Deborah E. Lipstadt: Online Chat About Her Holocaust Case

Roundup: Talking About History

From the Washington Post Online, 2-24-05:

In 1993, Deborah E. Lipstadt's "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" dissected a fringe, relatively isolated phenomenon of hard-core deniers. By the time she walked into a British court in 2000 to defend herself against a libel suit filed by one of those deniers, David Irving, Holocaust denial had been so transformed as to have become a critical part of the mushrooming global anti-Semitic movement. The trial was an event, covered around the world.

Lipstadt was online Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss her book and her six-year legal battle.

Lipstadt is Dorot professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's [ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/print/sunday/bookworld/ ]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/print/sunday/bookworld/" target="new Book World section.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Do you agree that David Irving lost his case not based on facts but rather because the judge was afraid that, as it says in Book World, "...had Irving prevailed on the narrow legal issue... (it would have cast) doubt on the ... Holocaust itself."

A few years ago I heard David Irving speak and bought one of his books. He did not deny the Holocaust, he merely presented facts.

Deborah E. Lipstadt: Irving lost his case because on every historical issue that we brought up he was repeatedly shown to have either lied, perverted the evidence, ignored available evidence, or committed some other historical "malfeasance." There were no "legal" issues as such involved in the case. In fact, the judge said exactly that on the day of the verdict when he rejected Irving's attempt to appeal on the basis of the legal issues involved. The judge said, there are none, there are only historical issues.


Deborah E. Lipstadt: For those interested in transcripts of the trial, the expert witness reports, the Judge's judgment, and other material on the trial, you might be interested in going to [ http://www.hdot.org/ ]www.hdot.org. It is an Emory-sponsored website on the trial. No bells or whistles just documentation. You might also want to check out lipstadt.blogspot.com


Cleveland, Ohio: Did anyone ever take David Irving to Auschwitz and the other death camps?

Deborah E. Lipstadt: Irving made a big fuss at the trial that he is banned from visiting Auschwitz. When my barrister reminded him that the Auschwitz ban was not issued until eight years after he first testified [at the Zundel trial] that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Why, my barrister inquired, in those intervening eight years did he not ever visit the archives? Irving, chuckling, said he would probably have been banned earlier if he had tried to visit. "It is like the big casinos in Las Vegas. They do not the want the big winners to come." When he said that I heard someone in the public gallery gasp. I almost fainted. [See History on Trial, pp. 122-23.]


Washington, D.C.: Deborah,

A voice from your past here. First, congratulations on your perseverance not to mention your victory.

My question relates to the academic community here in the U.S. In the past decade, it seems to be swinging in a more anti-Israel direction which often translates into anti-Semitism. Did you find your peers at colleges and universities supportive of you or did they keep their distance.

Arthur Chotin

Deborah E. Lipstadt: Some of my colleagues [not here at Emory] thought the whole thing was silly. They compare Irving to a flat-earth theorist upon whom it is of no use to expend any time or energy. They contended that I should simply ignore him. Of course, given the nature of British libel laws, I could not do that.


Palo Alto, Calif.: Thanks for carrying the truth torch, and inveighing against an Orwellian mind-set.

Deborah E. Lipstadt: Thanks for your good wishes. I did what I had to do. In the UK the burden of proof was on me. Had I not fought him he would have won by default. I could not let that happen


Laurel, Md.: The fact that 6 millions Jews died in the Holocaust is so widely accepted that almost no one asks the obvious question -- what are the sources for this number and how reliable are they? (Not to suggest the number is zero; but how well established is six million as opposed to 4 or 10 million?)

On a related question -- the number of non-Jews killed is usally quoted as 2 to 6 million. Why is this number known to only a rough approximation, while the number of Jews is almost universally accepted at a single figure?

Deborah E. Lipstadt: Our guesstimate is based on comparing the pre-war Jewish population with the number of survivors. There are, in fact, respected historians [Hilberg] who have lower numbers and those who, in the light of information gleaned from archives that were opened after the fall of the Soviet Union, argue that it is higher. It is generally accepted to be between 5-6 million. Regarding non-Jews: the number 2-6 million has no basis in fact. It depends who you are counting. The number of Soviet citizens, for example, who died in the war is far higher than that. Are you refering to non-Jews who died in concentration camps? In that case the number is far lower. Are you talking about wartime casulties? On the battlefield? Off? Simon Wiesenthal used to talk of the 11 million victims [6 Jews, 5 non-Jews]of the Holocaust. until historians challenged him to demonstrate what 5 million non-Jews he was talking about. He had to admit he virtually pulled the number out of the air. There were many more than 5 million non-Jewish deaths, but not as part of the Holocaust.


Washington, D.C.: Is David Irving still active and what is the extent of his "influence" at this time?

Deborah E. Lipstadt: David Irving continues to lecture and [self] publish his books. He travels and lectures, speaking to his ardent supporters. From reading what he has to say about the case, I sometimes get the impression that he is dealing in "verdict" [actually its called a judgment] denial, i.e. you might think he won the case based on what he has to say about it.


Belmont, Mass.: What differences do you find between Holocaust denial when you wrote your book and today?

Deborah E. Lipstadt: As a result of the trial, all Holocaust denial arguments as they stood until 2001 have be shown to be completely bogus. The deniers suffered a real setback in that when the evidence was on the table their claims were shown to be essentially worthless. Today, the most active area of Holocaust denial is the Arab/Muslim world. You see some really crude examples of it in that arena. In fact, some [though certainly not all] Arab/Muslim intellectuals have caustioned against using Holocaust denial [as well as known forgeries such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion] in the fight against Israel. It just, they argue, makes their side look silly. The kind of Holocaust denial you see today in the Western world [particularly in Europe] is a comparison of the Holocaust with the actions of Israel. However one might feel about the State of Israel and its policies, there is no comparison. To do so is to whitewash the Third Reich


Washington, D.C.: What is to be gained from denying The Holocaust? I mean, who benefits from making these claims? Is it an orchestrated effort by anti-semetic groups alone or are there others who benefit as well?

Deborah E. Lipstadt: It is primarily an antisemitic effort. There is a strange irony here. Deniers say the Holocaust did not happen but suggest that, should it have happened, it would have been entirely justified. [I know that is a convoluted sentence but these are people who think in a very convoluted fashion.] Many deniers [it is hard to generalize about all of them] resent the sympathy they feel Jews have gained as a result of the Holocaust. They resent [if not more so] the existence of Israel. They cannot abide Jews. Denying the Holocaust is deniers' way of getting at the Jews... or trying to do so.

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