David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt: The Holocaust Denial Libel Trial

Reference: Emory University / Holocaust Denial on Trial

Holocaust Denial and the 2000 Libel Trial in the U.K.

In 1993, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt wrote Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory to expose the lies, distortions, and political agendas that drive Holocaust denial. In the book, she discussed a number of specific Holocaust deniers including David Irving who she called a “dangerous spokesperson” for Holocaust denial.

In 1996, Irving sued Dr. Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books Ltd., for libel, saying his reputation as an historian was defamed. The suit was filed in the U.K., where libel laws favor plaintiffs. Irving represented himself. Dr. Lipstadt was represented by barrister Richard Rampton, Q.C. and Anthony Julius and James Libson of Mishcon de Reya. The trial started on January 11, 2000 and ended on April 11, 2000 when Judge Charles Gray handed down his judgment:  Dr. Lipstadt and Penguin had won their case resoundingly.

Judge Gray found that Irving had “for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence” in order to portray Hitler “in an unwarrantedly favourable light” particularly in his treatment of the Jews. Irving had “significantly” misrepresented, misconstrued, omitted, mistranslated, misread and applied double standards to the historical evidence in order to achieve his ideological presentation of history. Judge Gray also found that Irving was an “active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.”

The trial and the verdict made headlines around the world:

  • Daily Telegraph (London) on Dr. Lipstadt’s victory: “[It achieved] for the new century what the Nuremburg Tribunals or the Eichmann trial did for earlier generations.”
  • The Times (London): “History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory.”
  • The New York Times: “The verdict puts an end to the pretense that Mr. Irving is anything but a self-promoting apologist for Hitler.”

History on Trial: My Day In Court with David Irving

Dr. Lipstadt chronicles her five-year legal battle and her — and history’s — emphatic victory in her latest book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (Ecco, 2005). History on Trial is based on the primary documents, expert witness reports, and transcripts which are available at this website. The trial experience reinforced the importance of responsible scholarship in sustaining historical truth as a foundation for a just society. While the verdict didn’t put an end to denial of the Holocaust, it has had a significant impact, educating people around the world about how and why racists and antisemites distort the history of World War II as part of their political program to affect the future. And the case stands as an object lesson of how important it is to stand up against hatred, particularly hatred masquerading as scholarship. “As academicians,” Dr. Lipstadt says, “we must use our scholarship to support historical truth. It is our responsibility.”

Who is David Irving?

Holocaust denier David Irving is a prolific writer who has written many books on themes related to World War II and the Third Reich. A common theme pervades much of his written work as well as his speeches: Any evil or wrongdoing committed by the Third Reich was equaled, if not surpassed, by an evil committed by the Allies. The Allies and the Jews are repeatedly implicated and the Germans exonerated.

Until 1988, David Irving did admit that the Holocaust had occurred, although he tended to minimize its impact. He spent great energy on attempting to whitewash Hitler, arguing that the mass murder of Jews had been carried on behind the German leader’s back. But in 1988, Irving joined the camp of full Holocaust denial, pronouncing himself to have been converted by the “science” of the Leuchter Report, which found there had been no poison gas chambers in the Auschwitz death camp. After 1988, when his older books were re-printed, Irving edited out all mention of the Holocaust. He traveled the world, speaking to neo-Nazis and others, claiming, for example, that “more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.”

Who is Dr. Deborah Lipstadt?

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, recognized as one of the 20 leading universities in the United States. She is the author of numerous articles and three books including: Beyond Belief: The American Press And The Holocaust, 1933-1945 (1986) and History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005). She is also a presidential appointee to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the body empowered by Congress to oversee the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She chairs the academic committee at the museum.

Read more: Holocaust Denial on Trial: Using History to Confront Distortions / Emory University