David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt

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David Irving read a book by Deborah
Lipstadt on Holocaust deniers and didn’t like what he read. In the book
prof. Lipstadt described him as a Holocaust denier and he considered that
the implication of that description was that he wasn’t a serious historian. He
was right to draw that inference. He had a practice of threatening to sue or
suing publishers, newspapers, authors when they said uncomplimentary things about
him and he had been pretty successful in getting apologies, damages and
withdrawals of those remarks. So he thought that he could continue that
practice and sue Deborah Lipstadt. He had the, as he saw it, additional advantage of litigating in the UK against an American
academic and wrote to her and to her publishers Penguin and demanded that the
book that she had written be withdrawn and that damages and legal fees should
be paid. When he did that I was contacted by prof. Lipstadt and I was asked if
I would represent her which took me no time at all to agree to. We then prepared
the case across two or three years. It came to trial and after a two three-month
trial we won. Our defense was that he was indeed a Holocaust denier; that he was
indeed not a serious historian; and that he therefore was not entitled to damages;
and the court, the judge agreed with us. In order to prepare for the case, we
retained a number of historians, experts in different aspects of Holocaust, on German history, and on historiographical
principles – what it means to be a proper historian; what rules of historical
writing should be followed and so on. The lead historian was Prof. Richard
Evans who was, when we retained him, a professor at London University. He then went
to Cambridge. He was important to us because he was a historian of Germany
but he’d also written extensively on so to speak the professional obligations of
being a historian. So he had that double value for us. He set to work with two
researchers, reading through representative volumes of Irving’s work
and produced a very long report, which exposed
Irving’s dishonest practices. It’s very difficult to assess the impact of the
trial on Holocaust denial as a phenomenon, partly because I simply don’t
know what was in the mind of Holocaust deniers, and partly because of the
peculiar resistance to truth of Holocaust denial as a discourse. My
instinct is that Holocaust denial was a dwindling phenomenon within the broader
spectrum of antisemitic practices and the trial accelerated the decline of
Holocaust denial, the utility of Holocaust denial
as a weapon so to speak in antisemitism’s arsenal and the reason for that is
that the illegitimate use of the Holocaust against Jews – for example,
comparing Israelis to Nazis, Zionists to Nazis – was of course predicated on the
fact that the Holocaust happened rather than on any denial of the Holocaust. So
we might say that antisemitism demanded at this particular historical
conjuncture not a denial of the Holocaust but an illegitimate
appropriation of it, to be exploited against the interests of Jews.

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