Deborah Lipstadt on the Lies of the Holocaust Deniers

This is a quarter of an hour TED talk by the respected historian, Deborah Lipstadt, on the lies of those, who would deny the Holocaust, and in particular David Irving and the coterie surrounding him. I think Lipstadt is a member of staff at the Holocaust Museum in America. In the 1990s she proved to be David Irving’s nemesis after he sued her for libel. Her testimony utterly wrecked whatever serious academic reputation Irving had, and the last thing I heard he was banged up in jail in Austria. That country, like Germany, has laws against denying the Holocaust. No doubt he’s there with others like him, trying to fend off the attentions of Wolfgang der Kannibaler.

Lipstadt begins her talk by saying that the first time she heard about Holocaust denial, she laughed, because the Holocaust is one of the best documented genocides in history. There is plentiful documentation, as well as eye-witness testimony from the victims and survivors, the Poles, who lived around the wretched death camps, the people in the towns and villages, who saw the Jews being rounded up and herded away, and lastly by those responsible for those terrible crimes. She makes the point that while they often claimed to have been forced to commit them – they were only following orders, or some such – they never denied that they had committed their monstrous crimes against humanity.

Then a few years later she was asked by academic colleagues to look into the milieu of Holocaust denial, and find out what was behind them. She laughed again. But she describes them as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. They don’t look like Nazis. They try to look like professional academics, adopting an air of respectable academic discourse. They have a slick academic journal, the Historical Review, they don’t describe themselves as Holocaust deniers, but ‘revisionists’, and they don’t wear Nazi uniforms.

But underneath all that it’s the same anti-Semitism, the same racism and the same Nazism.

So she wrote her book on them, and then a few years later got the news from her British publisher, Penguin, that she was being sued for libel by David Irving, whom she had named in her book. Irving certainly doesn’t believe in the Holocaust. At one point he said that more people had died in Bobby Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the camps. She was told by friends that she could just ignore the suit. She replied that she couldn’t do that, as English law, unlike the American and other legal systems, demanded that she prove her case. If she couldn’t, or simply didn’t try to fight her case in court, then by default Irving would have won. And if that happened, she couldn’t look another Holocaust survivor in the face.

She states that she won, not by proving it happened, but by disproving what Irving claimed happened. She did so by looking up every footnote Irving made, and looking at the source literature cited. And in every one – not just one or two, or even several instances, but every case – he alters and falsifies what these documents and books actually say. He leaves things out, inserts things that weren’t there, invents witnesses, alters the sequence of events. The tril ended with the judge ruling that Irving was indeed a liar and a Holocaust denier, but in the type of severely erudite and strong language members of the judiciary use when sending down villains.

Lipstadt says that the trial was important, because not only did it discredit Irving, it also discredited others like him. Because they’re all deeply interconnected. They cite him and he cites them, so that the evidence of Irving’s book effectively shows all of them to be liars.

She ends by making the important point that there is more at stake here than just Irving’s reputation. She talks about how we’ve moved into the supposed age of ‘fake news’ with the internet, and the way this has flattened the difference between reality and falsehoods. She also talks about how academic freedom has dictated that everything should be up for discussion. The internet has enabled the Nazis in the form of the Alt Right. But it isn’t the case that everything is only a matter of opinion. There are such things as facts, and there are some matters which should not be up for academic debate, like the Holocaust. Truth exists, and needs to be defended.

This last piece is an attack on radical postmodernism, which claims that there is no objective truth, only competing narratives. As for Irving, she says that he was slightly passe at the time he sued her. I got the impression that it was the opposite. Irving had appeared in the papers with his book doubting the scale of the Holocaust, and caused a massive controversy when he was invited to speak at the Oxford Union. The trial between her and Irving was filmed as Denial, with I think Timothy Spall as the odious Irving.

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One Response to “Deborah Lipstadt on the Lies of the Holocaust Deniers”

  1. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

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