

But Irving is hardly a lone wolf in the academic wilderness. Many university
libraries classify Holocaust-denial books under "Holocaust." Ignorance about
what happened is widespread and growing; recent polls found that 38 percent
of American high school students and 28 percent of American adults could not
identify the Holocaust.

There can be little doubt that Holocaust denial will gain strength once
there are no more victims alive to supply eyewitness testimony about Nazi

The need to remember is made all the more critical by the existence of
well-known political figures who at various times express sympathy for
accused Nazi war criminals or doubt the extent of the Holocaust, such as
Patrick Buchanan and Louis Farrakhan.

If we are unwilling to brand scientific nonsense as just that, and if when
empirically verifiable falsehoods become subjects for debate, then the whole
notion of truth becomes hazy. The need to present both sides of an issue is
necessary only when there are two sides.

It is ironic that only in America would Irving's offensive views be legally
protected -- and that his lawsuit was brought in England, which since 1936
has sought to prohibit racist expressions (including racial incitement by
spoken or written words). Similar laws exist in most Western democracies.

France found right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen guilty of trivializing the
Holocaust by referring to the Nazi gas chambers as "a detail of history."
(He was fined $180,000.) Canada convicted neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel of Holocaust
denial in a trial in which Irving, testifying for the defense, dismissed the
crematoriums at Auschwitz as tourist attractions built by the Polish
communist regime after World War II. Germany's constitutional court banned
Irving from speaking -- ruling that propagators of the so-called "Auschwitz
lie" cannot invoke freedom of speech as a defense.

In 1947, Thomas Dodd, the former U.S. senator who was one of the American
prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, said of the evidence he was about to
present that "the proof will be so overwhelming that I venture to predict
not one word I have spoken will be denied." Of course, Dodd hadn't
countenanced Irving, who himself is living proof that one may be both a
scholar and a bigot. As the generation of survivors dwindles, whose words
will win?

Originally published on Apr 2 2000

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.