Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Deborah Lipstadt, "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier" (2005)

This book details Lipstadt's court battle to prove that her assertion that author David Irving had engaged in a long-standing effort to falsify history: selectively using and misrepresenting documents to cast Adolf Hitler in a favourable light, as well as denying the very existence of an intentional, widespread, systematic, and state-sanctioned effort to slaughter Europe's Jewish population.

The case stemmed from claims Lipstadt made in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, wherein she discussed Irving's work as well as the efforts of other 'deniers'. (See my discussion of the book here). Three years later, Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin, for libel (stemming from the statements in her book). According to British law, the onus was placed on the defendants to prove that their assertions could be supported by evidence.

Working with an impressive team of scholars and legal minds, arrayed against Irving's rather lacklustre and self-managed representation, Lipstadt and Penguin without a doubt brought Irving low. He was publicly shown to work less as a historian than an ideologue, calling into question the integrity of the entirety of his oeuvre. The revelation of his sloppy, highly biased, and clearly flawed use of documentary sources and other archival materials effectively ended his career as a historian. Banned from entering multiple countries, considered persona non grata by respectable publishers, and saddled with a significant financial burden after losing the case, Irving is unlikely to ever widely enter public consciousness other than as a sad, deluded figure.

As a result of the trial, and her unwillingness to compromise or back down from defending her observations, Lipstadt has become a far more widely known scholar and commentator on 20th-century Jewish history, particularly as it relates to the Nazi regime.

Her book is more narrative of the experiences of the trial, and exploration of some of the choices made in her legal team's efforts. In this regard, it is compelling and informative reading. For readers seeking a closer analysis of Irving's work, however, better sources are available, such as the expert analysis of Irving's work carried out for the trial by Richard Evans, Hajo Funke, and Robert Jan van Pelt. (Electronic editions of these can all be found at the Holocaust Denial on Trial website). Trial transcripts can be found at the same site.

I discuss Lipstadt's 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust, here.
I also discuss her 2011 book, The Eichmann Trial, here.
I discuss Irving's 1996 biography of Josef Goebbels here.

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