Setting the record straight

Holocaust denier David Irving loses his London libel suit.

By Heather World
Published April 11, 2000 8:00AM (EDT)

Pelted with eggs as he stepped into the British High Court Tuesday morning, British author David Irving suffered an equally humiliating blow inside from the judge who presided over the revisionist historian's libel case against American academic Deborah Lipstadt.

Lipstadt, Justice Charles Gray ruled, did not libel Irving when she called him "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." She had described Irving as a man who distorted history to fit his ideologically driven conclusions that the Nazis did not systematically destroy between 5 million and 6 million of Europe's Jews. Though Irving received scant attention in the Emory University professor's 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault Upon Truth and Memory," he filed suit, alleging her words had destroyed his reputation as a historian.

Not so, ruled the judge. Irving is an "active Holocaust denier, an anti-Semite and a racist," who associates with neo-Nazis, Gray said in his 66-page ruling, read aloud to the court. "For his own ideological reasons, he has persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence."

The judge commended Irving, the 62-year-old author of 30 books, as a military historian with a "remarkable" mastery of detail. But he condemned him for jettisoning key documents and ignoring relevant information when writing about the fate of the Jews under the Nazi regime.

The ruling came almost a month after closing speeches that capped two months of often gruesome testimony heard by a courtroom packed with journalists, Orthodox Jews, Holocaust survivors, Irving supporters and, for two days, Israeli boy scouts. The trial attracted journalists from as far away as Korea and South Africa.

By mid-March, the defense had distilled three years of research -- involving hundreds of historical documents and thousands of pages of Irving's diaries and speeches -- into one carefully referenced black binder. In it, the defense cited witness reports, matters of German grammar and the trial record itself to prove Irving deliberately created more than 30 major gross errors of fact in his historical books, with the intent of exonerating Hitler and diminishing the scope and intensity of the Holocaust.

Though Irving eloquently positioned himself as a defender of free speech in his closing statement, his arguments relied less on detailed answers to the criticisms of his scholarship and more on his reputation. He is known for working with original documents and sharing his finds with the world of history. Nearly a third of his closing statements concerned what he sees as the international (mostly Jewish) conspiracy to suppress his works.

(The strangest point of that day came when Irving inadvertently referred to the judge -- usually called "His Lordship" -- as "Mein Führer.")

Irving chose to represent himself. As the loser, he is responsible for paying the costs of the trial, including those of Lipstadt's star defense team, which are estimated to run in the millions of pounds.

Though he stands to lose his flat in London's upscale Mayfair neighborhood, Irving had said before the trial started that if he lost, he did not plan an appeal.

At a press conference after the trial, Lipstadt said she felt vindicated. But she added that the ruling would not change the minds of Irving and fellow Holocaust deniers.

"There is no end to the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, against hatred," she said.

Heather World

Heather World is a freelance writer living in London.

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