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Denial: Holocaust History on Trial Paperback – Illustrated, September 6, 2016
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“Powerful…. No one who cares about historical truth, freedom of speech or the Holocaust will avoid a sense of triumph.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Lipstadt gives a detailed account of the trial that never loses its suspense, readability or momentum. Or humor.” (Salon.com)
“Fascinating.... [Lipstadt] takes us into the moment and produces a courtroom drama as enthralling as any fictional one.” (San Jose Mercury News)
“Deborah Lipstadt is writing for us. And for the ages.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“History on Trial is not the first book about the case....But Lipstadt’s story is more personal, compelling and intriguing.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“A well-paced, expertly detailed and fascinating account of the trial process.” (Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Washington Post Book World)
“Immensely readable…. History on Trial restores one’s faith in the power of good scholarship.” (Washington Times)
“A compelling book, History on Trial is memoir and courtroom drama, a work of historical and legal import. ” (Jewish Week)
“Resonant.” (Baltimore Sun)
About the Author
Deborah E. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. She is the author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
- Item Weight : 10.1 ounces
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062659650
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062659651
- Product Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Ecco; Media tie-in Edition (September 6, 2016)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #735,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This is the question Deborah Lipstadt has to answer when historian David Irving brought a lawsuit against her for calling him a Holocaust denier, and a liar. He brought the suit in London because British law required Lipstadt to prove that her accusations were true rather than placing the burden of proof on Irving himself as plaintiff as American law would have done. Lipstadt could have made it all go away by settling -- and there was pressure on her to do so, even from parts of the Jewish community -- but she chose to fight the suit because not to would have been to imply that it was okay to deny the murder of millions of Jews (and others, though that doesn't actually enter into the narrative.)
The account of the trial shows clearly how frustrated Lipstadt was with the process, with the fact that her legal team would not allow her to testify, nor would they allow Holocaust survivors to take the stand. She didn't understand either position and butted heads with her lawyers on more than one occasion. She took exception to her barrister treating a visit to Auschwitz as a forensic visit rather than a memorial one. Her responses were utterly understandable and based on emotion, and that is why her team made the choices they did. The law doesn't deal in emotional arguments, it deals in facts. The weight of tears cannot be measured against the weight of evidence.
Lipstadt and her team didn't have to prove that millions of people died and that Hitler was ultimately responsible, they just had to prove that in misrepresenting facts and changing words from primary documents, Irving lied. They didn't have to prove that anti-Semitism and racism are wrong, they only had to prove that Irving was a racist and anti-Semite. And only a painstaking examination of fact could ever prove those things.
The book is a powerful one, particularly in our time when racism, anti-Semitism, and all manner of ugly, troll-like behavior is being enabled at the highest levels of government. Irving's behavior feels familiar to this contemporary American, a man who cannot admit either mistakes, or wrong-doing, and who is not only a Holocaust denier but who, on the night when the verdict was given in Lipstadt's favor, went on British television to talk about how, in the end, the decision was actually quite favorable to him. It wasn't, it was devastating to him, but he was either incapable of understanding that or he simply refused to admit it.
When asked if he would then stop denying the Holocaust, Irving replied, "Good lord, no."
I should add that before I wrote this review I also watched the film, and found it excellent. I think they're complimentary, and one enhances the other. Either way, if you're at all interested in the case, one which I did find I remembered from the late 1990s, the book and to a lesser extent the film, is well worth your time.
Lipstadt took detailed notes throughout the trial and relied on the transcripts from the months-long case to source the book. It’s interesting to see how her legal team put together a defense based not only on historical research but also the science of writing history—how to critically analyze information, using context and confluence to arrive at conclusions of what happened.
Other reviewers have criticized Lipstadt’s account of the trial, both for her lack of objectivity and her anxiety about how the trial was proceeding. Both criticisms are predicated on thinking about Denial as a history, when it is really a memoir. It’s understandable that Lipstadt, as an academic and professional historian, would be held to a higher standard than other, non-historian, memoirists. But she’s still telling her story, and part of her story is her reactions and anxieties.
