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History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier Paperback – April 4, 2006
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“A fascinating and meritorious work of legal—and moral—history.” (Kirkus Reviews (Starred))
“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.
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Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor, wrote a book, "Denying the Holocaust," ripping the lid off of critters who distort one history's most horrific episodes of genocide and organized slaughter, turning it upside down, presenting it as a hoax, making the victims into blood-sucking liars and the perpetrators into innocents or heroes. The purpose of denying the Holocaust, of course, is to make Nazism a legitimate political force and continue Jew-hating. Remove the Holocaust, and Nazism goes from being a genocidal sadistic kleptomania to a tough, rough, but viable form of ethnic nationalism, which builds good roads and fights Communism.
After Professor Lipstadt published her book, one of the people she assailed (almost in passing), Englishman David Irving, whose career as a historian was on the downswing because of his open support of Holocaust denial, sued Prof. Lipstadt. Irving did so in a British court, which places a heavy burden on defendants -- they have to prove the plaintiff is wrong, instead of the plaintiff having to prove he is right.
As matters turned out, Prof. Lipstadt whupped Irving pretty effectively. She assembled a crack team of historians, who presented reports that ripped Irving's research and knowledge of history bloody. Her barrister, Richard Rampton, tore Irving apart on the witness stand. At the end, the judge ruled for the defendants, shredding Irving's reputation as a historian, calling him a liar and a racist.
Prof. Lipstadt's book is a fascinating, well-written account of her side of the trial, and three aspects of it jump out at the reader: one is the meticulousness with which she defended her right to free speech. (Irving offered to drop the suit for a $650 payment to a charity for disabled sailors and soldiers, as long as she and her publisher apologized and pulped the book. Prof. Lipstadt wasn't going to do that. Irving later used his "offer" as proof that he was being a nice guy, and the trial was all her fault.) Instead of buckling, Prof. Lipstadt assembled a team that said the simple thing: Irving was indeed a liar and a bully.
The second aspect was the emotional ordeal Prof. Lipstadt went through through the trial, which alternated between the horrific (cross-examination about how Auschwitz worked) and the bizarre (cross-examination about Irving's links to neo-Nazis who insist that modern dancing be banned in favor of jigs and polkas) and the surreal (Irving addressing the judge as "Mein Fuhrer"). It was an immense struggle for Prof. Lipstadt, who often was physically and mentally exhausted by the stress. I cannot even begin to imagine how she held up. Knowing that you're on the side of truth is not enough.
The third aspect was the bizarre nature of Irving's case -- throughout the text are her comments and those of her solicitor and barrister as to the strange stuff that Irving was spouting or including as evidence. The theory of his case was that Prof. Lipstadt was the pointed tip of a Jewish spear designed to destroy his reputation as a historian, but he did a fatuous job of doing so. The best he could do was produce a nutty California professor who said "Jews stick together to create chaos." Prof. Lipstadt's side didn't even bother to cross-examine him.
Irving also produced the highly esteemed British military historian Sir John Keegan, and didn't even bother to prep him, let alone meet him. Keegan took the stand and said, "I'm here under subpoena, and think your idea that Hitler didn't know of the Holocaust is absurd and defies common sense." Irving tried to then impeach his own witness, failed, and Sir John was dismissed.
In between, Irving did odd things, like present the plans for the PoW camp at Colditz, which showed a delousing shed, which somehow proved that Auschwitz "deloused" prisoners, not murder them. He also ridiculed the defense for not having a black lawyer on its team, while denouncing the BBC for having Sir Trevor MacDonald broadcasting the news (Sir Trevor is black), and saying he (Irving) had black female staffers, "who have very nice breasts." Sometimes he came off as a pompous clown. He was most upset that he could not have his Darrow-Bryan moment of confronting Prof. Lipstadt on the stand, and presumably playing the role of Clarence Darrow, hoping he could break a Jewish woman into tears and confession a la Perry Mason.
Oddly, I've read American analyses of Irving's case, and he could very easily have done better in an American courtroom. Irving, being ignorant of American law, misunderstood the Sullivan decision, and could have sued Prof. Lipstadt there. He could have hired an American lawyer on contingency to handle the case (better than Irving), and sat Prof. Lipstadt across from him during discovery to grill her about his theory that Prof. Lipstadt was the point of a Jewish conspiracy, and even cross-examined her.
Ironically, Irving's prime argument, that the Holocaust didn't happen, would not have probably flown in American courtroom. An American judge would likely have simply tossed it, saying that was taking "judicial notice" that the Holocaust happened, and the only question would be Irving proving that Prof. Lipstadt had falsely and/or maliciously libeled him.
But I don't think that Irving actually sued Prof. Lipstadt to win money or push Holocaust denial...he wasn't doing too well as a one-man book publishing enterprise, was getting negative publicity, couldn't sell his strange books too well, so he figured that by suing Prof. Lipstadt (and hopefully, winning), he could get back into the spotlight he craves, get taken seriously as a serious historian again, and sell his books. He actually did get that -- he got a lot of media interviews after the trial was over, and his catastrophic closing argument was more aimed at shoring up and impressing his supporters than winning over the judge.
But in the end, he drew more ridicule than applause, and many of his confreres in anti-Semitism were annoyed that he didn't call them to testify as "experts on his behalf. Instead of being known as a "great" historian, he's universally described as a "disgraced" or "racist" historian.
Prof. Lipstadt writes movingly and powerfully of this incredible struggle for truth and emotional ordeal, with rigor, gravitas, humor, and restraint. She showed incredible courage and determination in the face of vicious cynicism, hypocrisy, and raw evil. Hers is a book that should be read now and for all time.