Historian loses libel suit, is ruled `Holocaust denier'

Landmark case focuses on writers, history, truth of Nazi horrors

April 12, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- In a case focused on historians, history and the truth of the Holocaust, controversial British author David Irving lost a landmark libel suit yesterday that left his reputation in ruins and his financial future imperiled.

Judged a "Holocaust denier" who manipulated historic evidence, Irving sat impassively in a hushed chamber alongside Holocaust survivors as a High Court judge read a scathing decision that picked apart the author's views, methods and conclusions.

It was a stunning end to a trial Irving triggered by suing American academic Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books over the 1994 publication of "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

Irving claimed that the book, which identified him as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial," had harmed him professionally.

Though Irving does not deny that Jews were killed under Nazi authority, he contends that many fewer than the generally accepted 6 million perished and that there were no gas chambers at notorious Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz.

High Court Judge Charles Gray sided with Lipstadt and her publisher, ruling against Irving, an outcome that could leave the 62-year-old writer liable for court costs of more than $3 million.

Reciting excerpts of the 333-page decision, Gray's conclusions marked a rebuke for the World War II revisionist whose views on Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust have long outraged Holocaust survivors and academics.

Gray found that "Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favorable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist; and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism."

The outcome ended five years of tension and uncertainty for Lipstadt, 53, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Rather than settle out of court and avoid Britain's libel laws, Lipstadt and her publishers decided to fight Irving.

"It was a struggle for truth and for memory and a fight against those who sow the seeds of racism and anti-Semitism," she said in a statement.

Later, Lipstadt told reporters that Irving "was hoisted on his own petard," by bringing the libel suit. "He gave us the chance to expose him for what he is."

"This is about a man who was a liar," she said. "This was about a man who purports to be a historian, making it up, perverting truth."

Fighting tears, she said she was moved when Holocaust survivors lent her support. "It happened many times when I walked out of court and was enveloped by survivors who said thank you. It was overwhelming for me to be thanked by them."

But Lipstadt cautioned that "there is no end to the battle against Holocaust deniers."

She said she plans to write a book about the case.

Penguin Books said the judgment proved it was "right to stand by the content of our book and that it was entirely inappropriate of David Irving to seek to suppress the book by way of a libel action."

Irving, who acted as his own legal representative in the case, was unbowed and unrepentant. Though rebuffed in an appeal to the trial judge, Irving plans to file a direct application with the Court of Appeal.

Irving, who was pelted with an egg on his way into the courthouse, left quickly under guard after the decision was read. Later, in a telephone interview, Irving called the judgment "perverse."

"If it had been more moderate, I would have winced," Irving said of his feelings as the decision was read. "There was such a gloat-fest going on. You could feel the waves of hatred. There have been waves of hatred since the trial began."

The nine-week trial, which was tried without a jury, saw a parade of esteemed British historians giving evidence. It also moved the Israeli government to release the secret memoirs of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann so the contents could be used in Lipstadt's defense.

Gray acknowledged Irving's abilities as a military historian whose "mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable." But he said it appeared "incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier."

"Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms."

In judging Irving anti-Semitic, Gray said, "Irving has made claims that the Jews deserve to be disliked; that they brought the Holocaust on themselves; that Jewish financiers are crooked; that Jews generate anti-Semitism by their greed and mendacity."

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