But though her lack of objectivity is understandable, it is not always attractive. She is judgmental of other historians who don’t share her reaction to Irving’s work. Irving is presented as a despicable, lying fraud, but his reputation in WWII history had been good. So why did other historians credit him with good work? The trial focused on exposing his distortions that painted Hitler in a more favorable light, including denying that the Holocaust was a systematic genocide of European Jews. The trial team did show that Irving also distorted the historical record on the Allies’ bombing of Dresden. What I found missing, however, was any explanation of why Irving had a good reputation in the first place. What did he do well? By leaving that out, Lipstadt’s judgment is the only one that can be trusted. And that makes all of the other historians seem like gullible fools, which I doubt they were.
Something else I didn’t like was her tendency to describe the physical appearance of witnesses. Irving and his witnesses or advocates are generally described in unfavorable terms. Their suits don’t fit properly, and their physical appearance is sloppy (messy hair, pudgy, white faces, etc.). Lipstadt’s team—advocates and witnesses—are all attractive or well put-together. Given that Denial’s focus is on the Nazi’s systematic dehumanization of Jews, which included antisemitic physical stereotypes, it is a bit off-putting that Lipstadt appears to equate appearance and presentation with what side a person was on. It may not have been intentional, but it’s definitely noticeable.
I do have sympathy for her anxiety and second-guessing during prep and the trial. Readers can easily distance themselves from the personal nature of the litigation, but the litigant cannot. Irving brought this suit to force Lipstadt and Penguin to disavow criticism of his work, and he sought to silence such criticism through the threat of financially ruinous litigation (it cost about two million dollars to mount a defense). Lipstadt was put on trial as a historian, and all Irving had to do was testify about how he was injured by her book. She had to prove that Irving wasn’t a true historian who sought the most reasonable and plausible explanation of events. She had to prove that she wasn’t a liar by proving that Irving was. That’s a tremendous burden.
As a litigator, I frequently work with litigants who want to tell their story, particularly when they feel under attack. It’s human nature to want to respond to every attack with at least a defense, if not a counter-offensive. Lipstadt had already been told by her team that it would not call her as a witness, and, apparently, the U.K. legal system did not permit Irving to call her as part of his case. So she had to sit in court every day, for months, and hear Irving’s attack on her and Holocaust survivors without being able to directly respond, and in a legal system with which she was unfamiliar. That’s incredibly stressful, and it’s not surprising that she experienced significant anxiety whenever Irving seemed to score a point or a falsehood appeared left unchallenged. The remarkable thing is that she was honest enough to confess it in a book that ultimately vindicates the legal strategy that made her so frustrated.
My biggest criticism in the book is that, inexplicably, Lipstadt provides no explanation of the U.K.’s civil procedure. She is an American historian whose defense attracted significant U.S., U.K. and international attention. She should have expected that many readers would be unfamiliar with the civil process in England, but she doesn’t explain how cases are presented. In the U.S., a civil plaintiff has the burden of proof and must call witnesses in his/her case-in-chief who are then cross-examined; if the plaintiff satisfies the prima facie case, the defense then calls witnesses as part of its case (and plaintiff can cross). Plaintiffs are often afforded the ability to rebut defense evidence, and the parties then close. In the trial at issue, however, Irving testifies for a bit, is cross-examined for a bit, then a plaintiff or defense witness testifies and is cross-examined, then Irving testifies again about a different subject and is again cross-examined, and it’s lather, rinse, repeat. It’s hard to understand how this system works. It’s not clear if the organizational principle is that the trial is organized by topics—plaintiff puts on evidence re: topic 1, defense rebuts, and then plaintiff moves on to topic 2, etc. It’s bizarre to me that Lipstadt, who repeatedly contrasts the U.S./U.K. legal standards regarding defamation and burdens of proof, never thought to explain the basic mechanics of how the case would be tried.
Top reviews from other countries
I would highly recommend any interested student of the holocaust to read this book.
I really do fail to see how there is anyone who can actually believe that the holocaust did not take place. More importantly, how anyone can try to convince others of their way of thinking.